The object is to sell, engage, inform, entertain, etc. — without using sketchy marketing tactics.
In yoga, you learn how to balance, and it’s a good analogy for content marketing… In Star Pose, you stretch out like a starfish, keeping one leg planted, or in Tree Pose, you stand on one leg with your hands pressed together in front of you. As you grow more comfortable, the next challenge is to hold the pose without looking. The instructor tells you to close your eyes.
If you haven’t tried it, closing your eyes as you stand on one leg changes everything.
Suddenly it’s ten times more difficult not to waver or put your foot down. There’s no visual point to steady you. You’re floating in darkness. Sometimes you wobble, like a toddler getting used to new legs.
Recently in an airport, I watched a tiny girl use her mother’s iPhone. I can’t say which impressed me more, the fact that she was actually using the phone (my children that age would have been chewing on it or ‘driving’ it around on the floor) or that she was standing up, fully absorbed, balancing on dimpled legs, swaying slightly as her eyes and fingers attended to the device.
Just as perplexing, is when my kids look over my shoulder and check out a website I’m viewing. “Ew, that’s sketchy.”
I wonder what’s sketchy about a straightforward webpage describing features and benefits to the consumer. What’s missing for my critical onlookers is usually a well-developed backstory. This can make you wonder about your marketing goals if you’re navigating the world of content marketing on your own. You don’t want too appear “sketchy,” but getting the balance between content and sales can feel like holding Star Pose blindfolded.
In my house, anything that’s not a YouTube video is untrustworthy, yet for people who don’t like to be “sold to,” kiddos are never at a loss as to what their next purchase will be.
How are they forming their ideas about what they want to buy?
As a copywriter, a marketer, and a mom, I know that kids and Millennials are the new Big Spenders ($170 Billion in purchasing power, by some standards). Closer to home, I’m searching for an answer to how they choose brands and products.
Everyone already knows this: Kids born in the last couple of decades have been digitally savvy since birth. Not only are they technologically intuitive, they’re connected to each other. They use technology spontaneously, claim indifference to brands, and form consumer opinions in the context of their peers. Nothing new there, only now their peers number in the millions, most of whom they’ll never actually meet.
Brands That Aren’t Sketchy
So what are some common ways a brand connects to consumers without using sketchy marketing tactics, and where is the future of marketing headed?
The brand tells a story.
Think about a company or brand that produces video content. If there’s one video, there are probably dozens. Popular YouTube channels tell a story with a common thread throughout. The more videos, the more subscribers. Same with podcasts. As the episodes keep coming, based on a general theme, the customer absorbs a story over time. You can take one piece of content out of context and get what you need, Or you can view it as one of many that tell how a company can make a difference in the lives of its followers, whether they ever become customers or not.
People don’t trust a brand with a static website. The days when marketers could get by with just a few web pages — Home page, About page, Services, Projects, Contact — are long gone.
Whether they add content in the form of blog posts, videos, pictures, customer-generated posts, etc, entrepreneurs and small businesses solidify their brands by continually creating content with a running theme. People want to step into a story and be a part of an unfolding reality. They are looking for real, live content they can bond with.
The consumer’s opinion matters.
More and more, the customer wants to be a part of the story. Consumers participate, and expect to exert some influence. When they comment or share content, they’re inside the action. The payoff to the consumer is that they become part of the story.
If they have ideas about something related to the content a brand generates, those opinions, once aired, become part of the buzz around the brand. These days, consumers are not shy about contributing. What’s more, they expect to be rewarded in one or two ways: Either their friends and followers appreciate the content they share — and their status is elevated a bit because of it; or else they expect the brand to engage, respond, or even adapt based on their opinions.
No brand of any size can switch gears with every comment, but we can at least assess and/or address them. Many businesses have a policy of reading every comment to blog posts, emails, or Facebook posts, even if they can’t personally reply to each of them. Some may even reward their best clients and customers by creating a small group or special content exclusively for them.
Take Lady Gaga’s “Little Monsters,” a group of made up of the top echelon of her fans. These special customers truly become part of Lady Gaga’s story, noted Bryan Kramer on Social Media Examiner’s Podcast last week. They generate content and buzz on their own. Any business could do something like this. Loyalty and investment are rewarded with more direct personal access and faster response times.
These special customers’ opinions don’t just matter; they become part and parcel of the brand.
Last night I made my way over to a website I’ve been hearing about that’s popular with Millennials. WarbyParker.com is an eyewear company that sells trendy glasses for a fraction of the cost of similar items at a local retailer. Choosing a shape and color of frames is easy with the custom fit tools available. You just snap a picture of yourself and try on some specs. (See computer generated picture of my next pair, right.) You can even have some trial frames sent to you through the mail if you must try them on. The ease and low cost suit young consumers (like me – HA!), but there’s more. Like the Toms Shoes model, with each purchase, the company pays it forward, sending a pair of glasses to someone who needs the gift of vision, but doesn’t have access to it.
Doing something nice is…well, nice. People favor companies that do good in the world. But transparency is the new black, regardless of a brand’s altruism. As consumers grow more attentive to the actions of others, and less influenced by marketer’s pitches, they appreciate brands and companies that tell it like it is.
If you show your intentions, people appreciate it. If you do what you say you’re going to do, people respect you. You don’t have to give 50% of your product to charity. You just have to be real.
Expectations are high among young consumers who “don’t want to be sold to.” They’re more willing to spend money on products and brands that acknowledge more than one dimension of humanity. Consumers like to see the human side of brands in return.
Their friends like it, too.
According to a study by Social Chorus, a company that helps boost brand popularity via advocacy (fan shares) 95% of Millennials say that friends are the most credible source of product info. Remember that an average circle of friends (on Facebook) is 696 friends.
The distrust of marketing messages also means that most claim to have never clicked on an advertiser’s sponsored story. Never? Hmmm. How can that be? As I’m writing this, I’m eyeballing (ok, dying to click on) at at least three compelling stories — but I want to finish what I started out to say here. Is that really mutant behavior in comparison to Millennials? Am I that different?…
Ok I’m back 😉
I keep thinking back to that toddler with the iPhone at gate 14. Although she could barely stand, the kid’s pudgy fingers dexterously poked at the tiny screen. Can you guess what she was doing? (Hint: not sending a text, and not doing yoga.) Of course, she was playing a game.
They play games with you.
This little gal is your future customer, if not a future yogi, so don’t forget about games!
Are you adding some type of reward point system, or a way to level up in your shop? It’s not just about racking up points. It’s the inherent reward in participation. And no one is immune to it. Playing with the eyeglass feature on Warby Parker for 10 minutes clinches a future sale next time I’m ready for a new look — and at $95, that time could come sooner than later. A game is engaging. Any time you get someone to play and interact with you, your brand becomes more memorable.
Just as I’m finishing up this post, I read Ann Handley’s post about teenagers’ easy creativity in using social media. They’re all over it, indeed. Instead of trying to figure out how to be better marketers, we should just try to be more social, more playful, more human, more transparent.
You know, like kids again.
Dancer pic, Flickr CC: Dance Photographer Brendan Lally