In digital commerce businesses, there are essentially two schools of thought. For the purpose of this piece, I will call them Conversion Marketing and Relationship Marketing.
Whether a business is in one or the other school is largely determined by the promise the business owner was sold at the beginning of their digital commerce journey.
In Relationship Marketing, the promise is this: you can create content that people love, causing them to love you in turn, and causing them to buy what you sell as a result. You create relationships with people through your digital persona and that relationship builds enough trust to prompt an eventual sale.
This promise is predominantly being sold to life coaches, health coaches, bloggers, brand strategists, career gurus, lifestyle mentors, and anyone tempted to create a clever entrepreneurial portmanteau for their title. It’s being peddled (at surface level) predominantly by beautiful women and the men who adore them.
In Conversion Marketing, the promise is this: you can create content that people are in need of, causing them to click on an ad or message with that content in it, allowing those people to become aware of a product you are selling, and then converting them to a customer over time. You fill information gaps with knowledge (via experience or research), put it in front of the right people, and so precisely fill the need those people have that a certain percentage of prospects will always buy.
This promise is predominantly being sold to niche information marketers, agencies, business service providers, and SaaS entrepreneurs. It’s being peddled by guys who made their first millions selling ebooks to Scrabble-tile jewelry makers and gun-hoarding survivalists.
The building blocks between the two methods are virtually identical. However, the philosophies behind them and the procedure for exploiting them couldn’t be more different.
I predominantly work with business owners in the Relationship Marketing school. I primarily network with and learn from business owners in the Conversion Marketing school. My own business has been built squarely in the incredibly valuable opportunity gap between the two schools.
When I talk to people steeped in either school of thought and introduce them to the “prevailing wisdom” of either, they’re floored. They often don’t even realize the other school of thought exists. This might seem crazy–but it’s true.
If you want to generate more revenue, grow your business in line with your personal values, and still put a lot of heart and soul into everything you do, building your business in that opportunity gap is the only way to do it.
WHY RELATIONSHIP MARKETING DOESN’T MEASURE UP
The core problem with Relationship Marketing is not that it lacks strategic rigor (it does), it’s that liking you isn’t a good reason to buy from you. It relies on manipulating the potential customer into thinking that hanging out with you is in their best interest.
If you wouldn’t charge someone to hang out after school with you to try the newest neighborhood ice cream stand, don’t charge someone to hang out with you online to talk about the latest personal development trend. Liking or hanging out with someone is not a value proposition.
Good, well-meaning people fall into this trap. Every time I see a sales page that’s focused on helping you speak your truth or live your best life, I know that trap has been sprung. If I can’t tell how your product aligns with a customers’ true need or goal, the effect (whether intentional or not) is asking people to hang out with you for a price.
Another big problem with trying to be likable so others buy from you is that you end up changing yourself and your choices to appear more aligned with what your perceived audience likes. This does not necessarily mean just making your hair blonder, your waist thinner, or your yoga mat cleaner. It also includes becoming more vulgar (if that’s your schtick—and there are more than a few of those folks out there), becoming geekier, or telling everyone how much you don’t GAF precisely because you really GA a lot of Fs.
You were attracted to this form of marketing so that you could just be yourself and, instead, you find yourself becoming someone else. Of course, “being yourself” isn’t marketing. Being yourself is being yourself—something we should all be able to do regardless of the ROI on who you are.
Finally, likability doesn’t scale. You will get people who will buy from you just because they like you. Often, you’ll get people to buy from you just because you bought from them. But in the end, if you’re not delivering something people actually need, your offers will peter out and you’ll be forced to find new ways to get the same people to pay to hang out with you.
With incredibly few, unreplicable exceptions, if you see someone who has predominantly marketed themselves or their business on their likability factor that has scaled to mass volume, you can bet they’ve put some serious money, strategy, and analysis into that success.
Have you fallen into any of the traps of Relationship Marketing? Here are some things you might have thought over the years that indicate you have:
- I can’t email my list any more than this because they might not like me and unsubscribe.
- I don’t want to write good headlines for my blog posts because people will think I’m just like those other guys.
- Everything I’ve done so far has been really organic, if I try to get strategic now people will probably leave.
- I shouldn’t need to advertise—people should just be naturally attracted to what I’m creating.
- I’m not going to use a popup because if people like my content, they’ll find a way to subscribe.
The truth is that there have been times when I have said or thought these things too. However, because I study Conversion Marketing, I know that each of these things is proven—over and over again—to increase ROI, customer satisfaction, long-term growth, brand awareness, and more.
But let’s look at Conversion Marketing more closely.
THE WILD WORLD OF CONVERSION MARKETING
For our purposes, I’m going to define Conversion Marketing—also known as Direct Response Marketing—as the practice of using analysis and metrics to understand a market, create to their specifications, and scale.
There are a number of problems with pure Conversion Marketing as well. The first is that most people selling to aspiring success stories in this space are selling a formula or proven procedure for results. It can seem like making $10k every night while you’re asleep is just a 5-step process away.
The thing that’s so seductive about these processes is that there is a lot of good information and strategy behind them. You can learn a lot by immersing yourself in one of these formulas. However, the wholesale execution of that same formula will likely not bring about the promised results.
This is because the creators of these formulas discount their own knowledge and understanding of the markets they’re selling to and, also, other people’s formulas. As an example, Ryan Levesque—creator of the Ask system—has made millions of dollars in unusual niches following the survey funnel system he teaches. However, when it came to a mass launch of a digital program based on the marketing system itself, he chose to incorporate Jeff Walker’s video-based Launch system into his campaign.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. That was a brilliant approach to the campaign. However, I would bet that more people were paying attention to the quiz and funnel parts of the system than to the way he adapted his own process to better fit his needs.
Another problem with Conversion Marketing is that it tends to teach that data can tell the whole story. Your page views, CPC, CPL, conversion rate, survey responses, etc… show you exactly what to do next, if only you know how to correctly interpret and manipulate the information at hand.
Data does tell you a great deal about your next moves, especially (and this is a huge caveat) when it is the right data interpreted the right way.
However, there is a reason that big businesses with giant marketing budgets and access to incredible amounts of data are hiring anthropologists at an increasing rate:
People are data, too.
For every click, for every lead, for every conversion, there’s a person there. They have fears, desires, goals, and a distinct worldview. The best marketers care about those things beyond the numbers. They know that each customer’s unique experience must influence the way data is interpreted.
Have you fallen into the traps of Conversion Marketing? Here are some indicators:
- You (or your team) spend more time parsing spreadsheets than talking to customers.
- Your offers are full of low-hanging fruit.
- You make decisions about campaigns or products based solely on data.
- A/B testing is the only way you decide what works.
Measured against customer interviews and research, any of these tactics is a win. But used on their own, the growth of the business is severely limited.
THE (NOT SO) DIRTY LITTLE SECRET OF DIGITAL COMMERCE
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve built my business straddling the divide between these two schools of thought. The dirty little secret of digital commerce is that so has anyone else who’s made good money online doing something they love.
The beautiful women (and the men who adore them) who espouse the benefits of Relationship Marketing are paying close attention to their conversation rates, cost per clicks, paid traffic campaigns, and survey result spreadsheets. The guys selling to the Scrabble-tile jewelry makers and the gun-hoarding survivalists send personal emails to customers and get on the phone for in-depth research.
Don’t believe me?
Note: None of these references are an endorsement or a disavowal. They’re just references.
Derek Halpern talks about how he conducts phone interviews in this episode of Smart Passive Income.
Danielle LaPorte talks about how GTFL (Grow the F*%&ing List) is the top priority of her business (just after self-expression) in this episode of Profit. Power. Pursuit.
Kimra Luna spends massive amounts on ads and talks about it on Rick Mulready’s podcast.
Brian Clark and team give a weekly masterclass on the intersection between the two schools of thought every week on the Digital Entrepreneur podcast.
When you combine the best of Relationship Marketing with the best of Conversion Marketing, you discover an incredible opportunity. You can be human and run your business with smart practices. You can be data-driven and relationship-focused. You can optimize for profit and maximize for loyalty.
Now, there’s not some vast conspiracy here (that I know of—and I think I would have uncovered that by now). What happens is that you get yourself into an information silo as a business owner or aspiring entrepreneur. You only listen to the Marie Forleos and you don’t realize there’s a whole other school of thought; or, you only listen to the Frank Kerns and you don’t realize there’s a group of people doing things entirely differently.
The popular kids in each of these schools of thought, however, are not siloed. They’re networking with each other. They’re finding out what’s really working for who and why. They’re trading best practices and opening up about their standard operating procedures.
This is the real lesson here.
You have to talk to people who do things differently to get better at what you yourself do. Any information silo in your business will hurt your long-term growth and eventually damage what you’ve worked so hard to build.
After reading this post, your first step is to step out of your information silo. You’ll need to introduce yourself to some new ideas and some different ways of thinking. There are resources for this linked below.
Some of these ideas will absolutely challenge you. Your assumptions about what’s important about the way you create content, offers, and relationships may be upended (no matter what school of thought you find yourself in now).
Remember to keep your personal business values front and center. That doesn’t mean that you ignore information that doesn’t make you feel comfortable or validated. It means that you objectively weigh whether what you perceive as a guiding principle of your business is based on what you truly believe or based on what you’re hoping to avoid to stay comfortable and safe.
BUSINESS RESOURCES THAT BRIDGE THE OPPORTUNITY GAP
Copyhackers blog with Joanna Wiebe and family
Being Boss podcast with Kathleen Shannon & Emily Thompson
Perpetual Traffic podcast with leaders from Digital Marketer
Startup Chat podcast with Steli and Hiten
Creative Giants podcast with Charlie Gilkey
Social Media Marketing podcast with Michael Stelzner
Of course, I’d like to suggest my podcast, Profit. Power. Pursuit., too.
Beyond breaking out of your information silo, I want to give you a set of challenges to complete so that you can start to position your business in the opportunity gap, too.
1) Choose 3 metrics to start tracking on a daily or weekly basis. Make them metrics that actually indicate the potential for sales (i.e. Facebook Likes are not a good metric but things like email subscribers, sales page views, or ad click through rate might be).
2) Get on the phone with 3 business owners this month who do things differently than you do. Don’t just compare notes with your friends–make friends with someone new.
3) For at least 1 month, regularly use content from 3 new sources (I find podcasts to be the most helpful for this–but blogs work, too) outside your comfort zone.
4) Talk with at least 3 of your best customers this month to find out how they’re doing right now. Get curious about them–not how your business relates to them–and ask open-ended questions about their situation.
Just like with any opportunity gap, positioning yourself in it takes intentional behavior and new habits. These 4 challenges will help you do just that.
In the end, remember there’s always more to the story. Whether your mentors or favorite bloggers are in the Relationship Marketing school or the Conversion Marketing school, dig a little deeper on everything they say or write. Ask yourself why and how what they’re talking about works. That’s the ultimate marketing hack.