You are passionate. You started a business around a great idea. You set out to try to offer something to others. Yes, you need for some of them to pay you. Payment comes in many forms, though. Money is great, but it’s not the only goal under the New Rules. Some of you will stop reading immediately right there. But if you’ll stick with me for a minute, I’ll explain how to adjust your thinking about this—and why.
Everything is an exchange of value. You derive value from more than just money now. Actually, I would argue that it’s always been that way, but the digital world brings it all right to your desktop.
Payment come in a variety of forms:
- Attention. There’s so much noise out there that it’s now extremely difficult to get noticed. Attention is incredibly scarce now, which means that it has increased in value. And you have to “pay” more for that up front by providing value. And you have to do that generously, without expecting anything in return. After all, why would someone give you his/her attention now, when there are so many things competing for it?
- Advocacy. Once you’ve earned someone’s attention, now you have to earn their trust. This is going to “cost” you more, because you not only have to deliver value, but you have to be consistent about it too. You have to get people excited. You have to make them depend on you. If you’re delivering great value (even for free), and you are doing remarkable things, then people are going to tell their peers. This is immensely effective, much more so than anything you can say about yourself. You are not as credible to a customer as she is to a trusted friend—and you never will be.
- Capital. This one’s obvious. If you’ve earned enough trust that someone will pay you now? You win the game, or at least you advance to the next level. If you’re at this point, all I can say is congrats. It’s so difficult to get to this stage, and it’s where most startups die.
- Loyalty. Getting a customer is way different than keeping a customer. Once there is money involved, the dynamic changes. There are expectations, sometimes beyond what you think the exchange of value should be. The only way to keep a customer happy is to make sure that whatever they are paying you, they think they’re getting a great deal. Price doesn’t matter if the exchange of value is seen as a good deal—from both sides.
To summarize, here are the big takeaways:
Attention is worth a lot, though it’s still at the low end of the scale. Advocacy is worth more than attention, and sometimes worth more than money itself—all because it can accelerate and self-replicate. Trust is the holy grail, because it’s the only path to capitalizing. But you can’t stop at that threshold of trust if you hope to keep a customer.
This changes your sales and marketing strategy, doesn’t it? Sure, you need to drive awareness (especially as a new player), but building trust is going to require help from others. Your business will not accelerate if trust goes at the speed of you.
That means that it’s not just about connecting with potential customers directly, the way it was done in the past. Ads, billboards, radio spots, cold calls—you talking about you. Not believable anymore. At least not until someone else who already has trust vouches for you.
So you have to be reaching influencers, too—the folks that have their own audiences. To be effective, an audience does not have to be large. If you get an endorsement from a star blogger with a huge following, that’s awesome. But an influencer, by definition, has credibility. So even the influencers with relatively small audiences can impel an action. Which would you choose?
- Influencer with a small audience = 100 people, all of whom are engaged. They trust the influencer, and act based on her advice.
- Influencer with a large audience = 10,000 people who are barely engaged. They are rarely compelled to take action.
Strategically, it’s easier to get the attention of the influencer with a small audience. You’re just going to have to replicate it 100 times in the above example. That used to be incredibly difficult in the analog world, and now it’s just about your story, your own audience of audiences*, and how you build relationships with your customers. That’s what a content strategy is for.
Credibility does not need to scale. It just need to travel from node to node. There are (virtually) no carrying costs in communication anymore. Use that to your advantage. Work your way up the chain, providing real value and building real trust at every step. When you start to see advocacy take root, then and only then will you have a chance at monetization.
*The phrase, “audience of audiences” is attributed to Brian Solis and his excellent book, The End of Business As Usual. It was first introduced on his blog, in a post entitled, “An Audience with an Audience of Audiences.”
This piece is a part of a 10-part series called Content Strategy for Entrepreneurs. Please subscribe to get updates so that you don’t miss a segment! I won’t abuse the privilege of your permission, and you can set your own frequency.