Content marketing and They Ask, You Answer in the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis
By John Becker
Twelve years ago, Marcus Sheridan and River Pools faced an uncertain future. With his business in peril amid the widening Great Recession, Marcus took matters into his own hands: He began the simple, systematic process of answering all of the questions he’d heard from past customers on the company website.
He would write one article each day, usually late at night.
In time, this content began to drive traffic — a lot of traffic — to his site, and his business rebounded.
Marcus turned this experience into a philosophy that asks businesses to obsess over customer questions.
They Ask, You Answer was born.
Today, Marcus is an author, international speaker, and business expert who helps SMBs engage with customers like never before.
With the coronavirus pandemic completely upending the business world, Marcus shared his thoughts about using They Ask, You Answer to get through this newest crisis.
The origins of They Ask, You Answer
John: First off, can you talk about how They Ask, You Answer was informed by the financial crisis of 2008?
Marcus: I think the good thing about any crisis is that it forces us to really look at all facets of our business, and it oftentimes will motivate us to do things we otherwise would not have done.
That’s how it was during 2008.
What [the Great Recession] motivated me to do was two things: First, it motivated me to really learn about the internet. I could already see that the internet was changing the world, but I just didn't yet understand how we might be able to use it with our pool company.
But once I really start to read about it, I inherently knew that we should be willing to address our customer's questions on our website.
Second, because I had nothing to lose, I thought I might as well talk about the things that nobody else in this industry has talked about before.
Of course, those were really the Big 5. Talking about things as simple as how much does a fiberglass pool cost. Writing about just that one topic ended up making millions in revenue, and arguably saved the company by itself.
So, it was the willingness to talk about what was obvious to any buyer, but so few businesses had been willing to address.
It was truly born out of desperation, though. When you're thinking, “I'm going to lose it all, I'm going to lose my house,” that's when you start doing some really, really cool stuff.
How 2020 mirrors 2008
John: The current situation feels completely different from what happened in 2008 in many ways. But what about this current climate seems similar to you?
Marcus: One thing with the current climate that's absolutely similar is that, when you have times like this, companies tend to cut marketing first.
That means that instead of doing what's necessary to really grow your brand, to grow your business, to gain new market share, you're just trying to hold on — and you're not advancing at all. And you're certainly not thinking long term.
You're just saying, "Okay, what can I cut?" And marketing generally is one of the first things to get cut. I'm not saying that everybody out there right now can afford to keep every employee, but you shouldn't lessen your marketing activity.
In my case in 2008, I was my own marketer, working late into the night. I didn't have the option of hiring somebody.
Now, I look back on that time with gratitude.
And that's the funny thing about this. A lot of times people don't do things like They Ask, You Answer, which are so obvious, until they're forced to do so.
It doesn't require a lot of money to answer your customer's questions on your website. That's not a huge expense. It’s more of an attitude adjustment.
Now, all of a sudden, companies are in financial pain. But still, they're going to be cutting marketing departments and things like content production or video production.
This is going to hurt the organization's ability to keep any momentum going once things get back to normal.
Addressing the elephant in the room
John: When facing a crisis like this, some companies seem to just want to ignore the elephant in the room. Do you think that's a bad call?
Marcus: Yes, I do. In fact, that's the antithesis of They Ask, You Answer.
Now, granted, you don't want to create concerns that aren't there, but everyone is focused on what’s happening in the world, and concerned about their health and wellness.
I think it’s important to consider all of the possible ramifications for your industry, and then address those openly and specifically on your website — and do so as soon as possible.
John: Are there other kinds of reactive mistakes that businesses make in times of crisis?
Marcus: I think oftentimes businesses are only thinking very, very short term. Again, this is why they might cut their marketing department.
Also, they often don't think creatively about how their sales team can adjust the way that they sell — and also create incentives for people to buy.
I think that many of them get caught up in just thinking about all the problems they're having right now, and they forget they’ve got a long-term business to run.
How to apply They Ask, You Answer today
John: If you're already doing They Ask, You Answer, what do you do now?
Marcus: I think what you do now is lean into it even more than you ever have. That's what we’ve done at River Pools. We openly addressed coronavirus on the site.
An important part of They Ask, You Answer is talking about cost and price. In times like these, people might be asking questions about what are the cheapest options — or what products and services are under a certain amount?
As people are more budget-conscious during a crisis, you can expect cost-type queries to increase. For example, people will search for “swimming pools under $40,000.”
People are probably wondering right now about interest rates and financing and how that affects a pool. They are probably concerned about welcoming a sales rep into their home.
These are things that River Pools could be addressing. And this is the same for all industries.
They Ask, You Answer is designed to help customers overcome their greatest concerns, issues, and worries.
And that's why this was born out of 2008 — and 12 years later it's just as effective.
John: If you are completely new to They Ask, You Answer, is now still a good time to start?
Marcus: Doing They Ask, You Answer right now could be the thing that makes a sale for you that you otherwise wouldn't have had. Each sale could allow you to pay that electric bill, to keep an employee.
It's amazing how They Ask, You Answer inspires you as a business person because it forces you to think more like a buyer. It brings clarity because it forces you to have a doctrine, an answer, a set of beliefs.
They Ask, You Answer forces you to have a project, and everybody needs a project right now.
What better time than right now to start this process of becoming the best teacher in your space?
Marcus’ advice for all businesses
John: Lastly, Marcus, what is your biggest piece of advice to all companies out there at this time?
Marcus: I don't want to sound cliché, but there's absolutely a silver lining.
There is opportunity, dramatic opportunity, in the chaos — and somebody in your space is going to grow a whole bunch of market share during these next few weeks and months. It may as well be you.
Wondering where to begin?