Below is an excerpt from our free methodology white paper called The Rainmaker Way: Digital Marketing That Gets Results by Rainmaker Digital co-founder Brian Clark. You can download a full copy here.
What’s so different about digital?
More importantly, why do so many companies struggle with digital marketing? Why do some feel as if they’re wasting their digital dollars when trying to effectively market online?
The difference, in a nutshell, is who’s in control. And it’s not the marketers.
The Internet empowers people to create their own buyer’s journey, on their own terms. And generally, it’s the company that shows up early with relevant value before the pitch that wins the business.
This requires a different way of thinking, and a different approach.
If you’ve been aware of my work for any length of time, you know I’ve been teaching people digital marketing for over 11 years. Specifically, something that is now known as content marketing.
Here’s the main thing you need to understand about content and what we call an audience-first approach: It’s different from traditional marketing, and yet it accomplishes what marketing is supposed to do.
It’s these differences that cause so many people to struggle with digital marketing in general. Shouting louder (and more often) at empowered online prospects is a waste of both your time and money.
David Beebe, who served as the VP of global creative and content marketing at Marriott International, succinctly sums up the difference:
Stop interrupting what people are interested in, and become what they’re interested in.
What you really need to do is build an audience that wants to hear from you. This began in the late 1990s with permission-based email marketing, and has evolved into full-blown owned-media strategies executed by companies that you wouldn’t initially think of as media companies.
Like I said, what we’re talking about here does what marketing is supposed to do, but it operates in a way where people actually seek it out, instead of trying to avoid it.
Once you tell traditional marketers it’s “marketing” though, the traditional practices creep right back in. That means prospects start running away — often to your more savvy competitor. That’s the problem I aim to help you avoid.
Let me give you a few examples of how an “audience-first” approach works:
I was a Marvel kid growing up. Spider-man, X-Men, and Captain America were the characters that fueled my young imagination. So when these same characters came back into my adult life through blockbuster films, I was thrilled — and even more thrilled that they were really well done.
But did you know Marvel was in the throes of complete failure 20 years ago? The iconic comic book publisher was bought and turned around, emerging out of bankruptcy in the late 1990s with a new plan.
The X-Men movie franchise began in 2000. But things really cracked wide open in 2002 with the first Spider-man movie, which did a combined billion dollars in ticket and DVD sales.
Contrary to what you might think, Marvel only received a tiny fraction of that haul. They had neither the cash nor the expertise to produce a blockbuster film of that caliber, so they took their characters to the big studios.
While they only received a small licensing fee, they also laid out zero cash and took no risk related to the production, release, and marketing of the films. So what was the revenue strategy?
At the time, Marvel was solely in the business of merchandise to produce revenue. Comic books, video games, t-shirts, toys, and scores of other consumer products — you name it. Marvel relied on partnering studios to create multibillion dollar “commercials” for its characters that fueled the purchase of related products.
Not traditional commercials, of course. They’re called movies.
Notice that these “commercials” were not in the form of advertisements that people wanted to avoid. To the contrary, people paid good money to watch the amazing films that fueled Marvel’s business model at the time. That’s because they were not only well worth watching, they were rabidly desired by the audience.
The merchandise revenue resurrected Marvel to the point that they could start producing their own movies. Beginning in 2008 with the first Iron Man film, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born.
In 2009, Disney acquired Marvel for $4.2 billion dollars. Today, the MCU is one of the strongest film franchises on the planet.
Love It or List It
How about another example? This one doesn’t rely on iconic superheroes.
There’s a cable reality show called Love It or List It. It’s a Canadian production that airs in several places, including the Home and Garden channel.
Each episode involves a home that is simply not working for the owners. Usually it’s too small for a growing family, poorly configured, hopelessly outdated, or all of the above. The show’s stars are Hilary Farr, a designer, and David Visentin, a real estate broker.
Hilary takes the budget the owners can manage and works up a plan to redesign the home so it will work again for the family (this is the “love it” outcome). David, on the other hand, looks for other homes that work as-is within the purchasing budget to convince the owners to sell and move (this being the “list it” scenario).
So Hilary and David are full-time TV stars, right? Uh, no — not on a niche reality show on basic cable. Both continue to be practicing professionals.
Let’s take a closer look at David, who works alongside his father Nick Visentin as a Realtor for Country Living Realty in Barrie, Ontario. David actively sought out the role on Love It or List It by auditioning for it, and likely won the part not only because he knows his stuff, but also because he’s not afraid to be himself.
Do you think David gets plenty of new business thanks to the show? You bet.
Do you think those new clients feel like they were marketed to, such as they might if they chose a Realtor based on the postcards that stuff your mailbox each month, or the glamour shot on a bus stop bench, or the cheesy magazine ad claiming to be the “Number One Realtor” (just like every other Realtor)?
You get my point. David demonstrates his expertise while reaching prospective customers via a media production that people actually enjoy watching.
Now, let’s look at one more example, where the exact same dynamic is at play, but no television show or audition is required.
Digital Photography School
A really nice Australian guy named Darren Rowse created a website called Digital Photography School, which provides an immense amount of free information related to taking better photos. He makes his money selling eBooks and courses on the very same topics.
The free content built the audience and resulting community that congregates at the site. When a new book or course is available, a simple email to the audience results in an immediate revenue spike, followed by healthy long-term sales.
Isn’t he shooting himself in the foot by giving away parts of his products for free? No, because people happily pay for a well-organized, comprehensive treatment of the topic they need help with, even (and especially) after they’ve had a free taste.
The quality of the free information is why Digital Photography School is so well-known and well-respected. But it’s more than that.
You sell a lot more books (or any other product or service) when you can demonstrate value and expertise upfront. It’s in sharp contrast to what everyone else is doing, which is claiming value and expertise using ordinary “marketing” tactics.
The Power of a Digital Media Experience that Builds an Audience
From those three examples, we see how “content” can sell products, services, and even content itself. And in each case, a media platform performed the role of what digital marketing is supposed to do, but rarely achieves.
This is what I mean by audience-first. You don’t lead with the product or service; you begin by attracting and serving the needs of your prospects with valuable content.
There’s something that Spider-man, David Visentin, and Darren Rowse have in common, and it’s first and foremost an audience experience rather than what we think of as marketing. The primary difference between the three, however, is that Darren Rowse didn’t need to ask permission or cut a deal to create his multimillion dollar business.
Traditional marketing and advertising interrupts what the prospect is interested in. Effective digital content becomes what the prospect is interested in and also naturally leads to a purchase.
This is what works to generate a flood of business in the age of the Internet-empowered consumer. And yes … it will work for you.
Let’s explore that in the next section.
To continue reading, download your copy of The Rainmaker Way
Our free white paper explains our “audience-first” approach to digital marketing that gets results.