In our previous post, Part 1, we talked about the three approaches to client services; the lower, middle and higher sections of the barrel model. These referred to quantity marketing techniques at the lower end, and boutique quality marketing at the upper end, with the middle portioned out between lower middle, relying on Pay Per Click (PPC) and upper middle, relying on Inbound Marketing.
The takehome point from that article is that both providers and clients need to understand where they desire to fall along that spectrum, and to commit to their specialties – knowing that it is much easier to fall toward the bottom of the barrel than it is to rise once you are down there.
Today we compare white hat, black hat and gray/grey hat marketing and see where they fit within the barrel.
White Hat marketing relies on best practices, where Black Hat marketing tends toward the bottom of the barrel; with a gray buffer zone in between. So how do you decide which level is best for you?
For short term gains, and more risk with smart search engines actively working to root you out, black hat marketing entails a more easily outsourced solution for faceless, nameless websites. The reason this approach exists is because gaming the game has been around for as long as there have been rules. Those who can’t, smash and grab. Ultimately working harder at not working, than working.
Nameless Strangers in Black Hats
Black hat techniques incur a great risk, however, sometimes resulting in “easy” profits made dishonestly – or at least, in defiance of the spirit of convention – but can be shut down instantly in one of the many ruthless updates occasionally launched by search engines. Google‘s Panda updates, for example, effectively wiped away millions in potential revenues from numerous content mills which had bloated themselves with gaming techniques like mass-produced backlinks and self-spamming. Sites that employ hidden techniques, like gray-to-black hat networks, all leading back to a legitimate white-hat site, all potentially face the algorithmic guillotine.
Search engines get smarter at assessing authentic content by running it through millions of self-contained algorithms – the individual minds of people talking to people. Also, while SE’s use algorithms, it pays to remember that they are run by people too, who know spam, even when it’s served to them in a gumbo.
The Face Under the Gray Hat
In the middle of the barrel, the gray/grey hat zone, we move away from anonymous networks and start putting faces and names to the sites. Long-term focus shifts goals away from short-term solutions. The two watchwords for the middle of the barrel: Credibility and Satisfaction.
I should mention that the middle isn’t gray – it’s either white or black hat or both. It’s what you make it.
Higher-end custom services may require greater service and more focus on your favored clients – ultimately resulting in fewer transactions.
Wherever you wind up in the barrel – it’s a conscious choice. Whichever you choose, know that you can’t have the whole barrel for yourself.
You can’t rise to the top of the barrel with bottom-feeding techniques. But you can easily fall from the top to the bottom, if you decrease the quality curve.
The Quality Curve
Think of the life-cycle arc of a restaurant: at first, there’s a grand opening, with a famous chef making wonderful dishes. Lines of patrons are out the door, and reviewers line up with their pads and custom forks.
The amazing chef wows the public, but alas, her contract is rather high, and soon she will be called away to open another venue. Enter the local chef. Quality descends into the more mundane levels, but prices are still at the luxury level. Patrons begin to feel the restaurant is not a good value for the premium price, and business drops.
When business drops, management starts cutting prices on ingredients, selecting the lower grade stuff or even baiting and switching one type of common fish for the rarer variety.
By this time, the wait staff, with more idle time, has fallen off in their service, because they are not getting the tips they used to. The dining room is a mess, the dinner rush is sporadic, and the prices are still too high – and when customers order the special, they find the house special is expired refuse. What must the rest of the menu taste like?
By this time things have gotten so bad the whole business folds.
The more corners you cut, the more you have to cut corners. The cheaper some clients want it, the more the client wants.
Illustrating Client Options
Knowing this from the outset, you can decide where within the barrel model you want to operate. You can help illustrate options to the client by offering different levels of service, illustrated with their related costs – financially and consequentially.
Both clients and providers can get a better sense of their results before virtual ground is broken; just remember that accepting a low-balling client – or provider – will reflect on your own value, and increase your own costs. How will you offset these costs?
How will you define the line beyond which you will not go?
Negotiate Desirable Results – Not Price tags
If you’re in a race for the bottom – that’s your business. It will certainly be your result. Negotiations which begin with this “State a number” approach overlook the long-term costs in a moment of false economy. Short-term solutions have long-term consequences – for both parties.
You set the tone. You set the bar for your business. As a provider or client, you should know where you are – and when you meet a potential associate who does not occupy the same level of the barrel you prefer – you should refer them for a “more suitable matching service.”
“Your business will get out what is put into it. Sooner or later, and nothing more, nothing less.”
Referring is a professional practice. A fitness trainer that meets a client with a preexisting medical condition is ethically and legally bound to refer them to a medical professional for evaluation. Is not the health of your business equally consequential to your long-term security?
Think inside the barrel.