The 3 Most Effective Content Marketing Principles

by Eric Tsai


It will be increasingly difficult to grab attention from anyone on the Internet or in person.

You may spend hours writing a great blog article, creating a high-value video or designing your marketing slicks only to find that people just aren’t interested in consuming them.

Why?

Because we’re being bombarded by messages, alerts, and feeds every second. We’re constantly distracted and interrupted when we invest our time on the Internet. As a result, our brain essentially reconfigures itself.

This is what Nicholas Carr, the author of the book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, found when he studies how the Internet influences the brain and its neural pathways.

Basically he discovered that the mental and social transformation created by our new electronic environment makes us shallower, unable to concentrate and strips our ability to do deep creative thinking.

Carr argues that,” We want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information… And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us, in ever more and different ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive. Tuning out is not an option many of us would consider.”

Simply put, greater access to knowledge is not the same as greater knowledge; and breadth of knowledge is not the same as depth of knowledge.

So how does this affect your marketing or how you produce content for your business?

The answer is simple. If you don’t produce content in the way that people want to consume them, you will not be read, remembered or passed on.

Most of us simply don’t read and retain what we consume over the Internet like how we do it with physical books.

In fact, I heard one of Carr’s recent interview as he described that most people read over the Internet in a “F” formation, scanning horizontally across at the top, then moves down the left and half way down scans again across.

It’s indicative that in the process of producing compelling content you take consideration in the following mistakes to avoid so you have attractive “looking” content in format, length and appeal.

1 Strong Opening That Gets Straight To The Point

Great copywriting is not different than great public speaking. You must instantly grab people’s attention in a thought provoking way without trying to be fancy.

This is why article/book titles, the first 10 seconds of you meeting someone are so critical to set the tone for your audience.

Your audience’s mind wants to see the payoff by giving you the attention and their emotions are driving the need for you to get to the point.

This is extremely important as we humans do a lot of consequential thinking to figure out why we’re investing our time in consuming information.

Most experienced professional coaches, consultants, marketers, gurus or trainers have a lot of knowledge, but they often forget that they are the expert and their audience are not!

That’s why it’s important to open with a great title or introduction that immediately gets to the point.

The wealth of information out there usually overwhelms normal people, so I recommend you to focus on emotional connections so you can meet them where they’re at and try not to use any of your professional jargon. It takes practice.

2 Use Emotional Keywords And Phrases

Give them what they want then facilitate what they need as the content unfolds. Leverage emotional keywords and phrases that automatically paints a specific picture and are easy to understand.

When you use complex, difficult to understand phrases, your audience has to do all the work to figure out what you mean and it interrupts the flow of consuming that piece of information.

Stay away from theoretical, conceptual, abstract and general terms in your communication. Focus on communication that brings concrete, emotional and specific outcomes.  This is because we’re wired to respond more with what Paul MacLean discovered as our reptilian brain or what some calls lizard brain.

MacLean’s evolutionary triune brain theory suggests that the human brain was made up of three brains: reptilian (self preservation), limbic (emotions) and neocortex (logic).

I won’t go into the details but basically the reptilian brain can hijack the higher levels whenever it wants to do so especially when there is a pain point or urgency to solve a problem.

It can be as simple as the “need to know” urgency where you seek immediate knowledge (we want to be in control, our logical ego) or looking for an answer.

People don’t go to seminars, watch videos or engage in a conversation with you for no reason; even entertainment and the need to connect or to be heard is something we unconsciously look for.

3 Leverage Powerful Stories That Creates Your Marketing And Conversation

Story develops relationships with people. In order to do that people have to like you, know you and trust you (and yes, you can do that over the Internet).

Just having social proof is not enough, just being a likeable person is not enough.

Both of those are great foundation to build your relationship on, but ultimately people are more likely to buy what you sell if they trust you.

And trust can be built via powerful stories that motivates and inspires people.

When developing your story think of your story as a movie.

There is an opening, a situational challenge and then it goes through a rollercoaster ride that eventually hits a turning point then finally ends.

So how do you position your story?

You need to start your story high where everything is normal then take your audience to a low point where they can relate and connect but don’t make people feel sorry for you.

And then through a turning point or a series of events you overcome the lows and that’s where you give your audience hope.

It is NOT about you but your audience. Don’t make it your life long story or biography; focus on a specific area of your story that allows people to quickly learn about who you are.

Your story is a way to show your humanity so people believe what you can do for them.

The take away: Content marketing is about creating information that are meaningful to your audience and engages them emotionally.

The real value is when you’re able to meet them where they’re at psychologically and make them highly motivated to take actions.

Whether it’s signing up for your newsletter, buy your product, get your coaching or read your book. In fact, it can also be used to get your internal team on board or management buy-in to your proposal.

Everyone is inundated with information, overwhelmed with daily tasks and if you can focus on the 3 principles above, your audience will be drawn to you more because you make it about them and easy for them.

How do you approach marketing your information, content or product? Share your thoughts below.

10 Reasons Why You Are Not Getting The Results You Want Out Of Your Marketing

by Eric Tsai

You spent countless hours crafting your marketing campaign investing money and hiring marketing experts to help guide you through the process. You get ready to push the launch button, waiting for emails and phone calls come pouring in, then…

Nothing happens. But what could go wrong?

You did the things that the marketing “experts” said you should do with your keywords, putting up blog articles day after day, uploading videos and sending out email newsletters.

Why?

Here are 10 reasons why you’re not getting the attention, buzz and most importantly – the sales conversion. Oh, and let’s assume you have an unbelievable product.

  1. Your marketing message is full of “I” and “me” instead of “you.”
  2. You didn’t communicate the “why” (from the “I” perspective)
  3. You didn’t communicate the “what” (again from the “I” perspective)
  4. You didn’t communicate the “how” (need I say more from which perspective?)
  5. You didn’t communicate the “what if” (as in what if “I” was to buy and use the product)
  6. Your marketing talks at people about your own expertise instead of showing them how your solution solves their problem.
  7. You make assumptions about your customers (because you already sold some products before or you just know because you’ve been doing it for 20 years, ok great continue to do that then) instead of focusing on fact gathering (read my last post on listening)
  8. You didn’t do enough testing on your products, services or marketing messages before you launch
  9. You use all your email and social media as a one way push advertising instead of two way conversation (to help you pre-test)
  10. You lack compassion and didn’t empathize with your prospects because you’re too focused on the bottom line – making money

The talk away: Don’t be all things to all people. You’ll have a better opportunity to convert sales (subscription, readership etc.) if you narrow down your target market because you’re a big fish in a small pond so just go after more small ponds! Don’t swim with the sharks in the big ocean because chances are, you’ll become their lunch.

Ask yourself if your marketing message is tangible, external, specific and measurable to your target prospect? And try NOT to use the word “I” or “me” in your message.

Here is one of my all time favorite (and world famous ad) created by the genius David Ogilvy. Notice how many “I” or “me” were used in this ad – none. Focus on the title and you’ll learn how this 1959 ad is still the foundation of today’s direct response marketing.

How To Get Inside the Minds Of Your Customers

by Eric Tsai


Over the past months I wrote about how to find your customers in order to improve your customer segmentation and gain better understanding of your niche market. Everything goes back to connecting with your audience so you can craft campaigns utilizing tactics such as email marketing, SEO and social media.

Then as more businesses learned the tools of the trade, I brought up the point of adding value on my last post because ultimately knowledge will be commoditized similar to most disruptive technologies.

The trick is maximizing the use of your knowledge (when it’s still valuable) to help you grow your business and become an authority in your domain expertise.

If there is one thing that technology won’t be able to replace (at least not easily) it would be the content of your communication.

Every business and individual are elevating the concept of the freemium model, publishing free valuable content on the social web, competing for clicks, eyeballs and engagement opportunities.

It’s what Seth Godin calls “permission marketing”, what Hubspot calls “inbound marketing” and what Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 calls “content marketing.”

However you like to label it, it’s basically creating content that communicates the value in which your target audience values then leveraging it as the bait to attract those in need of your solution (products or services).

This is a highly targeted approach like design thinking, social design and service design that truly serves up what’s going to solve a problem rather than just bunch of trivia concepts or random thoughts.

It’s also a validation on how your content is really worth on the internet where content is the new currency.

And to stay competitive and survive the ongoing challenges marketers and business owners are presently facing, they need to reassess the way they build and maintain relationships with customers.

A product or service is merely a means to an outcome. The real core value lies in the story attached and that is where marketing truly shines.

I don’t want to use a microwave – I want the ability to quickly eat hot food so I can get on with my life. I didn’t go to Home Depot to buy paint – I want a painted wall for my new living room.  I don’t want to use Google – I want answers to my questions now.

You see, you may be very good at what you do but your communication may not do you justice and as a result you end up with lame content that just sounds like everyone else.

And to make matters worse, if you don’t know how to market your content, your content will just sit on the web with little to no traffic.

Unfortunately this is not going to help you in translating how great your product is or how much value you can bring to the table.

In this article, I will explain what to listen for and how to take quantitative measures from listening so you can drill down to the minds of your customers. Then I will show you how to communicate effectively so your solution sounds exactly like what’s going to solve your prospects’ problem.

Step 1: Gather Information by Listening

Many people know the concept of listening and yet few are able to do it well (everyday I continue to practice listening). Listening is a form of information gathering which allows you to take in the data, process and abstract meaning out of the dialogue.

In a typical conversation people tend to wait for their turn to talk rather than actually absorbing the meaning of the words.

We all have some sort of attention deficit as the by product of all the distractions around us from cell phones to emails, from writing a blog article to meeting with your team, from preparing dinner to picking up your kids, we live in a fast pace society.

The trick is to unlearn your habits of making assumptions and let go of as much preconceived thoughts as possible and simply focus on what’s been said at the moment of the conversation.

Think of it as taking a training course and preparing your mind to get into the learning mode so you can pay 100% attention during the interaction.

Listen for key emotional phrases that are connected to a person’s problem. Typically it will sound like this: “my business is xxx” or “I want to xxx but xxx is xxx”, try to dig deeper and get the frustration and emotions out of the conversation.

This helps you to identity what that person values and where the connection points can be made. Take notes if you have to but avoid memorizing what you want to say (I know you want to help) because you will be interrupting the other person and stop listening altogether.

When you try to do anything but listen, you also break the flow of the other person’s thought and the energy of the dialogue making it harder to identify the key emotional points. Take notes and wait until the other person finishes.

Easy right? It takes practice.

Plus if you’re good at what you do, you should be able to provide instant feedback by looking at your notes.

Remember, people don’t care what you have to say unless you show how much you care about what they have to say and how they feel. Yes, how they feel is where the connection point can be made.

This is why great sales people always listen first and ask questions later allowing their prospects to fully emerge into an emotional output session.

This is a skill that takes practice so try it with your friends, colleagues or family as often as possible.

You may find that this will help you discover more about them and can also help them to understand you better. It all starts with listening.

Step 2: Pinpoint Signals Avoid The Noise

The key to forging a powerful connection with your audience is to first understand that people simply want to be heard and understood.

If you can describe your prospect or customer’s problem better than they can, they will automatically assume that you may have the solution to their problem (most of the time).

Even if you don’t have the exactly solution, it’s a great way to establish a common ground for the relationship you’re forging.

And why do we want to connect with others? It’s just how we build trust, the “wow, this person gets me…” or the “OMG, you know exactly what I’m going through!…” emotional connection.

Not everyone is good at communicating their problems, thus when someone perceives that you sound and looks like an expert, you may just become the expert that’s going to solve their problem (or maybe you are an expert? But are you just an expert in your own mind?).

Keep in mind that the focus is on validating your assumptions. Ask questions that helps to confirm their pain points, their vision of success or their desired outcome.

This requires a lot of critical thinking and again do not formulate conclusions from your assumptions unless you have enough information. Otherwise go back to step 1 and ask more open-ended questions so you can listen again.

This of course, applies to all form of conversations including blogging, social media and email exchanges.

The idea is to abstract the emotional triggers from the depth and tonality of the conversation so you can fully understand the opportunities to build meaningful connects.

If you ask the wrong questions, it just shows you don’t get it and you’re eager to sell yourself, your story and your products. You will get your turn but you must be able to distinguish the signals from the noises.

At this stage, you should still be more reactive allowing your customer to freely express themselves.

The most valuable information are those that are freely expressed without boundaries from your prospects. This is also the core value of surveying your customers so you can apply what you’ve learned to improve your product and services.

Step 3: Build Connections That Create Convictions

Once you’ve got solid understanding of the problems your customers want to solve, you then must learn to get into the minds of your prospects so you can turn them into customers.

This is the “I heard, I know, I understand, I believe and I do,” steps that lead to actions through the use communication.

Most people are good at passing through “I know and I understand” stage, but it’s the “I believe” stage that communication often fails to connect resulting in no action. You buy a product or change an unhealthy habit because you would only take the action after you become convinced of your decision.

Most people don’t realize that a desired action is often brought out through the use of specific communications tools from advertising to word-of-mouth testimonial, or via social proof endorsements. Simply put, people don’t just do what we want them to do because we want them to do it; they need to convince themselves first by having the right information.

And how do they know that it’s right for them? Well it’s by moving through each of these communications steps that people will take action.

So if the “I heard” part doesn’t resonate, it won’t move into the next step and in most cases it’s your professional jargon or the inability to identify what it is that your customer really values.

So your job as someone with the solution should be to help by facilitating them through that discovery process and not forcing your ideas upon them.

Again, it’s not trying to convince them, but helping them to convince themselves.

A great marketer knows how to unleash the power of communications and seeks to understand their target market needs, perceptions and how they like to receive information.

Is it how expensive (monetary value) your products are? Or how much time you’ve invested creating your solution? Perhaps it’s the work and labor you’ve put into your services.

Whatever it is, they must do the job of translating why they should take action to contact your or buy your product.

Step 4: Convert The Sale With Meaningful Communication

Once your prospect is convinced of their decision, there usually is no turning back as the human brain will attempt to rationalize that decision from the emotions of wanting to feel good about moving forward and the urgent need to solve their problem.

It’s indicative that most “modern” businesses realize that customers respond more to an emotional connection, thus it’s not about selling but educating.

And educating requires providing how you are going to make their lives easier from a more personal perspective.

This is the part where traditional business owners have a hard time letting go of what they perceive as high value in their knowledge.

It’s true that giving away your knowledge can feel like doing something for free that you usually get paid for, the key is figuring out where to draw the “free line.”

However; I’ve found in many instances, people simply won’t do it even if you provide detail step-by-steps.

For example, recently I wrote a detailed article on “how to use Goolge and Twitter to find your customers,” and have received many emails from people telling me that I’m stupid for giving out such high value content.

As a result not only have I gotten more leads and referrals but I was able to sign up clients while using it to make a case for content marketing, sort of proofing that this stuff works!

You must be able to paint the picture and hit home with what your solution looks like to your prospects, communicate the results they will achieve and the steps they will need to take in order to achieve those results.

Sounds simple but all too often I came across marketing messages full of features and benefits (especially for technology companies or specialty industries) that typically starts with “our innovative products are designed for xxxx,” “our company has xxxx technology that’s xxxx” or the ever popular “xyz company is the leader in xxxx and have xx years of experience…”

So what does it all sound like to the prospect?

It’s all about YOU, not them and that’s not going to take you far.

Businesses are quick to tell people what they have but forget that their prospects are in different stage of the buying cycle. It’s important to speak the language that they understand and values which is why you need to focus on their needs.

So what if you’re an innovative company or a leader in your space? Who isn’t innovative and a leader in their space these days?

The Take Away: The meaning of your communication is the response you get from your audience. If you don’t like the responses you get, you’re not doing a good job of translating your value.

If you can do step 1-3 well, you should have good amount of data to start writing great sales copies and headlines that gets inside the heads of your customers.

And by using what Robert Cialdini’s six “weapons of influence” (reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity), you will end up with powerful communications that gets you phone calls and inbound traffics.

The worse that can happen is you actually don’t have a solution but you marketed as a solution, or your product sucks and it doesn’t solve any problem. In that case great marketing can only help you fish for a day because the fish will learn that your bait isn’t a real one.

What do you think? Are you communicating the right way?

Leave me a comment below or share your most effective marketing copy.

What Is Adding Value And How It Applies To Social Networking

by Eric Tsai

As a social media advocate I often discuss adding value to the conversations, to the communities or to the relationships. I guess I assumed everyone already knew what the term means and how it applies to them until I started to get questions from people.

So what exactly is adding value and how? Is it just an over-used marketing jargon? An illusion of a feel-good emotion? The more I use the term “value” the more I feel like it’s loosing its soul (I’m guilty as charge at times).

One of my favorite artists, the awesome Hugh MacLeod had a great piece about Adding Value with the quote, “The aim of “adding value” is a hard one to argue with… who doesn’t want to add value to their current enterprise? But it’s also utterly meaningless…”

Well, obviously there are many ways to look at it but here is how I perceive the meaning of adding value.

Let’s face it, most businesses wants to add value to the bottom line which means making sales and growing profits.

In sales, adding value used to mean networking in the best interest of your company or your career which is to sell, sell, sell!

Today it means helping people to make informed decisions, finding out their needs first and showing an interest to solve their problems not yours. The one way sales pitch broadcasting simply becomes part of the meaningless noise in a sea of noises.

The Meaning of Knowledge

In sales, either the product sells itself (more of an affirmation and emotional validation) or it’s selling via education (information and data).

A Porsche salesman don’t sell the 911 Turbo, they sell the experience of buying a Porsche (great products drives emotions). On the other hand, a Honda salesman sells the features and benefits against competitors like Toyota and Nissan (value proposition, more needs than wants).

In both scenarios, the goal is to ensure that the person feels good about the decisions that they’ve made (or going to make) on the purchase which leads to trust building. And trust is built on relationships from knowledge and actions.

The more knowledge you have, the less fear you have, the less stress you feel and the better you feel about your decision making process.

You could think of having knowledge as freedom from limitations and having information is empowerment. The ability to make your own decision is valuable because who wants to be pressured into buying?

Emotion Trumps Logic

Now you know the importance of adding value through knowledge transfer, you then need to know how to take actions with your knowledge.

Besides physically helping someone, the action part comes down to communication. And because emotions are the essence of the communication, marketers need to focus on the emotional needs of the customers at the time when feelings are vivid. This mean to empathize with your customers and truly focus on how to make their lives better.

You can not make people’s lives better if you don’t understand their lives.

When you solve someone’s problem, they’ll usually remember it not because of the facts but because of how they felt when it was happening. Simply put, memory is tied to emotions and emotions are more real than thoughts.

Now apply that to marketing and you’ll realize that providing useful and meaningful information does exactly that – it makes people remember you if you satisfy their needs by providing value!

This is why the increasingly Social Web is a great place to find those that are in need of knowledge (also why information product sells). When you need an answer, you want it now, you Google it (you can Yahoo or Bing it too of course).

The online conversation across all social networks are as authentic as it gets, besides the offline in-person engagements, because it’s taking place when people are still feeling the emotions dealing with their problems – what is, how-to, why is, who can…you get the point.

The rest of it is about the context of adding value, at the right place at the right time.

The optimal time to email your subscribers, the suitable LinkedIn group to contribute knowledge or the people you engage on Twitter – they’re all channels to add your value to the conversation within the communities to forge solid relationships.

Motives and Actions

The last point in adding value is the motives behind such actions. Why are you doing this? Why are businesses embracing the freemium model?

Most of the time the objective is to create brand awareness, build credibility and what I keep pounding the table on: to create social proof around the topics of health, wealth and relationships.

However; there is always a trade-off, you get free Gmail with all the awesome features of other Google Apps because Google advertises around your inbox.The same applies to most of the social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. You’re exchanging personal information to use their products.

My take is that if you’re honest about your intentions and focus on serving only those that matters to your business, you will attract the customers you want.

Like what Seth Godin wrote in his book Purple Cow, “the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Well, he’s right, everyone is NOT your customers.

And the science behind motivation isn’t as clear cut as features and benefits or even monetary rewards. Checkout this video by RSA animation adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA on “The surprising truth about what motivates us.”

The take away: Identify your customer’s problem is where adding value starts. And listening when they talk is your opportunity to fill the value gaps.

Think of it as facilitating the process of buying on their terms not yours. You have to create the right environment that entices people, and if you do it well, then they will show up and join the party.

It is only by adding value you will be remembered, reciprocated and passed on (via word-of-mouth).

There are simply too much information and too little time. Marketing messages are everywhere and people have developed ad blindness, seeing doesn’t mean retaining.

Are you adding value?

How to Integrate Email Marketing, SEO and Social Media

by Eric Tsai

Social media is changing how businesses find customers and how customers engage with brands. There are many reasons to believe that it will eventually overtake email marketing, but I’m a firm believer that it’s here to stay.

In fact, I believe email marketing combine with search (SEO) and social media will the best strategy moving forward.

However; let me get a few things straight. First, email is the original social network. Second, you need email to open social network account and get alerts.

And third, search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) will continue to index and aggregate social network data not to mention most social network has their own internal search engine as well.

It sounds like there is a lot of cross-over between the three, so how should you use these three tactics to help you strategize your marketing efforts?

It’s hard to realize how these tactics can impact your business without some basic understanding of the big three. Let’s look at how each works and what you can do to get the most bang for your marketing bucks.

The Big Three #1 – Email Marketing

Why email – Today it’s hard to find someone without an email account and majority of account holders have had it for a while (I still check my hotmail from 14 years ago) thus letting it go is not likely for most.

Account holders may reduce the time they spent on email but it doesn’t have the abandon rate (Facebook, Twitter) like majority of the social networks.

Almost all basic business communications are done via email not via social networks.  The perception is that it’s more secure, private and user friendly (centralized contacts, integrates with calendar, easily accessible via mobile devices).

Simply put, people will use what’s easy to achieve the same goal – to get work done and to communicate.

Another benefit of email is that it’s a direct private channel of communication to alert customers on new product offerings or promotions. At the same time, customers can use e-mail to provide feedback and ask questions.

Done right, you will be kept away from the spam folder and earn a permanent spot on the white list.

This is why great email marketers tend to focus on delivering high value content at the right time, with the proper frequency using attractive subjective lines that encourage clicks and forwards.

Building your email list should still be all marketers’ top priority. Give people a reason to subscribe and to remain subscribed is the ongoing art and science of email marketing.

The Big Three #2 – Search Engine Marketing

Why SEO – This one should be a no brainer. What is the first thing you do when you’re looking to buy a product? If you do your homework you would first Google it.

This applies to almost anybody looking to learn more about a company, a product or how to do something.

Often times, people don’t even question the search results because it’s just easier to trust Google’s rankings and feel good about the decisions you’ve made based on what was found.

It’s no surprise that 79% of United States hiring managers and job recruiters search online information about job applicants according to a recent research commissioned by Microsoft.

This is why smart businesses (and individuals) are putting more emphasis on content marketing and shifting their mindset to operate more like a media company.

They understand search engine is catered to “people” and people want relevant, valuable content that’s going to move them a step closer to identify the information they’re searching for.

The key is to create great content around what your customers are interested in when looking for your product; such as how things work (the outcome of your product or services), step-by-step guides or research reports that reveals product comparisons.

Then tie these high quality content with relevant keywords and over time you’ll likely to move higher through the non-paid “organic” rankings. And today you can SEO anything from websites, blog posts, videos, images, podcasts you name it.

SEO is one of the key marketing arsenals especially for retailers, direct marketers and authors.

The latest Internet Retailer Survey (some sample data below) clearly shows a growing interest and investment in search to drive more online sales. It’s not a matter of why, but how.

There is simply too much information and too little time. Search engine is our instant gratification to today’s ADD (Attention-Deficit Disorder) society.

The Big Three #3 – Social Media

Why Social – If search engine is a way for people to find information, then social media is a way for people to find conversations and be part of them.

It adds the credibility fuel to the fire of trust since social media is basically word-of-mouth. Instead of just believing in what you read from company websites or reviews you found online, you can talk to people you trust or listen to experts you follow.

Similar to search, you can get people to your site with social media, and it’s a great tool to tell customer stories, demonstrate expertise, and stack up your social proof to win business from competitors.

The goal is to connect with customers on an ongoing basis to further understand their needs, wants and concerns.

This will help you to build strong, lasting and engaging relationships with your customers for future business as well as referral opportunities by getting people to share your products on social networks to bring in traffic and find new customers.

And since social media is word-of-mouth, it’s your brand’s reputation on the line. Your digital reputation is your first impression and perception is reality.

How The Big Three Can Work Together

Although you can choose to only do one or two of the three, but to get the most out of your marketing investments, you should consider doing all three.

Here are a few ideas to consider on how to leverage the big three:

1) Create Once, Recycle Many– Focus on content not just promotions and sales, it’s about facilitating people through the sales cycle.  People usually don’t buy base on just one piece of data think of it as adding “trust points” to people’s decision to buy.

If prospects consumed a great piece of educational content on your landing page, that’s one point.  If they read some great reviews about your product from a third party site, that’s another point.

If there is more positive comments than negative ones about your brand in social networks, that’s another point.

The goal is to accumulate enough trust so prospects feel good about why they’ve made the decision over you than others.

You want to invest your time and money on creating the best blog content, how-to articles, educational videos, whitepapers or anything that will get your audience to bookmark, download and share.

Then make sure you optimize the content for search engine with the proper keywords and deliver them to the right people in your target channel via email and social networks.

For example let’s say you have a really good article on how to do something (try not to involve your product first, focus on solving the problem then introduce your product later when appropriate), you can package it in a downloadable PDF put it on a landing page that’s highly optimize for SEO.

Then abstract the summary from the content for your email newsletter so you can send your subscribers to that very same landing page, a typical web marketing campaign.

But let’s take it a step further by turning that piece of content into a video (using screen capture tools like Camtasia, or with a webcam or FlipVideo) and upload it to YouTube, Ustream or Vimeo to drive traffic back to your landing page.

Then post the video on your blog, tweet it out via Twitter, send it to relevant groups on LinkedIn or submitted to social network sites like Technorati, Digg, Reddit or StumbleUpon. Continue to produce great content and after 3-6 month you can recycle that piece of content with some updates and do it again.

2) Streamline with Process – Think about how your customers consume information and respond to connections.

It’s NOT jamming the information down their throat like traditional one-way push advertising but allowing them to discover and get permission to establish a relationship.

Talk to your customers, ask them what they read, who influence them and why? Understand what they don’t care about (don’t be surprise if it’s a lot of what you do) is just as important as what they care (a lot of what you should know).

If you make the wrong assumption it will bring you the false conclusion which will impact on how you strategize your campaign.

For example if you know your customer reads certain blogs regularly, should you advertise on their site or is it better to build a relationship with the blogger?

Once you’ve made your decision, focus on identifying the path to your web properties.

Take out a piece of paper and map out that path and create a process to streamline every possible step that your customer may take so you can funnel them via your sales pipeline.

Remember, not everyone consumes media the same way, some people like to read while others prefer to watch videos or listen to a podcast.

It’s important to have as many media options as possible available to maximize engagement opportunities.

3) Target, Track and Repeat – Without the right data you won’t know where to focus your marketing efforts and no accountability in your actions.

What happens after your prospect conducts a search?

What actions were taken after consuming your content?

Was it shared on Facebook or forwarded to a colleague?

The biggest benefit from tracking your email, search and social media analytics is that you will be able to tie them all together and figure out your ROI.

You’ll know where your site visitors are coming from, which email links they clicked on and what gets shared so you can make adjustments to improve conversion rates.

Why continue to do something that doesn’t work?

You need to know so you can keep doing what works and stop doing what doesn’t. Perhaps Facebook is not the best social network to target your audience or is it because your marketing messages aren’t resonating with them?

Marketers must aggregate customer behavior information to build a holistic view of the customer.

This means analyzing quantitative data to measure and monitor customer-related metrics such as customer attrition rate, customer retention rate, number of products purchased, repeat purchases, likelihood to recommend, etc.

When you have the right customer insights, you’re in a position to address customer needs, improve processes (to shorten the sales cycle), and to maintain a strong connection for an opportunity to turn customers into fans and fans to brand evangelists.

Do Your Homework, Fish Where Fish Are

Before you start, you should learn where your customers are at, the tools they use and why.  This allows you to make better informed decisions and build a framework for your assumptions before you jump in. You can find some valuable research data from the internet and here are two examples I’ve found.

First is the Morgan Stanley Internet Trends Analysis, which has a lot of in-depth information about all things internet, mobile, cloud computing, email, social networks and more. (Check out slide 12 on social networking vs email usage).

Morgan Stanley Internet Trends Analysis

The second report is from Edison Research on “Everything You Need To Know About Who’s Using Twitter.” I found it particularly interesting that people actually go to Twitter to learn about products, far more than they do with other social networks. (51% of active Twitter users follow companies, brands or products on social networks)


Twitter Usage in America 2010

The take away: Email marketing, search engine optimization and social media are all great, but it takes a combination of know-how and creativity to get people just to open your e-mail, to click on your search results or to retweet your messages.

Business owners and marketers need to have some technical knowledge of what methods produce positive results.

Your goal should be to have a mix and balance of the big three utilizing content strategy that is useful and easy to share.

Think like a publisher, not only do you have to figure out ways to engage your subscribers (and to remain subscribed) but also prospects, people on the fence and try to sway influencers your way.

Yes, it’s time consuming like what Jay Baer mentioned recently but think of it as investing in your customers, you get what you put in.  It’s easy to setup your email newsletter, social network accounts and have SEO gurus optimizing your site, those are executions of tactics NOT strategy.

First, learn before you start, listen before you talk and research before you decide.

You’re better off investing your marketing dollars to build your own targeted database (and customer segmentation!) with accurate information.

Questions on email marketing, search engine optimization or social media? Subscribe to my newsletter and get more tips on the full potential of integrated digital marketing.

How to Find Customers Online Using Google and Twitter

by Eric Tsai

The three most important elements when starting out with marketing on the internet is to 1) define success and 2) know your target audience 3) listen to your customers.

Once you form a foundation for your web strategy, the execution becomes easy. The goal is to constantly test and use different campaigns from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to email marketing in an attempt to achieve business objectives.

I often hear business owners talk about wanting to increase sales and generate leads but fail to define what success look like to them. In order to define success, you must first realize your current state of business from an analytical and financial perspective.

Do you have any existing data to help you take the pulse of the business? What kind of financial (Return on Investment or ROI) and non-financial (business impact) objectives and metrics are available?

Without real knowledge of your true costs, you run into a potential misconception of what your real ROI is.

Understand that ROI includes not just how much you pay for web hosting or your overheads, but also other costs associated with running the entire campaign such as, cost of time working on the campaign (broken down into average hourly wages), amount of labor burden costs (cost consisting of all indirect labor costs incidental to operations), SEO costs (monthly or accordance with your budget), email marketing costs, technology infrastructure costs etc.

Understand Your Costs and Metric

Once you have a true total cost of you running the campaign, you can run those numbers against your traffic and sales conversion rates to identify your ROI.  Here is an example of how you can create a simple metric chart:

sample social media metric

Assuming I get those numbers, with a quick glance the data shows that by spending 3 times amount of money on this campaign, the result returns 8 times more sales with the cost per sale reduced by more than half. This is a high level overview to help you define your goals for each metrics. Again, watching your real cost of the campaign will bring clarity to your true profitability.

Using Google and Twitter to Identify Your Customers Online

Once you define your goals and know what success looks like, the next step is defining your customer profiles then search for them online.

For starters, you should at least know the age demographic, income level or occupation. After you know who your typical customer looks like, you need to find where they are online and what they’re talking about to get a step closer to engage them.

This is where you should be looking at using some free online tools to help you gather useful data.

Let’s look at using a combination of Google and Twitter to find your customers. As an example, I’m going to assume that you own a local retail apparel store and you want to drive traffic to your store.

First you should come up with a list of keywords that people are searching on Google.  The simple and fast way to do it is to use Google Keyword Tool and Google Insights for Search.

Google Keyword Tool

Google offers the keyword tool so you can search and find what popular keywords people are searching around your products or services.  I’ve used the keyword “evening wear” and as you can see, it returned all relevant keywords and the volume of searches for the past 12 months.

Feel free to make adjustments to show the data in different ways (I’ve sorted the list by Local search volume) and how much people are paying for those keywords.

Google KeyWorld Tool

There is no doubt that “evening wear” is the most popular keyword locally. This indicates that most people simply put in the keyword “evening wear” so if you want to target a narrower range like “evening wear tops” you will have less competition for the same keyword.

Click on Add and you can create your list (will be displayed on the right) and when you’re done adding, you can export the entire list in text or excel format.

Google Insights for Search

Once you have a basic list of keywords, head over to Google Insights for Search to compare search volume patterns across specific regions, categories, time frames and properties.

Now you can take popular keywords you’ve found and insert them into the search term area, and you’ll find more information about your keywords.

Unquestionably the keyword “dress” out paced all other keywords I’ve insert (evening wear, women’s shoes, handbags).

And you’ll also find that New York is the place where people search most for dresses.

Google Insights for Search

Play around with the different settings and you can also export the results in excel format.

Google Wonder Wheel

The Google Wonder Wheel was introduced to simplify and arrange search results. It’s basically a pre-defined mind mapper which helps the user get all the related search results in a wheel shaped like display.

Simply go to Google.com and input your search term, click on the “show options” link and find the “Wonder Wheel” link on the bottom left to get your search terms mind-mapped.

Google Wonder Wheel

Google Wonder Wheel

Once you get to the Wonder wheel, you can explore around the related keywords and it’ll expand into another wheel.

Google Wonder Wheel

I went ahead and clicked on the “discount evening wear” and the most popular and relevant keywords associated with discount evening wear shows up.

This is another great way to narrow your search term down to what your customers may be looking for in order to personalize the message.

Google Wonder Wheel

So if I’m running a promotional campaign or sending out newsletters, I could use content such as:

“Discount designer evening gowns perfect for cocktail parties or formal events!”

Or combine with my findings from Google Insights,

“A night out in New York? Checkout our discounted cocktail dresses from BCBG! Available in plus size directly from Macy’s.”

Combining Google with Twitter

Since Google have no problem indexing Twitter’s data, you can now use Twitter’s search engine to find you target customers using keywords as well as conversational phrases.

First go to search.twitter.com and click on advanced search and start looking for conversations phrases around what people would say when they’re looking for clothing.

The example below shows a search for people saying “what should I wear” within 100 miles of Los Angeles, CA.

You can also leave it blank for broad search to view everything around the world, perhaps you have an online store so tracking both local, geo-targeted search and broad search make sense.

Twitter Search

As you can see, the search result would return a stream of conversations with people saying “what should I wear.” You can take a moment to scan over the conversation, perhaps follow those individuals, checkout their profile and “listen” in on their dialogues.

However, you don’t want to spend all day reading people’s conversations, and searching for the same phrases every time.  This is where Google Reader comes in handy. Google Reader is a great tool to aggregate all your RSS feeds into one place and it also has some analytical capabilities.

On your Twitter search results page, find the RSS feed icon on the top right hand corner, right click on it and copy the link address of the feed.

Twitter Search

Then open your Google Reader and click on “Add a subscriber” and paste the link into your Google Reader to start building a collection of feeds around your target search phrases.

Google Reader

Once you’ve added the feed into your Google Reader, wait for a couple of days for the data to aggregate before you can start analyzing it (ideally you want to have at least 30 days).

You can start checking the data by clicking on “show detail” on the top right hand corner.

Google Reader

You’ll see data for the last 30 days, time of day and day of the week.  Depending on how you look at it, you can see which day of the month people start talking about your search term.

Maybe it’s the end of the month, everyone got paid so a discussion about shopping starts; or perhaps everyone goes out on Thursday evening in LA so on Wednesday people are talking about what to wear for Thursday.

The time of the day is a good area to gauge when these people log on to Twitter to talk about your search term.

Google Reader

Another good use of these data is to figure out when to send out your coupons, promotions and newsletters so your message arrives when people’s minds are on your product or service.

Remember, personalized messages delivered at the right place at the right time are key ingredients to conversion.

Search Twitter Profile Using Google

Another method to find your target customer on Twitter is to search through people’s Twitter profile using Google.  Go to Google.com click on advanced search and put in

intext:”bio*love shopping”

and you’ll find a list of people that indicated they “love shopping” in their bio on Twitter.

Basically intext:”bio*xxxx” tells Google to search for text within the Twitter bio section. So replace xxxx with whatever you like that matches to what your target customer may put in their Twitter bio.

Search Twitter using Google

Now that you know from your Google Insights that shoppers in New York have the most interest in searching for dresses, how do we target people who loves to shop and lives in New York?

This is what you put in

intext:bio-*-love shopping intext:location-*-NY

Search Twitter using Google

Notice that there is a minor tweak to the search input. You will need to add – in between the * mark.  So intext:bio-*-xxxx intext:location-*-xx where the xx is now searches within that state.  Give it a try and you’ll find extremely targeted individuals

I don’t usually do detailed step by step posts, but I had repeatedly explain this to many business owners and marketers so I  thought to share some of my tips to help you find your customers online.

I hope you find the above information helpful and it’s a very useful way to build your customer segmentation list.

I hope this helps you to set up your social media “listening station.”

And if you like to learn more tips like this, sign up for Profitable Knowledge FREE course below!

3 Social Media Marketing Tips for Business to Consumer Brands

by Eric Tsai

I’ve been busy with end of the year work and now I’m back on track.  For those of you that follow the designdamage blog since the beginning, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for the support and hope I can continue to provide value for your time.

Although no new entries were posted for the past weeks, I continue to follow industry trends and send out useful content via my Twitter account.  You can follow me via @designdamage

Now back to work.

After reviewing some important data and content from 2009, I’ve come to these conclusions that in 2010 social media will follow the footsteps of SEO and other forms of digital advertising: on the path to commoditization. As I’ve mentioned in the post “When to Adopt Social Media for Your Business?” that social media is still in the early adopters stage, but it’s heading towards early majority phase as the concept of connecting and sharing information online are gradually accepted.

According to eMarketer’s report supported by research from Cone More than one-half of new media users (53%) believe brands should have a presence in new media, interacting with consumers as needed or by request only, while a further 36% demand a new media presence with regular interaction.” These type of users wants experience, dialogue and immediacy so if you want in on social media, you must provide a combination of those attributes.

So what can you do that’s different in 2010 that you haven’t try in 2009?  Here are some ideas to get you started:

Create New Brands & Co-Branding

The shift in consumer behavior will continue towards “value” even for luxury brands so private label brands and sub-brands will stand to benefit moving forward as we emerge out of the recession slowly.

For companies with strong core brand, creating a sub-brand or a new one that targets new customer base has been a popular strategy.

For businesses looking for cost-effective and fast-to-market ideas you can try partnering with other companies for a co-branding effort that creates exposure in other markets while extends your brand story.

Develop a Fascinating Story For Your Brand

The word-of-mouth marketing will continue to grow acting as trust agents providing top of mind reference for consumers.  Brands will shift advertising strategy to focus more on storytelling rather than push advertising.

This means developing a story that demonstrate the personality of the brand in campaigns such as supporting non-profit initiatives (social responsibility, cause marketing), co-branding to create unique content, or collect and promote stories about your customers.

The idea is to implement customer engagement strategies for the company to build a strong human connection that helps build brand loyalty.  Incorporating free resources to help educate your audience is another way to develop a story.

Another great way to build a rewards program around your social network fans by rewarding their participation. Another great way to ramp up your fans is to offer them something they can’t get elsewhere

Collect Valuable Customer Data

It’s time to review your customer data collection process especially if you’re going to use social media with traditional media.

Information such as where they are, what they spend money on, what are the key influences, and what content or applications they download can provide you some advantage for tailoring future product/service experiences to the individual.  Just knowing their demographic or what they buy will not be enough, leverage social media’s crowdsourcing feature and establish

The take away: It’s indicative from this past holiday shopping data that consumers simply wants more for less.  This is where smart companies find ways to cut costs so they can pass on the savings to the consumers.

It’s about keeping the customers coming back, allowing word-of-mouth to work in favor of value for money incentives, and maintaining a healthy relationship with your customers. Why would customers come back or past on your name to others when you didn’t provide value beyond what they paid for?

If you’re a small business, think of ways you can leverage technology instead of people and be creative with your marketing dollar.

Discounts, promotions, rewards programs are all vehicles to build a relationship with your customers.  You may see smaller profits and longer time to get the ROI (return on investment), but that’s all part of investing in your customer for the long haul.

If you want customers to be loyal to your brand, be prepare to deliver a consistent level of value and experience that they can come to expect in 2010.

The goal is to build and maintain customer trust, a key to gaining access to more profitable relationships with customers and competitive differentiation.

We’ll be looking at B2B ideas next to help with strategy planning in 2010.

3 Web Marketing Trends That Will Accelerate

by Eric Tsai

3 web marketing trends

It will be increasingly difficult for brands to ignore the web when making marketing decisions. The brands that get ahead will be the ones that harness the web to work in conjunction with their existing offline campaigns while adopting more social marketing strategies to generating new consumer insights.

Customers will continue to increase their time spent online and they need to be reach where they prefer to be reached.

Even for companies marketing entirely online or B2B businesses, the question will be how to benefit from blogs, social media and search engine to achieve the marketing goals?

How to take their brand message online and into web communities that will create new business opportunities?

Here are 3 web marketing trends to consider:

1) A Shift in Web Properties to Blend Online With Offline Campaigns

There are two parts to this trend.  First is the optimization of web properties, specifically efforts in blogs, social media, search engine optimization and email.

Second is the strategic usage of those web properties within an overall campaign that may or may not include offline media (e.g. direct mail, catalogs, print ads, TV, radio etc.).

Benefits to consider:

Both online and offline campaigns have similar concepts in reaching target audience with different processes so define your desire outcome first.

  • More touch points (frequency) to reach target audience throughout the buying process
  • Lowers marketing costs by shifting more campaigns online from offline (plus flexible payment models)
  • Faster time-to-benefit in tools and planning
  • Find out more about your customers via two way conversation online
  • More strategic options with online campaigns (e.g. brand awareness campaign, call-to-action campaign, lead-generation campaign)
  • Target new customer base across multiple demographic for wider reach

Ideas for action: For consumer brands – build and drive traffic to your own community, identify and communicate directly with your fans to help close the sales with promotions, coupons or rewards.

This is a popular approach to get opt-ins and many consumers actually look for these value-added deals.

Aggregate your social media profile on all outbound materials both online and offline to support the decision and buying process of prospects and customers.

Own the relationship and be platform agnostic with you network of customers, focus on supporting the needs of the community as a priority before promoting your offerings. As always, enlist someone that will take ownership in this role.

For B2B brands – Leverage content marketing strategy to drive sales leads from search engine ads, email campaigns, social media communities, affiliate blogs or offline media to a highly targeted micro-site for prospects to opt-in for webinars, podcasts or free resources (e.g. whitepaper, reports, presentations).

The goal is to pre-qualify leads that can filter through the sales cycle to improve the probability to convert the sales efficiently.

When you’re able to convert sales efficiently, it saves time and money allowing your operations to be more productivity.

2) New Measuring Matrix: Hybrid Measurement

Unlike traditional forms of gathering consumer insight, online tools are often cheaper, based on much larger sample sizes, and are quicker to deliver results.

For the past few years the value of search engine marketing (SEM) are measured largely by ad impressions, page views and click through rates.

However, as internet users are more willing to input additional data online, companies are now looking to measure key metrics of engagement on a person-level.

According to a recent comScore and Starcom USA’s study on how U.S. Internet users click on display ads, “Only 8% of internet users now account for 85% of all clicks… The results underscore the notion that, for most display ad campaigns, the click-through is not the most appropriate metric for evaluating campaign performance. Rather, advertisers should consider evaluating campaigns based on their view-through impact.

That’s just one of the examples that web analytics can be misleading.

It will continue to be challenging for marketers to abstract reliable data as social media adds another pile of data to the media measurement mix.

The future trend to measure more accurately will be to combine technical web analytics (server logs) with a sampling of user surveys (opt-in by visitors) that visits the site.  Although there will be sampling errors, it certainly beats making assumptions that doesn’t reflect real user behaviors.

Benefits to consider:

  • Provides more realistic feedback that extends the meaning of web analytics
  • Rich information aggregation from online surveys/feedback forms provide personal data and demographics to better understand your audience
  • Keep track of page(s) users frequent and the duration can help you benchmark it against server data to find the delta in errors
  • Can be utilized across multiple platforms including mobile, gaming, ad networks and offline campaigns

Ideas for action: Create a web survey on your site, put them on different pages then compare them with your web analytics.

Develop your own dashboard using hybrid measurement by choosing one that’s has the API integration with your Google Analytics account (most of them do now).

There are a number of online survey tools such SurveyMonkey, Checkbox, SurveyGizmo, Zoomerang, GetResponse, Vovici, QuestionPro, Kampyle, and you can even use Google docs as your survey tool.

Reward visitors that take the survey with coupons, discounts or gifts (sometimes it’s not even necessary, just a thank you will do).

Switch out the questions, put them on different pages and try different styles of asking from stealth at-the-corner feedback button to in-your-face pop ups.

3) Marketing Platform Extends to Mobile, Social, and Local in Real-Time

There is no question with 13 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute and over 900,000 blog posts every 24 hour, you can definitely count on the continuation of information overload over the social web.

This means content has to be tailored to fit the lifestyle of today’s digerati on smart phones that can accessible the web via faster and more available network.

Accordingly to The Niesen Company, “U.S. mobile subscriber base grew 7% to 277 million by the second quarter of 2009, which represented 221 million unique users…. Social networking drove the growth train for mobile Internet, with a 187% increase in audience for the year ending July 2009. The distribution of 18.3 million unique social network users by the top three sites is Facebook (26% reach), MySpace (13% reach) and Twitter (7% reach).

What does this mean?  It’s means that the growth in social networking will accelerate as mobile technology advances to embrace emerging trends in mobile social commerce, on-demand interaction from the real-time web, and fascinating concept of augmented reality.

Brands should leverage mobile marketing strategy to drive sales and cultivate customer engagement.

There are a number of ways to do this but ultimately consumer brands will have an easier time in adopting the usage of the mobile platform than B2B companies.

The opportunities for B2B companies remain the same – to generate leads and shorten the sales cycle.

Marketers will need to rethink content marketing strategy that aligns with the business objectives to deliver a dynamic mobile consumer experience.

Benefits to consider:

  • More opportunities to engage with customers (new or existing) means brand building and top-of-mind awareness
  • Smartphone owners tend to be affluent with expendable income, making it a prime target for product and service marketing (ready-to-buy candidates)
  • Aggregate rich user information (e.g. user profile, ratings, recommendations, tags etc.) from location based mobile apps
  • There are numerous mobile apps that can push out information across all social networks by authenticating with your Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube account, making it mobile and real-time viral
  • Deliver superior experience with augmented reality

Ideas for action: Leverage the mobile platform to provide unique location based experiences (e.g. services, games, ads, commerce) for your audience via instant customer support (e.g. assist in the buying process like check inventories or availabilities), real-time product information (e.g. price check, health labels), or event promotional notifications (e.g. cause marketing programs for non-profits, or buy-it-now via SMS or mobile web app/browser).

Another idea is to create downloadable coupons to promote offline activities to drive traffic to local events.  According to RetailMeNot, “coupons are now the deciding factor in purchases for nearly one-third of consumers.

In today’s economy, coupon is the call-to-action that can produce rapid, favorable results to drive sales.  Offer coupons based on location also helps your customer to discover new retail locations, making marketing as a service via alerts.

The take away: These Web marketing trends will reshape your marketing efforts as more conversations, engagements and experiences are delivered via the internet.

In order to stay relevant, brands must transition to become more social on the web and use mobile platforms to gain competitive advantage or risk of loosing opportunities.

Are you thinking about moving your marketing efforts online?

If you’re already doing the mix and match of online and offline marketing, how are you measuring your ROI?  Do you have a mobile marketing strategy?

3 Brand Marketing Trends That Will Continue

by Eric Tsai

3 brand marketing trends

When you hear something enough times, it may be a fad.  But when you start to see email spam about it, you know it’s a trend.

That’s the case with marketing trends such as email marketing and social media.

The problem with trends is that it’s usually a lagging indicator which means to seize the opportunity you may need to be an early adopters to reap the rewards.

If adopting new strategy and implementing fresh tactics sounds too risky, just take a look at the troubled newspaper and magazine companies and you’ll realize what I mean.

Similar to technology innovation, brand strategy is taking on an increasingly strategic role focusing not just on the bottom line but the ability to produce desirable financial outcomes.  It’s no surprise that the most innovative brands also fail more frequently, it’s the nature of the tried-and-true culture.

However, it takes discipline, research, analysis and creativity to find the right fit that works for your organization. Whether you’re promoting your personal brand or your corporate brand, here are the 3 brand marketing trends to look for in 2010:

1.Brands Must Become More Social Online

It’s no secret that B2B or B2C customers have been talking about your industry and your brand. Now with social media it’s simply going to be “on the record” somewhere over the internet, searchable and conversable.

If you can deal with customers in person, why couldn’t you deal with them online?

Engagement with your audience creates brand awareness, increase brand loyalty and the opportunity to get feedback that can help to improve your product and services.  Social engagement encourages crowdsourcing, use it wisely it can energize both you and your audience.

Provide transparency in what you do and demonstrate authenticity in what you say are the keys to building your online “street cred.” Organizations must look at the bigger picture and realize the emerging trend of social business branding and how it will impact all aspect of the company from internal collaboration to external engagement.

Becoming more social for brands means establishing a collaborative infrastructure within the organization to support the core brand strategy. There is no doubt that consumer wants to engage through social media so if brands don’t get into it, consumers will leave.

Ideas for action: Learn the tools of the trade in social media and (please!) put someone that cares about your brand to the task.

Research and identify where you customers are at talking about you, listen and monitor before you jump in.  Analyze the conversation around any product, topics, or category and identify any detractors and advocates to take actions.

More importantly learn to communicate well online, respond on time, be clear and to the point.  Provide value when interacting with your audience, focus on helping not selling and always deliver relevant and effective communications.

In addition, make sure you have a policy in place so you have a focused, consistent and cohesive approach in reacting to the situation regardless of which platform you’re using. The bottom line is that social media engagement without governance is a recipe for disaster.

It’s possible that your customers may not be on an open social network but on several discussion boards (forums/BBS), a private professional community, or even a popular blog where comments serve as dialogues.  speak to your customers directly to identify where they get their information, use a survey and provide rewards if needed.

Myths to consider: We can’t quantify the ROI (return on investment), so let’s just not measure them.  First of all, there are ways to measure all the marketing activities whether they’re meaningful to your organization is another story (yes you want the meaningful ones!).

The important thing is to cultivate accountability in your actions so you get results that can give you the insight to make real informed decisions.

My recommendation is to rank your marketing priorities that are most likely to pay off or generate the impact your want first.  If your strategy is to aim for awareness and exposure, then put reach and volume first instead of experience and frequency.

Keep in mind that you need to be able to quantity to a certain degree so you don’t drain your marketing resource and budget.

2.Shift in Value Perception Creates Opportunities for Brands

Generic brands are nothing new especially in the grocery store where the house brands are marketed and sold side by side with the leading brands.

The economy has shifted the perception of value fundamentally into a do-more-with-less and value-for-money mode.

According to the latest IRI Times & Trends Report: Game-Changing Economy Taking Private Label to New Heights, “private label unit share has grown 1.2 points to 22.8% and dollar share has grown 0.7 points to 17.6% across all outlets in the past 12 months.” Simply put, private label brands are gaining momentum across all tiers of product categories from premium tier to value tier because they have the advantage to compete on quality as well as price.

This represents a significant opportunity for less known brands (startups, SMBs, personal brands) to compete for new businesses while leading brands still has their eyes on cutting costs (overheads, infrastructure) and reorganizing operations.

In addition with the explosion of social media, unknown brand can go viral instantly followed by awareness because brands no longer control the buying space or the conversation, it only needs credibility to explode.

Ideas for action: This is the time to take your brand to another level especially with more cost effective tools and technologies, why not take a hard look at your current setup for operations, sales and marketing?

Reallocate your investments and prioritize your marketing, branding or product development strategies.

Many out-of-your-budget marketing avenues have dropped in price dramatically, check your local advertising channels you may be in for a surprise on how cheap it is now to run radio, print and even TV ads.

It’s a good time to build your email marketing campaign, run promotion events or even redo your old website so it’s more social media friendly.

You can even try partnering with someone locally to share the cost or co-brand some offerings together.  Another idea is to create a new brand allowing you to expand into other categories or verticals utilizing the resources you already have.

Brand extension can help secure new revenues and reinforce brand strength without compromising your current brand equities.

This is the time to drive appeal and awareness to build recognition.  Use today’s digital communication platforms to collect meaningful customer data, conduct surveys and optimize your digital presence via social networks.

Reevaluate your brand strategy, be innovative with your products and services, create a culture that reward your people and update your performance metrics.

Myths to consider: We don’t have the time, money or resources for marketing and nobody is buying!

If you don’t have a plan to convert data to actionable insight, a process to collectively review the effectiveness of your marketing strategy, how do you know what you’re doing works?

If you don’t invest in marketing or advertising, how are you going to differentiate the unique meaning of your brand?  Without differentiation you will loose pricing power and competitiveness.

If your brand isn’t even in the run for consideration, how will your customers know that you exist? And people are spending, just selectively in a timely matter.  According to the American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, “amid their (consumers) cautiousness we are seeing some areas where people are willing to increase spending.”

There is a shift in how businesses and consumers are expressing their priorities, but that doesn’t mean you should be reactive, in fact I would argue that being proactive now will benefit your ROI in the long haul.

3. Community Building is Now a Priority

Moving forward, brands will have to focus on fostering their own community to own the communication distribution network.

Building a community is about connecting and sharing experiences, I’ve outlined this previously specifically in social networks, which still applies to other platform as well.

The fact is that the adoption of new communication platform (ie. email, radio) has led to a new wave of user experience in which the context (ie. direct mail, website) and the message (ie. ads, PR) must stay relevant.

If the community is trusted by the members, they will extend the trust through word-of-mouth that could mean more opportunities for brands to increase buying frequency using content or conversation marketing tactics.

Keep in mind that you should get involved in the right channel and passively direct customers to your community.  Effective engagement can also lead to permission-based marketing. According to a Forrester Consulting study commissioned by ExactTarget, “One-half of consumers said unsolicited messages were unacceptable even from companies they did business with regularly. That was up from about one-quarter in 2008.”  When your audience allows you to contact them, you essentially have a direct line to access a targeted customer base.

Ideas for action: For low barrier to entry options, look into building a community using one of these: Facebook fan page, Twitter account, Google group, LinkedIn group, Yahoo groups; or create your own social network (with blog, discussion forums etc.), Ning, KickApps, ThePort, SharePoint, Drupal, Joomla, WordPress, Posterous, Moveable Type, SocialText, SixApart, and Pringo just to name a few.

If you’re tech or internet savvy, you can use a combination of them but I suggest to focus on becoming versed in 1-2 first then expand to others.  Personally, I’m using a combination of a WordPress blog (you’re reading it now) and Twitter (@designdamage).

You can also use video sharing sites like Youtube and Vimeo to help funnel traffic to your community. Another import tip is to leverage RSS feeds to push your message from one-to-many networks.

It’s easy for someone to discover if there’s any participation in your community or not so if you’re going to have a community, you need to be there for your audience.

Dedicate a set amount of time to regularly check the activities in your community, answer questions, drive conversations and connect with members. People have short attention span especially on the internet, so make sure you work on your message (goes to number 1 above) and keep your audience interested.

The goal is to mobilize brand advocates to drive word-of-mouth for greater engagement.

Myths to consider: We’ll just hire an expert and let them do the work like how we outsource web design and SEO.

Although we’re at the age of outsource-anything today and get it done tomorrow, it’s hardly a sustainable long-term strategy especially when it’s about your brand’s core value and mission.

Too often we forget that people are at the center of any holistic effort to improve business performance and accountability.

Outsource to gurus may get things done, but you need to take the time and effort to work with them not to mention they’re hard to find, afford and keep.  I’ve clean up some mess for clients before where the outsourced expert created more problems than what they were hired to solve.

This is why so many brands fail to update their websites regularly or refresh their SEO campaigns.  Take the time to educate yourself some of the trends will benefit you in the long run, or get your team involve and split the workload across multiple heads.

The takeaway: The evolving marketing and media ecosystem is putting pressure on brands to innovate and evolve, or risk becoming extinct.

These trends will be here to stay and is essential for brands to be successful moving forward.

Have you made the transition yet to accommodate these trends?  What are you doing to make the necessary changes to your brand strategy?

I will be reviewing the trends in digital marketing, specifically social business branding next, stay tuned.

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