It’s Raining Marketing Bullshit
It’s a marketing crap explosion out there. There is too much content and jargon-laden stuff chasing too little mindshare. In 2010, Google’s then CEO, Eric Schmidt, proclaimed that there is more content created every two days than in all of human history up through 2003. More recently, IBM stated that 90% of content today was created in the last two years alone. Holy data shit-storm!
It gets worse. The annual Edelman Trust Barometer continues to show a steady decline in customer trust of companies. And along with the decline in trust, we have a growing deficit in attention span. We’re on social overload and it isn’t pretty.
There is just too much out there and we’re filtering for our very survival. That means way too much information is being created and yet, simultaneously, we’re facing a paucity of meaningful marketing. Data does not mean information and it certainly doesn’t mean “meaningful.” It’s getting harder and harder to cut through the noise.
Does This Customer Advocacy Make my Marketing Data Look ‘Big’?
Against this backdrop of marketing ‘Big data,” and its corollary (little relevance and, thus, “who gives a crap?”), marketers are fighting to be heard. This can a good thing – it forces companies to rethink how they are communicating. It’s time to change the marketing ‘game’ to one that is more human, relevant and purposeful. And no – by the way – I don’t want a relationship with you just because I liked your Facebook page. Seriously – I wouldn’t put up with stalker behavior in a date; why would I put up with it from a ‘brand’ that thinks I want to interact with my laundry detergent (coffee, toothpaste, whatever) on Twitter while watching TV. Nope.
The New ‘Buying Journey’
Additionally, the buyer’s journey has changed. According to Forrester (October 2012), buyers are approximately 67% – 90% through their decision-making process by the time they contact the company for information. That means they are doing self-directed searches, talking to their networks and getting information from your detractors and advocates. What is the net sentiment for your company? This has huge implications for why advocacy matters today. Forrester’s data shows that 94% of us trust advocates compared to 18% of us who trust influencers. Why? Because unpaid advocates are believed to be “people like me.” That matters when it comes to trust. I sure don’t trust corporate spokespeople and media ‘influencers,’ but I trust people just like me.
Humanize Like Your Success Depends on it (Psst! It Does)
While there are a lot of ways to humanize your company and content, here are three ways to stand out.
Use Story Marketing.
Tell simple stories. Humans are storytelling animals. Stories simplify and cut through the noise in ways that data alone cannot. According to Jennifer Aaker at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, stories are remembered up to 22X more than facts alone (Stanford studies). Stories give us reasons to care where facts fail. Neuromarketing – the intersection of neuroscience and marketing – tells us that humans make decisions with emotions and use facts to justify the decisions. Yep – emotions are critical. Stories that answer “why,” and that tell your market who you are and what you care about are more powerful and meaningful. Even in B2B. It’s time for business to stop thinking it is above the rules. Most of us don’t check our humanity at the door when we go into a work building. Surveys show that 92.3% of audiences are, in fact, made up of people (we really don’t know about the rest)!
Related to stories, companies today need to elevate the discussion of what they do to a discussion of who they are. It’s not about products and services today; it’s about standing for a purpose that is bigger than the company. For Zappo’s, it’s delivering happiness and great customer service no matter what it takes. For Patagonia, it’s the environment. For IBM, it’s being part of an ecosystem that creates a smarter, better planet with technology. Find your higher purpose, and you’ll connect in a more meaningful way. Products and services come and go – movements have longevity.
Think Upside Down.
Turn assumptions on their heads. Once we’ve seen or heard new messages, we acclimate to a pattern. Over time, the novelty factor wears off. So what better way to shift expectations than to flip them occasionally? If people expect serious, give them humor. If people expect humor, change the message frequently. Humor is human, and it is one of the best devices for communicating because it operates as an incredibly effective pattern disruption technique. If I’m talking at you for a few minutes, your brain adapts and filters what I am saying until I do something – anything – that shifts your expectations and disrupts the expected pattern – a joke, a story, an exercise, etc. Then, your attention increases greatly. Humor gets around the intellectual ‘facts’ filter. Once I make you laugh, your attention is high and your filter is down. I am now able to get my messages through in a way I could not before.
A great example of this is IBM’s ‘Art of the Sale’ (all seven of them!). When it first came out, the video was a huge hit – growing traffic for the company’s smaller, newer mainframe product by 25X. Why? No one expected humor from IBM and, more importantly, IBM did something even more unpredictable: it parodied itself. Yep – it was “un-iBM” and that’s why it worked so well – generating trade press and earned media that paid advertisements could never have generated.
When you have been running with the same messages for a while, flip expectations, and you’ll jump start attention and create a deeper connection with your audience. Remember, even the best messages flat-line. It’s a never-ending cycle; so make sure you are jump starting your own messaging innovation curve. Messages have short product life cycles, too, because of the amount of noise out there.
Unleash People and (a likeable) Brand Personality.
Every company has a brand personality. It might not one you’d like to have, however. Remember those Mac v. PC ads? Those were fantastic ads because they really spoke to how people saw the world of PC vs. Mac users. No doubt about – brand personalities matter. If your company was a person, who would it be? And, more importantly who do customers believe it to be? B2B companies have personalities, too. Only most of them are incredibly boring and outdated. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Show a human side. Weave personal interests alongside business information, so your audience knows something about you as a person and can connect with you on that human level, before building a business relationship. We do business with people we know, like and trust – let people get to know you and trust you by liking you first as a person. It’s easy to add fun bios to company sites and to social networking profiles.
Part of being likeable (no not Facebook likes) is being relatable. And a big part of the personality of the company is its people. The best storytellers in a company are those closest to the customer (not those in the C-suite!). Shocking, right? Let those storytellers engage with customers. Look at how Cisco Systems used Gen Y –intern turned Internet rapper, Greg Justice. This intern put a relevant, hip face on an older technology company and spoke to other Gen Y’ers in ways that company execs could not. Remember, advocates matter as customers are doing their own searches before they even contact the company for information. Advocates are “people like me…” – they are trusted far more than company spokespeople and media influencers.
Sometimes the best storytellers also live outside the company – they are passionate, rabid, unpaid advocates who share their stories out of dedication and loyalty. These loyal customers tend to refer 5X (Forrester) more customers on average than their non-advocate counterparts. A great example is Starbucks Melody, a Seattle-based lawyer who loves Starbucks and talks about the company passionately to her tens of thousands of listeners. Engage, empower, and catalyze your advocates with great content and stories and let them tell their stories their way! IBM, too, has a lot of fans both inside and outside the company – so, yes, B2B, it is possible.
Cut Through the Marketing Noise and Complexity
By telling simple stories, turning expectations upside down frequently, and letting your personality come through, you’ll stand out in a noisy world today. While there are many ways to humanize – the most important thing is to forge deeper connections with your audience in order to increase marketing results. There is no short-cut or quick ‘social media’ fix.
Every marketer communicates, yet few truly connect. ‘Meaning’ kicks volume’s ass every day of the week. Move over data overload. It’s time for “Big and Meaningful Data.”
Let me know what you think!