Watch Out for Experts (Including Me)!

We have all fallen for the trap: When we’re unsure of our next move or how to handle a new aspect of our business, we comb the interwebs seeking an answer from an expert. We open up 17 browser tabs in search of the sage who has measurable results -- the grand authority on the information we feel we are missing.

We are certain that someone out there must know the exact string of words we need to hear to unlock the code we can’t figure out. The problem, though, is that one-size-fits-all advice is often lacking, partially wrong, and unspecific to your business.

Every situation is unique and requires us, the business owners, to do our own customer-focused and data-informed research.

Just think of the variables that pop up as you look at something as basic as the “Four Ps of Marketing”:

Macy’s mattresses on sale   (  Source: Macy’s  )

Macy’s mattresses on sale (Source: Macy’s)

Pricing: Every business prices their products and services based on how they are positioned in the market and the value they provide. Some companies position themselves as price disruptors while others provide white glove service and charge a premium. Following blanket pricing advice that doesn’t account for your brand’s positioning could be quite dangerous. For example, discounting is a common tactic in the retail space. You will often see “limited-time” discounts for products that consumers don’t buy every day such as a new mattress. But constant discounting can erode your brand over time and train your customers that your retail price is just a marketing gimmick.

Luxury brands, on the other hand, rarely offer discounts on their products and services. Instead, many will implement rewards programs that give loyal customers exclusive products and special experiences, rather than discounted prices. The idea is to “[provide] value through addition rather than subtraction.” Take a look at how Saks Fifth Avenue rewards shoppers who belong to its SaksFirst program:

Breakdown of the SaksFirst rewards program   (  Source: Saks Fifth Avenue  )

Breakdown of the SaksFirst rewards program (Source: Saks Fifth Avenue)

An exclusive Beauty Reward Program offer for SaksFirst members   (  Source: Saks Fifth Avenue  , April 2019)

An exclusive Beauty Reward Program offer for SaksFirst members (Source: Saks Fifth Avenue, April 2019)

Example of a free demo/trial for a software company   (  Source: Less Annoying CRM  )

Example of a free demo/trial for a software company (Source: Less Annoying CRM)

Product: Products are marketed differently than services. Software is marketed differently than hardware, B2B marketing is different from B2C, and so on. You have to consider your product offering and how it relates to the customer when listening to the advice you read online.For example, software is often “try before you buy,” but a complex hardware product might offer a generous return policy to help customers feel more secure when buying. More mature brands may not need to offer a demo of their software product, while upstarts may offer 90-days for free.

Example of free consultation offer for a service business   (  Source: Go Narrative  )

Example of free consultation offer for a service business (Source: Go Narrative)

Services, on the other hand, are hard to “demo” and can’t be returned the way a physical product can. Marketing agencies and other service-based businesses may offer free consultations or audits to establish their expertise and value up front, giving a potential client the confidence they need to sign a contract.

The way each of these businesses market their offerings will vary greatly, so following advice meant for an established B2B service business when you’re a B2C SaaS startup isn’t going to work.  

Promotion: Marketing automation is a hot topic among many of today’s  advertising experts (and marketing tech companies). Yes, you can automate all kinds of things, but should you? Not until you are certain what is right for your market and customer -- and automation might not be it.

Even if you do decide that automating your email campaigns, programmatic ads and other marketing efforts is the right choice, there are still tons of things that can go wrong. And while technical glitches can sometimes be the culprit, it’s often human error. You still need to monitor results and feed the correct data into your program. You’re still responsible for any brand damage caused by a “Hi [FirstName]” email or a flubbed retargeting campaign.

Mistaking automation for “set it and forget it” marketing is only going to lead to problems down the road, so don’t listen to experts that tell you automation will take care of everything and instantly provide better results.   

Shutterfly’s 2014 “New Parent” email campaign, sent to the wrong audience   (   Source: DMNnews.com   )

Shutterfly’s 2014 “New Parent” email campaign, sent to the wrong audience (Source: DMNnews.com)

Marketing automation gone wrong:  One of the best-known examples of an automation fail is Shutterfly’s “new baby” campaign in 2014. They intended to send the campaign to new parents who had made baby-related purchases on the site, but instead went to a different email list. The company issued an apology the next day, but not without some serious backlash from offended consumers who were decidedly not the intended audience.

Place: What channels is your product available on? How will your customer learn about and hopefully buy your product? The answers to these questions depend on your target audience and where they’re located, both physically and digitally. If you’re serving an international audience, you’ll need to consider their local culture and language, as well as their favorite online channels.  However, some brands simply post their products anywhere and everywhere, without considering whether the placement will actually resonate with their audience.

Teen Social Media Use 2012 to 2018   (  Source: Statista  )

Teen Social Media Use 2012 to 2018 (Source: Statista)

For example, you might think Facebook is the best place to run your ads because it’s still the most popular U.S. social networking app (more than 166M users in late 2018, according to Statista). However, if you’re specifically targeting a younger demographic, you may want to think again: Teen Facebook use has steadily declined over the past several years, while networks like Snapchat and Instagram have skyrocketed.

Beware of the contrarian!

Being a contrarian is an old trick content mavens do to get noticed. By being outspoken, our tribal instincts perk up and give way too much credit to the speaker. We equate courage (perhaps bluster) with wisdom and insight.

Some example headlines I saw recently that made me shake my damn head:

“ Do Backlinks Still Matter? ” (SellWebsite.co) vs. “ Link Building Strategies: The Complete List ” (Backlinko)

Do Backlinks Still Matter?” (SellWebsite.co) vs. “Link Building Strategies: The Complete List” (Backlinko)

And these are just some of the more reputable sources online. It’s a wonder we aren’t locked up in a padded room!

Again, it’s helpful to follow the rule of “does this apply to my customer and business?” when considering these contrarian voices.

Absorb, adapt and apply

When we’re sorting through all this contradictory advice, it may be helpful to remember why we are seeking out help in the first place. When something is new and complex, we often hesitate to dive in. It’s behavioral economics loss aversion at work. We are predisposed to avoid the potential loss that comes with making a mistake,(make mistakes)  rather than risk being original doing something outside of our comfort zone. So instead, we turn to the experts with their “tried-and-true” strategies.

Of course, there is a lot of good advice out there from some pretty brilliant people. But remember that their advice, even if it has worked well for many others, likely needs some customization and refinement before you apply it  to your own business. Even expert training courses and workshops can fall flat when applied without discretion.

The key is to think deeply about your business. Fall in love with your customers and think about their unique relationship with your company, brand and history. You are in a relationship with your customer and you cannot afford to ignore how the relationship came to be, how long you have been in the relationship, and how it is developing. You also need to pay attention to the market and competitors, and accentuate the unique features of your product and service.

It is impossible for anyone to do this but you and your team. Don’t assume there is a secret that Neil Patel, Gary Vaynerchuk, or Seth Godin knows and you don’t. Be informed by the thinkers, but verify their recommendations for your own business.

Are ‘best practices’ really best?

Once you understand what your business specifically needs, it’s time to adapt and apply the experts’ best practices to your operations -- right?

Maybe not. Are you truly ready for “best practices?” Can you handle all the work that it takes to do something perfectly, or do you need to just get going? Of course, you still need to produce quality work, but you also have to level-set your expectations and processes to match what you can deliver so you can make any traction at all.

One of the reasons I started Go 2 Market Coach is to help businesses apply the appropriate best practices at the right time. An expert tells you what you are doing wrong and how you should approach the work. A consultant gives you the recommendations and a plan to get there. A coach provides a strategy with a supportive plan and stays in the game with you to guide you on your way. Coaches can see the obstacles and have a healthy sideline perspective to share.

Stay tuned for my next blog exploring the “best practices” bottleneck and how you and your team can avoid it. In the meantime, if you’re ready to talk about the best practices that will work for you, let’s have a conversation.