In the new-normal world of custom content, there are burgeoning numbers of channels and choices. But only one way forward.
HERE’S WHAT THIS ARTICLE WON’T DO. It won’t smother you with statistics on Facebook users or smartphone sales. We all know the numbers are big.
Nor will it bludgeon you with exhortations to man up and get with the new-media program. We’ve been hearing that for years, and we get the idea: proliferate or perish.
In other words, it won’t cover the what, when, and why. We already know what (take advantage of various media), when (now), and why (it’s the best way to reach customers).
What this article will attempt to do is explore what comes next. That is, it will focus on the where (Facebook, Twitter, print) and how (strategy, tactics, miracles).
TURN ON THE CHANNELS
It would be nice if we could all create a brand from scratch: identify its raison d’être, understand its target audience, thoughtfully develop its channels, extend its core attributes end-to-end. But we seldom get that opportunity.
If you’re a corporate marketer, you typically need to fight the war you have, not the war you want. That often means legacy brand confusion, limited budgets, stakeholders up and down the org chart who just don’t get it, and unexpected market shifts. If you’re a custom-content provider, you get saddled with those same burdens, plus the added challenges of suddenly shrinking deadlines, constantly expanding scope, little credit for what goes right, and much of the blame for what goes wrong.
You need to develop, disseminate, and integrate content across media. Try using advertising, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to get the message across. The integrated approach like this seems to be working.
Employee involvement should lie at the core of the company’s culture and brand identity. This is the reason why content creators need to recruite bloggers from throughout its ranks. Bloggers will be writing about relevant topics that interest them, and a 3Leaps media team reviews the content to ensure brand consistency. The blogs increasingly include video. Everything we’re doing now includes video, internally and externally.
You need to maintain your own Facebook page to connect with local customers. Get your staff monitor the pages, as well as customer input throughout social media. The goal is to use every means of reaching customers. When campaigns break, you need to waste no time while trying to turn on all the channels at the same time.
TELL ME A STORY
Integration of content across channels is key, especially as marketers scramble to take advantage of emerging media. With so many people using social media worldwide, all media are linked, because all consumers are linked. That calls for a “total media strategy.”
The goal should be to tell a story. Each piece of content tells a story. But there’s a larger story – the networked story. We now have media that allows us to connect content. But too much content is still created autonomously. That’s not how people consume content today. Rather than reading something straight through, they collect content around a topic.
When you write a book, you start with an overall premise, and each chapter reinforces that premise. It’s the same with any content, especially social media content. Every time you ‘publish’ something, you need to remind your consumers of what the context is and draw them into it.
Drawing in consumers – making them feel part of the story – is the true promise of social media. Channels that enable users – not readers, but users – to interact with and contribute to your story present a unique value. We haven’t reached the point where one piece of content is fully aware of the other pieces associated with it. If we had, then the content a consumer receives would adapt based on content he or she has already received. Let’s say you’re delivering content about shoes. If your consumer has just read content about running, then the next piece of content should be about running shoes, not footwear in general.
That kind of meta-awareness can make content truly compelling. Companies make the mistake of thinking that any content they produce is inherently interesting. But you need to create a story around your company or your message that people want to be part of.
THE MESSAGE IS THE MESSAGE
People are moving toward electronic formats in the custom space today, but some audience uses more traditional channels. We use the types of communication our customers respond to.
Content creators are increasingly nervous about languishing on the social media sidelines. But there are times it makes sense to wait and see. Yes, Amazon.com leveraged first-mover advantage into e-tailer dominance. But how did that work out for AltaVista, InfoSeek, and all the other search engines that preceded Google? First isn’t forever.
Your business may have clients who say they want to do the social media thing. And you might have toldl them, ‘Sure, we can set you up on Twitter or whatever you want to do’. But eventually, you will come to realize is that social media isn’t worth doing unless you have something to say.
There’s a list of don’ts when it comes to social media. Don’t tweet or blog if you don’t have anything to tweet or blog. Don’t invite customers into the social media pool if you don’t have the resources to patrol it. Don’t do social media poorly just to be able to say you’re doing social media. Bad messaging sends a bad message.
In fact, now might be an excellent time to invest in traditional media. Everyone’s saying, ‘Follow us on Twitter, visit us on Facebook, come to our YouTube channel. If you’re the one company that produces a slick magazine with in-depth reporting and real photography and meaningful context, you’re going to stand out.
Ultimately, your content needs to engage your customers. Even an undertaker could produce entertaining content.
Putting the fun in funeral might be a stretch. But one could easily imagine a B-to-C smartphone app for coordinating funeral service, facility, flowers, music, and guest list. Or a B-to-B microsite for linking funeral homes, monument makers, mortuary colleges, estate planners, and others connected to the funeral industry.
The point is to create the best content first and then find the best means to broadcast it. We get so balled up with the media because we’re trying to figure out all these channels. But everything depends on the message. That’s why we call it content.
If only creating custom content were as easy as clicking through the screens of a software wizard.
Promoting Your Brand Via Custom Content
These following expedients can go a long way toward ensuring your content’s effectiveness –
1. Establish your brand identity
Your brand should have a reason for being, says Robin Fisher Roffer, founder and CEO of Big Fish Marketing. And all your content should reflect and reinforce that purpose.
2. Identify your audience
It sounds obvious, but in the day-to-day rush of producing content, it’s often overlooked, notes Hunter Sebresos, founding partner of Dyvergent. Bear in mind that audience can vary by program and channel.
3. Determine your consumers’ needs
Different consumers have different needs, depending on channel, says David Harris,former group manager of digital and alternative media for Mazda North America. What they expect from your Twitter feed will differ from what they hope to get from your print magazine.
4. Establish specific goals
If you have only a vague notion of what you want to achieve, you’ll have a hard time knowing whether you’ve achieved it, suggests Aetna Regional Marketing Manager Melissa Jones. Note that goals may be both strategic (developing a companywide content program) and tactical (promoting a specific product).
5. Gain stakeholder buy-in
Content creation almost always involves multiple stakeholders, from executive management to lines of business to IT. And often you need support from people who don’t get paid to support you. You need to tell your story as effectively to internal audiences as to external ones.
6. Extend the brand throughout channels
Few companies get this right. One that does is Apple, which achieves consistency across its brand image, product design, packaging, retail stores, website, advertising, and more. Can your organization make that claim?
7. Get a fix on key measures
Do you want to enhance your company’s reputation, build relationships with customers, launch a new product, increase sales by a specific amount? You need to know what you want to measure not just before you measure it but before you create your content.
8. Execute to plan and scope
Too many organizations have solid content plans but fail in execution. Others start with clear intentions but lose focus. Your strategy is only as effective as the content you actually produce.
9. Measure the results
How many companies crank out content without determining whether they’re achieving what they set out to do? Jones emphasizes that ongoing measurement and continuous improvement are key parts of any effective content effort – and the best way to ensure long-term success.