People buy a story, not a brand. In the current age of content marketing, this has never been more true, yet so many tasked with hearing their audiences fail to truly connect with them. Why? Because they fail to listen, and no matter how much time and money is spent in the effort, meaningful consumer engagement is compromised. There can be no good storytelling without good listening.
Effective listening applies to everything from big business to private conversations. Hearing is a physical ability; listening is a skill.
While Marketing 101 traditionally dictates a focus on the positive, sometimes we understand better what to do when we know what not to do, especially if we recognize the undesirable behavior in ourselves. (What’s more, neuroscience suggests that humans are more influenced by bad than good.) Therefore, let’s outline some qualities of poor listening that can also translate into poor marketing.
How to Lose an Audience in 10 Seconds
- Push your own agenda. Angling for your own motive or gain, whether you’re embarking upon a widespread campaign or simply chatting with your neighbor, is not listening. It conveys that you’re not really interested in the needs, desires or concerns of whomever you’re communicating with; you’re mainly in it for yourself.
- Steal the thunder. We all know that person who barely lets you get a word out before they jump into their own experience. Marketing efforts can have the same self-preoccupied effect. Brands that boast about the sales they’ve made or lists they’ve topped demonstrate that they’re more interested in touting their own accomplishments than knowing and meeting consumers’ needs.
- Preach/judge/mock. Few people share a story or experience with someone so that person can shame them or tell them what they should have done instead. Yet, some folks take that opportunity to chide, advise or even ridicule, rather than to simply listen, sympathize or offer real solutions. That mentality has infiltrated more than a few marketing campaigns, too, particularly those that showcase clueless fools whom others can laugh at or feel superior to. Intelligent, thoughtful consumers are turned off by these cheap shots that appeal to the lowest common denominator.
- Be ingenuine. Consider the many ads featuring actors saying things no one would really say, least of all consumers. Contrived, out-of-touch messaging does not resonate with real audiences. It is insincere, ineffective and shows that you have little grasp on your target market. Perhaps this is why campaigns that humorize true self (think Progressive’s “we can’t save you from becoming your parents” and CitiBank’s voice-throwing identity theft campaigns) are so well-received.
- Rush things along. Has anyone ever checked their watch or a text while you were talking? Likely, you were less apt to continue at all than to continue more quickly. Marketing and sales efforts that push people to act before they’re ready have the same dissociating effect. Issuing a call-to-action is an important feature of a solid campaign, but it must be done with a keen sensitivity to where people are on the customer journey. That can only be accomplished by listening to what they’re saying – and sometimes what they’re not. For those with the opportunity to meet prospects in person, body language says a lot.
- Trivialize. Just as it’s rarely wise to tell someone “it’s not that bad,” or “you’re making too much of this,” it’s equally isolating to make light of consumers’ needs and concerns. Consumers respond to brands that acknowledge the gravity of a pain point and don’t try to pretty it up, as if all is right with the world. Any brand that promises they hold the key to eternal happiness will likely be met with great skepticism. As prescription drug campaigns have increased dramatically, it’s hard not to notice the litany of side effects, some arguably worse than the original condition, juxtaposed against all those “shiny, happy people.”
- Interrupt. Cutting in on someone who’s talking implies many things, first of which is, “what you’re saying is so unimportant, I’m just going to rail right over you.” Indeed, modern consumers can feel railroaded by the barrage of sponsored content, particularly online, that yanks them away from their train of thought. A much more effective approach is to create content that is intrinsically meaningful, customer-centric and organically share-worthy.
In Part II of this blog, our team of experts will share how to employ the good listening tactics that define not only healthy personal connections, but also outstanding storytelling and successful consumer relationships.
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
- Content Marketing IS Marketing
Of all the developments on the horizon for content marketing in 2019, it is perhaps a shift in paradigm that is most significant. Simply put, content marketing is marketing. Whereas 10 years ago, content was a good thing for marketers to have as an aside to traditional strategies, it is now synonymous with marketing as a whole. Without quality content, marketers cannot establish the two-way communication that is essential to today’s successful consumer relationships.
- Video Is Vital
Video has enormous capacity to capture and keep consumers’ attention. Marketers of the future cannot survive without it. In particular, YouTube (where all marketing videos should land first) has become the second largest search engine, with Google in the first place position.Consider these recent statistics:
Clearly, the production and distribution of video content is vital to a viable content marketing campaign. Even if your content is generated by a smart phone, any “action!” is better than none. You can become more sophisticated when time and funds allow, but get rolling now!
- Personalization Is Paramount
According to Psychology Today, feeling understood is even more important than feeling loved. Knowing who your audience is and what makes them tick is the heart and soul of successful marketing. Marketers who employ highly targeted content are far more likely to create lasting relationships with their customers and prospects than those who are taking stabs in the dark. A 2017 study showed that 79% of companies that exceeded their revenue goals had a personalized digital media strategy in place.No matter how things change in the digital marketing realm, the guiding principle is sure to stay the same: reach the right audience with the right message at the right time in the right way. Personalized content does that best, and not only do consumers welcome targeted messages, they expect it.
- Artificial Intelligence Fosters Real Relationships
While it may seem counter-intuitive that a machine could help form real bonds, nothing could be truer when it comes to marketing with artificial intelligence. Not only does AI (robots, chatbots, algorithms and, eventually, the Internet of Things) shoulder a lot of the “grunt work” traditional marketers had to do, freeing them up to focus on consumer relationships, it also facilitates a more personal, “human” customer experience.Among other capabilities, AI-based marketing can:
- Customize one-to-one with consumers’ demographics, timing and intent
- Offer audiences personalized website and social media experiences
- Enable natural language processing (voice search)
- Gather and catalog large quantities of data to create accurate customer profiles
- Identify valuable leads
- Personalize up-sells and cross-sells
- Serve relevant messages to prospective customers
- Generate personalized emails based on customer preferences
- Judge and respond to human emotions in real time through affective computing technology
- Data Is Compulsory
Analytics will play an even greater role in 2019, as increasingly sophisticated tracking reveals pinpointed consumer insights that marketing budgeters have come to demand. Knowing exactly who is engaging with what content, for how long, on which platform or pages, and when, is invaluable information that businesses now require in determining their marketing ROI. Marketers of the future must be able to supply this information on a regular basis, not only to produce the highly personalized content discussed above but to satisfy client expectations.
- Strategy Is Key
As marketers come to embrace the reality that content marketing is marketing itself, they must also define goals specific to their content. This calls for a guiding, documented strategy. Sixty-five percent of the most successful content marketers have a documented strategy, identifying goals such as lead generation, thought leadership, and SEO. But, as different companies have different goals, no one content strategy fits all. Once unique goals are identified, a documented plan keeps content on task, on track, and intentional about achieving objectives. A documented strategy also allows team members to see what content is and is not working. “Documented strategy is self-correcting,” says content strategist Michael Brenner.
- Customer Journey Leads the Way
Have you ever engaged with a brand to the point of purchase, only to feel abandoned after your wallet entered the picture? That’s a common experience among consumers and one that content marketers must eliminate. The traditional marketing funnel that starts with anyone and everyone and ends with a monetary transaction is moving toward a more fluid, sustainable model. This new version emphasizes customer success throughout the buyer journey, regardless of purchase. It’s about relationships; appropriate content allows marketers to transition from vendors to partners, earning lasting consumer trust and loyalty.
- Topic Clusters Boost SEO and Consumer Trust
As much is known about search engine optimization, there is still so much to learn and understand. (Read our two-part primer on SEO.) But one trend is emerging that deserves particular attention: topic clusters. For brands to position themselves as trusted, respected thought leaders, they need to build content around certain core topics. Deliberate information architecture clearly and methodically demonstrates that owned content is authoritative and attention-worthy – gaining valuable notice from both search engines and consumers.Topic clusters center upon pillar, or hub, content to which more granular sub-topics are connected via hyperlinks. As for SEO, when one cog in the wheel does well, the entire cluster gets a boost in the rankings.
- Distribution Drives Success
What good is great content if no one sees it? Distribution is as important as content itself. As long as there are multiple channels of dissemination, casting a wide net continues to be good practice. While social media has gotten the lion’s share of powerful reach, marketers need to remain proactive, open and enthusiastic to all forms of distribution. Perhaps your content could benefit from email marketing, special events, speaking engagements, print, TV or radio ads, or even direct mail (yes, it’s still worth the cost and effort). As author and marketing expert John Hall puts it, “Passive distribution – or worse, distribution you do as an afterthought once you realize no one is engaging with your content – won’t cut it.”
- Quality Content Is King
“Content Is King” is well on its way to becoming a cliché. But just because a glut of content is out there doesn’t mean it’s all good. In fact, much of it is not good at all. No matter how far technology takes us, there is still no substitute for quality content creation and sensitive application to products, services and niche expertise. Just as poor, irrelevant content will drive a wedge between B2B and B2C possibilities, truly meaningful, engaging content that speaks to audiences where they are – or where they want to be – will build bridges that lead to lasting consumer relationships.
Our team of experts is here to help you navigate the future of content marketing – today.
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
Consider these compelling facts and figures about the power of video marketing:
- There are over 73 million video viewers every year
- 50% of online traffic comes from video viewing
- 92% of video viewers share videos with others
- Consumers are at least 64% more likely to purchase a product or service with video representation
- 75% of business professionals watch promotional videos of relevant products and services at least once a week
- Videos bring a clearer understanding of product and service benefits
- Facebook’s algorithm is said to favor videos over other content marketing
- Videos offer an immediate association to and connection with products and services
- Visual media gives consumers greater confidence in their purchases
- Videos lend trust and credibility to the companies and organizations that display them
- Video content increases sales conversion rates
IVY’s team of experts can create live-action or animated videos like the one here to tell your unique story and bring more traffic to, and engagement with, your website, social media and marketing collateral.
Top photo credit: Complete Business Online
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
IVY Marketing Group was beyond excited to attend the 2018 Content Marketing World Conference and Expo September 4-7 in Cleveland.
While Tina Fey was the main keynote attraction, sharing about her award-winning work as a producer, writer and actor, more striking was the amazing scope of possibilities surrounding content marketing today.
It was electrifying to experience it all in one place. With over 120 session leaders on as many different topics, 30 some “lunch and learn” opportunities, and seven inspiring keynote speakers, the three-day event pulsed with energy and endless potential for content marketers – and their clients.
IVY is eager to share with those seeking top-quality marketing and PR all that we’ve learned, not only through our own experience over the past nearly 30 years, but by engaging in such world-class events as the CM World conference and other wonderful educational opportunities. Our finger is always on the pulse of the ever-evolving realm of content marketing.
According to CM World, “Content marketing is no longer a bright, shiny object. It’s an innovative and sustainable practice that connects brands with audiences in meaningful ways.”
We at IVY make content marketing our practice, and our passion, each and every day. We know that compelling content is the foundation of every successful brand, and we are committed to telling our clients’ unique stories through all the amazing doors modern content marketing opens to us.
IVY MARKETING GROUP. COME GROW WITH US.
By guest blogger Sally Falkow, Social Media Strategist
Content has always been a major part of PR, but now it’s become an integral part of all marketing. According to research from the Content Marketing Institute, 91 percent of B2B brands and 86 percent of B2C brands use it.
But it’s still an emerging tactic and far too many companies are “flying blind” – just pumping out content without any strategy. (Only 37 percent of B2B marketers and 38 percent of B2C marketers have a content marketing strategy.)
Your audience finds your content in many ways, but one of the main ones is through search. And since Google dominates the search market, it pays to develop content that meets Google’s quality guidelines and ranking rules.
When Larry Page and Sergey Brin started Google, their purpose was to organize the information on the web and make it possible for people using the web to find relevant content. As early as December 1998 “PC Magazine” reported that Google “has an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results.”
Every Google update to their algorithm, and all their rules about how to write content, have one aim in mind: to improve the results they give their users.
The Google Algorithm
“Algorithm is a technical term for what you can think of as a recipe that Google uses to sort through the billions of web pages and other information it has, in order to return what it believes are the best answers.” Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land founder, and editor.
There have been several major updates to the Google algorithm, but in fact, they make constant updates and tweaks every day. Luckily there are certain basic guidelines that always apply, and these are the rules you need to work with when creating content.
- Unique, original content. (The Panda update introduced ranking penalties for sites that use mass content producers and those that steal or duplicate content.)
- Trustworthy content from an authoritative source. Trust is often evaluated by the quality of the links pointing to your content.
The Google blog gave these questions as a guideline for creating trustworthy content:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert/enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
- Is the site a recognized authority on the topic?
- Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
- Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
These rules apply to all your content – web pages, newsroom, articles, press releases, and blogs.
The Penguin update focused on the difference between owned and earned links. That’s something PR practitioners should be able to grasp quite easily. It’s about the value of third-party endorsement and why editorial overage of your brand carries more weight than an ad.
When you produce and publish content about your company, you obviously present the brand in the best possible light. It’s called ‘owned media.’ It could be your website, your blog, articles you write or your social content, such as posts on your Facebook page. Even when that content is syndicated to other sites, or distributed on the wire and picked up by other sites, it is still owned media. You produced it.
When someone else with no vested interest publishes good things about a brand, it has much more credibility than what we say ourselves. That’s earned media. Media relations is all about earned media. We know how that works; it’s one of the core functions of PR.
Using that same logic, Google regards any link that you put into a piece of content about the brand (press release, article, blog post, infographic) as an owned link. You created the content and you placed that link there. No getting away from it – that is owned, not earned. Any link that you created is owned.
Google is all about earned links. Inbound links, those links from other sites pointing to your content, have always been a large part of Google’s ranking algorithm. Google looks for third-party endorsement. They check to see who links to your website, blog, Facebook page. A link is regarded as a vote of confidence in your content. It’s like getting the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”.
Google only counts what they call natural or editorial links – that’s earned links. In the very same way that you earn media coverage, you now have to earn links. Every time a reporter uses your press release content and includes a link to your site, that’s an earned link. Your media relations activity just expanded – it has to include getting those earned links.
Blogger Relations and Influencer Marketing are also good ways to earn these inbound links. Reach out to a list of bloggers or influencers in your field with an offer or a useful, interesting piece of content, and resulting mentions with a link are earned links.
The best way to earn links is to create outstanding content that people will want to mention, share, and link to. Google’s first rule for ranking content is high-quality, original content that has depth and substance.
News Content and Search
“In the U.S., roughly nine-in-ten adults (93%) get at least some news online (either via mobile or desktop), and the online space has become a host for the digital homes of both legacy news outlets and new, ‘born on the web’ news outlets.” Pew State of the Media 2018
Every business owner, marketing manager, and PR practitioner should know how to write and distribute news releases so they rank well in web search engines and news search engines.
There are some distinct advantages to having your news releases found via search engines:
- You know the people reading the release are interested in that subject because they asked for it by keyword.
- Online releases can be tracked – for the first time, you can get statistics of how many times your press release was viewed, read or downloaded. With Google Analytics you can see what visitors do once they get to your site and how long they stay.
Top 10 News Sites
You might be surprised to know that Yahoo! News tops the list for news. They’ve been number one for many years. Google News is nipping at their heels, but they have not managed to grab the top position. So your first goal should be Yahoo! News.
NEWS SITE MONTHLY VISITORS
- Yahoo! News 175,000,000
- Google News 150,000,000
- Huffington Post 110,000,000
- CNN 95,000,000
- New York Times 70,000,000
- Fox News 65,000,000
- NBC 63,000,000
- Mail Online 53,000,000
- Washington Post 47,000,000
- The Guardian 42,000,000
As you can see, some of the mainstream media websites are high on the list and you should be building relationships with journalists and bloggers from these publications.
Yahoo! News still has human editors and they pay attention to rising searches and trending topics. So be sure to include this as part of the research for your release.
Google News is growing their audience too. They’ve risen from number 10 to the second position in just a few years.
According to Google executives, Google News “algorithmically harvests” articles from more than 50,000 news sources across 72 editions and 30 languages. Their news content is seen by millions of people every week, providing hundreds of thousands of business opportunities every day.
Those opportunities are not only available to media publishers. Google News indexes press releases, so these opportunities are available to businesses and organizations too. Just make sure your releases comply with these Google News guidelines:
- Timely reporting on matters that are important or interesting to our audience. Google News generally doesn’t include how-to articles, advice columns, job postings, or strictly informational content such as weather forecasts and stock data. Google News is not a marketing service, so they won’t publish content promoting a product or organization.
- Unique articles: Original reporting and honest attribution are longstanding journalistic values.
- Authority: Write what you know. The best news exhibits clear authority and expertise.
- Accountability: Users tell us they value news with author biographies and clearly accessible contact information, such as physical and email addresses, and phone numbers.
- User-friendly: Clearly written articles with correct spelling and grammar also make for a much better user experience.
- Links: When our crawler scans your site, it looks for HTML links with anchor text that includes at least a few words.
Since almost every business in the U.S. is using content as part of their marketing strategy,you’re competing with a flood of content every day. Make sure that you start with an intelligent content strategy and that every item of content you produce is tied to a goal, has depth and substance, is original and interesting, and has eye-catching visuals with it.
Sally Falkow has been in public relations for more than 30 years and is accredited in PR (APR) by the Public Relations Society of America. Over the past 15 years, she has immersed herself in new technology and digital PR – most of her work today is as a social media strategist and trainer.