Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Branding, Marketing, and Trying to Sell Things

For the past month or so, I have been working at my local paper as an ad rep. In essence, my job is to sell ad space in the newspaper to local businesses. It’s one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever done.

On average, I would say more than half of the people I talk to would rather stick white hot needles in their eye. I’m not a pushy person; in fact, most days I question my ability to do this job at all. I’m not shy, but I’m not going to make anyone buy ads from the paper. But to watch how business owners act, you’d think I had devil horns and a pitch fork.

I try not to let it deter me. After all, my goal is to help these businesses be successful, but to do that, I have to get them to part with their money—and no one wants to part with their money unless they know that it’s going to be worth it. They want to know that they are going to get a return on their investment.

I don’t blame the business owners for wanting a return on their investment. That’s the name of the game: spend money to make money. And it’s their money, so they can do with it what they see fit.

When it comes to marketing, I can talk the talk. I’ve been marketing my books for a long time, and I’m always looking for ways to improve. I wouldn’t say I’m an expert in marketing—far from it—and I know there’s always more that I can do. Like the business owners I deal with, I’m pretty shrewd when it comes to spending money. I don’t have a lot of it, so I have to be careful where I invest.

When it comes to marketing, there are so many different options out there—and it’s hard to know which one is going to be successful and which one isn’t. When it comes right down to it, what works at one point in time might not in the future and vice versa, and there’s no way to know—unless you take a chance.

If you read any kind of marketing articles out there (and there are tons), they all have advice on what you should be doing. Write a blog. Get a Twitter account. Have a Facebook page. Get on Instagram. If you’re like me, you’ve done all that (with the exception of Instagram. I have a Pinterest page, but I’m terrible at posting on there).

The nice thing about these sites is that their free. At one time, I think they were novel and really helped businesses and authors get their message into the world. But like everything, they’ve grown—to the point where it’s super easy to get lost in all the other posts and messages that people put on these sites.

And let’s not even get started on Facebook and their analytics. If you have a business or author page, you are aware the FB limits the amount of people who view your posts—and it’s because they want you to pay for people to view them. If you pay, then they expect you to pay all the time, so there’s no way you can win.

Twitter is so busy. I refrained for a long time before posting on Twitter because I was afraid of getting lost. And I’m sure I do, along with thousands of others who are Tweeting. It’s chaos in 140 characters.

Blogging can be just as difficult. Once you write a blog, you have to get people to read it. Which brings you back to the marketing conundrum.

Advertising in print media can be expensive. But at the same time, people expect ads to be in papers.

There’s no magic bullet when it comes to marketing, and each medium has its share of pros and cons. However, if there’s one truth when it comes to advertising it’s this: if we are trying to sell something, we have to advertise.

Social media and print media get your information in front of different audiences. While there may be some overlap of who sees your posts in both places, more often than not you’re targeting different demographics, but how can you tell if you’re actually reaching an audience?

That’s where the marketing game gets tough. You can’t. Unless someone specifically tells you they saw your advertisement, you have no idea if your plan is working. On Facebook and Twitter you have analytics so you can see if people are interacting with your posts, but you have no idea if that interaction turns into sales.

Marketing is an incredibly frustrating pursuit. And marketing is different from branding, and advertising is a tool of marketing. The whole thing gets convoluted and confusing. It’s no wonder most business owners/authors don’t want to mess with marketing.

But we have to. If we want an attempt at being successful, we have to put ourselves out there. And just because there is no clear-cut way for us to know if Twitter or Facebook or blogging or ads in a newspaper are working, we still have to try. In the long run, it’s better than doing nothing.

My new job has forced me to look at my own marketing methods and scrutinize what I’m doing. I think a lot about how I am viewed and treated when I go in to a business to sell ads, and I can’t help but think the consumers out there feel the same way. I imagine they’re thinking, “Oh, great. Here she comes again trying to sell me one of her books.” And then they try to hide or act busy—anything so they don’t have to interact with me.

It’s hard. We want people to know how wonderful our books are and get readers to read them, but consumers, like business owners, don’t want to part with their money unless they know they’re getting something of value in return.

I wish I had an easy answer for a way to fix the problem, but I don’t. It’s like shooting in the dark and hoping to hit something. Every so often, we get lucky. The one thing I can offer is to not give up. Keep trying new things, revisit some old attempts and see if they make an impact now.

Another thing I can tell you is this: make a connection. It’s not always about selling things, it’s about forming relationships. Don’t always talk about your books or whatever it is you’re trying to sell, talk about other things—your passions, things that make you happy or ask your consumers what they’re passionate about and what makes them happy.

The hardest thing I do as a writer is marketing. I’m trying to get better and looking for different ways to get my name out there, but I’ll be honest, it’s exhausting. Still, if I keep at it, I’m sure my efforts will eventually pay off.

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