Strategy before tactics - Always: Marketing conversation with John Jantsch

Jan 04, 2023


Who is John Jantsch?

John Jantsch: I kind of have to give it my sort of long story. So it's not going to be a few words necessarily. But I started my own marketing. Yeah, I started my own local marketing consulting practice about 30 years ago, and like a lot of people, no real plan. I knew I could hustle work. And so I got some big clients, little clients, big projects, little projects. But I landed a couple of small business clients and I really loved working with small businesses, but I also found them very frustrating. They had the same needs and challenges, but certainly never the same budgets or even attention spans.

So really, around the year 2000, I decided that if I was going to work with small business owners, I'm going to have to figure out a different way to do it. I was going to have to be able to walk in and say, Look, here's what I'm going to do. Here's what you're going to do. Here are the results we hope to get. Here's what it costs. And essentially turn marketing into a very understandable, practical, almost product, as opposed to some customer service that was made up every time. And in trying to solve my frustration, I actually realized very quickly that I was addressing what is still today one of the greatest frustrations for many businesses. It's very hard and gotten harder to buy marketing services because there are so many changes, so many new things, and so many companies or service providers selling kind of the idea of the platform of the week.

And so the fact that somebody would walk in and say, I'm going to install a marketing system, it's going to start with a strategy before tactics and you're going to know what it cost. It was a pretty revolutionary idea 20 years ago. And again, I'm still discovering the world of small business. It's still a pretty innovative idea and I think that you know, the success of it for a lot of businesses is that it really does allow us to tie everything together and integrate all the various tactics as opposed to just treating them as something to try this week.


Is marketing a scalable process?

John Jantsch: Absolutely. And that's how we view it. I mean, most of the people come to us. Most of our clients come to us at a certain stage. I mean, they need foundational work on their website. They're producing content, but it's not really doing much for them. And maybe they've paid a bunch of money for SEO or something like that, but they're not getting the results that they want on a consistent basis. So we have to fix that foundation first, and there are certain things that we are going to do. We're going to help them narrow their focus on who makes an ideal customer or client. We're going to help them create a core message that differentiates them.

We're going to as you start to talk about, map out their customer journey or something we call the marketing hourglass. We're going to start with strategy. And what we find is that when we can define that strategy, when we can map out that strategy, we. Give them a strategic advantage, and that allows us to then kind of systematically decide what the tactics need to be, we improve their online foundation and then we can start moving to generate leads that are the right kind of leads. And then from there we can start converting more of those leads to customers and then we can start talking about enhancing the entire customer experience and creating monthly recurring revenue.

Maybe so. I mean, there is the system does, as you said, really imply that there is a process, there's a set of steps. There are stages that we try to move people through. And I think that that's the difference we start with, OK, you've got this set of problems. We're going to fix those problems, but here's where we're going. You know, here's the ultimate roadmap for growing your business rather than just putting Band-Aids on, you know, the things that they think they need to do.


Why do most entrepreneurs often prioritize marketing tactics over marketing strategy (and how can we fix that)? 

John Jantsch: Well, there's no question, I mean, I doubt that any of your listeners wake up and think to themselves, I think I'll go buy some strategy today. I mean, as you said, what they're trying to do is fix their problems. You know, why do people always ask for a lower price? You know, when, when I'm working with them? Or how come my competitors always show up in front of me in search engines when I go to search so? So they're very focused on those problems or symptoms, really? I should say.

But when I get them to start understanding that the reason people are asking for a lower price or a different price and or not a premium price is that they can't differentiate you from everybody else who says they do what you do. And so what do they have left but to say, Well, you're cheaper than the other person. So, so you know, when we start connecting the problems that they are feeling or the symptoms that they're feeling to being problems of strategy, then I can get people's attention to say we need to invest in finding a way to differentiate you.

We need to talk to your customers and understand the problems you really solve for them and start using that as our messaging. So it does sometimes take some convincing because people come to us all the time. It's like my website doesn't work, fix it. But that's really more of a symptom in most cases of not having a properly thought-out strategy that's going to allow you to serve and attract those ideal customers in a way that they actually expect to pay a premium to work with you because they so thoroughly understand that you get the problems that they have.

One of the things that we always say is that a great strategy actually tells you as much what not to do as what to do. And so that's where I think the lever of strategy comes in. So many entrepreneurs, you said look out there and they see what people are saying they should do and what's in the news, and they think why we need to be on Tik Tok and I need to be on this and you do that. So. And a lot of those tactics. I mean, some of those tactics may actually be valuable if they had the resources and time to dedicate to them. But because they don't, we have to help them develop. What are the three priorities that we need to do that are going to have the most impact? And I think a strategy, a proper strategy of who you're trying to attract, how you're trying to communicate your differences, how you're trying to create a better experience so that people stay with you and refer you. That in many cases can be far more impactful than trying to find some new avenue or channel to shop from.


How to determine your ideal customer (without using personas)?

John Jantsch: Yeah, we do. So before people get too nervous about that idea, we're not necessarily saying only work with a handful of customers. I mean, there are markets that you can serve that you deliver a tremendous amount of value to or can. That might be quite large, actually. But they think that the mistake that a lot of businesses make is, let's say you are a remodeling contractor or a service business like an accountant or something. And you know, the belief is, well, anyone who has a home or anyone who needs to do taxes, for example, is a potential client. And so the way we talk about our business, then, is that anybody who needs accounting, we're an accountant come and get it. And what we wanted.

Do you know what typically happens? Are we going into a business and we say, OK, let's rank your clients by profitability? That's step number one. And what we typically end up finding is somewhere around the top 20 percent of their clients produce the most revenue and profit. And somewhere around the bottom 20 or 30 percent, they're probably losing money. So that exercise all of a sudden, you know, really helps people understand, Gosh, we shouldn't be, you know, we definitely need to say we here's who we work with and here's what we don't work with.

You don't have to say it in terms quite like that, but by defining who you can get a great result for that, then you, you, you necessarily kind of. Keep people who aren't going to be a good fit away. So that's step number one. And then we start really looking at we take that group of profitable clients and we start looking at, is there anyone in that group that actually refers business to you as well? And we really want to take that dynamic of your most profitable customers who already are having a great experience. There are evangelists that they like what they're doing.

You're clearly getting them a lot of value, or they wouldn't be referring you. If we can figure out then the common characteristics of that group that in many cases, allows us to narrow our focus. So a lot of times when people think of a niche, they think of, Oh, it's a certain industry that I work with or I only work with chiropractors or something like that. And what my term is, I mean, there certainly are a lot of businesses that can just work with a certain industry.

Or they start maybe an executive coach works only with women. For example, I mean, those are legitimate ways to kind of narrow your focus. But within whatever niche you pick, then what we discover is that there are certain values. There are certain behaviors that you're looking for that that really make somebody an ideal customer. Because if somebody understands what you do, that's different and understands, and you know how you get people value. You know that you're not going to compete on prices, but it really becomes an expectation that they're going to pay a premium to work with you.

So it's not really just saying I'm only going to work with a certain industry. In fact, I've for my entire career, we work with many, many different types of industries, but we work with a certain type of business owner who believes you know, who believes that marketing is an investment that believes that, that there's value in the strategy. And we work with those folks and we track those folks by communicating that message. I mean, if anybody who's read my books, you know, is probably not going to come to me and say, Oh, that's great, but we just want you to do social media. I mean, they're clearly going to come if they call us. They've already got somewhat of an educated point of view about how we see marketing. And so they're going to be a good fit.

Well, let me just add on that and these be lawyers of a certain type for, for example, or lawyers that are trying to accomplish a certain type of growth. Where a lot of people make mistakes is that they look at the market and say, where's the opportunity for me as a business? But if you actually start looking at your clients the way I'm suggesting you'll start looking at clients and saying, Who can I deliver the most value to? I mean, who's a good fit for what I do not? Who's a good fit for my business?

Yeah, I mean, obviously, there are people just starting out. They've got to do something, you know, they've got a guest, maybe and who makes an ideal customer. But yeah, we spend a lot of time as part of our process interviewing our customers. We look at their Google reviews, for example, because there are clues in those interviews and clues in those Google reviews. That's about what people truly value about what you do, and it's probably not what you're saying on your website. So we really get some great core messaging ideas from that.


What is "an ideal customer"?

So what I'm trying to suggest there and this is in my last book, The Ultimate Marketing Edge, and what I'm saying, trying to suggest there is a point of view once you understand that, you know, I say the top 20 percent of your customer base that your ideal customer, once you fully understand who they are, what challenges they have, what characteristics, what they look like. And so you start marketing to those folks to attract more of them. I believe that that, you know, and I use the kind of the idea of a member not as a membership or subscription program, but really more as a point of view that that that your goal now is to take them from where they are to where they want to go as opposed to simply create a transaction. I mean, it's really it's a point of view that suggests how could you create or at least begin to create a transformation in the business or in the lives of your customers. And I think that that that's more of a membership point of view. It's almost like your customers are joining your organization to go on this journey to get a transformation rather than just the transaction that they paid for.

I mean, absolutely, I mean, that's what we all know today, or at least we've all seen examples today of that's how you guide the customer journey using content. So somebody comes to know about your business and then they go and they find something that they want to, you know, give you their email address to download and then they read additional content. They begin to trust you enough to say, Hey, I want to I want you to come to tell me how you could do this for my business. I mean that in a lot of ways that journey is, is somebody subscribing, you know, to be guided. If you in some ways, they're literally subscribing, I mean, they're getting onto your email list. But a lot of ways to think about it is that you're answering more questions, your answering more objectives for them. And so they move closer to that point of trusting you so much that they want to spend either their time or their money learning how you can help them solve the problems they're trying to solve.


How to identify your ideal customers’ main questions?

We probably employ three or four things. I mean, in many cases, if you're not taking advantage of the questions that you're getting asked anyway in sales presentations or in, you know, emailing queries or just somebody goes to your website and wants to know how something works. I mean, you should be collecting all of that information and start, you know, in many cases, you see on websites frequently asked questions. Well, hopefully, those are informed by questions that we're actually being asked by people. In some cases, I've gone into organizations and said, You know, let me look at your customer service or your salespeople's outbound emails.

Let's look at the questions they've been answering. You know, in many, in many sales things and in many and in some cases, customer service, what are the questions you're getting after somebody becomes a customer because they don't understand how to use something or they want to do more? Or are they confused about their body?

But I mean, those are all great, great places for four questions. We also about once a quarter suggests that people have some sort of a process where they talk face to face or over the phone, or however they want to do it with a handful of customers and just ask them. You know, try to get into how they're using your product or service, what they're getting, what they're not getting, why they chose you in the first place, what you do, that's different. I mean, there are many, many ways in which you can collect this data, but you've got to make it intentional or you won't take advantage of it, even though it's right there in front of your face.

And you know, the beauty of questions is if one person's asking it, there are probably 10 people that also 10 other people that also have that same question. So, so making that in some ways almost the basis of yours. A content plan was, quite frankly, an easy way to make sure that you're producing content that will truly be valuable. There are some tools. I mean, obviously just if you go to Google and start searching for a question that you think your customers might ask, they will suggest knowing other questions. There's another tool we use all the time called to ask the public

Tool to help you do that: Answer the public, which you know you can go in there and put in a term and it'll give you some ideas about the questions people are actually asking about that. So there are there definitely some tools. But boy, your customers or prospects quite often are are asking the questions if as long as you are mining them and tabulating them and answering them,

Well, yeah. And look, just to clarify that, I mean, obviously, everybody is online today, and that's the way a lot of people start their journey. They go search on Google, they find your business, they look at your website, they kick around a little bit and then quite often for local businesses, then they pick up the phone or fill out a form or something. And the transaction may ultimately be done in your office or in your store. But they got to that point of wanting to do the transaction quite often completely through an online process, for sure.


How to find your differentiating factor and be innovative, even without being Steve Jobs?

We've talked a little bit about it. One is doing these interviews, I mean, we find quite often that we'll ask people questions like, what does this company do that others don't? And so they'll say, Oh, they provide good service, which of course, isn't much of a differentiator. So, so we'll go deeper. Well, tell me a story about a time they provided good service for you, and it's amazing some of the things that you'll start hearing themes that will come up and recur. And I also mentioned, you know, Google reviews, if you've got 20 plus five-star Google reviews, you should go read every single one of those. Not just so you can say, Oh, look, they're saying good things about us. I mean, that's obviously awesome. But read the actual words that they're saying. The phrases and the terms are using what we have discovered time and time again is in those reviews and in those interviews, and people will actually start revealing the real problem that you solve for them. There's an example in my last book that I use all the time of a tree service that we worked with. And of course, you know, they promoted that they did great work and, you know, they were reliable in those kinds of things when we interviewed their clients and looked at the reviews, we saw time and time again. They said they showed up when they said they would and they cleaned up the job site after they left. The assumption by most people. True or not, if you have a chainsaw in a truck, you can probably cut a tree down. But will you show up at the appointed time and will you clean up after? Because, you know, a lot of people are gone at work and they come home and, you know, the job site either cleaned up or it's not. And so that's the real thing that their best customers were not getting from other people that served them. And so we turned that seemingly odd combination into their core message was, shall we say we will? We'll clean up the job site before we leave.

Karine: which type of content did you build around it?

So a couple of things we made that their core message so above the fold on the website when you go there, it says we'll show up when we say, you know, because people know their tree service, it's amazing to me. All the websites you show up and say we're a tree service just like we are, we knew that already. But to say, you know here, but here's how we're different. Here's the problem we solve for you now. It's not enough to just have that as your tagline on a business card or something. And so we also created processes for them. So part of the sales process for them was that they would give you there an on-time guarantee, which was actually a process that said, you're going to get X off if we, you know, we promise to show up. And if we don't, we're going to give you this, you know, this discount of when they went out to quote the job, which often, you know, people do, they have to go out, look at the tree to find out what challenges are going to be there. They would actually give the person with the quote their 27-step checklist of how they made sure that the job site was cleaned up impeccably. So you not only make those words, you make those part of the customer experience, part of the sales process, part of the branding of the entire organization. So that's how you make this core difference. A significant part of your strategy is that you build processes and content around it.


Customer’s journey or customer hourglass?

John Jantsch: So what? A lot of people think about this idea of the customer journey, it's really more about demand creation. How do I get somebody to know about us and, you know, the customer funnel or the marketing funnel is something that people probably are more aware of? And unfortunately for me, you know where I have a problem with that is it typically ends that we got the sale. So it's all about, you know, how do we get them to do what we want them to do? So we get a sale and that's the end of it. So what I created was this metaphor of the hourglass, which does certainly borrow from the funnel shape. I mean, we do have to get some percentage of the market out there to know we exist and some smaller percentage to know that there is an ideal client. But then for the hourglass, I flipped the funnel over at the point at which somebody becomes a customer because, to me, that's where. That's where real growth occurs in an organization the retention part and the part where they tell their friends, neighbors, and colleagues the referral part. And so those behaviors, as you mentioned, are really kind of how I define it because, you know, we can talk all about all the changes. And, you know, a lot of marketers are, you know, very stressed out about this new platform and that new platform. But the thing people forget is, you know since I've been in business, the thing that's changed the most is how people can buy now and how they do by now. And so a lot of the journey that we used to try to create or force is really out of our hands anymore. You know, we were talking about the way people buy now as they go and they research and ask their friends and they they they look and see who else trusts you. And if there's other, you know, social proof, and then and only then do they maybe contact us as a business. I mean, they've maybe even made their buying decision already based on everything they've been doing. So I suggest that our job is behavioral as a marketer is less about creating demand and more about organizing the behaviors that people want to participate in with the businesses they do business with. And those seven behaviors are known, like, and trust. Try, buy, repeat, and refer. And it really is by creating, by understanding that framework and then just looking at each of those stages and saying, What do we need to do at this stage and at this stage and once somebody becomes a customer? And how do we, you know, how do we intentionally get them to buy more or to just stay a customer? And how do we intentionally generate referrals just by focusing on the fact that all of those stages exist really allows you to prioritize the campaigns and the content and the marketing that you create


Which content type for each step of the customer’s hourglass?

John Jantsch: Probably the thing that's changed the most is how people can come to know about our business. I mean, there are all these platforms. I mean, we can go directly to consumers now without, you know, the middle steps or the dealers and things like that. So I mean, that's probably the thing that's changed the most. The thing that hasn't changed at all, in my opinion, is that we have to earn the trust of somebody not just to buy from us, but to be convinced that we, regardless of price in some cases, that we are the answer for them. And I think that that part probably has changed the least because when it really comes down to it, that's when somebody is looking closely at our business. Obviously, they can look at videos, they can look at things on our website that will help develop that trust. But they have to believe, you know, through proof that we can share. They have to believe that they'll get the result. That's promised that we will deliver on what we talk about. And so, you know, the way that other people talk about our business, what we share in the sales conversation, maybe if there's a way for them to try what it might be like to work with our business, that's that that last step of earning the trust to get the sale to me hasn't really changed that much. And it really is about building relationships as much as it is about telling everybody how great you are.


Content Hub, power page, topic cluster: the one and only good content/seo strategy in 2022?

John Jantsch: It probably is very close to that topic cluster that you're talking about. And really, you know, for the last 10 years, this SEO and content have become really linked. I mean, the days when somebody could just go out and hire somebody to come to my website and SEO it, you know, are really over. I mean, Google has, you know, Google's only goal when you go to a search engine is to deliver what they think is going to be the most useful, most valuable content that actually has never changed. They've just gotten it. A lot better at it.

So consequently, the bar has really been raised for marketers, I mean, we have to produce more useful, better content that you know, that sends the signals to the search engines and frankly, to the people that visit that content, that this is something worth their time. So, you know, we all jumped on blogging 10, 15 years ago, and that was at that point that was a big innovation. I mean, here's a changing dynamic content that people update frequently. I mean, that was a big change in the world of content.

Well, everybody got the message. And so now there was kind of this content dump out there. The people were just producing lots and lots of content that was probably not that useful and it was just kind of going off into the ether. So in a way to combat that, you know, a lot of organizations that were producing good content, you know, started looking at, you know, how can we find ways to take this content and turn it into not only longer, more valuable content, but turn it into content that is more useful because it is searchable itself. It is the basic idea behind the hub pages. I'll have a bit. We will have a major topic. I have them on my website, the guide to local marketing.

Well, that's a big topic. And so we break it up into five sub-topics Google, my business, you know, some SEO, even AdWords or Google advertising, you know, as kind of major categories, and it becomes almost a whole course or really a table of contents for a whole book, if you will, that that resides on one hub page. Each of the topics or the narrower topics then links out to an individual blog post, and all of these blog posts link back to the hub page so that the internal structure is maybe 40 pages, all linking back to one single topic page. And so the way search engines work is, they go there and they say, Oh, this has a lot of really great keywords on it. This is really serious about this subject.

But let's look at all the links that it links to and that I'll link back to this and it allows the search engines to say this is a significant topic. This is a topic that goes very, very deep because they're in all that that hub page probably links back and forth to about 50 thousand words of content. And so if you search, if you google the term guide to local marketing, maybe not in France, but in the US, if you google the term guide to local marketing, that's going to come up number one in a very, very competitive search term. But because of not only the content that's there, but the internal structure that we've created around that content, and in many cases, we'll actually take a website where maybe they've produced 500 blog posts, but they're just kind of one of this and that, you know, over time, like like a content management system does. If we bring those things together in a structure that actually makes sense not just to the search engines, but to anybody who's looking for information. I mean, people find our page guide to local marketing. They might click on 12 pages, they may stay on there for an hour, you know, reading that content and that just send signals to the search engines that this clearly passed the test of being useful content.

You know, when we work with folks, we help them develop a strategy first. That's kind of our first process. We may say we need to fix these kinds of core pages on your website because they're a mess. But the very next thing we will do is say, Look, let's take the content you've produced. Find a way to package it as maybe two or three substantial hub pages that are going to be useful in terms of generating business for you. You know, if somebody finds them and maybe the next six months, we're going to work on just accomplishing that, you know, that, you know, from a content standpoint that goal because long term, that's going to serve businesses quite well.


Has keyword research become the new market research of your marketing plan?

John Jantsch: I actually talk about it as editorial research, but it's kind of the same thing. I mean, we use keyword research the days when you would do keyword research because you would then cram 10 keywords into a blog post, and that would have some benefit, you know, really over. So we use keyword research really kind of for the entire structure. So well as we build, say, one of these hub pages, we might say, Hey, these topics really need to be on here and using these phrases to maybe talk about these. But it's really more of the high-level kind of developing the editorial outline as opposed to just doing keyword research because I want to rank for a certain. The term, you know, with this blog post, it's gone. Unless you are just in an incredible niche industry, it's very difficult to try to take one blog post and rank it for a certain term, which is what I take a lot of SEO people, how I was going to see for many years now. It's really the website as a whole and the editorial outline that's going to eventually allow you to rank for many search terms.


$15,000 to start and succeed in content marketing?

 John Jantsch: So this really goes hand-in-hand with referrals. So you got lucky here because a lot of times when people come to me and they say, I'm just starting, what should I do first? I always talk about strategic partners, which is really a form of referral. So my advice is to go out and find six or eight companies or individuals or businesses that have what you think is your ideal customer. So for example, when I was getting started, a lot of software companies were just starting to try to sell to small businesses. So I targeted a handful of software companies and I produced an e-book and a webinar, and I went to them and I said, Hey, I'll do this webinar for you for free. I've got this e-book you can co-branded and send it out to your list because they were not producing that much content at the time. Excuse me. So I think specifically to your question, I would take that money and I would invest in a great deal of it in producing, you know, getting somebody to design. I mean, obviously, you've got to have something useful to say, but getting somebody to design an e-book or an end to end maybe slide deck for a webinar, maybe some promotional materials around that and then go to find a handful of companies, or organizations that have your ideal customer in mind and offer to let them co-brand that or offer to do that kind of presentation for their audience free of charge. And what obviously your hope is that you are going to gain a tremendous amount of exposure. It's going to be exposed by a trusted partner who is saying, you know what you're talking about and which is far better than you saying, you know what you talk about and it can, in many cases, be a great way to kick start a business.

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