This past year, I took the position of chief marketing officer at MEK Review, a company that specializes in college entrance exam prep, private/boarding school admissions, and overall academic enrichment. The curriculum covers grades 1-12, and we have a student body of several thousand per year. Tuition is not cheap.
Marketing our company has some unique challenges:
- We’re a service oriented business. This means customer satisfaction is very important, and honestly, sometimes vague.
- We have multiple locations. This presents quality control challenges of our services. It also presents targeted market challenges, as the locations are in very different demographics.
- The buyer is not really the one that experiences the service. The ones who pay (parents) are not the ones who experience the service (students), but if either has a bad experience it’s bad for business.
My job as CMO is to raise awareness of our company and increase profits. The strategy I’ve adopted is one I wholly believe in: content marketing. Content marketing, in it’s simplest form, means that we market by sharing our expertise before a transaction is made. In the old days, marketing entailed promising value (usually by shouting it as loudly and broadly as possible), getting the customer to buy, then delivering on that promise. Content marketing entails you provide value first, before transactions are made.
Strategy vs. Tactics
The difference between strategy and tactics is beyond mere semantics. Content marketing is the strategy I’ve adopted. The tactics I’ve employed have been diverse in the execution of that strategy. But it’s all been done with one goal: to broadcast our expertise in a way that builds relationship with our client base and make profits.
- targeted email marketing
- complete visual overhaul of all elements of identity
- complete website overhaul
- formation of a marketing kit
- marketing calendar
- regular and targeted blog content
- business-to-business relationships with charter schools to cross-promote our services
- TV & newspaper ads to raise exposure
- gathering of testimonials & case studies
All of the above were executed within the confines of a very small number of concepts that both defined our brand currently, and would define our brand in the time to come. Our visual look, website and promotional copy…everything! centered around those core concepts.
Adding Value is Vital
The fact that we have vastly different segments within our program as well as our client base (including language barriers) make marketing our services just a bit difficult. For example:
- Who do I direct our marketing to…the parent or student?
- How do I write our copy…friendly? distant? for readers that might not speak English as their first language?
- What do I do now that more Caucasian, Chinese, and Indian families are enrolling in our branch locations despite the hub location being in a predominantly Korean neighborhood?
- Because our services are expensive, do I market solely to that income level or appeal to a wider base to increase volume?
These are the questions that keep me up at night. This is why, come hell or high water, I’ve chosen the content marketing strategy. No one can argue with value adds. Even if they don’t read our blog posts (most don’t), they get the message through medium diversity (emails, blogs, word-of-mouth, testimonials, TV, radio, newspaper).
The First Law of Marketing
This all boils down to the first law of Ries & Trout’s 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: it’s better to be first than better.
We’ve pushed at a feverish pace the past 9 months to occupy the market…first. I also happen to think we’re better, but that’s really besides the point when it comes to the consumer’s mind. If our blog posts are the first thing they read regarding info on the SAT, we’ve won a small victory. If our seminars are the first that parents have attended regarding private high school admissions for their 8th grader, we’ve won another small victory. If we’re the first TV commercial (especially of high quality) that they see in primetime, we’ve won yet another. Medium diversity is important because stats have shown it takes the average person seven (7) exposures to a brand or product to even think about making a decision. I want to get to that 7 as fast as possible. And I’m trying to get there first.
What About Your Business?
Much of what I’m doing as CMO isn’t new. Content marketing is all the rage, and it’s here to stay. Sure, entities that have millions in their marketing budget can occupy space others can’t (SuperBowl ads) or utilize expensive tactics (celebrity endorsements, state of the art animation, etc.). Chances are you don’t need that.
That’s why your marketing–whether you’re a small business, microbusiness, solopreneur, church, or nonprofit–needs to be focused on moving your target market along the spectrum of know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, refer.
Please, Don’t Be That Guy.
True story: There is a guy I met two years ago; he was the travel agent of a speaker I booked for a conference, so we had some history of correspondence and later met at another event. Just a few months ago, he contacted me via Twitter (out of the blue) to ask me to give money to and promote his music project.
First, we had very little relational rapport. Secondly, he unfollowed me on Twitter shortly after we concluded our business, then re-followed me just to send me his pitch. I know because I got it as a direct message. After sending the message, he immediately unfollowed me…again. Talk about horrible marketing. The unfortunate thing for him: I actually liked his music and would have contributed to his Kickstarter if he wasn’t such a flake. And I’ll probably use him as an example in my marketing seminars until a worse example comes along.
Don’t let your business be like that guy. Add value. Move people along the know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, refer spectrum. I was barely on the first step with this guy (“know”) and he was asking me for the last steps (“buy” and “refer”). After his Twitter stunt, I didn’t really “like” him anymore.
What You Can Do…Now.
Look back over this post. It’s intentionally long because I intend to flesh it out as a white paper manifesto on my stance as a marketer and business consultant. Review the assessment of my company’s situation–the background, marketing challenges, the strategy and subsequent tactics. This is a real business spending real money on this, just like you.
It’s also what I’ve helped ten different businesses do over the past year as a consultant. Some are still in process, others have finished and launched out on their own, but the proof is in the pudding: content marketing works. Just remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.
If you are a small business owner, nonprofit, or solopreneur and think my consulting services would be of value to you, visit my consulting page or contact me. I take a limited number of clients per quarter, but the first talk is of no charge. You can fill out the contact form, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call direct (609) 819-5538.
And in case you wanted to see one of our commercials, here’s our latest one written and produced by yours truly. This is currently airing on KBS World and other prime cable channels throughout the NYC/NJ metro area. Video and editing done by Emperor Studios.
[mobile users, here is the link]