This blog is designed to improve the number of positive reactions from your consumers by understanding why they ignore "safe" or conventional content and why so much of that content is created.
They say imitation is a form of flattery, but in the world of consumer relationships, we need additional context.
If there was ever a place where consumers typically don't view imitation as a form of flattery, it's content and marketing. After all, we're not trying to flatter the people we're imitating. We want to engage and inspire an audience.
But why does so much content look and sound the same, and why do people create so much overlap? Let's examine some examples.
The Podcast Example
At last year's Podcast Movement, I attended a session featuring new research on what listeners loved and hated about podcasts. A couple of items on the hates/drives them crazy list was coupled an openness to make an exception if podcasts would do more to differentiate themselves. Specifically, they said:
Like many blogs today, you'll find a lot of overlap in topics, but the consumer will value something of high quality. A lot of podcasts are still doing the bare minimum when it comes to production quality, and listeners make quick judgments on that. So, deciding to put more effort into production quality can be a differentiator that listeners appreciate.
Meanwhile, if your selected podcast topic is in a space filled with similar-themed podcasts, listeners might give you a try if you do things differently - like provide unique insights or go deeper than the typical talk.
Creativity and Value
My first podcasts were focused on movies, television and fandom. This started in 2011, and there were tons of podcasts centered around these topics. Most podcasts simply involved an opening, followed by people talking about a movie, TV show, or other pop culture topic, and then it would end.
I could do that too, but why would anyone add me to their listening routine? I figured the creators listened to other people and designed their show based on what they heard.
It was as if their approach was to copy that because "that's how podcasts sound" instead of thinking about how to stand out while competing for attention and engagement. I went on to make a few successful shows that were known for their quality and unique presentation, including:
Geeky Meeting Show
One show opened with a "Meanwhile at the Hall of Justice"-like opening narration where listeners were invited to a fortress to join the hosts for an assembly of geeks meeting. It was like a city hall meeting, only the agenda was about what was happening in geek culture. However, there was always something happening at the fortress. So, it was part story (with music and sound effects) and part talk show.
A Geeky Game Show
Imagine ESPN's Around the Horn only with nerd culture as the central theme. Three nerds (me and two others) competed to become The Geek Supreme (inspired by Sorcerer Supreme) by sharing opinions and competing in challenges for points.
The show ended a few years ago when the scorekeeper couldn't participate anymore. Yet, I received an email from a former listener last week who told me they missed the show and wanted to know if I could recommend any other podcasts like it.
I couldn't think of any.
Think about that kind of impact:
I would think content creators and marketers would want their consumers and customers to feel the same way about their content.
Today I host a marketing/communication podcast, and I don't have to tell you there are plenty of shows in the marketing space. When I first started listening to marketing podcasts, I wasn't getting any actionable insights or enough depth on topics.
I don't just follow a question list. Instead, I use a list as a guide, knowing that the conversation could change as the discussion progresses. Active listening in an interview can be a differentiator in a podcast interview. Not everyone does that.
The Non-Profit Example
My path to podcasting was inspired by 3.5 years of work at the North Texas (Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton) NPR affiliate. I was hired in 2007 to boost radio lagging fundraising drives by revamping all messaging, content and strategy.
I entered a world known for its copycat and repetitive messaging - not just at this radio station but practically all stations that held on-air drives. Along with coffee mug gifts, here are common themes and phrases you would hear on several stations:
These were the types of things listeners might hear every hour, and even when listeners wouldn't respond, they would continue to say these things. I also remember talking to a local talk show producer about how listeners know the station will never go away, but pledge drives still said "it might" if money isn't raised.
Now I could write an entire blog about the messaging, content and strategy changes that turned lagging drives into record-breaking drives, but we're talking about something else here. Instead, I'll share something that was a game-changer.
The Resistance to Donating
Even after effectively changing some of the on-air messaging, there was still some resistance to donating.
Because even with some of the most powerful messages, many listeners liked to prove to themselves the radio staff couldn't "get them." In other words, they knew our job was to get people to donate, and they liked the idea that donating was something they decided to do on their own. This type of psychology isn't limited to non-profit donors or public radio listeners - consumers put up similar walls to anything that sounds like a sales pitch.
So, I met with the membership team and got a list of people who donated multiple times a year. I invited them to the station and interviewed them about why they give and think others should do the same.
I edited their interviews into 3-5 minute audio pieces that could be played during pledge breaks. While there was some overlap in their answers, everyone had a unique way of answering the questions. Each one had their personal story of listening, love and support.
It's even more interesting to consider when you think about the importance of testimonials, storytelling and social proof in marketing today. Listeners called the station to express how much they loved hearing the stories told by their fellow listeners and supporters.
Some of the more successful concepts and strategies came from ideas that broke away from fundraising drive messages and content that listeners were used to hearing.
The Video Content Example
Like podcasts, it's been amazing watching YouTube become a search and content powerhouse. It used to be more of a fringe idea, but now all kinds of businesses and content creators have a presence there.
And you'll see an absurd amount of overlap in style. Some of the most prominent examples are:
I see new people entering the TikTok space all the time and often see them doing what everyone else does.
For example - If they give advice, they have to do that thing where a graphic appears with a tip written on it, and they point to it.
I see the graphic when it appears. Why does the content creator have to point at it?
Because they've seen others do it? Well, that's not a good reason, is it?
Is Content Imitation Rooted in Psychology?
Content imitation and repetition isn't just limited to videos and podcasts. It's also all too common to see companies follow into similar blog content traps. There is a ton of repetition in written content, and with every copy - the reasons to read drop dramatically (maybe below zero).
Maybe people look at what others are doing and copy it because it's "safe" without realizing the drawbacks of blending in. Maybe there's a fear that doing it different might mean doing it "wrong."
The irony is you risk copying things that are becoming increasingly "wrong," annoying or predictable. Ethan Beute and I discussed how this contributes to digital pollution on Get the Message.
Maybe people copy others and just don't realize it.
Psychologist Dan Gilbert coined a term that might fit - it's called kleptomnesia. He says it's when you "generate an idea that you believe is novel, but in fact, was created by someone else. It's accidental plagiarism, and it's all too common in creative work."
Wharton Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant explains it this way:
Kleptomnesia happens due to a pragmatic, but peculiar feature of how human memory is wired. When we encode information, we tend to pay more attention to the content than the source. Once we accept a piece of information as true, we no longer need to worry about where we acquired it.
This reminds me of the psychology that might explain an unwillingness to evolve marketing terminology. The brain accepts an acceptable view of something and then decides it doesn't need to consider anything else. This is known as habituation.
Favoring Innovation Over Imitation
Blogs, podcasts and social media posts are all in the marketing mainstream, and consumers experience a lot of overlap. So, if we really want to talk about what's "safe" and what defines a practical approach - it's better to focus on innovation over imitation. Be mindful of the repetition in content and common traits that annoy consumers.
Training for "The Norm"
Trent Greener, Moz associate and Head of Digital for iSpot.TV points out that people grow up wanting to be normal (kids who are viewed as "different" aren't always treated well). However, even if adults recognize the importance of being unique, it doesn't always translate to their business mindset.
"While as marketers we are all acutely aware of the importance of differentiation, we've been trained for the majority of our lives to seek out the norm."
The "norm" can be determined by what everyone else (even the competition) is doing. Then, when the consumer walks into a room, everyone does the same dance.
Catching the Copycat
Video Strategist Virginia Kerr says she caught herself copying content when she started and immediately changed course. She advises others to be a content creator instead of a copycat creator.
Embracing the Dynamic
In a great article explaining the engagement and customer benefits of dynamic content, Chris Mulvaney (CEO of CMDS) sums up what happens in the customer's brain when they keep seeing the same things.
Embracing Creativity Over Conformity
To be clear, I'm not suggesting you have to be 100% totally original, and you can't let someone else's idea inspire you. However, as you do this, you should know how to put your stamp on it and understand what ideas won't align with your business.
In other words, you don't have to dance because that's what you saw people do on TikTok.
Gary Vee suggests taking control of TikTok before it takes control of you. His TikTok video team focuses on finding "trends" but not "conforming" to them. Even better, get on some early trends before everyone starts doing it - like dancing or pointing at graphics.
Remembering Experiments and Accidents
Remember, experimentation is a big part of attempting to connect with your audience through content. When companies spend money on experimentation, they make that money back (and then some) when something really works!
Sometimes accidents can inspire a better way to communicate and connect. I remember reading a marketing story about a guy who accidentally posted a personal picture on his company's Facebook page. He was responsible for Facebook content and thought he was on his personal account.
The photo was an old childhood picture, and by the time he realized he posted it on the wrong account - it generated the most engagement of any post the "company" shared. Before then, they did what they saw other companies do - use Facebook as a promotional and advertising billboard.
Their engagement was non-existent.
However, this accident changed how they approached Facebook content, and it was a game-changer.
Don't forget the story about the guy who randomly decided to video himself riding a skateboard while drinking Ocean Spray and listening to Fleetwood Mac. It boosted Ocean Spray's (and Fleetwood Mac's) sales and stock.
It shouldn't necessarily move marketers to create videos of someone skateboarding with their products. Still, it should inspire them to break out of the typical, stale and repetitive content that fades into the consumer's background.
Understanding what causes us to communicate or create a certain way helps us develop better ways to connect with our audiences. If I can help you, contact me today.
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It is estimated that there are over 600 million blogs out there today. As you think about how much that could grow in 2023, consider how AI-generated blog content will contribute to that trend. If you're looking to launch or improve a blog for your business in 2023, it can seem impossible to compete with all of that content.
At least that's how you should look at it.
Despite all of that content, your blog can still build trust, inspire reactions and generate sales. However, it is very easy to fall into the void of endless blogs that consumers ignore.
The key is avoiding the two big traps:
1. The Obvious Marketing Trap
2. The SEO Keyword Trap
To help you avoid these traps, let's take a closer look at them.
The Obvious Marketing Blog Trap
I am continuously amazed how many brands are comfortable with generic and duplicated content. Now, when I say duplicated, I don't mean they're writing the same thing over and over in different places. I'm talking about writing content that everyone else in their space is writing.
For example, I've worked with SAAS companies in the contact center space. Speech analytics is a big part of today's product solution. So, they write blogs about it. If I search some common speech analytics topics on Google, here are some of the blog topics I see:
How Speech Analytics Can Benefit Call Centers
Benefits Of Speech Analytics For Customer Support Call Centers
The Benefits of Speech Analytics for Call Centers
10 Unique Benefits of Speech Analytics in a Call Center
Benefits Of Speech Analytics For Customer Support Call Centers
6 Benefits of Speech Analytics For Contact Centers
8 Impressive Benefits of Speech Analytics
Top 8 Benefits Of Using Speech Analytics For Your Business
The Value of Call Center Speech Analytics
If you're planning on launching a blog or writing new blogs in 2023, do you think you need to write one on the benefits of speech analytics?
At this stage, what's the point?
But you might be asking why (or how) did so many repetitive blogs get written in the first place?
The simple answer is: Because marketing.
A marketing mindset can create walls that keep marketers from recognizing a lot of important details. This is one of the reasons why I recommend changing marketing into a sparketing mindset.
A marketing frame of mind is already thinking about promotion and selling a product.
In fact, if a marketing department or business views the blog as nothing more than a broadcasting and promoting tool, the trap is already set.
In our example, speech analytics is a key part of a SAAS contact/call center solution. So marketing defaults to content that explains to the consumer why they want the product.
The problem? That's not how you spark interest in a product.
Just ask Guy Kawasaki, who explained in his book Enchanted why this approach failed when he worked on Macintosh Computers.
"The fundamental flaw of our approach was that we did not understand what potential customers were thinking. Indeed, we believed they should leave the thinking to us"
The real solution went beyond thinking (like a marketer).
"We were so enchanted by our own product that we could not understand why everyone else did not feel the same way. That’s when I learned that one must understand what people are thinking, feeling, and believing in order to enchant them."
In the blogs I listed, they all want to tell potential customers about the benefits of speech analytics. But what if the potential customer already knows about the benefits? Why are they going to read ANOTHER blog about that topic? If they've seen more than one already, it will probably seem stale or generate a "been there, done that" reaction.
Even worse, many of the blogs are probably written with a very similar style, tone and format because writers likely base their approach on other stale business blogs that they've read. It's almost as if they think, "That's just the way you do it."
Plus, if the content had a salesy/promotional tone that conveyed an interest in making money over serving the consumer, why would they think reading a blog with a title like:
Benefits Of Speech Analytics For Customer Support Call Centers
would it be any different than reading:
The Benefits of Speech Analytics for Call Centers
The Value of Call Center Speech Analytics?
It reminds me of my first advertising job back in the early 2000s. I worked for a recruitment advertising agency, and print ads were still a big thing back then. Our office had a "Wall of Shame," and it featured ads that used tired and cliché marketing headlines.
The most common headline that got the biggest laughs and eyerolls:
Come Grow With Us
It's as if marketing departments all over town felt that's what you write when hiring. Forget how much it's been used or whether it seems tired and cliché to the reader - that's what you write!
The worse news - I still see this headline used today.
I think cliché is a good word. Brooke Sellas uses it in her book Conversations That Connect. The context is focused on social media, but the reasoning can definitely be applied in a blog or other content context.
She said customers are "tired of cliché content that feels like more noise; just fluff and regurgitation; replication and redundancy."
Marketers are also customers and consumers. Why aren't they tired of it?
It's time to get tired of it and avoid the trap.
The SEO Keyword Trap
Even though it's 2023, my wife still uses an iPod Nano (created in 2005) to stream music and podcasts. Her way might seem outdated, but it still provides some value because it still does the job. The Nano just doesn't offer the same value to most people.
SEO is the same way today.
When you look at our contact center SAAS blogs, you see many of the same words, and we can bet the copy will also feature many of the same words. That's because the marketer mindset thinks more about old SEO ranking concepts and perceived business advantages and less about reader value.
SEO can still do some good, but it isn't providing the same value as it did ten years ago. One of the key reasons points to something we've already talked about - there are millions of blogs out there.
In 2012, it was estimated that there were 42 million blogs (compared to the 600 million now). Back then, thought leaders were answering questions like - Is social media a threat to blogs?
An SEO report from 2016 told readers that Google was blocking more attempts to game the system by killing keyword-stuffing and low-quality content spamming (though clearly, some haven't noticed).
Things have changed even more since then.
Due to the explosion of content and other trends, SEO has lost some relevance.
People are noticing changes in SEO for the SAAS industry.
Google is focusing on the user not only on finding content but their overall experience when they find it. The release of Google's Helpful Content Updates encourages an emphasis on "people-first content." They also advise avoiding search engine-first content that:
3. Summarizes what others have to say without adding much value
How You Can Create Meaningful Blogs in 2023
Now that you know how to avoid the traps, let's examine what you can do with your blog. Your first steps should include:
1. Learn more about your customers and potential customers
2. Look at the competition and focus on what they're NOT doing
3. Find out what people are talking about (and not talking about) in your industry
4. Make connections with like-minded professionals and thought leaders
5. Show personality, and get away from that stiff style that everyone can copy
The Customer Focus
I've seen instances where a marketing team puts extensive time and effort into creating content that explains and promotes something they think is necessary, only to have it not resonate. In one particular case, a member of the sales team said the potential customers he talked to didn't care about what marketing promoted. All they cared about was cost, support and flexibility.
Get to know your customers and potential customers by:
The Competition Factor
Don't be one of those companies who spends too much time trying to do what their competition does - only better. Instead, find gaps in their content strategy and fill those gaps.
If they fall into the traps we've covered here, that's a huge opportunity!
Like SEO trends changed, consumers have changed how the competition should fit into a content strategy. For example:
Sometimes, others in your space will create something great (or better than you), and sharing that provides value. It also shows your consumer that you are so dedicated to giving value, you'll link competitors in your content.
Consumers want to see your humanity and proof you're in the business of serving your customers over anything else. This is one of the great ways to prove it.
The "Not Afraid to Say It" Factor
Does anyone in your company have an opinion about something in your industry? Is there something that needs to be discussed in your industry, and can you start that conversation? Do you have a unique perspective on an industry trend?
Take a stand, and don't be afraid if someone disagrees. This is one of the ways thought leadership can make SEO have a greater impact on your business.
Which do you think someone in your audience or community would rather read:
Another post on why they should want speech analytics or something thought-provoking that makes people want to learn more (and learn about how you're different in the process).
The Connect and Collaborate Factor
Social media isn't a powerful marketing tool because you can promote stuff on it. It's a powerful marketing tool because a "social" presence can supercharge your marketing efforts. If you build a community of engaged customers and advocates on social media, they'll do some of the marketing for you.
It's even better when you find thought leaders, influencers and respected professionals who align with the opinions and values of your organization.
Build relationships with them and invite them to contribute to your content. The process might look something like this:
I would definitely have interest in a blog like this over one that I expect to see from a company in any industry.
The Personality Factor
I almost wanted to call this the human factor because some might confuse the idea to simply mean creating a style. However, a company can choose a "style" that sounds stiff, corporate, soulless, salesy, selfish and typical.
I've seen what some branding guidelines might call a "friendly-style" tone with copy that could easily be read as a commercial. Again, companies might use this style because they've seen other companies write that way.
Think more like you're writing a letter to some friends - friends you're trying to help. Inevitably you want to generate an emotional response that makes them feel good about your efforts. Later, that emotion can become a reason to buy something from you.
If that is the goal:
If I can help you develop meaningful blog content that resonates with your audience, let's talk.
There is so much psychology around words, and we all understand why.
Words have power in many ways, including the weight behind interpretation of meaning and generation of a response. You've likely heard advice encouraging people to quit thinking about "negative" words that hold them back from "positive" words that inspire meaningful action.
For example, it's easy for someone to automatically view a layoff as a "job loss" by focusing on the idea of "loss." This could negatively impact motivations to make something good come out of the situation. So, viewing the layoff as a path toward a "new opportunity" can empower better motivations and create greater outcomes.
That's why motivational speakers encourage people to change their words to change their lives. For example, Tony Robbins says, "The human brain likes to take shortcuts. It conserves energy – and it also keeps us stuck in patterns that don't always benefit us."
The Harvard Business Review points out that our brains tend to stop paying attention when they think they've seen enough of something and know everything they need to know.
"This phenomenon — the general neuroscientific term is habituation — probably points to an efficient way in which the brain operates. Neurons stop firing once they have sufficient information about an unchanging stimulus. But this does not mean that habituating is always our friend."
So, what does this have to do with the business of marketing?
Today, many businesses need help making meaningful connections with their consumers. This is because consumers demand more from them now than they did 20 years ago. And even if a business knows it needs to evolve, it may struggle.
Why is that?
It could be the words marketers use to define their work - words that have been used so much the brain doesn't think about them anymore. For example:
It may be time to get marketing brains to think about them again.
Maybe these words provided everything they needed long ago, and it's time for new ones.
What if we could change those words in ways that can turn struggles into successes?
Let me explain what I mean.
Change "Marketing" and "Marketing Strategy"
The Oxford definition of marketing is:
"The action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising."
The Oxford definition of marketing strategy is:
"A plan of action designed to promote and sell a product or service."
The emphasis is on promoting and selling - the very things that annoy today's consumers. Even if marketers know things need to change, the exact words marketing and strategy have inherent connotations that can keep their mindsets focused solely on self-serving goals and turn consumers (people) into numbers and wallets.
As such, plans are developed to get specific amounts of money and generate stats. Just knowing a job is rooted in a selling and promoting construct can create barriers between marketers and human beings. If the brain is limited by outdated concepts rooted in selling, promoting, money and stats, it will be reflected in their communications with their audience.
In turn, this creates challenges and frustrations for businesses and consumers.
New Terms: Sparketing and Relationship Foundation
Consumers hate the number of promotions and advertising they are bombarded with daily. To cope, they will do everything from skip, fast forward, ignore or pay extra money to remove them.
Too many marketers spend time trying to intensify efforts and force ads on them anyway. On social media, studies show consumers hate to be told what to do ("click," "buy," "come to our sale," etc.), but we still see plenty of that on the internet.
So, it's time to stop the "marketing" and start the "sparketing."
That's right. Marketers need to become Sparketers.
Instead of a marketing strategy focusing on what needs to be done to get consumers to realize they need something or achieve a numerical goal, let's work on a relationship foundation.
Dr. Jenny Palmiotto is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist known for effectively using well-researched treatment methods, including Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), Behavioral and Brief Models. She says three qualities essential for creating a healthy, enduring relationship are respect, friendship, and trust.
Marriage has been an excellent analogy for the modern marketing era because many companies try to get consumers to buy (accept a marriage proposal) before building a relationship (going on some dates).
So, let's apply Dr. Palmiotto's essential qualities and apply them to marketing.
Respect - Respect the consumer's intelligence and their ability to know when you're trying to trick them with clickbait, SEO-stuffed blogs, gated content traps and more. Also, respect them enough to ask and answer questions, and avoid dictating what you think they need to know.
Friendship - Consumers want relationships with the people at a company. This is demonstrated in why people follow brands on social media.
Trust - Consumers want to see a genuine interest in addressing their needs through a relationship that builds trust over time.
These three qualities can spark the consumer's emotional and logical responses that go into making a buying decision.
Side note - Sparketing Strategy could also work as a replacement term.
Change: "Lead Nurturing" and "Conversion"
I'm not saying "lead nurturing" campaigns are doomed to fail. However, it can fall into an unhealthy emphasis on numbers that disrupt opportunities to build relationships. Ethan Beute explained the issues this causes in email campaigns during our conversation on Get the Message.
"And then all of a sudden, it takes new stat updated. It's 15 touches to get a prospect reply. And now it's like 21. And then what's the logical conclusion? Are we going to get to 65?"
He points out that businesses focus on more of everything, including touches and posts. This looks like a classic case where the brain tells people they need to succeed by constantly focusing on the numbers.
That leads to increased odds of getting blocked and ignored. It also contributes to what he calls "digital pollution." If more businesses added that term to their terminology (as something to avoid), it could dramatically improve consumer results. So instead of focusing on numbers, sparketers can focus on people and long-term success.
Ethan said the key to a change for the better is focusing less on how much is achieved by aligning the odds of success with extensive lists of names and spending more time on getting the most out of quality engagements.
For example, he says if a goal is ten deals from a list of 8,000 people by automating all of the touches or closing ten deals or ten transactions, try spending human-focused time and energy cultivating better lists and messaging by making more personal, specific engaging touches.
When re-thinking the process, Ethan says it's about lifetime value as the thoughtful approach to a hundred or a thousand people instead of the automated machine-driven system to 8,000 or 10,000 people to get the same initial closes, number of closes, and the same value.
How comfortable would you feel knowing someone said they're trying to convert you to something or put you through some form of conversion?
In most cases, probably not very comfy.
In pop culture, I think of the 1980s sci-fi series V when the aliens "converted" humans to their side through extreme psychological torture. The Oxford definition for conversion is:
"the proportion of people viewing an advertisement and going on to buy the product, click on a link, etc."
So the psychological torture of spamming people with ads in hopes that it makes them do something that benefits the advertiser, right?
That might be a bit extreme, but I do think ads can sometimes make consumers feel like this.
New Terms: Value Cultivation and Validation
Instead of a term sounding like the company is nurturing something for its own benefit, value cultivation is about a genuine effort to prove value and spark more impactful responses and actions. As Ethan said, the change can empower long-term value in a way where the consumer is always engaging and coming back when they need something.
Instead of efforts to convert someone, companies can work to prove they're worth the consumer's time, money and loyalty through validation efforts.
This is about trusting the consumer to know value when they see it, and the company knows how to communicate proof that they have the consumers' best interests at heart.
Change: B2B/B2C and Branding
You've probably heard thought leaders like Marcus Sheridan or Heather Garcia-Meza say that marketing isn't B2B or B2C. What kind of visuals can these terms create when our brains think more about it?
It's not hard to imagine the barriers these concepts can create. It can actually cause a real problem on social media. As consumers want to keep in touch and build relationships with brands on places like Twitter, it feels odd when a consumer thinks they're talking to a logo.
Putting branding on the list might surprise you. However, I will say it may not be as disruptive as some of the other words.
What I'm talking about is an overabundance of branding rules or structures. If you couple that with some of the problems caused by other words on my list, you might be piling up the consumer challenges.
Website A/B testing specialist Chris Dayley has conducted tests with website colors that are so over-branded that they blend so much that color-branded CTA buttons get lost.
Instead, a CTA with a completely different color generates better responses. Even though it doesn't "perfectly match" the brand colors - it stands out.
And remember what Ocean Spray learned from Nathan Apodaca. He created something that wouldn't have fit their "branding" per se, but it did wonders for their sales, stock and awareness.
Two good reasons for branding are to help consumers recognize a brand and associate it with certain qualities. However, if those qualities include building relationships, having conversations, being people-focused, showing humanity and standing out, a different word may be needed.
New Terms: P2P and Distinction
So Marcus and Healthier have said it's about being P2P.
P2P makes a lot more sense and is less likely to create communication barriers - as long as you change your approach with the new word. Don't say you're P2P and take a "talk to the wall approach" to communizing with the Ps.
P2P is person-to-person. You could also make it H2H (human-to-human).
Meanwhile, instead of thinking about branding, you could focus on distinction.
The Oxford definition of Distinction is:
"Excellence that sets someone or something apart from others."
With this, a people-centric sparketing department can communicate to consumers how they're different without over-branded content that looks extremely redundant.
A Big Step Forward for People and Businesses
Imagine if businesses could change their marketing terminology and experience the same dramatically positive changes that Tony Robbins and other experts discuss every year. I absolutely can because even the most fundamental challenges and results are present in the situation.
We're talking about a business setting, but it still involves humans with brains that can get stuck and benefit from a change. Teacher, author and founder of the Genius Institute, Giorgio Genaus, provides simple advice that improves life for businesses and consumers:
Genaus says, "Reframe your thinking, and you'll be surprised with more realistic and helpful statements. Although it will take time and practice to retrain your brain, eventually, those self-defeating thoughts will become less and less frequent. Just like they say, a little progress, no matter how small, is still progress."
This sounds like a significant first step for a business that either knows they need better results from marketing or have been trying to change, but something is still holding them back.
Change the words + change the thoughts = empower the improvements.
New Terminology is Subjective
My first social media job was working for a training company. Instead of giving me a dull, overused and common social media job title, my boss called me the Social Learning Evangelist. That sounded more impactful and helped me get into the right mindset about my job.
While I made some new suggestions on marketing terminology, I understand my new words may only resonate with some. In that case, create your own versions of new terms or think about words that would change how your company culture thinks about your most important audiences.
That is the most significant change of all.
If I can help you develop new ways to connect with your consumers, feel free to reach out to me so I can learn more about you.
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I've had my share of car buying experiences, most of which have been mental beatdowns. On one occasion, I was talking with a salesman who was really pushing me to buy.
At one point, I asked his team to run some numbers on what a particular vehicle would cost me every month.
"Am I going to get your business today?" he asked.
"Not quite sure yet."
"Well, I'd hate to have my guys run these numbers and do all of this work if you're not even sure about buying today."
"But...isn't that your job?"
It was clear this was much more about what he would get out of it than me, it and would be totally reasonable for me to have left right then.
This is one of the many reasons people hate the car-buying experience. They've had so many experiences like this that they practically expect the sales team to do what they can to benefit themselves over the consumer.
The same is true online.
People are used to misleading clickbait, disappointing content and corporate marketing that they've become cynical. Brands must find ways to break that cynicism by writing and producing content that clearly conveys a genuine interest in their audience - no strings attached.
If you've already sat in a car dealership for 2-3 hours, you may tolerate a little more selfishness because you've invested time in it. However, it's much easier to form a negative opinion and disconnect yourself from selfish content.
Getting to know everything about your audience and customer takes some time, planning and strategy. However, there are some things you should already know just by living the human experience:
Finally, when it comes to human behavior online - if you give them a wrong impression, they will instantly go elsewhere.
Here is a quick video sharing three examples of content that will look selfish to your audience.
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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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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Anytime a brand can get a solid celebrity endorsement, it can give its promotions and messages a boost. However, it is still important to utilize the opportunity to carefully consider how the celebrity and the message will be used.
Rob Gronkowski is a big NFL star with a big personality. USAA offers military veterans competitive rates on financial services like banking, investment and insurance. The two have come together to produce some TV ads to promote their special offers to veterans.
Football Star vs. Military Vet
The word "hero" is pretty prevalent in our culture, and occasionally I will see good reminders on social media about its use. For example, there's a difference between a "sports hero" who plays a game and a "military hero" who risks his or her life to protect the nation or others.
During an election season, it's not uncommon for candidates to talk about new ways to better care for our veterans - especially after they come home from the battlefield. We can do a lot more because they're generally not making NFL salaries like Gronk.
So, the optics in this commercial has an NFL veteran and millionaire trying to get an army veteran who is working at a little shop to get him the same benefit as he gets from USAA.
Why would Gronk need this discount?
Why would Gronk try to convince a veteran to get USAA to make an exception and give him the special military rate? "You love me, right?"
They have another ad where he's trying to trick a customer service rep into giving him the membership and rates.
It just doesn't look good in that context.
Alternative: Do Something for the Vets
I thought of a better scenario that puts Gronk in a better light while showcasing USAA's special offer to veterans.
What if the commercial showed Gronk trying to use his fame, influence and personality to do more for the veterans? He knows he can never really do enough to thank Frank for his service, but he will try!
Next thing you know, he's trying to sell pastries, wait tables, clean floors, fix machines and more (and may not be good at all of it). He doesn't think he has done enough, saying, "Frank! What if I made some calls and got you some great rates on some financial services?"
Frank tells him, don't worry - he already gets that from USAA, and it's part of their special membership/offers to military veterans and their families.
Then have some fun with what Gronk tries to do next to "help" Frank.
What do you think of the message? Do you have another idea for the ad campaign?
When I was a single guy, I remember hearing that women would often judge men based on their relationship with their mothers. This approach included considerations on how they talk about and communicate with their moms. The idea is that they could potentially get a good feel for how someone would treat another woman in a relationship.
Can a similar principle apply to how a company communicates with (or even treats) its audience?
Similarly, how you talk about customers within your own company could impact how that same organization communicates with them publicly.
If someone asked you how people within your company talk about customers or prospects, what would be a fair assessment?
The Gullible View of Audience
Several years ago, a company hired me to help them develop some new copywriting ideas. When I was hired, I was invited to the office to learn more about the business and its messaging challenges.
When they were showing me around, they pointed out the copywriting team.
That threw me off a bit.
“If you have a team of copywriters, what made your hire someone like me?” I asked.
The response was, “We just need some fresh ideas.”
The company offered free online access to a service and wanted customers to pay for additional services via a monthly subscription. They sought to increase paid opt-ins and keep customers on their subscription plans.
Recently, many people would get what they wanted and opt out.
Then I found out what needed “fresh” ideas.
After people filled out the form for the free service, they were asked for credit card information.
I sat in on a meeting where an entire creative team discussed how a new website with photos of friendly-looking people would make users more comfortable with the last-minute credit card request.
Because the website looked nice and the photos looked like credible people - duh!
I was stunned by this.
It reminded me of My Cousin Vinny when Vinny asked his fiancé what pants he should wear to go deer hunting. She asked him if he was a deer, and some guy showed up and blew him away – would he care about what kind of pants the shooter was wearing?
I asked a similar question in the meeting.
“If any of you were told you’re getting something free, and you filled out a form to get the free service…but you were then asked for credit card information…would you really care how nice people looked on the website?”
As Ralphie Parker once said – They looked at me as if I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.
This company viewed its audience as gullible people, and their external communications proved it.
The Explain Everything View
I’ve attended trade shows and seen vendors with backdrops that are so loaded with information that the text extends from top to bottom. Many people wouldn’t stop to read it all, and those who did would stop and confusingly ask, “What do you all do?”
Having the internal belief that your customers and prospects need everything explained can put strains on your business. These days, customers know their problems and understand what they want out of a solution.
Too much explaining on a website, email or other materials can:
A Mutually Beneficial View
Dr. James E. Grunig (public relations theorist and Professor Emeritus, Communication at the University of Maryland) developed the "excellence theory" in public relations. The development of this concept was pretty wide-ranging, to say the least:
Excellence theory takes what’s known as a symmetrical two-way communication approach. Now, what does that mean, and how can it apply to culture, communication and audience?
Let’s first look at other examples of communication and see how they could be applied to examples already discussed.
One-way communication – Think of this as an approach that an agent or publicist might take. The communication is focused on one side. Messaging will always be constructed or spun in ways that make the best possible impression on the audience for the subject's benefit.
Two-way communication – This is about considering the audience in the messaging. However, if it's asymmetrical, the benefit is still focused on the messenger because there is a layer of “scientific persuasion” used in communicating with the audience. In other words, they may listen to what the audience has to say about something, but the result will still be to persuade them for the sender’s benefit.
A two-way symmetrical approach like excellence theory is focused more on mutual benefits for the sender and the audience.
Applying a Communication Culture of Excellence
One of the big mistakes marketers make in their strategies is they think like marketers (and not consumers). Grunig believes public relations has to be more than just external marketing and PR communications by:
A key takeaway: If organizations already have a genuine interest in communicating in a mutually beneficial way, that can translate well into how that same company communicates and views its audience.
This approach can work for everything from businesses to academic institutions.
Alberta Energy Regulator (AER), a 1,200-employee industry-funded company, wanted to convey not only environmental responsibility, but also a high standard of ethics and integrity in their public reputation.
In a 2016 evaluation of the effectiveness of excellence theory within the organization, AER achieved one of its highest scores in ethics and integrity. Public Affairs contributed to the organization's success (and public opinion) through communication and professionalism messaging and response.
A 2019 study focused on web, social and internal communications of universities around the world. It concluded that "Research on public relations activities at public universities in the era of public information disclosure has found that public relations activities have well supported public services in accordance with the principles of good governance."
Excellent communication doesn’t have to be academic. While excellence theory provides a good example of the advantages of a consistent internal and external communication approach, do we need to study to understand why that makes sense?
If a company culture has internal communication challenges, is it tough to see how that could impact how the organization communicates externally?
If a company culture is primarily focused on how great they are and how the world needs to listen to them, do you think that could create challenges in how it creates external communications?
If marketing strategies are rooted in ways to overexplain, trick or lecture their audience, what does that say about a culture’s view of their most valuable assets?
Finally, if a company culture believes there is mutual benefit to be gained with the public (gaining insights, providing value, building relationships, being transparent, etc.), how can that hurt the organization?
If my mom asked me what type of communication I believe in, I wouldn't want to throw out terms like two-way symmetrical communication, but I'm sure she would be pleased to hear "mutually beneficial."
My wife (who is also in marketing) would be pleased as well.
Imagine you attend an event covering a topic that is very important to you. Let's also imagine you chose to attend because you were seeking to get something meaningful from it.
Maybe you went because you want to learn something new.
Maybe you went because you want to learn how to take action.
Or maybe you went to get energized about something that means a lot to you
Perhaps you attended the event for all of these reasons.
Yet, while you're there, you have to sit through someone who is there to promote themselves and thinks everyone should be excited about him.
After all, this doesn't represent what you want or what you're seeking to find.
In the 1988 film Coming to America, there was a big crowd at a local Black Awareness Event, and you have to think they all wanted something of value from it (including some of the "good stuff" from McDowell's).
Yet, they had to sit through a musical performance from a local actor who played Joe the Policeman in an episode of That's My Momma. Despite everyone's (minus one big fan) lack of interest, Randy Watson thought everyone should be excited to hear him and his band perform.
Randy is an iconic character from the film, but he also presents us with a great analogy about a common mistake people make in their content strategy.
The Tease Wasn't Very Special
When Reverend Brown said he had a "special treat" for the audience, they probably expected better. When users are looking for value online, one of the most frustrating things they experience is clickbait.
In other words, they see a headline that makes them think they found something of interest.
So, they click on the link.
Then, they're disappointed to find that the content features a company talking about (or frequently linking) to itself or a brand promoting their product.
Randy Didn't Know His Audience
Randy didn't get the reception he likely thought he would get. So, he thought he could boost the reaction by telling the audience that they looked lovely.
However, it generated the same response.
That didn't stop him from promoting his band and telling people how great they sound:
"They play so fine. Don't you agree?"
He Never Changed His Act
While in front of his audience, all Randy managed to do was:
Then, despite lack of engagement, he stomped his feet and yelled out the name of his band:
At the beginning of his act, the lack of response should've sent a signal that his plan wasn't going to work with his audience. He could've adjusted and spoke to the them about something they care about or tried something different. Yet, he persisted in making it about him and his band.
A lot of brands will do something like this in their content, and you'll see it on everything from their websites and social media to their emails and blogs.
It's all about them, and they might as well be stomping their feet and screaming the name of their company at you.
Additionally, despite a lack of meaningful amount of clicks, shares and responses, they don't change their strategy.
If that's your strategy, you'll need all the prayers Reverend Brown can give you.
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.