To build your brand’s following, you need to give value first

There are no shortcuts to good marketing. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I strongly believe it.

Sometime within the last five to 10 years, the meaning behind the term “growth hacking” has morphed into an excuse to use hacks (sometimes more closely resembling tricks) to achieve growth at any cost.

“How can we 10x our Facebook followers by next week?”

“Can we fit more keywords into this blog post so we rank No. 1 on Google?”

“What can I do to get more people to open my cold sales email?”

“People are leaving our site without converting. Can we add some popup forms to increase conversions?”

Sound familiar?

The problem with all of these questions is that it’s all about your company,
and not at all about your audience.

Of course, you have goals to meet and your business ultimately needs to profit. But, by framing your problems in this light, you’re more likely to come up with a solution that only gives you a quick win and hurts your audience long-term.

Too many of these marketing hacks lead to disaster.

Have you clicked on an interesting sounding post in your Twitter feed, then land on a blog only to be inundated by a notice in the footer prompting you to accept cookies, a pop-up blocking the whole screen asking you to subscribe to a newsletter, and yet another pop-up asking you to chat with Rob the Robot?

By the time you click your way out and can see the article, you’re already turned off – and you haven’t even read the content yet.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these approaches, but together, it’s an incredibly poor user experience. Perhaps conversion rates rose a bit, but at what cost? Did any leads become customers?

It’s not just marketers, either. I’ve seen some attempts from salespeople so desperate to make the first connection they sacrifice the possibility of ever  building a relationship. A sales rep once called our main office to inform a coworker, “Rachel and I were just chatting over email and she asked me to call.” Besides dishonesty, the problem with that approach is, I don’t work from our main office and so my co-worker knew I wouldn’t have asked to be reached there.

I’ve also had a few sales reps forward what looks to be an internal email chain with their boss, complimenting our organization for doing “great things” and asking the sales rep to reach out – when really it just looks like a staged conversation.  

It doesn’t cut it.

Again, the initial calls booked or success rate may increase – there has to be some reason companies keep attempting these weak tactics – but it certainly does not help the long-term relationship or the prospect’s impression of the company.

Here's the right way to build a community.

The B2B buying cycle is different these days, and both marketing and sales teams have to adjust. Buyers have so much information at their fingertips. Gartner found the typical B2B buyer is 57% of the way through the purchasing cycle before they even speak to a salesperson. And, 83% of buyers are turning to digital channels for information even late in the purchasing cycle.

Buyers are looking for self-serve information to make a purchasing decision, and they are absolutely going to turn to companies that provide helpful, valuable advice well before the “official” sales cycle is initiated.

Here’s what companies should do to build a following of interested, engaged prospects:

1. Provide value first.

Chris Penn recently answered a question about building a community. He said:

“Anytime you’re talking about growing an audience, you have to give way more than you take. You have to give content. What stuff is valuable? What would legitimately help people, and probably won’t even benefit you? … You can accelerate the initial capital of attention with things like advertising dollars, public relations campaigns and evangelists and influencers, but you still need to be patient because it will take a long time to build a community.”

People need a reason to follow you or engage with your content. You want to be a resource to help them solve their problems, but your goal should not be to sell first. Buying a bunch of Facebook followers gives you a good vanity metric, but doesn’t mean anything for your marketing goals. Provide resources that are helpful and valuable, and begin building your brand as a trusted expert. Over time, you will impact sales, but it won’t be overnight.

2. Determine and articulate your company narrative.

Where do you see the future of the market? What is the desired promised land your product will lead customers to? How do you make your customers’ lives better?

This is your company narrative and it should be the focus of your content marketing. The strongest content tells stories.

It captivates, it advises, it counsels. It doesn’t sell.

If you’re selling a CRM solution, focus your storytelling on effective sales techniques, advice for building stronger sales teams or achieving a better customer experience. There will be times to write about product updates or news, but your product should not be the center of your content.

You need to capture people’s attention by helping them solve a problem they have – likely before they even know they need the solution you sell. Content marketing is a long-term game. The benefit is, it keeps working for you and the results compound over time.

3. Help the buyer solve their problem.

The job of sales is not to make a sale. I’m not being facetious here – the job of sales is to help prospects diagnose and solve their problem. Taking this mindset positions sales teams as an ally to buyers and eliminates the high pressure tactics that turn buyers off.

Remember, the relationship doesn’t end once the sale is made. You want to establish the foundation for loyalty and evangelism. There’s nothing stronger than a recommendation or testimonial from a happy customer.

There is no shortcut to any of these approaches. Sure, you can growth hack your way to an initial uptick in site traffic or top-of-funnel conversions, but if your content, team and product don’t deliver, you will not succeed in today’s market.

Invest in your marketing and customer experience. Look to growth hacking as a way to accelerate success, not as a replacement to true value.

Is it time to reevaluate your marketing and communications strategy? Let’s talk.