There's a wonderful quote from Woody Allen in which he says, "Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons." That sentiment really seems to sum up how marketers are reviewing their budgets these days. We're assured that money alone isn't the answer to gaining consumer attention any longer. We've got to develop an amazingly creative, conversational, and conversion-focused muscle to engage, inform, and ultimately convince a skeptical audience that our product or service is the one they should buy.
Still, all things being equal -- more dough would be nice, yeah?
That said, we're still wasting marketing budget every day. So in what nooks and crannies can we find a little more moolah to make our efforts a little more efficient? Let's take a look at what your dollars in four areas are really buying you in terms of customer usefulness, community continuity, and deliberate action.
Yup, let's get things started with the one that's nearest and dearest to my heart, shall we? By now, companies large and small, for-profit and non-profit, are scrambling to find topics their constituents might stop to read. A few writers might take a good step by talking with customer service or sales representatives to uncover story opportunities. Fewer still will first invest the time and resources needed to establish the context for those relationships, what business the company is really in (Zappos wants to be synonymous with customer service), and what the brand stands for. What's the common DNA element between the customer or prospect and your brand?
Exploratory planning work might initially feel like a hindrance to meeting a deadline set for a particular e-book, slide cast, or webinar -- especially since your company has been in business for 10, 20, or however many years already. But I've found that the one key to sustaining an effective content team is to construct a bridge between the brand and the audience through which you try to build value.
Unlike physical bridges made of concrete and steel, the brand-customer connection isn't necessarily physical (although there can be physical elements too). Rather, the connection is emotional, often brought about by relatable story lines woven throughout all marketing communications.
In short, whether you buy it, create it, or curate it, simply throwing more and more content against the wall is a huge waste of your precious budget. "More content" is not a strategy. You will not win any long tail strategy with simply more content.
Content marketing without any planning or thought to what the larger creative and story will be is an ad hoc approach that will never deliver its desired value. As my colleague at Content Marketing Institute Joe Pulizzi said a couple of months ago, "There may be a time for producing less content, but without strategic guidance, the answer will always be more (and this is just short-sighted)."
So now Facebook is verifying accounts held by prominent figures, eh? Under the auspices of "making it easier for users to find authentic accounts."
Really? Did you, as an Average Joe user, really need an icon to help identify your favorite baseball team, recording artist, or secret indulgence (umm, hello, Five Guys Burgers)? We've been doing just fine without the (ahem) measure of assurance, I think. This new step by Facebook could be seen as one more vanity-feeding tactic keeping us clamoring for our hourly Facebook high.
Disagree? Well, that's fine. But I think it speaks to the ever-growing disease threatening social media: Consumers (and I'm in this group as well) are awfully busy filling their streams with road signs pointing back at their own interests. And it's only getting noisier as every brand clamors for more attention ("likes," followers, etc.) as some proof-point of standing out from the crowd. If you're spending money for simply more of these things, then you're potentially wasting a huge amount of dollars that might be better spent elsewhere. As my friend Jay Baer so aptly said in a blog post earlier this year, "If you're still using social connections (fans, followers) as a major proof-point of your efforts, stop. Take the time and make the effort to measure financial impact."
Instead of spending the time, effort, and (yes) money to bait the waters with more chum, think about how your content across social channels might simply be useful and remarkable to the audience you have. What is it that you're trying to accomplish with each social channel? And, have the guts to not participate in every new channel that comes along. As Baer also says, it can "spread your attention very thin, dangerously so."
I don't know about you, but I'll assume that we all receive far more email every day than we'd really like to process. Fair statement? One researcher suggests we spend more than 11 hours each week reading email. Who has sufficient time to thoughtfully review every email they receive and respond thoroughly and appropriately? How many times have you skimmed, banged off a quick reply, or set aside an email all together?
That's not new, of course. We're all inundated with more communication "touches" than we're probably comfortable with, and certainly more than we ever consciously remember signing up for. That brings me to an important point.
Permission to connect -- to assume space in consumers' inboxes and request their precious time -- is a tenuous and even sacred (there, I said it) acceptance. It's a virtual invitation into their homes, work spaces, mobile devices -- all places that they have real, personal interactions daily.
And perhaps this is why social has become the newer, brighter light, leaving email for many marketing organizations as the "oh yeah, we still do that too" tactic. In Silverpop's "2013 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study," the company found that the average open rate for email was 19.7 percent. The top quartile -- the best of the best -- had an open rate of 35 percent. Compare that to seven years ago when, according to an ExactTarget study, the average open rate was approximately 35 percent. Yeah, the bar of whether your message gets read or really even opened is getting higher and higher. And, as a general rule, we're not getting more and more compelling.
But this absolutely doesn't mean that email doesn't work anymore. There are innumerable studies and articles and success stories showing how email marketing can outperform many other tactics. But what's the secret? Quality over quantity.
How many times is the email person in your organization running around asking everybody, "What are we going to talk about in this week's newsletter?" Because, no matter what, you must (for some reason) get four emails out per month. If the organization is still focused on more subscribers and more emails instead of engagement as a measurement of email success, you're wasting money.
Isn't it smart to execute your email marketing with an eye on the long term? Editorial calendar, anyone? You never know which addresses make up the approximate 5 percent of followers who actively support your brand.
Want media attention surrounding a product launch? Did you get some positive press or an endorsement by an industry analyst? Did the catered lunch show up on time? These and other positive outcomes are usually the basis of today's press release strategy.
And isn't that just too bad?
I saved PR for last because I have a true fondness in my heart for PR, and it's a practice that has lost its way of late. I believe it also has the opportunity (though the story is truly yet unfinished) to drive and unify a content marketing process in many organizations. And, since content is where I started, PR seemed an apt place to finish.
I continually meet organizations, both PR agencies and internal groups within brands, that have a quota on the number of releases they need to get out in a certain time frame for the businesses they serve. They are required to get out X number of press releases each quarter. Even more insane is that the quota (because of budgets on wire services) is also sometimes a cap as well. The mandate: You must get out two -- and only two -- press releases per month. Never mind what really merits trying to get a story out.
If you're only using PR to push more and more press releases, and measuring that effort with how many coverage links or social mentions you get ,you are simply wasting money. In fact, if you're still receiving a "clippings" report -- either digital or on dead trees -- consider that a blue screen of death. It's time to Control-Alt-Delete your PR strategy.
Today's PR has the opportunity to be integrated into everything the marketing group is doing. It can be a strategic storyteller, a relationship builder with influencers, and ultimately a crafter of narratives that can affect every piece of the customer engagement journey.
Recognize a theme here?
If you didn't notice it, all of these are focusing on the end of "more" as a measure of success. Certainly the measure of any good marketing is more sales, more customers, and more revenue. But, with myriad touch points with consumers, we simply have to get out of the mindset of looking at every single aspect of our measurement and saying "more equals good."
More visitors to your website isn't necessarily a good thing if you're spending money to draw irrelevant traffic. More leads aren't good -- and can actually work against sales -- if they aren't engaged, relevant, or nurtured properly. And, more customers aren't always a good thing if the only thing we do is close them to the "lowest-hanging fruit" financial transaction and create zero loyalty, cross-sell, or up-sell opportunity.
The power of content, social, and mobile and the seemingly unending technological innovation that we have at our disposal today give us unprecedented capabilities to deliver value to our consumers. The lesson for us all as we look to make the most of our marketing dollars is to get really good at engaging -- and then get really good at "more of that, please."
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"Dollars in the trash" image via Shutterstock.