Marketing Must Change: A Q&A with Michael Stelzner

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Marketing Must Change: A Q&A with Michael Stelzner



I hate to use the word “guru” because it implies someone who advises rather than does. It suggests someone who might have a lot of great insight, but only a hazy notion of how it applies in the real world, in real situations. Theory can be useful, of course. But even better is actionable how-to.

At least, that’s my perspective, as applies to almost anything. And that’s why I’m a fan of Michael Stelzner’s new book, Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition (Wiley, 2011). Like many of my favorite marketers, Michael is a doer: He doesn’t just posit some great ideas on how to grow a business. Instead, he’s been there, done that. In other words, he’s practiced them.

By way of background: Michael is the founder of Social Media Examiner, a site that helps small businesses navigate social media. In less than 18 months, grew from infancy to more than 80,000 subscribers. Prior to Launch, he authored Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged.

Here, Michael and I chat about how to build a loyal fan base without the hard sell and the lessons he learned from Social Media Examiner as they apply to almost any company doing business online. As it happens, the growth primarily involves one of my most favorite things. (Hint: It starts with “con” and ends with “tent.”)

Ann: Let’s talk about how social media has changed the way businesses need to market online.

Michael: The change has been radical. And this means many businesses need to unlearn the practices of yesterday. No longer can marketers treat people like fish. Terms like “bait pieces” and “acquisition” are words that should banned from our vocabulary.

Unfortunately, too many of us have been taught that marketing is about an exchange. I (the marketer) give you something, and you (the prospect) reciprocate. This “give to get” mantra is manipulative, and frankly, people are fed up with it.

There’s a reason most people don’t trust businesses. And marketing has a lot to do with it. It’s as if marketers have fired everything they’ve got at people. As marketing messages come raining down, people are seeking refuge from the storm. They’ve tuned out.

Plus, social media has changed everything. To paraphrase Guy Kawasaki, power has shifted to “nobodies from nowhere.” Now everyday Joes and Janes are letting their voices be heard with blogs, on Facebook, via Twitter and on YouTube. And here’s what they’re saying:

• “We want access to great insight and people!”
• “Recognize me.”
• “I want it all for free!”

Smart marketers have figured out how to give people precisely what they want with the highly scalable power of content.

Ann: And content cuts through the noise.

Michael: First, let me clarify that not all content is created equal. What people don’t want are details about why they should buy from your business. What I discovered is most people could care less about me and my products. I found this out the hard way.

But, what people do want is detailed “how to” information, success stories, and expert interviews. This type of content meets their insatiable appetite for free guidance and assistance.

For example, at Social Media Examiner, we go to trade shows and interview experts like Chris Brogan, Brian Solis, and Mari Smith. Our audience love’s hearing golden nuggets from the creative minds of these pros. And sometimes, those experts share our content with their fan base.

The beauty of great content is it’s highly scalable and sharable. When people share your content on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter … that drives back more qualified traffic to you.

Ann: You talk about businesses as, essentially, “publishers.” (Which is something I also espouse!) But what do you say to people who say that they aren’t in the business of producing “content”? In other words, how can they produce all the various kinds of stuff you talk about in Launch, in addition to adding outside voices to the mix?

Michael: If you’re not in the business of producing content then you’ll be reliant on others that do. Everywhere you place an advertisement is the content business: Google, radio, TV, and print. If you want to remain reliant on them for costly marketing … then don’t produce content.

But, if you want to own your own platform and eliminate the outrageous costs of marketing, then you need a content strategy.

Ann: I like the creative formula you developed to show the power of content. You call it the “elevation principle.”

Michael: It’s really a simple concept. If you focus on the needs of people, your business will achieve forward momentum. If you think of your business like a rocket ship, your goal as a marketer is to navigate it to new frontiers.

Here’s the elevation principle formula: Great content plus other people minus marketing messages equals growth.

You know what great content is. It’s those in-depth articles that provide precisely what your readers need.

The second part—other people—is overlooked by most businesses. This involves reaching out to experts in your field and sharing all that great knowledge in their minds.

The last part of the elevation principle involves removing the marketing messages from your content. Marketing is like friction for your rocket ship, the more you use it, the less people will receive your content as a gift.

Have you ever been to a wedding sponsored by Nike? If you received a gift that forced you to first watch a commercial, what would you think? Of course these would be absurd! If you hate being pitched to, so do your customers and prospects. Pack away those marketing messages and people will receive you and your message with open arms.

Ann: You discuss two types of content. Can you talk about what they are and how business can use them?

Michael: First there’s primary fuel. This is like gasoline for your business. It has about a 72-hour shelf life and includes the content you regularly produce for your business.

Ann: Like?

Michael: Like articles, reviews, case studies and expert interviews that all focus on the needs of your readers.This is important because it gives people a reason to keep coming back for more.

Nuclear fuel is more complicated, yet more powerful. Able to attract many more people, this type of content has a much longer tail – reports, maybe, or contests.

Ann: Can you give me a specific example of what nuclear fuel can do?

Michael: Sure. We release an annual report called the Social Media Marketing Industry Report—a free 40+ page study that examines the state of social media. We survey thousands and produce this rich report that we give away for free—without any registration requirement.

The results: We typically get at least 40,000 people reading the report within the first month and rank very high in the search engines.

Primary fuel is your everyday content that gets people coming back and nuclear fuel is that special content you use when you need to launch something.

Ann: What’s the role of a blog in an ongoing content publishing program?

Michael: When I interviewed Technorati CEO Richard Jalichandra two years ago, he told me that the word blog has changed and morphed. Everyone is producing content. It happens to be that blogs are the platform or the technology. In reality, I see the word blog going away. We at Social Media Examiner call ourselves an online magazine because people know what that means.

But, fundamentally it’s blogs that have enabled all of us to become publishers. God bless the folks behind WordPress. It’s changed my life.

Ann: If businesses should provide commercial-free content, what’s your perspective on how do they ultimately sell and make money? (I get this question a lot.)

Michael: That’s a wonderful question. The answer is to use what I call backchannels. If you can keep your primary channel (for example, your blog), free of commercials, people will receive your content as a gift and share it widely.

As more people visit your site, some of them will want to come back for more. If you can provide a way for people to subscribe to updates from your site, this creates a secondary channel. Once people have opted in to receive your updates, you can promote via this backchannel.

This keeps your primary channel (that all important first impression) free of ads. It also helps you build a list and loyal following that you can continue to feed with your content (and occasionally market to).

Pick up a free chapter of Michael’s new book here.

Want to apply the same strategy used to launch Social Media Examiner to your own marketing efforts? Learn how on Thursday, August 11 (or later on-demand) as Michael Stelzer breaks down the steps in the PRO seminar, How to Rapidly Grow Your Business by NOT Marketing. Special bonus: 10 live seminar attendees will receive a free copy of Michael’s new book, Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition.


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