I recently had the opportunity to interview Michael Stelzner, author of the new book, “Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition”. The book reveals a new way to grow your business that involves focusing on the needs of others, giving gifts, working with outsiders, and restraining your marketing messages. Michael is also the Founder of Social Media Examiner, a fantastic resource for any web marketer.
Michael is one of those rare guys who really walks the talk and is truly leading the discussion on what works in the world of marketing. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the book, its one of the best business books of the year for sure.
My interview with Michael:
Q: I know the book is targeted towards small businesses and marketers. For the small business owner, I think it’s a no brainer. They will get it and understand it. For the marketers, there may be a challenge with some of them – the traditional, conservative, Corporate America types. How do you talk these folks and get them on board with what you are recommending in the book?
MS: One thing I would do is share the example of Hubspot. Growth of 350% in the past year and the venture funding they just got from Google and they don’t do any advertising at all. All their content is free. And they are getting 25-40K leads a month.
The other thing that I would say to a business, especially a larger business is this: the people you are trying to reach are suffering from a couple problems. First, they are being attacked by marketing messages at every single turn. They’ve tuned out completely. They aren’t paying attention anymore.
Second is that they don’t trust you. Just have them take a look at the Edelman Trust Barometer, which said that only 1 in 3 consumers trust businesses. I would also ask, “Are these things that you’ve been doing working?” Is it getting better or worse? I’m almost willing to bet money that they’re getting worse. So, marketers at any size business realize that things need to change.
The fact is, what every business wants is to have their own audience, instead of relying on a costly middleman. You can eliminate the need for print, mail, internet display advertising, radio and television. I’d say, “If there was a way to completely eliminate these, would you be interested?” You can become the publisher and get people coming back time and time again and have a loyal following that shares your content with their peers. That resonates with business people and marketers at any size organization. I think that’s how you start the discussion.
You can also show them what Proctor and Gamble is doing with ManoftheHouse.com, which targets dads. A few years ago, they knew the economy was changing, that dads were taking on a new role in some cases where they were going shopping, so they decided to do the equivalent of a soap opera. Proctor and Gamble funds just about every soap opera that’s ever existed. They created the shows in order to have an advertising medium. So they launched ManoftheHouse.com. They didn’t market it at all. Instead they brought expert dad bloggers to the table and started creating great content and got over a million unique visitors coming to their site a month and they are just over a year old. These are the kind of stories that resonate for businesses of any size.
Q: Mike, you have done a lot with Social Media Examiner since your launch, doing a lot of things right. And I say, wow, this is a great example of tremendous focus that you and your team have had in order to experience this kind of growth. How did you find it within yourself to have that laser sharp ability to focus on the important things to achieve the growth that you have?
MS: Good question Jon. I had previously done this in a different niche, which was the white paper world. Back then, I was creating great content to help freelance writers figure out how they can become more profitable writing white papers for corporations and I also focused on the marketer working for the companies to empower them on how to utilize this popular technique of using white papers for lead gen. So, I had come from a space where I was laser focused.
And I knew the value of developing a niche and when we launched Social Media Examiner in 2009, one thing I noticed was that there were thousands of bloggers talking about social media but there was hardly anyone that was going deep on a regular basis. So I thought, I want to differentiate by starting a magazine, not a blog. Because I came from writing and knew a lot of writers, we’re going to produce content that is exceptionally high quality and all of our articles will be at least 1000 words. I wanted to create evergreen content that would be just as valuable today as it would be a month from now.
I also knew that if I could recruit people who were experts – I didn’t care if they were known or not – I could maintain a super high quality level of content. The vision was always to create a movement and to be commercial free by the way. I promised that we wouldn’t market or promote anything until we had at least 10K subscribers.
Q: In terms of all the different types of content you can produce, from white papers to e-books to site pages, social media and more, when you approach a company that’s just getting started with all this stuff, how do you prioritize the deliverables with that company?
MS: What I say is this: if your business is the rocket ship, your content is the fuel. People consume the content and the more people that consume it, the faster your rocket moves. So, I talk about two different types of content in the book: the first is called “primary” fuel and the other is called “nuclear” fuel. So primary fuel is the kind of stuff that you need to create every couple days. It has a 72 hour shelf life, its like gas in your car. It will get you so far, then you need more. Things like how-to articles, success stories of businesses that have absolutely nothing to do with your business, interviews with experts, that kind of stuff.
Your nuclear fuel is what you use when you need a big boost. Just like real nuclear fuel, it takes longer to create; it needs to be used carefully and strategically. Nuclear fuel could include doing a survey and then coming out with a report.
We come out with the annual “Social Media Marketing Industry Report”. When you give things like this away for free, you get tremendous exposure. We had 40,000 people read our last report, written up in the Wall Street Journal, all over the place. You do these types of things at strategic points: when you are starting or launching, at different times throughout the year to boost you forward, faster. White papers and contests are other forms of nuclear fuel. We do a contest called “The Top Ten Social Media Blogs” where we get judges like Scott Monty from Ford Motor Company, Ann Handley from Marketing Profs, and ask readers to nominate their favorite blogs. When we announce the winners, we give them a cool badge they can put on their site, they talk about it, everyone gets excited and it creates tremendous buzz.
Q: In looking through the Table of Contents for the book, and one area that really got my attention was chapter 5, I really like the idea of “Reciprocity Marketing”. Michael, can you tell us a little more about what that is?
MS: Robert Cialdini in the book, “Influence” wrote about this thing called “the rule of reciprocity” and basically what it said was if you do something good for someone else, they will have an innate, almost uncontrollable desire to want to return the favor.
Now what I talk about in the book and I know you haven’t seen it yet, and you may disagree with me, but I say people have abused the rule of reciprocity. Marketers have felt that if they create content, they can compel people to do something against their will and I like to use a boat as an analogy. We’ve been taught for so long that if we quietly just get in the boat and row out to the right place on the lake, pull out our handy dandy reel and special lure and drop it in, and jiggle it a little bit, we can force people against their will to comply and what Cialdini warns about is the negative side of reciprocity and how it can be abused.
So what I suggest is this: instead of relying on the rule of reciprocity, just give without expecting anything in return, which is a really crazy thought for the marketers out there. Everybody is about “give to receive”. I say just give. Remember what I said earlier: nobody trusts marketers anymore. Why not just give? Why not just establish trust and get our customers lovin us. You want to know what happens then? People sing your praises from the roof tops.
I got an email from a guy in Victoria, Canada and he said, “I am so appreciative of the stuff you guys produce. If you ever want to give a free event ticket to someone who lives in my area, I will drive out with a Starbucks coffee and hand it to them and if it’s a woman, I’ll give her a bouquet of flowers and he went on to say, “I will literally dedicate an entire day of my life to whatever you need, that’s how appreciative I am.” How many businesses want customers like that? It’s amazing. And its by constantly giving people so much great value that some of them are going to love you and become raving fans. And that’s the best conceivable situation. We don’t really need to trick people anymore; we can just do great things for them.
And at their core, everyone wants great information, they want access to great people and they want recognition. If you can figure out how to create content to feed those desires, you don’t really need to ask anymore.
That’s fantastic stuff Mike. I know what you mean exactly. Many times, I’ll go to local business events and give away a couple hundred copies of my first book and people look at me in shock, wondering what I want from them. And I say I don’t want anything. I say if the book helps you, great. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. Its amazing psychology to see what happens in that moment.
MS: Yeah, and what’s great about content like a book is that its highly scalable. You can give it to hundreds, thousands, even millions of people when it’s online. It’s a smart move that most people don’t think about. What most companies do is they hide their best stuff behind some kind of wall and force people to pay for it. If you can impress people in this way, by giving away this great content, then you can grow. And that’s exactly one of the keys to success with Social Media Examiners growth.
Q: Mike, one last question: if you could provide one reason – just one reason – why my clients and my blog visitors need to pick up this book, what would you say?
MS: What I would say is if you need to change and you know that the techniques and tactics you’ve used haven’t been working very well, and maybe even deep down in your core, you’ve been feeling kind of sleazy about some of these things you’ve been doing, or your business is kind of hurting, this is a new, yet proven way to essentially become the publisher.
At the end of the day, what businesses need to do is have their own audiences instead of having to rely on others and eliminating all those expensive costs that are associated with traditional advertising. If you want a super loyal fan base that sings your praises from the hilltops, shares your content with their friends on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and others, then get this book. Experiment with it. I think it could change your business.
Wow, what a great interview! Whether you are a new business owner, seasoned marketer or someone simply interested in business, be sure to pick up a copy of Michael’s book, “Launch: How to Quickly Propel Your Business Beyond the Competition”.
It could be the best thing you did all year
Thanks Michael for your time…and for writing such a great book.