Direct Marketing: Using Education as a Competitive Advantage

Direct Marketing: Using Education as a Competitive Advantage

This is Episode 42 of This Old New Business weekly business podcast with Jeff Korhan.

Ed LaFlamme used educational direct marketing in the days before digital to propel his former landscape business into a multi-million dollar enterprise that he later sold to a national firm. In fact, his marketing newsletters were so successful they were featured by Inc Magazine as among The Best Newsletters in America.

In this episode we discuss how LaFlamme used education as a competitive advantage in his business by seeking out and learning from experts — to then become one.

Our Featured Guest: Ed LaFlamme

Direct Marketing: Using Education as a Competitive AdvantageEd LaFlamme is the author of the nationally acclaimed book, Green Side Up: Straight Talk on Growing and Operating a Profitable Landscaping Business. He was formerly the founder of the largest landscape maintenance company in the state of Connecticut, which he later sold to Landcare USA. Today Ed is a professional speaker and partner in The Harvest Group, where he mentors aspiring landscape businesses nationwide.

Learn from Experts to Then Become One

Ed learned early in his career that education and expertise are transferrable. To differentiate his the snow plowing segment of his landscape business he sought out meteorology (weather) experts and shared that expertise with his newsletter subscribers.

Over time, LaFlamme’s clients viewed his company as the winter (and summer) weather prediction experts. In addition to building trust customers and potential buyers, specific expertise suggests professionalism that extends into other aspects of the business, including the products and services being offered.

In competitive markets where products and services are viewed as predominantly the same, the differentiators are people and relationships. One of the surest ways to open doors to new relationships is with specialized expertise in the form of educational content that adds value to physical products and services.

To keep pace today, business owners are investing in education for themselves and their team. The savvier small businesses are also building their list of subscribers to then employ direct marketing methods to share their acquired expertise, a practice often known as content marketing: educating people to help them become better buyers, and the right customers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on direct marketing and online education? Meet me over on Twitter to take the conversation further.

Lighting Round Tips and Advice

Ed’s Top Sales or Marketing Advice – Study the issue at hand. Really get involved to have a thorough understanding for developing a solution.

His Favorite Productivity Tip – Make a list of what needs to be done and prioritize according to what’s urgent, important and long-term. Then choose the one that is most important to get done that day.

A Quote that has Inspired Ed’s Success – “Pounce on every day.” Jack Welch

Key Take-Aways

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About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business and host of This Old New Business podcast.

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+

Native Advertising: Content Marketing goes Mainstream

Just when you thought social media was going to rule the digital world, it is now clear that content is not only king – it is going mainstream with a new twist.

With more people sharing online content, and especially as more regular Joes and Janes are able to now call themselves publishers, content is now moving to center stage in new ways.

As new media challenged traditional media, banner and video ads were employed by traditional media outlets to monetize their content.

The realization has now dawned that their system is completely broken – people are not clicking on banner ads.

And why should they, you can get all of the free content you want by taking advantage of Google news. Consumers are not only ignoring banner ads, they despise their interruptive qualities.

Get ready for a new (sort of) kind of advertising that is designed to draw you in and hold your attention – it’s called native advertising.

Content Marketing vs Native Advertising

Content marketing is designed to build a relationship with your audience – by giving them valuable content that is designed especially for them. Content informs, it solves problems, and ideally also entertains whenever possible too.

Content marketing builds an audience to earn the opportunity to occasionally make offers to buy your products and services. Obviously, both the content and the offers are designed for a specific audience.

Native advertising is paid content marketing that most likely (but not always) includes a call-to-action for selling products and services. Promoted posts on Twitter are one form of native advertising – another are old-fashioned “advertorials” in newspapers and magazines (like the one in the image above).

The Truth About Native Advertising

You have already experienced native advertising. The only thing new is the name – and the fact that is sure to take marketing with content to a higher level, maybe even an art that fully uses all of the capabilities of digital media.

Native advertising in the form of long copy ads in newspapers or magazines at first glance look a lot like the regular content that the publication is known for. However, because the FTC does have oversight to protect consumers, there has to be at least a small disclaimer to indicate that the content being shared is indeed a promotional ad.

The look and feel of the content is what makes the ad native, something that is local or native to the publication, so to speak, and therefore, presumably just as readily consumed.

How This Makes for Better Online Marketing

One expectation is that disclosure and disclaimers will soon become nearly impossible to detect, as they can be disguised with images, overshadowed by well written headlines, or lead to amazing offers that people are eager to take advantage of  – think Groupon, that nothing else really matters.

When the native advertising trend goes mainstream, it will be necessary for you to be a better marketer to hold your audience – truly understanding how to attract, build, and maintain a platform that honors the audience.  This is the future of blogging, email newsletters, and all forms of social marketing.

When the playing field gets bigger it attracts more talent, and there is plenty of it out there. So, the winners are going to be those that are honing their practice and taking risks to differentiate their online digital assets for a defined audience.

Tell great stories, use quality images that capture attention and inspire, and above all, seek to create powerful headlines that earn attention – that’s what the native advertisers will be doing.

There is a fine line between native advertising and content marketing. Both attempt to earn the attention of an audience to sell them something. Only the methods differ.

It’s going to be fun. When there is a shift in marketing trends, being among the first to adapt provides invaluable advantages.

Are you ready?

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business – (Wiley 2013)  

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+.