How do you raise awareness and create a market for an entirely new, unique product or service that nobody has ‘ever heard of’?
I was at a Grow with Hubspot event in Auckland recently when business owner Joanna Clough asked a similar question.
Joanna is the New Zealand founder of The Dog Safe Workplace Ltd, a small company with a potentially lucrative international market, helping workers who need to enter private properties, as part of their work, where there may be aggressive dogs.
Joanna will train mail delivery people, salespersons, real estate agents, property managers, electricity meter readers, sheriffs of the court – and probably even Jehovah’s Witnesses if they’re willing to buy – on how to be safe around a strange dog.
“A lot of dog attacks can be prevented by just being able to interpret how a dog is responding to you,” Joanna told me when we chatted briefly after the seminar. “But nobody else out there is training people in how to behave around dogs on a stranger’s property. It’s unheard of, as far as I can tell.”
So how do you begin to build profile, presence and market share for a new product or service innovation?
Perhaps the thought of your product or service may never have even crossed your potential customer’s mind – even though they need it. It’s also possible that the decision makers don’t want to entertain the idea of an additional cost.
So what can you do?
Calm your expectations and roll up your sleeves
Don’t for one moment think that your customers will leap to buy your product or service the moment they hear about it. Like anybody with a new product or service, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Many people, including myself at one time, believe that they will achieve quick success when they introduce a unique product or service to a market because ‘nobody else is doing it’.
When I ‘discovered’ that what I was doing was called content marketing in 2003, I thought to myself, “here’s a name upon which to pin a point of difference; it’s something that people need, and they’ll grab it with both hands. Nobody else is talking about it!”
Nah. Nope. Never happened.
Mostly, what I got was blank looks and attempts by potential customers to relate the concept back to things they knew and understood, like article marketing and public relations (even though I might add, the concept of content marketing has been around for generations).
It’s important to get on the front foot and begin educating your target market as quickly and comprehensively as possible because when they do catch on, copycats with more money and resources will sweep in and take over – claiming to be the first, the biggest and the best.
Publish, publish, publish and secrecy be damned
Flying under the radar to avoid threats from potential copycats may be a mistake because the brand that claims the lion’s share of market profile usually wins. (As the Special Air Services say: “Who dares wins.”)
Copycats will come along – you can count on it – and if they do their marketing better than you because they have more money and resources, you’ll find yourself looking like the copycat.
Here are some tips on how to raise profile about your service or product:
1. Monitor the general news media for opportunities to educate
I suggested to Joanna that she watch the media for reports about dog attacks. When one occurs, call the journalist (or broadcaster) doing the story and offer to write or interview about some tips that may help people who find themselves in those risky situations in the future (I know that Joanna has already done this to some extent).
My advice, however, is not to go near ‘very bad’ news situations. For example, where something particularly heart-wrenching, sad and unpleasant has occurred, emotions will understandably be running high. No business person wants to be perceived as trying to profit from misfortune on that scale. Also, make sure that your service or product is relevant to the situation when you are following up on a news event.
Of course, some people who go into business are passionate, committed entrepreneurs who want to make a difference. They want to help other people, and they see educating the public as a philanthropic act. But the media is fickle, and publicity is a double-edged sword. Proceed with caution, tact and good intentions.
2. Evaluate the environment and target trade media
The PESTLE model (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental) is good for this. What’s happening on the political front, for example, that makes your product or service more relevant? Socially? Economically? Legally?
In Joanna’s case, New Zealand recently brought in strict laws on health and safety in the workplace (Health and Safety in the Workplace Act 2015), which has strict processes and procedures that managers must follow to ensure worker safety. The penalties for not taking reasonable steps to keep staff or contractors safe are severe.
Managers of people who must enter private properties, for example, property managers and meter readers, would be in for the high jump if they failed to ensure that their staff were adequately trained to deal with aggressive dogs (or billy goats for that matter – just ask my daughter).
The law change is an opportunity for somebody like Joanna to create educational articles, video or infographics for industry media – including industry associations and company newsletters – that are designed to steer the audience to her company’s website.
It’s better to write the article first and send it to the editor as part of your pitch. Editors are more likely to decline content if they don’t know what to expect. Experience has taught them that the quality of most press release articles they receive are sales, advertorial gumf. Sending your educational article along with your pitch will help dispel that fear.
The more you educate, the more you sell
Apple founder Steve Jobs famously said ‘customers don’t know what they want’. However, I believe that your clients often don’t know what they need – especially if what you’re offering is brand new – until you make them aware of it.
Once your customers understand what you’re offering, and they see the value, let them provide you with the direction from there on in. There are three types of customer feedback that you can use to inform your content.
The experience story
Talk to customers, find out about their experiences and then use those experiences in your stories – you don’t have to name them, but it is preferable (make sure you have their permission first) – and then use that experience to discuss possible ways of dealing with similar situations.
(Note: I’m not talking about a case study. A case study is a sales tool. I’m talking about real, everyday experiences your customer has had; that other customers will instinctively understand).
The problem story
Address your customer’s problems. For example, in this article, we’re talking about the problem of raising awareness about an entirely new product or service.
Here’s a useful formula that applies to the problem story:
- Name the problem
- Tell your audience why they have this problem
- Explain why it isn’t going away
- Educate them with some tips and advice on how to fix it
- Paint a picture of life after the problem
Make no mistake; problems sell – it’s why the media is full of problem and issue type stories. Research shows that bad news, problem-related stories are 17 to 1 more likely to result in engagement.
The question story
What’s the most common question every customer has, but to which there is hardly ever a straight answer?
“What’s it cost?”
Customers always want to know the price. So tell them. If you scare them away, they’re probably not your ideal client. You don’t have to provide a definitive price. Instead, say something like, “the price is variable according to certain factors, but you’re looking at (for example) somewhere between $300 and $600 excluding taxes”.
Every customer question is a piece of content. Address those questions with objective, ‘how to’ content that informs, educates, entertains or inspires.
Once you’ve created some good quality educational content, it’s time to put the word out there.
Here’s a simple content publishing system anybody can implement
It goes without saying that you must have a website, a place where you can publish blogs, articles, video, podcasts and press releases on your site.
There should always be an offer
Provide a ‘free to download’ eGuide, eBook or a tool of some sort. For example, Hubspot’s Website Grader evaluates your website. Infusionsoft provides a free email campaign performance tool, and Shopify has a logo maker.
Customers who see the value of your free content are more often than not prepared to provide you with at least their first name and email address in exchange for accessing the content or tools.
Build a community
Once a potential customer has trusted you with their email address, they should receive an automated response to say ‘thank you’ and to advise them that you’ll be sending them more informative and educational stories from time to time (as well as product and service offers).
Automating your response system, even preloading a library of emails ready to go at set intervals, can be done for nothing by opening up a free MailChimp account and linking it to the subscription box on your website with a bit of code. Don’t abuse the privilege by sending customers stuff almost every day. That kind of behaviour usually meets with delete, delete, delete – unsubscribe.
Syndicate your content via social media
Identify the influencers, journalists, speakers, bloggers, managers and other leaders in your target market. Follow them on social media and make use of levers like hashtags and tagging to get their attention when you have something informative and interesting to add, with a link back to the relevant content on your website.
Guest blogging may also be a good way for some businesses to increase exposure. Do you have suppliers or know of companies that are compatible with your products or services? For example, if you sell hardware of some sort, it probably needs cabling. Ask the cabling company to share your content on their website, and you’ll do the same for them.
Google Advertising and Outbrain
Google AdWords and content discovery platform Outbrain may both be used to draw attention to useful and informative articles, videos, podcasts and eBooks that you publish. Both are quick and easy pay-per-click channels to set up so you can start drawing attention to your message.
- Google AdWords offers a headline, teaser and link back to your website.
- Outbrain publishes articles on high traffic, high authority websites – like the New Zealand Herald, Stuff, the BBC website, MSN and the New York Post – which link back to your website. Outbrain will be more expensive than Google AdWords, but traffic volumes could be massive.
In the beginning, I did say that you should roll up your sleeves because this is going to be a lot of hard work. Introducing a new product or service into a market is not easy. In fact, it’s a lot harder than offering something everybody recognises and understands. It takes persistence and consistency to achieve a breakthrough – you should publish at least once a week, at the absolute minimum.
The thing to remember is: by going into business you are no longer a retailer, mortgage or insurance broker, or plumber, or trainer or lawyer – you’re a marketer first and foremost because without sales you don’t have a business.
Go ahead, educate your customers and make those sales.
Colin Kennedy is a New Zealand-based content marketer and thought leader.