Suddenly Marketing

Brand Messaging | Content Strategy | Writing

Your competition isn’t who you think it is

precious time

Time – precious time. Is your marketing content worthy of your customer’s time?

Listen to this post:

To the small business owner, online marketing can feel a little bit like online dating. You are a small fish in a big pond. Everyone is jostling for position; no one is exactly sure who is who; and things move very, very fast. Though their ultimate goals are different (one is true love and the other is sales), online dating and online marketing are both about building relationships. They also share a common first step in building those relationships: capturing attention.


Attention is the coin of the realm.

Just like romance, your first step in creating a relationship with your customer is to capture her attention. You want her to not only notice you, but to hear violins and fireworks. Of course, a lot more goes into deepening and sustaining a long-term relationship, but “attention” is your foot in the proverbial door.


Trouble is – there are a lot of things competing for your customer’s attention.

Many small business owners make the mistake of defining their competition in terms that are too narrow. Looking at businesses that offer comparable products and services is a great place to start, but it’s not the whole story.

Don’t think about your perfect customer only in the context of her interaction with your product or service. Think about her in her “Real Life” where her attention is spread out over a wide variety of concerns: family, friends, work, health, household management, etc. She might also have event-related things on her mind: a new baby, a new house, a wedding, a divorce, aging parents, PTA meetings, local politics, global politics, etc.

Life is incredibly busy for most people – full to the top and bursting at the seams. When you are trying to connect with your customer, you need to know that you are going head-to-head with not only your direct competitors, but with all kinds of other concerns, distractions, and interests.


Attention = Time. Is your marketing content worth someone’s time?

Time is our most precious commodity. When someone stops what she’s doing to pay attention to your content, that’s a Big Deal. The busier and more overwhelmed they get, the more frugal your customers become about how they spend their time. They protect minutes more vigorously than they protect dollars – developing high standards, becoming choosier, and being stingy.

To continue with the dating metaphor, your customers play hard to get.


So, just what is it that makes someone make time for you?

It isn’t rocket science.

Think about how you spend your time.

  • There are the things you must do: eat, sleep, work, pay the bills, get the kids to school on time (hopefully), etc.
  • There are the things you should do: work out, send those thank you cards, update your LinkedIn profile, schedule that networking lunch, etc.
  • And then there are the things you want to do: curl up with a good book, take a nap, chat with your friends on Facebook, watch your favorite TV show, take your kids out for an ice cream, etc., etc., etc.


Must do. Should do. Want to do.

These are the things (in varying order of priority) that you make time for.


To earn someone’s attention with your content, you need to hit at least one of these areas and mindsets. In a perfect world, you’d have a content mix that includes all three:

  • Helpful, informative, educational content that makes the “must do’s” easier
  • Inspiring, persuasive, (and also educational) content that puts the “should do’s” within reach
  • Creative, unique, delightful content that brings in an element of entertainment – content that makes people laugh, cry, reflect, and think … content that people want


Informative, inspiring, and delightful – got it. But how to you create this content? How do you know what your customer will consider informative, inspiring, and delightful? It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: the content sparks the relationship, which informs the content, which deepens the relationship, which feeds the content … and so on.

It’s something like this:


First, you want to get to know your customer, so start out with some small talk around common ground:

Interests: Where do your and your customer’s interests intersect? Around your products and services, sure, but don’t stop there. For instance, if – like me – your customer is a small business owner, what other topics might be of interest? How about time management, working from home, combining work and family, productivity, etc.?

Beliefs: What rallying cries would you and your customer both shout from the rooftops if given the chance? Do you both believe in freedom, creativity, independence, cooperation, or philanthropy? What about some of my favorites – daily chocolate, small kindnesses, and happy endings?

Experiences: Shared experiences can create strong bonds. What opportunities do you have to share (even virtually) an experience with your customer? Is there something you’ve been through already that she’s going through now? Is there something happening out there in the Big Wide World that affects you both and is worth talking about? Can you create an experience to share with your customer?


Eventually you’ll want to create a deeper connection, so you employ the same skills that you use to build Real World relationships:

  • You listen. This is what most people want – to be heard. Listening is good for your customer and also good for you. Listening is how you learn more about who your customer is and what makes her tick.
  • You make her feel special. Just listening will make her feel special, but listening actively and acting on what you hear will show her you sincerely care.
  • You understand what she wants … You “get” her. You have a solid grasp of her dreams and aspirations. You’ve either been-there-and-done-that, or you’ve just seen it so many times that it needs no explanation.
  • … and what she needs. What she wants and what she needs might be two very different things. You can inspire trust by providing insights into what will really make a difference for her.
  • You don’t make everything about you. In fact, you don’t make anything about you. You are the perfect friend – the one who is always interested to hear about what the other person is thinking and feeling, never pushing your own agenda, never trying to one-up anyone. You are a giver, not a taker.
  • You make her life easier. You help her find ways to get those “must do’s” done.
  • You inspire her. You hold her hand, give her wings, encourage and cheer her. You show her what’s possible so that she can reach for those “should do’s.”
  • You touch her heart and mind. Finally, you make her day richer. You might brighten it with a story or a joke or a beautiful piece of art. You might give her an opportunity to engage in a moment’s reflection – pulling her out of her chaotic day and giving her one Good Idea to think about.


Your competition isn’t who you think it is. It’s everything your customer must do, should do, and wants to do. It’s everything out there, not just the products and services that compete directly with yours, but anything that is competing for your customer’s time and attention. For your content marketing to work, you have to deliver content that is worth her time. You need to deliver content that is worth her stopping everything else she’s doing to listen to you. She needs to know she’s going to learn something, be inspired, or be entertained. She needs to know that she’s going to get some value in exchange for giving you her attention.


It’s not rocket science, but it’s not falling off a log, either.

You have to pay attention. You have to do the work. You have to follow through and deliver on your promises.


But, it’s so worth it.

A strong relationship – one your customer is willing to make time for – is the most important business asset you have. Build that, and the rest is cake.



Image Credit: Louise Docker


Marketing from your core


Freeform Friday: Looking for love in the real estate section


  1. Really great post Jamie – I had been getting a little one-sided in my messaging lately – which is fun for a moment as a blogger but not so smart as a blogger for my business, and this was something I needed to hear right now:

    You don’t make everything about you. In fact, you don’t make anything about you.

    Yep – time to get back into that space of SERVICE that led me to entrepreneurship to begin with! Of course it needs to meet my needs, but if I’m not meeting my customer’s needs, it’s not really a business anymore, now is it? :)

    • Thanks so much, Sabrina. I’m so glad you liked it and found some useful inspiration.

      It’s a tricky balance to weave ourselves into our content without letting “I” take over. For people like us, who “are” our business, it’s a particular challenge. I find that trying to write as though I’m having a face-to-face conversation with a friend is a great reality check that keeps me from straying too far into me-me-me land … and also from the other extreme where I start to sound like a stalker.

      Everything in moderation.

  2. Isn’t it strange how event he simplest things are rarely easy? I always worry that I share too much about my experiences, which I know are shared by many others, and not enough about the practical and tactical stuff. Finding that balance is a bit tricky, but I think your list of relationship-building skills will help me to remember to draw from more of those skills, especially when I write.

    • Hello, Erica! :)

      I agree. Like I said to Sabrina, it’s an extra tough challenge for us as solopreneurs. Our personalities and personal lives are intrinsically connected to our professional work, so it’s a fine line that divides the two. I think that sharing our experiences is actually very valuable as long as we can find a way to put it in a context that is helpful for the reader – either instructional, inspirational, or just plain entertaining (sometimes, the best thing you can do is make someone laugh).

      PS – I think you do a great job of balancing things and shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén