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by Stephen Logan on 9th February 2012
Most businesses would love to be revered within their industry. There is a certain prestige that comes with being the first name that many people think of within a certain sector or geographical location. However, prestige alone won’t pay the bills, so you have to be able to come up with the goods for clients too.
Converting influence into sales isn’t always necessarily that easy, particularly if it’s only peers and competitors that know you exist. This is a common criticism against businesses having blogs and speaking at industry events. Whilst they provide exposure, it’s not necessarily in the right way or the right place.
Let’s take the film industry as a good example. Mike Leigh is a highly respected and hugely popular director within the business. He’s had a couple of Oscar nominations for writing and directing. Despite this, his last (also Oscar and Bafta nominated) film – Another Year – made $3.25 million at the US box office. Released six months later, the Michael Bay directed Transformers: Dark of the Moon made $97.4 million in its opening weekend in the US alone.
Finding Your Audience and Building Respect
Admittedly, despite being the same medium, the genres are very different, so the two aren’t immediately comparable. But as a basic and hypothetical comparison, it does demonstrate that reputation and quality of work won’t always deliver a massive ROI. Sometimes it is all about being brash and bold. Giving customers what they want and making it easy for them to find you.
Mike Leigh’s films have a very niche audience, which means they generally only achieve a limited cinematic release. This effectively reduces the potential for people to go and see it. Transformers on the other hand is a huge blockbuster, commanding multiple screens in a number of cinemas throughout the world. It also comes with the assurances of previous success with other films within the franchise and by the same director.
Budget plays a big part in what you can and can’t do though. Whilst I don’t think Leigh is ever likely to create a film that costs in excess of £100 million, he’s also never likely to bankrupt a studio as a result of his production budget, costly marketing and mass reproduction of films that never get seen. This is where the parallels for many online businesses continue.
As you grow, you have to keep a keen eye on your bottom line. This generally means investing in your own in-house expertise and external marketing. Getting clients and customers through the door is the ultimate goal though. Aiming too high, too fast could mean that you don’t meet the huge demand or that people refuse to accept an inexperienced upstart. This is where reputation comes in.
Turning Industry Success into ROI
Awards, accreditations and industry respect might be good for the ego, but you have to be able to reflect this success to your target audience. This is where a clear online presence is so important for businesses and a company-owned blog can do wonders. It provides visual validation to potential customers. After all, you can win an award, but if nobody hears about it, why should they know you from Adam?
The aforementioned Michael Bay movie ended up grossing $1.12 billion by the end of the year. That’s a profit of over $900 million, all things considered. It didn’t win any Oscars, it probably wasn’t the most critically well received film of 2011, but yet it did huge business. The film earned $400 million more than the first in the trilogy and $300 million more than the second. Effectively it has become a brand, which continuously maintains and increases its audience and revenues. So its industry influence might be minimal, but customers can’t get enough.
The zenith for any business is to achieve both. Eventually, everybody wants to be Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Peter Jackson achieves huge industry acclaim, the film wins 11 Oscars and, as of November 2011, it has grossed over $1.1 billion. This is where a good idea meets exceptional delivery and is then marketed to the hilt.
Balancing Ambition with Application
Most businesses can’t afford to live off of reputation alone, particularly in smaller industries. So they have to chase ROI through advertising their services to target audiences. If this results in industry acclaim, or you are able to do additional work as a result of the success achieved, that’s perfect. But there has to be a balance.
If everybody knows you’re the best garage, builder, landscape gardener or insurance broker except your customers, ROI will suffer. However, if nobody knows who you are, what you’re doing or where you’ve come from, establishing trust with anybody can be difficult. This is where a slow building process is needed. Claiming to be the best before you are able to deliver on that promise will end in tears.
So write a blog, get noticed and channel your inner Peter Jackson, Mike Leigh or Michael Bay. Speak at events if you have time, contribute to discussions elsewhere through guest posts or media appearances and always keep track of your return on those efforts. Don’t rely on word of mouth alone or indeed your own hot air. Ultimately though, make sure you have a product or company that is worth talking about and investing in – as discussed in To Succeed Online You Must First Succeed Offline. You won’t get paid for tweeting, writing press releases or appearing on the BBC, but you could grab the attention of somebody who might.
ROI is your bottom line, but industry influence can help you to develop new revenue streams – when done properly. Mike Leigh films might be niche, just like your business perhaps, but they are very successful within that niche. His name alone guarantees a decent return for a relatively small outlay. If you can’t afford to do a blockbusting marketing effort (like Go Compare, We Buy Any Car or Michael Bay), reputation and your ability to cultivate and advertise this are hugely helpful.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation; which comes first, profits or reputation? Ultimately though, if you can achieve both, then they make a pretty tasty combination.