Ideas without insights - especially coming from a group of people who usually are very far removed from the audience - are akin to throwing darts in the dark. Even the best ideas, without direction, won’t hit their mark. These brain dumps are a waste of everybody’s valuable time. You need to start with research.
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When most people think of marketing, they think of the ads and promotions - the visible stuff. But for the great campaigns, the real magic happens long before those ads and promotions are even dreamt up. The real magic happens in the research and insights.
There are, literally, hundreds of marketing tactics and platforms now and most companies don't have huge marketing budgets that allow them to invest in everything. YouTube allows you to compete on equal footing with even your biggest competitor.
Now that we've established the growing power of the digital influencer and their ability to engage your audience on a deep and meaningful level, let's dive into why they've become such powerhouses.
My work is fundamentally creative. There are loads of analytical pieces, but at the end of the day, marketing is about making a connection with human beings who are not as predictable as marketers would like to think. Yes, there are lots of studies on consumer behavior and human drive and we can move the needle by tapping into those things that motivate buying behavior, but so is everyone else and the companies that 'win' the loyalty and sales are the ones that are more creative.
Content marketing, which is the focus of my current consulting, is all about being creative. There is a good amount of noise out there: companies writing blog posts, producing video series and posting regularly to social media channels, and most of it really doesn't matter. It follows formulas and delivers the same old same old that we've read a million times before. There is nothing to distinguish one inspirational quote from another. There is no point of view.
So I am to dig deeper. Provide something different. Something valuable. Something thought provoking. I shoot for remarkable.
But thought provoking, valuable and remarkable take time. They take long hours of thought. And, frankly, most brands don't want to pay for that. We just got them to the point that (many of) them are realizing that content is important and some of them are willing to pay something for it, but that's only a small piece of it. Stopping there would be like giving someone a bathing suit and expecting them to swim across the Atlantic.
Francis Moran, a colleague of mine, recently likened the current state of content marketing to the early state of radio. Anyone with access to the tools could claim expertise in radio, but as it evolved, it was apparent that there were very few examples of radio shows that could hold an audience. And you need an audience to pay the electric bills.
One of the shows that stands out to me is This American Life with Ira Glass on Public Radio. There are very few radio shows that I can listen to for a full hour each week and even fewer that I will go back to listen to multiple times, but this is one of them. There is just something so incredibly entertaining and thought provoking about it.
And then this weekend, another colleague of mine, Mitch Joel, pointed out aGoogle Talk with Ira Glass in which the interviewer asks where he comes up with the programming week after week (for >18 years!) and Glass' answer is amazing:
Somebody will pitch a story that we all feel very excited about and that doesn’t go with any of the themes we have going on at the time, so we’ll just say “Let’s use that story as an anchor for some show” and then we’ll concoct a theme that could plausibly contain it. And sometimes we’ll come up with 2 or 3 different themes that could plausibly contain it and we’ll have other stories left over from other shows that we couldn’t use and see if we can glue anything to it and then we’ll start on a search. And that search could take up to 3 or 4 months often and sometimes even more. Finding ideas for stories is very inefficient.
One of the things when you start to do creative work that nobody ever asks is, “Where are ideas going to come from?” And you have this idea that they are just going to be sprinkled on your head like fairy dust…but you just have to surround yourself with a lot of stuff and a lot of ideas, because ideas lead to other ideas. So at one point, we’ll just go on a massive search…
Then he goes on to describe a very complex process with all sorts of questions and nuances that are unique to every story and every episode, including having to kill about 1/3-1/2 of every thing they start. And he adds:
You really can’t tell what’s going to work until you start to make that thing. It’s like you want lightening to strike as an industrial product (in the same spot) every week, and to do that, you just need to wander around in the rain...a lot.
This is the key to creativity. It's not a linear process and it's not predictable. You need to give it space and lots of encouragement. If you are held to pumping it out like a factory, you are probably not going to nail it. And it doesn't come to you at the most opportune times.
In one of my favorite TED Talks ever, Elizabeth Gilbert describes a fantastic story where poet Ruth Stone would hear a poem thundering over the hills while she was working and have to "run like hell" to find paper and pen to capture it in the moment.
- Surrounding yourself with inspiration, stories and ideas. I'd say that most of those ideas should be on-topic (if you are trying to come up with a great story on wearable tech, surround yourself with conversations, articles and experiences on wearable tech), but you should also step outside of the narrow topic to get inspiration (think about it from the perspective of parenting or fashion or education, for instance).
- Space to breathe and grow. You'll go down a million paths that will lead you nowhere. There is no fairy dust.
- A purpose. You need a direction. A point of view. A raison d'etre. For Ira Glass, it's the constant search for stories that will change people's perspective. Having an end goal or a point of view will help focus you enough on what you want to convey. Then you just have to deal with the how.
As you are probably already thinking, this process is far too free-flowing and unpredictable for most companies out there. It's why most artists are starving and why the world is full of mundanity.
The good news is that there is a happy medium to be struck between completely unleashed creative, interesting content - that is "inefficient" as Glass puts it - and completely lifeless outputs of formulaic, mundane content. But the current pendulum favors the efficient (while complaining that the ROI is less than desirable on this particular output). What we need to work on is the message that it isn't just any content that works. It's content that actually adds value (a term that is understandable to organizations). And adding value takes more thought than a 2 week RFP or a couple of brainstorms.
(The last creative agency I worked with operated on last minute series of brainstorms to come up with ideas for clients. I added some sanity to this by bringing market research to the meetings and presenting insights, but the output was still horrifying enough for me to back away from the whole circus. In an ideal world, agencies would work as partners with clients and evolve ideas over time rather than be given a creative brief, then expected to go into their creative cave and come out with brilliant ideas.)
And brilliantly out of the blue, Jeff Bezos' wildly popular appearance on 60 Minutes provides a fantastic example of a company that is winning and will continue winning by having a purpose, taking time and surrounding itself with inspiration (they spend a good deal on R&D, a dying department). Bezos asserts of their crazy sci-fi drone idea that it'll be 4-5 years before it is reality. But their incredible commitment to customer-centricity helps them get creative in their approach. It's how they became the market leader and how they will stay there.
Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.
I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:
1. "It's our policy."
Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."
The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.
And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:
a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;
b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;
c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.
If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:
A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).
Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.
2. "It was in your contract."
Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.
I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.
Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:
Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.
3. "See our answer here [with link]."
Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]
Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!
This would be better:
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?
@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?
@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/
@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.
@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!
Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.
4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]
Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.
Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.
Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.
The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.
It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.
I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:
A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist
@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again!
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?
@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?
@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.
@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)
@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.
@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.
Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.
So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience). In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.
[title quote attributed to Alexander Hamilton as well as Malcolm X in various forms, image bought from Shutterstock]
I've been trying to put my finger on the problem with so much of the social content brands put out into the world. Why does it seem so damned flat and soulless? Sure, they post the occasional uplifting quote I can get behind, but mostly I just skip over the rest. And it isn't just that it's too self-promotional (though much of it is "me me me"), it's something more.
And then today it occurred to me:
ENGAGING SOCIAL CONTENT HAS A POINT OF VIEW.
The un-engaging stuff (pretty much everything else) just follows formulas and schedules and feels as alive as a silk plant. They get so close, but when you lean in to take a sniff, something is off.
But the stuff that we connect with, the stuff that makes us cheer and like and share and remember the brand, that stuff has a point of view. And that point of view is something WAY bigger than the brand.
Oreo's audience was merely humming along with their 'cookies as a character' campaign until one day, they posted this:
...and all hell broke lose. They chose a point of view that was both unpopular AND wildly popular. They may have lost a few of their homophobic customers that day, but they gained a LOT of new (and renewed) customers who had long forgotten the brand.
And Coke, one of the most 'liked' brands on Facebook (baffling to me) has a dismally small amount of interactions with this type of post (which they do all too frequently):
But when it comes to this type of post...their engagement blows through the roof:
441 likes/53 shares (small from an audience of nearly 75 MILLION) compared to 5,081 likes and 274 shares. (though still lower engagement than I Fucking Love Science, whose most popular posts get tens of thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of likes)
And though they aren't my cup of tea (so to speak), Red Bull has a VERY strong point of view and has built an incredibly loyal audience (and business) from it. And it isn't just about having a strong voice/tone. It's about knowing who you are and not being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. Standing for something.
Because if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.
And I see this happens to lost brands all of the time. You can smell a brand who is following a formula or just follows advice and 'best practice' guidelines. Their voice is forced and weak. They won't take a position. They are afraid of what others think. They define themselves by what they ARE NOT, but refuse to own who they ARE.
Each of us is standing in a spot no one else occupies. That unique viewpoint is born of our accumulated experience and perspective and our vision. This is your onlyness—the thing that only you can bring into a situation.
When you own that unique viewpoint, nobody can take it away from you. They can disagree. They can dislike it. But they can't deny that you own that space. And what will surprise you is that you will find new allies when you own your onlyness.
But how do you figure it out? Is there an exercise? A set of steps? A workbook? A tool you can pay $24.95/month to figure out your onlyness? Can you hire a creative agency to craft it for you?
Nope. You have to do this work yourself. It's your accumulated experience. It's YOUR point of view. You can hire someone to help coach you towards it, but you can't pay someone else to do it.
This is why, while social media gurus are a dime a dozen, social media is still so damned hard to do well. It's not something you can outsource, automate, hire an intern to do for you or even get your marketing team to create a plan for. If you are the founder or a senior team member, you need to be involved.
And for those of you who think this is lightweight and a waste of time? Keep trying all of that other stuff that isn't working while you lose market share and talent to that other company whose success you can't quite understand because your product is superior. I'll bet if you look real close, you'll smell something different. That's the scent of onlyness. They stand for something. They know who they are. They haven't read a best practices article in their lives because they don't have to. They inherently know what to post and come up with great ways to connect beyond pushing out messages. They probably even like to hang out with one another on the weekends. And they don't worry about who talks to the press, because everyone can articulate passionately what their brand stands for, who their customer is and why they love what they do. Nobody needs a laminated poster to remember the company's core values.
If you want to keep copying companies with mediocre results to keep achieving mediocre-er results, go ahead. And by all means, read more articles by 'social media gurus' who haven't ever built a community or a product. Continue to spend the time you need to figure out your onlyness on random useless noise making.
But you have a choice and it's right there in front of you. You can stand for something. You can lead and be the example everyone wants to decode.
Be the case study, not the company that reads it.
People get comfortable with routines...even if they aren't the most efficient. Sticking with a familiar inefficiency is often less daunting than switching to an unknown.
Many companies try to sell their products and services as an 'easier' or 'time saving' or 'better' way to do something, but even if your potential customers will save time and effort in the long-run, there are often huge switching costs that prevent them from making the leap.
Here is a personal example:
I was banking with an institution I had been unsatisfied with for years. Their fees were high, their customer service was awful and their practices were not very friendly. I was constantly complaining about them, but it took me forever to switch. Why? Because my whole life was tied to that bank. Even though I was miserable and there were much better banks for my needs, I was avoiding the time and pain it would take to switch my bills, PayPal account, credit cards and day-to-day routine. Besides, what if I took the time to switch and things didn't improve? I felt like I'd be happier being unhappy with what I already know.
I finally switched when things got unbearable and another bank gave me the tools (and sat with me) to switch everything over effortlessly, but even then, it was a bit of a pain. I'm happier now, but it took a few years and being acutely dissatisfied for me to switch and I'm just an individual.
If you are selling to larger businesses, the switching costs are even higher. New processes, even if they are simpler, take new training. And for a large organization, this takes a big swath of time and money. People get used to the irritating workarounds for their inefficient systems. They learn shortcuts and tricks to beating the odds that become part of a daily routine.
Just the other day, I encountered a business that used Photoshop for their invoicing because they understood the tool and didn't want to learn a new one! I even demonstrated how simple it was to use something like Freshbooks (I have no affiliation, but I use it and love it), but the business owner explained that this worked just fine and switching would mean he'd have to relearn and do a bunch of work to transfer all of his clients to the new platform. Even if this only took a few days, he didn't see the advantage over the switching costs.
Sure, you may offer webinars, instructional videos and a support network that help with the training, but that could make switching seem even more complicated for your potential clients. Don't fret, though, there ARE better approaches to helping people get over their fear of switching. Here are a few:
- Figure out a way to reduce or eliminate switching time automagically. Wordpress does this incredibly well. In most cases, you can just point it at your old blog or upload a file and it will 'suck in' your posts, tags, comments, etc. so that you are up and running in no time.
- Acknowledge the switching costs up front. Don't just say, "We'll save you time". That's too vague. Your homepage is for new arrivals with doubts, so alleviate those doubts. Know the pain points of your potential customers and speak to them. Give time estimates.
- Give them an incentive. I've seen banks offer iPads to open a new account, but it doesn't have to be that drastic. Free trials work, too. However, many people don't get the chance to really try your product unless they switch completely (and many won't switch until they try it - catch 22!), so give them test content or offer a one-on-one demo with their data.
- If you can't eliminate time to switch, give clear, simple instructions step by step through the sign up process. Use screenshots and clear, short instructions to help your customers through the process so they aren't left hanging at any point. It's not talking down to them, it's doing the legwork for them.
- Create a switching officer program...for free. Many people will give up privacy for convenience. Offer the ability to switch for them. "We'll set you up so you are ready to go!" The upfront cost will pay off in the long run.
Of course, this only eliminates a few of the switching costs involved. Some more switching costs are:
- legacy systems (you can make sure your product is backwards compatible)
- training of staff (offering free training or creating a product that has incredibly intuitive UX helps)
- trust (this one is very complicated in today's world of false-promises - it takes time and perseverance)
- costs (in the Photoshop invoice case, the business owner didn't want to pay a monthly fee to merely invoice - you need to show how your cost can make your clients money)
- competition (when faced with the paradox of choice, a customer won't switch at all. The choice should be crystal clear.)
But whether a potential customer needs to switch from something they hacked together or a competitor, you need to recognize that "we're better" or "we save you time and/or money" isn't enough to get over the ultimate barrier of switching. Recognizing this will help you see things from your customer's point of view more clearly so you can help them faster.
The other day, I was meeting with an associate who was relaying to me his frustration with influencer marketing:
"Tara, influencer marketing just doesn't work. I made a deal with the most influential person in this network and he posted his shining endorsement of my product and I got very little results." He lamented, "He has over 200,000 followers!"
I asked him what else he did in the influencer's community to build up relationships and he looked at me sort of puzzled. He thought the relationships this influencer had would be enough to get the attention of the majority of his followers.
"But they seem so engaged!" He added.
Sure. They are probably very engaged...with the influencer dude. But that doesn't mean that they will jump on every little thing he writes about every company. I told my associate that I have over 45,000 followers on Twitter, but only a small portion of them joined up on Buyosphere...and it was MY COMPANY! I have relationships with various people who follow me for various reasons. Some of them liked my work on Coworking and early BarCamp days. Some of them started following me when I worked in San Francisco with Citizen Agency and our cool clients like Slideshare and Tripit and ran all sorts of 'web 2.0' events out of our awesome Citizen Space. Some discovered me through speaking, through my books and other writing and interviews. Others may just have happened upon me on a good day when I said something witty. Either way, I don't have the undivided attention of my 45,000+ followers.
Every day, I build relationships within that audience and no amount of money can actually make those relationships transferrable.
I'm not a fan of influencer marketing. I think it's lazy and short-sited. It's also highly unrealistic. We trust influencers. That's what made them influential in the first place, but we don't automatically trust their associates. And we can sniff out a paid endorsement a mile away.
But I *am* a fan of building out relationships in active networks - which can be entered by building relationships with influential types that operate within that network. It's a longer term, more intensive task, but it pays off big time. You just need to follow relationship protocol and slowly climb the Social Engagement Ladder:
Each step of the Social Engagement Ladder respects the state of mind of the person whose attention you are trying to get and trying to skip steps will only lead to frustration. You wouldn't walk up to a person you've never met and expect them to marry you. You wouldn't ask a new friend to help you move. Social networks are built on relationships and even if they are online, they are still relationships. In fact, you probably need to be even more patient and take even more care because you don't always have those non-verbal cues to work off of.
Here are the stages and their characteristics/instructions:
STEP 1. AWARE
“I’ve seen you around” This is the stage where there is little to no brand awareness other than a quick glance.
- Sees a friend interact with your page on their FB feed.
- Comes across you in a search.
- Reads an article where you are mentioned.
- Heard a friend mention you in a conversation.
- Saw an ad for you or your product go by.
Probably forgot your name 5 seconds later. Barely made a blip on their radar
Impress more of your current customers and keep getting the word out.
Flash a nice smile. You aren’t even close to getting his/her attention.
STEP 2. INTERESTED
“I recognize you” Brand awareness is starting to build. People remember your name.
- Has seen a few friends interact with you on their FB feed.
- Sees you in several articles.
- Sees your ad pop up quite often.
- Has heard from more than one friend that they are using your service.
Growing more aware, interest being piqued...but still apprehensive. Can be spooked/turned off. Brand awareness/interest, but no affinity.
Approach cautiously, but in a friendly manner. No aggression.
You catch his/her eye. He/she smiles back. Slowly make your move towards her/him. Think of something non-douchey to say.
STEP 3. INTERACTED
“I’ve checked you out” You have their attention. Not yet undivided. But you are moving in a great direction.
- Clicked one of the FB feed posts and checks out your page.
- Clicks on a link in one of those articles to check out your website.
- Clicks on an ad.
- Asks a friend for more information and why he/she recommends you.
Warming up and opening up to you and should be greeted with open arms.
Greet customer with open arms. Listen a lot. Learn.
Buy him/her a drink. Have a great conversation. Ask him/her to dance. Flirt. Time to ask him/her out for that coffee.
STEP 4. ENGAGED
“I’m hanging with you” This could be a very long stage, depending on the customer, your product and your moves. It's mostly your job to help them remember every single day why you are in their life and that you enhance it. If most of your customers linger here, great. It's a good place to be.
- Liked your page.
- Comments on posts. Likes.
- Joined your site.
- Bought your product.
- Dined at your restaurant.
Every day should be a day to remind that customer why they got this far with you. You are rockin this relationship.
Don’t screw it up and take him/her for granted.
Things are going very well. Coffee moved to dinner moved to drinks and so forth. Don’t screw it up and take him/her for granted.
STEP 5. EVANGELIZED
“You are the bomb!” OMFGBBQLOLYAY! This is a rare and beautiful stage. Heaven.
- Sharing your posts.
- Recommending to friends.
- Retweeting you.
- Writing recommendations on social networks.
- Defending you to naysayers.
- In love.
Very few customers ever make it here. When they do, you should be finding all sorts of ways to celebrate them. (and feel good that you made it here!)
Help make it easier for your customer to be your #1 fan. Thank them.
IT REALLY IS JUST THAT SIMPLE
So I told my associate that "influencer marketing" is a crock, but influence is real. It just can't be bought. It has to be earned. It takes finesse and empathy and all of that stuff that nobody can sell you or really even teach you.
Okay, so it's not simple. It's a completely different way of doing marketing than they told you in school and there are really no short cuts. And dammit, it's fun and amazing and there are bumps along the way, but they are way interesting. Until customers are replaced by algorithms and robots, you'll have to approach them as a human. ;)
So now that you've been inspired to try your hand at social content marketing, and you understand your audience and what kind of content may appeal, it's time to plan out your content mix. Understanding the content mix that works for your audience is incredibly important and many companies get this very wrong. I break content down to four very general categories:
Product type content is the stuff that most people understand as self-promotional. These are posts about your product itself: the features, the benefits, the comparisons and the contrasts. It's the who, what, when, where and how of what you are selling. If you are doing content for a cosmetic company, it's the scientific study that shows a 25% reduction in crows feet. If you are doing content for a rockband, it's posting the concert dates and new singles. If you are doing content for a dental office, it's posting the specials on cleaning and whitening. If you are doing content for your consulting business, it's posting where you are featured as an expert in the Washington Post.
Product posts are the "me, me, me" posts. They are the ones that most resemble the traditional marketing one-way message, though many companies are trying to create interaction with these by adding a sharing, liking or commenting incentive (share to enter a contest, like to get a coupon, comment to let us know how you would wear this, etc).
These types of posts are essential for communicating what it is you are selling, where people can buy it, how they enjoy/use your product, when it is available or goes on special, who is behind the product (slightly crosses over to brand, which I'll explain next) and why people should buy your product. However, a content schedule made up of too many of these posts will not be interesting to anyone other than already devoted fans - and even they will be less and less interested as time goes on.
Brand type posts still relate to your product, but focus more on the "why" by empathizing with your audience and connecting with them on a more emotional level. Brand posts answer the question, "Why would YOU give a damn about my product?" but they don't list the features and benefits, they talk more about the customer and how they serve the customer's needs. This is where the content gets social. It listens and learns and evolves with the needs of the audience.
Brand type posts are answering how you are making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better. If you are doing content for a fashion retailer, this is where you focus on the outcomes of looking and feeling great wearing the clothes (quite often done visually and in a fantasy setting). If you are doing content for a public figure, this is where you showcase the issues and ideologies that people can connect with in order to support that person. If you are doing content for a sports team, this is where you can connect with the audience's competitive instincts, providing tools to help them show their team colors.
Brand type posts are still product related, but they speak to how the customer connects to the product rather than the awesomeness of the product itself. These posts evolve over time as you interact with the audience and understand what makes their lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and better. They can even help you improve your product. This will give your audience a feeling of personal investment in the product, which will lead to a deeper relationship and long-term loyalty.
Lifestyle type posts don't directly relate to your product, but they do speak to your audience. They are posts that recognize memes, holidays, current events and pop culture. These posts connect to your audience by recognizing what else is going on in their minds and show that your company gets the audience.
When Oreo posted the gay pride cookie, the image went viral because of many factors, but the biggest was that they took a risk. Oreo took a risk with a holiday that divides many (as gay rights is widely contested), leading to a wide number of supporters and detractors discussing and sharing the ad. The image itself was fairly innocuous with the rainbow colored filling between the iconic chocolate wafers and the word 'PRIDE'. It didn't say, "support gay rights" or stand up for anything in particular, but a family focused company giving any recognition to the gay community was enough to set the right wing audience off, which led to setting the left wing audience off to counteract the ire. The next thing you know, a cute, sleeper campaign turned into national news and Oreo cookies were top of mind for people again.
Lifestyle type posts are simple to fall back on. There are severalsitesonline that list all sorts of fun holidays (i.e. Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, or Best Friends Day on June 8) that could tie back to your product easily or creatively or speak to your particular audiences. However, don't overdo these as they could start to look like desperate attempts at content ideas and pandering. Memes can be a clever way to connect with your audience, but make sure the memes are known enough and current. A 'yesterdays' meme will make you look out of date (posting a Harlem Shake video today, for example) and a too obscure meme may go over the heads of your audience and may offend. Many brands do well aligning to pop culture, but be careful with the rights to images.
Unless you can be creative about it like Oreo (without looking like a copy cat), it's probably best you keep these posts a small percentage of your content. Occasional Lifestyle type content posts will pack a good amount of punch if you post them sparingly. They tend to get shared quite widely as people can use them to communicate their endorsement of the holiday or meme by simply posting to their own walls.
Community type posts focus on your customers and audience. These content posts highlight customer stories, ideas, feedback and lifestyles.
An example of a community post for a fashion retailer would be street style photographs where their customers talk about what they bought and what they are wearing. When doing the Justin Trudeau leadership campaign, we collected supporter stories on how people came to meet and support Justin. We used these stories in a post, and interviewed and highlighted the really unique ones, posting them to the blog, Facebook and Twitter. These posts weren't the most shared or liked, but they were meaningful and encouraged more people to share their own stories. Many cosmetic brands will hold contests for their audience to do makeup tutorials. Mac did a wonderful 'Face Off' campaign for Halloween in 2012 where they posted some amazing Halloween makeup tutorials and invited budding makeup artists to submit their own. The results were incredible and some of their most popular posts (good example of using lifestyle - Halloween - and combining it with community).
Community type posts are very good at involving your customers in the future of your brand, but don't get too complex. One of my clients was asking for their audience to submit a big design project, which required too much work. When they reduced that ask to a before and after photo, they got many more submissions.
Community type posts most likely won't be your most shared or liked post, but they empower your customers to be involved with your brand, which is important for relationship building.
THE CONTENT MIX
These four classifications aren't black and white. A product post can have lifestyle and brand type elements. Community posts can also be brand. The mix also varies depending on your audience and your own goals. Oreo Cookies, for instance, do almost exclusively lifestyle posts (that have a brand bend) and people love them, but this approach wouldn't work for everyone.
And remember, these four classifications I've outlined are very top level and only to be used as a guideline for your initial content planning. As your content evolves, you will break down types of posts even more finitely. Decotheca, a client of mine who provides design inspiration and guidelines for Canadians who are designing or redesigning their rooms and homes, have focused most of their energy on brand type posts, but have broken these posts down to: DIY projects, Design Style Overviews, Color Inspiration, Design Terminology, Accessories, etc. When assessing content, we look at the type of post and the type of content of each post to determine how to adjust and balance going forward. Currently people love the DIY projects the most, but overdoing these would reduce their effectiveness.
But I recognize that sitting down in front of a blank calendar to create engaging content can be daunting and I've found the four types of content to be a good exercise to get started. From there, you should let your audience and their engagement and feedback determine how it evolves. Your content planning will move from a daunting, laborious task to a fun and learning experience.
The overall purpose of content marketing is to build and connect with your audience, get feedback to improve your product, grow loyalty though involving your customers in your evolution and then help your loyal, loving audience spread the word for you, bringing in a larger audience. Ultimately, this leads to you being top of mind and increasing your sales or supporters.