At UniBul, blogging is at the core of our marketing strategy; in fact, blogging is our marketing strategy. Nothing else we’ve ever tried over the years has enabled us to reach out to as many potential clients, even as we keep in touch with existing ones, and to do so as consistently as our blog allows us to do. It is hard, time-consuming work, to be sure, but the pay-off is well worth the investment. We no longer spend much time on our social media presence, beyond making sure our latest blog posts are shared with our Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and Pinterest followers and with the members of our very own, incredibly active and fast-growing LinkedIn group. Yes, we do reply to messages we receive on these platforms, but, with the exception of LinkedIn, that is about as active as we get there.
Much as I enjoy blogging, and it is true that over time creating new content to share with our readers has become fun, I do it for one reason and one reason only: growing UniBul’s client base and, by extension, our revenue. I would probably be writing articles about credit card processing, mobile payments and high-risk merchant accounts even if blogging wasn’t such a big factor in UniBul’s business development process, but I doubt that I’d be doing it nearly as consistently; in fact, I know I wouldn’t. And, boy, am I glad that I’m forced to do it! But how exactly is blogging helping us to grow our revenue? Well, here is what I’ve learned so far.
Let’s start with the type of content that we create. At the beginning, we published articles almost exclusively on technical topics, for example guides on best practices, descriptions of how various components of the payments industry function and explanations of Visa and MasterCard rules. We did it because, on the one hand, we thought that merchants really needed this type of information, but also because we simply didn’t know what else to write about. What we learned from our early experience was very interesting.
On the one hand, it turned out that, overwhelmingly, our readers were business people who already had a functioning merchant account for their businesses and were looking for solutions to specific issues that they were grappling with. Now, in retrospect, you may say that this is precisely what we should have expected to see, but we thought that our blog would also appeal to people who would have wanted to educate themselves, prior to opening up a merchant account. Not so.
Furthermore, and equally importantly, we soon realized that the type of readers our blog was attracting were very unlikely to turn into clients. As I said, these were people who already had a functioning merchant account and most of them were, on the whole, satisfied with what they had. Once our blog gave them the answer they were looking for, they would simply implement the newly-discovered solution to whatever it was that was causing trouble and get back to managing their businesses. Moreover, even if they thought that we were good enough to be worth a try, merchants would usually be trapped into a long-term contract with their existing processor, which would prevent them from using our services right away; and, usually, by the time the contract had expired, the merchants would have forgotten about us. Nowadays, long-term contracts are mostly a thing of the past, so this is no longer an issue, although getting people to switch merchant accounts is still an uphill battle.
So, early on, almost every single merchant that signed up with us was a new business. And every single one of the very few clients who left their processors to join us did so because we offered them lower processing cost. But these clients quickly taught us a lesson, which prompted us to change course. See, their primary concern was pricing and as soon as someone offered them a few dollars of savings, they would go to him, without much regard to how well their service compared to ours — pricing ruled supreme. We decided to never compete on price again and to focus exclusively on quality: people would choose us, because we knew what we were doing, not because we were cheap. It was the best decision we ever made.
In Pursuit of Quality
We continued publishing our educational content, but also began commenting on current industry news: the fall of U.S. consumer credit card debt, the decline of the delinquency and charge-off rates, the effects of the debit interchange reform, etc. We weren’t sure whether our potential clients would be interested in such things, but thought it was worth a try. Well, it turned out that most of the readers of these articles were industry insiders, not merchants, which prompted us to reexamine our content strategy. Yes, building a name for ourselves within the industry was important, but we needed something else to get our prospective clients’ attention.
And so we decided to invest some of our time in producing detailed analyses of the latest and most interesting developments in our industry. We would closely examine mobile payments start-ups like Square and its countless clones and assess their value proposition. We would evaluate the prospects of huge mobile wallet projects like Isis and Google Wallet. We would keep an eye on what Facebook is doing with its virtual currency and gift cards. We would also analyze alternative currencies like Bitcoin. We would track M-Pesa’s incredible success, etc.
And it was here where our blog’s full potential would be revealed. These, it turned out, were topics that appealed not only to industry insiders, but also to consumers and, which was of greatest importance to us, to business people who were considering using these new payment services. Our blog’s readership base expanded markedly and so did our daily traffic. More importantly, some of the business people who were reading our blog liked it well enough to contact us with interest in our services. To make it all even better, these were precisely the type of clients we were interested in: people who had plenty of experience accepting credit card payments, who knew exactly what they were looking for in a merchant account provider and knew that there were far more important things than a difference of a few basis points in a headline discount rate. So that was our first major coup.
Than a few months ago we decided to reach out to international e-commerce businesses and particularly ones who sold their goods mostly to U.S. consumers. To such merchants, having a U.S.-based merchant account is a huge advantage and we developed a solution to help them get one. We wrote several detailed articles, spelling out exactly what a non-U.S. business needs to do, in order to qualify for such a service and were rewarded with a steady stream of inquiries from highly-qualified prospects. That has been an even bigger commercial success than our coup with experienced domestic merchants, of which I wrote in the previous paragraph.
So it’s taken us quite some time to figure out how to use our blog to attract the types of clients which we want to work with, and the learning process will never end, but we’ve learned enough to figure out how to make the effort pay off. Our blog has enabled us to connect with two major groups of potential clients and I have little doubt that more successes lie ahead.
Moreover, I just don’t see how else we would have been able to achieve these results. Even if we had the money to launch a big marketing campaign when we started, there wasn’t (and there still isn’t) a platform that would allow us to target our preferred prospects with anything close to the precision, with which our blog — through the type of content we publish — enables us to operate. So, yes, blogging is the most powerful marketing tool I know of and if you aren’t utilizing it, well, you are neglecting what would very probably be your best source of new revenue.
Image credit: Flickr / Stephanie Booth.