Avoiding The Biggest Mistake Most Businesses Make With Social Media

The value of social media as a marketing tool has already been well-documented. Everyone knows by now that any brand worth its salt needs to at least have a presence on Facebook. What people aren’t clear on, however, is what exactly that presence entails.

The issue, as it were, is that businesses don’t take the time to learn what makes social networks unique. They treat Facebook as just another advertising platform, Twitter as a tool for rapid-fire sales, and Instagram as a product showcase. 

And that’s a problem. Not just because that’s not what social media is meant to be used for, but because audience attitudes towards sales-focused content have shifted.

Dramatically.

Today’s consumers don’t want to be sold to. They don’t want to be bombarded with marketing pitches, harassed with product information, and flooded with cold calls. Many of them have spent their entire lives dealing with that kind of thing — and at this point, it’s little more than digital white noise.

Consider, for instance, that as reported by online publication The Drum, a recent study by consulting firm Kantar found that just 14 percent of people trust advertisers. The Spring update to the Edelman 2020 Trust Barometer, which measures consumer trust in business and government, meanwhile, found that only 32 percent of people believe businesses are putting people before profits. Taken together, these two studies paint a very clear picture.

People do not trust any business they view as overly profit-driven. And that means that if you use social media as little more than an additional sales platform, your audience is just going to lump you in with every other brand they dislike and don’t trust. So what’s the alternative? 

Instead of focusing on your business’s bottom line and trying to drive sales, focus on your brand’s relationship with its audience. Instead of spending all your time talking about your products, think about what your audience might actually be interested in seeing. In short, instead of using your social channels as ad platforms, leverage them for engagement.

Ask yourself the following questions.

  • What content do my followers typically engage with the most? What sort of stuff do they share?  
  • Why do people follow my brand on social media? 
  • How are my competitors using social media? 
  • What sort of personality do I want my brand to present to its audience? What sort of content would best present that personality? 
  • What type of content can I produce in-house? 
  • What kind of third-party content do I want to share? 
  • How frequently should I post, and at what time of day? 
  • Does my audience differ at all across my social channels? 

In short, the most important thing to remember when establishing your business on social media is that at the end of the day, it’s not really about you. It’s about your customers, and how they relate to your brand. Focus on them —their interests, their needs, and their values — and you have an excellent starting point. 

How COVID-19 Has Changed Influencer Marketing

According to a survey released in April by market research SaaS firm Global Web Index, 87 percent of U.S. consumers increased their overall media consumption as a direct result of COVID-19 This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Over the course of the pandemic, people all over the world have had to cope with lockdowns, social isolation, and in some cases, loss of income. 

What else is there to do but spend time on the Internet? 

As you might expect, this increase in media consumption means more people than ever are paying attention to influencers. People are looking for a sense of normalcy. Looking to distract themselves from what’s going on in the world.

Streaming media and video games aside, influencers provide the opportunity to do just that. 

This is a double-edged sword, however. The fact that more people are paying attention to influencers also means more people are scrutinizing them. And make no mistake — the Internet personalities who commit significant missteps during this pandemic will become functionally radioactive from a marketing perspective.

Take YouTuber Jake Paul. As reported by publication Insider, Paul was already a highly controversial figure before the pandemic. But over the last several months, Paul has made blunder after repeated blunder.

Per Vanity Fair Magazine, Paul recently threw a massive party at his California mansion. His reckless disregard for the coronavirus quickly made the news. And it wasn’t just the media who were lambasting Paul, either.

“Everyone who saw the video [was outraged],” Said Calabasas Mayor Alicia Weintraub “They’re having this large party, no social distancing, no masks, it’s just a big, huge disregard for everything that everybody is trying to do to get things back to functioning. It’s really just a party acting like COVID does not exist, it’s acting like businesses aren’t closed.” 

Will Jake Paul make it through this incident with his fame relatively unscathed? More than likely. At the same time, he’s a perfect example of an influencer your brand cannot, under any circumstances, engage with — at least, not if you want to present your business as socially conscientious. 

It is, in other words, now more important than ever that you do your research before engaging with an influencer. Moreover, once your brand starts working with an influencer, you cannot simply leave them to their own devices. Pay attention to what they’re doing, and be prepared to cut ties with them if necessary. 

People are exhausted right now. This is no secret. As you might expect, this means their patience has worn thin.

They’re more discerning with their purchases. They’re likelier to vote with their wallets. They’re likelier to write off a business or influencer who doesn’t appear to mesh with their values. 

The pandemic will eventually end, and the world will regain a sense of normalcy. However, the increased focus and scrutiny to which influencers and businesses alike are subjected is likely to remain.  Keep that in mind moving forward, and you should do just fine. 

The Critical Role of Experiential Marketing on Social Media

Social media isn’t exactly untrodden ground. 

It’s been 16 years since Facebook was founded. Twitter has existed for 14 years. There is an entire generation of people who have never experienced life without social networks.

With this in mind, it’s somewhat baffling that there are still so many businesses that don’t understand social marketing. Some of them still treat social networks like traditional advertising platforms, talking at their audience rather than engaging them. Others, meanwhile, shamelessly promote their products and brand without much thought for what their audience actually wants. 

Neither of these approaches is likely to meet with success, especially as younger audiences grow warier, wearier, and more focused on privacy. Rather than interacting openly with everyone who crosses their path, many users are now focused on smaller, more intimate groups of friends and acquaintances. Brand and digital content strategist Sara Wilson refers to these micro-communities as ‘digital campfires.’ 

“If social media can feel like a crowded airport terminal where everyone is allowed, but no one feels particularly excited to be there, digital campfires offer a more intimate oasis where smaller groups of people are excited to gather around shared interests,” Wilson explains. “[Marketers] must identify the communities and parts of the culture that their brand fits into. Then, determine the online experiences these audiences seek.” 

In other words, unless you want middling results on your social marketing efforts, you cannot simply focus on selling your products. Instead, you need to immerse your audience in your brand. You need to focus on interacting with your customers, brainstorming a unique, creative shared experience that people are excited to be a part of.

In order to do this effectively, there are several questions you need to answer. 

  • Who is your audience? This includes their average income, country of residence, average age, and general information about their career/industry.
  • How does your audience communicate? What sort of language do they use, and what sort of content do they usually engage with? 
  • What does your audience value? What are their beliefs, and what social causes do they tend to support? 
  • What are your audience’s hobbies? This may include video games, musical genres, what type of media they consume, and so on. 
  • Why is your audience interested in your brand? 

Spend some time studying your customers. Track down your competitors, and see who’s engaging with their brands. Study, listen, learn, and brainstorm. 

Once you’ve taken the time to figure out who your audience is, it’s time to get creative. You might consider partnering with other businesses or brands to create a more immersive experience, as multiple organizations have done with video game publisher Epic Games and their title Fortnite. You might consider creating an explorable virtual space or designing a competition or event that spans every one of your marketing channels. 

The goal here is to do something that uniquely meshes with the personality of your brand and uniquely resonates with your audience. To engage with and immerse your customers without attempting to sell to them. To cultivate a relationship based on their wants and their needs.

Do it right, and you won’t need to sell to them — they’ll find their way to you themselves.

The Critical Role Mental Health Awareness Plays in Modern Marketing

Millions of adults worldwide live with some form of mental illness. Amidst the ongoing pandemic and social unrest, it’s highly likely that people are struggling. Isolation combined with the myriad stressors of current events has created a perfect storm of stress and anxiety.

Now more than ever, it’s important that your marketing takes mental health into account. Because even in spite of how many people suffer from it, even in spite of how difficult things are for people all over the world, there’s still a stigma around mental illness. A pervasive, unpleasant, ingrained urge to push it under the rug.

Removing that stigma requires that businesses and brands do what they can to spread awareness, yours included.

This starts from within. Because there are rarely any visual indicators that clients or staff are suffering from mental illness, you need to promote a culture of support and understanding. Make it clear that people can ask for help, and you’ll do what you can to provide it without judgment. 

Some people find it incredibly difficult – even mortifying – to ask for help, even when they desperately need it. The sooner we as a society can destigmatize mental illness, the better.  Free medical support for mental health issues such as depression and anxiety will go a particularly long way, especially in marketing.

Consider, for instance, that in a 2018 study by online job board CV library, over a third of marketing professionals indicated that they were driven to depression and anxiety by their career.  Then, consider that according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of North America, only 18 percent of the population suffers from anxiety. That’s a significant gulf. 

Beyond promoting more internal awareness and acceptance of mental health, you can also weave this complex topic into your marketing efforts more easily than you might expect. You might start simple, with marketing materials such as stress balls, fidget spinners, or fidget cubes. You might publish blog posts or social campaigns in support of a particular mental health issue, or even participate in a podcast on the topic.

You might also consider hosting events dedicated to mental health and awareness, something which can more easily connect you with the community. Partnering with other local businesses can go a long way towards expanding your reach, as well. Moreover, demonstrating to your core audience that you’ve put time and effort into considering their well-being can do a great deal of good for everyone.

As far as engaging with current events is concerned, it’s not strictly necessary. The best your business can do is emphasize to both customers and employees that their health and wellness is a priority. Emphasize that mental health need not be an invisible problem and that people need not suffer alone. 

Why Empathy is a Critical to Marketing Post COVID-19

Financial instability. Anxiety over the possible loss of loved ones. The strain of prolonged isolation. 

It’s unlikely that any of us escaped the coronavirus pandemic entirely unscathed. It’s been an incredibly difficult and trying time for virtually everyone. Unfortunately, it seems like many brands still haven’t gotten the memo.

Some of them tried to pretend it was business as usual. Customers were bombarded with typical marketing copy and advertising campaigns. Refusing to even engage with the pandemic carried with it the implication that it – and the suffering of their audience – was unimportant. 

On the other end of the spectrum, others hopped on the COVID marketing bandwagon. We’re all in this together, they told their audience, and we care about your struggles. Unfortunately, a lack of clear effort and personalization made this messaging come across as wholly insincere. 

Both approaches fail because they lack one crucial component: empathy. 

You need to understand what your audience is going through and acknowledge it with your messaging. Focus on connecting with your customers on a personal level rather than trying to sell your products to them. Relationship-building was already important for successful marketing before the pandemic; it’s only going to grow more important in the coming month.

There are a few stages in this approach: 

  • Start with buyer personas. Who is your audience? What do they value? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their hobbies and aspirations? 
  • Ask questions. Talk to your audience. Connect with people who’ve left positive or negative reviews to see why.  Make it clear that you’re always open to customer feedback, and most importantly, listen.
  • Know your own values. What morals matter to your organization? How can you inspire good and promote positivity in a way that aligns with your business’s brand? 
  • Leverage emotion.  Focus on positive emotions like happiness, nostalgia, and triumph.  People have already dealt with enough fear, uncertainty, and angst throughout the pandemic. Don’t try to play on those negative emotions simply to make a sale. 
  • Communicate, don’t sell.  Your goal here is to give something valuable or positive to your audience. If they decide to buy your products or services afterward, that’s their decision. They shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. 
  • Don’t tear anyone down. Focus on the positive elements of your brand or industry. Again, you want to stay away from overt negativity here. 
  • Show you understand. Demonstrate to your audience that you know them and care. There are many ways to do this, such as a how-to they’ve been asking for, an advertising spot that shows real, human footage, or a vow to donate a portion of your proceeds to charity. Focus on ways you can make the lives of your customers better. 

People are tired. Amidst all the fear, uncertainty, and angst suffered at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic, they have little patience left for manipulative or predatory marketing efforts. If your brand is incapable of demonstrating empathy, you will end up paying for it – both in the short-term and the long-term. 

Is Segmentation Still a Valid Marketing Tactic?

Segmentation is one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book. Understanding the broad strokes of one’s audience – their likes, dislikes, interests, hobbies, desires, and habits – has long been at the core of effective marketing. But in an era of personalization and relationship-focused business, is segmentation still critical?

Is it still even relevant? 

“Understanding what makes customers the same isn’t personalized marketing,” writes Aaron Raddon, Co-Founder and CTO of customer data analyst Lytics. “Understanding what makes them different is…if you’re still segmenting customers as we know it today, stop it.”

“[Customers] want marketing that feels like a personalized shopper or content curator,” he continues. “You should be thinking about decisioning, orchestration, and affinity-based recommendations.” 

Raddon’s advice isn’t without merit. The days when brands could get away with impersonal, loosely-targeted advertising campaigns are far behind us. Today’s consumers not only look favorably on personalization in marketing, they practically demand it. 

In a 2017 survey by GBH Insights and Epsilon, for instance, 90 percent of respondents in the United States expressed that personalized marketing was either very or somewhat appealing. Lack of personalized content, meanwhile, generates 83 percent lower response rates, according to customer experience specialist Monetate. And according to analyst McKinsey, personalization can reduce acquisition costs by up to 50 percent. 

In short, personalization is essential to your success. But that doesn’t mean that segmentation is, by association, no longer relevant. Quite the contrary, in fact. 

Market segmentation is the first step to understanding your broader audience. It allows you to cluster your customers together based on general, shared traits. Initial acquisition and advertising can be designed based on these traits.

Eventually, as you bring in more customers and they move further down the sales funnel, you can make the shift from a more generalized, segmented approach towards a more focused, individualized one. In this way, personalization functions as a sort of natural ‘evolution’ from segmentation. One leads into the other, and both are valuable to the savvy marketer.

“Segmentation is a relatively early tactic on what we term the personalization maturity curve,” reads a blog from cross-channel marketing expert Sailthru. “That curve begins with a single message mailing, then moves through simple forms of personalization, such as putting someone’s name in a subject line, and segmentation. But more sophisticated strategies have a bigger impact on revenue and retention: personalized recommendations, omnichannel optimization, and eventually, predictive personalization.” 

In other words, you start with segmentation, then move towards a more dynamic and focused approach. An approach that puts the customer front and center. An approach that, using a combination of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to provide them with precisely the content they’re looking for. 

Personalization is the future. There’s no doubt about that. But at least for the time being, segmentation still has its place in marketing.

3 Tips for Customer-Focused Branding

Scrutiny for how businesses are run is now at an all-time high. Customers are comparing their experience with your business to that offered by your competitors more frequently than ever, particularly with the recent large-scale shift towards full digitization. It’s therefore imperative that you employ customer-focused branding and marketing wherever possible.

This can take many forms.

  • Using provided feedback to improve policies and operations.
  • Employing artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to understand the needs of your buyers.
  • Comparing sales and traffic metrics to better determine customer preferences.
  • Developing tailored products and services based on your understanding of the audience.

In regards to the above, we’re going to go over a few critical pieces of advice. 

Anticipate the Needs of Your Audience

Everything from your messaging to your brand imagery should be geared towards your audience. With that said, the better you understand and anticipate their needs, the more effectively you can tailor these materials. In this regard, artificial intelligence is an incredibly powerful tool.

AI allows you to gain deeper insights into your audience and their browsing and purchasing behaviors than ever before. It also allows you to take customer service to an entirely new level, providing tech support, creating and processing orders, and automating common processes. Through insights and automation, machine learning allows you to laser-focus on the customer experience.

Artificial intelligence isn’t the only tool here when it comes to understanding your audience, though. When developing a product, focus on fulfilling a specific need, and pay attention to purchase patterns which might indicate the strengths (or weaknesses) of a particular product. This, in turn, can inform your marketing and branding even further. 

Leverage Customer Feedback Effectively

Listen. That’s the most important piece of advice anyone will ever give you about modern marketing and branding. Be open to communication with your customers, and pay close attention to any feedback you receive from customers, including and especially reviews.

When a customer takes the time to provide you with feedback, listen to it. Address it in a timely manner, and have a customer service representative reach out to them to see if there are any improvements to be made. Positive feedback, too, should be engaged with.

The idea is not only to demonstrate that your brand cares about the needs of its audience but also to leverage that audience’s feedback to further improve and refine your business. 

Focus On The Audience Experience More Than Anything Else

Your branding and marketing efforts should effectively present you as a problem-solver, focused on what’s important to your audience. To that end, you should pay attention to the following:

  • Overall experience. How does the buyer feel about your services and the purchase process? How convenient is it to order goods and services via your online platform? Ease is extremely important when it comes to making an online purchase, and first-time discounts or rewards can be an effective strategy for bringing in new customers
  • Design and presentation. Your website is, in essence, something of a resume for your business. It’s the first thing your customers will see, their first impression of your brand. With that in mind, your site should in all ways reflect your identity as a brand, while also being easy to navigate and understand.
  • Speed and performance. People are frustrated by a poorly-functioning or slow website. Make sure your pages don’t take too long to load and don’t include too many errors.
  • Competitive pricing. Comparison shopping is now more frequent than ever. All other things being equal, customers will inevitably choose the better price. You want to make sure that price is yours, whether through artificial intelligence or manual analysis. 
  • Mobile optimization. Particularly if you run an eCommerce storefront, it’s imperative that your site is navigable on mobile devices. This is non-negotiable not just from an SEO standpoint, but also from the perspective of general functionality.

Most businesses by now accept that success requires a focus on the customer. Some, however, are a little hazy on what that means. By understanding the needs of your audience, including what they enjoy about your brand, you can adapt not only your marketing materials but your entire business to them. 

3 Characteristics of Manipulative Marketing (And Why You Need to Avoid Doing It)

Some unscrupulous brands are playing off COVID-19 anxiety to drum up sales. Yours should not be among them. You need to avoid exploitative marketing. Not just for the well-being of your audience, but for the long-term health of your brand. Here’s how to recognize and avoid it.

We live in trying times.

The coronavirus pandemic is now entering its fifth month, and there’s still no clear end in sight. People are exhausted, frustrated, and on edge. And some businesses, whether out of desperation or an opportunistic desire for higher sales, are attempting to play off of that.

Don’t make their mistake. While it’s certainly true that manipulative, exploitative, and dishonest marketing tactics can lead to a short-term increase in sales, that small bump isn’t worth the long-term damage you’ll do to your brand. Once people key-in to the fact that you manipulated them, they’ll very likely abandon you. 

Here are a few tactics you’ll want to avoid like the plague, especially right now. 

Making Inaccurate Claims

Honesty and transparency represent the only valid approach to your business. Allow the quality of your products and services to speak for itself, and avoid making any sweeping promises or claims you cannot fulfill. Where the pandemic is concerned, be open with your customers on how it will impact your business. 

If you are experiencing shipping delays, inform people about them. If there are shortages of a particular product, make that clear.  Show your customers that they can rely on you to be truthful and accountable. 

Playing on Negative Emotions

A lot of the shadiest marketing tactics rely on making the audience feel bad, or on prodding at a negative emotion that they’re experiencing. In the case of COVID-19, this could be uncertainty about one’s future, frustration at quarantine and social distancing requirements, or fear of the pandemic itself. This can also apply to broader manipulation tactics, such as:

  • Causing a customer to feel inadequate if they fail to purchase from your brand. 
  • Intentionally creating offensive marketing materials. 
  • Attempting to co-opt existing movements for the sake of making a sale.
  • Creating anger, sadness, or anxiety to browbeat a customer into buying. 

Making Connections That Don’t Exist

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, advertisements related to the coronavirus inevitably all strike the same chords

They speak of uncertain times. They display imagery and use media that evokes loneliness, isolation, and unease, usually featuring sad piano music. They conclude with a promise that the brand paying for the ad is there for its customers. 

Regardless of whether or not this message is sincere, the delivery is officially overdone. The market is saturated with emotional ads about the pandemic, and it’s likely that people are sick of seeing them. If COVID-19 itself has no direct connection to your brand, then do not create one

Issue a press release informing your customers how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Offer direct support to your audience. Speak honestly and openly with people.

But there’s no need to put advertising revenue towards another campaign which will ultimately come off as insincere.

Focus on Persuasion, Not Manipulation

There’s no shortage of brands attempting to use COVID-19 to their advantage. If you value your relationship with your audience, yours should not be among them. Instead, just focus on doing what you were doing before. 

Be open and authentic, and work to build relationships rather than generate sales. 

How Should Your Brand Address COVID-19?

By now, most of us have been flooded with content related to the coronavirus. 

Emails that explain, in great depth, how every brand we’ve ever worked with is approaching the pandemic. News stories about the virus’s progression, and about the multiple flubs and fumbles being committed by businesses both great and small. Social feeds flooded with memes and arguments.

Either your brand is among those that have yet to issue a concrete response, or you’re wondering if what you’ve done thus far is sufficient.  You wouldn’t be here otherwise. Let’s talk about what you should be doing (and what you shouldn’t), both in your messaging and your overall business practices. 

You should:

  • If you operate a digital storefront, add warnings on your website that customers should expect shipping delays due to COVID-19. 
  • Create and share branded content related to the pandemic where both relevant and appropriate.  This content should provide direct value to your audience in some way. 
  • Send out a single email blast to customers who have subscribed to your mailing list, explaining how your brand is approaching the pandemic.
  • Allow all staff to work remotely, and put the necessary frameworks in place to ensure they can do so and remain both mentally and physically healthy. 
  • Follow the news related to COVID-19, and update your policies and processes accordingly.
  • Scale back on your marketing and advertising efforts. While it’s true that people are spending more time online, these are uncertain times. People may, in light of the financial challenges posed by COVID-19, be less likely to spend money. 

You should not:

  • Ignore advice given by medical professionals, or respond to them in an insulting fashion when they offer advice. Accept that they likely know more about the situation than you do, and remain professional while interacting with them. 
  • Attempt to use the coronavirus to drum up business. As reported by news publication The Star, the owner of a Subway franchise in Calgary, Canada tried offering free masks with the purchase of food.
  • Engage in any manipulative marketing tactics that prey on your audience’s fear or uncertainty regarding the pandemic.
  • Overdo it with COVID-19 updates on any of your channels. Again, a single email blast is enough, and may even be overkill. Most of your customers are likely tired of hearing about the virus by now. 

Like it or not, we live in a historic time. The challenges presented by the coronavirus and the changes it’s forced onto businesses around the world are both unprecedented. But they are not insurmountable.

It all goes back to understanding your audience and empathizing with what they’re going through. Do that, and everything else should fall readily into place.

3 Things You Need to Work From Home as a Marketing Professional

Remote work is now the rule rather than the exception. As more and more businesses either by choice or by necessity put measures in place to support a distributed workforce, employees across industries are adapting to a world where they can work entirely from the comfort of their own home. Believe it or not, that’s not necessarily as great as it sounds.

For one, distractions abound, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be an exercise in futility. Beyond these, working from home as a marketing professional presents several of its own challenges. We’re going to go over a few of the most common, and explain how you can overcome them. 

Security Tools and Best Practices

When sensitive assets such as product roadmaps or press releases are on a workplace PC, your clients can reasonably expect that data will be kept secure. As such, before you download anything to a personal smartphone or desktop, you need to be absolutely certain that the device is up to the same security standards as your workplace systems. We’d recommend the following: 

  • An antimalware solution
  • A password manager
  • Two-factor authentication on all critical accounts
  • Secure file-sharing software that allows encryption of and control over sensitive files 
  • Active mindfulness when opening emails and browsing the web 

A Virtual Private Network (VPN)

If you need to access corporate servers or software from home, there’s a good chance you’ll use a VPN to do it. Secure access to corporate resources isn’t the only reason to install one, however.  VPNs actually have a multitude of applications beyond supporting an encrypted connection.

For one, they can allow you to get around region locking and location tracking. While this is only relevant in niche use cases, it can nevertheless prove invaluable from a market research standpoint. It’s also helpful if you’re working with a client whose website automatically changes its content based on the visitor’s location, allowing you to access the data you need in order to do your job.  

High-Quality Audio and Video Hardware

Last but certainly not least, working doesn’t negate the importance of face-to-face meetings. With that in mind, we’d strongly recommend investing in a high-quality webcam and a professional-grade headset. You need to be able to connect with both clients and colleagues via video conferences, and not just because it’s important for collaboration.

Especially if you live alone, teleconferences are absolutely critical to staving off the effects of prolonged social isolation. While they’re still no substitute for face-to-face contact, they can still help a great deal. 

Marketing in a Digital, Distributed Future

Even once the coronavirus pandemic dies down, it seems likely that remote work will still feature prominently in many workplaces. As such, you have a lot to gain from familiarizing yourself with it. Equip yourself with the necessary tools now, and you’ve everything to gain in the future.