Category: corporate communications

Why “resonance” is the future of SEO

future of seo

One of the problems in the digital marketing world today is that leaders are using an outdated playbook — especially when it comes to Search Engine Optimization. I think the future of SEO is taking some pretty wild and unexpected turns right now so let’s explore that today.

Content as SEO fuel

The major innovation with SEO over the past few years is that it has largely become a content strategy. Beginning with the “inbound marketing” concept introduced by Hubspot in 2005 and growing into very sophisticated AI-driven techniques today, creating content that can auto-magically bring qualified leads to your site has been a reliable strategy.

But there are a few trends that are changing that and content certainly does not work for SEO like it used to. The future of SEO is moving in a dramatic new direction.

The changing search landscape

Let’s look at the future of SEO and content as it is unveiling itself through three significant trends.

First — voice search. When you search Alexa or Google home by verbalizing a question, you don’t get a list of content sugestions like blog posts or videos. You get an answer. So content has a much-diminished impact in the world of voice search.

It’s impossible to tell exactly how much of the total search pie is going to voice queries, but let’s be ultra-conservative and say 20 percent.

future of seo

When you ask Alexa or Siri to do something for you, you normally don’t get a list of blog posts or podcast episodes in the results. So the implication is that your content is potentially impacting much less of the search market than it did in the pre-voice days five years ago. But wait, it gets worse.

Trend number two — Last month, something very significant happened in the search world. For the first time, more than half (51 percent) of the search inquiries on Google were kept by Google. This means, Google kept the SEO “answers” away from businesses and content creators and directed them to their own knowledge panels, internal properties, and paid partnerships.

Will this continue to grow in the Google direction? The government will have some say over this. Google’s increasing dominance in this space is a subject of a Department of Justice probe. The company owns the dominant tool at every link in the complex chain between online publishers and advertisers, giving it unique power over the monetization of digital content.

So now we have a truer picture of the emerging search world. In the past five years, the majority of organic search traffic that was available to be attracted by your content has been in steady decline.

future of seo content in decline

The main idea here is, the available search inquiries that can be served by your SEO-oriented content has been evaporating over the past five years.

And when we look at the future of SEO … it gets even worse.

Trend three — While the piece of the pie available to organic search inquiries has been in rapid decline, the amount of content competing for that shrinking pie has literally exploded.

When you have more and more content competing for the same search traffic, eventually content marketing is not a sustainable strategy for some businesses. This is an idea I proposed some years ago called Content Shock.

future of seo content shock

This graph from WordPress shows the number of blog posts published each month since the beginning of the content marketing era. You don’t have to be a statistician to realize it’s harder to compete for attention in a world of 80 million blog posts every month compared to one million a month 10 years ago. In fact, your competition has increased by 8,000 percent in a few years. A tough world for an inbound marketer!

Of course, the same thing is happening on podcasts, visual content, and video (there are 300 hours of new video uploaded to YouTube every minute of the day!).

To break through in this environment, you need to either spend more money on quality to win the content arms race or spend more to promote your content. Either way, traditional content marketing becomes more expensive and less accessible for many businesses in this environment.

So is this the end of content marketing?


We just need to think about content and its benefits in an entirely different way.

SEO and the junkyard dogs

I was recently hired by a company in Seattle to conduct a personal branding workshop based on my book KNOWN.

When you think about it, this was an extremely unlikely pairing. If you search for “personal branding consultant,” there are 40 million results. Even if you search for “personal branding consultant Seattle” there are 2.1 million results.

I am not in those top search results. Not even close.

This is not an unusual situation for a small business. I am NEVER going to be in the top search results. Really, the only thing that matters is the top three slots. The top three slots will be won by the biggest, meanest, richest SEO junkyard dogs.

It’s an expensive and never-ending battle that I will never win for terms like “digital marketing consultant,” “marketing strategy, “keynote speaker,” or any of the other jobs that I do.

Chances are, unless you’re the junkyard dog in your industry, you won’t win your SEO battle either. And yet, every company I know is pouring money into content trying to win the SEO battle!

This just makes no sense.

But here I was in Seattle, conducting an awesome workshop. How did my client find me in all this hopeless SEO mess? Through my content. But not through search.

The business case for resonance

The night before my workshop, I had a wonderful seafood dinner with my client. I asked my friend … “Why did you hire me?”

“Your content resonates with me,” he said without hesitation.

Isn’t that an interesting word … resonates.

My content was not at the top of an SEO stack for personal branding. I’m certainly not going to make the Alexa hit parade.

But a person who hired me for this important work chose me because there was an emotional connection that resonated with him on a personal and professional level.

This reveals a more practical and realistic value of content in this competitive environment, and a value that is almost entirely overlooked by marketers today.

At this point, I would like to interrupt myself. Whenever I write a mega-trend blog post like this, I am pointing out an idea that is very broad … and it may not apply to everybody. There certainly is still room today for SEO-driven content, and there always will be as far out into the future as I can see. The numbers I’ve presented here are high level. The true search volume for your industry could result in mostly organic results, especially in smaller niche markets.

The answer to every marketing question is, “it depends,” and that is certainly true here.

But overall, SEO-driven content is probably working less well for most businesses and content that attracts customers due to its authority is becoming more important.

Content and authority

So there are really two basic content strategies you can use to win new business: Content meant to win SEO and content meant to earn authority (content that resonates with readers). And of course, you can have overlap between these strategies:

future of seo

I won the business in Seattle — against all SEO odds — because I ignored SEO. I write for my readers. If I do that well and consistently, I’ll earn subscribers. Eventually, these subscribers will grow to know me, trust me and hire me. I think that is the future of SEO, which is really not SEO at all!

It’s a different way to look at content strategy but for 90 percent of the businesses out there who will never win the SEO battle, content built on authority might be the best and only strategic option.

I’m not creating content to trick you into clicking a link. I am creating content that consistently connects with your hopes and dreams and business needs. I’m building a long-term connection that resonates.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy 

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The surprising math behind a growing social media community

growing social media community

I often get asked about the art and science of building a healthy and growing social media community and today I’d like to introduce an unusual concept — the surprising math behind building your online tribe.

Here’s an example to illustrate the lesson for today …

Let’s say you’re having wonderful success building a growing social media community, whether that means a blog, YouTube channel, or Facebook Group. You’re creating a safe and meaningful environment, adding unique value, and engaging with an active audience.

For argument’s sake, I’ll assume you’re doing so extremely well that you’re adding an average of 20 new members to your community every single day. Good for you!

Now comes the surprising part. Here is a chart that shows the expected total growth of your community over 600 days if you add an average of 20 new members every single day:

growing social media community

At this point, you might be thinking that I am really bad at math.

This is simple right? 600 days x 20 new people means you should have a total audience of 12,000 people, not 2,000!

How is it possible to have zero growth over time? This should be a straight line up into the atmosphere, right? You’re adding 20 people a day!

Well … yes and no.

The growing social media community

When forecasting your community growth, you have to consider a very sad fact of life. People leave the community.

growing social media community

My daily struggle!

It might not be your fault. People leave their jobs, move away, they become disinterested in your good work and move on to something else. There are a lot of reasons, but people come and go.

How many people can you expect to leave a community? As you know, the answer to every marketing question is “it depends!”

But for me, I average an audience loss of about three quarters of one percent, week in and week out. Let’s round up and call it 1 percent. So, for every 100 people active in my growing social media community, one of them leaves.

Here are the reasons I lose subscribers in a typical month:

growing social media community

UNSUBSCRIBE — Means people just don’t want my content any more. When people unsubscribe it might because the content is no longer relevant to their job or they are simply getting too many emails.

HARD BOUNCE — A hard bounce indicates that the subscriber’s email address is no longer any good. They may have changed email provider, switched jobs or moved.

PERSISTENTLY UNDELIVERABLE –These subscribers have been marked as undeliverable for at least two weeks and more than three delivery attempts. They appear to be unresponsive, unreachable or abandoned email accounts.

Like any proud papa, I hate it when people leave the tribe. But it’s a fact of life. You will keep gaining people, but you may also lose about 1 percent for whatever reason. On the first chart, we observed that once we hit about 2,000 people in our vibrant, growing social media community, we are also LOSING 20 people (20 is 1 percent of 2,000) every time we add 20 people.

So, at that community size, gaining 20 people per week or over whatever timeframe, means your growth had flatlined! There are weeks I get 70 new subscribers and have a net gain of one!

Building a buffer into your plans

To compensate for the natural attrition in your community or content audience, you actually have to set a target to grow your followers at an increasing rate.

In this example, when you reach 2,000 subscribers, to keep a growing social media community going at a steady pace you actually have to add 40 people, not 20!

The implication is, the more you grow, the more you have to grow.

The bigger your audience, the better you have to be just to stay even.

A common social media problem

Maybe you have not considered this little dilemma before, but when you think about it, it makes sense, right?

I see this dynamic happening all the time in my client work. They don’t understand why they are working so hard yet don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

The simple reason is, good enough today isn’t good enough tomorrow if you want to keep growing.

Make sense?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy 

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What is the current state of content distribution? The answer is “who”

content distribution

I was recently in a lively discussion about the state of content distribution and it reminded me that this is a topic I haven’t covered in a long time. This was a dominant theme for me when I was working on the 2015 book The Content Code and it’s time to take a fresh look at things. So let’s dig in.

Content shock is alive and well

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the most popular blog post I’ve written — Content Shock. It went viral because it pricked at the pomposity of the content marketing gurus and proclaimed that the popular notion of inbound marketing just doesn’t work like it used to.

And … it doesn’t.

There’s no denying that my prediction came true. As niches swelled with meaningful, helpful content, it became more difficult and expensive to compete. Social sharing and page views declined and our collective ability to stand out was muted by this hurricane of content competitors.

This suggested that content alone could no longer be the answer to the marketer’s dilemma. Creating more content just added to the problem. We needed our content to move. It had to be seen, it had to be shared. It had to be ignited.

Content ignition — that is the true source of content marketing value! There is no economic value to publishing content unless that content is seen and shared.

So how do we ignite our content? Let’s look at the state of the nation.

First — A caveat. There is no cookie-cutter solution or idea in the marketing world. Every industry, business, and product is complex. So, there are lots of exceptions. Today I am presenting high-level ideas, not specific solutions.

Search engine optimization

For nearly three decades, SEO has been the go-to strategy for content distribution. There is no more intoxicating marketing idea than having high potential customers auto-magically find our content organically through that little search box.

That is the heart of the idea behind inbound marketing, a concept that is much less relevant today than it was five years ago.

SEO is important, and it always will be, but my view it is far less important to most businesses than they think, for a simple reason. To win at SEO, you have to own one of the top search results. So in this never-ending battle for SEO supremacy, there can only be one or two winners in an entire product category.

In essence, SEO is like two big, mean junkyard dogs fighting over the same bone, week after week, year after year. Unless you’re one of those top dogs, SEO can be an expensive way to achieve endless frustration. Another option for content ignition — and probably a better option for most businesses — is to develop content that builds authority.

Authority-based content is produced for the customer, not a search engine, and wins the distribution war if it is good enough to earn customer subscriptions and organic advocacy.

If you want to dive into this idea more deeply, here are resources that can help. In another blog post, I explain the junkyard dog idea and in a second post I break down the two most likely content marketing strategies, including authority.

Promotions and advertising

If we can’t organically earn our way into the attention span of our customers, can we buy our way in through ads that boost our content? That is also getting more difficult.

Here’s a sign of the advertising apocalypse before us. One of the themes at the last Cannes Lions Festival was the desperate push from agencies to get Netflix to show ads. This sad and ridiculous strategy is coming about because of a couple of megatrends.

First, at an increasing rate, content being consumed today does not feature ads. Netflix. Amazon Prime. Spotify. Audiobooks. None of them show ads. Why? Consumers hate ads and consumers always win. Traditional advertising as we know it is dying.

Second, the only place where advertising is growing — digital — is filling up. As the ad inventory declines, the prices rise, making digital ads less accessible for some businesses, or products with slim margins.

Advertising is still a relevant content distribution strategy in some places of course, but it is also a victim of Content Shock — as the competition to standout increases, the cost to compete and distribute that content rises until some businesses will simply have to drop out.

The importance of WHO

So in this weird and noisy world, how do we get our message through? I think the future of content marketing and distribution is found in the word WHO.

Content distribution is a real mess compared to a few years ago. It’s harder to get our content seen and shared and even when we boost it with an ad, people probably still don’t see it or believe it. In fact, trust in businesses, brands, and ads have declined 10 years in a row, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Who do people trust? Each other! We trust people like …

  • Friends and neighbors
  • Business leaders
  • Technical experts
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Influencers and celebrities

I believe completely that this simple fact will dictate the future of content marketing and content distribution.

The key idea is that yes, the WHAT of our story is important, but perhaps even more important is the WHO — WHO IS TELLING THE STORY?

If your company is telling the story through your content, it’s less likely that it will be seen, believed, and shared. But if people I trust are telling me this story, the content becomes internalized and actionable. The content ignites in the very best way — from people we trust.

Content ignition through trusted audiences is the true state of the art in content distribution. If you want to dive into this a little more, in another post I describe how this is an ongoing process of being invited on to the customer “islands.”

The future of content distribution

Marketing success in this new environment means adopting an entirely new mindset. We do not control the message, the pipeline, or the customer journey. The customer is the marketer. How do we help them do the job?

This is a scary and unfamiliar concept. It’s going to be hard to explain to a boss who is still entrenched in 2013. Content marketing success is going to be harder to measure. It’s going to take some bold leadership to accomplish.

But in this world of rapid change and uncertainty, this is one thing I know: We don’t have a choice but to keep moving ahead. We have to pivot and accept these new marketing realities.

The future of content distribution will rely on us creating stories and experiences that are so unmissable and conversational that the customers become the marketing department.

The key to our future success isn’t necessarily the story. It’s who is telling it.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy

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All the cool kids are on TikTok. Here’s a plan for you and your business!


TikTok seems to be everywhere in the social media conversation … and with good reason. Today, let’s take a rational view of this fascinating platform and its role in building a personal brand and a digital foothold for your business.

TikTok is significant because it seems to be emerging as a “homeroom” for a generation. One of the interesting things about the evolution of social media is how the platforms are stratifying by age groups:

  • The only demographic growing on Facebook is 55+
  • LinkedIn is the place for business professionals
  • Snapchat is dominated by 18-to-30-year-olds.
  • Gen Z (people under 20) seem to be adopting TikTok as their social media homeroom.

I suppose some day the generation after Z will view TikTok as quaint and seek their own place. So we need to watch for that!

But for now, TikTok is the center of the social media marketing conversation.

Like any social media platform, TikTok is diverse and hard to describe in a sentence or two, but in general, it is primarily kids making humorous (and at times angsty) short video clips to earn likes and attention. TikTok is an exuberant celebration of youthful fun.

TikTok launched in China in late 2016 (where it is known as Douyin) and has gone international within the past two years. The app is currently the most downloaded social media app in the U.S. and its growth in the US quadrupled in just one year, according to comScore. So, as a marketer, this demands your attention.

Should you be there, too? Let’s look at TikTok from 1) a personal standpoint and 2) from a business standpoint.

TikTok in context

One of the interesting facts is that increasingly, non-teens are adopting the platform.


We see in the chart below that the age group with the largest number of unique visitors is 18-24-year-olds (3.7 million), which accounts for just over one-quarter (25.8 percent) of the total US adult visitors. Another one-quarter (25 percent) of the visitors aged 18 and older fell into the 25-34 age group.

tiktok income

However, these charts are missing something important. Neither chart accounts for users under the age of 18 … and that is a primary audience for TikTok. 

The significance of TikTok and the thesis of this article depends on the fact that this is a channel that is driven primarily by young people … even children. So let’s dig a little deeper. It was tough finding research that dives below the 18-year-old standard but here’s what I found:

tik tok demographics

Ah-ha! We see that about 40 percent of the entire population on TikTok is under 20 and 66 percent is under 30.

Conclusion one: TikTok is primarily populated by children and young adults.

The second question is: Who is CREATING content on TikTok? There is absolutely no data available on this so I did my own little experiment. I simply watched 200 straight videos in a random feed and recorded my estimate:

tiktok creators

This is not a scientific survey, but it’s probably a good indicator that almost all the content on TikTok is coming from teens and people in their 20s.

By the way … there were three celebrities on here that I did not include in the sample: Will Smith, Bob Saget, and chef Gordon Ramsey. I think that is sort of special category.

By the way, in my 200-video-jaunt, there were no ads shown to me. Currently, TikTok is rolling out sponsored video projects but I didn’t see an ad, which made the user experience really enjoyable.

So although the number of adults signing up to TikTok is on the rise, they’re not participating much. Perhaps this replicates the earlier Snapchat trend when adults pressed onto the channel out of curiosity and then dumped it when they didn’t fit in. Or maybe it’s marketers climbing on board to take a look. But the bottom line is, TikTok culture is for children and young adults.

Why is it important to establish this context? Because it’s going to dictate your personal and business strategy …

The personal brand on TikTok

So, should you be there? Is it a place to build a personal brand?

If you’re under 30 — sure. If you’re older than that — not so sure.

TikTok is a place where kids and young adults have fun. They’re posing, pranking, lip-synching, and doing dance challenges.

I think everybody should check it out. You never know. Maybe you’ll fall in love with it.

But from a personal standpoint, I can’t help but think as a 50-something, my presence on TikTok would be … invasive.

I mean, what does it feel like to scroll through dozens of videos of 13-year-olds lip-synching in their bedroom and then come across this:

gary v on tiktok

Despite the really cool cap, this just seems creepy to me. It screams “What am I doing here?”

I’m picking on Gary Vaynerchuk because he has recently been advocating that everybody pile on to TikTok. Like I said, go try it. But just because you can … doesn’t mean you should. Maybe we should just let the kids alone and let them have fun without us ruining it.

The problem with (most) adults inserting themselves into a place like TikTok is that they probably won’t be native to the platform.

It’s sort of like an Eskimo showing up on a tropical beach. You’d stare and wonder what’s wrong.


Digital Natives can sniff out a fake in a heartbeat. You only belong on TikTok (or anywhere) if you can be relevant in a way that is organic to the platform.

There is certainly a guru-led charge to TikTok. In the coming months, you’ll see tons of advice urging you to pile on … but that doesn’t mean they’re right. Marketers flock to the next cool thing until they ruin it. Why participate in that?

Here’s a more rational view of how a business can approach this platform.

The business case for TikTok

If you’re in marketing for a business, you should be as familiar with TikTok as Twitter. Get on there, look around, read everything you can about it.

I’m on TikTok to learn and laugh a little, not to grow an audience of 15-year-olds or become a junior high dance champion (although I suppose that might be entertaining now that I think about it).

Snapchat has become the communication hub for under-30s and I think that same, strong emotional connection is forming between TikTok and teens. So perhaps this is a platform that has lasting power.

TikTok’s growth is impressive and promising, but it’s not time to overhaul your marketing strategy just yet. TikTok is still quite small compared to the giants of social media and users can be notoriously fickle —  what’s hot one day might not be the next. There are data privacy concerns to be aware of, as well as concerns because the data-collecting company is Chinese-owned.

So for now, how should we rationally approach TikTok from a business standpoint?

1. Go Native

We went through this same cycle with Snapchat. Everybody piled on in a frenzy … and then a few brands figured out a relevant way to participate in the channel:

  • Account take-overs with people who belong on the platform
  • Partnering with native influencers to create sponsored content
  • Appropriate channel-specific advertising
  • Relevant stories and channels that align with the youth-oriented audience

The same thing will happen with TikTok. We’ll figure it out eventually because of the obvious commercial opportunity.

Several large companies are already starting to experiment with co-created promotions on the app. Most of these promotions take advantage of TikTok’s “challenge” concept by creating their own challenges and even providing new music clips for users to interact with and make their own.

For instance, McDonald’s worked directly with TikTok to create a contest called the #BigMacTikTok Challenge.  To enter, TikTok users would dance to one of many pre-recorded music clips that were uploaded to the service. After creating the video, users were required to submit their entry via the official McDonald’s mobile app. All entries won a free Big Mac and a few winners danced away with cash prizes.

That’s a great example of how a brand can join in with the fun in an organic way and reward great creative work.

2. Cool hunter

The most exciting thing to me is that the next big trends are percolating on TikTok. This is a hotbed for viral. TikTok could become the epicenter of pop culture coolness.

What’s the next popular fashion accessory, hairstyle. or video trend? It’s probably coming from the cool kids on TikTok. If your brand depends on cultural relevance, a steady diet of TikTok is required!

I could see spin-offs — TikTok-based television shows, commercials, and other relevant content coming in our future.

I think it’s only a matter of time before there are live and televised TikTok competitions — teams get an original piece of music and then a limited time to create a team dance routine. This would also be a great sponsorship opportunity!

3. The next creators/influencers

One of the things that is so fun about TikTok is that it’s an incredible creative platform. It forces kids to get wild and crazy to stand out. High schools are even forming TikTok clubs to enable collaboration on short creative videos. How cool is that!

I saw this one funny video on TikTok. As a young lady awkwardly dances around her room, she writes “I can’t dance. I can’t sing. I’m not funny. The only thing I do well is drink wine.”

The point is, building and sustaining an audience on TikTok requires an enormous amount of talent and consistent creative effort. The emerging TikTok stars will be the next generation of influencers and creators — The new media stars, artists, movie directors, and celebrities. Predictably, there is already a wave of sponsored content hitting the TikTok airwaves.

Recently, TikTok began rolling out two new features that allow influencers to add links in their videos to eCommerce sites (similar to Instagram’s “swipe up” feature in Stories), along with the ability to place URLs within a profile page.

If you’re in the business of identifying and connecting to youthful influencers, this is the place to be.

4. Advertising/sponsored content

In early 2019 TikTok began to roll out several brand advertising opportunities.

Brands like Chipotle have had MASSIVE success with its #GuacDance Challenge paid program on TikTok.

In perhaps the largest US branding effort to date, TikTok announced a multiyear partnership with the NFL that will allow third-party brands to sponsor content on the NFL’s TikTok account. The NFL also hopes to generate user engagement by inviting fans to create TikTok-centric content to support their favorite teams and players.

Like every social platform, TikTok will have to monetize through sponsored content while providing user experiences that seem organic and native to the culture of the platform.

5. Cultural Relevance

TikTok users spend an average of 52 minutes a day on the platform.


Even though it’s still small, TikTok is mighty! If your target demographic is under 30, you simply must be exploring ways to create a meaningful presence on the network.

If you want your brand to be relevant to the next generation of consumers, you probably need to be there. Mainstream brands like Macy’s, the supermarket chain Kroger, and WalMart have already started to create a relevant brand presence on TikTok.

And finally …

I want to emphasize that I’m not telling you what to do, and I never do.  You are an experienced marketing professional and you can make your own decisions. I just want to provide a rational business perspective to the best of my ability in a world of relentless hype.

I hope you’ll make appropriate decisions led by common sense, strategy, and data … not based on the hype of social media gurus.

Make sense?

Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I have to go practice my dance moves for the next challenge!

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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If marketing is essential, why are marketing jobs going away?

marketing jobs

Marketing jobs are in decline and, on the surface, it might be hard to understand why.

I studied for three years under the famous management guru Peter Drucker and one of his most beloved quotes is:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.”

I happen to believe Dr. Drucker and I believe in this vision.

If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. If you don’t have innovation, you can’t retain those customers.

So, if marketing is “the distinguishing, unique function of the business,” why are so many important marketing jobs going away?

Marketing jobs in decline

In a new report, Forrester reports that the CMO position is under attack.

In an annual forecast, the consulting firm points to the elimination of the CMO position at dozens of high-profile brands, including Johnson & Johnson, Kellogg’s, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Netflix, and Walmart. It also cites the 20-year-old transition to digital as the key force behind the transformation of marketing jobs from brand-builders to data-focused, short-term revenue drivers.

  • Following the elimination of the CMO role at a number of large organizations this year, the remaining marketing chiefs will find themselves in a “desperate fight for survival.” The key to survival will be establishing control over the customer experience in order to provide short-term value.
  • Successful CMOs will no longer be exclusively focused on marketing but will be centrally responsible for “customer obsession” by expanding their control to customer experience, company values, brand innovation, and employee experience.
  • The key marketing task, says the report, is aligning resources so that brand value can be generated and delivered quickly to customers.

What’s going on here?

There are lots of factors behind this “desperate fight for survival,” but chief among them is a disconnect between the traditional expectations of marketing and the new reality.

This is precisely the chasm I described in my Marketing Rebellion book. At most companies, the vision for marketing is completely out of whack with the consumer reality. This is not an easy problem to solve.

The C-suite leaders at most companies are asleep and they don’t know they’re asleep. In fact, most companies are going through a “transformation” on every piece of their business except marketing. The marketing transformation is NOT going to come from buying more technology. It will come as a mindset change and a realization that the customers are in control — the customer is the marketing department.

Businesses must eventually replace their ideas of what drives consumer action with a new and expanded view of their customer expectations, taking into account how the media environment has changed those expectations as well as the value consumers now seek from brands (transparency, purpose, alignment with values).

Marketing must transition from being the “creators of messages” to the “owners and sustainers of the experience.” This requires decoupling marketing from the product (gasp!) and viewing its function as a  long-term pathway to growth, not just a mechanism to boost quarterly sales.

Let’s talk about marketing jobs …

In the new episode of The Marketing Companion, Brooke Sellas and I explore this vital issue. If marketing leaders are in a desperate fight for survival, what can be done about it?

We discuss the megatrends that present an existential crisis for the marketing function:

  • Working toward short-term quarterly goals instead of long-term brand-building
  • Focus on messaging instead of experiences
  • Lack of awareness of fundamental consumer shifts (or an unwillingness to address them)
  • A preoccupation with recession preparedness that may hurt marketing
  • An unmet need to consolidate all customer experiences behind the marketing function

This is one of our most interesting episodes ever!. And it gets even better when we blow the top off this new influencer trend of “sad fishing.” Since when is “anxiety” an engagement strategy? You have to hear this one!

And it all starts with a click:

Click on this link to listen to Episode 176

Other ways to enjoy our podcast

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Many thanks to our friend Scott Monty for the awesome show intro. Be sure to check out his introspective newsletter Timeless & Timely, where he covers the latest trends and the oldest principles.

Tim Washer is contributing creative direction to the show and he’s has worked for Conan O’Brien, John Oliver, among others. He helps corporations build more creative cultures.

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Are you a human being or a grape lollipop?

human being

This may be the most cryptic blog post headline I’ve ever written. Sorry if I’ve confused you but, it’s the best I could do. I sincerely have an important message to share with you today about human beings and your marketing … and it starts with grape lollipops.

But it says “grape!”

Did you ever stop to think about a grape lollipop?

I do. All the time.

Whenever you see a purple piece of candy labeled “grape,” you know what it means. It suggests a certain flavor.

But in reality, this flavor is NOT grape. A purple piece of “grape” candy tastes nothing like a real grape. It contains no grape, it isn’t even the same color as a natural grape.

Who in the world of candy history thought of calling this thing “grape?” They could have named this candy flavor “Milwaukee” and it would have been just as accurate.

But somehow, the global industrial candy supply chain determined this strange flavor was going to define “grape.” And, so it is. Today we consume vast quantities of candy, Fanta soft drinks, and even Dimetapp and are conditioned to expect this faux-grape flavor.

It’s grape as defined by the business world, not our human experience.

I realize I could have picked on cherry, lemon, strawberry and other fake flavors, but somehow the whole grape thing seems especially egregious, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Are you a human being or a grape?

The same concept is going on in the social media world right now. It seems like every speaker and conference panel is imploring us to “be human.”

But what we see in marketing practice is not really human. It’s grape human.

A great example of “social media human” instead of “real human” is the fake conversations going on between brands to attract attention and mimic a human voice. You have probably seen exchanges like this:

human being social media conversation

This is funny. But it is not a “human voice” although some executives in a marketing ivory tower somewhere might see it like that. It’s not human … it’s an advertising agency trying too hard.

Another misconception of “being human” is email personalization. Don’t confuse personalization with personal. The irony is, today “personalization” is impersonal. As soon as I see my name pasted on top of a strange email, the red flags come out. It’s certainly not “human.”

Even worse — automated Twitter or LinkedIn messages. “I see we have some things in common. Can I sell you my shit please?”

And how about stock photos? Just because it contains a human doesn’t mean it really IS human.

human being stock photo

This is so tempting! Royalty free!

But nobody thinks this goofy guy is an authentic human being. He’s a grape.

And every person in this photo is a grape, too …

human being

There’s no shortcut.

Business is driven by efficiency, algorithms, and automation.

In other words, everything customers hate. 

In the real world, a human being is a friend.

Human beings have faces, names, stories.

Human beings make mistakes. They apologize. They might even be vulnerable.

If we want to achieve the real human connection we preach about, we’re going to have to put in the work. We may even have to hire some real humans.

The missing human voice turns us grape

On the one-hundredth episode of Douglas Burdett’s exceptional Marketing Book podcast, the legendary marketing author Dr. Philip Kotler, now 87 years old, showed that he is very much in tune with this idea. He said in his interview:

“What consumers are missing in our high-tech world is high touch. They’re missing the satisfaction of real relationships and knowing that other people care.

“If I face a retail clerk who is indifferent to my presence, or I eat at a restaurant where everything is mechanically delivered – even the smiles are mechanical – I don’t feel very close to that organization. They’re missing emotion.

“In the old days, a brand used to be positioned as a perfect solution to a well-understood need. But by claiming that, we ended up disappointing people. That’s selling a fantasy. Our message was something like ‘this car will make you so attractive to the opposite sex that you have to buy it.’ Marketing has been about the over-promise.

“We believed that if we got it sold, then we shouldn’t worry about how people feel about it afterward, and that’s a mistake. In a hyper-connected world, you can’t ignore that the consumer is your most important advocate.

“There’s a hunger in our world for real intimacy and experience. Brands need to be more human and authentic. They should stop trying to be perfect. Human-centric brands should treat customers as friends, becoming an integral part of their lifestyle. Brands should be more like humans. Approachable. Likable. Vulnerable.”

Isn’t that a great quote?

Not to be confused with a grape quote, of course.

“Brands should be more like humans. Approachable. Likable. Vulnerable.”

That sums up the anti-grape movement right there. The path has been lit for us by Dr. Kotler.

Who’s in?

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy

The post Are you a human being or a grape lollipop? appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.

Two powerful ideas to help you become the signal instead of the noise

powerful ideas

By Keith Reynold Jennings {grow} Contributing Columnist

My entire career has been dependent on an ability to get people to try, buy or donate to things that might seem unnecessary or inconvenient. Selling powerful ideas is hard work that demands head and heart. And I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. (I’m betting you have too.)

Whether you’re in marketing, sales, fundraising, recruitment, volunteerism, leadership, or even a parent, your success depends on your ability to get others to take action, whether that’s trying, buying, changing, donating, or doing something new.

The problem is that it is becoming almost impossible to connect to people in the moment when there are so many fun distractions in this digital world — especially when you’re trying to tell them or sell them.

But there is a way to overcome this.

Two powerful ideas

When I think of professionals “out there” who, week-after-week, are on the line for getting people to do something they don’t want to do, I can’t help but think of preachers and direct marketing copywriters.

Every time they do what they do, they know instantly whether it worked. Did someone give their life to God? Did someone try or buy?

I look for authorities and models who have sustained success over at least a decade or two. I’m not interested in one-hit-wonders or those who were at the right place at the right time when a platform or trend took off.

Over the years, when it comes to crafting messages that compel action, I’m inspired by the work of Mark Ford and Andy Stanley. We’ll discover simple patterns these masters use to sell their ideas.

Step 1: Focus Your Message on the “Power of One”

Co-founder of American Writers & Artists, Inc., Mark Ford enjoyed a very successful career as a direct marketing copywriter, author, publisher and real estate investor (among other things). He has mentored many A-list advertising copywriters.

Years ago, Ford had an “aha moment.” As he evaluated articles he had published within the year to see which ones readers rated the highest, he discovered that those with the highest scores focused on a single idea.

Those that didn’t perform as well took a more kitchen sink approach — “Here’s everything-you-need-know about this topic.”

This made him wonder if the same phenomenon existed with advertising copy. It did.

The more Ford looked into this, the more he uncovered the power of a single idea everywhere he looked. He came to call this the “Power of One.” Here are the five necessary elements, according to Ford:

  • One big idea — What’s the one thing prospects need to know?
  • One driving emotion — How will this affect how they feel?
  • One captivating story — Who is an authority on or beneficiary of this idea?
  • One desired benefit — What can this idea help them achieve?
  • One inevitable response — What should they do right now?

If you start with these five elements, it will force you to focus in a way you can leverage the Power of One. Each time I start with this, I discover that my ideas are all over the place, because I want to share as much as possible.

The beauty of the Power of One is that it challenges you to hone-in on a single, compelling idea your audience can immediately grasp.

And now that you’ve focused in on your one big idea, it’s time to frame that idea into a narrative that drives action.

Step 2: Frame Your Narrative Using “Me-We-They-You-Us”

Andy Stanley is the founder and senior pastor of North Point Ministries, which has seven church campuses around Atlanta and 90 network churches worldwide. North Point is the second largest church in the U.S., as far as I can tell, and touches around 185,000 people weekly.

Stanley has developed a sermon structure that consistently and effectively plants simple, actionable ideas into congregants’ heads. So as they face challenges in their daily lives, they are able to quickly recall and apply God‘s teaching. Stanley calls the structure “Me-We-God-You-Us.” Here’s how it works for Stanley:

  1. Me: Let me tell you something about me
  2. We: I’ll bet this is something we all have in common
  3. God: Here is what God says about it
  4. You: This is what you need to do about it
  5. Us: Wouldn’t it be great if we all did this?

Of course, you and I aren’t preaching the Gospel. So we can frame our business narratives using Me-We-They-You-Us:

  1. Me: Let me tell you about a problem I’ve had
  2. We: I’ll bet you’ve experience this problem too
  3. They: Here’s what authorities on this topic have to say
  4. You: Here are some steps you can take to address the problem
  5. Us: Imagine how much better things would be if we all addressed this problem

How to Focus and Frame Your Next Message

One of the things I hate about so many articles I read is that you rarely get to see someone apply what they’re teaching. So let’s fix that!

My current problem: I need to re-focus the presentation I give to our new company associates during their full-day orientation. The presentation I’ve been giving is good — it has consistently received strong scores — but it’s not great. The reason it’s not great is that people have connected emotionally with what I’ve presented, but they’ve not consistently taken action afterward.

My metric is activation, not satisfaction. I want the majority of new hires to take action and get involved serving in their community.

The problem I have is there’s so much I could share on how serving others drives job success, personal health and happiness, etc.! Where to start? What to focus on?

Here’s how I used Mark Ford’s “power of one” to focus my message:

  • One big idea: The highest performing employees across companies and industries focus on helping others before helping themselves.
  • One driving emotion: Work/life fulfillment
  • One captivating story: According to Dr. Morten Hansen, research reveals that high performance is directly correlated with contribution, not satisfaction.
  • One desired benefit: You can achieve success AND significance in your career
  • One inevitable response: Choose one service activity to do in the next 30 days

Now let’s frame it.

  1. Me: I want to be successful in my work. But I want that success to mean something and matter to others.
  2. We: I’ll bet you wrestle with the same tension.
  3. They: The latest research reveals that serving others in and beyond your job impacts your success, happiness and sense of purpose.
  4. You: Here are some steps you can take today to start serving others.
  5. Us: Imagine if every associate in our company put others first and actively contributed to the well-being of others.

That’s a pretty powerful message! But it took a lot of work to get it to this place.

I’m happy to share that I gave this presentation at this month’s new hire orientation. It’s still too soon to say whether it was a success, but I received emails from some of the new hires within 24 hours of my presentation saying they had already taken action.

Normally, this would be the right point to bring this article to a conclusion.

But Wait! There’s More!

Here’s how I used Mark Ford’s “power of one” to bring focus to this article:

  • One big idea: The “power of one” plus “me-we-they-you-us” are a powerful and proven way to influence action.
  • One driving emotion: Success
  • One captivating story: Lessons from a direct marketer and a pastor.
  • One desired benefit: A lift in the number of people taking action.
  • One inevitable response: Try using these techniques to focus and frame your next speech, article, email, team meeting, etc.

Then I applied Andy Stanley’s sermon structure to frame this article:

  1. Me: I’m continually in search of proven ways to influence people to take action.
  2. We: I’ll bet you deal with this too.
  3. They: Here’s how a direct marketer and pastor have successfully focused and framed their messages for decades.
  4. You: Here’s how you can apply these techniques to strengthen your messages.
  5. Us: (Keep reading below…)

Imagine how much more effective our marketing would be if marketers, salespeople, fundraisers, recruiters and leaders applied these powerful ideas before vomiting on us with their “messaging.”

I truly hope this has given you some inspiration to test drive these powerful ideas on your next speech, piece of content or sales pitch. Share this with your team and those you mentor to help them get to the next level in their work.

I’m curious, what technique or framework has consistently worked for you? What continues to help you influence others to take action? Please share your learnings with us in the comments. We’re in this together!

Keith Reynold Jennings is an executive and writer who serves as vice president of community impact for Jackson Healthcare. He’s also an advisor to goBeyondProfit. Connect with Keith on Twitter and Linkedin.

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