For Brands, Community Members Trump Loyalists – Really?

Brands should be more concerned about building a community than building loyalists. The rationalization for this is that brands are better off having emotionally connected customers as opposed to repeat customers.

community

Let’s break this down a bit. Loyalists believe in the product or service that a brand provides. They see value in the product/service compared to other offerings in the market and reward the brand by being a repeat customer.

A brand community member is not necessarily a loyalist that is a repeat customer. BUT, a community member has a vested interest in the brand. They have a genuine interest in what the brand offers and/or what they stand for.

The distinction that I make here is that you get more out of a community member. The community member will help you better shape product/service success by providing continuous feedback (good and bad) and they will also advocate on your brand’s behalf when you deliver excellence. Your community will help you stay on top of the competition. That is if you listen to them. And when you do listen to them, the community members as well as their audience reward you. The added value of a community member is that they will market and advocate on your behalf because they are an emotional bond connection and customer.

While putting together thoughts for this article, I came across an absolutely fabulous article, “The New Science of Customer Emotions.” The premise of the article and supporting study is that if “companies connect with customers’ emotions, the payoff can be huge.” The article states, “’emotional motivators’ provide a better gauge of customers’ future value … including brand awareness and customer satisfaction, and can be an important new source of growth and profitability.” There is no better way to create an emotional connection with an audience than to make them feel like they are a part of the brand. A community where their comments and opinions are listened to. A community where they can engage with others that share common interest. People just like them.

As a brand’s community builds, there is no better place to understand your target audiences’ needs. You learn from your audience AND you create emotionally connected customers. These customers have greater lifetime value than loyalists, because they provide further word-of-mouth about your brand and help you win new customers.

Two points I will make in closing, hopefully to make you contemplate about my position that a community member is far more valuable than a loyalist.

First, I recognize that it is often difficult to build a community around certain products/services. Could there be a community around soap? The answer is yes. Just look at Dove (both men and women products) and look at the social movements and communities they look to build. This is more about brand imaging than brand features. There are many takeaways to learn from their approaches. Examples you can see are here and here. There are many others as well.

Communities come in many forms. I do not mean a Facebook page or a forum per say. Yes, these are examples of platforms that help to build a community that may or may not be part of the execution strategy. What is important is to create a social movement that aligns to both your audience and your brand values. Then determine the strategy and execution channels.

When I talk about building a brand community, I define this as platforms and vehicles for engagement between brand representatives and the target audience. A community must also allow communication among the target audience without the brand necessarily being engaged in the conversation. BUT, the brand needs to be able to listen to these conversations. Having this audience engage in a platform that is a brand asset is most imperative for a couple of reasons. 1) It allows the brand to listen, and 2) The fact that the conversation is enabled by the brand creates reinforcement and emotional commitment to what the brand stands for.

I have worked on building brand communities for the past 10 years. I confess – it is difficult. It is definitely a new methodology of marketing for winning over an audience. But unequivocally, it pays long-term brand value and financial reward.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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How You Can Soar

soaring

For the past couple of months I have struggled. I often get this way from the greyness brought on by the months of January and February. Lack of Vitamin D naturally produced by the body from the sun.

This seasonal effect has been punctuated by true disdain for the political environment in the US at the moment. Can you really build a strong brand that Americans favorably respond to without any substance?

My biorhythms have also been unbalanced due a tragic event in my community that had no direct bearing on me, but has profoundly shaken me.

Yes. As humans we get down. Even the spirited “life coaches,” motivators, and spiritual leaders have their periods of lows.

But I have found there are three attributes that pick us up and provide positive substance and in our life.

1. Gratitude – far too many people have the perception that when they are happy, they will be grateful. In actuality, it is really the opposite. In order to be happy you need to start by being grateful for what you have. If my sister could find gratitude as she was dying of cancer, so can you. Independent of your situation. We all have strong challenges in our life. We must force ourselves to focus on the beauty and not the negatives in our life and find gratitude.

2. Hope – there can be no positive evolution in one’s life without hope. While I am not a religious person, I do find that hope is definitely a spiritual element. Hope is not something physical that you can hold in your hand. Crazy as it seems, it is something you rely on. But at the same time, hope is not something that you can just wait to enter your life. You have to have both gratitude and desire in your life to allow hope to be present in your consciousness.

3. Passion – I had a weird dream last night that inspired this article. (Please understand that I often have bizarre scenarios in my dreams as you read.) In the dream, I was a director at a performance arts camp or something of that nature. In the dream, I had the power to kind of float and fly through the grounds. Picture an angel with wings if you will. At one point, things were not progressing as well as I had hoped. My ability to float about was being jeopardized. I was just hovering. Then, I sang out with complete conviction and passion and I soared. I mean I literally soared with swoops and glides as I sung with total, total passion. I put everything into singing – all my heart; all my soul. And as a result I soared throughout the grounds at great heights. This dream is in fact a metaphor for reality. If you want to soar, you must have unadulterated passion in what you do.

Deep down, I think we all want to soar. It takes hard work to soar whether our objective is capturing happiness, and/or personal or professional success. We need to evolve and transfix our mentality, perspective and point-of-view. It starts with gratitude. Work on that first. Once you can honestly say you have gratitude in your life, then work on hope. Hope gets to be very personal. Whether it is religious, spiritual, or simply a sense and strong belief in something you cannot actually control, you need to let hope be a strong manifest within your life. Lastly, once you have gratitude and hope, go after your objectives with an unrelentless passion.

I shared with you that this article was inspired by a dream I had last night. In reality, very few people get to capture their dreams. Some do. But I can unequivocally state this – If you chase your dreams with passion, you might not follow the exact path you set out to achieve. But if you have gratitude, hope, and passion chasing your dreams, you serendipitously will be taken on a path of happiness and success.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

PS – If you are looking for a great novella about chasing your dreams and path, I highly recommend reading “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

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A Case For Changing Up Your Marketing

Time for Change - Ornate Clock

If you have been a regular reader of the Social Steve blog, you may have noticed that I have not posted for a bit – apologies. I have been blogging for about seven years and posting a weekly article, regularly. Recently, I have felt that my posts got a bit stagnant. I continually emphasized the importance of listening, engaging, and creating the ultimate customer experience for your audience. After about 300 articles, I find myself thinking maybe I have covered the topic in too many ways.

I had gotten a bit bored with my own writings so I figured maybe my audience had too. (Although I continue to get a strong number of pageviews – and I am very thankful to many for reading them.) But that is not always the case – especially when it comes to consumer or professional brands. I know it and you know it. We have all experienced a decrease marketing results at some point in our career.

Unfortunately I find an abundance of marketers that are “stuck in the same story” challenge. Each morning I Google “marketing” and look at the latest news. As I have suggested to others, “Great Marketers are Perpetual Students”. I want to keep up on everything – the latest trends, success stories, and information from experts. But I have to tell you that lately when I Google “marketing”, I feel like I am reading the same thing over and over again. I am bored and uninspired. The marketing world and people covering it need a kick in the @$$.

Could this be happening to your target audience – they are bored and uninspired because they are getting tired of your digital and mobile presence. Are you saying the same thing over and over again with a slightly different tone or shade of color?

If you want to continue to keep your audience engaged, interested, and advocating on your behalf, you must change it up a bit. Make sure you have data that shows what people are coming back to read. What people interact with, comment on, share, and like. And then everything else, change it up.

I have been leading social marketing and audience development for a startup since July 2015. In this position I had been producing a very good increase of marketing results as measured by growth of audience, followers, subscribers, and other KPIs (key performance indicators). In the past couple of weeks however, things began to diminish a bit. So my team and I started experimenting with some new things – the way we present our content, the content we cover, using new writers, curating different types of content. Mixing many things up. After a week and a half of doing so, we are seeing measured results snap back.

As I mentioned, I have been doing this since July 2015 … less than nine months. In that short period of time, it is easy to get overwhelmed by numerous responsibilities and stay comfortable in what you present to your audience. The lesson to be learned is that you need to regroup and brainstorm some new approaches to keep your existing audience engaged and excited while at the same time assessing new ways to capture a larger audience. I am sure your experience dictates that you need to do this. So …

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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The Evolution of Digital Marketing Jobs

Digital marketing is not the future of marketing; it’s what marketing is – NOW. As Brad Jakeman, PepsiCo’s global beverage president, says, “There is no such thing as digital marketing. There is marketing – most of which happens to be digital.” (Source)

digital-marketing

Just think about it. For better or for worst, people are addicted to their smart-phone and other device/forms of digital media, communication, and engagement. As a marketer, you need to go where your audience is, and have a strong presence there as well as a most engaging and compelling existence. Thus, if you want to capture an audience, digital should be your primary marketing effort.

The evolution of companies’ digital marketing strategy and presence has been slow. Clearly, audience behavior of digital usage has outpaced companies’ digital marketing presence. From a strategic brand perspective, this is pitiful. You always want to be ahead of your audience by delivering innovation that affects their behavior in a positive way and creates bias to your brand.

Looking at the current job market for digital positions, things are still very segmented. Independent of management level, you see positions in social management, SEO, SEM, digital paid media, email, and a host of other specialty skill sets. And that is the main point here as it relates to the evolution of digital marketing jobs. These are skill sets. I would argue that they should not be specific job positions.

Lets take a second look at the objectives of marketing. Whether or not the target audience traverses sequentially through the sales marketing funnel or not, marketers should aim to create brand awareness, consideration, sales/conversion, and post sale loyalty and advocacy. These are marketing objectives.

When we look at digital marketing positions, can we deduce that a specific skill set position produces the marketing objectives in an orchestrated manner? I would argue no.

It is for that reason that I strongly suggest that digital marketing positions must evolve. The positions that are defined today are in fact skills sets. They should not be specific positions. They do not define an all-encompassing marketing responsibility.

So this perspective has direct ramifications on both job seekers and hiring companies. For job seekers … even if you have a current position in a specific digital marketing skill set, work to expand your knowledge and experience. Take it upon yourself, even if your company does not define that as part of your job description. Make sure your skills continuously grow and that you remain a desired job candidate, even if you are very happy in your current solution.

For hiring companies … I ask one simple question – Do you have a marketing leader that truly understands the alignment of marketing objectives and digital implementation? I have seen far too many “marketing leaders” attempting to integrate and orchestrate digital marketing and not understand how various implementations align to marketing objectives. They merely “wing it” as they are expected and without fully understanding how each channel and digital implementation has significance to marketing objectives. Unfortunately some marketing leaders leave some specific digital implementations to junior personnel without understanding how the specific digital implementation relates to marketing objectives. These marketing leaders know they need to do social, SEO, and other digital tasks, but are not sure how these practices fully integrate in their marketing strategy and plans to produce positive empirical results.

In summary, both job seekers and employers should start working on job descriptions and responsibilities across the broad spectrum of digital marketing. Yes, this means that job positions need to cover a broader depth of skill sets and at the same time need to remain deep in experience of specific skills sets. The outcome of this digital marketing evolution will produces greater measurable brand results.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Why Inbound Marketing is a Must

Let me tell you a little story that highlights the power of individuals making their own decisions. A while back, I was a cigarette smoker. I knew it was something that served no redeeming value, and actually was a detriment to my well being. Numerous people tried to “push” me to quit. “Pushing” was ineffective. I had to come to my own decision to quit. No matter how much pushing I got from others, I did not quit smoking until I decided that it was important to do and I was committed.

Now you may ask, “What does that have to do with marketing?” My answer – everything. Here’s the point … if your target audience decides they need your product/service/solution, that is a hell of a lot more compelling then you telling your audience they need your product.

inbound marketing

This is the crux of inbound marketing. Lets start with a definition of inbound marketing. From Wikipedia

Inbound marketing is promoting a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO physical products, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing, which serve to attract customers through the different stages of the purchase funnel. In contrast, buying attention, cold-calling, direct paper mail, radio, TV advertisements, sales flyers, spam, telemarketing, and traditional advertising are considered “outbound marketing”. Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.

When done successfully, inbound marketing activities cause individuals to have an emotional bond to your brand over time. Given the fact that consumers and clients have access to a wealth of information, reviews, and other data from a wide jury, means that brands cannot push their agenda. Brands need to appease and appeal to their audience while subtly reinforcing their value. This is accomplished by producing compelling content and information that make your audience want more. Provide your audience with content and information they value whether it be educational or entertaining. If you do this successfully, your audience comes to you. This is the essence of inbound marketing – motivating audience behavior that drives individuals to your site, your social channels, and your physical locations. All of this is done by appealing to your audience’s needs, wants, and desires as opposed to pushing your brand agenda.

Go back to the story at the beginning of the article. Individuals cannot be pushed into something they have not decided to do. Consumers are skeptical. How can you win them over when they have access to a plethora of information and opinions from your competition and other consumers? The answer is you appeal to what THEY want. You give them what they need. Brand push is dead. Consumer/client cultivation wins awareness, consideration, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. Work to create a marketing strategy, plan, and execution that motivates your audience to come to you to get more … more information, education, and/or entertainment.

I could tell you what to do, but wouldn’t it be better if you came to that conclusion on your own. How can you help your audience come to a conclusion that makes them desire your brand? Understanding this nuance is what successful inbound marketing is all about.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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On Time, On Budget, Exactly What You Were Expecting

Here is a perfect scenario. You work on a project (either internally or with an agency) and the project runs on time, on budget, and ends up exactly as you were expecting. Has that ever happened to you? Likely NOT.

cost-time-functionality

Back in my days as a software engineer, we used to joke – on time, on budget, expect what you set out to do – pick the two you want No one ever hits the trifecta here.

This past week I saw the following posted on LinkedIn:

Back Up Plan

I COULD NOT DISAGREE MORE!

Nothing ever works exactly as planned. How can someone expect things to work out perfectly and not have a Plan B, a back up plan?

Back to my point in the beginning. If you had to pick two – on time, on budget, and expect what you set out to do – which would they be? Now I am not saying to give up on pushing for execution excellence. I am just saying you need to be prepared for the inevitable.

When you are planning a marketing effort be prepared. Are you willing to spend a bit more to get exactly what you want? Are you willing to allow more time to get exactly what you want? If things are not exactly as you want, do you release it anyway?” Is time of the essence?

When I develop a strategy, plan and execution, I usually “pad” my plans. My project timeline has some filler for time. Usually a timeline is composed assuming everything works out perfectly – it never does. I also plan that a project always costs more. I add some “slosh” money somewhere – you always need one more revision to be done or you always need to spend in more places than you were planning to. The hardest decisions come when things do not turn out exactly as planned. You want your brand to standout and mediocrity is never a good thing. But at the same time, if you want to catch a great opportunity you need to move forward in a timely manner.

What I have presented here is not earth shattering. It is common sense.   I am likely emphasizing something you already know. But knowing and doing are two different things. Are you setting contingency plans? Are you ready to except two out of three – on time, on budget, or exactly what you want?

Be prepared. Plan ahead. Plan for the best. Be prepared for the worst. If the worst happens, be prepared to execute in a prudent matter.

Make It Happen!

Social Steve

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12 Items that Define a Complete Content Marketing Playbook

content marketing

As we turn a page on a new year, many subject matter experts share their perspective on what should have been learned from the past year and what their predictions are for the coming year. Count me in the ranks of those that have done so. A couple weeks ago I published, “Successful Marketing – Here It is in a Nutshell.”  It is certainly full of valuable information.

I would also like to add specific guidance for your content marketing efforts. In the past year, I was contracted to do a series of articles on content marketing. If you piece together the 12 of published article, you have a complete content marketing playbook. Here they are:

 

Content 101: Content Marketing Goals and Objectives

Content 102: Determining your Target Audience for Content

Content 103: Leveraging Your Brand Position to Produce Compelling Content

Content 104: Social Audits to Drive Content Marketing

Content 105: Messaging Strategy Before Content Strategy

Content 106: Developing a Content Marketing Strategy

Content 107: How Do You Know Your Content Will Pay Dividends

Content 108: Content Marketing Metrics

Content 109: The Power of Orchestrated UGC – (User Generated Content)

Content 110: Earned Media – Finding Influencers to Distribute your Content

Content 111: What Does It Mean to Produce Data Driven Content?

Content 112: How to Determine Which Content is Driving Success for Your Brand

 

Content marketing is a key element to extend your customer/client user experience. But everyone is producing content these days. Make sure you know how you will get a maximum ROI on your content marketing efforts. Got it?

 

Make It Happen,

Social Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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