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The Real Reason Your Marketing Plan Isn’t Bringing In Business

Should you focus more on building your credibility or on generating leads? Trick question.

The Real Reason Your Marketing Plan Isn’t Bringing In Business
[Photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images] [Photo: Stockbyte/Getty Images]

At the most basic level, your business needs two marketing strategies: One that increases your credibility and one that generates qualified leads. But it’s easier said than done, right?

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In fact, it’s easier than you might think–whether you’re running a startup or working for yourself. As a publicist, my daily efforts center around landing my clients opportunities that achieve both goals simultaneously. The best part? Most of these opportunities are free.

Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs conflate these two strategies, mistake one type of activity for another, or overdo it on one side of the divide and neglect the other. Here’s how to tell credibility building from lead generation, and what it takes to strike the right balance.

Credibility Builders

First, everyone who’s selling something–whether it’s an app, a physical product, or their own consulting services–needs to build their market credibility. Lots of potential clients I speak to want to be on television, but most have outsize expectations for what a three-minute segment on a local news channel will do for their business.

“I did it to have content I could share on social media, not because I thought it would increase my followers,” Brooke Rash, cofounder of the online entrepreneur community The Social Circle, said of an appearance she made on morning television in Cincinnati last year.

As an entrepreneur who specializes in helping business owners crack social media, you might think that Rash appearing on TV during “National Social Media Day” would have boosted her website traffic or generated new leads. It did neither–but Rash wasn’t fazed. She understood that the appearance was a credibility builder. She could post about it on social media, add it to her website, and even share a link in her email newsletter, knowing that the media exposure would subtly improve how her audience perceived her expertise.

Esther Kiss, a fellow publicist, says she uses TV appearances similarly. “These clips help build trust with new prospects because of the credibility that comes with being associated with brands like NBC, CBS, or ABC,” says Kiss.

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The same goes for contributing as a writer to a well-known publication (like this one). Before I started my publicity firm, I was a corporate attorney who steadily worked to position myself as an expert on the sports industry by writing for Forbes and becoming an analyst for a regional sports network. There’s no doubt in my mind that the exposure and credibility I gained that way were instrumental in ESPN hiring me away from my law practice in 2011 to become a sports business analyst full-time.

Lead Generators

Guest blogging for a well-known outlet can also be a lead generator—not just a credibility builder—but it’s a long-term play.

I’m currently on my second stint with Forbes, and having written for the outlet for over three and a half years, I’ve been approached with book offers, paid speaking engagements, and lucrative consulting gigs. I would caution, however, that one guest blog isn’t going to have that same impact—it’s a long-term strategy that requires consistency. For example, this is my fifth piece for Fast Company, and I’ve seen no noticeable increase in leads or traffic to my website as a result. (Hint: that’s not my goal, either.)

But inevitably, when I ask potential clients about their publicity goals, they think the quick fixes are an appearance on a national television show or a feature in a major magazine. But while those things can build your credibility, they’re much less likely to be lead generators.

So, what type of publicity does generate leads?

First and foremost, you should look into being interviewed on podcasts in your niche. According to Edison Research, an estimated 98 million people listen to podcasts, and they over-index as affluent and tech-savvy. Plus, “since most podcasts are geared toward niche audiences, for experts with niche offers, doing podcast interviews can be very lucrative,” Kiss says.

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Kiss and I both advise our clients to have a lead magnet and sales funnel in place in order to convert listeners into leads and, eventually, into clients or customers. At its most basic level, this means offering some kind of free content (a checklist, an ebook, video training, etc.) in exchange for an email address. Then you need a plan in place to follow up with those leads.

“The lead magnet should be answering questions or providing a solution for something that’s related to the topic the guest shares their expertise around, so it’s perceived as a logical next step,” Kiss says. “That way, you have permission to further communicate with them, provide value, build even more trust, and ultimately generate sales.”

Kiss was able to add $1.8 million to her client Ryan Levesque’s business during the launch of his 2015 best-seller, Ask, and she says it largely came as a result of podcast interviews. On each one, Levesque offered a free copy of the book to the first 50 listeners to claim the offer, only requiring them to pay for shipping.

Orders were tracked with a unique coupon code for each show, and then those purchasers were retargeted with Facebook ads where they were offered paid products and services. Nearly $2 million later, giving away his book for free to podcast listeners turned out to be a pretty good plan for generating quality leads.

This two-part marketing strategy isn’t rocket science, and many startup founders, solopreneurs, and business owners already grasp it in principle. But it can be easy to conflate the two sides of this coin, or mistake one type of marketing activity for the other, then scratch your head when your business just isn’t scaling. By balancing credibility building with lead generation right from the get-go, you can not only avoid this pitfall but start to raise your profile–and at a lower cost than you’d even budgeted.