11. Activation Channels
Content is probably the most used word in marketing today. It means virtually anything you create to tell your story. Even ads are technically content. However, with consumer antipathy to ads, brands have pivoted to creating many other kinds of content to tell their story in a more engaging way. This ranges from videos to infographics, mobile applications, brochures etc.
The strongest kind of content you can produce is content that people will want to share.
I will talk about content throughout this book because it infuses every aspect of modern marketing. At this initial stage of the game, however, content should be focused on attracting potential buyers with a very soft, preliminary engagement. At the beginning part of the sales process people are not motivated to work hard studying and evaluating. They need to be enticed into engagement with the appropriate balance of entertainment and information. Clearly some products and services lend themselves to becoming engaging content more easily than others, but this is where creativity comes in.
Perhaps the strongest kind of content you can produce is content that people will want to share in digital channels and that will be highly ranked by the search engines. Edgy, full of attitude and eminently sharable, Nasty Gal’s blog content works hard to create images of the cool life you too can live with the terminally hip fashion brand. Great content combined with great SEO is so powerful, not only because it inspires your community to share it with friends, but also because it ensures that your content will appear, at no cost to you, in organic (free) search results. It is, therefore, a very smart investment as a way to attract new prospects through search and social media.
One of the most profound changes that the digital age has enabled is the empowerment of word-of-mouth. It used to be that we could only tell our small intimate circle of friends if we had a positive or negative experience with a brand. Now, through a multitude of platforms every individual with a device has been given the power to express themselves and be heard by the entire world. Individuals can post reviews of products and services, opinions of brands, likes, dislikes and rants all over the web. In seconds anyone can write a post, complete a review, snap a picture, shoot a video, even start a live stream and be seen by hundreds or thousands of people. The average Facebook user has 338 friends, many have more than 500 and the viral power of their opinions only blossoms from there.
The opportunity is terrific to leverage happy consumers to spread their enthusiasm.
As a result, everyone has become an influencer and brands have to work hard to make us happy. As I’ve said before there are no longer any places to hide poor products and bad service. Inferior brand experiences of any sort get revealed very quickly and the damage done can spread if it is not quickly addressed. Conversely the opportunity is terrific to leverage happy consumers to spread their enthusiasm. The Nielson annual trust in advertising report consistently ranks recommendations from friends as the most trusted source of information. This creates awareness with new prospects and introduces the brand to others with more credibility than advertising carries.
Although we are all influencers, there are also super influencers in social media and life who can be very valuable. This includes all the celebrity sports endorsers you know so well, as well as people with large followings who sell access to those followers in a variety of ways. This can be ads on their sites, editorial type ads or even their endorsement. Kate Arends, for example, has a beauty and fashion following of 2.6mm people and posts products she recommends to her Pinterest board. While super influencers can be enlisted to help at a cost, consumers are accustomed now to sharing their thoughts and opinions and there are many things that a brand can do to enable them. This should be one of the first things you do in the hunt to introduce your story to new prospects.
Closely related to Influencer marketing is Relationship marketing. In our CRM world (customer relationship marketing) customers and prospects become valuable relationships that your brand should keep up and invest in. Much of the work in this space is focused on creating strong, loyal customers and growing their lifetime value. However, one of the big benefits of having an enthusiastic community of fans, is that those customers will go out into the world and spread the word to their networks. The idea is to identify, inspire and equip your most loyal customers to say good things about your brand to their friends in social networks. This includes Ratings & Reviews and social posts. When I bought a car recently, the ink was barely when they dealer asked me to post a review. They made it very easy, sent me to a special site, gave me an easy rating & review tool, and even asked for a good review. Part of their sales process was to leverage my happiness with my new car while I was still enjoying the moment.
Identify, inspire and equip your most loyal customers to say good things about your brand.
This is only one way to activate your happy customers. There are many that you can use once you have a database. That takes time, but when you have it, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. Working with Royal Caribbean Cruises I quickly discovered their secret weapon was their seven figure database of past customers, from which they would not only fill empty berths at the last minute, but also refresh their network of prospects. Important even at this early stage of the game is Customer service. While every company tries to be perfect, as long as they employ imperfect people there will be problems. Customer service has always been the way to address these challenges, but now this has become much more public with social media. This has created the opportunity for brands to publically demonstrate the proof of how much they care and how they keep their commitments. When a kid left his stuffed giraffe “Joshie” at the Ritz Carlton he had been staying at with his family, the hotel not only found it, but concocted a series of photos of “Joshie” by the pool, watching TV and even getting a massage. It spread quickly around social media confirming the extra effort the Ritz Carlton makes to keep every guest happy. PR, which is the traditional influencer marketing, may be relevant early in the game too if there is something newsworthy to share with the press or bloggers. In this media saturated world, curators and tastemakers matter because they help us get to what’s good faster. The dynamics, however, are a little different than with customer word-of-mouth in that they require stories that are newsworthy. That usually creates a higher bar than a brand may be able to reach in the normal course of business.
Creating brand led experiences is becoming more common as consumers seem to relish the opportunity to interact in the real world. Perhaps because we live so much of lives in our efficient little digital bubbles, people seem to enjoy real world experiences more. This is why many retailers are shifting their focus to how to create unique experiential environments in stores and why brands are turning to experiential marketing to get awareness and trial at the grass roots level. Experiential marketing is distinct from Retail marketing in that it is about the event or experience vs. where it is. These events can introduce a brand or reinforce its story, both of which Red Bull seems to do consistently. When Felix Baumgartner made the Stratos jump, breaking the highest parachute jump record ever, the whole world watched and believed when Red Bull said it gives you wings.
Brands are turning to experiential marketing to get awareness and trial.
Experiential marketing also includes sponsorships and sampling, both of which can be leveraged to introduce people to your brand. High awareness sponsorship events that fit the brand can be leveraged to enhance reputation as well as social media awareness, and sampling at events is a time tested way to put your product in lots of hands.