Whether you call it inbound marketing, content marketing or digital marketing, the goal is the same: attract consumers by providing valuable content. This blog post introduces the They Ask You Answer approach which gets to the core of that goal and its application. It is based on Marcus Sheridan’s book of the same name (2019). All page numbers refer to the book. 

The Problem

The past decade has seen dramatic changes in consumer behaviour and marketing. The main ‘culprit’ – as so often – is the internet. It makes it possible for people to acquire honest reviews about products, find countless articles and posts about literally any kind of product or service and it does so within seconds. “Today, on average, 70% of the buying decision is made before a prospect talks to the company.” (p.9)

With so much material out there and decisions being made before you even speak to a prospective customer/service user, why not make sure that information is provided by you in a transparent, knowledgeable and truthful fashion? Why not position yourself as the expert? That is where Marcus Sheridan’s book They Ask, you Answer (TAYA) takes off. Sheridan, a content marketing expert, used to work for a struggling swimming pool business which was on the verge of collapsing. His approach to communicating with potential customers and making use of the possibilities digital tools offer have contributed in big part to the survival of the company.

So, what is TAYA about?

Ultimately, all organisations are interested in the same thing: consumer trust. How can that be achieved? Simple: answer consumer’s questions. This does not seem like anything new or revolutionary, but TAYA goes beyond a simple question-answer formula. It’s a business philosophy that centres solely around the question “What is my customer thinking? What are they searching, asking, feeling and fearing?” (p.21) Whereas in principle answering your customers questions is nothing new, the actuality of doing so and embedding it in everything you do is.

It all starts with a very simple exercise: write down every question you’ve ever been asked by a prospect or customer. (Maybe stop at 100 to start with.) Better still, sit down with your team and have everyone do this exercise. Keep in mind to do this from the perspective of the customer, so instead of writing “Why should you buy XYZ”, ask “What is XYZ and does it suit my needs?”. Put special focus on those things that might stop someone from engaging with you. What worries, fears or concerns could potentially come up with your product/services? Asking these questions as well as answering them might be scary, but if you’re not willing to answer them, someone else will on your behalf and potentially to your detriment.

The Big 5

When starting to sort through these questions, it’s likely that The Big 5, as Sheridan calls them, will come up again and again.

TAYA big 5 categories - pricing
  • Pricing & costs (1) Ever looked at restaurant menu and seen no prices? Did you think ‘Perfect, I don’t care how much it costs’ or ‘The prices must be horrendous or why are they not telling them? I’m out of here’? If you’re anything like me, it’s the latter. The same principle applies to anything, really. Not stating your prices and costs is likely to deter prospective customers instead of making them trust you. Of course, addressing your prices isn’t always easy nor straightforward, particularly if you provide a service. You don’t have to give a price list, but addressing how your prices are made up, what influences them and why you price the way you price will go a long way in answering those important questions.
TAYA big 5 categories - problems
  • Problems (2) Another likely big part of your question list will have to do with problems and challenges. What are potential problems with your product/services? Again, answering these might not come easy to you, but if you don’t do it, negative reviews and competitors are likely to do it for you. Once you consider what negative aspects your competition and your customers might say about you, you can address them honestly and transparently and, potentially, turn them into an advantage.
TAYA big 5 categories - comparisons
  • Versus & comparisons (3) One of the big changes that the internet has enabled is the ease with which people can explore a variety of options and compare products/services. You’re not faced with only 2-3 options in your local shop, but with potentially hundreds of options online. You have probably found yourself comparing a lot of products online before making a bigger purchase choice. When you do so, you’re looking for honest comparisons and reviews, not biased ones. So how do you gain trust and avoid that consumers think you’re being biased when writing about your own products/services? Disarm your reader from the start by admitting honestly: “We might not be the best fit for you, but we also could be. It’s for you to decide. Here are the different options.” You’re acknowledging that they might have needs you cannot fulfil which makes you an honest and transparent expert.
TAYA big 5 categories - reviews and best in class
  • Reviews (4) and Best in class (5) These two might feel a bit strange. Should you really review and recommend competitors services and products? Look at it this way: Very few people will be better suited than you to make an informed decision about the best services and products offered in your field. Reviewing and recommending them will position you further as an expert, build your network with those recommended organisations and, last but not least, establish trust again. Keep in mind though to not include yourself in your list of Best in Class, you don’t want to appear biased.

What now?

Once you’ve listed and sorted trough all those questions, the next step is – you guessed it – to answer them. Start with the most important ones and allocate them to different team members to answer in form of a blog post. It can seem like a lot at first, but just get started. Over time, your team will get into the habit of writing these posts and it’ll get easier. By doing so, you’re continuously expanding your online resources, providing valuable content to prospective customers/clients and positioning yourself as an expert in your field. You will also save more and more resources by not answering these questions over and over again – you can now just refer those who ask to the blog post that already exist.

This is the very basis of TAYA. It does not stop there, though. Answering questions in written form is one thing (and a great start!), but wouldn’t it be better to answer some (or all) questions in video form? And how does this approach impact your website? Where do you take the time from to create all this content? Especially if you’re working in a not-for-profit environment, how can you afford this time-intense approach? And how can you convince your team to buy into TAYA and keep them motivated?

There are many, many more aspects to TAYA which we will explore further in future blog posts. If you’re already intrigued and want to have a chat about how you could make this approach work for you, get in touch and we’ll have a chat to see how we can help you.