Redefining Relevance

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In an age when the majority of the population you’re trying to market to is well aware of, and wary of, being marketed to, everyone from small businesses to major corporations are struggling to gain or maintain “relevance” with customers. Unfortunately, the attempt to do so often turns into unsuccessful efforts by brands to hijack the latest viral meme or co-op a trending hashtag. But even the most naive of consumers see right through that.

Clearly, maintaining relevance in the cultural zeitgeist isn’t a need that’s going away anytime soon, so maybe it’s time we redefine what “relevance” means.
Relevance is the stepping stone on the way to trust.
That was the truth bomb my creative director dropped in a recent meeting. And it got my attention. Because there’s something to that perspective that, if applied correctly, can start to shift the paradigm on how brands think about relevance—and how they go about achieving it.

In his book Become What You Are, Alan Watts makes a point about the trap individuals can find ourselves in when seeking purpose because we are, by nature, result-seeking mechanisms. He writes:
But when the results which the mechanism seeks are not external objects but states of itself [for instance relevance] … the mechanism is all clutched-up. It is trying to lift itself up by its own bootstraps. It is working purposefully, as it must, but to no purpose. It is looking for results in terms of itself.
Having been in numerous discussions with clients attempting to establish their brand relevance, I think Watts’ quote applies fittingly here. Relevance isn’t something a brand (or a person, for that matter) can just come up with in a brainstorming or strategy meeting. In such an attempt, the mechanism will get caught up in itself. Relevant is something you are, not something you say you are.

And the first step to becoming relevant is stepping outside of yourself, rather looking to see what you are in relation to others. Establishing that with an audience starts with showing that you’re thinking about them first. I call it the “we get you” factor. Not in a creepy we stalked you around the internet and know you better than your mother kind of way but in the we’ve done our homework and aren’t going to waste your time kind of way. The message is this: we have a pretty good understanding of who you are and what you’re looking for, and we think we’re the business that can provide that to you.

Positioning your brand is a little like attending a cocktail party: no one wants to hear from the jackass doing nothing but talking about himself. People are drawn toward (and remember) the person at the party who asks them interesting questions – and actually listens to the responses. Relevance requires listening.

Once you’ve met who you needed to meet at the metaphorical party and they leave with a good impression of you, then what? You reach out to them, follow up, start to build a foundation of trust. A business can do that through a myriad of different approaches, but the commonality between them all should be in how you communicate to your audience.

The short answer: with honesty and transparency. Whether you’re telling the story of what your product or service is, why you do what you do or how your offering can benefit that customer—you need to be straightforward. Not sales-y. Not marketing-y. The message can be funny or serious or inspiring or whatever, but it needs to be real.

Why does this approach work? Because you’ve told your audience the truth about what your brand has to offer them. You’ve made it clear that you understand them and that their best interest is forefront in your mind. And you’ve laid the groundwork to show them that you can provide what they need, when they need it.

So can we all stop jumping on the latest meme or new social media feature bandwagon and start actually being relevant?

Digital Digest: Influencer Marketing Trends, the real purpose of Facebook’s new emojis and more

Con/Text Digital Digest: It’s like Reader’s Digest, except shorter, more cutting edge, significantly hipper…and, you won’t find it in your grandmother’s bathroom.

Influencer

Forbes starts its own influencer network

I’m currently working on a blog on influencer marketing that I’ll publish soon, but I wanted to go ahead and share this news because of the possible trend shift it represents in native and influencer marketing. You may be aware of existing influencer marketing companies like TapInfluence that build relationships with influential individuals (usually social media personalities) so brands and agencies can easily connect with them (for a price, of course) to get their message in front of their campaign’s target audience.

Forbes is launching their own influencer network strictly for their publications (online and print) that shifts this model in a couple ways. One, instead of a random popular YouTuber or blogger, their influencers are journalists, academics and topic experts (like in cloud computing or monetary policy). Two, the native content lives on their channels alone. That fact is significant because it means they may no longer host content from other native ad platforms (like Outbrain). Though it might be a long time before a critical mass of sites/publications move to this model, it is an interesting development both for native content as well as how publications can create another income stream for themselves. Read more about BrandVoice Premium in this Wall Street Journal article.

The REAL reason FB added emoji reactions beyond Like

Long story short: the more Facebook knows about what mood you’re in or what emotional response you have to certain types of posts from friends and brands, they can learn how to get their hooks deeper into you and keep you on the platform for longer stretches of time. Learn more.

Some brands going all-in on election year

FU

“A survey by the Global Strategy Group last year found that corporations that were seen as politically involved or attuned were viewed favorably — no matter which side of the aisle they were on.” Definitely a potentially dangerous strategy, but it can be executed effectively with the right mix of humor/cynicism. Of course, Neflix’s House of Cards is the clear winner here.

And your bonus prize of the week

From my favorite fake clickbait Facebook page…

Celery

The De-Institutionalization of America (Or SimplifyUS)

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A recent article I ran across in The New York Times explores the issue of nonprofits undergoing name changes and re-branding in an attempt to retain their relevance and provide more accurate monikers for the work they do. Some of these nonprofits began 50-100 years ago when long, formal and complicated names likely contributed to an organization’s perceived legitimacy and ethos. A number of nonprofit organizations from that era have very governmental-sounding names, which probably worked in their favor at the time since more people still trusted the government back then.

Blame it on Gen X, who I like to think of as the no-bullshit generation, or Millennials, who seem to think nonprofits should be as hip in their marketing as multi-billion dollar commercial brands – America is experiencing a significant shift in the significance of nomenclature. All types of companies, from hot tech startups to government agencies and long-established nonprofits, are having to embrace this shift.

A great example from the aforementioned article is the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City Inc. The organization doesn’t actually manage senior centers, rather it “advocates against the abuse of older adults, helps them apply for rental and food assistance and lobbies for affordable housing on their behalf.” Since renaming is hard, the natural option would be to just use the acronym, right? Well, C.S.C.S. doesn’t quite have a ring to it either.

To more accurately represent what the organization does and to have a more memorable name, they re-branded as LiveOn NY. I typically poke fun at companies that just run words together for their names (I really want to have a startup called MyAwesomeStartUply.com). But, in this case, it works quite well and even clarifies the cadence and meaning of the name.

We’re seeing this shift to simplifying identity for organizations for the obvious reason: it’s beneficial to have short, memorable names that are descriptive of the services an organization offers. But it also belies a larger cultural desire for a de-bureaucratization of our institutions and a movement toward decentralization of power. In our crowd-sourced, crowed-funded culture of the empowered consumer, empowered donor and empowered advocate, even nonprofit organizations have to deliver a simple, straightforward message that captures the ever-fleeting attention of today’s information-inundated consumer.

So, just in case this becomes a widely-discussed issue, I’ll go ahead and coin the term for the movement: SimplifyUS.

Practical Tips for Content Marketing

PracticalTipsForContentMarketingWEB At this point, everyone has realized that successful digital marketing rests ultimately on effective content marketing. Even if you have a great strategy and big plans for your digital marketing, the challenge comes down to one thing: having enough content. If you’re working with little to no budget (like I often do), the key is to empower your employees, and maybe even external brand/organization advocates, to create that content.

I was recently asked by a marketing director at a nonprofit about how to manage content contributors from across an organization. This was a challenge I had to tackle (and continue to tackle) at the nonprofit where I work, so I thought I’d put together some practical tips that can make content marketing viable even if you have a small budget or small staff.

The challenge can be addressed in three main categories: Content Development, Workflow and Publishing.

CONTENT DEVELOPMENT

To get started:

1) Identify potential Content Contributors
Who at your company has their finger on the pulse of your customers/donors? Who is in the field hearing great stories that you could share on web, email and social? Who’s behind the scenes doing work that your customers would love to know about to feel part of the action? Who seems to already have a knack for photography, video or social media? These are the folks you want to approach to be Content Contributors.

2) Outline content types
While you don’t want to limit the creative ideas from Content Contributors that you might not ever think of on your own, you do want to establish basic content types: testimonials, success stories, photos, video, etc. Determine which content types fit best with both the social platforms you are using and with the type of media your audience consumes. One tip: digital video is by far the best format if you can do it well.

3) Establish themes for content
Again, you don’t want to limit the potential content your contributors might create, but outlining general themes that go along with your overall brand message and/or current marketing campaigns will help the content be more focused and will give Content Contributors some basic parameters and a good place to start.

CONTENT WORKFLOW

Once you have employees from across your company cranking out good content, you’re going to need a way to manage that content. Especially in the beginning phases (but probably always), the content will need to be reviewed. You will also want to give Content Contributors feedback so they can continually improve the quality of what they submit.

Two tools that would offer the capabilities for managing the content workflow and communication are Slack and Huddle. Slack is free…and their promo video alone will likely make you want to sign up right away.

There are plenty of other tools out there too, but what you need is a streamlined, efficient way (i.e. not via email) for you or your team to manage and review content and give feedback to contributors.

CONTENT PUBLISHING

Ideally, you would have a social media or digital marketing manager who can manage all posting and scheduling of content. If you don’t have that luxury, you can break those tasks up between a couple trusted team members (most likely already in your marketing department). Whoever fills that role can make sure content aligns with your business goals or campaign goals and make sure the content is optimized specifically for each channel and audience.

Another option would be to have one manager oversee multiple social media contributors through a tool like Hootsuite (which is affordable and allows for permission levels and approvals) or something a little more fancy like SproutSocial.

You can supplement original content by curating and sharing industry news, keyword-related stories/info or any type of content that would interest your customer demographic. My personal favorite tool for content discovery is Feedly. There are plenty of other great tools out there that help you find relevant content to share including Klout and Postplanner.

Hopefully these ideas will help get your content generation machine going. There’s plenty more to talk about – from setting meaningful KPIs to responding to customer needs and interest based on data and behaviors – but those are other topics for another blog post.

If you want to chat to learn more or are interested in digital marketing consulting, contact me!

You Are a Publisher (Whether you like it or not)

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If you are a major corporation, a small business, a restaurant, a nonprofit, a consultant, a brewery or even a band – guess what? You are now a publisher. Well, that is, you are a publisher if you want to be successful. With the rise of content marketing through digital media, publishing content to get your product or brand in front of consumer’s faces is now part of what you do. (And if it’s not, it should be.)

All of us in digital marketing have been doing this for quite some time – whether we were updating a website with a new feature story, sending out email newsletters, tweeting, blogging, or posting on Facebook. And finally, the head honchos are starting to realize the value of content marketing. For instance, Yahoo hired Katie Couric and Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post.

Content marketing through the web, social media and email is a welcome step in the evolution of marketing because it offers a brand the perfect opportunity to continually shape and more deeply define their image. It gives them the chance to implicitly and explicitly tell the story of who they are and why they do what they do instead of just telling the what about their business or nonprofit.

The widget or service you are selling is not what connects with people – your unique story about why you do what you do is what connects with people. And the web and social media give you the perfect mediums to share that story in bite-sized, accessible pieces to your customers and potential customers.

There are two really important things to keep in mind about content marketing, though:

1) What you write about, post or tweet shouldn’t always be about you. Folks on the interwebz want content that benefits them, so give that to them – for free. You don’t even have to brand it or sneak your sales pitch in it. Just become a source where people go to for a certain kind of content.

2) It doesn’t all have to be original content. Small businesses aren’t usually able to staff a full-time digital content manager. But, you don’t need to! The key is to take a day and find as many web sources as you can who publish content in or related to what you do or sell. Or who publish content that might appeal to your customer demographic. Bookmark those blogs or websites, follow those Twitter accounts, add those Facebook pages to a custom interest list. Then, when you sit down to post to your social media – you have tons of resources you can pull from to share info from. Just make sure to add your own comment to it as you share it to show your brand’s personality. You want to be a curator, an aggregator of the best and most relevant content for your audience.

Some great examples of not-your-traditional-publishers doing great content marketing:
Peter Shankman (PR/media consultant)
Tough Mudder
Denver International Airport
Noosa Yoghurt (small biz)
Bighorn Firearms (small biz)

Is all this going to take time and effort? Definitely. But content marketing is an essential piece to your success in today’s fast-paced digital marketplace.

How to Deal with Facebook’s Decreasing Organic Page Reach

Pay to play on Facebook

For businesses, nonprofits, bands, consultants – anyone using a Facebook Page – Facebook is now pay to play. Things have been moving this way with increasing changes to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm (which determines what information shows up in users’ News Feeds). But the death knell for “free marketing” on the platform has come with stirrings and rumors that Facebook is about to decrease organic page reach to only 1-2% for Pages. In fact, research shows that organic Page reach is already hovering around 4%.

There may be some social media “gurus” out there who will try to tell you that you can combat this and maintain your reach by posting more times per day, encouraging Likes and Shares, tagging people in photos, blah blah blah.

Sure, those things still help significantly right now. A recent post I made on my nonprofit’s page got a good number of shares which increased the reach of that one post by 1000%. For real. And when I post a photo of my band, reach and likes go up when I tag the band members.

But these are temporary workarounds to the growing problem of diminished reach. And I have no doubt that Facebook will enact measures to prevent even these tried and true methods from working very soon.

The solution? Well, you’re probably not going to like this answer or at least feel that I’ve teased you with the title of this blog post. But my solution has more to do with the overall social media success of your business or organization. And it’s this: spend less time posting on Facebook, and when you do post, pay to boost it.

There is no longer any point to maintaining a daily posting schedule on Facebook if those posts are only going to reach 50 or 100 people. Unless you have a large number of fans for your Page (like, over 10k), you can still promote a post for a relatively small amount – usually starting around $15.

The trick is that those posts need to really drive ROI, or at minimum have a clearly documented deliverable for your organization. Look at it this way: you used to have to buy email lists (maybe you still do). Now you can use a paid Facebook post to encourage email list signups, drive traffic to your website or to drive donations, sales or whatever your goal is.

The good news is that since you’ll be spending less time on posting to Facebook, you can spend more time on another channel that is more effective for your organization, be that Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest – or developing a more robust website or email marketing strategy.

I have no plans to totally abandon Facebook in my overall social media strategy, but I do plan to use it even more strategically than ever before – and bring my dollars to the table when I want to play.