A Business Lesson from “Lost”

It’s the morning after the series finale of Lost, and many people are moaning and groaning about the ending. However, just as many are claiming satisfaction with it. (I recall a similar thing happening with the series finale of The Sopranos.)

So what’s the business take away here? Simple: there will always be people who don’t like how you do something. No matter how many drafts you write or product enhancements you create or new service offerings you provide, you will always have people out there who say it’s not enough or they would have done it differently or that they just don’t “like” it (even if they can’t tell you why).

Guess what? That’s okay. Focus on the ones who do like it.

Actually, cancel that. Focus on creating something — a business model, a customer service strategy, a book, a screenplay, a new fashion line — that you’re proud of. You’ll always have to deal with critics. But the only critic that really matters in the end is yourself.

I’ve heard Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the chief writers of Lost, talk enough over the last few weeks to get a sense that they’re really proud of what they created, including the final episode. They know — and expect — that people will disagree with what they did. But they’re okay with that, because they feel they’re being true to their characters and to what they’ve created over the last six years.

Note: I’m not saying you should ignore constructive feedback. But at some point, you’ll need to release whatever it is you’re working on to the world at large. That’s why it’s important to release something you believe in. As Saint Godin says, your tribe will evolve from the passion you have for your product, book, painting — whatever it is.

Build something great. Your true tribe of fans will follow.

In Social Media, Do One Thing Well

When it comes to social media, the biggest mistake I see business owners make is starting a Twitter account, a Facebook account, launching LinkedIn, and a blog. What’s wrong with all that? It’s simply too much at once.

I’m a big advocate of the “do one thing well first” philosophy. Choose the social medium that makes the most sense for your business and dedicate yourself to it for, say, 3-6 months. Ignore the people who tell you that in addition to that medium, you can easily spend an extra 10 minutes a day on this medium or that medium and increase your reach. It’s a great idea in theory, and some people might actually succeed, but the majority of us mortals will eventually slack off. Slacking off begets more slacking off, because once you get behind it seems impossible to catch up.

I know this sounds familiar to many of you.

So buck the emerging trend that you must be doing all these social media thingies at once. You don’t. Choose one. Do it well. Once it becomes second nature, add in another medium (if it makes sense to do so) and start the process all over.

Doing One Thing Well – A Real-Life Story

I recommend this to all my clients, and occasionally one will actually listen to me. One of my clients is an online retailer who owns two brands, a western wear shop and a casual leisure shirt shop. When we first started working together she wanted to blog and do Facebook and do Twitter. I shared my “do one well first” philosophy, and she listened.

We started with Facebook. Anyone who’s created a company page knows how frustrating the platform can be (which is when I remind myself that it’s free, and I have no right to complain). My client and I read e-books and articles on creating engaging company pages. We experimented with ads. We worked hard to build a fan base. One of the brands did better than the other, at first, and the fan base shot up. We then brought on another person to help engage the struggling page, and watched as its base finally started to inch up. We worked and experimented and failed and won and tried again. We’re now humming, and both fan bases are over 1700 people each, which isn’t bad for a small business that’s had a presence on Facebook since late last fall.

My client didn’t bring up Twitter at all during this time, but we recently talked about whether we’re ready to add it in. And that’s when I heard my words coming back at me. My client said, “I listened to you about doing one thing well, and you were right.”

Warmed the cockles of this copy bitch’s heart, let me tell you.

So follow my advice: when it comes to social media, focus on one thing first. Do it well. Get really good at it. Then consider your next step.

Need guidance? I can help! Learn more about my content strategy services.

Outbound Marketing Fail: A Real Life Story

I’m a huge advocate of a marketing philosophy called “inbound marketing.” This term was coined by a company in Cambridge, Mass., called HubSpot. Basically, the idea is to focus on getting your company found by people who are already interested in what you’re offering. In other words, it’s much easier to sell a rhinoplasty, for example, to someone who is already looking to reduce the size of her nose than it is to sell a rhinoplasty to someone who is perfectly happy with her nose.

Inbound marketing includes:

  • Optimizing your website for search engines so people looking for your products and services can find it
  • Writing content that attracts, engages, and converts visitors – this can be done through myriad ways, such as blogging, tweeting, interacting with a Facebook audience, providing free/useful content on your site
  • Nurturing leads every step of the way
  • Nurturing current customers and helping them to spread your message

Outbound marketing, such as unsolicited emails, direct mailers, radio spots, TV commercials, etc., casts a wide net that may or may not include people who are interested in your services. You end up spending more money, yet you usually end up with fewer conversions.

Okay…lesson over.

Here’s a real-life example that just happened to me. Tell me what’s wrong with this approach:

  • I received an email with a subject line: newsletter
  • The body said, “Do you have a newsletter?” and came complete with a signature. The guy’s signature included a title (account executive) but the company name could only be gleaned from the guy’s email address.
  • I responded (a bit skeptically, I’ll admit, since I have a newsletter sign-up on each page of my website and a clear “newsletter archive” in the navigation). I said that I did indeed have a monthly newsletter and I provided a link to the sign-up and my archive.
  • The guy responded right away with this:

I would like to introduce myself, my name is Sam (last name redacted) at <company name redacted> leading providers in email newsletter management solutions.

Several clients in your industry use our service. The reason I contacted your organization is because we provide a solution to help you better manage and broadcast your email campaigns (e-newsletters).

I would like to show all possibilities that our program can give you. Would you be available for a short conversation this week? That won’t take much time but will give you fresh ideas and show other opportunities.

Ugh. (Yes, that was my reaction, although I spouted it in a more earthy term.) I decided to respond, only because I was curious how far Sam would take me on this fishing expedition. Here was my response:

Thanks, but I’m really happy with my current vendor.

Never heard back. Sam didn’t engage me further (which, in this scenario, was a smart move). But what a waste of time–on his part and mine.

I realize the email software industry is crowded. But this isn’t the way to stand out. What should Sam be doing? Here are three ideas off the top of my head (and this goes without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyway: as an email software vendor, Sam shouldn’t violate the #1 rule in email marketing by sending an unsolicited email. Duh!)

  1. Have his current customer base – his current tribe, as Saint Godin would say – refer him potential clients. Start a referral program or simply call up a very happy customer and ask the customer to introduce Sam to a few of his colleagues (there are ways to get more creative with this…again, I’m just thinking off the top of my head).
  2. Optimize the website for people who are actually looking for email software. They’re out there–including people who are looking for the first time and people looking to make a switch. Provide engaging content and figure out how you’re going to persuade me to use your software rather than some other software (yes, this might require you to take a step or two back and conduct some marketing and messaging research).
  3. Hold webinars on the product’s capabilities and on email marketing in general (it shouldn’t all be self promotional, but rather it should share tips, best practices, etc) – a great way to introduce people to your platform is by holding free webinars…people who sign up might be looking for the first time or they’re looking to make an immediate switch or they’re shopping around – all of these are good things and people you can continue to nurture and market to because they’ve shown an interest in what you have to offer.

I was going to “out” the company and website but have decided not to. (Trust me when I say that the website isn’t optimized.)