Marketing Strategy: The Familiarity Principle

Building familiarity is a powerful marketing strategy. Its aim is to earn trust with potential customers, although it takes time to pay off. Other sales gurus may call it persistence, but that suggests aggression and pushiness. Familiarity is gentler; it politely reminds your prospects, “yes, I’m here,” and primes them for a transaction at the proper time.

I developed the familiarity principle after many years of visiting the same businesses and becoming a regular. I would recognize other regular patrons. Eventually, we would introduce ourselves. I even came to do business with a few of them.

This happens to me most often in coffee shops and bars or nightclubs. I get almost no enjoyment from alcohol, but I like being around other people. They’re more open to socializing at establishments that serve adult beverages. I love coffee, and can tolerate strange and amazing amounts of caffeine. Customers at coffee shops are likely to bring their laptops and headphones and bury themselves in work. However, they still take breaks and will chat up people they know. Sometimes they’re having brunch with friends or business contacts, and will introduce other acquaintances who pass by.

In-Person Networking

We all know how scary it is to say “hi” to complete strangers. It requires either a profoundly brash personality, or several helpings of liquid courage. Even then, your advances are likely unwelcome by the other person. Networking events and invitational parties are a different environment, and I advocate more confident approaches then.

When you and another person have seen each other three or more times, it’s more acceptable to make contact. This works for the employees of the businesses you’re at, as well. Bartenders are great for making connections, at least when it’s not too busy. Be nice, tip them regularly, and they’ll speak well of you to others. I actually got a bartender to hire me for a project at her day job. We’re getting along great, and I’m excited for her imminent referrals. 

In person networking is also a good way to generate traffic to your website. Even today, with so much focus on SEO and social media links, offline marketing like broadcast advertising, print, and business cards can make your site known. I urge you to get business cards that prominently display your site’s URL. In fact, the web address may be all you need on the card, since many people don’t answer phone calls from unrecognized numbers. Get people to your site, and you can show all the marketing content you want.

This is why it’s important to have a personalized website that reflects your business’ unique brand. If you can’t afford a professional designer, at least use a flexible WordPress theme and page builder. With these tools, you can tweak the appearance of your site to your liking.

After the ice is broken, it will take more relationship building with your prospect before you can sell your product or services. You’ll inevitably talk about what line of work you’re in, but you won’t give an “elevator pitch.” You have more time with this person over several days or weeks, so express why you’re passionate about what you do and why it can help other people. When you’re selling, especially professional services, the point should be problems the prospect or general public has and the solution you bring to the table. Don’t even think of it as selling- think of it as helping.

In his book The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients (which I review here,) long-time consultant David A. Fields urges what he calls “right side up thinking.” It means your business really isn’t about you, it’s about your clients. Be focused on finding out people’s problems, what motivates them, and what their goals are.

When you’re building familiarity and trust, your conversations with the prospect will be social and relationship-based. Once you feel it’s time to offer your service to the prospect, Fields gives us a phrase he calls “The Turn.” It goes, “Would you be open to a separate conversation where we talk about your business, and explore whether my firm can help you achieve your goals?” This wording gives the prospect a choice in going into business with you, while focusing on their problems and aspirations.

The Familiarity Principle In Marketing

Now let’s look at familiarity and how it helps in marketing and advertising, focusing on digital marketing. Your website is the central hub of your online effort, but email, social media, and even YouTube are a part of it.

The website should have an email opt-in or contact form. There are plenty of guides to email marketing, but I what want to emphasize is consistency. I personally don’t open every email I get, but it’s strangely comforting to see the same businesses send me messages the same day each week. If I don’t take up one offer, I know there will be more. What prevents me from reporting them as spam is the fact that I voluntarily signed up for their marketing after seeing their helpful webinar or blog article. And they ARE helpful. The difference between spam and legit email marketing is a genuine interest in solving problems. Good emails, though not necessarily long, at least explain their solution and offer proof.

To get prospects to your email opt-in, you need to be found, either on Google, or on social media. Here, the familiarity principle applies to both the visitors of these platforms AND the platforms’ results algorithms.

Let’s look at Facebook. Although I have much less faith in this platform as I did a few months ago (it’s stock is dropping steadily,) it’s a good all-around example of what to do. When you’re making new connections on Facebook, it helps to see whether you have plenty of mutual friends. People hate random friend requests. The more people who can vouch for you, the better. If you know each other online, that’s another icebreaker for when you meet in person eventually.

By now, everyone should know that Facebook’s newsfeed filters friends’ posts so that you don’t see everything everyone is doing. What you do see depends on what you engage with previously. If you post on a regular basis, and engage with other people’s posts consistently, you’ll see each other’s content more often. Although Facebook is geared more toward personal relationships than professional networking, this could actually be advantageous to your business. People’s guards are more or less down, so you can be more open about work and related concerns.

When it’s time to pitch your business or products, that’s when Facebook’s algorithm clamps down. Facebook makes its money from advertising (as well as selling user data- that’s been blown wide open), so you’re expected to pay up.

I mentioned webinars earlier, and I’ve seen them advertised most on Facebook, and a little on Instagram. The point of a webinar is to either sell or build an email list. Like with email marketing, it takes ongoing campaigns for your ads to take hold. David Fields’ right side up thinking is in effect when it comes to the content of your ads, but many people need to warm up to you before they engage. It may take a week or two of seeing your ad every day before they click the link to your webinar (or landing page, or white paper, etc.)

Google is the top dog in search and online advertising. SEO isn’t necessarily the topic of this post, but consistent updates to your website get you noticed. Having a blog, or at least a feed that connects to your social media posts, is essential. Regular posts are what many top internet marketers recommend.

YouTube is a special platform in that it’s both a search engine and a social network. Content creators can make a full time living making videos. They collect ad revenue, get supporters on Patreon, make sponsored content, use affiliate links, or a combination of all these. Therefore, YouTube rewards, you guessed it, consistent uploads. When popular channels share the keys to their success, it is invariably daily or weekly posts. It takes a few weeks or months for their channels to take off. 

Business networking is a strange form of work in that you’re not paid for it directly, but everything in your entrepreneurial career depends on it. Think of it as a marketing plan. Keep the familiarity principle in mind, and remember that successful commerce is built on human connection.