Your company’s marketing department is gone. Well, not literally, but it’s essentially been replaced. By whom, you ask? According to Mark Schaefer, your customers have become your marketers.
The globally-recognized brand expert, business consultant and best-selling author believes that we are living in an era when brand loyalty no longer exists. Schaefer attributes this deterioration to a lack of emotional connection between brands and their customers.
In his latest book, Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins, he details the strategies needed to reimagine marketing and “earn our way back in with a new business approach that appeals to constant human truths.”
During a recent webinar, Schaefer shared with us 10 things brand storytellers should do (and not do) to once again help customers believe, belong and find meaning.
1. Tell Us Who Made It
Do people know who created the content on your website? Corporate sites, especially, may have a wealth of articles, reports and videos, but consumers rarely form a connection to the content because they don’t know who it’s coming from.
It’s more likely a consumer will build an emotional connection to the person behind the content than it is to the content on its own. So, post a picture of that grinning blogger, give your weekly columnist a witty bio with her byline—in other words, add some personality.
“Customers form an emotional connection by evaluating the brand’s warmth and competency,” writes Schaefer. “One way to demonstrate those traits is by elevating human connections between our employees and the customers who need us. People don’t trust companies, brands or ads, but they do trust each other. Why not build those human connections?”
2. Stop Using Stock Photos
Most companies are guilty of running generic, impersonal photos, but enough already. It’s time to retire the practice because it sends a message that screams:Even we don’t care! Schaefer suggests instead using images of actual customers or photos of your employees’ smiling faces. Say “cheese,” accounting department!
3. Be Fans of Your Fans
We currently have what Schaefer refers to as a “belonging crisis.” Young people, particularly, hunger to be acknowledged by and connected to their favorite brands—which is part of a larger, insatiable hunger to feel like they belong.
To feed into this, companies should make their customers the heroes of their story. Foster a sense of community and of belonging by featuring your fans in marketing collateral. Post user-generated content to your social channels. And just like that, you’ve created (and fed) your heroes.
4. Quit Doing Things People Hate
Technology has given marketers creative new ways to—let’s not mince words—annoy people. To regain our customers’ loyalty, Schaefer says it’s time to ditch the following three things:
- Gated content: When people get to the stage that they’re required to submit their email address or other personal information, 90-95% of them bail, so why even bother with this approach? Your message is markedly more powerful if you don’t keep it behind a gate, and you instead let your customers see it and share it (with potential new customers).
- Lead nurturing: This essentially tells your customers, “We’re going to keep bothering you until you block us.”
- Pop-up ads: If they annoy you, they annoy your customers.
5. Focus on Your Customer’s “Why”
The most effective marketing shouldn’t be about your“why.” It should be about your customer’s. We’re inundated with the message that it’s crucial that we tell the story of our company, but Schaefer questions whether customers really care about the arc of a brand’s story. People do, however, care deeply about the arc of their own stories, so create a space for your customers and help them belong by focusing on their “why.”
6. Make It Feel Like It’s Part of the Native Flow
You’re perusing Instagram, smiling at the pic of Amy’s new puppy, rolling your eyes over Erin’s sixth selfie of the afternoon when it stops you in your scroll: Corporate brand X just invaded your feed with an ad touting their new cookies, and it sticks out like a shortbread-flavored sore thumb.
One reason a lot of today’s corporate content doesn’t fit in and is not believed is because it doesn’t seem to jibe with the normal flow of other content on the web. It’s important for your corporation to be on social media; what’s more, it’s possible to be cool on social media. But in order to not look corporate, you must portray a human vibe and a natural, organic flow.
7. Adopt a Human Voice
Thanks to customer reviews, testimonies, social media and the rise of influencers, as much as two-thirds of our marketing occurs without us. This means that in order to be effective in the marketplace, companies need to join in on the conversations their customers are having.
How do we humanize our presence and recapture the emotional connection of our customers? Schaefer suggests using your company culture as your marketing. If you have a lively, inspiring and fun workplace environment, and you put that out there, it’ll resonate in a very human way. So, after you post a link to your Q2 earnings report on Facebook, try sharing a 30-second clip of Diane crushing James during one of their office ping-pong battles. Any guesses as to which update will get more likes?
8. Employ the RITE Method
Schaefer outlines a specific framework for creating the most effect digital content:
- Relevant: Don’t stray from the core values of your company. It you’re in the business of website design, there’s no value in posting content about DIY dog-grooming.
- Interesting: Vow to only create content that’s worth your readers’ time.
- Timely: Allow yourself to see beyond your editorial calendar and take a look at what’s going on right now. Is there something in today’s headlines that you could comment on and interpret for your customers? Do that effectively, and that’s what will get you noticed—and shared.
- Entertaining: The entertainment value of content is so important, yet most of us don’t sit around thinking, “How can we be more entertaining today?” But to truly make our company’s content ignite, we need to start thinking about that.
9. Be “of” the Customer Community
Today’s consumers believe what they can see and what they can experience. The most effective brands are finding ways to make things personal for their customers—and not just via online personalization. They’re literally showing up in communities, illustrating to their customers how they connect to their lives.
In his book, Schaefer highlights several examples of corporations doing this quite effectively:
- HBO drives awareness for its programs through elaborate, in-person activations.
- Lululemon designs their stores to encourage conversations.
- YETI meets with outdoor guides to explain their products.
- The North Face creates free community climbing events.
10. Remember: The Most Human Company Wins
Instead of focusing on technology and everything in the market that’s constantly changing, Schaefer suggests you consider focusing on the things that don’t change: human needs. A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It’s what consumers tell each other it is. That means we need to find a way to earn our way into those conversations through some emotional connection.
Today’s customers are asking companies to respect them, respect their time, respect their privacy. They want to be treated like humans, to be treated like a friend. That’s why it’s the most human companies that will win.