Category: Marketing Rebellion

Winning the War for Attention: My talk at #SMMW20

winning the war for attention

Winning the War for Attention

I’ve been a speaker at all eight Social Media Marketing World events and it is always an annual highlight for me. It’s like coming home to family — so many wonderful friends to see! If you’ve never attended, you should give it a try and discover the fun.

winning the war for attention andy crestodina, rich brooks, brooke sellas mark schaefer, jay baer, dana malstaff, ian cleary, mike alton, mike kim

In the early days of SMMW, I spoke on Twitter and blogging, then I evolved into content and strategy. In 2016 I was asked to be the closing keynote speaker and I did it again in 2019. What a thrill to speak in front of 5,000 frenzied social media friends!

I think a key to my success at this event is that I always push boundaries with fresh, exciting content. My philosophy is that a great speech delivers insights, not just information. Information … you can get that in a blog post. But you’ll have a unique experience coming to one of my talks!

I pushed the boundaries again this year by doing something different. I spoke from my heart about the biggest problem facing social media marketers today — winning the war for attention.

I see that social media marketers simply try to keep up by copying others or following directions from their favorite gurus. This simply cannot work. Winning a war for attention means we can’t be conformists.

So let’s dig into the heart of the speech …

Winning the War for Attention

I started my speech with a funny story from the early days of television to illustrate a pattern that happens in every content channel.

When TV started in the 1950s, the programs were filled with local talent — singers, cooks, and anybody who could fill some time on the air. Almost anybody could get on the air and almost any business could buy advertising time.

Over the years, the channel “filled up,” and the content became more expensive and sophisticated. Local advertisers dropped out and network (and then cable) TV took over.

Today, what does it take to get your attention on TV? Game of Thrones. At $10 million per episode for a show like that, the content has never been better but if you’re trying to compete on the basis of content, bring your checkbook!

As I told this story, I asked my audience to think of the similarity of what is happening in their own favorite social media space. The same pattern will happen over time. The space fills up with content and it becomes more expensive and difficult to compete, an idea I first introduced in 2014 with an idea called Content Shock.

Now, what do we do about it?

I proposed that answering five questions can lead you to a strategy that helps you win the war for attention. Here they are.

1. Only we …

I asked the audience a simple question. Can you finish this sentence: “Only we …”?

This is a very important question because if you can’t finish that sentence, you don’t have a marketing strategy and if you don’t have a marketing strategy, you can’t have a social media strategy. You’re being set up to fail.

It may take you weeks or even months to figure this out. But you simply must find these special points of differentiation. If you’re stuck, go out and ask your customers what they think. You’ll almost always find the answer there.

2. Company culture

In my Marketing Rebellion book, I go deep into this idea of how company culture really determines how successful you’ll be with your social media marketing.

The company culture both enables your narrative and constrains your ability to win the war for attention. If you have a culture that is open, nurturing and fun … that will be your social media presence. If you’re uptight and controlling, you probably won’t get very far in winning the war for attention.

This can be frustrating because no amount of energy and talent can overcome a dismal company culture. Sometimes, an effective social media strategy has to start with executive education.

I made the point that sometimes social media success must start with executive education.

3. Are you a conversational brand?

I said that the business case for all social media is this: “Come Waste Time With Me.”

Nobody has to be on social media. So to succeed, you have to earn a place that makes people want to waste time with you. Why would they want to do that?

Not all products and industries have an equal chance to win the war for attention.

If you work for a university, a sports team, a pop star, or a professional athlete, you will naturally have a high level of attention and organic reach.

If you work for a bank, the electric company, or a company that makes appliances … well, these just are not going to make it to dinnertime conversations. You’re not that conversational and it will be much, much harder for you to win the war for attention.

You have to make yourself conversational. This does not necessarily have to be difficult or expensive, but you do have to stand out in some unique way.

I provided an example of a hand tool company in Lithuania that went viral over its videos that explored how the tools were hand-crafted.

4. How can you maneuver?

I explained to the audience that this was the most important part of the talk. My concern is that everybody leaves a conference like Social Media Marketing World and follows whatever the gurus tell them to do. I see this year after year.

If it is the year of Snapchat, everybody piles on to Snapchat.

If it is the year of video on LinkedIn, then that is what everybody does.

Marketers flock to whatever is popular until they ruin it.

And that’s no strategy. Winning the war for attention depends on non-conformity, not conformity.

I used an example of TikTok, which was a big piece of the conversation at SMMW20. There seems to be a frenzy to get every business on to TikTok. Research shows that indeed, there is a growing older audience there. But let’s take a closer look:

winning the war for attention tiktok

Did you know that about 94 percent of the content created on TikTok is by teenagers? This implies we have a lot of older people stalking TikTok (as they first did with Snapchat before dropping out). So do you really need to be building an audience of 12-year-olds for your business? Maybe.

I’m not against TikTok, I’m just saying, “THINK” and don’t spend budget on activities because some guru told you to do it (This part of my talk received applause!)

To be effective today, you cannot be guru-led and fall in line with a crowd. You have to zig when everybody else is zagging.

To illustrate this, I provided examples from three very saturated industries — real estate, food, and entrepreneurial content — and showed that a little simple creativity helped businesses stand out and create great success.

5. Human-centered content

In this part of my speech, I noted that every great social media success story has a human anchor providing some unique value. (I cover this in detail here: A simple theory of social media success).

I showed how many companies are missing out on opportunities to show real human smiles, personalities, and passion because they act like grape lollipops, which say they are grape but are not really grape at all!

This was the funniest part of my speech and I got the biggest laugh I think I have ever received as I covered a few big social media fails!

winning the war for attention

The point is, the most human company wins — it just does. I believe that with every fiber in my body. And you won’t be winning the war for attention with some fake and inauthentic presence.

Putting it into action

These are the types of guidelines I use with my clients, and they work. They’re not that hard. But they do take a bold willingness to not follow the crowd.

I ended my talk encouraging the crowd to:

  • Be a non-conformist.
  • Maneuver.
  • Be more human.

It seems simple, doesn’t it? How are you being a non-conformist in your industry?

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.

The post Winning the War for Attention: My talk at #SMMW20 appeared first on Schaefer Marketing Solutions: We Help Businesses {grow}.

How to take your first step toward human-centered marketing

human-centered marketing

In my new book, I propose a Marketing Rebellion — a movement toward human-centered marketing.

It is a vast book with lots of ideas. The idea of shifting your focus from technology to something more customer-centered and personal might seem overwhelming but taking that first step does not have to be difficult.

Customers have the accumulated knowledge of the human race in the palm of their hands. They can connect to vast tribes instantaneously and they are in control. They don’t want to be interrupted or intercepted. They’re skipping your ads, blocking your spam, discarding piles of unopened direct mail waste.

They demand marketing on their terms. Human terms.

There are a few simple things that almost anybody can do to begin …

1. Stop doing what people hate

As a consumer, you’re probably sick of marketing that annoys you and interrupts you. Look at your own company. Are you doing things that people hate?

Stop it. Right now.

Just stop annoying and interrupting people and you are taking a giant leap forward toward respecting them.

2. Get out of the office

My teacher and mentor Peter Drucker advised us that 75 percent of your meetings should be with your customers (either internal or external).

Especially as a marketer, your job is to be out among your customers understanding their needs and translating this into valuable new products and services.

A startling story from the book was a Martin Lindstrom account about asking 5,000 marketers if they had visited a customer in the last year and 19 raised a hand.

That is why our profession has become sick.

Get out of the office and meet with customers.

3. Be an observant consumer

The simplest exercise is to think about what you love about your favorite customers. How do they engage with you? What creates the emotional bond between you and the product?

To be a good marketer, be an observant consumer. When you see a company doing something great that you love, think about how you can translate that to your own business.

4. Show up

I speak, teach, and consult but I also do a lot of personal coaching for small businesses and entrepreneurs. As I review the sites of even one-person businesses, it’s amazing to me how difficult it is to find a photo of a real person, much less a video.

Everyone knows that business is built on relationships with people that we know to be warm and competent. Why don’t we extend that to our own web and social media presence? Look at your own web presence. Where are the faces, the smiles, the heart, the passion?

If you’re successful at business, it’s probably because people like and trust you. Is that how you’re showing up online or do you have stock photos of fake people?

It seems so simple — human-centered marketing means you show up.

Human-centered marketing — There’s no choice

Take one small step toward this human-centered marketing movement today. At one point or another, you’ll have to stop obsessing over technology and get back to the human roots of marketing.

Why? You have no choice. This is the way the world is moving, this is what customers demand … and the customers always win.

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 small business marketing formula to dominate your niche

small business marketing Tracey Matney

Since I wrote an article on small business marketing, I decided to ask my friends to help me out with entrepreneurial photos to “decorate the post.” Have fun on this crowd-sourced post as you see some of my entrepreneur friends in action, starting above with Tracey Matney!

A few years ago, I interviewed a researcher in New York about the most significant marketing mega-trends. Chief on her list was that the most effective marketing was becoming “artisanal,” meaning that it had to be local, conversational, and connected to an individual or community.

I asked her, “How will giant brands like airlines and car companies survive in this environment?”

She thought for a long moment and said, “I don’t know.”

The future favors the small

I believe that small business owners (like rising star Valentina Escobar-Gonzalez) are uniquely positioned to take advantage of the marketing rebellion before us.

Here’s an interesting thing to consider. If you list every negative trend in the general marketing world, you’ll see why big businesses are hurting and small businesses are positioned to win:

  • People are not seeing big-budget broadcast advertising. Ad-free subscription services like Spotify and Netflix dominate our attention.
  • Major digital advertising programs are jeopardized by new privacy laws and moves by Google and others to end the use of cookies.
  • Ruthless cheaters with unfettered access to our customers flood the market with cheap knock-offs, threatening the biggest companies and their hard-won national brands.

Now let’s look at some of the most important marketing trends driving success today:

  • People don’t believe ads and company spin. They believe business owners, entrepreneurs, and technical experts (like Karima-Catherine Goundiam).

  • Increasingly the personal brand Is the company brand as people seek an organic personal connection to the companies they love. You probably love and admire a business owner in your community. Who do you love at Verizon, for example?
  • Big companies can’t plaster billboards around a city touting how involved they are in the community. We want people to show up. You can no longer just be “in” a city, you have to be “of” the city.
  • Direct-to-consumer online models have disintermediated the advantage of shopping mall scale.
  • Platforms like Shopify, Etsy, and eBay are opening up global commerce for even the smallest businesses.

This is why I’m so bullish on the potential for small business marketing success in this era. Every important business trend seems to be tipping their way, at least to those who really understand what’s going on in this dramatic Marketing Rebellion.

Small business on the rise

small business marketing

Kelly Baader shows us a path toward human-centered marketing.

A study found that more than $17 billion in consumer product goods (CPG) industry sales have shifted from large players to small ones since 2013!

Sales among “extra small” brands — those generating annual sales under $100 million — rose 4.9 percent, the fastest-growing CPG segment, according to market research firm IRI.

In contrast, large players saw their combined market share drop to 55.5 percent, from 57.7 percent, during the same period.

Let’s go back to that question I asked at the top of the post … “How will big brands survive in this consumer rebellion?”

The expert didn’t know at the time, but an answer is emerging. The big companies know they can’t adjust and are snapping up the smaller “artisanal brands” at a rapid rate. If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em.

A few examples:

Of course, this is also good news for small company founders who newly-minted millionaires!

The small business marketing formula

There are lots of ideas for small businesses in the Marketing Rebellion book but if I were a small business owner (wait … I am!) here are the key small business marketing ideas to focus on:

1. The customer is the marketer

Two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us.

How do we get invited into the online and offline stories being told by our best customers? How do we help them do their job? Make the customer the hero of your marketing.

How do we create something so unmissable, cool and conversational that people cannot wait to talk about us and carry the story forward?

2. Show up

People don’t want to see photos of your president handing a check to the United Way. They want to see you involved in the community.

Don’t just lend a hand. be the hand. This is hard for the big companies to pull off so get out there and show your community love. Show up where your customers want to find you. Let them see how you care.

3. Be the brand

For a small business, the founder is normally the face of the company. This is a huge advantage in this marketing environment.

Great branding means building an emotional connection between what you do and your customers. Increasingly, that is a person, not a coupon or a product attribute.

Jon Ferrara, pictured here, is a role model for this idea. Jon is so gracious, generous, and accessible, that you can’t help but love his company, Nimble, because you simply love him. In everything he does, Jon puts his family, customers, and employees before his own interests.

My book KNOWN teaches you how to build a strong personal brand in the digital age. This is an essential tactic in the Marketing Rebellion era!

4. Engineer “peak moments”

Build exciting, unexpected delights into mundane customer interactions. When you give people something to talk about, they will.

Jessika Phillips — that’s her in the blue suit in the front — engineers peak moments into every customer engagement and event. Somehow she has made Lima, Ohio, the summertime epicenter of the social media marketing world through her fun and inspiring event.

She creates so much positive buzz that people can’t wait to attend or speak there. The customer is the marketer!

Think about how you can build peak moments into every customer touchpoint.

5. Bring people together

In the end, The Most Human Company Wins™

How does a small business do that?

By showing your face, your smile, your heart, and passion at every opportunity. One of the best ways to do this is to bring people together. Celebrate something. Teach something. Connect people and let them see how amazing you and your employees are!

Julia Bramble, shown here, is becoming an evangelist for helping people “belong” as part of a marketing strategy. Obviously I agree with her. I think it is one of the most powerful things we can do!

There has probably been no better time in the history of the world to start a business. Small business marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Just focus on one thing: Be the most human company in your niche.

Make sense?

That is the end of my post. But let’s keep going with my cool entrepreneurial friend photos. Every one of them is trying to make a dent in the world! 

small business marketing

small business marketing small business marketing small business marketing small business marketing

small business marketing

small business marketing

small business marketing

Keynote speaker Mark Schaefer

Mark 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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Why branding is rooted in evolution. We brand to survive.

brand to survive

By Evelyn Starr, {grow} Community Member

In Mark Schaefer’s book Marketing Rebellion, he states that consumers are now in control of brands and that this is the new order of marketing.

From an industry standpoint, this is certainly an unsettling new order!

But from consumers’ point of view, nothing has changed.

The disparity between the industry’s “a-brand-is-what-we-say-it-is” perspective and consumers’ true perception of a brand comes from the industry’s misunderstanding of how brands form in the minds of consumers.

Let’s explore that today.

The changing idea of “brand”

Marketers have long thought of “brand” in the cattle-marking sense. We are marking this entity in the manner we want you to see it.

Marketers rationalized that consistent marking and repeated impressions over time would make their conception of the brand actually become the brand in consumers’ minds.

The problem is that companies were only factoring their one-way communication into consumers’ image of a brand.

How brands form today

Consumers – humans – are wired for survival.

From our earliest days we’ve had to make decisions to keep ourselves alive.

Our early decisions included whether an encountered animal was a predator or prey. We used our past experiences and those we gleaned from others to categorize animals in our minds so we knew quickly whether to flee to safety or to pursue dinner.

Today’s challenges are less about bodily threats, and more focused on managing the thousands of messages that come our way each day.

We don’t have time to consider each message anew.

Instead, we do what we have always done – we accumulate experiences with an entity to formulate an image that helps us decide quickly whether we want to give our attention to that entity or not.

We brand to survive.

A sum of experiences

This is how brands form in consumers’ minds. They are the sum of all the experiences the consumer has had with the brand.

Some of those experiences are marketing messages from the company. But many experiences occur without the company’s knowledge.

Product usage experiences at home, out-of-stock situations in store, tales of good or bad experiences with the brand from friends, experiences working for the company…these and more get stored in the folder marked for that brand in that consumer’s mind.

Coca Cola’s Brand Image in Advertising and in Reality

In Mark’s recent post about the idea of brand, he featured an 1890 Coca Cola ad where the company portrayed the brand as sophisticated, youthful and vigorous.

brand to suvive coke

By the 1950s, Coca Cola was still promoting those attributes in campaigns with the taglines “Almost everyone appreciates the best” and “Sign of good taste”.

My father worked for Coca Cola in New York City for two short stints in the late 1950s.

In June 1958 he was one of many college students Coca Cola hired for long shifts stacking bottles as they came off the line. The company paid overtime, welcome extra funds to college students.

The second stint was after he got out of the army in December 1959. The company paid overtime then too, and honored his union card meaning he got paid for the December holidays though he only worked a few days.

My father felt grateful to Coca Cola for the opportunity to earn much needed money. The jobs proved to be fun because the young people working there enjoyed being together.

My father’s brand image of Coca Cola is generous, fun and youthful from his experience working for the company. Not sophisticated though as the ads were saying.

When I was a child, Coca Cola was saying it wanted to teach the world to sing. Still a youthful and vigorous portrayal of the brand, though perhaps less sophisticated.

My parents did not keep Coca Cola in the house, however. My mother was health conscious before it was fashionable and did not want us to have the sugary drink.

My brand image of Coca Cola was that despite catchy TV commercials the product was not good for you.

As you can see, Coca Cola’s image in my mind and in my father’s mind came more from our experiences than from messages the company conveyed. We made choices about the brand and talked about it from our own perspective.

We controlled the Coca Cola brand in our lives.

Consumers Brand to Survive Every Day

According to Beverage Industry magazine, in 2018 the top 100 beverage companies accounted for 221 products in 15 different categories.

No matter which beverage category we want, we are still deciding among several brands.

And this is just a beverage choice.

We make hundreds of product and brand choices daily.

That is why we brand to survive.

We use our past experiences to shortcut the consideration process and decide quickly so we can move on with our lives.

Social media wake up call

Before the internet, we mostly kept our brand experiences to ourselves. Maybe we told a few people in our innermost circles.

Only a few souls were motivated to complain or compliment the brand wrote or called the company. Once the internet arrived, a few more emailed companies their thoughts.

Then came social media.

In the mid-2000s as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube launched, marketers discovered that not only could they advertise there, but consumers could express their feelings and share their experiences with brands there.

Suddenly consumers had the same kind of broad media platform that brands had enjoyed for years.

Social media reversed the communication flow of brand messages and turbocharged it.

Marketers felt like consumers had wrested control of their brands from them as thousands of consumer brand messages flew at them on social media, dominating conversation about their brand.

But what really happened is that they were finally privy to consumer conversations that happened in private before but now happened in public with a megaphone.

What does brand to survive mean for marketers?

Marketing isn’t going to override thousands of years of human evolution. Consumers’ branding-to-survive modus operandi is the reality that companies must face.

With social media, companies can’t feign ignorance and risk flak for disingenuous, inauthentic or inappropriate messaging, as Peloton learned recently.

The way to cope is to switch marketing’s focus from messaging to experience.

Every brand experience matters. Brands are constantly evolving in consumers’ minds. Recent experiences can loom large.

Marketers should be listening to customers via all channels available to them – social media, customer service lines, in-store, website help chats, market research – to understand their brand’s current image from the customer’s point of view.

With a benchmarked starting point, marketers need to articulate what they want the brand experience and image to be and then map a course to get there.

The course reaches beyond the marketing department into all areas of the business. Employees’ experience with the brand and how they talk about it is a significant contributor to brand image. Same for partners, vendors, anyone who comes in contact with the brand.

Even with perfect execution, you can’t control your brand. With careful execution you can influence it though and also build much goodwill that can buffer some less-than-ideal experiences.

If this effort seems daunting, remember that the humanity that causes consumers to brand also promotes understanding, forgiveness and enthusiasm.

Working toward exceptional brand experiences can be rewarding and give your brand a true competitive advantage.

Maybe it can even teach the world to sing!

Evelyn Starr is a brand strategist, writer and Founder & CEO of E. Starr Associates which specializes in marketing help for brands in adolescence, brands that have stalled after their initial success. Connect with Evelyn on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Illustration courtesy

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The happy marketing story of the big fat pig

happy marketing story

This is a happy marketing story. It’s short and sweet and I love it so much because it represents marketing the way it should be done for a small business in the heart of a marketing rebellion.

Let me talk about the photo at the top of this post.

That’s me with Jeff Corbin, the owner of The Tie-Dyed Pig a relatively new barbecue joint in Radford, VA. I was visiting this little college town to do a guest lecture there at the invitation of my longtime friend Dr. Gary Schirr. Gary knows I love BBQ — especially beef brisket — and he had a treat in store for me.

When we walked into the cozy restaurant, the first thing you see is this giant pig. A significant amount of floor space that could have been serving paying customers is devoted to the towering fiberglass swine.

“What is this?” I asked owner Jeff Corbin.

“That there is my marketing,” he said with a proud smile.

And so it is.

The visual prompt

Here is a truth about all human beings. We love posing with giant animals. Dinosaurs. Dogs. Even bears.

happy marketing story

But I digress.

Back to the pig.

Let’s look at a few core ideas from my book Marketing Rebellion —

  • In a world of streaming content and ad-blocking, consumers don’t see ads like they used to. And if they see them, they don’t believe them.
  • Two-thirds of our marketing is occurring without us. Consumers carry our stories forward through social media, word of mouth, and reviews. The customer is the marketer.
  • The job of the professional marketer in this environment is to help customers do their job. How do we help our customers carry our story forward?

Placing a big pig in the middle of your store is an invitation to share your story.

However …

You have to deliver the goods

A big pig is only going to work if you have an authentic, interesting and, relevant story to share.

Let me tell you about the rest of my experience at this restaurant.

  • Brisket is normally a dinner-only item, but Jeff made it available for lunch because I was coming in.
  • At the end of the meal, Jeff came around with a plate of beef and asked us if we wanted another helping. More meat? Yes, please. That stands out.
  • The food was delicious and plentiful. He had some unique menu items. The venue was clean and whimsically decorated in a tie-dye theme. There was free parking near the restaurant’s location at the business center of town.
  • Jeff’s personality filled the room. He approached a table of elderly women by saying “Hello you beautiful, wonderful women!” They blushed in appreciation.

My point is, Jeff delivers the goods. If the place was dirty, if the food was cold, if you could not find a parking space, then the pig doesn’t matter. The pig only works as a reminder to tell people about the overall experience at the restaurant.

You have to deliver the goods, every time.

So I think Jeff is set up to succeed. He is surrounding his customers with authentic, interesting stories and offering the opportunity to pose with a big pig as an excuse to tell people what it is all about.

I think this is a happy marketing story indeed.

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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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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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.

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Is writing a book a marketing tactic or a long-term strategy?

writing a book

I was asked this question about writing a book on a podcast interview a couple weeks ago. I apologize — I can’t remember who asked it but it is an interesting question I have never been asked before. Good job interviewer who I can’t remember.

There can be very different motivations for writing a book and many people are surprised that things usually don’t work out as they planned when they get into it the process … so let’s explore this topic today.

Why write a book and what can you expect?

The Marketing Tactic

The most common reason to write a book is for social proof — external validation that you simply have a book. Perhaps somebody wants to appear more important because they are an “author.”

People who write a book as a tactic may go through an agency to help them write and promote the book. Usually they only write one book — that’s enough. They have their social proof. They are the author of something.

Here is a quote from prolific author Ryan Holiday:

“In my work with authors, I’ve met with no shortage of smart, accomplished people who, I’ve realized, don’t actually want to write a book despite what they say. They want to have a book. We find these types in every industry. We should pity them — because they’ll never get what their ego craves so desperately.”

I think that is a good summary of tactic versus strategy.

Are you writing for your ego? Or are you writing because your spirit yearns to create and serve an audience?

One word of caution — If you’re only writing a book to check a box, this can backfire on you. If the book sucks, you will certainly attract negative online reviews, a permanent stain on your reputation. It can also cause negative word of mouth buzz about you if you’re only writing a book to enhance your short-term reputation.

Look at it this way: Writing a book is the single-most risky thing you can do for your brand. You can’t take it back. You can’t say “whoops! … didn’t mean it.” Once it is out there, it is a permanent installation in your personal branding gallery.

So my advice is, if you’re going to write a book, even as a short-term tactic, take the job seriously. Put out something that is worthy that reflects your expertise and reputation.

Writing a book: The strategy

Writing books can fuel a long-term strategy but it requires a different mindset than just putting out a book for a short-term boost.

Here are some foundational ideas about why writing a business book can be part of a long-term strategy.

1) Making money (or not)

One of the main reasons people write books is to establish a source of passive income. This will not happen. Repeat. This WILL NOT HAPPEN.

I don’t know of one single person who has made meaningful money on their first book. Selling business books is excruciatingly hard. Prepare to lose money, especially if you count the value of your time. There are only three ways to make decent money on a book:

  1. You’re an established superstar like Kawasaki, Godin, or Vaynerchuk with an immense audience.
  2. Customers buy a quantity of books for speaking engagements
  3. You accumulate a small income off of many books.

I am in category two and three. My customers often buy books for my talks** and my long-term strategy is to write a number of trusted and meaningful books to create some income. I was never making any measurable income until my fifth book. If people discover you and love your books, they may buy all of them!

** You can only make decent money selling books at events if you self-publish and have access to an inexpensive supply of books at a high margin.

2) Becoming KNOWN

In my book KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, I have an entire chapter on how a book can put a rocket behind your personal brand.

In the four-step process in KNOWN, the first stage is determining what you want to be known for. A book can be a bold manifesto to help clarify your thinking and declare “this is me!”

Some people struggle with clearly defining what they want to be known for. Writing a book on your most closely-held ideas and philosophies can provide an “a-ha!” moment.

I put my heart and soul into my books with a single driving ideal: I will never let my audience down. I sweat over every story, every paragraph, every word. That quality and passion and have been recognized over time and have built a personal brand that people trust.

3) Writing a book for career gains

Writing books has been a way for me to gain trust with a large audience. So every time I write a book, it causes a frenzy of interest and new business opportunities. For example, when I released Marketing Rebellion in early 2019 …

  • Several universities immediately assigned this as required reading to their classes.
  • New speaking engagements emerged based on interest in the topic of the book.
  • The ideas behind the book became the foundations for an entirely new speech.
  • I was approached by foreign publishers for the right to translate the book in other languages. Depending on the country, these contract can vary from $5,000 to $20,000.
  • Company executives who read the book hired me to do workshops and talks at their companies.

4) Validation and awareness

If you write a book as a tactic, the book itself is the social proof. But if you have a strategy to write books and build your reputation, the reviews and love of an audience becomes the social proof. There’s a big difference.

Remember what I said about how hard it is to sell books? It’s even harder to get reviews. Far less than 1% of the people who read your books write a review. So you have to sell a lot of books to get positive reviews and this requires a long, patient strategy.

Writing a book is a big decision

The bottom line is, writing a book is a time-consuming, gut-wrenching, risky venture that probably won’t make you any direct revenue.

So, whether you want to write a book (strategy) or have a book (a tactic), this is a big career decision.

If your dream is to write a book, go for it, but just go in with your eyes open and determine if this a tactic or a long-term strategy.

Here are additional posts I’ve written about HOW to write a book:

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 soo

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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

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