Once upon a time, brands were the sole-source of information about their products. When consumers wanted to find out information about a service or tool, they turned towards the brand and their marketing material.
Times have changed.
The advent of the internet and social media—along with skyrocketing mobile device usage—means today’s customers are connected virtually 24/7. And they aren’t using their smartphones to look up products on brand websites. Instead, they’re more likely to turn towards social media, internet review sites, or product demos on YouTube (the world’s second largest search-engine, not-so-incidentally).
Why Technology Demands New Communication Strategies from Brands
Such cultural shifts in purchasing habits, however, don’t mean that brands should give up on creating their own content. In fact, content creation is more important than ever. You just have to do it better, more consistently, and stop pushing the hard-sell. Because consumers have hundreds of resources available to them when deciding what service to use or what product to buy, it’s critical to engage with customers on their mediums of choice (read: social), and use technology such as marketing automation, content marketing software, and CRM programs to establish and nurture long-term relationships.
Content marketing—when done well—appeals to broad audiences. A report by Roper Public Affairs found that up to 80% of business decision-makers prefer to learn about a product by reading articles, rather than through traditional advertising. That means providing helpful advice, long-form content, and quality resources for your clients can you get you access to decision-makers faster than ads in business magazines. In other words, the era of the hard-sell is over.
So how can companies adapt to such changes and harness the power of content marketing? It’s actually easier than many think. Let’s start with the tools.
Engaging Potential Customers
In order to engage potential customers, you’ll need to find out what they’re interested in, and where they spend their time. You can create all the Facebook posts you want, but if your audience is glued to Instagram, you’re not going to hit those KPIs. In order to gauge customer preference, you need to be monitoring their behavior across the web. This is where a marketing automation or social media analysis tool can help. Using sentiment analysis, such programs can comb through popular social media sites to find mentions of your brand, and tell you exactly who is talking about you, and in what context.
This type of data helps identify key influencers that you can reach out to to help promote your product. A successful example of such outreach is Mercedes #GLApacked campaign, in which Mercedes provided select Instagram-celebrities the opportunity to take a cross-country road trip in a new GLA. The campaign didn’t ask for specific endorsements, or try to sell cars right then. Instead, it played into what makes Instagram unique, and met potential customers at their level. While your company may not have the resources for such an ambitious campaign, you can still employ similar ideas at a smaller scale.
Try reaching out to existing brand advocates and see if they’d be willing to help you devise a unique platform-specific contest, for instance, where the winner will receive a free product license.
Nurturing Potential Customers
Once you’ve identified some potential customers and figured out what sites your target demographic is spending time on, you can begin devising a lead nurture program or transition your prospects into your CRM software. Lead nurturing, which can be purchased as part of a marketing automation platform or in stand-alone form, can help you automate the engagement process. You can segment prospective clients based on what stage of the buying-process they’re in (or on factors such as what sites they came from), and deliver automated emails to them with relevant content, such as white papers or new blog posts.
The key is to approach these relationships not as means to an end, but as opportunities to educate your audience and spread brand awareness through great content. The more helpful decision-makers find your articles and resources, the more likely they will be to return to your site in the future when they have another question. Eventually, they may recommend your company as a resource to their online networks, or to their business associates. Once this starts happening, you’ll have gained a new brand advocate, and begun to harness the power of peer-to-peer marketing.
In order for any of these strategies to be successful, you’ll need to be in-tune with your users, and dedicate resources to providing helpful, insightful content. Your site shouldn’t function simply as a large shopping cart, but should be a destination for those in your industry who are seeking answers or looking for quality advice. It’s this type of outreach that appeals to modern decision-makers, and is key to growing a sustainable client base.