Old-school and traditional marketing attitudes focused mainly on secrecy and rivalry when it came to competitors. It was easier during a time of captive audiences, and people expected to have brands compete for their attention via ads and commercials.
Now, things are different:
So what should today's marketers do now?
In this video, I explain how this works.
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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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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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I am about halfway through earning my Master's Degree (Interdisciplinary Studies: Professional Communication) from Southern Utah University. One of my recent classes was Professional Social Media, and I wanted to share an assignment that was part of my Final.
I had to find a company, evaluate their social media and produce a presentation (as if I worked there or consulting) that gave suggestions for improvements. I decided to pick Podcast.Co because I love podcasting, and I liked what they were offering to the market.
This isn't about criticism, because at the end of the day, a lot of companies could make improvements to their social media. I wanted to share this to help you come up with ways to evaluate your social media and maybe help a podcast company in the process.
If I was new to the planet and asked you how humans feel about the car buying experience, what would you tell them? I assume you wouldn't describe it the same way you would a Caribbean cruise. However, there are too many people that don't mind infusing the annoyances of car buying to their LinkedIn marketing strategy.
When you walk onto a car lot, you know you're going to have someone approach you and talk to you about buying a car, but why is that so bad? Marcus Sheridan points out:
"Imagine you walk onto a car dealership lot and a salesman comes striding out. Do you expect that salesman to have your best interests at heart, or are you anticipating the whole 'Have I got the perfect car for you' routine?"
In other words, you feel like the conversation is going to be driven (no pun intended) by what benefits them - not you.
How are people getting a similar experience on LinkedIn? You can find plenty of promotion-filled sales lots filled with robotic salespeople communicating through canned and repeatable rhetoric.
There are Lots of Waving Tube Men
Many LinkedIn profiles are full of brands talking about themselves and their perfect things for the audience. Their pages are the equivalent of having a bunch of wacky waving inflatable arm men in a used car lot, and both are about equally as effective in inspiring someone to buy.
You'll notice that when LinkedIn announces their best page announcement winners, it's all about the ways brands are providing value and building trust. For example:
The Staff Follows a Script
Poor Bert Healy. He just wanted his script to sound like a natural conversation, but it's more than evident that Mr. Warbucks is reading a prepared set of sentences. It didn't help matters when Warbucks closed with, "Did I just do a commercial?"
However, Bert had a good excuse. It was the 1930s, radio was big, and he had a captive audience. Yet today, people are willing to follow a similar formula using LinkedIn messages, and it's not as funny as this scene. In fact, it's annoying, lazy, unprofessional and sad.
Like a stereotypical used car salesman, they may greet you in a way that seems like it's an attempt to get to know you, but once you respond, it's all about their benefit.
It starts with a disingenuous connection request
Disingenuous reasons for wanting to connect generally include an interest in "expanding a personal network and wanting to connect with like-minded people." Or the more amusing invitations to connect are the ones where they tell you upfront that they think you're stupid.
For example, they tell you your recent "great blog or post" that "showed up on their feed," drew them to you. Granted, they aren't going to tell you specifically which post it is because this is a cut and paste script that goes to several people. It's the car lot greeting before things go into sales mode. Once you connect, you'll get more cut and paste messages that signal no real interest in connection, conversation, value or trust.
Because it's not about you. If it was, things would sound a lot less scripted and the conversation could be very different. As Marcus said in his blog, your content (or communication) could say:
“Why HubSpot is right for you.”
“Is HubSpot the right fit for you?”
One shows bias, one does not.
Creating value, starting a conversation or building trust means avoiding what Chris Brogan would call treating people like purses and wallets. One of the simplest pieces of advice I've ever gotten about social media marketing is - You have to give to get.
Prove them wrong. It will benefit you both.