#16 Saving Your Business with Effective Content
Written by Megan Hamilton • Reviewed by Laura Meyer
July 15, 2022
Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to grow your business. But what makes for a great story? Sharing the right content with your customers and recruits. (Spoiler alert: They want you to answer their questions!)
Today, we’re sharing two stories from marketing guide Marcus Sheridan. Hopefully, you’ll see how effective content can grow your business and get some ideas for content your customers and recruits need.
Yale Appliance and the gutsy content
Yale Appliance sells appliances in Boston, Massachusetts. We know this isn't your industry but sit tight. If you take what this company did and apply it to your business, you’ll get amazing results.
The old way ain’t working
The team at Yale Appliance was producing content, but they weren’t getting good results. Their CEO, Steve Sheinkopf, asked Marcus why their content wasn’t helping the company grow.
Marcus replied, “You're not talking about what buyers actually care about. If you start talking about what they care about and stop focusing on what you think is important, everything will change.”
Steve’s content told stories that made his company look like the hero. But if you want to reach today’s digital buyers, you have to make them the hero. You have to answer the questions they care about—not the ones that make you sound good.
Making honest content
Steve decided to start answering his customers’ questions for real.
First, he made his entire sales team part of marketing. They’re now required to help grow the content learning center on the company website. (Remember, requiring participation is one of the five keys to applying Marcus’ They Ask, You Answer principles.)
Next, Steve started producing some gutsy content.
For instance, his customers always used to ask, “What’s the least-serviced kitchen appliance brand that you sell?” That’s a good question from a customer’s perspective. They want to buy appliances that won’t break. But for a business, that question is scary. If Steve told people which brand was most reliable, they’d also find out which brand was least reliable. That could hurt sales or even his relationship with the vendor.
Finally, he said, “You know what? People want to know, so I’m going to tell them.”
Steve wrote an article about the least-serviced appliance brands he sold. He told customers exactly how Yale Appliance calculated reliability, ranked the appliance brands from least to most serviced, and even showed the percentage of service calls his team ran for each brand.
Now hopefully you're starting to see why this is so dang gutsy. Steve’s article was 100% transparent—and that’s hard to find these days.
Shaking things up with the vendors
Now you’re probably wondering how the vendors reacted. Didn't the low-ranking ones freak out? Actually, if the vendors complained, Steve told them, “I guess you'll have to make a better product next year.”
How did he get away with that? Because he became the trusted voice about kitchen appliances. He became the linchpin of that space, so the vendors couldn’t afford to lose him. And he became that valuable to the vendors because he answered his customers’ questions.
His customers love this article, by the way. Steve gets comments from people around the world thanking him for his objective recommendations. When you make unbiased content, people want to work with you.
Here’s the short version of what happened to Yale Appliance after they started making transparent content:
- Their web traffic went from 20,000 to almost one million visitors a month.
- 50,000 people read the article about the least-serviced appliance brands each month.
- Sales went from $37 million in 2011 to over $120 million in 2018.
- The company spent $700,000 less per year on advertising.
- Steve’s adding more stores and warehouses.
- His margins are up 5%.
- Over 135,000 people contacted him on his website, and over 6,000 of them became customers.
That’s crazy! Each of those 6,000 people became customers because they read one piece of content from someone who was willing to answer their questions.
That's possible for you, too. If you have the same mindset as Steve, you can create your own story that gets exceptional results.
River Pools and The New York Times
Marcus runs a company called River Pools and Spas, and he invented They Ask, You Answer marketing principles there. That led his company to have the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world. They also became the fastest-growing fiberglass pool builder. And they started manufacturing pools and opening franchises around the country.
All these things began with the mindset that, to be the best teachers in the world about fiberglass swimming pools, they would have to answer their customers' questions.
Telling the story—then telling it again . . . and again . . .
Marcus told his story at a conference in Dallas. Afterward, a newspaper reporter came up to him and asked if he could run a story on what Marcus had done at River Pools and Spas.
A few days later, the reporter interviewed Marcus over the phone. A few days after that, a photographer came to the swimming pool company. Finally, the article ran on the cover of the business section of The New York Times. It was called, “A Revolutionary Marketing Strategy: Answer Customers’ Questions.”
Is there really anything revolutionary about answering customers’ or recruits’ questions? There shouldn't be. Yet people shared this story more than any other from The New York Times business section over the next few days—so much that they ran it again that Saturday.
Giving people permission to do the right thing
Marcus got over 1,000 personal messages over the next few months. They usually said one of two things.
Some people said what you might be saying, too: “What you did with your pool company was so simple.” That’s the point! The They Ask, You Answer principles are super simple and easy to use. Everything we’ve talked about here is common sense. But as they say, common sense is often uncommon.
Other people who reached out to Marcus said, “I feel like you've given me permission to do what I always thought we should be doing.” If that’s you—now you have permission, too.
Applying these lessons to your business
When you follow the They Ask, You Answer principles, all you’re doing is marketing and recruiting based on the Golden Rule.
Do, teach, and say to others what you would want to see, read, or hear if you were in their shoes. What would you want if you were the one looking for a job or looking for a contractor?
If you can really think like a customer or recruit, marketing and recruiting become so simple and easy. And that strategy will always work. Your challenge is to obsess over what your customers are thinking, asking, and searching. Start answering their questions, and everything will change.
Marketing’s Role in the Dirt World
Now maybe you’re thinking, Yeah, that’s great. But my industry is different. To be fair, the construction and heavy civil industries are a long way from swimming pools and appliances. But your customers and recruits aren’t much different from Marcus’ or Steve’s.
In this next video, Marcus sits down with Randy Blount and Dan Briscoe to talk about marketing in the Dirt World and how you can apply these principles to your business.
Written by Megan Hamilton
Reviewed by Laura Meyer
July 15, 2022