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Blogging for Informed Sales in a Competitive Market

Sometimes blogging can be the difference between making a sale and giving the sale to a competitor.

What do I mean?

I was talking to a client the other day who was moving from Pay Per Click marketing of his products into SEO and blogging. His widget is expensive so while the per click price is not up there with lawyers and loans, the sheer quantity it takes to make a sale works out just as expensive or even more. Their PPC budget is in the tens of thousands a month. With that kind of overhead, trying SEO and blogging is a no-brainer.

There are loads of markets where a similar strategy makes sense. A key reason is “customer education”

Educate to Sell

As Brian says, Teaching Sells. In any market where the customer needs to be educated in order to sell to them, anyone who uses “Advert to Sales page” as an approach is going to lose a lot of sales. That is because 90% of your audience is not ready to buy (yet).

Flip that around though, what do bloggers do best? Produce engaging content!

Educating customers is good for bloggers, bad for advertising-only companies

If you talk to the people at these companies they tell you they want more sales but customers aren’t ready to buy. They increase their brand advertising spend, optimize their adwords campaigns. Basically fix what isn’t broken.

There are a series of books by a brilliant guy called Dr Goldratt (makes me think of a James Bond character!), who invented the “Theory of Constraints“. This idea basically tells you to find the constraint in a system and prioritize it. In our scenario here, the customers knowledge is the constraint, not the advertising.

Sales Education Cycle

Take the simplistic example of Digital Photography. You start not being aware of very much about the topic, but you might hear or see something that makes you interested. It could be an ad, a friend, newspaper mention, could be anything. At this point you are aware, moving toward interested.

The more you learn, the more interested you get, so you do some research. You buy magazines, look online, read reviews. Adverts will interest you more but they are not going to get you to extract your credit card until you are good and ready.

Only when you have done your research (models, brands, complexity, learning curve, capability, price, and so on) will you buy, but even then you will research where to buy.

That adwords ad is looking less effective now, isn’t it? Adwords are great, but if you are using them to make a direct sale, they only work for a specific part of the buying cycle and only when paired up with the “buying” keywords. Comparator sites can be as effective if competing on price.

It doesn’t end there, as anyone who has become addicted to photography will tell you. You have bought your camera but there is a whole world of photography related purchases. As you learn your camera you find you need to upgrade, or you want a new lens (or 10), a flash, tripod, bag, various other widgets and do-dads. Yup, the cycle starts all over again. You are not the same customer before, it is an entirely new cycle of education to purchase.

Blogs, or at least content, fit in very well into this model. It could be gardening, cigar reviews, business to business, many markets need to be educated before they will buy.

Blog to Educate and Inform

Teach customers what they need to know and you build trust and loyalty. Bring them along on their journey, show them they can rely on you to steer them right.

Does it really work? Put it this way, I and my friends have spent a few thousand dollars through the Strobist affiliate links. One company seems to realize the value in the content and are advertising that they stock what David recommends. I imagine they get better sales for a much lower cost than had they tried the PPC route.

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Comments

  1. Useful post, thanks Chris.

    You’re right of course, in many cases it is lack of knowledge, not lack of awareness that inhibits customer purchase decision. This is where a tool like Twitter can be invaluable.

    Rather than push a customer to buy, the vendor can say, “Hey, don’t worry about buying now, just follow our conversation.” They get the prospect to sign up to Twitter (perhaps some incentivising would work here). “Right, you can follow what we’re chatting about with customers like you. No one’s perfect, but we’ll do our best to resolve issues, and you can learn more about what’s going down through our conversations.”

    Honesty like this and a low-pressure pitch will be appealing to a lot of customers today, I am sure. We already see some companies adopting a similar model, but it’s yet to be formalized.

  2. Useful post, thanks Chris.

    You’re right of course, in many cases it is lack of knowledge, not lack of awareness that inhibits customer purchase decision. This is where a tool like Twitter can be invaluable.

    Rather than push a customer to buy, the vendor can say, “Hey, don’t worry about buying now, just follow our conversation.” They get the prospect to sign up to Twitter (perhaps some incentivising would work here). “Right, you can follow what we’re chatting about with customers like you. No one’s perfect, but we’ll do our best to resolve issues, and you can learn more about what’s going down through our conversations.”

    Honesty like this and a low-pressure pitch will be appealing to a lot of customers today, I am sure. We already see some companies adopting a similar model, but it’s yet to be formalized.

  3. Chris,
    The cycle you illustrated is really just a newer rendition of Everett Rogers’ (of the Adoption Curve fame) steps of adoption or “Diffusion of Innovation” as he called them:
    1) Knowledge (AKA Awareness)
    2) Persuasion (Deciding to buy something like that but not which)
    3) Decision (Deciding which thing to buy/try)
    4) Implementation (Some people buy things then never use them)
    5) Confirmation (Did you like it, are you happy you bought it?)

    In my book (shameless plug?) Maps for Modern Magellans (see map 8 http://www.mapsformodernmagellans.com/content/view/30/86/) I added 3 return steps that are based on the buyer or adopter experience:
    a) Repeat – buy it again
    b) Replace – buy from a different source or version
    c) Re-evaluate – think about ever buying something like this again.

    I know that I have not commented in a while, but you are so good that I often have little to add. On this one, there was a map (my favorite thing) and I have some experience and perhaps wisdom to add. That and I may be starting anew company and I need to think about these things again. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  4. Chris,
    The cycle you illustrated is really just a newer rendition of Everett Rogers’ (of the Adoption Curve fame) steps of adoption or “Diffusion of Innovation” as he called them:
    1) Knowledge (AKA Awareness)
    2) Persuasion (Deciding to buy something like that but not which)
    3) Decision (Deciding which thing to buy/try)
    4) Implementation (Some people buy things then never use them)
    5) Confirmation (Did you like it, are you happy you bought it?)

    In my book (shameless plug?) Maps for Modern Magellans (see map 8 http://www.mapsformodernmagellans.com/content/view/30/86/) I added 3 return steps that are based on the buyer or adopter experience:
    a) Repeat – buy it again
    b) Replace – buy from a different source or version
    c) Re-evaluate – think about ever buying something like this again.

    I know that I have not commented in a while, but you are so good that I often have little to add. On this one, there was a map (my favorite thing) and I have some experience and perhaps wisdom to add. That and I may be starting anew company and I need to think about these things again. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  5. Sorry, one more thought. On the “Theory of Constraints” concept. I know one of the founders of what is now called Embassy Suites. It is a fairly successful long-term stay hotel. He told me once that the key to success is “getting to the no” in the process. If you accept maybe or “send me literature” you will not know why people are actually rejecting you. Push a little more until you get to the no. It is hard at times because we do not want to hear no. When you accept that maybe and send me literature is really no, then you become more courageous.

    Once again, good post.
    BTW – love the new email format. I do appreciate the subject line.

  6. Sorry, one more thought. On the “Theory of Constraints” concept. I know one of the founders of what is now called Embassy Suites. It is a fairly successful long-term stay hotel. He told me once that the key to success is “getting to the no” in the process. If you accept maybe or “send me literature” you will not know why people are actually rejecting you. Push a little more until you get to the no. It is hard at times because we do not want to hear no. When you accept that maybe and send me literature is really no, then you become more courageous.

    Once again, good post.
    BTW – love the new email format. I do appreciate the subject line.

  7. Chris, what you are saying makes good sense and I have certainly experienced the digital photography scenario myself. Just to throw another idea into the pot though, if everybody gets this idea and there is a shift away from advertising, then that might not be so good for the internet as a whole. We have become so used to the internet being (virtually) zero cost to use that we forget that much of it is funded by advertising. If we only had to pay things like current levels of ISP costs then the infrastructure would be unsustainable. What do you think? I would have blogged on this topic myself but it doesn’t quite fit the blog I am running at the moment.

  8. Chris, what you are saying makes good sense and I have certainly experienced the digital photography scenario myself. Just to throw another idea into the pot though, if everybody gets this idea and there is a shift away from advertising, then that might not be so good for the internet as a whole. We have become so used to the internet being (virtually) zero cost to use that we forget that much of it is funded by advertising. If we only had to pay things like current levels of ISP costs then the infrastructure would be unsustainable. What do you think? I would have blogged on this topic myself but it doesn’t quite fit the blog I am running at the moment.

  9. @Roger – I am seeing more and more companies coming round to this idea of helping rather than selling. An example is my optician provides free eye tests because they know when people have a great eye test experience they are likely to buy glasses, contact lenses, refer their friends and book their kids in. Free, valuable advice, delivered well, leads to a better customer relationship.

    @Roger Anderson – I will swap you, review copy of your book for one of mine 🙂

    @Richard – Advertising isn’t going to go away, there will always be a place for advertising. My point here is people use it as their only tactic. Actually, this deserves a post 🙂

  10. @Roger – I am seeing more and more companies coming round to this idea of helping rather than selling. An example is my optician provides free eye tests because they know when people have a great eye test experience they are likely to buy glasses, contact lenses, refer their friends and book their kids in. Free, valuable advice, delivered well, leads to a better customer relationship.

    @Roger Anderson – I will swap you, review copy of your book for one of mine 🙂

    @Richard – Advertising isn’t going to go away, there will always be a place for advertising. My point here is people use it as their only tactic. Actually, this deserves a post 🙂

  11. Advertising on the internet is a process that is slowly sinking into a pit of diminishing returns.

    Teaching when done with great competance and skill instills trust and a willingness to believe.

    Advertising breeds distrust based upon the consumer’s knowledge that the end game is to extract money from their wallets.

    Teaching is often looked upon by the consumer as a conduit to gain knowledge. And because knowledge is power, the consumer will often make the distinction between a transfer of power and a sales pitch.

    More often than not the consumer will make the choice to cozy up to power than to have a company slither up to them with their hand out.

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  12. Advertising on the internet is a process that is slowly sinking into a pit of diminishing returns.

    Teaching when done with great competance and skill instills trust and a willingness to believe.

    Advertising breeds distrust based upon the consumer’s knowledge that the end game is to extract money from their wallets.

    Teaching is often looked upon by the consumer as a conduit to gain knowledge. And because knowledge is power, the consumer will often make the distinction between a transfer of power and a sales pitch.

    More often than not the consumer will make the choice to cozy up to power than to have a company slither up to them with their hand out.

    Live From Las Vegas
    The Masked Millionaire

  13. In the education process you have an opportunity to show your customer service excellence, to demonstrate a bit of the customer experience. We all know the sinking feeling of thinking we got a good deal then finding out the company doesn’t want to know us, having a great pre-sale experience can make us feel more confident going in.

  14. In the education process you have an opportunity to show your customer service excellence, to demonstrate a bit of the customer experience. We all know the sinking feeling of thinking we got a good deal then finding out the company doesn’t want to know us, having a great pre-sale experience can make us feel more confident going in.