Answering Questions as a Marketing Strategy
In 2013, the New York Times reported on a businessman who’d come up with an effective online marketing strategy.
The strategy is to answer questions potential customers have and – importantly – optimize them as online content. When people go to Google to search for information about in-ground pools (often asking questions) his website is at the top of results with answers, articles, and videos.
The businessman is named Marcus Sheridan, and he got so good at using information and answers to market his business, he parlayed it into a marketing career.
The internet is the information superhighway. Information is the on-ramp to your marketing strategy.
Find Your Informational Niche
When Marcus started to answer questions about in-ground pools in 2009, he was in an important position. Nobody was answering these questions yet – it was an unclaimed content niche.
Today, you’ll need to work to discover an informational niche. You have to provide information and value in a unique way.
This is not an easy task. We’re living in a world of content overload where finding untouched niches and gaining attention is a challenge.
But even with all the content being pumped into the internet every day, there are still niches you can exploit. Also, your strategy may not be focused on SEO traffic alone, nor does it have to be strictly informational. You can target search on YouTube – which is often unserved – or, create content intended for social media.
An excellent starting point comes from this quote from Marcus:
“I just started thinking more about the way I use the Internet. Most of the time when I type in a search, I’m looking for an answer to a specific question. The problem in my industry, and a lot of industries is you don’t get a lot of great search results because most businesses don’t want to give answers; they want to talk about their company.”
Many businesses today still talk more in the sales terms they want to dictate than honestly answering questions. He goes on to address the most common question of all, price:
“The question I was always asked within the first two minutes of talking to customers was, How much does a fiberglass pool cost? Pool installers are like mattress or car dealers — we hate talking about how much a pool costs until we have you in person because there are so many options and accessories we want to sell you. As a result, pool companies never mention price on their Web sites. But I said, I don’t care what the question is, we’re going to answer it.”
Consider these questions:
- What does your product or service cost?
- Who is your competition?
- What problems or issues are typical with your offer?
- What objections do you have to overcome?
- What causes fear or hesitation in your potential buyers?
- What other options exist, including those that are cheaper/DIY?
These questions offer opportunities to reach leads and earn their trust. Many businesses that cling to a traditional sales communication don’t want to discuss these things because they don’t want to lose control of the conversation.
What those businesses don’t realize is that they’ve already lost control. Online consumers are methodical buyers. They can get the information they want – and they know it. Marcus continues:
“In most industries, there comes a time in the sale process where the customer turns to you and says, “O.K., I like you, but who are some of the other good companies that do this?” Half the time it’s a test, because people know who our competitors are because they can find them in .5 seconds online. Most contractors avoid the question. They say, “Oh, we don’t really have competition.” But because I was asked that question so often, I decided to answer it.”
.5 seconds. That’s right. The problem with the “traditional” model is they’re not coming to terms with the reality that consumers can access information whether the business likes it or not.
Answer the questions your competitors are still afraid to answer. Be transparent. This is one of the main areas you can find an informational niche to optimize for your content marketing.
It may sound strange, but if your potential clients don’t understand your product or why they should buy it, it may work to your advantage.
Anywhere there are information gaps with your potential buyers, you have the chance to fill them – and promote your products.
For example, say you’re trying to figure out how to fix a part on a broken appliance. You go on YouTube to see if anyone offers instruction and find a video like this:
The information this business provides transitions perfectly into selling their products. They fill the information gap that’s needed to make the right purchase decision.
Your business may not fit into using information to sell quite this neatly, but it’s worth considering these questions:
- What do people not understand about the value of our product?
- Do people know they have the problem we can solve for them?
- What must people know before they’ll buy our product?
- What missing information might cause buying hesitation?
- What missing information creates a sense of risk?
- What do we need to explain about competitors or other options?
If information gaps are costing you sales, you are missing a huge content marketing opportunity. If buyers need answers that will help your sales, start answering them and optimizing the content.
Education when you can provide it is useful. Entertainment when you can create it is attention grabbing.
Put the two together to “edutain” people and you can find another type of content niche.
This is a big consideration on social media. Straight informational content often doesn’t have the “shareable” quality you need to gain attention on social. Here, your niche needs to have some entertainment value.
A look at Michael’s Pinterest page gives a quick lesson in edutainment. Their pins are full of fun ideas – that motivate you to go shopping at Michael’s.
This video that features Hidden Valley Ranch mix pure edutainment, in this case featuring (believe it or not) Snoop-Dog:
The combination of entertainment and education is really valuable for informational marketing, especially on social media.
Babies “R” Us uses Facebook Carousel to offer “parenting hacks”. This is useful info parents can relate to. They also do a great job of adding a call to action to move the sale forward:
When you can come up with funny, surprising, unexpected content that also helps explain the value you offer, you create a powerful informational niche.
Very few small businesses do this well. It’s hard enough to be a good teacher, much less to channel your inner Seinfeld.
But that is the challenge you face in the information-saturated age we live in.
One of the biggest steps you’ll take with this type of marketing is finding your niche. You need to create content that helps your prospective buyers and fits naturally into their buying process.
The content also needs to fit the “native language” of the platform you’re on. For example, if you can’t really use images to communicate about your offer, neither Pinterest or Instagram will work well for you. If you’re totally B2C, LinkedIn probably won’t do much for you.
You’re telling the story of how your value fits into people’s lives. You’re answering questions so they understand why they need you and how they win by using your stuff. You’re giving your business a human voice with topics that go beyond product descriptions.
When you do it well, you gain an amazing benefit. People will start to share your content – they’ll help you market your business. You can’t beat the level of trust that shared content creates.
Search hard for your informational and edutainment niche. When you develop it as a marketing tactic, you’ll gain an important competitive advantage.