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.

How User Feedback Can Inform Your SEO Strategy

The most successful businesses are those that listen to their customers. This has been true since well before the Internet even existed. And it remains true to this day. 

That’s one of the core reasons why online reviews are so incredibly valuable where search engine optimization(SEO) is concerned. Not only do they have a direct impact on traffic and visibility, but how you respond to them can also influence how your audience feels about your business. Moreover, negative reviews can give you a solid idea of what your business is doing wrong and how you can improve.

Yet as critical as they are, reviews are only a single facet of user feedback. And just as you should pay attention to reviews, you should also listen to other communication mediums. This includes social channels, email, customer support, and comments on your blog. 

From the perspective of SEO, examining the support tickets your customers submit can potentially make you aware of technical issues on your website. If, for instance, a single user is unable to access their account, the issue is probably on the client’s side. If, however, multiple people report login issues, then you likely have work to do.

Whenever you publish and share a blog post, pay close attention to what your audience has to say about it. Look at comments on your website and social media channels. This can enrich your content in several ways.

  • New topic ideas. A user may suggest a follow-up to an existing piece, or even an entirely new topic based on something you’ve already published.
  • Fact-checking.  Everyone makes mistakes on occasion. If someone points out one of yours, thank them and correct it. This not only shows that you listen to your audience but also helps you ensure your content is as factually accurate as possible.
  • Expanded content.  Maybe one of your customers has an alternative technique for a how-to article or an idea for updating an old piece. Either way, this can help you enhance existing content and breathe new life into old content. 
  • Better targeting. While on-site metrics are certainly a valid way of determining whether or not your content resonates with your audience, user feedback is better. If your audience expresses consistently negative views about a particular subject, then it likely means there’s a disconnect in your content marketing. 

The best businesses have always been those that listen carefully to their customers. This is as true today as it’s ever been. By incorporating user feedback into your marketing and SEO strategy, you can not only get a clearer picture of what you’re doing wrong but also forge a stronger, better connection with your audience. 

What to Know About Local SEO During a Pandemic

It’s no secret that small businesses have been struggling for the past several months. COVID-19 has been anything but easy, especially for organizations that rely on physical retail. For many, life essentially ground to a standstill.

This remains true even as some regions look to reopen. We’re adrift in a time of profound uncertainty, as many of us wonder whether or not a second wave will strike. Amidst all this, it can be tempting to allow your marketing to taper off  — likely as not, you’ve already cut your marketing budget.

You shouldn’t, though. Especially if you’re a local business, this is actually an ideal time to ramp up your search engine optimization efforts. Many people are still socially isolated, out of work, or both.

They’re looking for local businesses they can support, and curious about whether or not those businesses are taking the necessary measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This means that if you play your cards right, there’s the potential to bring in some decent traffic. There are, however, a few things you need to keep in mind here.

  • Follow the typical best practices. Include Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) information on every page of your website. Sprinkle references to local events and neighborhoods into your blog posts and website copy. Maintain a Google My Business Page with high-quality photos and as much information about your business as possible. 
  • Write a COVID-19 statement. What are you doing to deal with the pandemic? How are you protecting your employees? What are you doing to protect your customers?  How has this impacted your business? 
  • Update your Google My Business page. If COVID-19 has impacted your business hours, your Google My Business listing needs to reflect that. 
  • Find a way to support online sales. Most restaurants are now working with meal delivery services, as are many grocery outlets. If possible, it may be worth expanding the scope of your business to a third-party retailer like Amazon. 
  • Keep the content flowing. If you don’t already have a blog, it’s worthwhile to establish one and start posting regularly. Just be careful you don’t hammer on the coronavirus pandemic too frequently.
  • Get social. Interact with your audience on social media. Don’t try to make sales here. Instead, focus on building relationships with them, and sharing content you think they’ll find interesting or valuable. 

No one is entirely certain when the coronavirus pandemic will end. Even now, as many small businesses start to reopen and pick up the pieces, there’s the looming threat of a second wave.  The best thing you can do at this point is to focus on local SEO and explore ways to do business online. 

By making the shift to digital and working to increase your local reach, you’re much likelier to make it through this crisis at least relatively unscathed. If you’re lucky, you might even come out looking better than you did before.

3 Critical Things to Understand Before Doing Keyword Research

Your business cannot grow if you do not understand your market, your audience, and your brand. Unfortunately, plenty of digital organizations appear to have missed the memo in this regard. They dive headlong into keyword research, chomping at the bit to churn out content and bid on pay per click ads. 

As a result, many of them miss the mark entirely. Their time, effort, and money ends up wasted on a marketing strategy that simply does not work. In order to avoid making this mistake yourself, there are a few things you need to understand before dedicating any time to keyword research. 

What Your Customers Are Interested In

What is your audience searching for, and why? This knowledge needs to inform every facet of your content marketing efforts and search engine optimization strategy, from initial research through to topic brainstorming through to content creation. You need to understand not just the terms your audience is searching with, but the intent behind those terms. 

Are they looking for information, such as how-to articles or details on a particular service? Do they want to know where your business is located? Or are they clearly interested in making a purchase? 

It also helps to know what type of person is interested in your brand and its products. Look at your competitors on social media, and pay attention to their most engaged followers. That’s likely your demographic, as well.

If any of your competitors maintain a blog, you can also look there for general inspiration. 

Your Own Expertise

One of the most important pieces of advice where content marketing is concerned is to focus on what you know. You are presumably an authority on your industry and your market. Use that in your keyword research and topic generation. 

Write to your strengths, and consider what tangential topics your audience would be interested in, as well. Someone looking for home repair services, for instance, may also be interested in reading about home decor or lawn care.  Someone purchasing pet food will likely be interested in other aspects of pet care. 

What You Want to Achieve

Perhaps most importantly, you need to decide on your actual goal in carrying out keyword research. First, consider what part of the marketing funnel you’re targeting. There are three broad areas of focus in that regard.

  • Top funnel keywords are broad and geared towards informational intent. They generally bring in people who are either in their early stages of researching a brand or simply browsing the web.
  • Mid funnel keywords are slightly more specific, and target customers with slightly more purchase intent. They may be researching a particular product or service of yours. 
  • Bottom funnel keywords are explicitly aimed at customers with purchase intent. They are highly specific and generally include brand keywords and product names. 

It’s likely that, as part of your SEO efforts, you will leverage all three types of keywords for different areas of your website. A blog post, for instance, will likely target top or mid-funnel keywords, whilst a product page will have keywords associated with it that are geared towards the bottom of the sales funnel. That’s why it’s important to ask yourself about your goals for each page.

  • Do you simply want to generate brand awareness and bring in more traffic? 
  • Are you trying to sell a specific product or service? 
  • Do you want to increase conversions? 
  • Are you attempting to build yourself up as a thought leader? 

These aren’t mutually exclusive, mind you. At the same time, it’s important that when you set out to research keywords for your site, you do so with a clear goal in mind. 

Closing Thoughts

Keyword research is a constant process and one that requires consistent evaluation. It demands that you understand not only your market, but also your audience, your brand, and your own business goals. It is not, in other words, something you can do without focus. 

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. 

The Most Important Step in Fixing a Broken Brand

There are many reasons why a brand might ‘break.’ 

A disconnect in a brand’s identity between past and present, alienating the brand’s audience. A shift in a brand’s values to the point that it’s no longer appealing to its audience – something common in small brands that experience massive short-term growth and become profit-obsessed. A misstep by someone affiliated with the brand, resulting in extreme reputational damage.

Whatever the cause, a broken brand is one in which its audience has lost faith. A business whose image is tarnished to the point that people no longer want to support it. An organization whose relationship with its customers has fractured, leading them directly into the arms of the competition.

The first step in fixing a broken brand is to understand what broke it in the first place. You need to know what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what you can do to not only mitigate the problem but also prevent it from happening again in the future. Armed with that understanding, the next step is simple – apologize.

Demonstrate to your audience that you are aware of your mistake, and more importantly, that you are willing to make amends. Work to rebuild their trust in you by demonstrating that you are committed to bettering your business. 

What this involves depends entirely on the nature of what caused your brand to fracture in the first place. If it was a small, singular incident, a simple apology and press release may be enough to smooth things over. If it’s something more complex, however, like a values disconnect, a lawsuit, or a data breach, you’re going to need to chart things out a bit more extensively.

Regardless of what route you ultimately decide to take, it’s important that you include everyone affiliated with your brand and the incident. You need to account for not just your customers, but also your employees, investors, and business partners. Engage with them to determine the best path forward – the best way to fix the problems your brand has created for itself.

Listen, learn, and do better. 

From there, it’s simply a matter of time. Of allowing the wounds from your missteps to heal, and the rift created by your errors to mend. Provided you’ve properly grasped the core of your error and made the necessary changes, your brand should be back to where it was before it broke – perhaps even better than ever. 

The Role of Image Optimization in Search Engine Optimization

Images play a pivotal role in the creation of compelling content, whether it’s a product page, a blog post, or just general site copy. They also play an important part in search engine optimization, contributing significantly to factors like navigability, readability, and load time. In some cases, they can even bring new traffic to your website.

“Although there aren’t exactly official numbers, Google stated that every day hundreds of millions of people use Google Images to discover and explore content on the web,” reads a piece on search engine marketing publication Search Engine Land. “About a year ago, Google updated the ‘View Image’ button from Image Search to ‘Visit [Page].’ As a result, analytics platforms began recording an increase in sessions specifically driven from image search and content visibility for the host pages increased (instead of random image files without context).”

Now that we’ve established the importance of images to overall SEO, let’s drill down into some specific advice about image optimization.

Formatting

Even if you’re reformatting images after uploading them to your site, overly-large image files can cause significant issues with load time. To that end, you’re going to want to ensure that any images you upload are smaller than 1 MB. There are a few ways you can achieve this.

  • Reduce the image’s resolution. You do not need photos that are 5000 pixels wide and tall. In our experience, 800 pixels-1200 pixels is where you should be aiming.
  • Use JPEG images instead of PNG images. The latter tend to be much larger than the former. 
  • Use an image editing file such as GIMP to slightly reduce an image’s quality. The dialog to do this pops up when you hit save, and you can generally cut the quality down to 80 percent before there’s any noticeable change.

Creativity

While stock photos certainly have an important role to play, many of the most common ones are by this point incredibly overused. As such, if you have the opportunity to use unique, branded imagery in place of stock imagery, do so. A good photographer or graphic designer may be well worth the cost given the unique flair their work can bring to your site. 

Naming and Alt Text

One of the most frequently-ignored steps in image optimization involves file names and alt text. Each image you upload to your site should be descriptively-named and include at least one relevant keyword. Additionally, each image should include alt text that will display in the event that the image doesn’t load properly, something which tends to happen frequently on mobile devices. 

As explained by SEO expert Moz, an image file’s alt text should be descriptive, but not overly long and stuffed with keywords. Moz also notes that accessibility isn’t the only reason alt text is important. It also helps search engines better understand and contextualize the images on your website. 

It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Where SEO is concerned, that may well be true. Effective imagery is as much a part of optimizing your site as good copy and high-quality content.

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.

How Artificial Intelligence is Shaping the Future of Search Engine Optimization

Artificial intelligence is increasingly useful as a tool in online marketing and search engine optimization. It’s seen widespread usage in keyword research and proved invaluable from a content marketing standpoint. Some AI platforms can even offer functionality such as related keywords, recommended word counts, and semantic analysis summaries. But it goes deeper than that.

Google’s search engine – really, every search engine – is, at its core, AI. Increasingly-advanced algorithms designed to trawl and analyze content in order to determine the best fit for a particular user. This algorithm evolves in tandem with the algorithms SEO specialists are increasingly using to examine and tweak their own content.

What this means is simple. 

“Content for content’s sake won’t rank,” explains Tony Adam, Founder & CEO of digital marketing agency Visible Factors. “You need to cater more specifically to user intent, and not just one intent, but as many as you can imagine…the ideal strategy is to develop marketing efforts that put the user back in the spotlight.” 

Google’s own AI pushed this evolution forward, but AI platforms can be instrumental in helping your organization adapt to it. With the right analytics platform, you can provide advertisers, marketers, and content creators alike with invaluable insights into not just your audience, but also your products and brand. Throughout this process, the most important thing to remember is that in order to be one hundred percent effective, machine learning requires a human touch.

No method is entirely error-free. AI doesn’t mean you no longer have to rely on the insights of marketing professionals, nor does it mean you can do away with editors and proofreading. Rather, it allows you to augment what you’re already doing, creating compelling, data-backed content for your readers that also aligns with Google’s algorithms. 

AI also allows you to breathe new life into old strategies, automating tasks like keyword research and technical SEO. It can also be applied practically in the content creation process, optimizing and tweaking elements that might otherwise go untouched. Again, though, be careful.

Although machine learning has advanced a great deal in recent years, it’s still not on the same level as human intelligence. A spun article – one generated entirely by algorithms – is still fairly noticeable. It should be looked at more as a means of supporting your marketing team’s efforts rather than a way you can replace them entirely.

Over time, whatever AI platform you decide to use will gradually adapt to your business, and learn how to most effectively optimize for your brand. But again, you still need to teach it.  As for what the evolution of AI means for the immediate future?

As search engines become more intuitive, the quality and relevancy of the content they retrieve will increase. Content marketing teams, meanwhile, will be able to dedicate more towards ensuring that level of quality, and less towards mundane tasks like data logging and analysis of metrics. AI can generate and parse all of this data in real-time, at a scale impossible for the human mind to achieve.

You don’t need a degree to understand the benefits of AI. At its core, it’s not just about improving the intelligence and capabilities of machines – it’s about leveraging those improvements for better business outcomes, greater efficiency, and more compelling insights. Even now, it’s a valuable resource in the arsenal of every marketing professional.

That value will only increase as we move forward into the future.