These days, looking at current marketing campaigns can feel a bit like déjà vu. While reaching our target markets has never been easier, actually creating fresh messaging that attracts and keeps their attention has perhaps never been more difficult.
As a content marketer, I sometimes feel like it’s impossible to hear a genuine, never-before-told message from my clients. In fact, each time I ask a client to define her value proposition or to discuss what really sets his company apart from all the others, I almost always have the answer before a single word is even spoken—simply because I’ve heard it all before.
- We care about the customer.
- We have a hands-on approach.
- We partner with the best and the brightest.
- Our corporate culture emphasizes giving back to the local community.
The hard part of my job is knowing that these clients are serious about what they have to offer. They're genuine leaders who work hard to instill value in their teams and offer quality services to their customers. Usually, they're people who wind up teaching me lots about leadership. Often, they've found their way to me because they are ready to develop their brand messaging beyond mere talking points and want to find a way to deliver fresh, re-imagined content to their target audience.
So how do I help them take the best parts of their organizations and leverage their strengths to create unique, on-brand messaging?
OFF-TARGET BRANDING: A BRIEF CASE STUDY
I once worked for an organization desperately trying to emerge from an identity crisis. When I took the job, I had no idea that it was suffering from brand schizophrenia, but as I started to immerse myself in its content and listened closely to the stories of those within the organization, I learned pretty quickly that while a deep, rich story existed, most of the people within the organization were so intertwined with the everyday details of life that they couldn’t see what their brand actually looked like from the outside looking in.
In spite of the fact that everyone was working pedal-to-the-medal to create original, compelling content, they remained confined to their own four walls. Not surprisingly, their efforts repeatedly produced fragmented messaging and failed to tell any inspiring brand story.
As a newcomer to the company, I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves and determined to create and deliver original content that would not only promote the brand and develop strong leads but also create a cohesive, community-anchoring message. The result? The largest client base it had seen in over 5 years, millions of dollars of additional revenue and a common language that everyone within the organization began to recognize and speak.
If your messaging has been weak and off-brand, you may be noticing similar issues with your own marketing efforts. If you’re ready to fix it, I’ve outlined three easy steps to get you started.
STEP ONE: START LISTENING.
Talk to everyone in the organization—from the highest-paid executive to the lowest-paid staff member. Ask questions that encourage reflective thinking, allow for open expression and lead to thoughtful follow-up questions. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Why did you choose to work here over somewhere else?
- What are two things that frustrate you about our organization? What solutions would you suggest?
- What is the best part about working here?
- If you had to describe this place in one word, what would it be?
- What do you hear people outside of our organization saying about us? How does that make you feel?
STEP TWO: RECOGNIZE THAT EVERY TOUCHPOINT MATTERS.
We already know that content comes in countless forms: video, emails, case studies, websites and print materials.
It also arrives through first-touch impressions—the conversations we have with members of our target audience, the phone calls we make to generate leads and the interactions we have every day with our own team members. Gather up every piece of content that you can find. Document the conversations you’re overhearing when others are explaining the value proposition. Look over the emails of your sales team. Read the brochures, the post cards and even the 250 unwieldy web pages of your organization’s site. While you’re going to obviously be looking at writing quality and overall messaging, you’ll also want to ask yourself (and others) some more serious questions.
- Why are we sending this letter?
- Is this postcard still a necessary part of the communication flow?
- Does every member of our sales team respond the same way to customer inquiries or complaints? Why or why not?
- Do our web pages include the same tone and quality? Do they all have clear calls to action?
- What are we doing today that we need to stop immediately?What are we not doing today that we need to start immediately?
STEP THREE: BE BRAVE.
If we’re being honest with one another, then it’s safe to say that the marketing world can be pretty scary sometimes. Succeeding requires a healthy balance of courage and savvy. While great marketing makes space for all types of genius (e.g., data skills, coding, design, writing, sales and more), I still think that the best marketers are wildly creative. We don’t think like the rest of the world, and for many of us, this profession validates our “otherness.”
Bringing our best to the marketing table also requires us to wake up every single day and be incredibly vulnerable.
We’re artists who put ideas to pen and screen in order to make others profitable. We observe those around us and identify their preferences. We learn about their habits. We anticipate their needs. And when we’ve finally gathered so much data that we know our audience better than they know themselves, we go to our proverbial canvases, creatingart and messaging to inspire and motivate others to action.
When our acts of art actually work, we feel like we’re standing on top of the world. But sometimes, we fail. Sometimes, the messaging doesn’t resonate or a competitor beats us at our game and we find ourselves poring through the data to try to see how we missed it.
Here’s the important point: Playing it safe in the marketing world doesn’t usually pay off in the long run.
Eventually, our target audience tunes out because someone else shows up on scene and knocks it out of the park. Case in point: For years, Gillette had dominated the market, and without major competitors in the market, the powerhouse shave brand didn’t have to think BIG. But today, its entire landscape looks different thanks to industry disruptor, Dollar Shave Club.
In just four years, the brand has amassed well over 1 million subscribers and earned the attention of Unilever which acquired it for $1B just this year. And who’s left trailing behind, working overtime to build its own shave club empire? Yep, you guessed it: Gillette.
Sure, thinking big is the business of the brave, but it’s also the secret of thought leaders willing to do whatever it takes to create compelling, relevant and effective marketing campaigns.
Launching into your own content marketing campaign and not sure where to begin? I’ve got lots of tools to get you started. Let’s connect!