The MadAveGroup Blog
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As a member of the Forbes Agency Council, I have the chance each month to contribute to marketing-related “panel” articles at Forbes.com. This blog post is part of a continuing series featuring a few of my responses to questions asked by Forbes editors. The theme: Content Creation.
Question: Your business just received a prestigious award or investment. Based on your experience, what’s the most beneficial way to publicize the achievement?
Answer: When touting an award, a certification or any other honor, let your audience know why it's important to them. Explain how your win reinforces the claims you make about your product or service. Tell them how it provides a third-party perspective on why they should buy from you. Consumers want solid evidence that they're making good purchasing decisions. Awards can serve as helpful clues.
Question: B2B podcasts can be great for marketing and outreach, but they require a different touch than other podcast types. What's one must-do (or must-not-do) tip when starting a B2B podcast?
Answer: A B2B audience is listening for insight that will give them an edge or make them better at their jobs. So, deliver concise content in a format that promotes easy takeaways. That might include quick audio bullet points that re-state key ideas. And don't be afraid to edit to delete any fluff. Your B2B podcast should respect your audience's time and be worthy of their investment.
Question: Fearful of alienating or losing customers, some businesses may shy away from addressing "controversial" topics in their content - from current events to developments in their industry that haven't originated with them. But content that's not strictly focused on the positives and selling points of their products can establish thought leadership and authenticity. What's one "taboo" topic businesses should cover in their content, and why?
Answer: No one expects perfection from companies. So, it's okay to admit when you've screwed up, especially when you show the lessons you've learned from your mistakes and how your customers will benefit from your continuing education and transparency. When you're willing to admit to failures and then show the positivity that results, you'll also humanize your brand and present yourself in a way that people can relate to.
I spent the last few days watching the opening weekend of the 2020 baseball season.
It's great to have the game back, even with all the unusual changes:
- The abbreviated 60-game schedule
- The extra innings rule that automatically puts a runner on second base starting in the 10th
- The National League's use of the designated hitter
- The lack of fans in the stands
I haven't heard from anyone who's thrilled with all the adjustments, but Major League Baseball found ways to adapt in order to get back to business, just as restaurants, healthcare facilities and other industries have.
And maybe that's the most important reminder we can take away from the pandemic: life - and business - aren't stagnant. They never have been. Both are in a constant state of flux. Dramatic events like the spread of COVID-19 and the quarantine just increase the pace and intensity of the change.
The lesson is to actively plan for transitions, so, when events dictate, you're better prepared to deal with the financial, cultural and emotional disruptions.
Since mid-March, we've been stressing the importance of actively preparing for the post-COVID-19 world so you can hit the ground running. But by thinking at a higher level - always expecting change and embracing its inevitability - you can set yourself up for even greater success.
During our second 30-Minute Marketing Cardio session on April 29th, I noted that a lot of marketing and advertising copy was starting to sound the same.
“In these uncertain times…”
“We’re all in this together.”
“Today, more than ever…”
“We’re here for you.”
Very quickly, those and similar phrases were reaching cliché status, losing any impact they may have had at one time. And the negative response in some circles was almost palpable: “All right already! You think of us like family and home is important and this whole thing is unprecedented. We get it.”
“So, what is your company doing about it?” I wondered in response.
Some brands did provide answers. A few car companies came up with alternative financing options and return policies for those whose jobs might be lost to the COVID-19 quarantine. Insurance providers gave rebates because fewer customers were driving.
But there were far more vague, empty references to “the new normal” and “getting through this.”
That concentration of similar messaging around a single theme over the last few months made the lack of originality and hollow statements more apparent. But we’ve been talking about the issue for years, urging you to avoid easy, trite marketing-speak in favor of true words you believe, promises you can keep, and differences that are rooted in your company culture, not just whipped up to appeal to the current mood of the country.
When you’re saying the same thing in the same way that so many others are, you can’t stand out. You won’t be remembered as delivering a unique solution. You may even weaken your brand by moving in step with the crowd, rather than daring to cut your own path.
I encourage you to keep that in mind as you move forward to create post-pandemic content.
Here are a few of our other articles that can help you define your brand and content style.
Our third of four 30-Minute Marketing Cardio sessions on May 6th focused on staying nimble and developing strategies to propel your organization forward.
Digital Marketing Strategist Nathan Steinmetz offered these suggestions.
Take advantage of digital advertising’s flexibility. You can literally start and stop your digital campaigns with a couple of clicks. Even if you’re not advertising online now, you might begin again once your company resumes normal operations. Use any downtime to create digital ads so you'll be ready to place online media buys at a moment’s notice. Having your digital ads ready to launch may also allow you to take advantage of lower-priced media as soon as it becomes available.
Use digital advertising to promote specific locations or times. Do you have stores open in some areas but not others? Run ads targeted only at audiences in those markets you’re currently serving. And if you’re open again but just for a few days a week or during limited times, schedule your ads to run only during your business hours.
Use digital advertising to test different messages. Your message to a younger audience might focus on the fact that you’re back in business, while your older, more cautious audience may be more interested in what you’re doing to keep customers safe. Digital advertising provides many targeting methods that let you reach specific audiences based on demographics and psychographics.
Digital advertising provides instant feedback. One of the most powerful features of digital advertising is that it allows you to see how your ads are performing in real time. You can then adjust your content, your target audience and your ad spend based on those results.
Digital advertising has never had a more engaged audience. With so many people forced to stay at home, the level of online traffic is higher than ever. And since many businesses are pulling back on their advertising, there’s more inventory available. That means you may be able to pick up some deals on media.
If you want to rocket past your competition once the economic climate improves, consider digital advertising now.
Steve Evert is our VP of Business Development. He shared these thoughts on how you might look ahead.
As you consider how to generate new sales from existing customers, it might be tempting to lower your prices or reduce your margins. You may think you need to be cheaper now, so your customers don’t defect to your competitors.
Historically, though, that approach hasn’t been as successful as you might think. If the need or desire for what you sell has been reduced, lowering your prices is unlikely to drive enough volume to offset your lower margins. In fact, there is significant academic and applied evidence that shows customers are far less motivated by a price decrease than they are deterred by a price increase.
In the long run, the healthier alternative is strengthening relationships.
Encourage your sales and marketing teams to use this time to secure ties to your customers. Those relationships are all that insulate you from losing current or potential buyers who are presented with lower-priced alternatives.
By adjusting your focus, your organization will likely have to change its expectations of sales results in the immediate and short term.
So, are there activities your sales and marketing teams would normally be engaged in now that don’t make sense anymore? Are some of their tactics no longer a priority?
If so, what can those teams be doing instead to strengthen relationships? A few ideas:
• Enroll customers in your online services and/or email lists.
• Start reaching out to individual customers for one-on-one conversations about their pains and needs. Provide insight on how you’ve solved similar problems.
• Grow customer interest with offers that begin at a future date.
• Take a deeper dive into your client base to find unknown connecting points between clients.
During our second 30-Minute Marketing Cardio Webinar on April 29th, members of the MadAveGroup team provided ideas on how you can prepare now for the post-pandemic world.
“Take this time to get to know your customers and understand them,” she said. “Companies that leverage customer insights outperform their [competitors] by 85%.”
How can you learn more about the people who buy from you? A few of April’s ideas:
• Talk with your frontline employees about the questions your customers ask and the needs or problems they express.
• Listen to your customers on your social channels and third-party sites like Yelp.
• Consider surveying your customers.
• Use the customer data you already have - demographics, buying habits, communication preferences, Google analytics, etc. - to segment your buyers and provide better customer experiences.
Once you’ve compiled this information, review it for improvement opportunities. Is there a gap or weakness in your customers’ buying journey? Do they want more options, products or services from your company? Are your policies or processes frustrating?
You can also use the data you collect to create personas - representations of your audience defined by human characteristics, such as age, income, job type and interests. What challenges do those personas face? Who or what influences their buying decisions?
Once you’ve established personas, you’ll know how to create targeted messaging and promotions for your actual customers who fall under each persona. And targeted content is more likely to convert.
MadAveGroup CEO Jerry Brown kicked off the session with an alliterative list, asking these high-level questions and urging attendees to think about their brands in a post-coronavirus marketplace.
- Position: What was your position before the pandemic? What is it now? What will it be next year?
- Perspective: What is your company’s perspective? Has the pandemic changed it?
- Perception: What perception did your employees and customers have of your company? Has your response to COVID-19 changed it?
- Purpose: What is your company’s purpose? Does it need to evolve?
- Plan: What is your company’s plan for bouncing back?
- Projects: What new projects do you need to implement?
- Priority: Which of those projects should take priority?
- Preparation: Are you prepared to execute those projects and other plans for moving forward?
During our first of four webinars - 30-Minute Marketing Cardio with MadAveGroup - Digital Marketing Strategist Nathan Steinmetz provided these suggestions on how to tweak your company’s online presence during the COVID-19 outbreak.
If your business is open:
• Make sure you’re letting visitors know as soon as they reach your website.
• Prioritize crisis-related information by positioning it at the top of your homepage or as a banner on every page of your site.
• Link from that homepage messaging or the banner to a detailed page of information about your hours of operation, especially if they’re different than normal.
• Be very clear about the precautions you’re taking to protect your customers and employees during this crisis.
• Let customers know if your products and/or services are limited during this time.
• Describe any alternatives to visiting your location: home delivery, curbside pick-up, etc.
If you’re temporarily closed:
• Communicate the details so your customers don’t get frustrated trying to call or visit you.
• Provide details on how customers can reach you through alternative channels or in the event of an emergency.
Nathan says, “We’re seeing quite a bit of traffic to these COVID-19 pages, but many companies aren’t taking full advantage of them. Make sure to optimize your page with clear information about what’s going on with your business.”
And he offers this great idea: “One way to utilize this type of page is to add a form that collects email addresses of the people who want to be notified as soon as your business opens.”
• Update the other online resources that feature your company’s hours, including Google My Business, Facebook and Yelp.
• With so many people at home, traffic and engagement on social media sites are increasing. Take advantage of the growing exposure by continuing to post relevant content.
• On your Facebook and Twitter pages, pin a post with your most important pandemic-related information to the top of your feed. Many people are going directly to company social pages looking for current information. They’ll appreciate that your info is at the top of the page.
• People are sharing stories of how they’re coping with this crisis. Share your company’s story, too. Let your audience know how you’re adjusting for their sake and what you’re doing to make the situation easier for them.
• Many businesses are pausing their advertising during the crisis, which means media is now more affordable. Couple that with the larger captive audience quarantined at home and you may find that this is an ideal time to advertise.
My dog got sprayed by a skunk last night.
I let Gidget out at 10:15. My wife Amy let her in about five minutes later.
Within seconds, Amy was shouting, “Oh no! OH NO!”
Yep, Gidge was covered in the not-so-subtle smell of skunk. We got her cleaned up easily enough, though, thanks to solid advice from the AKC website.
Later, it occurred to me that - despite the negative experience we’d just had - skunks are mighty cute. Look at that little guy in the picture above. If not for his troublesome anal scent glands, he'd be downright lovable.
And that got me wondering, as I often do post-skunk-attack: Is there something offensive about your company that’s preventing people from loving (or buying from) you?
For instance, does your industry suffer from trust issues? Or maybe your firm has struggled with a public relations problem recently.
I would imagine skunks don’t know that they drive people away, and they’re probably immune to their own tear-inducing mist. You could be just as unaware about a reputation problem your business has, or even personally unaffected by it. (You never did have a problem with dirty restrooms.)
Your company may be attractive to customers for many reasons, but others might be repelled by your “stink” - whatever form it may take.
Can you use any coronavirus downtime you have right now to address possible issues?
A few thoughts to consider.
Read your reviews. People who comment about your business on Google, Yelp and anywhere else are doing you a favor, even if their posts are negative. They're bringing problems to your attention, so don’t ignore or dismiss their input.
Address any issues politely and with an appreciative tone. And remember, when you see a pattern of complaints about a specific issue, that’s not a coincidence. That’s a red flag that's worthy of your quick attention.
Re-position the problem. Help people see the bright side or even the value in a perceived negative.
An example: if your restaurant is far off the beaten path, encourage customers to celebrate the getaway they’ll enjoy when they drive to your establishment. Promote the sights and shops along the way or urge them to turn the trip into an overnight vacation by partnering with a local hotel or B&B.
Ask for feedback. Has a potential client turned down your proposal in favor of a competitor’s? If so, don’t just slink away from the relationship. Respectfully ask your contacts why they didn’t choose you. Let them know you value their opinions. Ask them to be specific and, yes, brutally honest.
And, again, look for any patterns that may develop. If the last three people you've presented to turn you down for the same reasons, they’ve identified your legitimate weaknesses for you. Embrace that feedback and use it to get better.
Start a conversation. Are too many people walking out of your store empty-handed? Have an employee with strong communication skills stand by the door. When she sees that a visitor hasn’t made a purchase, she can ask, “What couldn’t you find today?”
If the shopper identifies an item that you do, in fact, carry, your employee can lead the shopper back into the store to help find the item. If the shopper didn't buy because she was "just looking for inspiration,” your employee can hand the shopper a catalog or suggest that she sign up for your weekly emails that are "filled with great ideas."
A few months ago, I read a blog post targeted at people who work in radio. The writer focused on how the listening audience's options had evolved in recent years and that people no longer rely on radio as much as they once did.
So, he urged, it was time for the medium to adapt.
As a former radio guy myself, I know it used to be quite common for DJs to ignore incoming phone calls from listeners. They'd let the request line ring because there were too many other things to do while on the air or because, frankly, they didn't want to make the effort to talk with callers.
But now that radio has lost audience share to podcasts, audio books and streaming music services, each listener has become even more important.
The writer of the blog post suggested that instead of ignoring the phone or quickly dismissing callers in order to move onto another task, today's DJs should embrace the opportunity to communicate with the people who keep them in business. They should take the time to ask questions of their listeners, find out which types of music they prefer, learn how they like to spend their free time.
In other words, the DJs should connect with their audience on a personal level and strengthen those "customer" relationships in a way that music apps and satellite feeds can't.
Your business - and how consumers rely on you - may be changing, too.
Due to COVID-19, customers might be locked out of your store right now. Maybe they won't be able to enjoy a meal in your restaurant for the foreseeable future. As a result, they might look for temporary alternatives. Or, they might realize they can do without you.
Yes, the marketplace has shifted dramatically in only a matter of weeks, but with that shift comes an opportunity for positive change.
How will you adapt?
Will you dare brush off a customer (or even a potential customer) ever again or tolerate employees who do? Or will you re-asses your commitment to customer service and provide the consistent training every staff needs?
Or, better yet, can you choose to think of this fracture in your company's timeline as a beginning? Could you seize this opportunity to build a new foundation, one that would support the type of business you've always wanted to run? A company that exists to provide the ideal customer experience? A group of people that inspires loyalty from its employees and buyers? An organization that's the envy of others in your industry?
This is a chance to start over - to whatever extent you want.
What will you do with that chance?
Companies always need problem solvers - people who can react effectively to tough, unusual or unexpected situations; people who can adapt to changing conditions.
So, if you're a college student who's graduating soon or you're already working but considering a job change, think strategically now about your response to the coronavirus. Then, you'll be prepared for questions like these:
- How did you make the most of your last few months at school, despite the interruption to classes? What did you do to continue your education or build your professional network?
- Did you come up with any ideas to help your current company respond to specific challenges during the outbreak?
- How did you invest your time while quarantined? Which skills did you develop? Did you take on any pro bono or passion projects?
- Can you provide examples of how you demonstrated leadership? Ingenuity? Courage?
- What did you do to help others in your workplace? Your neighborhood?
In other words, how did you make the best of this tough, unusual, unexpected situation?
Your answer to that question could go a long way toward proving your unique value as a problem solver.
I ordered some take-out from Waffle House yesterday because 1) I love Waffle House and 2) Did I mention I love Waffle House?
When I walked in, I noticed that the place was spotless!
I asked the waitress how many people had been in that day. “You’re the third,” she said.
The restaurant was immaculate because the waitress had time she wouldn’t normally have to dedicate to deep cleaning.
In a previous post, we encouraged you to look for opportunities to reach out to those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Now may also be the perfect time to look inward to strengthen your company.
If you spent your pre-pandemic workdays serving customers, it’s understandable that you and your staff may have neglected your brand’s needs over the years. But the government-mandated closings and social distancing that have temporarily driven away customers also allow you the chance to re-train your staff, bring in experts to sharpen their skills, and elevate your commitment to an exceptional buying experience by defining your expectations of employees.
A few more suggestions...
Consider your brand. How might you need to tweak or refresh it for a post-corona world? Use this time to create a proper marketing calendar, re-design or punch up your website, write and schedule blog content with a strong perspective, or think of how you might use video more effectively. (We can help you with all of those.)
Conduct an audit of your operations, re-evaluate your vendors and supply chain, or consider the efficiency of your building’s floorplan.
Increase your recruiting efforts. There could be a lot of people looking for work or a new direction in the wake of COVID-19. Put in the effort now to get your company firing on all cylinders and it’ll be a more attractive option for top talent.
Prepare to tell your story. Once this is all over, use your marketing content to let customers, prospects and potential hires know how this moment in time made you better, leaner, smarter and ready to take on future challenges.
Investing in your own brand right now - while you have the time - could pay huge dividends once the coronavirus blows over. Embrace this temporary slowdown as a chance to get your own (Waffle) house in order.