There’s money to be made in convincing people that exceptional marketing comes easy, but it doesn’t. I’ve been thinking about marketing’s “hard truths”—those essential but sobering realities that tend to reveal themselves through failure. Maybe the only way to learn these marketing truths is to experience what happens when you contradict their wisdom. Or maybe you’ll read this in time to avoid some particularly thorny terrain (that’s what I prefer to believe). Here we go:
Thought leadership is in the eye of the beholder. It’s always earned, and never bought.
Your audience decides your fate. You can’t produce thought leadership—it’s not a type of marketing. It’s an earned state, and a temporary one at that. You are a thought leader when your audience considers you a thought leader, and not one minute before. You can buy a lot of things that thought leaders tend to have—a six-digit Twitter following and a place on the best sellers list, for example. But these are typically the results of being a thought leader, not the things that get you there.
I was once paired with someone at a small speaking event whose name I wasn’t familiar with. Odd, I thought, because this person had over 100,000 Twitter followers, claimed to be a marketing expert, and also lived in Austin. How had our paths not crossed? After our Q&A session, I asked some friends of mine here in Austin—actual marketing thought leaders—if they knew him. None of them did. After a few minutes perusing his followers, it was clear most of them were fake. Gaming the social proof might have fooled event organizers, but the audience clearly wasn’t impressed with his portion of the session. They decided he wasn’t a thought leader, so he wasn’t.
Utility is never ignored. Make yourself (and your marketing) useful.
People don’t shut you out when it’s clear that you’re helping them. Most marketing points to some help that the audience will get in the future…if they do X, Y, and Z they don’t really want to do. But the best marketing is itself useful. Every page on your site, every tweet, every email you send to prospects—every one of these is a chance to provide something useful.
And guess what? If you give away something useful, people will want to share it. They want to be useful, too. They’ll also come back for more. Jay Baer wrote a whole book about the concept of utility in marketing, and it looks really…useful!
Buzzwords, jargon and superlatives fool no one.
What’s the difference between the “ground truth” and the “truth”?
Would you rather be “enabled,” or simply “helped”?
Why do customer service reps always put that “do” in between “I” and “apologize,” like “I do apologize for that, Mr. Greenleigh.”
When was the last time you read a company boilerplate and believed they really are “the leading” company in whatever space they play in?
Marketing is like a yearbook where seniors write their own superlatives.
No one buys any of this nonsense. Buzzwords and superlatives can make us feel smart, relevant, part of the tribe, and in control, but they alienate just about everyone else.
Write and speak like the people you want to reach and influence. Even if they use buzzwords, resist the temptation (using buzzwords doesn’t mean one responds to buzzwords).
Show, don’t tell. Marketing should deliver—not promise—value.
“Show, don’t tell” is an old writer’s saying. It means don’t rely on exposition to carry your story forward. Rather, have the story telegraphed through things your characters do (or don’t do), say, their appearance, etc.
Marketers love to tell you about value. They focus a lot on offering things, but not enough on providing them. Here’s a concrete example. One of the transformations I led at Bazaarvoice was taking the blog from promotional to useful. When I arrived, we were still talking about how great our data was, about how much we knew about consumers—and here’s a blog post to promote a webinar where we’ll tell you some of what we know. That kind of thing. I wondered why we shouldn’t just share some of what we know on the blog, and use that content to generate leads. No one objected; it just wasn’t the model my colleagues were used to. Once we got the hang of it, and saw all the right indicators going up and to the right, it seemed so ridiculous that we had focused on offers at the expense of delivery. Take a look at your company blog right now and be honest with yourself: which are you focusing on?
Question: What other hard truths of exceptional marketing would you add to this list?
I celebrated the addition of Facebook hashtags, and even picked a fight or two with naysayers in some of the reactionary threads you see whenever Facebook does anything new. But Facebook hashtags just aren’t working.
To illustrate, let’s compare hashtags on Twitter and Facebook. Say a big story breaks having to do with Syria. Hop over to Twitter.com, and there’s a good chance it will be already featured in the Trends box. Or, just enter #syria into the search box , and you’ll get something like this:
Want all tweets in a purely chronological order? Just click All, and you get something like this:
Here’s what happens on Facebook when you search for (or click on) a hashtag.
Famous names, popular posts, some posts from regular people with seemingly no logic as to why their content is featured. Not in chronological order. No ability to change anything to do with what or how content is displayed.
Hashtags are one of the ways that Facebook is trying to strike more of a balance between the social graph and the interest graph. That makes sense, because we’re not only interested in what people we know are doing, what they think, etc. We want to follow things and people that interest us personally—regardless of whether our friends care about the same things and people. This is one reason that Twitter has been successful. It capitalized on the interest graph early on, and incorporated ways to connect people to what interests them, not just who they already know. Hashtags were one of the masterstrokes that made Twitter “the interest network.” When news breaks about Syria, like in the example above, do you really want to rely on people you knew in high school (Facebook) to relay it to you? Facebook saw an opportunity to move into this territory, and started rolling out features like the ability to follow celebrities without actually knowing them (although you’re only getting their public posts). Hashtags were another move in this direction.
But they stripped hashtags of perhaps the most important factor in their popularity: real-time. Without displaying content in chronological order, without including more “unpopular” content from regular people, Facebook made hashtags into a static popularity contest.
One of the other big issues is privacy. Because most Facebook users post content privately (to their friends), you will only see hashtagged content from public posts and your existing Facebook friends. Twitter, however, is asymmetrical—you can see someone’s updates even if they don’t follow you back (unless they’re in the 11.84% of users that have protected accounts).
Facebook was late to the game with hashtags. They’re not used to being the underdog, and in at least this one way, they are. But to change that, they’ll need to quickly improve the experience, make it real-time and customizable, and educate users.
What do you think of Facebook hashtags? Is there any hope? Share your POV in the comments below.
Here’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer, courtesy of Quora:
Do headlines matter as much as they used to?
The poster clarifies: “I ask this because it seems people are becoming content aggregates, blindly sharing the content of their trusted brands. What do you think?”
My mind immediately went to the concept of signal versus noise and the increasing difficulty of separating the former from the latter. Hillary Read summed it up:
I would say they matter a lot more than they used to. You have roughly 10 words to hook people, period. Attentions spans and patience have dwindled, and your headline has to stand out in a LOT of volume/chaos to get noticed. No good headline, no readers.
I was about to leave the question alone because Hillary and others had already posted an answer I agreed with. Then I switched tabs to TweetDeck and saw a YouTube video floating down the page within a column, followed a few seconds later by a beautiful photo from another user. Content is reaching us whether or not we engage with it. So I penned my answer:
Yes and no. The only thing that prevents me from offering a solid “yes” is the increasing prevalence of “previewable” content. Take the way videos and images are being natively featured within Twitter and Facebook, for example. If these platforms forced users to click on links to view all media, headlines would be exponentially more important. But users don’t rely on the headlines alone, because they don’t have to. They get “content clues” like who has liked or shared something, the description, a representative image (if it’s a video), and other information. Or, as is the case with Twitter and many images, they see even more than a preview of the image, they see the full image in their stream. The other element of this is a kind of diminishing opportunity cost. If I need to leave the page or experience I’m currently enjoying to consume content that I might have interest in (based on a headline or tweet w/ link), I might decide it’s not worth disrupting the experience I’m enjoying. But now that more and more media is viewable within experiences, I don’t feel I’m risking anything (except time) by playing it or reading it.
Jesse posted a great follow-up question, excerpted here:
I believe the “content clues” you’ve mentioned have a growing weight in this “headline equation.” If a friend, person, or brand we highly value shares something and the headline is (literally) “A thing” – I feel like we’re still going to share it. Factoring in the content clues, we see ”A thing” by [person or brand we like] and it has social proof (people sharing and commenting), why would we not click it?
…I was wondering, as you’ve mentioned the growing development of preview-able content, do you think a headline (such as “A thing”) will perform better since we can only rely on the surrounding clues (author and social proof)? Do you think we have more of an urge to click on something click this to put our uncertainty to ease?
Here’s me again:
That’s a good question. I think information overload dampens the urge we have to resolve mysteries. I also think hyperbolic “linkbait” / “clickbait” headlines are conditioning audiences to not expect payoffs once they click through. The cliffhanger headline format has been abused to the extent that its effectiveness is at risk. Bottom line is–and I think this is ultimately a good thing for readers and content creators–you have to deliver the goods, up your game, and constantly respond to marketplace needs.
Wikipedia defines linkbait as “any content or feature, within a website, designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.” Lately, the term is also used in reference to bold headlines or posts that drive clicks, visits, and shares.
But I generally use the phrase pejoratively, as in “I can’t believe that linkbait headline tricked me into clicking on this trash.” You know the feeling, right? You expect something from a headline and the content falls far short of what was promised. This kind of linkbait borrows its tactics from tabloids, scare journalism, and other forms of sensationalism. Pick your poison:
Here’s an incredibly stupid (but all too typical) example:
The article doesn’t deliver the goods. Half-Life 3 has not been confirmed. Period. But wait!
Here’s what users see if they click “View Summary” right under the tweet:
That’s right: additional content clues, a meatier preview, and a look at the real headline, which, unlike the tweet itself, does not blatantly lie to users.
This is the direction social media is heading: experiencing content in uninterrupted experiences. Twitter’s summary feature is not just a preview of the content it references, but of the direction our media consumption is heading.
The best ideas in content marketing are connected by a simple imperative: be helpful, or be ignored. Utility is hard to drown out. I touch on this imperative in my book in the section “How to make yourself indispensible with social media.”
It’s odd how difficult it can be to follow one’s own advice sometimes. It would be so easy to fill this blog with barely disguised appeals to buy the book. But that approach only serves my interests, and for you to subscribe, stay subscribed—and hopefully, buy the book—I need to serve your interests.
I’ve posted many useful sections of the book online already, so I’m thinking of other ways to serve the interests of my readers. Today I’m going to try one idea I picked up from David Armano, who turns Quora answers into blog posts. I think the approach is brilliant, frankly. By answering questions within my area of expertise on Quora, I’m building credibility on that platform. Then, by posting those answers to my blog, I’m exposing that helpfulness to a wider audience and repurposing the content for another use—one that’s ultimately closer to my goal of building up a readership interested in buying books. And hopefully, the answers are useful to you. If they are, please upvote them on Quora.
Want more personalized social media or content marketing guidance from me? Register for Quora if you haven’t already. Post a question, then use the Ask to Answer feature to request an answer from me. I’ll post some of the questions and answers here. Alternatively, just email me your question. So, here goes nothing.
There are so many variables, but here are some of the major elements:
- Content creation (copywriting, image sourcing)
- Planning (strategies, scheduling, content sourcing from internal and external groups)
- Responding (addressing customer service issues, praise, other mentions)
- Outreach (working with influencers, prospects, existing customers)
- Reporting (monitoring your progress, justifying your efforts)
- Optimization (using data to do things better)
Yes, within reason. Actually, my handle (be3d) is shorthand for my Twitter philosophy, “be three-dimensional.” I think individuals like to meet and interact with other individuals on Twitter–they prefer the genuine article, the quirks, the entire package. There is a warmth to a genuine Twitter presence that invites conversation, and expressing one’s “inner thoughts,” provided that they aren’t vulgar or roundly objectionable, is a winning strategy.
The first step is to make the conversation about your users, not about you. This is simple, but it’s probably the number one thing companies get wrong. What connects your users/fans/prospects is so much bigger than your brand. What do they love, and love to talk about? The second step is to connect them to each other. If you can go beyond starting and chiming into conversations, but play the role of a true connector and facilitator, conversations will naturally start between people that share interests, goals, proximity, etc.
Personal. In my experience, people like interacting with people. They don’t like ambiguity in communications. They value being able to address, say a response, to an individual, not a corporate entity. They prefer to help people, not the companies they work for. There’s also an important element of accountability: a claim or offer can be traced back to an individual.