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Content Contempt

At the end of last year, I wrote a blog about the lessons we learned from marketing in 2016. One topic I touched on in that blog was about purchasing content on the Internet. I’d like to delve deeper into this issue because as a marketer, content creation is one of my main responsibilities.

So what exactly is content marketing? The Content Marketing Institute describes it as “the technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience.”

Content marketing is key to the marketing process because it adds value to your business in the eyes of your customer. Your business’ page is not just a website where you can purchase a service, it’s a website where people can go to learn about your business and what you stand for. That’s why I was surprised when I started noticing a lot more pay-for-content websites appearing online. These websites are essentially content stores; a user can go in and purchase a generic blog or a video while gaining the usage rights. Who is writing the content about your business and for your customers seems to be not too relevant or valued. Although you can pay extra for it to be “customized” content, the writer does not know your voice, your brand, your company, you, or the value you bring to your customers.

While this content is quick and easy, as a professional marketer, I know how important it is to know my customers before I can write for them. Whenever I finish a blog or an article, I have to look at it and say, “Would my client say this?” If not, I have to re-work it. If blogs are used as persuasive text written by an industry authority to inform a targeted audience about an industry issue, then that content needs to be an informed and educated one.

The blog writing process can be lengthy and it can be difficult to fully capture someone’s voice and opinion on a subject, which is why bloggers often interview, create outlines, have many conversations, discuss topic ideas and angles before writing the first word. This process is not part of the “buy a blog” dot com experience; in fact it is quite the opposite.

I have personally tested many of these online content sites, only to find spelling mistakes or generic content that adds no value to the conversation online. I have downloaded a blog on LinkedIn, only to find LinkedIn spelled incorrectly. If small business owners were to simply buy and post the content, what would be the result?

I have heard that from a Search Engine Optimization perspective, these online sites offer great content, but blogs contain SEO based on the sheer fact that they are online content, not just based on keywords thrown in. More importantly, I don’t feel a quest for SEO results should detract from the value of a good blog.

I work with a lot of small businesses, and one of the main things they want to promote to their customers is the personalized quality of their service. I am not convinced that any online content provider site can create this level of quality prose, simply because there is no investment in understanding exactly what the client’s value is to their audience.

When it comes down to it, marketing isn’t a commodity. It’s about the relationships you form with your clients and the work you produce for them to get them the results they want. I love the feeling of writing something amazing for my clients, because I know that both themselves and their clients will get value from the message.

So next time you are shopping online for content, remember: if you don’t value the content on your site, how can you expect your clients to?

Can’t Buy Me Followers

In December, Instagram announced Selena Gomez as the most followed celebrity on the platform with 103 million followers. As a small business owner, I could only imagine having a following that large on my business’s social platforms, and what it could mean for my brand awareness. Social media, as we have been led to believe, is a numbers game.

Recently, I was alerted to the fact that websites promising fake social media followers exist. I can see the appeal. Who doesn’t want to have more followers? Having more followers generally means you have a popular account, and in turn, a popular product or service. However, using a website to generate or purchase fake followers is a faux pas in the marketing world, and here’s why:

First and foremost using a third party source to gain followers is against the code of conduct of most social media websites, whether you pay for the service or not. For example, Twitter outlines in their rules and regulations that any accounts found to have used a third party source with the intention of gaining fake followers will be shut down. One particular problem associated with these websites that promise followers is that they have access to your account and therefore can easily compromise it at any time. These websites have the ability to spam your account and your followers, which just happens to be another practice that will get you suspended from a social media channel.

Rules against these websites have been around since these fake follower generators have been, and they’re becoming especially necessary today. With all the fake news going around, social media platforms are cracking down on the amount of fake content shared on their channels, and one way to do that is by eliminating accounts that appear to have purchased followers or spread spam-related content.

To that extent, it’ not difficult to find accounts with fake followers. “Ghost Accounts” are easy to spot because they have strange names, follow a lot of people with minimal followers themselves and only post spam-related content.

As a consumer, I follow a number of brands on their social media channels. Say I go on to check out my favourite retailer’s page and I look into their followers. If I find a bunch of empty spam accounts, I’ll know they’d have likely purchased or subscribed to fake followers, and my trust in this brand will have almost diminished. While every brand aspires to have a lot of followers or likes on social media, deceiving your audience into thinking you have more than you really do positions you as untrustworthy.

In a previous blog I discussed the importance of Google Analytics. If a large majority of your followers are coming from third party sources or unlawful social media practices, the metrics will be thrown off. As a marketer, I adjust marketing plans based on the data I see from analytics, so if the numbers aren’t accurate, it’s difficult to come up with effective marketing strategies. In order to see a return on investment with social media, you need to be able to get your message across to the right people and create authentic content that will engage them. It’s hard to get engagement when your audience is 90% spam bots.

One thing I suggest to my clients when they want to generate more engagement and followers in a short amount of time is to boost content. Most social media platforms offer businesses an option to reach wider, more targeted audiences at a cost. Boosting is an authentic way to encourage people to check out your brand.

I have been working in this industry long enough to have seen the tricks that can be used to try and engage audiences and attract followers, but as a professional marketer and business owner I always want to provide my clients with honest marketing services that follow best practices. As much as we all like to see high numbers of followers on our social sites, if the followers were generated by a spambot site, then what value do they really have to your business? In marketing as in business, honesty is always the best policy.

 

 

 

 

 

Marketing in 2016 and What We Can Learn From It

What a year! 2016 has been an amazing year to showcase the power of marketing. From the unanticipated election of America’s first president-elect who has never held political office before, to the explosion of Snapchat marketing; it’s been a busy year. We have covered a range of marketing stories from 2016 in our blogs this year, like this one on the blurred lines between social media and advertising.

In my final blog of the year, I’d like to take the time to reflect on some of the marketing lessons we have learned throughout 2016.

Social Media is more powerful than you think. Donald Trump was elected largely due to his participation in social media, mostly on his notorious Twitter account. Years ago, it was unheard of for high-ranking political figures to speak directly to their voters in such a medium. Now, anyone and everyone has a platform to reach out to their target.

Even if you think your small business doesn’t need a social media presence, you could be missing out on audiences just waiting to listen to what you have to say.

Fake news is dangerous. In marketing, we always make a point to create authentic content. However, 2016 proved that not all Internet content abides by these same rules. The “pizzagate” scandal has left a lot of people confused about what’s real news and what’s not. Facebook’s algorithm issue has also contributed to this fake news epidemic.

For businesses that run their own social media accounts, this could be a problem. If you’re sharing engaging social media posts from a fake news source, you’re hurting your brand’s reputation. As someone who has been in the marketing world for a number of years, I may see through these fake stories, while many others may not and that is concerning. In 2017, audiences need to learn how to be more media literate and dismiss fake news stories instead of sharing them with a larger audience.

You get what you pay for. As a marketer, I am constantly writing. It takes time and effort to communicate a message on behalf of my clients, and I often speak to them about what their opinions are on topics I would like to write about. That’s why I was surprised to hear that this year, there has been an increase in public interest for websites that promote pre-written, paid content. On these sites, you can plug in some information you would like to write about, and then it will be outsourced to a writer from anywhere in the world to write about this topic.

From a marketing perspective, I need to know my client before I can write for them. I find out who their target audience is, and how this message should be communicated. While these paid-for content websites may be a cheap alternative to authentic content creation, it’s no substitute for quality written work.

After this hectic year, I am interested to see what’s coming next in 2017. Will VR make its mark in the marketing world? Will Twitter still be as popular a platform after the buzz of the election dies down? I’m looking forward to seeing what surprises the New Year brings into the marketing world, and I hope you are too.

Knowing Your Customers: A Market Research Case Study

 Several organizations I have worked with over the years claim to know their clients inside and out, but is that really the case?

Many of them often tell me they know how their clients perceive them because they explicitly ask for their opinion. However, I would argue that much like we rarely tell the waiter/waitress that we don’t like our meals, our clients are unlikely to tell us the truth unless there is a real issue. However, if third-party sources ask the same question to your clients, your clients are more likely to tell the truth. This fact alone is why unbiased market research is a crucial step in any marketing strategy.

In this blog, I’d like to share with you a case study that perfectly illustrates the importance of market research and how it helped them better define who they are to their customers.

Overview

Our client, a mid-sized educational toy distributor in Toronto, wanted to conduct research to identify their customers, the views they have of their brand, and the values they tie to the brand and its products. Specifically, they wanted to determine if there was a difference in buying behaviours between the company’s two key markets, establish any product leakage, and validate their brand recognition in the marketplace.

 Conducting the Research

Based on the client’s goals for this research project, we determined both qualitative and quantitative research was needed in order to receive the answers we were looking for.

First, we started by conducting preliminary qualitative research. Qualitative Research is the process of talking to someone through open-ended questions about a particular subject to gain insights into their thoughts and opinions. This can be done through a conversation, phone call, or focus group.

To complete this research, we conducted eight discussion guide-driven phone calls with a targeted cross-section of buyers within our client’s target audience.

With the results of the pre-field research, we crafted a highly customized survey that allowed for each audience to only see questions specifically directed at them. We further segmented the questionnaire by programming it based on the role of the individual by type of organization and then by responsibility. This type of research, called Quantitative Research, allows us to track data with closed-ended questions and more numerical information.

Findings

After analyzing the gathered information, we were able to provide our client with an in-depth analysis of their customers. The key findings indicated that their customers with the most purchasing power in their target audience reported the least amount of brand exposure. It also clearly identified that their brand was very well known in one of their key target markets and less known in the other, and lastly, their catalogue is highly utilized and highly regarded. 

Next Steps

Once the deeper analysis was complete and revealed more about their customers’ buying behaviours, preferences for price vs. product quality, and delivery times, our client was able to develop a marketing strategy for 2017 that was truly in line with their customers’ needs and wants.

Market research is a crucial step in your marketing strategy. It provides you with insights you would not be able to get by just asking your customers yourself. Market research helps you get to know your customers better, and what is more valuable than that?

Rethinking Your Brand: When Your Audience Doesn’t Like Your Brand

Last week, Canadians were glued to televisions across the country as they watched The Toronto Blue Jays take on the Cleveland Indians in what became their final playoff game of the season. As exciting as that was for us Canadians, a separate story was emerging, focused on something other than the sport itself, specifically the name “Cleveland Indians”.

This team’s name has been involved in controversy for many years, but this year in particular it all came to a head. The term “Indian” is a derogatory term that just isn’t used anymore, as it is very insulting to our First Nations people. The Canadian public was so offended by the team’s brand that even an activist filed a request to ban the team from using their name and logo in the remaining games on the grounds of racial discrimination.

I draw your attention to this issue because as a marketer, it highlights the importance of a brand. The Cleveland Indians’ brand is obviously alienating people, and as public opinion influences buying decisions, this in turn affects the baseball team’s bottom line.

While this is an extreme case, the concept of rebranding to adjust to social values isn’t unheard of. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken rebranded to KFC in 1991 as health concerns around fried foods as well as rumours of genetically modified chicken were growing. By taking the words chicken and fried out of the brand name, it allowed them to distance themselves from these unpopular public opinions, diversify their product offerings and thereby strengthen their relationship with existing customers ad appeal to a new ones.

If your audience is weighing in on your brand, and it’s creating a negative buzz about your brand as it is with the Cleveland Indians, then it’s time to revaluate your brand strategy. The first step in doing this is conducting market research.

While your brand might not be offensive or politically incorrect, make sure it reflects the values your customers expect to see from your product or service. For example, if you’ve always been known as the leader of a certain product, check to see if your competitors have met your match, or if your loyal customers value the fact that you are a leader.

Hire a marketing agency familiar with your brand, or work with a research firm to conduct market research on your customers and find out more about what they value, why they choose you, and what your brand means to them. Getting feedback directly from your audience will allow you to not only identify who your audience is, but also the types of messaging and values that have meaning to them.

Your brand must be aligned with your organization’s mission, vision and values, so conducting research with your customers to help with your audiences will allow you to create a brand identity that will benefit both parties.

Your brand is your promise to your customer. It represents your organization’s values and sets you apart from your competition. It is who you are. Rebranding your company to align better to the values of your customers is a big first step to improving the connection and relationship you have with your audience. And ultimately, don’t we all want loyal customers who value what we do?

Marketing Needs PR: Handling Crisis

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed more and more of a convergence between marketing and PR. The shift comes, I feel, as a result of the increasingly blurred lines between advertising and public relations as I mentioned in a previous blog, but also in part because marketing is so much more in the public eye than ever before as a result of personal brands.

As marketers today, it’s not uncommon for us to look at influencers, sponsor social content, and engage bloggers with opportunities to invest our marketing budgets. These approaches, one could argue, would typically have been part of a PR campaign, but with this paradigm shift many of us in marketing are taking note and making sure our marketing strategies include public relations.

The need for PR as part of your marketing can be highlighted in a situation of crisis. We see it almost daily: big brands make headlines after a bad social media post or a viral video, and because now bad social means bad PR and bad PR can mean a loss in customer and brand loyalty, these PR crises can become marketing nightmares.

As marketers, we need to have resources at hand to handle any scandal or branding nightmare. It’s important to have a plan in place should a crisis develop. In true PR fashion, but with a marketing twist, here are my tips for handling a branding crisis.

 Act quickly- but not recklessly

Once you’ve heard the bad news, it’s important to gather your team and address the situation. Find out what went wrong, and how you can fix it. If you speak first, you control the story, but it’s important that you have all the accurate information you need before you release any information to the public.

Take responsibility

While you might not feel like this was your fault, if your company was in any way responsible for this crisis, it’s important to take ownership. Shifting the blame around just makes consumers think you are dishonest and untrustworthy.

Create a solution

After you have received all the information needed and have accepted the fact that you need to apologize to the public for what has transpired, you need to come up with a solution. People want to know that you see where things went wrong, and you know how to fix it. After apologizing for your company’s wrongdoing, outline how you are going to ensure this never happens again. Once people know that you are fixing the problem, they will begin to move on.

 Rebuild

In the moment, it feels like this situation will completely ruin your business, but it’s important to remember that eventually, a new scandal comes along and people will forget about your organization’s indiscretion. In your effort to rebuild your brand, focus on creating positive buzz for your company, especially if it counteracts the original scandal.

I hope scandal never erupts in your business, but better to be prepared, which is why I advise clients to have a crisis PR plan in place as part of their marketing strategy. This will allow your business to act quickly and effectively, making sure your organization and brand comes out unscathed.

The Blurred Lines Between Advertising and Social Media

When Ronald Reagan’s Chesterfield cigarette ads premiered, did we really believe that he smoked a pack a day? Probably not, because we knew it was an advertisement. When we see pictures of Kylie Jenner posing with her FitTea on Instagram, do we think that she drinks it every morning to maintain a healthy weight? Maybe.

The introduction of social media has blurred the lines of advertising and real life significantly. Before we had Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, we were able to recognize advertisements easily. Now, it’s difficult to determine if our favourite celebrity really does like Coco White Teeth Whiteners, or if they’re being paid to say they do.

Influencers on social media have thousands of people following their every move, so it makes sense that companies would want them to advertise for them. The problem is, a lot of influencers are not informing their followers that they are being paid to post. As a result, Ad Standards Canada has revised its rules regarding advertising with blogs, celebrities, and social media influencers. Bloggers are now required to include statements in their posts that acknowledge they are working with a company to advertise a product, and social media influencers will be required to include hashtags like #sponsored or #ad to ensure the public knows they are being paid to post.

After working in the marketing and communications industry for over 20 years, I am able to spot an ad on my social media feed easily. Unfortunately, a lot of other Canadians are not as media literate and are therefore feeling tricked after they have purchased a product discretely advertised on social media.

One of the main functions of marketing is increasing brand loyalty. Customers are unlikely to purchase a product or stay interested in a brand when they find out they have been lied to. Customers look for authenticity in the brands they follow, so acknowledging that a celebrity is being paid to promote your company is just better business. While famous celebrities might not actually use your product in their everyday lives, if your overall marketing strategy is strong enough, people will want to buy your product.

If you or your organization is considering social media advertising with an influencer, make sure your customers know they are being marketed to. Having a celebrity face is a great way to increase interest in your product, but honesty is key to maintaining customer loyalty.

Spring Cleaning – Taking Stock Of Your Social Platforms

 

imgresSpring is a great time to take stock of your marketing efforts and with the social network world changing and evolving so quickly, this might be an ideal time to take stock of the channels you are currently on as well as consider some of the emerging channels being used by businesses today.

As marketers, we need to stay on the cutting edge of social offerings as this medium continues to influence buyers online.  Be mindful of the fact that some of the original platforms have changed since they were launched, and just because Facebook reached your clients 3 years ago, does not necessarily mean it reaches them today. I’ve outlined some top level information about the key platforms to help you evaluate whether these platforms still align with your marketing activities and better focus your social media efforts. 

Facebook

Originally developed in a college dorm room, Facebook was thought to be a social network for young adults to reconnect and keep up with friends by posting statuses, pictures and general life updates.

Currently, 87% of adults aged 18-29 use Facebook, while the next highest age range is 30-49 year olds, with 73%. The percentage of adult users decreases as their age increases. More and more businesses are using Facebook to promote their brand and have a presence on this site. The ability to provide reviews and feedback is crucial for businesses as it acts as an outlet for customer interaction. Some new Facebook features include live video and instant news articles. Facebook is still trying to improve with updated services.

Although Facebook originated from a personal sharing outlet, it has now evolved into a site for businesses and individuals. There are advertising opportunities, and even a source for breaking news.   

LinkedIn

Established as a business-focused social networking site whose main purpose is to allow professionals to network, LinkedIn has grown to be much more than that.

With the majority of users being between the age of 30-49, it serves as a professional social networking website, and is now the number one site for business development. The second largest group of users is 50-64 year olds. The target for LinkedIn is clearly a much older age range than Facebook. There are LinkedIn Groups, LI Pulse, (which is a daily news feed powered by the professional world) and it also has advertising and strong recruitment capabilities.

There are lead generation tools, advertising opportunities, and various other fee-for-service business opportunities worth investigating for your business development activities.

Twitter 

Today it was announced that posting pictures on twitter would no longer count as 25 characters like it did previously. This shows how social media platforms are constantly changing, as pictures have increasingly become more common on Twitter. Twitter is known as a micro-blogging platform. The majority of users are adults 18-29, with the second largest group being in the 30-49 age range.

As a more conversational and timely platform, Twitter requires a serious commitment to tweet at least twice a day, ideally more.  Businesses can get lost in Twitterverse or have very limited engagement without this type of commitment.  Remember to have social media protocol here because if a potential client tweets at you, you need to ensure you have the ability to respond instantly.

Instagram

Originally a personal image sharing platform, Instagram is evolving to cater more to business- driven objectives with Instagram ads and other features.  With over 150 million users, 90% of these users are under the age of 35, but the 30-49 demographic is starting to catch up. If your audience skews younger, and your product/service can best be displayed visually, then this might be the platform for your business.

Instagram, like Twitter, is an instantaneous feed that’s updated often, so you’ll need to be active on a regular and planned basis for your content to be noticed.

While the above social media platforms are considered the most popular, Snapchat and Pinterest are also frequently used social media platforms and continue to grow.

Evidently, each platform has a specific audience and purpose it serves. As it seems most platforms are gearing to suit business purposes, I advise you to consider all the platforms out there and make sure you know which one is right for your business.

Be mindful of evolving channels, changing demographics, and your customer needs, because as each social media channel evolves, so too must your marketing efforts.

Does My Business Really Need A Blog?

Blogging-for-Business-The-Ultimate-Guide The marketing industry kicked off 2016 by announcing it is the year of content marketing. One of the most valuable content marketing tools that businesses have to engage and connect with customers and share relevant information is a blog.

A blog is a key aspect of your content marketing efforts, offering fodder for your business’ social media and online content in the form of Facebook and LinkedIn posts, tweets and email newsletters. Not only do blogs fuel SEO, as search engines love valuable content and will reward you for it. According to a HubSpot survey, 82% of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog, as opposed to 57% of marketers who blog monthly.

In addition to marketing reasons, there are compelling ROI reasons for having a business blog, yet so many business owners are still reluctant to start a blog because the time commitment and level of writing expertise required. There is no doubt that blogs require an investment of time for planning and of course writing, but the benefits of blogging (creating content and sharing it online) far outweigh these downsides which is why you need a blog.

Here are the top 5 reasons why every business needs a blog:

  1. A blog creates a two-way conversation with customers, prospects and industry peers, positioning yourself as a subject area expert and thought leader, and encourages interaction, comments and feedback
  2. A blog builds confidence, relationships and sales. Customers will look to you as a reliable resource for information on your industry, then come to you to buy.
  3. Helps you stay ahead of the curve. You have to stay on top of news, trends and competitors to be a successful blogger. It helps you be a leader, not a follower.
  4. You can tell your brand’s story. It gives your company a voice. A blog is a great place to offer more insight into your company, philosophy, employees, and ideas. Tell your customers why you’re in business and how you can help them.
  1. Blog analytics allow you to track readers, click-throughs, popular topics, shares and comments. You can even tell what day of the week your visitors prefer to stop by.

If your business doesn’t have a blog, and as the CMO or CEO you don’t feel you have the time or skill-set to write one, consider hiring a marketing agency with a solid content development team. In addition to helping you create a content strategy, they can create a blogging schedule for you, write the blogs, categorize them for you, and also post them with appropriate visuals that are all in line with your brand and business direction.

Have you made blogging part of your content strategy? What are you looking to get out of your blog?

Do You Have A Blog Strategy?

shutterstock_86238016When quickly scrolling through my emails, I came across an email from a business offering blog writing services.

The email proceeds to detail how they are a large business with a wide range of expertise in blog writing. The company extolled the value they offer and the savings they can provide, at $10 a blog! WOW! I dig a little deeper to find spelling errors, inconsistencies and learn that the company is based in India.

Although it would be fabulous to have blogs written for $10, you do get what you pay for. My thoughts then turned to my clients – what if they received this email? Would they be tempted to hire this company because they are affordable or would they know that a blogger must know a lot more about a company in order to write a valuable blog?

Being a marketing expert, I believe you can still hire an ‘experienced’ blogger but before you do, you’ll need to give them a blogging strategy. A strategy is important because it sets the stage and provides purpose for the blog. Without this, how could a writer know their objective and their audience? Let me share with you some key questions that must be answered through a well-developed blogging strategy:

  • What is the company known for?
  • What’s the brand of the company?
  • What is the tone of the blog?
  • Who is the target audience that will be reading the blog?
  • How long will the blog be?
  • Will there be several contributors?
  • From what perspective is the blog written?
  • Does the blog endorse other brands?
  • Is this blog a working partnership with other writers?
  • Is this a conversational or formal blog?

The answers to all of these questions set the stage for a valuable blog. By following the criteria, you can ensure that the blog is positively reflecting and enhancing your brand. This is your business’ voice, so ensure that the messages will be properly conveyed by those that really know your company.

Have you used a discounted blog writer in the past? Did you feel that there was value for the price? Do you have a strategy for your blogging practices? I look forward to a lively discussion!