Eric Siu • Mar 24, 2016

The Brand-Building Power of Providing Free Advice: 10 Lessons From Neil Patel

The brand building power of providing free advice from Neil Patel

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: your brand is one of your most valuable assets as a company.

That’s why you’ll see so many companies spend so much money on brand-building. Some are even willing to lose money to keep their brands intact. As a case in point, take Neil Patel, a leading expert on brand building in the digital age, who estimates that upholding his personal brand’s image costs him $1,671,120 a year.

Wonder what else this seemingly-everywhere web guru can teach you about branding? Here are ten lessons that will help you build your brand through the power of providing free advice:

Brand-Building Lessons from Patel

If you look for Neil online, you’ll see that he has over 152,000 followers on Twitter and is regularly cited in Search Engine Journal, Social Media Today, Hubspot and many other digital marketing publication. But his extraordinary brand presence isn’t an accident—it’s something he’s carefully cultivated by providing tons of free advice according to the following principles.

1. Know Your Company’s Value Proposition

You can only grow your brand by providing free advice if your advice actually benefits your followers. Neil says that the most important question you need to ask in any marketing campaign is what the company’s defining edge is:

“Let’s look at Apple to learn why that is. Instead of the typical what-how-why advertising message, Apple has always promoted the why first. They’ve promoted the reason behind why they exist. You can imagine them saying this: ‘Apple exists to challenge the status quo. We emphasize beautiful design. And we make computer devices.’”

This approach needs to extend to offering free advice as well. Specifically, there are two questions you need to get a handle on:

  • What solutions are your customers seeking?
  • Why is your brand in the best position to advise them?

 

Clearly, you’ll have a much easier time standing out amongst your competitors if you deliver better advice to the people who are in need of it. Take some time to carefully reflect on your company’s unique advantage, so that you can figure out how and when to give the kind of genuinely useful advice that helps you generate brand advocates.

2. Stand Out with Exceptional Content

Neil Patel began his online marketing career as a consultant. He landed his first SEO consulting gig before he finished high school, which netted him $3,500 a month—great money for a high school student, and a great way for him to start growing his brand. Eventually, though, Neil realized that speaking and consulting weren’t scalable ways to build his reputation, so he looked for other opportunities to get his name out. Since then, he’s found that content marketing is the most effective way to do so.

Neil admits that he didn’t put much effort into his content initially, which led to serious branding problems. In 2013, he wrote a post called 11 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My First Blog, which elaborated on the pitfalls of producing low-quality content.

“When I first started blogging, I used to create mediocre content. My content did all right from a traffic standpoint because I was good at leveraging social media. Over time, I got lazy and the quality of my content continually decreased. This prompted a handful of people to email me and tell me how I sucked. To make matters worse, a few bloggers even blogged about how my content sucked.

Your brand is everything, and I hope you don’t have to go through what I went through. Treat it like gold and do whatever you can to protect it.”

Neil knew that he needed to step up the quality of his content, so he decided to dedicate more time to creating fewer, but richer, pieces. He soon noticed a substantial improvement in his brand.

Sharing free advice with readers has helped Neil grow his brand significantly, but it’s also become more difficult over time as content marketing becomes more and more crowded. As a result, companies need to create truly excellent content to stand out amongst other industry leaders—and Neil prides himself on putting out the very best content possible.

In addition to his blog posts and videos, he creates very detailed guides that he gives to his audience for free. In total, he estimates that he spends roughly $30,000 to create each of the 30,000-40,000-word guides he currently includes on his site.

That’s a pretty huge investment for free content, so I decided to ask Neil for his reasoning behind it. “It’s a marketing experiment, right?” he says. “I like learning and the quickest way I learn is by spending money. Some of it’s also ego as well. I do want to brand myself as a great marketer.”

Creating exceptional content can be a great way to build your reputation. There are so many companies out there trying to use insubstantial content for their marketing, which ultimately keeps them from standing out. As Neil’s content shows, you’ll earn a much higher return on your investment if you deliver highly-detailed content that’s filled with useful, actionable advice.

3. Build Your Brand Around a Consistent Message

Building your brand requires that you spend an extensive amount of time educating your followers. And with that comes the one immutable element of your branding strategy that you must get right: you need to be consistent with everything you say.

Recently, Neil collaborated with Ritika Puri to create an infographic on branding, which argues that consistency is a key element of branding. Not only does your message need to be consistent across all media, that consistency needs to extend beyond the message itself to the structure of your content as well.

Imagine what would happen if Neil preached the importance of high-value, long-form content all around the web, but then packed his site full of flimsy content articles. That’s what I mean when I say consistency. It’s not enough to give people advice—you need to follow your own recommendations as well.

Keep that in mind as you focus on growing your brand by providing free advice. People want to know that you’re delivering advice that will help them solve a problem they’re facing, and they’ll only have faith in your guidance if you’re consistent with it.

4. Write Your Own Content

As Neil has clearly articulated, content marketing is one of the most efficient ways to share advice with your followers, and one of the most effective ways to grow your brand. And since producing content that resonates with your brand image is so important, you need to be sure that the people creating your content thoroughly understand your brand. One of those experts should be you.

Neil claims that writing his own content has significantly improved his brand, and he recommends others do the same. Despite this, many brands hire ghostwriters to create their content, which can be problematic for several reasons:

  • These writers may not have any direct experience in your profession, which will come across in their content.
  • Having multiple ghostwriters on your team can make it difficult to create a consistent and cohesive branded message.
  • Ghostwriters aren’t as likely to engage—or know how to engage—with your readers.

 

While it’s okay to outsource the creation of some of your content, dedicate a good share of your own time to content marketing. If you need to, hire a freelance editor to revise your drafts and eliminate errors, but otherwise, invest the time yourself. It’s really the only way to develop an authentic brand voice.

5. Be Personal When Guest Blogging

Over the last few years, guest blogging has become one of the most important strategies for brands to grow their reputation. It’s also a great way to share free advice and help people out, which will drive them to your website and improve your SEO rankings—both of which are crucial for the long-term outlook of your brand.

That said, too many companies have taken a lazy approach to guest blogging, which has ultimately harmed their reputation. As Neil says, if you want to do guest blogging properly, you need to be personal about it.

According to Neil, one of the first things you should do is build your social media presence. Publishers receive tons of inquiries from business owners (or worse, link sellers posing as business owners to score link creation opportunities) who want to guest post on their site. These “professionals” often use fake names, don’t have any work samples to show and can barely string together a sentence.

Unsurprisingly, publishers have become pretty jaded. These days, they only want to work with people that have an established reputation. You’re much more likely to get a better response rate from authority publishers if you have a strong social media following that shows you’re the real deal.

Here are a few specific tips Neil has to share:

  • Use a picture of your face on your profile.
  • Make sure that when a publisher Googles you, they’ll find your company name, history and other key details.
  • Ensure that your social media accounts have recent postings to show that you’re active in your field.

 

Neil also suggests that you should write your own byline for your guest posts. Many people don’t realize how important their byline is, but it’s actually one of the most important branding aspects of your guest blogging campaigns.

6. Provide Free Advice Through Software

Free advice can come in many forms. The most obvious is giving direct verbal or written feedback to your customers through blog posts, social media status updates, and other interactive outlets. However, you can also provide advice through less direct forms—and they may be even more effective. According to Neil, free tools are proving to be a very effective way for brands to inform their customers and grow their fanbase.

Neil first considered using free tools to promote his brand after reading how effective the strategy was for Moz, which created a free backlink tool called Open Site Explorer that was used by 17,747 people within the first four days.

This inspired Neil to launch Quicksprout, a free website analyzer to help brands find more traffic for their blogs. The headline users see when they visit the Quicksprout homepage is “Do you want more traffic? Get more traffic with recommendations for your blog.” Users can enter their URL into the tool to get free feedback on improving their SEO scores.

Specifically, some of the recommendations they receive from Quicksprout include:

  • Keeping their headings between 15 and 64 characters
  • Identifying pages that lack meta descriptions
  • Helping them recognize the need to boost their social media presence
  • Telling them whether or not they need to increase their backlinks
  • Recommending that they create more detailed content pages to rank for more longtail keywords
  • Providing quick tips to improve the speed of their site to boost SEO and offer a better user experience

 

The Quicksprout tool allows Neil to provide customers with more tailored advice than any blog post or video ever could. Customers can visit his site to get personalized advice, which will be much more valuable for them as they try to improve traffic to their websites.

The ultimate goal of Quicksprout is to convert users into paid customers. Neil has said that, based on his prior experiences, this is clearly a more scalable way of providing free advice in order to generate revenue than many of the other marketing strategies used by brands today.

7. Find People Willing to Connect

Providing free advice can be a great way to grow your brand, but only if you have access to people who are interested in receiving your messages. And one of the fastest ways to find these folks is to reach out to social influencers. In fact, Neil suggests that outreach is one of the fastest ways to grow an audience—if it’s done properly.

“Assets like your website and blog act as the hub of your personal branding efforts. They are the places of truth where people can go to get information about you straight from the source. But it’s difficult to build an audience if you only use your efforts on those two channels.

To build your brand and move toward your professional goals you need to go where your target audience is and you have to get their attention. Outreach is the act of providing value to those that have established audiences filled with the people you want to reach. You provide value and in exchange they give you the chance to sell yourself to the audience.”

Drawing on his own experiences as well as from interviewing other leading experts like Lewis Howes, Neil has come up with the following process for influencer outreach:

  • Find people willing to connect at local events. While the Internet can be a great way to find people, it isn’t the only way to connect. Some people are still much easier to reach offline. For this reason, attending local events remains one of the best ways to connect with key influencers. Neil suggests going to local events to find influencers who are willing to give you the opportunity to share advice with their audience.
  • Choose your social networks wisely. Of course, the value of using social media to find influencers can’t be ignored, but you need to choose the networks that you use carefully. It’s important to figure out in which communities the best influencers are likely to be. As of now, Neil states that Twitter is one of the best places to find people, as they’re usually more receptive to hearing messages there than on other social networks.
  • Consider using forums. Forums may seem old school, but they’re still some of the largest communities in the world, and they still work well for finding influencers and audiences. “Chances are there are a number of these online communities for your professional niche,” Neil writes. “Go to Google and search for things like [your niche] forum or replace “forum” with words like “community” or put the word “online” in front of the search to find relevant communities.”

 

Connecting with influencers takes some time, but the effort always pays off in the end. Just don’t use your newfound relationships as an opportunity for spam. Be genuine, and do everything it takes to assure influencers that you can provide real value to their followers.

8. Leverage Your List

“The money is in your list.” You’ve probably heard this adage so often that it seems like a cliché. But before you write off this advice, let me ask you a question: Are you actually using your list? Or are you at least using it to its fullest potential? I’m willing to bet that you haven’t invested nearly enough time building your list or using it to reach your audience.

Neil points out that your email list can be one of the most effective ways to share advice and build your reputation, and he believes that so much that he recommends emailing 250 people directly for every post you publish. Other leading marketers, including Brian Dean of the popular Backlinko site, have followed this advice and discovered it to be an excellent way to gain traction with their content marketing campaigns.

In addition to using your email list to draw attention to your content, it can also be a great way to give exclusive tips to your subscribers. They’ll feel more passionate about following your advice if you’re giving them information that isn’t available elsewhere. Remember, exclusivity can be a powerful brand-building tool.

9. Show Your Personality

Whether you’re writing blog posts, hosting a webinar or making a presentation, you need to be willing to show your personality. Here’s what Neil has to say on the subject, from his blog post, 10 Tips for a Killer Presentation:

“It doesn’t matter if you are presenting to a corporate crowd or to senior citizens, you need to show some character when presenting. If you don’t do this you’ll probably sound like Agent Smith from the Matrix. Nobody wants to hear him present. (If you do, you are probably an agent yourself and we will find you.)”

Neil raises a good point. Sharing great advice won’t work if you bore your audience to death. Be engaging and genuine in order to capture their attention. If you can, make them laugh—a lesson Neil picked up from Guy Kawasaki.

10. Don’t Over-Prepare for Formal Presentations

If you’re sharing advice with people in a formal setting, your natural inclination might be to spend tons of time preparing for the event. And I get it—it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when your reputation is on the line. But Neil suggests an alternate path, arguing that you’ll deliver a better presentation if you improvise (to a degree).

“If you rehearse your presentation too much it will sound like it (in a bad way). Granted, you need to be prepared enough to know what you are going to talk about but make sure your presentation flows naturally instead of sounding memorized. Usually if you ask experienced speakers what you shouldn’t do, they’ll tell you not to rehearse your presentation too much because then it won’t sound natural.”

If you think about it, this makes complete sense. You need to prepare enough to have your ideas down and organized, but you also need to make sure that you can connect with your audience in a natural manner. You’ll have a much easier time engaging with them if you’re speaking freely—and that’s pretty much impossible to do if you’re working off the memorized script that’s playing through your head.

Follow Patel’s Free Advice on Giving Free Advice

Neil Patel is, unquestionably, one of the world’s greatest authorities on brand building and digital marketing, and I’m grateful to both call him a mentor and to have had the opportunity to interview him on several occasions. Whether or not you ever have the chance to speak with him directly, you can learn from the brand-building strategies he’s shared online. With these ten lessons, it’s possible to reach people and convert casual readers into brand advocates—all through the power of providing free advice.
Have any other great tips and tricks on building a brand using free advice? Share it by leaving a comment below:

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