It’s the biggest productivity killer for any marketer…
And no, it’s not a specific activity—it’s fear.
Too many marketers know what produces results but are afraid to implement them.
Instead, they’d rather spend their time doing something “safe,” like making their spreadsheets look pretty.
These distractions don’t help you get anything done.
Alternatively, some marketers, especially the ones who learned most of their knowledge online, will go to great lengths to avoid the difficult work that comes with marketing techniques that work.
And then, they complain that no matter how many tactics they try, nothing works!
Listen, I know that some things are scary, difficult, or even just a bit off-putting. But if you want to really make a difference in the success of your business, you need to get over those fears, one at a time, and do the work.
Now, if it’s not clear what I meant by “scary marketing techniques,” it’ll become clear in just a second.
In this post, I’m going to show you 5 marketing tactics that are effective for most businesses.
The only catch is they can be difficult or scary to do.
I’m going to break them down as much as possible so that you can determine why they might scare you and what you could do to overcome that fear.
This is going to take a lot of honesty on your part, but if you’re willing to give me that, it could have a huge impact on the success of your marketing.
1. If you want to know your customers, you need to talk to them
Do you like talking on the phone to people you don’t know?
If you do, you’re a unicorn. The vast majority of people either don’t particularly care for it or straight up hate it.
When it comes to the latest generation of Internet marketers, this is actually a huge problem.
A lot of people are drawn to online marketing because they think they don’t need to have any human interaction. No offices, no meetings, no phone calls, etc.
There are many different forms of marketing jobs, and many of them indeed don’t require any interaction.
However, if you ever want to reach that next level of success, you have to push yourself past your comfort zone.
The tactic in question here is talking with your target audience.
This is usually done through a phone or Skype call.
Why is this important? Because there is absolutely no better way to understand your target audience than to speak with them.
It’s the fastest way to learn how they talk, what they like, and what they are and aren’t interested in.
This is not only important for your content marketing but also for any product development.
I understand that it might not be the most comfortable thing for you to do, but you don’t have to do it too much to get a ton of value from it.
In addition, try to think of it this way:
For whatever reason(s), your goal is to create great things for this target audience, which means that you care about them. If you care about them, why wouldn’t you want to get to know at least some of them on a more personal level?
It’s worth mentioning that this tactic works regardless of whether you are selling to consumers or businesses (although you might find it easier to do with businesses).
Step #1 – Find customers you could talk with: Your first step is to find people with whom you can connect and whom you can convince to take a call from you.
There are 3 communal circles where you find these people:
If any of your friends fall into your target audience, that’s always the place to start. It’s pretty easy to convince a friend to hop on a quick call or let you buy them lunch.
In the event that none of your friends are in your target audience, you’ll need to find people elsewhere.
I recommend heading to groups next.
Both LinkedIn and Facebook have groups focused on just about every topic imaginable. It’s simple to find a group that contains many (up to thousands) of people in your target audience.
Start by searching for your niche on either of those sites and filter down the results by “groups”:
I’ll show you what to do from here in a second.
On top of these two sources of groups, you could also find groups in real life. Meetup.com is a fantastic place to find these groups. It’s free, and you can narrow down the groups by a category that contains your target audience.
In-person events are usually more effective than quick Skype calls for a number of reasons.
The main one is that you’ll get to see your target audience engaging about your subject in a natural environment. You can also form relationships easier in person, so the people whom you meet may help you both in the short- and long-term.
Obviously, this might make you more uncomfortable than you would be if you were just making a phone call, and it is optional. But it’s a great option if you’re one of those marketers who love interacting with people.
Finally, if all of those options fail (which they rarely will), you can also find a forum about your niche by Googling “(niche) + forum.”
For example, if I were selling a weight-loss product, I would search for “weight loss forums”:
Step #2 – Make them an offer they can’t refuse: Why on Earth would anyone want to have a 10-20 minute talk with you?
That’s the question we have to answer.
And the best answer is that they’ll do it because they get something out of it.
If you simply want to contact people in your target market individually and ask them to talk to you as a favor, that’s an option.
I don’t recommend it though.
You’ll end up wasting a whole lot of time.
Instead, offer them something valuable.
If they’re local, it could be a free lunch.
If it’s over the phone or on Skype, it could be $10-20 to their PayPal account or a free sample of a popular product.
Once you know what you can afford to offer, it’s simply a matter of getting people to agree to talk to you.
In a group or forum, you’ll want to post a new topic with a message like this:
I’m new to the group, but I’m already loving all the discussion about (topic) that I’ve seen here.
I’m currently doing some research about (topic) and am looking for a few people who’ve been interested in it for a while who would be willing to talk to me about it.
I’m just looking for a quick 10-20 minute chat so I can understand (topic) better.
I’m happy to offer $20 in exchange for your opinion if you are interested.
I recommend finding at least a few groups to post in because some will flag this as spam.
As long as you’re offering something valuable, you shouldn’t have a tough time getting takers.
Step #3 – Come prepared, but leave room for flexibility: Okay, you’ve finally gotten a few people who are willing to talk to you.
Ideally, talk to as many as you can afford to, but get at least three to get a decent picture of how they view your niche.
Here are some questions you might want to start with:
- What are the main reasons you’re interested in (niche)?
- What are the websites related to (niche) that you use most often? What do you like about them?
- What are your favorite products for (niche)? Why do you choose them instead of other similar products?
- What’s the biggest problem in (niche) you see right now?
Don’t limit yourself to just these questions, but as long as you get answers to at least these, you’ll get a lot of valuable information from the talk.
It’s a great idea to record the call so that you don’t miss anything.
2. Want to be a thought leader? Get used to being vulnerable
There are thousands of bloggers in just about every industry.
However, there are always 10-20 of those bloggers who are considered as leaders by most.
When they share their thoughts, everyone else listens and often relays those thoughts to their audiences.
It’s a very good position to be in.
Being a thought leader isn’t about how old your website is or how many blog posts you’ve written.
It’s about whether or not your peers (industry bloggers) respect you and consider you an expert (even among other bloggers).
Obviously, this has many benefits beyond a sense of accomplishment you might feel.
A great example of this is Brian Dean, who founded Backlinko just a few years ago.
Even though he had focused on SEO only for a short time, he quickly became a thought leader in the community.
He was able to drive tens of thousands of visitors to his new blog within a few months.
The main reason for his success was because other bloggers (like me) saw his work and were happy to showcase it in front of their audiences.
As a thought leader, you get as many links and as much traffic as you need to grow a healthy business, which Brian has done admirably.
On top of that, it also makes it easier to connect with those other bloggers because they already know you. Many of them will reach out to you before you ever get a chance to reach out to them.
Becoming a thought leader: I wish I could give you a simple formula for becoming a thought leader, but unfortunately I can’t.
There are many paths to becoming one.
They all require one thing: expertise. You need to have ideas and thoughts about your industry that are not only intelligent but also new.
You need to be one of the voices in your community that is making your community better.
If you have that, you have to get your messages out in front of your peers.
You can do this all online, but it’s a slow process.
A faster way is to start speaking at conferences.
I have a lot of experience with this, having spoken at more than 230 conferences so far.
Something interesting happens when you start speaking in front of audiences. All of a sudden, you are presented as an expert to the audience.
Since the audience is full of your peers, they’ll typically give you the attention and respect you’re after. If you deliver quality ideas to them, you will have become a thought leader in their eyes.
The benefits and drawbacks of conferences: Sounds amazing, right? And it can be, but only in an ideal situation.
When you first start out, you won’t get to speak at big conferences. You’ll be lucky to get to present in front of more than 50 people.
However, if public speaking is something that you excel at or want to develop and you’re willing to commit to doing at least 20-50 smaller events, you can have some success.
As you get better at speaking and your name slowly gets out there, you’ll get chances to speak at bigger and bigger conferences (that are invite only).
Using this one tactic alone, you could become a thought leader in a year or two if you work hard at it.
Oh, and did I mention the money? Conferences can benefit you financially in a few ways:
- payment for speaking – while you won’t get paid at first, once you start getting invited to speak at conferences, you will. Even though I’m not the highest paid speaker, I can still typically charge $20,000 per hour plus travel expenses.
- extra business opportunities – your audience will typically be a mix of peers and potential clients (mostly peers). Speaking has led to many 6-figure opportunities for me. People want to work with thought leaders.
How do you start speaking at conferences? Starting at the bottom means that you can’t be picky. Be prepared to accept whatever opportunities to speak you can get even if they aren’t great.
Your main goal is to get some experience to improve your speaking skills and learn how events are run.
Forget about making money right now because the ROI will suck until later on.
First, you’ll need to track down conferences, and then apply to be a speaker. They’re really easy to find; just search for “(industry) conferences speaker proposal”:
Just because an event isn’t huge doesn’t mean there aren’t a decent number of people who want to speak at it. Not all proposals are accepted, so you need to put in some effort here.
Here’s what you need to do to get accepted as a speaker:
- Read the requirements – Different conferences ask for different things in their proposals. Read what they want, and give them everything they ask for.
- Niche down – Don’t just pitch yourself as a “marketing speaker.” Pick a specific area that you are an expert in (i.e., email outreach or link building).
- Nail the bio – Most proposals require that you submit a bio. Make yourself sound as impressive as possible (exaggeration isn’t always a bad thing).
- Pitch a specific idea – You need to include a short description of what you want to talk about and why it’s interesting to the audience at the event. Pick a topic you know that no one else will be trying to present on.
At first, this is somewhat of a numbers game. Don’t apply to just one conference because it could be weeks until you hear back from the organizers (and if you’re not selected, sometimes you’ll never hear back).
It’s a lot of work up front, but it gets easier.
Once you talk at about 50 events (give or take), you’ll typically start getting invited to speak at events (and offered some payment).
3. It’s a lot easier to build relationships in person
Maybe public speaking in front of large audiences is a little overwhelming for you—fair enough.
But that doesn’t mean that you still couldn’t benefit from going to conferences and other similar events.
Conferences are attended by a lot of your peers, which gives you the opportunity to build relationships with them—much better ones than you can build through email.
While you won’t be a thought leader all of a sudden, having a handful of influencers on whom you can call for advice and get help with traffic goes a long way.
But conferences can be a huge waste of time if you don’t approach them strategically. Most people go to conferences, hand out business cards, and wonder why it doesn’t lead to anything.
You’re not going to do that…
Step #1 – Find a list of conferences in your industry: First, you’ll need to identify conferences you want to attend.
Obviously, local conferences are easiest to get to, but pick the ones that interest you the most.
It’s not hard to find lists of conferences anymore; just Google “(industry) conferences (year).”
For marketing, as an example, there are hundreds of conferences listed in the top few results alone:
Step #2 – Make a list of potential customers who are attending: Here’s where the real work begins.
The next thing you want to do is find out which of your peers are going to the conferences you’ve chosen.
As an example, I’ve chosen the International CES conference in early 2016.
Find the conference (or company putting it on) on social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter.
People advertising the conference on social media will almost always include a hashtag for it. In this case, it’s “#CES2016”.
Next, click the hashtag to see all the results of this mention on the network.
Look for those people who are saying that they’re excited to attend. For example:
You’ll need to monitor these results in the month or two leading up to the event. You should be able to make a list of at least 100 people going (for bigger conferences).
Step #3 – Open lines of communication before the event: Out of your attendee list, pick the people you want to meet the most.
Don’t target 100—that’s way too many. Instead, pick about 10 that you’d be interested in meeting and getting to know. You won’t meet them all at the event anyway.
The big mistake that most people who attend conferences make is that they wait until the conference to introduce themselves. That’s what the other 100 people are doing, and it’s a mess.
But what if you introduced yourself beforehand?
Sign up for the email list (if they have one) of each of your targets. If that’s not possible, you’ll have to make first contact on the social network you found them on.
Send them a short email like this:
Subject: (Conference name) 2016!
Couldn’t help but notice that you’re planning to attend (conference name)—as am I.
I’ve seen your name come up a lot recently online, and you seem like an interesting guy.
I’m also in the (industry). I’m probably best known for (description).
I’d love to buy you a beer sometime at the conference if you have time.
It’s casual and explains your mutual connection as well as why you want to meet.
If you get a positive response, thank them and send them your personal cell number.
Step #4 – Meet, then follow up: If you’ve sent an introduction like that to 10-15 people, half will say they’re open to meeting up with you.
You probably won’t meet them all at the actual conference unless it’s a small one.
The hard thing at this point is to be natural. Don’t be creepy, and don’t hunt down people at a conference.
Instead, if you happen to see them, re-introduce yourself, and schedule a drink or lunch.
Alternatively, if you don’t come across someone you really wanted to meet, send them a quick text (if you have their number) after the first or second day along the lines of:
Hey (name), it’s (your name). I’m sorry we didn’t run into each other today. Still up for a drink? How about (time and location)?
Meet with whomever you can, and then just be natural. Don’t try to get anything out of them; simply enjoy getting to meet someone interesting in your industry.
What will usually happen is that they will either give you an idea on how to improve your business in some way or they will make you think of an idea by accident.
It’s crucial that you implement that idea as soon as you can when you return from the conference.
Then, in a few weeks, send them a follow-up email, letting them know it was nice meeting them and telling them the results of the action you took. When you actually apply someone’s advice, they are much more likely to help you in the future.
4. Transparency—the only way to get modern consumers to care about your business
Most people are guarded.
You want others to like you, respect you, and think you’re great in general, so you try to show them your best qualities.
But there’s only so much someone can like about you unless they get to know you.
If you really want someone to care about you, you need to be vulnerable and let them past that initial guard.
Surprisingly, a very similar thing happens in business.
The companies who have those super fans who can’t stop raving about them are more vulnerable than others.
Those companies use transparency very similarly to the ways people use it in their personal lives.
They don’t just have a great product. They go to great lengths to let their customers know what goes on behind the scenes.
This includes good things as well as bad things.
Whenever I mention transparency, I think of Moz.
Every single year, they publicly release their revenue numbers. Sometimes they have great years, and it’s probably really fun to share those results:
But what really separates them from everyone else is that they share the bad news as well. For example, they actually lost money in 2013:
On top of just results, Moz always talks about what actions they are taking based on the results. They describe the lessons they learned, ways they will implement them, and so on.
I strongly believe that transparency is a good thing for businesses to practice. That’s why I’m sharing so much of my results on the NeilPatel.com blog with readers.
In niches like SEO and marketing, there isn’t a lot of trust.
Many businesses will say anything to get you to buy their products, and they disappoint you every time.
But I don’t want to run a business like that, and I know companies like Moz don’t either.
So, how do you prove that you aren’t out just to make a quick buck?
You become vulnerable=You become transparent.
Applying transparency to your business: Not every audience cares about revenue or monthly visitors. That’s no different from how much you want to get to know most people: you don’t care about every single aspect of their characters, just the important ones.
Your first step is to determine what your audience cares about the most. It could be any of the following:
- your revenue (if they are interested in business)
- your processes
- how you make your product
- how you respond to customer complaints and suggestions
- how you handled a recent business crisis (e.g., after an employee made a mistake)
- how you decide on what products you’ll focus on in the future
Notice that some of those things are “bad,” like exposing mistakes you made.
Transparency is about showing your business as it truly is. And if you’re trying to run a good business, it will hopefully show.
You might lose a few fair-weather customers, but you can also gain super fans who love seeing the real people behind the company.
Those customers will make your growth substantially easier.
Overall, transparency is a commitment.
You have to show both the good and the bad because your customers can tell.
If someone in your company makes a big mistake, your customers will find out about it on social media these days.
Instead, take the opportunity to get ahead of the issue, make your company better in the long run, and do something that many customers will appreciate.
5. If you began in content marketing, you might want to venture out
The final “scary” thing that I want to talk about involves different marketing channels.
Comfort is a good thing in many ways, but it can stop us from progressing, both as individuals and as businesses.
At some point in your business (maybe you’re already there), you’ll be getting results that you’re “happy” with.
That’s actually a very dangerous thing.
It’s tempting to keep everything exactly the same in order to sustain the results. But in life and business, most things either grow or shrink. Very few things stay the same.
For example, maybe you’re having a lot of success with blogging.
Would you try to create videos or a podcast or try a different marketing channel altogether like paid advertising?
Those alternatives are “scary” because you don’t know them well.
You could end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars if they don’t go well.
So forget them, right?
I hope you don’t. Instead, continuously give new, “scary” channels a try because you never know if your current channel will become less effective. Or you might discover a channel that’s even more effective.
Keeping an open mind and trying new scary channels leads to diversification and maximum growth for a business.
Those are two very good results. All you need to do is overcome any fear holding you back from experimenting. It’s okay if you fail on a few channels because when you succeed, it will far outweigh those losses.
No one said it would be easy to become a top marketer.
You have to constantly operate outside of your comfort zone if you want to grow as a professional marketer or business owner.
I’ve shown you 5 techniques that are “scary” to most marketers, and I bet at least one could benefit your work.
You don’t need to overcome all your fear in one day, but take small steps and push your limits. Over time, you might learn to enjoy the process.
There’s one final thing that I’d like to ask you…
Have you ever done a marketing tactic or technique that others might consider scary? I’d love to hear how it went and what you learned in the process. Please leave your thoughts in a comment below.
5 “Scary” Marketing Techniques That Are Worth the Risk