I am a Harry Potter fan, and I own two wands - one that "picked me" at Olivander's (Universal Studios) and the one that belonged to Professor Snape. Most days, they sit on little wand stands in my office.
However, sometimes, I wish I could use them in my marketing work.
Specifically, I wish I could use it to remove some of the thoughts and memories about marketing that hinder many of today's businesses and marketing departments.
For the last several years, I've been talking to companies about avoiding the failures of forcing old-school marketing strategies into the digital marketplace.
Most of that advice is rooted in "traditional" or outdated thinking that is corrupting marketing departments today. That corruption is usually present for one of two reasons:
However, the internet wasn't created yesterday. In fact, it's been around long enough that some of the common digital marketing strategies we've heard over the years are becoming "old school" as well. So much so, that it's time to remove them from our memories and re-think our approach.
We Need to Write Blogs
I'm not saying get the idea of blogging out of your head. I am saying get the idea of blogging out of your head if:
Remove the thought that this is a promotional tool
When I look at many of the company blogs today, I find myself asking, "Why would someone read this, and what would it inspire them to do?"
Like social media, companies can take a very one-sided approach to their content and focus on how it will benefit them. Here's the problem:
You might be asking, "What kind of proof would validate their skepticism?"
Two of the top reasons would be:
What are some of the new thoughts and ideas that will serve you better today? Let's answer that by removing another old thought.
We Need SEO
When marketers started to really dissect what would help them in the digital marketing world, SEO was front and center. It was all about keywords and infusing them into your content.
However, people attempted to game the system, and quality started to suffer. Suddenly, thought leaders were telling marketers to quit over-stuffing their content with keywords. For one thing, some people were getting so bad at it, that it became obvious when someone was aiming for more keyword benefit than consumer value.
Over time, algorithms and consumer behaviors changed, making harder for keyword stuffing strategies to work.
Now, several years have passed, and there are 600 million blogs on the internet. Plus, it is estimated that 7.5 million blogs are published per day.
Remove thoughts that view SEO as THE strategy
If you're in a crowded industry where every company uses the same keywords, you could drive yourself crazy trying to win that battle.
For example - How often does the healthcare industry use the word "care," or does the university system use the word "student-centric" in their content?
However, that's not the only reason you can't think of SEO as a standalone "strategy" today.
Eli Schwartz, author of Product-Led SEO says, “If content is the product of a website, and the goal of the website is for readers to consume that content, … words for the sake of a word count or keyword goal is an utter waste of time. Product-Led SEO requires thinking of the reader and why they should spend their precious time enjoying the content.”
In other words, when we have to consider everything from consumer attention spans and skepticism, finding the content isn't enough.
Why are they going to read the content? What's getting them to take action or convert?
Instead of making it all about keywords and risk duplicating generic content that is all over the internet, consider focusing on customer questions or "spiky" content.
We Need to Obsess Over the Competition
If you're in a crowded space, you might find it way more beneficial to spend less time, energy, money and energy trying to outrank a competitor.
Instead, find ways to fill the gaps in your space. Think about what we've gone over in this blog, and then look at your competition.
You can gain a lot more impactful ground by filling those gaps through:
Remove thoughts about your competition as nothing more than a threat
Marcus once created a blog that featured his competition in a "top pool businesses in the area" style blog when he was in the swimming pool business.
Some would think that was crazy, but the competition shared his blog.
Also, if your competition wrote or produced an insightful piece of content that adds value to something you're creating...add it! If it's a link, make sure it opens in a new window so the consumer doesn't leave your site.
It's about value. If you're so invested in providing value that you would link your competition in your content - that doesn't go unnoticed (assuming the consumer even knows or cares that it's from a competitor).
If you can remove these and other fading, old-school thoughts from your marketing mind, I think you'll find that it opens you to a whole new world of possibilities in the digital marketplace.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Dumbledore shares advice about dwelling on the past in ways that can distract him from the present and future:
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
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Why do marketers continue to debate whether or not "short attention spans" matter? At times the debate sounds like an argument about whether or not the trend even exists. Most of the arguments against it don't resonate with me.
I saw one that said they don't matter when it comes to blogs or long-form content because Google still indexes long-form content.
Well, good for Google. Now, when someone clicks on the article, can you guarantee they will read the whole thing?
Another argument says if your content is good enough, they'll watch/read/listen to it all. That has some merit, but are we still talking about attention spans?
Let's consider video for a moment.
I recently sat in on a session about a successful YouTube formula and the importance of keeping someone engaged in your YouTube videos. Even as the presenter bragged about his stats - his analytics showed a 36-minute video that averaged 9 minutes of viewing time.
I don't know about you, but when I'm searching for something (like an answer), and I see a video that might give me what I need...the FIRST thing I check is the length of the video.
If it looks like it could take 12 minutes to answer one question - I may not even watch.
Or I might skip, skip and skip in hopes of landing on what I need.
The content might be awesome - maybe even worth watching the whole thing - but I just need my answer.
My attention span will not hold for that long if it takes 7+ minutes to get to the answer - even if the content makes me laugh and cry like an exaggerated reaction video.
Can those who argue against the attention span question say it's never mattered when they found content?
If they stopped watching something (or skipped ahead), skimmed a long blog or turned their attention someplace else, was it ALWAYS because the content wasn't good enough?
Did they ever stop reading something and then say, "Well, Google showed me this...so, I need to read the whole thing!"?
Could it be an issue of time, place, situation or other factors?
I think the bigger problem is we discuss this topic like it's a "Yes" or "No" question.
So what do we do?
In the video below, I share an article I found that dismisses the "people have shorter attention spans of goldfish" proclamation and takes a deeper look at the state of marketers and attention spans.
While it's imperative to create conversations with your audience on social media, most of the "humanizing" advice revolves around the content. However, if we really want someone to reply or engage with our brand, does it create a barrier if consumers feel like they're talking to a logo?
I think it does (especially with a significant presence of tweet bots). It may not be a huge challenge for the big and globally-known brands, but what about the rest of the world? I thought about this for a while and came up with an idea:
What if your social media manager could be the face of the brand on platforms like Twitter? This would require a simple tweak in the photo and the title/name space on the platform. If you try this before your competition, it could be a differentiator.
How does it look? Check out this short video to find out.
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Developing a social media strategy for a small business can be challenging, especially if you have limited time, resources and people to make it work. When you consider the number of social media platforms, choosing the best one can be stressful - but it doesn't have to be.
When businesses first started realizing there could be marketing opportunities using "social" media, the strategy was was just to figure out how to create a profile on all platforms and start promoting.
However, that was before:
Nonetheless, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start, but let's simplify the process by starting with deciding which platform is best for you.
Learn About Your Audience's Preferences
A few years ago, I was working through an online Social Media Marketing Certification program from Northwestern University. The lead instructor, Randy Hlavac, shared a story about a question he got at a conference.
A new social media platform had just launched, and a couple of attendees asked him if they should put their business on it.
He asked them if their target audience would be on that platform.
They said no.
They answered their question.
You can find plenty of reports on which demographics are on what platform, including this 2022 Social Media Demographics report from Hubspot.
Create Opportunity in Your Space
Many small businesses would have an immediate advantage when they launch their social media pages - if they chose to utilize it. It's incredibly likely others in your space view social media platforms as advertising billboards while putting all of the rest of their attention on SEO ranking and automation.
As Mark Schaefer points out in Marketing Rebellion, most marketers aren't evolving as the marketing world changes.
"They think they are because they’re attending conferences about artificial intelligence, blockchain, marketing automation, content curation systems, social media war rooms, virtual reality, voice search, and other technologies changing the business landscape."
Couple that with his insight on old SEO optimization vs. new competitive advantage opportunities, and suddenly - a social media strategy becomes less stressful.
Once you find out where your audience consumes content, find ways to create engagement, relationships and community. If you can do that, your audience will ignore the automated sales pitches of your competition and trust you with their needs and challenges.
Ideally, they'll turn from customers to advocates who talk about your brand on social media. When that happens, they're doing some of the marketing for you.
If I can help you develop a social media strategy for your small business, let's schedule a time to talk about your business and specific challenges (free of charge).
Just reach out, and we'll schedule a time that works best for you.
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In the movie There's Something About Mary, Ted (played by Ben Stiller) picks up a hitchhiker (Harland Williams) who pitches his brilliant new business idea: 7-Minute Abs.
He says, "Think about it. You walk into a video store, you see 8-Minute Abs sittin' there, there's 7-Minute Abs right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?"
If that wasn't enough, he had a plan if people still liked 8-minue abs:
"If you're not happy with the first 7 minutes, we're gonna send you the extra minute free. You see? That's it. That's our motto. That's where we're comin' from. That's from A to B."
Whether you've seen the movie or not, you're likely smiling or laughing because the idea is pretty silly. For one thing, you have to ask yourself - How much of a difference will one minute make?
That's a reasonable question.
While it's a silly idea, many businesses are wasting a lot of time applying that thinking to their content strategy. They look at what their competition is doing and try to beat them with a better spin, message or concept.
That approach is likely worse than the hitchhiker's video store comparison strategy. Instead of focusing on a better way to get better abs, it's healthier to cover the areas of the body they're not talking about and provide your "better abs" methodologies in different ways.
In other words, don't build your content strategy with ideas focused on what you're competition is doing, instead focus on what they're NOT doing.
Expose Weakness in the Competition
Since you're likely not looking to stand out in the video store space, let's think in terms of contemporary content. Maybe they're spamming their 7-minute abs content on Twitter with repetitive graphics and CTAs.
The last thing you want to do on your Twitter feed is promote your similar offering in a similar way, with the thought that it just "sounds" better.
These days, if a competitor is top dog in an industry, they are likely to be complacent in their content and/or social media strategies. They probably have a lot of it automated because they're Number One and feel they can just keep cruising without any effort.
Two critical things to remember:
1. The landscape is consumer-controlled, and the key thought leaders and experts are telling businesses to focus on relationship marketing.
2. As Mark Schaefer points out in his book Marketing Rebellion, despite research as far back as 2009 pointing to the consumer disruption in traditional marketing, many brands still haven't made enough effort to evolve their strategies.
I've also heard Mark encourage people to differentiate themselves through what their competition is failing to do (as opposed to copying them). He said, "If you're Number 2 in your industry, you shouldn't be doing what Number 1 is doing."
If you're both creating similar content and distributing it in a similar way, how does that help? Instead, think of ways to take advantage of weaknesses in your competitions approach. Examples include:
If your competition doesn't engage in conversations with audience on social media - you should do it
If your competition doesn't repurpose content to reach more people - you should do it
If your competition doesn't produce videos or podcasts - you should do it
Suddenly, you'll find yourself gaining new followers, customers, prospects and advocates in a way that might get your competition's attention. However, by the time they respond, it will be too late to connect with those people.
Show More Courage Than the Competition
Marcus Sheridan (The Sales Lion) provides invaluable insights into taking advantage of a competition's weaknesses. You may wonder what he means by talking about what others don't discuss in your space.
Well, one example is writing a blog about what your product or services cost.
You may think - We can do that! We have to control that narrative. We have to wait until they contact us to discuss price because then we can provide assurances while making our pitch. That's dangerous. It could scare people off.
Yet, there's the opportunity:
Marcus says no - if you can explain WHY it costs a little more.
Talk to your audience. Answer questions. Be transparent. Build trust.
Get Results Faster Than the Competition
If you're in crowded space, it can be tough to compete in the realm of SEO. However, your 7-minute abs strategy could be focusing more time filling gaps in the content, communication and messaging in your space.
In the time it takes to write tons of content in an attempt to move up a rank, you could be having conversations on social, understanding customer challenges, providing answers and building trust in a way that generates a faster (and perhaps greater) impact.
Your can demonstrate a lot more value to your audience by turning your focus away from doing what they do (only better), and filling the gaps in your space where they can find you, talk to you and trust you. That's how you flex your muscle.
If I can help you develop content ideas or strategies to help take advantage of your competition's weaknesses, contact me today.
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I began building my experience in audio production in 2007. I was hired by the North Texas (Dallas, Fort Worth, Denton, Sherman) NPR affiliate to create content and messaging to help improve radio fundraising drives.
My production work included everything from short audio stories and testimonials to live and pre-recorded fundraising shows with popular names. When I left the station in 2011, I launched my own podcast.
While I had experience producing high-quality radio content, I still learned some podcast lessons the hard way. However, once I figured some stuff out - I couldn't wait to use what I learned to help others.
It was important to produce podcast content that stood out even back then. Today (with the increased saturation of shows), it's essential.
I talked with Lyndsay Philips about creating a show that stands out on Leverage Your Podcast.
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When I launched my first podcast in 2011, I created a Twitter account to help me promote episodes. Twitter was a pretty good platform to promote a podcast - if you knew how to generate interest in your copy.
It was not uncommon for me to see very generic and simple episode promotions from other shows. They would read something like this:
Our new episode is out now! Listen here!
Episode 233 is now live! Listen here!
We just dropped our latest show about cow-tipping. Get it here!
Okay, I made up the cow-tipping post, but it represents a limited explanation of an episode. You can insert any topic there.
I interviewed movie and television actors in my first podcast, and instead of "cow-tipping," I would highlight who I interviewed in each post.
I thought dropping names would be enough.
I was wrong.
For example, I interviewed Anthony Michael Hall, and we talked about his early success, John Hughes and modern comedy. It was an enjoyable discussion, and I was anxious to share it with everyone.
So, when the time came, I promoted it on Twitter. I can't remember what I wrote in the first Tweet, but it was something simple, like:
In the latest episode of the show, I talk with Anthony Michael Hall - (link)
I might have added another minor detail. Either way - engagement was extremely low.
I knew my copy needed something more. In a lot of ways, my post wasn't any different from saying, "Check this out! - (Link)"
So, I thought about the conversation.
What was one of the more intriguing questions and answers?
What was a question that I couldn't wait to ask?
Then it hit me - What was it like for a kid your age in 1985 (17 years old) to play Kelly LeBrock's love interest in Weird Science?
So I created a post that said something like:
"Anthony Michael Hall describes what it was like playing Kelly LeBrock's love interest as a teenager in Weird Science..."
It was true then, and it is still true today (especially with all of the other podcasts promoting episodes now) - Give people a reason to click.
"Check it out" and "New episode!" aren't the best examples.
Think about your audience.
Keep it simple, but be specific.
Finally, make it more appealing than a greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray.
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Can social media be a "gratifying" experience for your customers and prospects? History and current trends suggest that's up to the messenger.
As early as the 1960s, uses and gratifications theory (UGT) was focused on how the mediums of television and radio could satisfy an audience's needs. In the 1980s, D.L. Swanson expanded the study of UGT into understanding the role of messaging in media.
This expanded study led to further research into how media content can generate different forms of gratifications and lead to content consumption interests. Marketers are now trying to figure out how to achieve similar goals through social media and online content. Once again, the concept of UGT has to evolve.
A 2016 study called Social Media Engagement Behaviour: A Uses and Gratifications Perspective explored the concept of UGT in social media because it is designed explicitly for engagement through different types of content offerings. They broke up that content into four engagement content groups:
Information (resourceful and helpful information)
Entertainment (escapism, emotional release, hedonistic pleasure)
Remunerative (incentives, drawings, giveaways)
Relational (connections, friendships, relationships, support, friends, family)
They concluded that UGT in social media expands beyond traditional media ideas because customers were no longer passive but active participants.
In traditional media, marketers could count on a captive audience to consume their content, but that's not enough anymore. Now, the audience scours their feeds, skimming through posts and choosing content that has relevance to them.
Proposing Marriage Before Having Coffee
When marketers could make an instant sales pitch to a captive audience, it was expected and understandable. Doing this on social media is like proposing marriage before you even have coffee.
In other words, leading with "Will you marry me?" is similar to leading with, "Check out this great deal!" Appeals to "check out a deal" and other calls to action tend to result in lower engagement rates from consumers as they ignore the pleas. That's because they face multiple "marriage proposals" every time they go online - even though research shows that only 3% of buyers are ready to buy (or say "Yes").
According to Customer Engagement in Social Media: A Framework and Meta-Analysis, "Customer engagement is based on trust and commitment that then generate satisfaction and positive emotion."
So, the key to positive response is building trust and forming a relationship.
What's More Gratifying than Tacos?
I bet you were wondering when I was getting to the TACO part, right? You thought I got distracted by coffee talk. Don't worry, here come the tacos!
I don't know about you, but just writing the word "tacos" gets me hungry for them. With that in mind, maybe all a company like Taco Bell would need to do on Twitter is just write and share posts about tacos, right? The rest would take care of itself?
Taco Bell is a perfect example of recognizing the importance of engagement. They launched their social sites (like Twitter) and used them as an advertising tool.
The brand name alone was good enough to generate a "following," but they were significantly behind other brands. This is problematic in an industry that relies heavily on customer gratification and loyalty.
Nick Tran (their former Head of Social Media) said, "We were taking content and commercials from other channels and repurposing them for social media.”
When they completely revamped their strategy to focus on content, conversations, variety and engagement, they skyrocketed their following (three times that of Burger King).
They also became an industry standard in social media success.
A key driver to their change in strategy was also recognizing how many fans (mainly college millennials) were advocates and could be accents to their content. In other words:
They now have millions of loyal fans and online advocates because they evolved from an advertising bullhorn to a conversational companion.
You Don't Have to Offer Tacos to be Gratifying
If you have it in you to add tacos to your SAAS company or product, feel free. However, that's not really the takeaway here.
When you look at the exchange Taco Bell had with their audience, ask yourself:
What would be more gratifying experience with a brand - that example or one that just grabbed stuff and make it work on "social" media?
Just based on the presence of interactions on others, wouldn't you feel confident about asking a question and getting a human response?
Outside of the fast food world, can you visualize how communication instead of promotion) promotion builds relationships?
One of the reasons that building a relationship of trust is so gratifying is because so many other brands are still loading their feeds with self-serving content and demanding calls to action.
Start with meeting for coffee.
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According to Forbes, the growing interest in podcasts is not slowing down. Here is a quick list of stuff.
Why should you start a podcast for you business?
What mistakes should you avoid?
What steps should you definitely take?
How will you grow audience and generate business?
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As another holiday season appears in the rearview mirror and companies begin thinking about their marketing, messaging and branding strategies for 2022, I'm hopeful that a visit to 34th Street inspired a few people. The original 1947 film is always on my watch list during the season, but there are three important lessons brands can remember throughout the year.
Lesson 1: Customer Loyalty Was Earned Without a Sale
When kids shared what they wanted for Christmas, Santa was supposed to tell the parents how they could buy specific toys at Macy's. When Santa meets Peter, he tells Santa he wants a fire engine for Christmas, not just any toy fire engine - A fire truck like the big ones only smaller, with a real hose that squirts real water.
His mother tries to tell Santa it's impossible to get because nobody has them. So, when Peter is told he'll get one for Christmas, she's not too happy about it. When Santa tells her she can find those fire engines at Schoenfeld's on Lexington, that all changes.
The head of the toy department hears Santa tell her and others where they can buy toys - outside of Macy's.
Did they hire a Bad Santa?
Did they lose a chunk of revenue as Santa helped parents find the right store and price?
Indeed this madness had to stop, right?
That is until Peter's mom said putting the spirit of Christmas ahead of the commercial was wonderful, and she would now be a regular Macy's customer.
That was an even bigger shock to the manager, but should it have been?
If you took this quote and replaced "kids" with "customer," would you say that's your brand's philosophy? If so, what Santa did was completely logical.
The toy manager thought the only way for Santa to earn revenue and loyalty was to tell them what to buy. It's instant gratification - like knowing what's in a wrapped package before opening it.
Macy's didn't get an instant buy that day, but the purchases Peter's Mom will make as a loyal customer will more than make up for it.
Much of today's marketing and advertising continues to be rooted in a desperate attempt to get that instant gratification despite research that shows consumers don't want sales pitches and don't want to be told to buy on social media.
Lesson 2: The Customer Did Not Expect the Brand to Care
Peter's mom assumed (and rightfully so) that any employee or representative of Macy's would care about their own interests (in this case - sales) over the customer's needs. Remember, for Mr. Kringle to be a "good Santa," he was instructed to suggest overstocked toys to kids.
There is plenty of skepticism about the motivations of brands today. The difference is that in 2021, customers are in a much better position to demand companies act more like Santa and less like the toy manager.
What will you do in 2022 to communicate to customers that you have their best interests at heart?
Lesson 3: The Competition Took Notice
In his book, They Ask, You Answer, Marcus Sheridan talks about how CarMax shook up the car buying industry by saying they would differentiate themselves by addressing the typical customer's complaints about going to the dealership.
The car dealers didn't take them seriously. They knew they were the big dogs that had been around for years.
When people want a car - they go to them.
In their minds, nobody was going to change that - until they did. They changed the rules, and car dealers had to adjust.
Macy's nor Gimbel's would have come up with a holiday shopper strategy without Santa's customer-focused heart because they would assume it would hurt them (a company-focused mindset). However, once Macy's did something new, Gimbel's took notice and had to change their thinking (or hearts).
However, if you're a consumer, how does that look to you?
You have two brands with a lot in common in their industry - including their business, marketing and public relations strategy.
One brand does something TOTALLY DIFFERENT and blows the minds of customers. Suddenly, everyone's talking about it, and it's a game-changer for their company.
Then the other brand suddenly makes a significant effort to say, "Hey! US TOO! We believe in that too!"
Would you still be attached (maybe even more loyal) to the company that did it first?
It's not uncommon for competing brands to watch each other and do what the other one does - especially in marketing, branding and public relations.
The only differentiator is each brand is trying to tell customers that:
What good does that do?
As digital marketing consultant Mark Schaefer will tell you - If you're #2 in your industry, you can't be doing things the way #1 does things.
How will you differentiate yourself from your competition?
Bonus Lesson: Santa is Real
So be good to your prospects and customers.
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