Year in Review – valuable lessons I learnt in the lost year (part 2)

I want to say welcome to 2021 with the expectation that things will be different. However, it doesn’t look like the Covid-19 situation will go away any time soon. We all have to adapt and accept the so-called “new normal”. Life will never be the same. Technologies will become even more important in driving changes. Please allow me to continue sharing what I learnt from the lost year of 2020. 

What is your ‘just cause’?

I just read the top marketing trends in 2021. One of them is about how brands must be transparent and authentic. To achieve these goals, brands need to find what their ‘just cause’ is. Why do we do what we do as a brand? 

In the most competitive world of everything, it doesn’t seem like we need anything new anymore. There are millions of products we as a consumer can choose from. It’s getting harder and harder to justify why people would be interested in your product. What is your selling point? Why would people care about your product? A lot of management still don’t understand that the world has changed. There are zillion companies out there doing the exact same thing with probably lower prices. Brands need to take a step further by asking themselves, why do people want your brand? Brands don’t have to be (and they shouldn’t be) everything to everyone. They can pick only one answer and be good at it. 

What do you stand for? What is your brand’s just cause? 

A Byproduct of Success

We don’t wake up and feel energetic every day. Where is the source of our energy? Do you feel like going to work every day? To be successful, you need to have the right energy that drives you, day in and day out, in the right direction. Where does your energy come from then? Someone has told me that “energy is a byproduct of passion and passion is a byproduct of purpose. And, purpose is a byproduct of a need of oneself to contribute something to the world. 

What is your purpose?

Are you trying to sell something online?

I am. To be successful at selling something online, it’s all about building a relationship with people, who will hopefully turn into your customers. And, the best way to do that is through effective content marketing. 

There are four essential components of a good content marketing strategy. 

  1. Pillar pieces: these are long-form articles highlighting your company’s expertise. They have about 3,000+ words. These articles serve as a foundation of your content strategy. 
  2. Thought leadership: this type of content is for the company’s leaders (could be you!) to share their thoughts about the industry a company is in. Why does your company exist? 
  3. Company’s blog: this is where you put shorter articles diving deeper into the topics in your pillar pieces and/or your thought leader pieces. Consistency is key here. The goal is you want to offer valuable content (educational and entertaining) to your audience. 
  4. Social media strategy: social media is a communication platform. The key here is to invest in the channels that work best for you. You don’t have to be visible to all social media sites. It’s just not possible to be great at all of them. 

The secret of the greatest salesman

I just read the story of Joe Girard. He holds the Guinness World Record for being the greatest salesman in the world. He sold 13,001 cars at the Chevrolet dealership between 1963 and 1978.

What is his secret? Ironically, the secret of his success was based on the two marketing concepts:

  • Positive marketing: Joe sent cards to his customers every month. He didn’t put sale or discount messages in any of his cards. He simply sent a message that he liked his customers.
  • Stay top of mind: He had more than 13,000 customers in his list. They received his cards every month. When they thought about buying new cars, his name, of course, came up first. Most of his sales came from repeated customers.

I am a firm believer that the sales and marketing process is the same process. You have to create demand before the actual sales process can start. The demand creation process could take time, and it’s an ongoing process. You cannot stop. It is interesting to know that the greatest salesman applied marketing approach seamlessly and successfully.

Two challenges you get from the top

I would say 70% to 80% of companies in the world use a direct marketing approach. By direct marketing, I mean everything opposite to brand marketing, i.e. sell products to people as quickly as possible. Nothing is wrong with this approach. However, the direct marketing approach suffers from 2 challenges:

  1. Target market: it looks like those companies know their target market. But, their customer base usually is broad, very broad. It could almost be everyone. 
  2. Quick results: they want immediate results. Life is too short, so management cannot wait. 

The consequence of the direct marketing approach is several. 

  1. You (marketing department) have to stick to this approach almost forever. Changing it to the brand marketing will take time, and you won’t get ‘quick’ results. Management wouldn’t allow you to do that. 
  2. You (companies) will always look for cost saving/cutting. You are competing on prices, always on prices. 
  3. You (companies) cannot get out of a discount game. 
  4. You (companies) have to rely on some individual sales staff, i.e. 80:20 rule – 20% of sales staff generate 80% of sales revenue. 
  5. You (companies) will eventually disappear. The company is not built to last. 

If you (marketing) have a brand marketing mindset, but you work in a direct marketing company, you would be frustrated. If you have better options, you should leave. If you don’t have other options, you may have to give up trying to push for branding. It would never happen. 

What I learn from Eric Yuan – Zoom founder

Everyone is using Zoom – a video/audio call + collaboration tool – now. Many companies have to introduce a work from home solution as quick as possible. And Zoom is a perfect solution because of its ease of use and its call/video quality. We tried to use Skype before, and we were very frustrated with its service quality. We then jumped to Zoom and really liked the solution. 

I am curious to learn more about the person who founded Zoom. His name is Eric Yuan, a Chinese immigrant to the US. These are what I learn from his story. 

  • It starts with solving a problem. Eric got the idea of creating Zoom when he was in China. He had to visit his girlfriend (now his wife) who lived 10 hours away. 
  • Never, never give up. To fulfil his vision, he determined to move to the US. His VISA applications were declined eight times. He got it in the 9th effort – 2 years later. 
  • You have to listen to your customers. When he was working with Webex and then Cisco, he heard many customers’ frustrations about the solution at the time. He tried to introduce a new, better solution, but the company didn’t accept the idea. So, he left and founded Zoom. 
  • You don’t have to hire the highest qualified people on paper. Instead, you should hire those with self-motivation and a self-learning mentality. 
  • Company’s culture is the number 1 thing that determines the success of the failure of a company. And it starts from the top. 
  • If your employees are not happy, you cannot expect any success from anything. 

He also encouraged us to jump into the startup journey. It’s hard, super hard, but it’s worth it. 

The law of diffusion of innovation

How to make your idea spread? How to make your product reach the mass? There is a theory called “The law of diffusion of innovation”. You may have heard about it before. The law said there are five groups of people – innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. 

The first group, innovators, accounts for only 2.5% of the population. Early adopters account for about 13.5%. The last three groups account for 84%. There is a little gap between the early adopters and the early majority as Geoffrey Moore calls “crossing the chasm”. That is your tipping point. 

What does it mean? It means that if you want your idea to spread, you first have to ignore the early and the late majority. These two groups will not try anything new until someone else tries it first. You have to aim at the early adopters. They are willing to try something new, and if they like your idea, it will tip. 

This simple law should be a basis in your marketing strategy. 

Final Thoughts

I really hope that 2021 will not be another lost year for anyone. The year started quite bumpy. But we should encourage ourselves to look from the bright side. We still survive. We are surrounded by family and friends. Best of luck to you all. 

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