What You Need to Know Before You Read Anything Else on “Marketing”

Everyone wants more marketing (read: promotional) ideas. As a blogger and strategist, it would be far easier for me to get clicks (and dollars) if I focused on how to get your big idea in front of more eyeballs.

But more often than not, when I sit down with a client, promotion is not the problem. She’s doing all the “right” things but it’s making little impact on her bottom line. And more importantly, it’s not impacting the people she wants to serve. That’s a lot of effort to pour into something that’s not putting anything back in her financial or emotional bank accounts.

Instead of focusing on promotional techniques, we check into her business model.

  • Is it set up to harness her strengths and the way her organization works best?
  • Is it compatible with the way her Most Valued Clients want to be served?
  • Does it address the whole customer and the way s/he naturally evolves?
  • Does it take into account the ebb & flow of the conversation the business & its customers participate in?

So, stop for a moment and check in with me here: Is promotion the problem? Or do you need a better model?

Your business model is the way your business creates value (solutions for customers’ needs or desires), delivers value (how those solutions get into the hands of your customers), and exchange value (how your business receives value in return for the value your business provides). I’ve written before on how to quantify this for your own business and how to consider whether the model you’ve got actually works.

But I’d like to take this idea to another level and talk about “social business models.” As I see it, a social business model is one that not only demonstrates how your business creates, delivers, and exchanges value but does so in a way that is tailor-made to the strengths of you (or your organization) and your customer and leverages the way you naturally relate to each other to facilitate co-creation.

It’s not enough to build a model that “works” in terms of numbers. If your business model isn’t built in a way that works for you and your customer, you’ll expend an enormous amount of energy trying to achieve ill-conceived goals.

As Jonathan Fields recently put it in a post on “Upstream Alignment Metrics“–fancy phrase, important subject:

Does the product, business and mode of delivery that customers are telling you they value enough to pay you to create align with the fiber of your being, your sense of meaning, fulfillment, your maker’s modus operandi and ideal life?

There’s a better way.

When your business model works–when it’s social, you’ll be able to count on your own personal strengths and less on your ability to “power through.” You’ll spend less time spastically promoting your business and more time attracting the right people. You’ll have work days that flow instead of feeling like your potential each day is less-than-fulfilled.

But perhaps the best part is that when you develop a business model that is social, you gain an incredibly powerful new team member for your business: your customer. Instead of making decisions in a vacuum, you can weigh each decision against the point-of-view of your customer. You’ll know what products you need to develop and when, you’ll know better how to price them, and you’ll have a more holistic, integrated approach to the way you serve your customers.

Let’s all take a collective sigh of relief:
you can stop searching for the killer promotional technique. You can stop worrying if you’re doing “marketing” right.

Instead, you can make your model work for you.

When your business model is social, it:

  • Grows from the understanding of your customer as a living, breathing, evolving human being.
  • Understands your market as a conversation in which you participate but don’t control.
  • Puts the function of what you offer first, well before format or price-point.
  • Allows you to work in a way that makes you feel most masterful and puts your customer at ease.
  • Involves your customer, whether directly or indirectly, in all decisions.

Customers are evolving human beings.

Customers’ questions change. Their needs change. Their desires change. Some businesses solve this by providing high-end, bespoke services. Others develop broad product suites of specialized solutions. Still others develop a single product that incorporates feature add-ons until the cows come home.

Which speaks to your strengths? How do your customers like to be served?

Your target market is a target conversation.

Customers control the conversation, not businesses. Your model can have the flexibility to adapt to the conversation as it changes.

Where do your strengths line up with the current conversation? How can your customers guide its evolution?

People want holes, not drills.

At least that’s what David Ogilvy said, and I couldn’t agree more. Building your model function-first means that each product evolves from a perceived need (or set of needs) your customers have. Forget trying to build out your model to some previously established set of offers.

What kind of “holes” are your customers asking for? Which “holes” is your business uniquely equipped to make?

When you operate masterfully, your customers feel at ease.

Part of operating masterfully is knowing how your business operates best. Not every business specializes in customer service. Not every business values customized services. Not every business speaks to the masses and draws a crowd.

When do you feel most masterful? When do your customers feel most at ease?

Your customers can guide your every decision.

Most entrepreneurs don’t suffer from a lack of ideas or a misunderstanding of tactics. They have difficulty making decisions between a whole lot of things that seem really good. Customers can help you make better, more confident decisions.

Does your model have a system in place to consider the customer’s perspective? Are you listening?

Remember, promotion probably isn’t the problem. If your model isn’t working for you, your business won’t ever feel like it’s working to begin with. Today, stop and consider whether your business is set up to work to your strengths, make your customer feel at ease, and bring you both together to make things flow.

Your customers co-own your success. Who do you want to be in business with?

When community invests in an idea, it also co-owns its success.
– Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

Your business is not yours alone. Welcome to the brave new world of co-creation and co-ownership. Here, individualism coexists with collectivism. Here, the results of your ambition rely on your ability to create the network that allows you to succeed.

So the question is: are you creating a customer network that is ready to co-create your vision?

There is a piece of “popular” business advice that asserts that “you should teach what you know to people who are a few steps behind you.”

For instance, if you’ve worked through a big personal transformation, you can become a life coach & help others through their own personal transformations. If you’re a blogger, you can help others set up their own blogs. If you write books, you can teach beginning authors how to get published.

Makers, keep reading, I’m not going to let you off the hook.

Hey, this isn’t a bad idea. In fact, this is probably a decent way to get started serving others and making money doing it. You’ve honed in on a specific problem that you can solve and you’re willing to put a price tag on it. Sure, go for it.

But where will you go next?

Honest question.

You can keep serving these clients, incrementally increasing the sophistication of what you’re offering. As you solve new problems for yourself, you can turn those solutions into products and services.

It makes a lot of sense and it can work. Just like monetization.

But will you be satisfied?

I like a challenge. I love the thrill of unleashing my great work for clients who scare the pants off of me. My work gets better & better in environments of great uncertainty.

Having a client that challenges me doesn’t mean that my back is against a wall, it means that my eyes are open to the full array of possibilities before us both. I’m not relying on personal experience or a single formula for my success. It’s an opportunity ripe for never-tried-before ideas and mutual magic-making.

By honoring their experiences, their knowledge, and their trust in our work, we can create something brand new. Together.

I used to feel threatened by the brilliance of my clients. I worried that I failed them when they had an idea or a revelation that wasn’t directly prompted by …me. And then I realized that our very connection was what made that possible. When working with clients that challenge me, I don’t have to be the end-all-be-all in business strategy.

No, it’s my job to co-create the space for our mutual success.

I can be the catalyst. Our work together is the entry point. It isn’t confined to my knowledge & expertise; it’s open to collaboration.

When you & your clients are co-owners of collaborative success, you both are creating something more meaningful than livelihood or results. You are creating movements, future opportunities, and networked transformation. The effects are more wide-reaching, the value is more long-lasting. The possibly of up-ending the status quo is much greater.

But will I rise to the occasion?

Look, it’s easier to cultivate a social network of people who want to be like you. To do what you’ve done. To grasp a little piece of your success. But the rewards of creating network connections to those who are ready to co-own your success are vast.

It can be the difference between slogging by doing something that once thrilled you and forging a new path to a more lucrative future, both financially & meaningfully.

  • Are you cultivating a network of yes-people? Or are you gathering a select tribe of idea-challengers?
  • Are you going with what you know? Or are you seeking out opportunities for growth?
  • Are you seeking out reinforcement of your own experiences? Or are you creating a hub for shared intelligence?

“… attracting and seducing consumers with a relevant, helpful, and unique point of view works better than shoving more messages into the already loud marketplace.”
— Nilofer Merchant, 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era

But how will I find these people?

Here’s a common exercise I do with clients who are ready to make this jump:

Look around your network right now. Make a list of 5 people with a “relevant, helpful, and unique point of view” who are connected to you in some (even tenuous) way who could benefit from your time, talent, and skills.

  • How would working for them be different than working with the clients or customers you currently have?
  • What conversations or projects would get their attention?
  • If you were working for/with them, what changes would you make to the day-to-day operations of your business?
  • What problems or desires would you be working on?
  • How would your message be different if it was crafted for them and not the mass market?

“Attracting and seducing” the clients that will take your business to the next level begins with everyday changes in behavior. If you don’t adjust your routines, expectations, and message to be especially for them before you attract them, you’ll never have the opportunity to co-create your next-level business with them.

The answers to the above questions are your first steps. Those answers will guide you towards making the changes today that will breed success tomorrow. Those answers will help you step into the attitude of success before it’s even created.

Essentially, you’re inviting your future customers to co-own your success before they’ve even invested in your world.

And that’s why those kind of customers are powerful. And why that’s the kind of people you want to be in business with.

— PS —

I wrote this post with service providers in mind. But product creators & makers, you don’t get off so easy. I see so many makers limiting their visions to a customer who doesn’t fully appreciate what they do. And it shows. What happens if you challenge yourself to create your product for a more challenging set of customers? What would need to change about how your make, market, and sell your creation? How could your product fulfill the ultimate fantasy of a very special network?

Are the customer you’re courting ready to co-own your success?

— PPS —

If this is the kind of leap you’re looking to take in your business before the end of the year, I invite you to join me, Adam King, and a small group of dedicated business owners for Make Your Mark. It’s a 12-week, intensive business coaching program designed to allow you take on challenging, satisfying work that creates loads of personal wealth.

And it’s the only opportunity to coach long-term with me with Fall. There are a limited number of spots on the team – and they’re going quickly! Click here to learn more.