When it comes to online marketing success, I’m fond of saying—here and over on Blue Corona’s website—that your best long-term strategy is to work hard to establish and promote your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets you do it. But a lot of business owners make the mistake when it comes to defining their market and what they do. They tend to pick a category that already exists today, when what they should be doing is inventing a new industry (or a new category within an existing industry) to “own.”
What do I mean by inventing an industry/category?
Let me explain using two modern-day examples: inbound and content marketing.
Inbound & Content Marketing
Many of the marketing channels that are now referred to as “inbound marketing” have been around for a long, long time. HubSpot didn’t invent any of them. What HubSpot invented was a common category in which to place them all—inbound marketing. (Note: I don’t actually know who invented the term “inbound marketing.” It might have been HubSpot, but it also might have been someone poor sap without the means to promote their invention!)
The term “content marketing” is Joe Pulizzi’s attempt to replicate the success HubSpot has achieved with “inbound”—at least that’s the way I interpret it. I think “content marketing” originated when Seth Godin suggested, in an interview, that “content marketing is the only form of marketing left” (or something like that).
Why You Should Invent an Industry
If you own a traditional business—an HVAC company, remodeling firm, etc.—the concept of inventing a new industry by giving a name to some aspect of your service that you already do or grouping some existing things together and calling them something new may seem really stupid.
A part of me agrees with you, but from a branding/marketing perspective, it’s actually brilliant. It’s a far superior strategy than trying to become an authority in an industry created by someone else and/or one that’s been around for 100 years relatively unchanged.
The other day, I did this—somewhat unintentionally—for Blue Corona.
These days, I don’t take many sales calls, but I was in the office before 7 a.m. when our office phone rang. Instinctively, I picked it up and it ended up being a prospect. This was the dialog that followed:
Prospect: Hi, my name is XXXXX and I own a roofing company in Chicago. I want to know how much you’d charge to revamp my website and do my SEO on an ongoing basis. What would it cost per month?
Me: Hey XXXXX, nice to meet you. My name is Ben Landers and I’m actually the president of the company. It’s been a while since I’ve taken a sales call, but we’re on the East Coast and it’s early so I’m the only one here. I’d be happy to answer your questions and provide you with some information about the costs of the services that we provide, but I should start by telling you that we’re not like other “SEO companies.” We’re a business owner–direct, revenue reporting web marketing firm and we only work with home service companies.
Prospect: You’re a what?
Me: We’re a business owner–direct, revenue reporting web marketing firm and we only work with home service companies. What this means in English is that we only work directly for business owners. We won’t work with a VP of marketing, marketing manager, etc. The reason why is that one of our differentiators is that we are business experts. Most marketing managers don’t know that much about business—at least not like an owner does.
Revenue reporting refers to the fact that we’re the only web marketing firm that reports the revenue from the work we do. You don’t pay your bills with rankings and, while we track and monitor your website’s organic rankings, that’s not what we use to set goals and measure success.
Finally, we’re very specialized. We only work with home service companies. Remind me again your industry and your role within the company?
Prospect: I own a home service company—a roofing company—and I am the owner.
Me: Oh, perfect—we appear to be headed in the right direction.
Prospect: Did you say you can show me the revenue generated by your SEO stuff?
Me: Yes, we can … and we do a lot more than just SEO.
Most SEO companies create reports that make no sense to the average business owner. They report on things like keyword rankings or inbound links. Maybe you’re different than the rest of the business owners we work with, but our average client doesn’t care nearly as much about their ranking for some hyper-specific keyword phrase picked by some SEO guy. They want to know how much revenue and gross profit was generated from their investment in SEO. That’s what we report—we show our clients exactly how much revenue has been generated from the work we’ve implemented.
Prospect: That’s exactly what I want to see. That’s the complaint I have with all the other SEO companies I’ve tried—they can never to connect what they’re doing to my actual business.
Me: Yeah, that’s what we’ve heard from the rest of our clients. Why don’t we set up a time and I’ll walk you through some examples of what we’ve done for a few other clients—including some examples of the reports we produce?
Prospect: That sounds good. When?
Believe it or not, this conversation actually happened. I had never referred to Blue Corona as a “business owner–direct, revenue reporting web marketing firm.” It was early in the morning, I was all hopped up on espresso and the words just came out.
The point in detailing the scenario above is not that I’ve created “business owner–direct, revenue reporting web marketing” as a new industry. That’s far from catchy, although some aspects of it were clearly intriguing to the prospect above. It’s also not even entirely accurate. For example, we don’t only work with business owners (although sometimes I think maybe we should) and we have a handful of clients outside the home service industry.
The point of this post is that you shouldn’t limit yourself to industries that already exist—even if you run a very traditional company (HVAC contractor, flooring guy, remodeler, business bank, etc.). Think about what makes your company different than your competitors and take a stab at creating a new industry (or a new category of an existing industry). If you do it right, you can automatically differentiate your company from your competition and place yourself at the top of a market you invented!
Even if the category you create fails to take off like inbound and content marketing, it may still prove to be more lucrative than trying to become an authority in a game created by someone else.