We update all the time – our homes, our wardrobes, our cars…and the same motivations that compel us to buy the latest iPhone as soon as it comes out should also apply to your brand’s content strategy – in short, it’s time to modernize your content.
In a recent Content Marketing Institute article about 2021 content planning, Marcus Collins, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business put it best:
“No one’s like, ‘Yes! White papers – love them!’ No one goes to the movies (pre-COVID) and says, ‘Man, Christopher Nolan gave us some great content,’ or ‘Drake just dropped some really dope content.’ No one says that. People say, ‘It was a great album.’ ‘It was a great movie.’”
In that article, Collins goes on to say that marketers should think more about people-first, experiential, humanizing content – and we couldn’t agree more. The way marketers tend to talk about and produce content is often vastly different from the way real people talk about and digest content, and it’s time to change that.
Before we get into the modernization of your content itself, we have to stress the importance of starting with your content strategy – that is, making sure it, too, has evolved along with technology and marketing practices. Take a look under the hood and see if your content strategy checks these boxes:
If you don’t have any or most of these areas already accounted for, you know where you need to start to modernize your content strategy.
As you’re making these changes, we have some recommendations to modernize the content itself.
The easiest place to begin modernizing your content is to look at how it is categorized. Do you have a library of resources on your website in which one of the categories to search within is “white papers” and another is, perhaps, “presentations” or something similarly vague?
As Marcus Collins said, your audience is not going to say, “Yes! White papers!” and hungrily delve into the entire collection to find the specific information they’re looking for. They are better served by clearly-defined categories that directly reflect your services or offerings, and that make it as easy as possible for users to find the information they want.
This type of approach to your resources also allows you to keep the featured content fresh and relevant – your audience wants to see the COVID-19 story right now, not a dated marketing trend about live events.
I know it seems like I keep knocking white papers. In actuality, they are a valuable resource – for specific audiences who want to get into greater detail about a complicated topic. White papers and in-depth research articles help companies showcase deeper knowledge about and thought leadership in their market category.
We encourage our clients to weave white papers into their content strategy if it makes sense for their audience. I can’t stress enough that while you may love a good 5-page deep-dive, your customers might not.
A dominating byproduct of this digital world we’re living in is that the way people digest information has drastically changed. This reality is nothing new – in most cases, we want things fast, easy-to-consume, visual, and brief. Only a narrow swath of target customers will sit down to read a lengthy report top-to-bottom.
Modernize your content by making it look and sound more applicable to where we are right now. A great example of this approach is Think with Google, a content hub of insights and ideas organized (appropriately) to fit the way we think.
These assets are labeled “Perspective”, “Interactive Feature”, “Video” and “Case Study”, which are more representative of the digital language we speak today. And the labels are included as something of an afterthought to set expectations – the asset titles, which are prominently displayed, are what get people to click.
Really the big takeaway here is to create and present content that resonates with your target audience today. Tracking content performance is a great way to know what works – if your infographics get a lot of traffic and your eBooks get far less, shift more emphasis to infographic creation.
And rather than ditch eBook creation entirely, think of ways to make them more visual – and modernize the name. Some eyes may glaze over at the word “eBook” while something like a “LookBook” sounds more compelling.
If your content strategy is modernized with the right technology, promotion tactics, buyer journey focus, and SEO approach, you have the ability to focus on modernizing the content itself. Engage your audience by presenting content in a format that makes sense for how they consume information in today’s digital world.
I listen to a lot of podcasts. One thing you get used to when you listen to podcasts is the ads the hosts read for different brand sponsors. Some popular ones include HelloFresh meal delivery, the Noom weight loss app, and the ZipRecruiter hiring app. Lately, many of these ads all share one outstanding characteristic – they’re all offering a sympathetic nod to “things being pretty hard right now” – or some variation of that sentiment.
Since COVID-19 drove people into their homes, then cautiously out again, and somewhat back in now that more anxiety has been cast about the winter months, brands have adopted an apologetic tone, couching their products or services as a way to help/escape/cope/reward ourselves (etc.) for the trouble 2020 has leveled upon us.
Every time I hear this type of ad-speak, I think, sarcastically, “Thanks for the reminder about how challenging 2020 has been!”
And then my marketing brain kicks on and I think, “Is this really working for brands?”
The answer is yes – and no.
In the first weeks and months after the pandemic broke out, many brands reacted by going dark, which was somewhat ill-advised because in truth, adapting to the “new normal” was most prudent for brands to keep business moving.
What COVID-19 has done is force brands to rethink their marketing strategies.
Since the early months of this pandemic, we’ve seen the integration of masks in TV or print ads; we’ve heard messaging around the introduction of contactless delivery or pickup; we’ve enjoyed discounts and deals to make purchase decisions easier during a time when many people lost or were furloughed from their jobs.
These tactics are smart and allowed brands to forge connections with consumers dealing with a suddenly different way of life. But as the months have passed and we’ve witnessed reopenings of businesses and schools and the resumption of certain social activities, many brands are alluding to the collective struggle of 2020 as part of their messaging – regardless of their audience or what they’re selling.
Doing so is only problematic if the messaging fails to understand that many people are still very seriously impacted by this pandemic and that the challenges of March and April are persistent across the country today.
There remains a “right way” and a “wrong way” for brands to incorporate messaging around the pandemic in their advertising, and even if the greatest consequence of the “wrong way” is an eye roll from your consumers, we think it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
Alluding to the challenges of 2020 – which for some have been significant and for others less so – can work if it’s the right brand and the right offering. A successful delivery of this type of message depends on the product or service being offered and if it’s directly related to the COVID-19 struggle.
If your company is genuinely helpful, or in the business of making home life easier, it can be impactful to and appreciated by consumers.
DoorDash, for example, is a contact-free food delivery service that works with local restaurants and national chains to bring the food you want right to your door. This brand realizes people are largely stuck at home and has created messaging that respectfully alludes to this situation:
“Between never-ending laundry cycles and incoming emails, you’ve got plenty of items on your todo list. Give yourself one less thing to worry about, and let DoorDash take care of your next meal.”
As a consumer often overwhelmed with being home and very much missing the experience of eating at a restaurant, the messaging resonates and feels helpful and relevant. I also appreciate that it is specific to certain challenges of being at home, rather than reminding me about the general dumpster fire of a year 2020 has been.
With anything in life – but especially with marketing – people can tell when something is disingenuous or a blatant cash-grab.
In the first weeks after the pandemic, brands that responded by simply shutting off their marketing now may be struggling with how to do any advertising if it doesn’t directly mention COVID-19 or the general unpleasantness of 2020 many consumers feel.
This conundrum is why most brands, regardless of what they are offering, use language like, “We could all use a little fun right now,” or “Now more than ever we need a break from reality.”
For something unrelated to the challenge of the pandemic – a luxury item like a car or a leisure purchase like jewelry or a new mattress– the reference can seem thin and out-of-place.
For example, Heinz debuted a “tomato blood ketchup” leading up to Halloween, with this message from its brand manager, “Families have had to navigate a lot this year, and Halloween is no exception. With Heinz Tomato Blood Ketchup, we want to give families a fun way to go big with their spooky celebrations, even if they look a bit different in 2020.”
The reality? Heinz ketchup is not a solution to much except perhaps a lack of flavor with my french fries.
References to the pandemic are not obligatory. Brands that aren’t offering direct help or relief to the real struggles people are facing each day would be better off not mentioning or alluding to the pandemic at all.
In place of brands going out of their way to keep reminding consumers of the challenges that confront us, brands can also win by using normal, pandemic-free messaging where appropriate.
COVID-19 has certainly changed the way we do everything, and brands continue to search for the right tone in response to the events transpiring this year.
One thing we can all agree on? 2020 has been difficult, for some more than others, and in different ways. The best brand messaging and tone during COVID-19 are those of compassion, understanding, helpfulness, and humility; consumers will see right through attempts to use the pandemic as a way to sell more products.
These days, there can be a lot of reasons to feel a bit wistful for simpler times, especially for companies struggling to keep business moving during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are operating on an entirely different level when it comes to buying decisions, and the need for personalized marketing is not only more critical now than at any point in the past, but it looks different too.
Hyper-personalization is a somewhat anxiety-inducing way of describing the shift from one-to-one sales-driven marketing to marketing that is multi-channeled and layered, with many touchpoints that all play a role in influencing a buying decision.
Marketing has become somewhat of a transparent activity. We all know we’re being marketed to. We know when it’s happening and, most importantly, how to tune it out or avoid it. But we are also happy to play along – providing useful personal data in exchange for something we want. Our expectation also is for an even more tailored experience going forward.
And therein lies the challenge for marketers – and also the opportunity.
Data is the key to hyper-personalization, and there are a few ways to collect effective data in order to enhance the customer experience:
While personalized marketing was already a necessity for companies to better connect with their customers, the COVID-19 pandemic brought it into even sharper focus. As people have retreated to their homes and one-to-one interactions have become limited to digital-only experiences, companies have had to rethink personalized marketing on a whole new level.
Regardless of industry, or whether your company is B2B, B2C, or D2C, major shifts to different ways of doing business will last into the future as everyone adapts to a new normal – even as the economy begins to open up again.
Personalized marketing can now include anything from offering convenient curbside pickup, to providing in-store sanitation, to offering voice-enabled communication and self-assisted online experiences; think AI-powered navigation to be more intuitive and responsive to your customers’ actions.
A recent consumer research report conducted by Zoovu and Researchscape found some interesting insights that point to an opportunity in the age of COVID to better personalize the customer experience:
It’s clear beyond a doubt that personalized marketing is a must – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future. So let’s talk about how to get hyper-personalized.
Collecting customer data is great for informing hyper-personalization strategies, but customer behavior metrics can’t be ignored. Fully understanding your customers requires dual collection of their information and information about the way they behave when interacting with your website or brand materials.
Brand metrics help us understand when and how a conversion occurred, and are helpful for replicating brand experiences that have been shown to lead to conversions.
The caveat is that brand metrics are often focused on what the brand wants to track; i.e. how much traffic a page gets, or how many downloads of an eBook were made. But when we focus more on brand metrics than on customer experience data, we risk alienating customers by failing to provide what they need.
To address this problem, we recommend a mix of tracking both brand metrics and customer data to ensure you know what your customers care about – and can therefore better align all touchpoints with those preferences.
At Fishnet, we often tell our clients that resonating with customers is all about the right message, at the right time, in the right way. We didn’t invent that mantra, but we also don’t take it at face value – and today, we can’t, because so much has changed about audience targeting from both a technology and a legal standpoint.
With tighter privacy regulations, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) notwithstanding, being in the right place at the right time with the right message is only as effective as the information driving what’s “right”.
It is here that technology and the law converge.
Big social media companies like Facebook that have traditionally been the gatekeepers of valuable customer data are responding to privacy concerns by putting up barriers to this information. Marketers now have had to generate their own audience information to ensure there’s no loss of personalization potential.
As consumers ourselves, we see the personalized approach all the time, especially with brands like Netflix and Amazon whose business models are based around hyper-personalization. These companies have reinvented the personalization wheel and set the stage for all other brands. Consumers feel safe divulging information to them in exchange for hyper-personalized services that make spot-on purchase recommendations or suggest just the right type of entertainment.
Of course, we’re talking about mega brands. You may not be competing with Netflix or Amazon, but you still want to connect with your customers in the same hyper-personalized way.
Brands today have an opportunity to merge their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology with customer experience data to identify the best audience targeting opportunities that will drive business.
As customer interactions and the privacy landscape change, the most important piece of personalization remains audience identity data. Taking personalization to the “hyper” level is all about how you use that data – to connect with customers at every relevant touchpoint, and meeting their expectations for interaction and information. Only then can brands deliver value in the right way, at the right time, while protecting the safety and integrity of the customer – and their trust.
Fostering a trusted client-agency relationship can be tricky, and that’s held true even before first impressions involved securing solid WiFi and making sure that your pet isn’t about to photobomb the Zoom kickoff call.
So, whether it’s your first time working with an agency to help execute a specific project, or if you’re well-versed in introducing a third-party team to round out your pool of marketing resources, we want to help alleviate the awkwardness of getting to know each other – especially during these very different times.
Here’s the scoop on what clients should know before officially kicking off a client-agency relationship.
We love process, and everything we do is purposeful so we both get the most out of our relationship. It’s our job to walk you through the structure of our work and map out the steps we’ll be taking to inform our working relationship and the success of a project. If there’s a milestone we need to hit, you’ll know about it.
We also want to have a solid understanding of what you do and how your organization ticks. So, we’re going to ask you a ton of questions. It’s not a test – your answers are what form the basis of our work. A critical part of our up-front discovery is working with you to understand how your industry works, what your unique service offering (or product, or solution) provides, and how you currently position yourself in the market. It’s the only way we can shape an effective marketing strategy.
At times, it may seem like we’re poking holes in your marketing plan. Please remember this is only because we want to deliver on the promise we’ve made to you. The stakes are high on both sides. For you, as the client, it might be pressure to meet a targeted ROI, conversion rates, or hitting a sky-high yearly sales goal. For us, it’s about doing our job to support you to the very best of our ability. If we, as a larger team, don’t meet our goals, we’ve got to work together to identify why not, and how we can best optimize the approach to get there. When we meet (or exceed!) our shared goals, it’s a joint celebration.
Ever been one of 12 recipients copied on an email chain and unsure who is supposed to respond? Yeah, we don’t like that either. When we first embark on our new client-agency relationship, we take the time to understand the stakeholders on your team, as well as introduce you to the dedicated people on our team assigned to your specific engagement. There will never be a day when you don’t know who to go to for a certain aspect of your project. We like to clearly identify roles so both parties understand all and any responsibilities and expectations.
Sharing content feedback can be tricky, especially if the collection method is not consistent and the stakeholders responsible for reviewing are not identified (see above). We have the tools in place to establish a consistent approach for sharing consolidated feedback that works for both parties (no more chasing down multiple spreadsheets!) and of course, we’ll share helpful reminders in terms of the timeframe feedback is required in order to stick to the schedule.
It’s really hard to hurt our feelings. Trust us. We wouldn’t work at an agency if that was the case – we are used to taking feedback and making the right adjustments to deliver what you want. So, if we missed the mark, please say so. Part of ensuring we’re set up for long-term success is learning what you like, and more importantly, what you don’t. Even more, please tell us why. The more transparent feedback, the better.
On the topic of transparency, we’ve got to keep the lines of communication wide open. We don’t want to be a name on the other side of an inbox. Face-to-face meetings are essential, even if they’re on Zoom, and we believe a quick phone call in place of an email can do wonders in terms of efficiently getting things done. We’ll be checking in often to make sure we’re on track, sharing updates on project health, budget, keeping you apprised well in advance of any timeline adjustments – and we’ll check in to make sure you feel good about things, too.
It seems pretty simple, right? Ultimately, we want you to feel like we are an accessible part of your marketing team. Entire marketing teams simply do not work in one room together anymore. In fact, it’s not uncommon if brands we work with have teams that span continents. All that aside, at the end of the day, it’s our job to integrate ourselves into your team, bridging the gap between agency and client to drive tangible, successful results.