The Power of Answers

An article in The New York Times about a small business owner who parlayed a successful online marketing strategy for his swimming pool installation company into a full-time career as an Internet marketing expert recently caught my eye.

It stated that when a bad economy made things tough for Marcus Sheridan’s Northern Virginia pool business, he scaled back his traditional advertising practices and took to the web to concentrate on content marketing via blogs and videos. His approach was simple: Figure out the most common questions that his prospective customers would have and answer them.


Of course, this often involved bucking conventional wisdom. For example, while most pool installation companies will not talk price until they can meet a prospective client in person, Sheridan was willing to address the topic in his blog—albeit in a way that was vague enough not to be counterproductive. That tactic has paid off in spades. In fact, Sheridan says that he can trace nearly $2 million in sales to that one post alone.


Sheridan even went as far as listing local competitors on his website. And while that strategy may seem reminiscent of the scene in Miracle on 34th Street where Macy’s gets good publicity because Santa is referring customers to other department stores, Sheridan’s motives are not necessarily as altruistic as the jolly old elf’s. “You vet all my competitors, now I’m showing up for all their key words,” he said.


While pet stores have seemingly little in common with pool installation businesses, the ability to provide information to and earn the trust of current and prospective customers is critical in both cases. Pet retailers would do well to follow Sheridan’s example by positioning themselves as the foremost authority on everything pet related—even if it means going outside the box and doing things like openly acknowledging what your competitors do well.


Sheridan sums it up like this: “If you really want to understand the power of inbound marketing, it comes down to this idea: I want to have the conversation at my house.”