Category Archives: marketing

Digital Marketers Should Start to Build Relationships Off of Their Home Court

digital marketing

A good part of my working day is spent thinking about how I am going to build an audience from zero to one million and beyond. I have recently started at a new company where I am responsible for social marketing and audience development. (DivorceForce is an Online Community for those in a divorce, contemplating a divorce, or seeking knowledge to better plan their future… launching August 3rd) So as I have the responsibility to grow and cultivate the audience, I want to share with you my strategy for doing so.

I am lucky to have an exceptional digital platform with stellar content and forums for engagement as a starting point. You cannot have a mediocre home base and expect people to value your offering. Likewise, yon cannot build the field of dreams and just expect people to show up. This is the reality and challenge for all digital marketers.

I go back to a concept I have been preaching for well over five years. Some of you might be familiar with my A-Path methodology. If you want a full explanation of the A-Path, please see the “Holistic Social Marketing” section in the piece titled “Three Social Marketing Fundamentals”. For now, I want to concentrate on the beginning part of that path where you get people’s “Attention” and get them “Attracted” to your brand and its digital presence.

In the referenced piece I take you through the theoretical steps. But here, I will share with you the exact operation I am practicing. My objective is to collect followers and drive people to our site. BUT while that is my objective, my execution has to be externally driven, not internally driven. Thus my approach is to find people in my target segment that I can help. This is key … helping people. Try to captivate them by simply helping them. Aren’t you automatically interested in someone if they truly help YOU? Marketers are often handicapped at this, as they are often too caught up in their professional responsibility. This clouds their strategy and execution to the detriment of attracting people.

The first step of my execution is to select a limited number of keywords. The keywords are used to search social platforms, blogs, and other online media sources. I use the search to better understand people’s behavior and communication on the topic of interest. First I listen. Then I plot how I can get engaged in the conversation. It is not just about helping people… flattery goes a long way. I want to reinforce people that represent a similar position to that of my brand. I want to tell them thanks, great job, and what an inspiration they are. This emphasis must be authentic. At the same time I still want to find people that need help. I want to be there for them. I forget about my internal objective for a while, but really just want to find the right people and determine the best ways to engage with them – either reinforce what they are doing or support them in some manner. This is the essence of social marketing relationship building. At the same time, I start to determine which people have the greatest reach and influence on my potential target audience.

As I start to engage with people, I find the right moment to mention my brand and possibly our online assets. This must be at an appropriate time. Not forced. Not pushed. Following the A-Path approach, I want to make sure that I am attracting people (not being pushy with them). I want to introduce them to my brand digital assets when I really have their interest and start of trust.

Once you get people to your digital assets you must wow them. You only have one chance to make a first impression. You can further read the A-Path approach in the section recommended above to learn about building affinity, your audience, and advocacy. For now, I just wanted to share with you how you get audience development started. Often, that is the hardest part. Even if you are not starting at zero, don’t you need to build your audience? Think about the approach I have recommended here and …

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Understanding Freedom of Expression

freedom of expression

Do you take freedom of expression for granted? Think about countries where the public is stifled – North Korea; women in many middle-eastern countries; and other people oppressed throughout the world. I believe that freedom of expression is an essential need of all individuals. If you are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, freedom of expression might fall within “safety needs.”

Maslow's Hierarchy

If we lighten it up a bit, I’ll share with you something my father used to tell me. His father (my grandfather) lived by the motto “children are meant to be seen not heard.” And today, teens express themself louder and wider than ever before thanks to social platforms (Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr … the list goes on). Sometimes their expressions are not appropriate, but the power is there to do so if they wish.

Everyone wants the power to express themself. And most people in the world can. People can express themselves in far greater capacity then even 10 years ago.

So what’s the point? The point is that as a marketer you must have empathy for this need. You must find ways for people to express themselves on your digital properties. You must allow comments and engagement on your social channels, your blog, and your site. You must have a user-generated-content strategy and plan.

Some brands are afraid to open the lines of communication for their audience. They are afraid people might say something disparaging about them. Well guess what … if you think stifling your audience is going to keep them from saying things you do not want to be said, you are wrong. They will find other avenues to share their concerns and it is likely that their comments will be harsher if you try to shut them down. Learn something from the Arab Spring as a pinnacle example.

It is time for your social marketing efforts to get social. This means “audience social” at least as much as your “brand social.” You need to do what it takes to not only enable audience communication, but also to motivate and encourage audience expression on your properties.

Get your audience to talk and do a bit more listening. You will likely learn something that helps your brand to be more successful.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Filed under behavior, brand marketing, customer relations, marketing, social marketing, social media, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

There Are Only Two Things People Want from Your Brand’s Social Presence

brand social presence

How many brands’ posts’ get added to social channels in a given day? Some massive number close to a gazillion. (Now that is some empirical data for you :)) But how many of those posts actually resonate with the intended target audience and get shared. Unfortunately, the number is the inverse of a gazillion. That is because only a small minuscule percent actual gain traction. If you stop to think about it, you might get appalled at how much time, money, and effort are meaningless for brand social marketing.

So stop. Get back to basics. And at a high level reflect on why anyone would give any care to your brand’s social presence. It comes down to two simple mentalities. They want compelling content and they want a connection that makes sense for them, not you. Lets break these down a bit.

Compelling Content
Compelling content (from the audience’s perspective, not yours) must consists of educational and/or entertaining information. That is it. Forget all the other junk. Your audience wants to learn something important. And when I say your audience wants to learn something from you that does not mean product/service features. Give your audience something that enlightens them.

Content need not always be informational. It can be entertaining. If you go this route, think of your brand as a media company as part of a billion other media companies in a market. How is your entertaining content really going to stick out in a very crowded field?

It is worth noting that content can be both informative and entertaining. If you want more information on producing stellar content for your audience, I have written a number of articles on this topic. Some suggested pieces are:

Think of Content Marketing as Gift Giving All Year Round
4 Tips for Winning Content
Delivering the Content You Audience Wants
A Content Marketing Approach That Works

Connection
Yes, some people really value connections with brands. But that is only the case if you make it worth their while, not yours. Forget about connecting with customers. Your mentality should be to connect with friends that happen to patronize your business. Friendship mentality. Not customer mentality. If you connect with people in this approach, I guarantee that you will build strong relationships that pay dividends. Friendship means being there when someone needs you. This is how brands must treat their customers. Put your agenda on the back burner and the needs, wants, and desires of your target audience at the forefront. Have empathy for your target audience and be proactive to their wishes. Stay engaged.

You need both a winning content and connection strategy, plan, and execution.

I have painted a very competitive and crowded environment where it is tough to stick out. But the fact is I am still most bullish on social brands. Nothing can build stronger brand love than a great social presence. It is just a matter of doing it right or not doing it at all. Right by your audiences’ terms. Not your agenda.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Filed under brand communication, brand marketing, brands, community, content marketing, marketing, social marketing, social media, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

Key Issue Making Technology Work for Your Marketing Efforts

digital communication

A few weeks ago I crafted an article that got a very strong positive response – “Great Marketers Are Perpetual Students.” Having your antennae up and looking at human behavior is part of being one who is constantly learning. This week, I saw something very interesting play out in my own family.

I witnessed two very different ways of communication by my daughter, a freshman finishing up her first year of high school. Maya was preparing for final exams; more specifically she was studying for a math final. She was confused about finding the angle size of a shape. To no surprise my wife and I were not able to help her, so she texted a question to a friend. The answer she got back added more confusion. She asked me what she should text back. I said, just pick up the phone and talk it through, that will be much faster than a million texts going back and forth. She would not oblige. She only felt comfortable texting with this “friend.”

In a second interesting instance, she was doing extra credit for a history project. She was video conferencing with a close friend. What actually surprised me most was that she let me witness the entire call as I was in the same room. (Well actually she did not invite me to watch, but the fact that she did not run off to her room and shut the door is surprising from a teenage daughter.) Anyway, her and her friend spent the conversation in a typical teen-like multitask way … part casual conversation, part sharing ideas and advice on the project, and part doing their own thing in their own physical environment. I was quite impressed how the two got so much accomplished and at the same time demonstrated a caring, bonding relationship.

Now I know you are probably wondering what this has to do with marketing, the subject I usually address in my writings. Well it has everything to do with marketing. In the first scenario, my daughter contacted someone she did not have a strong a relationship with. Someone that was not part of her everyday care. The communication between the two was poor. My daughter half-heartedly threw the first friend a question only to look to get back what SHE wanted out of the communication. In the second scenario, my daughter and the other friend had a very strong relationship. The communication was strong and they accomplished much. They got the assigned task completed and at the same time continued to build on their relationship.

So ask yourself as a marketer, are you just throwing something up on the fast moving digital marketing train without really knowing your audience and having no concern for their interests? Or are you using digital marketing technology to strengthen relationships and to drive brand objectives at the same time? An overwhelming number of digital marketing serves no value, no brand marketing success. And this is due to two main factors. First, not understanding the audience that you are speaking to and lack of empathy for that group. Second, I ask a very decisive question to you. Now be honest with yourselves … Do you really care about the audiences’ needs like they are in fact a true friend or are you only looking to satisfy your objectives?

Let me state something that is likely obvious, but yet often gets ignored in practice. You will only be successful using technologies if you really work to build strong meaningful relationships at the same time. You cannot simply post and expect people to react in a favorable way unless you are putting up your end of a relationship and reinforcing thoughtfulness for them.

People want their brands to care. They do not just want to be sold to. Are you executing in a way that demonstrates to your audience that you really care?

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Filed under behavior, brand communication, brand marketing, digital media, marketing, social marketing, Social Steve, SocialSteve

Understanding Social Marketing Means Understanding Audience Development

audience development
It still astounds me when I see an article questioning the value of social marketing. (Notice I said social marketing and not social media. Social marketing is a strategy, plan and activity that use multiple channels to connect, communicate, and engage with a target audience. Social media is a technology platform.) Many have questioned, and some have addressed, social marketing ROI. I myself have written a number of articles on the ROI question here and here. But the value of social marketing is not something to measure in terms of ROI. It should be measured in terms of audience development.

Lets start by defining audience development as it relates to marketing and such that it can be aligned to company KPIs (key performance indicators.) Audience development means that you begin by getting people’s attention and get them attracted to your brand. Once you have them aware of your brand, you want them to have deeper interest in what you offer. You want them to look for and desire more information as it relates to the product or service you offer. You not only want them to purchase your product, but to be a repeat buyer and develop loyalty for your offering. And ultimately you want people to love your brand and do objective marketing on behalf of your brand (make recommendations about your brand to others).

Now if you understand audience development in these terms, I would hope that it is easy to see how social marketing can work for you. What if brands really had friends? Think about how you develop friends. You have some common interest. You communicate and share. It is not just about you. Friends look for you to be there when you need them. Thus, you are there for your friends when they need you. So if we apply this mentality to common business objectives, isn’t it valuable for brands to have friends? Friendship is a relationship. A partnership of some kind. And partnerships are only valuable and last if both parties get something out of the relationship.

So brands need to give more than they did in the past. Brands need to do more than just have a great product. They need to be there for their audience in more ways than simply selling. They need to develop their audience.

It was exactly six years ago that I shared my perspective on audience development. Back then, I addressed it in social media terms, but I soon came to the realization that social media was a platform and that I would use various platforms to strengthen my marketing efforts. I talked about capturing “the ultimate audience,” but it really was not about “capturing” an audience, but rather developing and evolving an audience. I came up with what I have termed “The A-Path.”

As a brand, I first want to get the attention of a target group. Then I want them to be attracted to my brand. Over time I look for them to build affinity for my brand. At some point, they like my brand and user experience enough to opt-in and become a member of my audience either by email sign-up, joining my community, or following the brand. A subset of the audience members are power users and I look to develop very close relationships with these individuals in an attempt to create advocates.

Attention to Attraction to Affinity to Audience to Advocacy. That is audience development. And social marketing should consist of a strategy, plan, execution, and measurement aimed at these five stages of audience development.

So forget social marketing ROI in terms of sales. Your objective of social marketing should be audience development. Audience development in terms of the A-Path. You can build a strategy, plan, execute, and measure each stage of the A-Path. Go ahead. Develop your audience and see measured results. If you do so, I guarantee you all your executives’ KPIs will be realized.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Great Marketers are Perpetual Students

learning

In my career, I have been on many job interviews. There is one question that is often asked … the usually uncomfortable “What is the area that you need the most growth or development in?” I am not sure that the interviewer gets a real answer to the question, because the one being interviewed often takes the question as “What do you suck at?” No one wants to answer that in truth on an interview.

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing with a company and I was asked that probing question. My answer – “Everything. As a marketing executive driven to produce true product awareness, value, and advocacy, I am constantly learning. The audience behavior has changed dramatically. Technology has changed, and more than being wrapped in technology, I need to assess how audiences react and use these technologies. In order to deliver excellence, I need to be constantly growing and learning.”

Now I might be preaching to the wrong choir here. If you are reading this article, you probably have read a number of industry newsletters and blogs to keep up on marketing. But simply reading is not enough. Marketing is a contact sport. You cannot just read a playbook and go out in the marketing field and be successful. You need to practice on field and get your repetitions and experimentation in and executed. You need to really engage and see how people react.

It still astounds me that many seasoned veterans avoid perpetual growth and development. At one point in my career, I worked for a Chief Strategy Officer. She was well read and educated. But she did not participate on digital platforms she was including in clients’ strategy. How could you really get a true feel for how people participate (or don’t) if you are not active in these playing fields? Far too many senior marketing executives have lost touch with today’s audiences. These senior executives have a wealth of marketing experience that is absent from junior marketers. Especially as it relates to driving CEOs KPIs (key performance indicators). This is a skill set junior marketers do not possess yet. But at the same time, “senior” experience is wasted if it is not complimented by continuous learning AND practical participation.

Just short of a year ago I stated the following in an article “The Dramatic and Fundamental Change in Marketing and What You Need to Do” …

“The Internet and digital communications allowed a shift of control of brand reputation to the consumer and purchasing business. Make no mistake. Brands can no longer make bogus claims. There is a democratized public that now plays the role of judge and jury. Technology enabled a behavioral change. Digital allows a new way for people to communicate – faster and to a larger audience.”

This technology change has fueled the greatest change in consumer (and B2B) behavior. If senior marketers are just going to leave “digital” knowledge and experience to “digital natives” there will continue to be a great hole in delivering marketing excellence that yields empirical results.

On another interview, within the past couple of weeks, I was asked if I was a strategist, or a strategist that also executes as well. I answered the latter. A successful strategist must get their fingernails dirty and get into practical execution. Top marketing strategists can deliver recommendations that yield 85% effective results at of the gates at best. They must then launch their strategy and dig into engagement and execution to see how their strategy and plan plays to the audience they look to capture. And then use empirical results to tweak the strategy and plan. People’s attitudes and behavior change quickly. You need to be active and engaging to stay on top of your target audiences’ reactions.

So I urge you, whether you are senior, junior, or somewhere in between. Metaphorically, go back to school. Get back in training. Get back into hands-on practice.

Make it Happen,
Social Steve

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In Marketing, A Community Trumps an Audience

community

Throughout my marketing career, I have been focused on the target audience of the brands I represent. I have been working with many companies to make them more vigilant to their audiences’ wants, needs, desires, and motivations as opposed to simply espousing product communication and advertisement.

For example, I worked with a company that had strong SSL (secure socket layer) technology. They would talk about how their SSL solution was superior using technological terminology. One segment of the target audience was the financial services industry. But they were not buying SSL technology, they were buying payment card authorization solutions. Yes, SSL is a key part of that solution. But successful marketers speak in the vernacular of their audience. Not their own language.

So yes, target audience focus is essential. But as brand representatives, don’t we want more than an audience of customers and potential customers? Wouldn’t we love to have “members” and advocates? A community member is a deeper relationship? What if we created a community of like-minded people that support one another? What if this was accomplished under the moniker of a brand? Not using the community as a place for brand agenda, but a community focused on some kind of an alignment with the brand category. That is something people would gravitate to.

How do you actually develop community? It starts by providing outstanding original content that helps your audience in an area that is relevant to the brand category. Augment that original content with curated content that reinforces what your brand stands for and is valued by your audience. Then provide an area for people to discuss topics. Engage with people and give them a platform and opportunity to converse amongst themselves. Seed conversations. Set up subgroups for various topics.

When you build a community, you naturally assent to a leadership role in your brand category. When you build a community, you naturally build relationships that spawn advocates for your brand. People share the content you develop and conversations that are happening in your community.

Yes, building a community is hard work. People are not going to suddenly flock to your nest. A community will be a small subset of your target audience. But look at it this way … wouldn’t you be happy to have five new people sharing your brand; standing up for your brand? Five people are a start. Then it becomes 15; 40; and 100. Even if you developed a community of 100 active people – that is 100 more people to advocate for your brand content and solutions.

I stress building a community. Not only does it produce deeper relationships with your audience, but it forces marketers to truly think and act upon audiences’ needs and engagement. Even if a small set of your target audience becomes part of your community, the marketing efforts to build a community are effective for the entire audience. People want brands to help them. Be there for them. They don’t want advertorial content pushed upon them.

Think of your audience as a potential community. Act as you would as a leader of a community instead of an advertorial spinster. Your target audience will most certainly be more receptive to your brand presence and exposure.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

PS – If you are interested in building a brand community, also see “Successful Social Marketing – Integrating Content and Community.”

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Filed under brand communication, brand marketing, community, marketing, Social Steve, SocialSteve