We’re not a rare breed.
There are many businesses like mine, Spark Media Solutions, that, outside of printing business cards and launching a website, do no formal advertising.
Yet businesses like ours survive by eschewing formal advertising for a content and relationship-focused business strategy. It’s not appropriate for all businesses. Ones that have to present themselves as highly skilled, knowledgeable, and connected can do very well with a zero-marketing business strategy. Below are a few of the techniques. They are plenty more. I invite you to add your recommendations in the comments below. Thanks.
STEP 1: Deliver non-customer support
I’m a strong proponent of delivering service, advice, and recommendations to people who you know will never be a customer. It translates into fantastic word-of-mouth marketing. That’s because anyone you deliver great service to without payment in return will feel obliged to return the favor. Subconsciously they will do that by telling others. Do it enough times and there’s a snowball effect. The more value you provide directly correlates to increased appreciation and others referring to you as an influencer.
It’s really important to recognize and support your non-customer audience. By acknowledging it you turn off your sales mode function. It relaxes both you and the recipient of the information, no longer feeling obliged that there needs to be a financial transaction. It allows for a more natural interaction.
STEP 2: Develop your industry voice
This cannot be done overnight, so don’t even try. But there are techniques to juice it quickly such as engaging with professionals at industry conferences and publishing that engagement through microblogging, articles, video, photos, and podcasts. For an effective technique to build your industry voice, read my article on Mashable, “HOW TO: Jump-Start Your Career by Becoming an Online Influencer.”
STEP 3: Connect your solutions to current events and industry memes
If you’re a new business and have no brand recognition, getting people to pay attention to your story/product can be a major uphill climb. You can bypass the traditional and laborious interest gathering methods by connecting your story to a current meme or news story. I tried this technique with my sister’s book, “Good for the Jews” by posting a photo of Bernie Madoff who is undoubtedly “bad for the Jews.”
For more, read my piece on Mashable, Trending Topics: 5 Ways Companies Used News Trends for Business Success and more recently David Meerman Scott writes about this phenomenon at great length in his new book, “Newsjacking.”
STEP 4: Network, network, network – in person
Your strongest social media networks don’t exist solely online, they exist both online and offline. And chances are they started in the real world. Nothing has changed with networking. You need to always be doing it, especially when you don’t need it.
It’s not good enough to just go out and meet people. Be effective with your networking. Have a goal of the type of people you want to meet and make it clear who you are and what you want. You don’t have to be in sales mode, you just need to be succinct with your story so that others can remember it and repeat it.
STEP 5: Follow up
Everyone fails at this step. In fact, I find it rather pathetic how poor most people’s follow up skills are. I estimate 1 in 20 people I hand my business card to actually follows up with me. If you don’t follow up, your networking effort is lost. Don’t think that just because you have a solid job that you shouldn’t be networking and following up. When you don’t need to network you can do it in a relaxed and confident manner. And that is actually the best time to be networking. You will need it eventually. We all do.
STEP 6: Build relationships with influencers
Even if you’re a complete nobody, you can build a relationship with an influencer who will know and care about you.
This is similar to traditional networking, but in this case you’re trying to build a relationship with someone for which many people are vying to get their attention. To rise above the noise, you need to develop a more strategic and long view form of relationship building.
See some specifics in “HOW TO: Jump-Start Your Career by Becoming an Online Influencer.” Other techniques include leaving comments on blog posts, replying via Twitter, meeting at conferences, and emailing non-sales items. If you do this long enough you’ll form an actual relationship with the influencer. When you do actually want to pitch them something, acceptance will be a lot easier and warmly accepted.
STEP 7: Be a source for answers
Similar to delivering non-customer support, this is a way you establish your brand as a name people turn to. If you don’t have your own blog, which I highly recommend, there are platforms such as Quora, LinkedIn Answers, and even Yelp to build your online expertise. Do this enough and others, such as reporters, will seek you out for interviews.
STEP 8: Ask customers and non-customers for testimonials
You will never be your best salesman. Your customers and others who speak about you will always do a better job selling you than you will. One of the best ways to get testimonials is to simply ask for them. And make it easy for others to create testimonials for you, functionally and creatively. People can often have a hard time creating one, so specifically ask them to talk about why they liked working with you on a specific project. Why would they recommend you to someone else? And better, pull out a video camera (you have one on your mobile phone) and have them give the testimonial on camera.
These are just a few non-advertising ways to build and market your business. The big difference is that in all these steps you must create your own audience. This is unlike buying access to an audience through traditional advertising. But for those of us who have businesses for which we’re developing a brand for the long haul, then you need to be following these steps and the steps readers suggest. Readers, what other advice do you have?
Photos of business people courtesy of Shutterstock.