New year, new you!

Learn a new language. Take up juggling. Master a martial art. ’Tis the season for most of us to declare (and then quickly abandon) our New Year’s resolutions.

Just because most people neglect their resolutions before the bubbly is even warm, however, doesn’t mean marketers have to. In fact, we’ve got some 2016 resolutions for marketers that are simple, straightforward…and sustainable.

We’ve taken some of the most common resolutions people pledge at the beginning of each new year and given them a marketer’s twist. Each offers a way for brands to enhance, expand or energize their marketing efforts in some way.

Exercise. Successful exercise is built on habit, routine, calendar. Successful marketing is no different. If you don’t already, make a detailed marketing calendar part of your strategy for 2016. Map out and schedule your advertising, social media, media relations, product launches, trade shows, etc. Build a habit of mapping your marketing activity just as you’d schedule your exercise – to the point it becomes instinctive.

Make new friends. Customer base, Facebook likes, Twitter followers, sales prospects. You’ve worked hard to build your network of “friends” (your key constituencies, primary audiences, etc.). But, we can always have more friends. So how can we continue to grow our audience? What other ways can you continue to grow your email database, social followers and prospect pipeline? Email marketing, social contests, product promotions and giveaways are sure ways to help you make new friends.

Be more introspective. We’ve discussed the power a proper audit can have on your marketing efforts, and what better time to step back and engage in a little marketing introspection than the start of a new year? Spend a bit of time taking inventory of all your marketing presences, activities and efforts. What’s working? What’s not? What can we do differently to be more effective and efficient in 2016 and beyond? A little self-reflection and soul-searching – taking the form of a true marketing audit in this instance – can go a long way.

Learn a new language. In this case, the language of data! Resolve to do more with all the data you’re collecting and compiling all the time – from customers, from prospects, from your website, from email, from loyalty programs, etc. How can you become more fluent in the language of data so you can be more successful as a marketer?

This year, resolve to do more with your marketing! And unlike resolutions having to do with real exercise, actually stick to them. Your customers will thank you.


Push and pull

We talk a lot about social media, content strategy and digital marketing ‘round these parts. And for good reason, of course; an active and engaging social presence, backed by a high-quality website, provide your audience a high-profile destination befitting of a leading brand like yours. This very important aspect of your overall marketing shouldn’t exist in a vacuum, however. After all, what good is a great destination if no one knows it exists – or how to find it?

In the marketing world, we call it having a healthy balance of “push and pull“. The “pull” comes from your destinations – those platforms you manage (website, social channels, etc.) The “push” is how you proactively connect with your audience, promote your pull presence and, ultimately, drive them there.

It was this article, in fact, that got us thinking about push and pull – and about ensuring that “push” in particular is a key component of your overall marking effort. The important question, then: What are some ways we can push awareness of our social media and digital presence and pull them to it? Here are a few for you to consider:

  • Email marketing. An incredible, outstanding example of which you’re reading right now! Odds are, you have an impressive database of email addresses for current customers, prior customers, vendors, suppliers, etc. Email marketing – developing and delivering an informative/education email on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, etc.) – is a great way to both demonstrate your company’s industry expertise and to drive them toward your social/digital presence.
  • Email marketing. Wait, what? Didn’t we just cover this? We did, but there’s also an easier way to use email to drive awareness of your social and digital presence – include it in your email signature. While, at first thought, it may not have the same impact as the email marketing discussed above, consider the cumulative effect of everyone in your organization including links to your social presence in their email signatures – and then how many emails you send on a daily basis. That can drive a lot of awareness.
  • Everything else. Do a deep, comprehensive audit of all the many different touchpoints you have with your current and prospective customers – business cards, print ads, signage, product packaging, on-hold messaging, etc. How and where can you drive awareness of your social/digital presence on any or all of them simply by adding links and/or logos?

From your own email marketing strategy to simple email signatures, there are a number of effective ways you can drive awareness of your social presence to your key audiences and pull them in. All it takes is a little push to get started.


Chief Executive Cheerleader

Much is discussed about the importance of brands identifying and engaging with key influencers – the prominent customers and other leaders that stand tall in their respective industries – and turning them into social advocates on behalf of its products and services. And for good reason – their support lends an authenticity to your marketing that is hard to produce otherwise. We so often cast our gaze outward when identifying these influencers, however, that we sometimes forget the most powerful ones may be right in front of us.

Creating brand ambassadors and advocates out of our own employees offers significant upside for brands. After all, as this column recently reminded us, employees are a company’s most valuable and important asset. Beyond that, however, they are often regarded as its most trusted influencers.

At the same time, enabling employees to become brand advocates is not without its risks and potential pitfalls. To ensure employees are not just enabled but empowered to act as social advocates, marketers need to make sure employee advocates:

  • Know the rules. Establish an official social media policy for anyone and everyone who may represent the brand in any capacity via social media, and make sure everyone clearly understands it.
  • Know the story. It stands to reason that employee advocates should clearly know your brand’s voice and personality to ensure consistency of voice across all communications and touchpoints.
  • Know the game plan. Educate employee advocates on your marketing strategy – especially the role social plays in it – so they have objectives and goals in mind when developing content and engaging with audiences.
  • Are supported. Creating and/or curating high-quality content that reflects positively on your brand ensures employees are armed with the resources necessary to be consistent, compelling and sustainable in their activity.

The thought of ceding control to employee advocates can understandably make some marketers nervous. Done carefully and with proper planning and preparation, however, turning employees into social story-tellers can be a powerful, long-term marketing tool.

Can we be friends?

For companies of all sizes, a successful social media presence is predicated on understanding your audience. It’s not enough to understand your audience, however. You also have to grow it.

First, an IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE: Growing the number of likes or followers should not be a strategic objective in and of itself, of course. And when it comes to audience, quality is just as important as quantity.

That being said, you should should always think about growing your social audience on a consistent basis. The more people you engage with overall, it stands to reason, the more successful you’ll be at meeting your strategic objectives and growing the bottom line.

How, then, do you grow your audience? How can you effectively increase your likes, followers, reach and, most importantly, engagement? As this recent study shows, there are myriad ways for companies to increase audience. Below, we highlight some of the most effective ways, listed in order from easiest to, well, less easy.

  • Ask. Making sure your audience is aware of your social presence and then asking them to join you there can be surprisingly simple and effective! The real work is in identifying all the external touchpoints you have with customers – email signatures, product packaging, website, etc. – and then ensuring it’s easy to find and connect with you socially.
  • Entice. Running periodic product giveaways and prize promotions can also be an effective way to drive up the size of your audience in short order. It’s keeping them there after the promotion is over that becomes more difficult, yet so important.
  • Entertain. We’ve talked before about the value of humor in your social presence. Whether it’s sharing/repurposing widely popular themes or finding your own funny bone, humor is often the quickest way to an audience’s heart. This works for inspirational content as well.
  • Educate. Content is king for a reason – it may not be easy working your way up to the throne, but it sure is worth it. As the study mentioned above shows, nearly 80 percent of brands say producing useful content is the most effective way for them to attract customers to their social media presence.

The best approach to growing your audience, of course, is a healthy balance of all of the above, underscoring the importance of a living, breathing content strategy. Growing your audience is not the goal itself, but the process can certainly make you more effective in achieving your overall marketing goals.


Search mission

For marketers, Facebook does a lot of things well. One thing it doesn’t do well for anyone, however, is search. Using the search function to actually find anything of value on Facebook – especially anything outside one’s own network of friends, family and page likes – has long been an exercise in futility for most, if not all, users. All of this all should change for the better very soon, as Facebook recently announced some big updates to its search function – and they could be of great help to marketers on the site.

Here’s the most important feature of SearchFYI, as Facebook is calling its new and improved tool: now, search results include posts from the entire Facebook universe, which is more than two trillion posts to date. Users will now be able to see search results across the entirety of content on Facebook, making it more of a true, Google-like search engine within the platform’s walled-off world.

Will this be a good thing for marketers? Absolutely. How and why? Well, that remains to be seen, especially as SearchFYI is just getting up and running. Even if it’s real implications for marketers aren’t fully clear just yet, SearchFYI does offer some immediate opportunities and reminders:

  • Content is king (forever and always, amen). As if you needed another reminder. Knowing your Facebook content will now be viewable to all users should emphasize having a solid content strategy and ensuring your page content is relevant, valuable and targeted.
  • Conversations in the key of life. With access to the full Facebook universe, marketers should be able to get a fuller, more comprehensive picture of conversations taking place around the keywords and phrases important to them. This includes keywords for their own brand/products/services, of course, but can also also include keywords for competitors, industry topics, thought leaders, etc.
  • One big ol’ happy focus group. Opening up all of Facebook to search gives marketers access to an amazing amount of input, feedback, insights, complaints, etc., about their products, services and brand. It will be ongoing and in real-time, making it the best kind of focus group you could imagine.
  • Facebook is still really, really important. Well, duh. This seems obvious, but it reinforces Facebook as a core foundation of just about any social media strategy for marketers.

A stronger search function on Facebook will not only help marketers be more successful on the platform; if they utilize it correctly, it can also help them be more successful marketers all-around and across all touchpoints.


Just in time

Just in time

As you may have heard, the Pontiff is in town this week! Pope Francis’s historic visit to our fair little country has dominated local and national media coverage almost nonstop. In our fractured media landscape, such instances of a singularly dominant news event are increasingly rare – and even more rarely are they for “positive” news.

As such, the opportunity to connect themselves to such an event and position themselves brand in front of such a large and captive audience is obviously very enticing to a lot of brands. Just because you can do something, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

The rise of social media has fueled the increase of “real-time marketing” – the ability for brands to market in real-time based on popular and/or high-profile events. The big deal used to be – and still is, to some extent – who had the best Super Bowl commercial, for example; equally important nowadays is who has the best tweet based on actual events taking place during the game.

It’s an exciting proposition. Again, with our media landscape as fractured and decentralized as it is, it’s a big deal to be able to take advantage of so many people in the same “place” at the same time. A perfectly timed tweet or Facebook post can positively position your product in front of a massive, rapt audience.

As with anything, however, there are potential downfalls. Even with a captive audience, it can be hard to cut through the clutter. And you can come off as overly opportunistic or woefully out of touch if your product (or your brand) isn’t even remotely connected to the event or topic. Sometimes, it’s better to be quiet than to be obnoxious or tone-deaf. (We call this the “9/11 Rule.” It’s fairly self-explanatory.)

For some brands – like Fiat – it’s easier to capitalize on the Pope’s visit than it is for others. Like anything, successful real-time marketing requires a healthy combination of circumstance, observation and, most importantly, discretion. The event – and the opportunity it presents – needs to be more than just big. For your product and your brand, it needs to be right.

Don’t hate me, bro!

You may have heard the news this week that Facebook is getting ready to unveil a “dislike” button. While the majority of users gave the news a big thumbs up – people have been clamoring for a dislike button on Facebook for almost as long as Facebook has been around – brands were less enthused. Now they have to worry about a deluge of dislikes? Should they dislike the dislike button?

First and foremost: The dislike button isn’t really a dislike button. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained in announcing the feature, it’s more of an empathy/sympathy button. There are experiences/news/events people share on FB – the death of a loved one, loss of a job, injured child, etc. – where users want to commiserate, but the like button doesn’t seem appropriate. Now, users can share a frowny-face emoji or click a thumbs-down button, for example, for a “sad” post.

The ultimate goal, from Facebook’s perspective, is to give users more opportunities to interact with each other in more ways. Its goal is not to make it easier for users to trash or disparage brands – it’s those brands advertising on the site, after all, that keep FB in business. Does this mean brands shouldn’t be prepared for the button – should it come to full fruition – to be used in ways other than FB intends? Of course not. Conversely, does it mean brand pages will be overrun with dislikes on each post? Most likely not.

Remember: If someone wants to voice their displeasure with your brand, it’s already very easy for them to do so. They can leave a negative comment on any post. They can create a negative post on your page. They can publish a negative post on their own profile. They can like someone else’s negative comment or post. They’ve always had the means; this new feature – if it comes to be – would be just another way for them to voice criticism or complaint.

On the other hand, it can also be a way for brands to be more empathic, more personable, more human. It makes it easier to interact with their audience on a personal level, in turn strengthening their connection on an emotional level.

So is the dislike button adversarial Armageddon for brands? Almost certainly not. Is it something brands should be aware of and prepare for? It wouldn’t hurt. Can it be another opportunity to connect with your core audience in a meaningful way? Absolutely. And that, ultimately, deserves a big thumbs-up.

Burn it down

Social and digital marketing can often feel like a constant game of catch-up, especially if we feel like we “got in the game” late. We do something because we see competitors do it. We create presences on platforms because someone said we should, and we dive in and start posting without any sense of long-term strategy or overall objectives and goals.

We maintain what we do because the alternative – blowing the whole thing up and starting from scratch – is far too scary.

But should it be?

Sometimes, blowing your strategy up and starting from scratch is the best thing possible for brands. (This great piece got us thinking more about the topic.) To be sure, we’re not recommending you delete your brand profiles across the board. What can make a world of difference, however, is taking a step back and starting from the beginning when it comes to your strategy. Stop chasing content ideas. Stop making it up as you go. Stop keeping up with the Joneses. Instead, stop and start from scratch.

Your next question, most likely, is: what does that mean, exactly? It means taking a clean slate and rethinking everything about your social / digital presence and, most importantly, emerging with a true vision and long-term strategy.

To build out your strategy, be sure to address and answer the following issues:

  • Audience. Who are we talking to? Who else are we talking to?
  • Objectives. Why are we talking to them? What do we want to accomplish with our social / digital efforts? How will we define and determine success – or, conversely figure out what isn’t working and needs to adapt?
  • Lineup. Who’s the pilot and co-pilot of this ship? What non-marketing staff will be available as SMEs and resources?
  • Operations. What is the standard operating procedure for planning, producing and sharing content? How often do we want to post? Who owns the calendar and schedule?
  • Integration. How can we ensure our social / digital efforts are integrating with our overall marketing?

It may sound overwhelming at first, and it can require some heavy lifting at the outset, but reaching comprehensive, consensus answers to these questions lays the crucial foundation for true, long-term strategy. But done right, it can make your team and its output refreshingly efficient, effective and successful.

And it may seem like the only thing left behind when you blow up your current approach is a fair amount of scorched earth. Instead, what you’ll find is a blank canvas – ready for your strategic work of art.

Do you know your peeps?

For marketers, positive word of mouth + social media = BOOM GOES THE DYNAMITE. influencer_marketing

This equation should come as a surprise to just about no one these days, especially to those who work in marketing and brand management.

Most marketers get the social media part of that equation, too, as we continue to better understand and appreciate its power as a platform for communication and engagement. Where we still often find challenges, however, is on the “word of mouth” side, especially when it comes to identifying who the most important mouths belong to.

Any positive word of mouth is a net positive for brands, of course, but not all word-of-mouth is created equal. Where it can really pack a punch, and where it can scale through the reach of social media, is when it’s coming from not only your biggest fans but your most influential ones as well. Simply put, making a positive impression on influential people can make an exponentially positive impression on your brand – and your bottom line.

The studies underscoring this premise are numerous. A recent one, for example, found that 92 percent of consumers turn to people they know for referrals above any other source. Still, generating word of mouth in a strategic, systematic way can be a tricky concept for many brands to get their arms around. To help, the study identified two types of strategies marketers can use to bolster their brands via social:

  • Influencer marketing: Here, marketers seek out and partner with people who have large following on social media and whose interests/focus align with their products/services
  • Advocate marketing: Here, a company leverages the collective power of its most loyal consumers, its employees and other partners to drive a common narrative and positive perception of products and/or services

While there’s some overlap between these two, more important are the areas where they complement and strengthen one another. As the studies referenced above indicate – and as many studies before them have done as well – there’s nothing quite so powerful and potent for marketers as a growing, organic wave of positive perception via word of mouth.

Knowing the potential power of word of mouth backed by social media, the question becomes, do you know who your brand’s influencers and advocates are? If so, how do you engage them? And if not, how do you start finding out?

Who do you think you are?

Now, don’t take that the wrong way. We’re not asking this question in the sort of accusatory, defensive way we often associate with it. Just the opposite, actually. clarity_sm

We ask because it’s such an important question to begin with. We ask because we care. Perhaps the better question to ask – and answer – here is, “Do you think your customers know who you are?”

Social media is a powerful marketing tool for any number of reasons – not the least of which is that it provides a platform for your brand’s personality. This assumes, of course, that you know what your brand’s personality (or voice, as we can also call it) is. We’ve talked about the importance of developing personas for your customers before, and the exercise – and its importance – is no different when it comes to you.

Just ask yourself – “What is our brand voice?” What type of language and overall personality comes through in your Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, comments, replies, etc.? Is there consistency? Is there character?

If you’re like a lot of organizations, you may have a vague sense of what the answers to these questions are, but don’t have anything concrete and official in place. Or worse, your brand voice on social is that of whatever intern or first-year employee you have managing your social presence.

The easiest way to avoid this type of brand cognitive dissent/brand disconnect is also the most effective: Sit down and define it. Take 30 minutes and as comprehensively as possible, define what your brand voice is – or will be from that moment forward – throughout its social presence and all touchpoints. List out 3-5 personality traits (happy, friendly, helpful, etc.) you want to come through no matter where someone interacts with your social presence. And once you do commit it to memory and make sure everyone in a position to act as a representative of the brand on social is completely and clearly aware of it.

It’s important to understand your customer personas. It’s no less important and valuable to define and understand your brand’s persona. After all, it’s much easier for your audience to know who you are once you truly do.