About 3 or 4 months ago I read a blog post that completely changed my outlook on public relations and online marketing. Here is the fundamental idea:
Most businesses have a lot more to offer than they are actually selling to customers.
On first reading that might not sound profound or revolutionary but if you think about it for a few days, you’ll start to see an insight here that can completely change the way your businesses interacts with the world. For us, this revelation helped to land JCD Repair on the NY Times blog last Tuesday and then appear in their print edition on Thursday.
Before I go on, I’d like to apologize to the blogger that wrote this great piece of advice. I spent the last 30 minutes looking for it and couldn’t find it anywhere. I’m pretty sure it was in one of two places: Patrick McKenzie’s blog or on SEOMoz. If you’re a small business owner doing any online marketing, both are blogs you should read religiously. (And if you’re not doing any online marketing, you need to start immediately and both of those links are a great place to begin.) If you happen to be reading this and you’re the blogger that wrote that advice, please send me the link and I’ll put it in this post – and thank you very much.
Now let’s dive into that statement – Most businesses have a lot more to offer than they are actually selling to customers - and see what it means and how it can help your business.
The first example that comes to mind is Amazon.com. Most people think of them as an online marketplace, but few people outside the IT world realize Amazon is one of the biggest cloud computing companies out there. You see, Amazon realized they had this huge and highly reliable server infrastructure for selling products online. It dawned on them that other businesses were making good money offering cloud computing services. So what did Amazon do? They turned their own massive server infrastructure into a product and started renting it out to other businesses. That’s a great example of a company realizing untapped value in their business model and then productizing it.
Another example, and the one that inspired me, was one of the bloggers mentioned earlier. Patrick McKenzie runs a small, online business selling bingo cards to teachers (he sold over $45,000 worth of bingo cards in 2011). One thing Patrick does really well is search engine optimization (SEO). One of his techniques for getting people to link to his site (a big part of a high Google ranking), involves open source software. “What!?” That might be your reaction right now. What does open source software have to do with bingo cards for 1st graders?
The answer is nothing. However, Patrick is a software developer that wrote the code for his bingo card website. He recognized that some of the code he wrote was valuable all on its own. So he turned part of it into an open source Ruby on Rails project, put the code up on his site along with instructions on using it, and then told the world about it. What happened? All sorts of software developers, with no interest in bingo cards but a huge interest in his software, started linking to the portion of Patrick’s website that hosted this open source project. More links to his website meant a better ranking on Google which meant more sales of his bingo card creator. So while he didn’t directly sell his offering the way Amazon sold their’s, he did use it in a way that created more business for him.
So what does all of this have to do with JCD Repair showing up in the NY Times last week?
Prior to reading this piece of advice, I used to be locked into the idea that all of our blog posts, marketing, and PR outreach had to be related to mobile devices. My thought process went like this: “We fix iPhones so I should only talk about iPhones and iPhone related stuff.” Wrong! I got nowhere blogging about Apple products. There’s a million people out there blogging and writing about Apple. So anything I wrote had already been written 100 times and wasn’t that interesting.
After reading this piece of advice, I completely switched tack – especially as related to PR. In short, I started blogging exclusively about running a small, locally based business and started responding to any PR requests about small business. Not only is running a small company something I’m completely passionate about, but I’ve learned a ton about doing it over the past 5 years and I’m learning more every day. I know there’s a lot of other small businesses out there struggling with the same issues we had or have or will have. So why not offer that value up to people?
Two months ago a woman named Melinda Emerson put a request on HARO (a place for reporters to request sources for stories). Melinda is social media blogger for the NY Times and runs her own blog on running a small business. I replied to her HARO request and let her know about one of our social media strategies. Basically, we encourage all of our customers to review us on Yelp, Google+, and Facebook. When I say all, I mean ALL. We don’t hand pick people we know are happy. Every one of our customers gets an email about two weeks after their device is repaired to make sure everything is okay. It’s not uncommon for someone that has a small problem to just live with it. But when they get this email from us, they usually let us know about the small problem and it gives us a chance to set it right. That’s the primary reason we send these follow-up emails.
One other thing we do with these emails is include a link to either our Yelp, Google+, or Facebook page and ask them to write a review of our service. We get tons of reviews from this strategy. Fortunately, we’re really good at what we do so the vast majority of these reviews are 5 stars and they say wonderful things about us. These review sites are a big part of our success because when a future, possible customer is researching us to find out if they can trust us with their iPhone or iPad, they discover these reviews and it makes the decision to bring us their phone that much easier.
Melinda thought this would make a good story so she decided to write a post for the NY Times about us. It turned out, her editor also liked the story and they ended up sending a photographer out to our shop to take some pictures and promoted the post to an actual article in the Times business section! It was an amazing experience for all of us at JCD Repair (and my mom thought it was pretty cool, too). But not only that, it will bring great value to our business. You see, search engines like Google consider the NY Times an extremely credible source. So when they put a link to your website on their website (which they did for us), you get instant credibility with Google. While it’s too early to tell what the exact long term effects of this will be, I guarantee you it will be good for our business.
So why did it happen?
One of the major reasons, and the point of this post, is we stopped limiting what we offer to the public to be just iPhone, iPod, and iPad repair. We started offering up our business knowledge as well, and it resulted in JCD Repair getting featured in a major publications. We haven’t figured out exactly how to leverage this yet (if you have suggestions I’d love a comment below), but there’s no doubt that this publicity will help give us more credibility with potential customers, should increase our rankings on Google, and has exposed our business to a whole bunch of readers of the NY Times business blog/section.
So stop thinking about your business as simply the products you sell right now. Start looking at all of your business assets – processes, infrastructure, knowledge, internal software, etc – and figure out how to start offering those to the public in a way that will enhance your reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line.