Talking about selling transformation today…
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I got a fantastic question from an email list member. The topic: sellin’ transformation.
I’ve been stewing on your thoughts about Brand vs. Direct marketing for expertise lead businesses and I’ve got a couple of practical questions.
I feel like some mediums are built for Direct Marketing. I’m thinking about the advice we got from Tom Miller about how to build a LI profile page (which I see you’ve evolved away from) and I’m having trouble thinking about a LI profile that’s “Art with a logo.”
On Offline you and Liston talked about selling transformation. One of the risks that Liston mentioned (and that I feel like I experience) is that I’m selling a solution to a problem that people don’t even know that they have. Or put another way, the problem that folks come to me with isn’t the problem that they need solved. How does Brand marketing move the needle on that? It feels like it needs some of the direct marketing “stirring of the pot” to get folks to jump.
I’m asking these questions because I think you are FUNDAMENTALLY right AND the folks that are helping me with marketing are ALL steeped in the direct marketing world, so their advice is ringing a little off to me.
I got permission to share the question with you to contextualize my response:
Thanks again for the question. I love getting opportunities to think and hopefully get more clear myself on this stuff.
A list member recently pointed out that he sees the gift-giving aspect of brand marketing as more relevant than the art-making aspect of it, for businesses like ours. I think he’s right.
I still like defining brand marketing (BM) as art with a logo on it because that’s a memorable way to say it, but might need to emphasize the gift part more in my definition because it clicks more readily for folks.
Most of us can relate to the idea of making a truly valuable thing and then deciding to not put an opt-in gate in front of it. We can relate to the feeling of risk that entails, and the pressure it puts on the thing to be so good and so relevant and so impactful that the obvious next step for some of that thing’s users is to contact us for advisory help.
How could a LinkedIn profile be a gift?
You’re right that the opportunities for brand gift-giving there will be limited. But maybe not totally non-existent! I don’t have an answer for you on this particular question, but I bet thinking about someone viewing your profile as an occasion to give a small gift might lead to some ideas.
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On selling transformation, I have ideas for 6 ways it might be done. I have not-enough data to say which of these might be best or might match a given situation, so I’ll just present them as food for thought:
1) Mixed Methods: Use gated lead magnets (a classic direct response (DR) marketing tool) to encourage folks to enter a BM world. Once they enter that world, the “laws of physics” are that of Brand Marketing. The email list experience, for example, is one big possibly-costly-to-you but impactful-to-list-members gift. What’s sold via the list or other ways of connecting with your audience is transformation. That’s it; no optimization sold here.
You may sense some overlap between this and some of the other 5 approaches described below. That’s unavoidable because these 6 models are artificially clear and distinct to make them discussable; reality will be more fuzzy. What distinguishes this first approach from the more funnel-based approaches is the funnel-based approaches will tend to be tinted with some aspect of direct response marketing: a subtle or overt usage of fear is one example. Agitating pain is another. This first approach will avoid those DR methods at all cost. Movement towards the point of purchase is purely and only by attraction or inspiration, rather than the model of “pushing” or “driving” or “agitating” that DR marketing uses (“stirring the pot”, as you put it, might also fit into this category of techniques).
2) Classic DR Funnel: You have a pretty “normal” DR marketing funnel, and you sell a combination of optimization and transformation services. The first offer(s) to folks in the funnel is probably a low-ish friction optimization offer (the “undergraduate” level in my diagram). As you earn more trust from folks in the funnel or these folks mature in their business and their appetite for bigger challenges grows, you start to sell them transformation services (“masters” and “phd”).
Note: this is a very long funnel. It might take years for someone to traverse the optimization -> transformation span we’re describing in just a few seconds here.
3) Transformation Brand: You just build a brand that’s about transformation from day 1. I’ve seen this happen with a manifesto-ey, call-to-arms-ish book. The book inspires and challenges and lays out the terms of the transformation. Some are attracted to the potential transformation, and the rather broad reach of the book starts to attract folks into a brand ecosystem. You might — and probably would — combine other elements of tastefully-done DR marketing, but the book and the ideas it contains is the real active ingredient in this recipe.
4) Bait-And-Switch Funnel: This resembles the Classic DR Funnel, but you only sell transformation services. I call it a bait-and-switch only tongue in cheek, but also to point out that what attracts people into the funnel is the promise of a direct, relatively easy, optimization-based fix to a common problem.
You do provide a lightweight version of that fix at the mouth of the funnel (which might be a lead magnet, email course, or some other fix delivery mechanism). But once that is out of the way, your real focus is selling the transformation that aligns with the services you actually offer.
The bait and switch here is that you move from addressing symptoms at the mouth of the funnel with your free content to addressing root causes deeper into the funnel with your paid services.
In the diagram for this funnel I tried to depict a significant difference in volume between the mouth of the funnel and the place where you actually sell transformation services because I’d expect a very significant delta between the interest level at these two points.
5) GP Referrals: Surgeons get their referrals from a network of general practitioners. A part of what licensed professions offer — to make the bitter pill of licensing worth it — is institutional support that makes marketing less important. I wonder what it would take to create this same dynamic in an unlicensed profession such as you and I practice? It seems possible but… somehow not easy, and for some reason — to me at least — not as interesting as any of the previous options!
There may be an additional challenge with this model: the “GP level” of business advisors might lean towards overconfidence in their own competence combined with a shortage of opportunity, causing them to not refer to the specialized expert when they should, causing the whole model to break down.
6) Recruiting: I have a friend who sells marketing services to a certain type of professional services firms. He has really figured out what events and partner organizations he can recruit from. He’s very good at this model.
In his case, it’s not a formal agreement between him and the “farm league” organization — which is sometimes a complementary service provider and sometimes a watering hole or community-based business — but rather a “nose” that he has for the kind of places that will have the kind of prospective clients that are a good match for him. He travels a fair bit because many of these events are IRL and, to be fair, he’s selling optmization more than transformation, but still it’s a relevant example of recruiting.
I once interviewed a therapist who worked with entrepreneurs, and he learned that a “stocked pond” for him to recruit from was museum opening nights in NYC (https://share.transistor.fm/s/4f6347f5). So he joined every major museum in the city so he could also attend and circulate at these events. His transformation-centric response to “what do you do for work?” was all he needed to mostly fill his pipeline. Referrals did the rest.
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Few of these approaches are “pure” transformation-only approaches. I think that’s because that shit’s way harder. 🙂
The more financially successful folks I’m thinking of use models #2 and #3, though their usage of model #2 really leans hard towards BM in how the funnel feels (that generous, gift-ey mentality). But they do, at the end of the day, use some of the mechanics of DR (gated content, “back-end offers” only made to previous clients, etc).
If someone told me they have no appetite for delivering optimization services and only want to deliver transformation services, I could see them choosing to really examine their expertise, identify the parts of it that are closer to optimization, self-commoditize those into low/no-touch offerings, and then push those towards the front of a Classic DR funnel (#2 above).
Ideally, this would generate enough a) volume in the funnel b) revenue from the low/no-touch offerings and c) trust to keep this expert busy doing higher touch transformation-focused services. That might be one way for the transformation-focused expert (I include myself in this group) to generate enough opportunity to practice their transformation-focused services within the realities of most markets.
In an interesting way, this is setting up the GP Referrals model completely inside your own business. Your low/no-touch optimization services are the “virtual GP” referring customers of those services upward to a high-touch transformation-focused engagement with you.
This again points out that my six models are artificially distinct from each other. In reality, I think all of us wannabe-full-time-transformation-experts will draw from and blend a number of them.
Postscript: This wasn’t part of my email to my questioner, but it occurs to me now. I’m starting to see a pattern: expert with a good brand or the potential to build one hires or seeks the counsel of a marketing firm. They get advice that will tarnish or devalue their brand because the advice is filtered through a DR worldview.
If you’re an expert and this is happening to you, I might be able to help. I’m starting to get enough transferrable clarity around this DR vs BM thing that I could advise your marketing firm in how to avoid fucking things up for you. They’d have to be teachable, of course, and you’d need to be patient with their learning curve.
Also, an Expertise Incubator participant is building out a service offering that might be of interest, and he’d be able to offer some implementation bandwidth in addition to a) an approach that won’t tarnish your brand with DR bullshit and b) a solid track record of success with doing marketing for specialized expert firms. I can connect you with him if this is of interest.
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