Zambia is a country full of budding entrepreneurs. And many of them have good product ideas. Ideas about the next big innovation. The tie-togheter-everything service. The secret ingredient that will elevate their product above the rest.
But there’s a disconnect, which I have seen first hand many times: The talent and ideas are there in spades, but the skills in marketing and customer communication are often lacking. And without those skills, the best ideas and talent can go to waste.
I run Stoneman Consultancy. With it, I have managed to become the person and company that is most often recommended for my (somewhat narrow) business niche in Zambia, and SC’s FB page has about 6800 followers as of this writing. This might have several reasons, but one is certainly sticking to the principles of customer communication and marketing that I figured out from all my experience. They work.
This article is about one of these core principles: Tell the world why you do what you do, not only what you do.
To understand this we have to start by looking briefly at a model for acquiring customers called The Innovation Adoption Lifecycle (amongst other names):
The area undeneath the curve represents the sum total of your potential customers, 100% of the volume of customers you can ever hope to have. Your job is to aquire as much of that market as you can.
You start out with zero customers at the left side of the graph. When you launch, your first customers will be those willing to try something new, no matter. These are called, in this example, Innovators. They are forward-thinking and like to try new things, even if they haven’t heard about it before. These are the easiest customers to get to try your new product or service, but they are few in numbers. You need to drive them to recommend your company to the Early Adopters, which in turn can start driving the large customer base, the Early and Late Majority, to try your business. If you can manage to reach the majority base of your potential customers, you should be good. This is the ultra brief version, read more about the model here.
So the question is, how do you drive customer adoption from left to right in the above graph? Answer: You have to get people to recommend your business to others.
Why do people recommend things or companies to their friends?
The answer to that is problably more emotion-driven than you think. Research shows that when we recommend something to our friends, or online, it is driven by a feeling of having shared values with whatever we recommend or share, more than it is about the hard facts. Just think back on what you yourself have shared online and tell me that wasn’t driven by a feeling it shared your values. That’s why we share, and that’s why we recommend.
So in short, your marketing should always aim to drive recommendations, above telling the world what you offer. Because recommendations are what will grow your customer base the most. And to get recommendations, you need to, as explained above, expose your values. Which means you have to tell people why. Why you do what you do, in the way you do it. What your standards are. What your values are. You have to connect to people on an emotional level.
This does not mean you don’t tell people what you do. You need to do that as well. But you should aim to wrap the what in a blanket of why. This will not only help you drive recommendations, but it will infuse your marketing messages with life. Trust me.
Let me show you a couple examples, all from my own marketing for Stoneman Consultancy. The first is the FB page header I have used from day one:
I want to stress three things about this image, which I use several places:
- I look directly into the camera, at you, and hold the Apple logo carefully in my hand. The message is clear: I look you in the eye and pomise to protect your Apple. This is understood uncounsciously by the viewer on an emotional level, even if it isn’t noticed intellectually.
- It’s me. The one who runs the company. It creates an emotional connection and says something about how the company perceives itself, as something personal.
- No stock photo or clip art in sight. This is true for almost all imagery and graphics I use. Stock photos are by definition impersonal, therefore cannot be used to say anything about who you are as a company. It creates zero connect with your customers and therefore has zero impact. Trust me. Also you run the risk of looking lazy with your marketing. Did you just find some generic art online when you have a perfectly capable camera in your pocket and thus the chance to create something better yourself? The above image was taken with my iPhone 6s.
Next up, a little Black Friday ad from our FB page:
This is very simple really. The image was taken with my iPhone in one hand and holding the tools in the other. I even forgot to clean the camera lens properly…
But it sends a clear message regardless, about what we do, with the subtext of what we think about what we do, what standards we hold, and what we think about our customers.
The last sentence is what we use as a tagline: We love your Apple gear just as much as you do! This is a virtual hug from us to our customers: We care, we understand, we think about your Mac and iPhone like you do, and we will of course treat it accordingly.
Yes we try our hardest to back up the message with the quality of work we do, and the marketing messages we put out actually inspire us internally to do just that, to live up to the marketing. But this, this is why we get recommendations, because (potential) customers of ours connect emotionally with the values they see us espouse. And recommendations, my good people, are worth more than all the direct marketing you can ever do.
Because unsolicited recommdations are trusted much more than any ad you can ever publish. And recommendations, if you can get a chain reaction of them, can increase your customer base exponentially. For a while at least, as in the upward slope of the innovation adoption lifecycle graph. No ad can ever directly do that.
This is why your marketing should aim to drive recommendations, first and moremost. To do that your marketing must communicate your why. The what should be there too, as a layer on top, but it’s the why that is the fuel keeping the message hot.
The starting point for me, how I started to think about what the core of marketing should be about, was this little video. This was before Simon Sinek got very famous but what he explains in this talk hit me profoundly. He uses big name examples but it can be adapted to any business.
Bonus: What not to do in marketing, practically – the 10 point list
- Do not say you are the best or cheapest. The first is for your customers to decide, the last is unprovable and your customers know that.
- Do not use or create disproportional imagery in your ads. It looks sloppy, like you don’t care, which reflects those same values back on your business
- Do not leave spelling mistakes in your ad copy. Proofread. Once for spelling mistakes, once for clarity, then once more for spelling mistakes. We all make mistakes (I make lots), but try.
- Floral, complicated language and words are your enemy. Keep it direct, short and simple to communicate honesty as a subtext to your actual message.
- Don’t output fuzzy/over-enlarged images. Make certain imagery is crisp and sharp. Fuzzy low quality imagery reflects a don’t-care attitude back on your business.
- Avoid using stock images and clip art as much as possible. Selfmade communicates that you care and is personally invested in your business. You are not a fortune 500 company (yet).
- Do not output emtpy marketing messages. We are always ready to serve our esteemed customers is an empty platitude. Avoid them.
- Do not think you have to output marketing messages very frequently, but concentrate on outputting good marketing to drive recommendations. If you wouldn’t put it on a billboard in Addis Ababa roundabout if you could, don’t put it on your FB page.
- A business FB page is no place for an inspirational quote. See point above and force yourself to think of creative marketing instead.
- Do not use or create disproportional images. Just don’t. I hate to look at them. (Yes this point appears twice. Because it’s a marketing sin twice as bad).