Bring Your Brand to Life

Through the Power of Story

Category: Content Marketing

Social Media Creates Transparency

Most businesses today have adopted a Facebook page, a Twitter profile and certainly a web page. Online media, for some businesses, is viewed simply as a modestly effective marketing tool, that certainly makes it easier for customers to find their hours, and location. Yet, there is much more brewing below the surface, as I discussed last week. Social media makes the actions of a business more transparent… and when customers, people outside the company can create blog posts, facebook entries and tweets that impact a large circle of people, businesses can be vulnerable.

Some businesses have learned the hard way that social media brings a dramatic, forceful impact on the company image.

It will be interesting to see how social media will impact those companies once tainted with scandal. Glencore International, the long-held private Swiss-based commodity trading powerhouse, a name tied to allegations of bribery, corruption, tax evasion and human rights violations, is now opening themselves up to the investing public.

Will Glencore change its business practices in an effort to gain public investors? Companies desiring to gain our trust will need to be believable through sustained efforts.

We might like what we see. As part of Disneyland’s green initiative, their trains run on bio-diesel made with cooking oil from the resort’s hotels. The Columbus-based restaurant, Park Creek Kitchen is committed to using products from Ohio farmers.

 

Some of the strongest companies will emerge from those brands that connect the public and the personal in today’s financially-strained economy.

Adapted from my column for the SNP.

Social Media Demands Responsibility

Most businesses today have adopted a Facebook page, a Twitter profile and certainly a web page. Online media, for some businesses, is viewed simply as a modestly effective marketing tool, that certainly makes it easier for customers to find their hours, and location. Yet, there is much more brewing below the surface, as I discussed last week.

Each week we mention specific brands more than 90 times in our conversations. Seventy one percent of us claim reviews from family members or friends exert a great deal of influence on purchases.

Now our conversations are happening online, and our stories have the potential to spread as quickly and as wide as wildfire. This on-line shift has set a spark under the board room chairmen of businesses, as they are beginning to realize they can no longer hide behind a glossy, expensive ad campaign designed to convince consumers to buy their products.

Today’s new marketing departments are less focused on ads, and are more focused on how to build relationships with their customers, as collaborative partners, gathering insight to create a lifetime, two-way interpersonal relationship.

If a business wants to develop a raving following of high-value customers, they can begin by leveraging their social networks to actively search for complaints, and work hard on modifications to make it right. If we’ve had a bad experience with a product, customer service is usually the last place we go — we usually head straight to our Facebook page.

But this is a two-way relationship. If social media has made it possible for a business to build a relationship with us, the company must give something back to us in return. Now we can easily find out how authentic its values really are. Read more about how some businesses are using their social media platforms to help their, sometimes tattered, images shine. Read more about those companies here.

Adapted from my column for the SNP.

How Big Is Your Circle Of Influence?

A company’s circle of influence may have been minuscule in the 70s, but it was mighty. The first time my mom used Downy’s fabric softener, from a coupon, the liquid left blue spots on the wash. She fired off a complaint letter, via a snail-mail, to the company, who promptly wrote back “Sorry,” and sent her another bottle of Downy.

Not surprisingly, the generous free bottle did little to reassure my mom’s confidence in Downy. Her story spread, and sales of the product ceased in our small town — or at least in her circle of influence.

I learned this “news” by eavesdropping on her telephone conversations.

What if my mom had a Facebook page, and she shared photos of the blue spots with her friends? What if she published a blog, with thousands of Google searchers opening her page after entering the key words, “fabric softener coupons?”

Imagine how differently Downy would have responded to those blue-spotted photos? The bigger question is, would they change the product and make it right? That’s the issue that Social Media has brought to the forefront of business today. Social Media is synonyms with Social Responsibility.

Learn more about how your Facebook page, your Twitter profile, and your web page increases your circle of influence, and opens the door to accountability, here. Because, now you have our attention.

Adapted from my column for the SNP.

Ten Sources for Stories

If your online content is not updated consistently, your readers, and more importantly, the google search engines, will begin to loose interest. An outdated website, Facebook page or twitter profile can give prospective customers the idea that your company isn’t current either.

This might be true.

The very act of creating content helps you become a stronger company, by improves your customer service and keeps you current with changing market preferences. . The process of gathering content for your blog naturally connects you to your customers; your products; and helps you see if your product is evolving with your customers. hen you stay close to your customers to hear what they’re saying. 

Sometimes, I’ve found, that clients think they have nothing new under the sun to share. This, is where you’re wrong. The next time you get stuck, mine this list of ideas for sources of great stories to feed your online presence.

  1. Your customers. Ask them questions. What’s your biggest challenge? What’s your business goal for the year? What’s a strategy you’re using to grow your business… or if it’s a consumer — what’s a strategy you’re using to keep down costs? See how this can naturally make you a stand-out customer? This is a great way to incorporate video into your oline presence.
  2. Industry Thinkers. Find someone interesting, and Q&A them to point out new trends and insights. Don’t forget people in your own company. Showcase your company. This is also a great time to use video.
  3. Customer Service: This topic could spin itself into a periodic regular feature. “Questions from our customers.” What is the biggest reason customers contact you? There must be a trend, and you should know what it is, anyway. Is it being solved efficiently? If the customer has a blog, make sure you link to that too.
  4. Analyze Keyword Searches: This is an interesting way to find out who is reading your site, and why. Google analytics tracking software to show you the top search trends. While the words can tell you what problems  would-be customers are looking for, you can build content around those queries. Show the customer you’re here to solve their problems.
  5. What is the Social Media Saying? What are your customers, and prospective customers talking about? Luckily, you are spared from tedious, espensive surveys, because the information is already out there. Monitor social conversations via trending keyword topics on Twitter, on blogs (via google alerts.) (Learn how to listen to your customers, here.) If people are actively engaged in a dialogue about a topic related to your business, offer them the content they’re looking for. Offer an opposing view, or solve the problem.
  6. Research Your Competition. You can do this online with a tool like Google AdWords Keyword Tool, Google Predictive Search, or LinkedIn Answers.  Setting the parameters in the search string will help you see what people are searching for that relate to your product. If you’re selling shoestrings… how many people are searching for fluorescent shoestrings? How many are looking for fobs to add to their shoestrings? The answers you find can lead to a mountain of content material, that your customers will be interested in.
  7. What’s Going On In the Industry? This one demands timeliness. Give your opinion about today’s news within 24 hours of its release. You could be first. Make sure to link the original content (it’s online somewhere) increasing the chances that the follow-up story will link back to you.
  8. Passionate Tie-Ins. Readers love to read stories that parallel two non-related topics. What your hobby? Are you a skydiver? A golfer? Surely, you’ve had  moments of ephiphany when “the whole wold came together” while you were engrossed in your hobby — those moments when time stood still. What did you learn that you can share? How does it parallel what you’re trying to do for your customers?
  9. Get Behind the Scenes. Post photos that show an indsider’s view of your company. This is great if you have a manufacturing plant. Show the the raw products, a video of your product line from start to finish.
  10. Customer Photos: Encourage your customers to share photos of how they are using your product in their lives. Offer a give-away or contest, and ask them to write a story about how your product solved their problem.
  11. Event Reporter: Tradeshows, conferences and industry events are great sources for content. Share your impressions, session notes via real-time blogging and tweets. Follow-up the event with in-depth insights  on whom you met, what you learned, and what surprised you.
  12. How-To: From virtual, “How to Create an Online Webinar” to practical, “How to defrost the Drain Plug On Your Refrigerator.” Your product solves a problem. Show readers how it’s done. This is a great place to offer troube-shooting techniques, in an easy how-to format.
  13. Your Best Habits: What productivity secrets can you pass onto your readers? What online applications do you love? Have you figured out an ingenous way to use an application to solve an entirely different problem? Share it.
  14. Your Archives: Do you have a story that needs revsiting? Or updated?
  15. Guest Posts: Be creative, and find someone prominent — a blogger, a community leader, someone you geninuely admire.
  16. What are Your Competitors Posting? Surely, you are tracking them via Google Reader and Google Alerts. Is there anything they’ve left unsaid? Would you like to compliment them on something “well said,” or “well-done?”  Link to them, and let your readers know you’re a genuine human being.
  17. Virtual News Source: Designate a spot on your webpage that links to your must-read sources into a central location. You can use RSS feeds to showcase headlines, and excerpts from the stories your’re reading today. Don’t forget — sources that write about your passions can be listed here too.

Listening Comes Full Circle

What your customers are saying about your industry can be just as important as what they are saying about you. If you’re not tuned in to what the community is saying, this fact will show in your communications, your tweets, customer service, and ultimately, in your product.

How can you find out what’s inside your customer’s head? By listening. Surveys and focus groups are one expensive  way — but what about prospects? What about people who are not yet your customer, but you would like them to be?  Fortunately, this person is already giving you his opinions and ideas for free. I’m going to show you some ways to find them:

 

Google Reader:

  • This is a free service, linked to your Google Gmail account. Reader is an RSS reader that lets you read blog in a column format, and allows you to view simply the headline, and quickly open up the story to see what’s in the content, without going to the acutal blog.
  • Reader also lets you categorize your blogs into categories, making it quick and easy to pursue different trends.
  • You can also use Reader’s search button to find posts on a specific key word.

Google Alerts

  • This serve allows you to enter search terms, phrases, and URLs into a search profile. Google will then  send its search engine indexes for something new on the Web that matches your search.  Via settings, you can arrange to have these links sent to your inbox each morning.

Search.Twitter.com

  • Start by entering your company’s name and see what’s there. What did you find out? Don’t see anything? Time to start creating a buzz around your company.
  • Enter the name of your competition… what are they saying?

This little exercise should enlighten you to new blogs, and new sites that are relevant to your business. Keep your tabs on them, and make them part of your daily reading. Subscribe to blogs that are relevant, and read them. Then, begin slowly, and carefully, to offer your own opinion in the comment section… with a link to your own blog. Listen.. then invite them over to see what you have to say.

 

The Fast Track to Web Credibility

You want a first-time visitor to your blog to have plenty of well-organized and targeted content to dive into. Where can you find it? How long will it take to build an archive of material?

Mine Your Past
Before making your blog public, look around at what you already have for some great foundational pieces you can use to build your on-line library. Do you have a power point presentation that can be converted into a post? How about a white paper than can be broken into a series? This type of content is unique and valuable to customers, and prospective customers because it helps them see where your product or services fits into their larger business context. This is your chance to show readers how you can make a true return on their investment, and ultimately, be perceived as valuable to their bottom line.

Case Histories are ready-made success stories sitting as a prime target for your web content. Make contact with the client to find out what’s changed since you last visited the client? Are there new successes? Are there new challenges that need your attention. Blogs are dynamic, and the ability to provide fresh, live content is what will make your web site compelling, and informational. It’s one thing to publish a case history; it’s another to provide an honest assessment of where the success story is today — and how you plan to continue serving your customer.