What does your digital reach say about you?
Part of being a child—which we all once were—seems to always involve adults telling you that “first impressions are everything.” But is that really still the case these days? Of course it is! That goes for you personally, as well as for your company. So, if we were to personify your company, would it introduce itself with a firm handshake, a clean shirt and a confident smile, or would it nervously extend a limp-wristed handshake while mouth-breathing and sporting a spaghetti-stained tie-die t-shirt. Despite the obvious overuse both of hyphens and hyperboles, we all want to be example number one, not number two. The truth is, however, that if you’re not taking full advantage of digital tools like social media, blogs, SEO, and PPC, then, unfortunately, you might figuratively be closer to number two.
Your Digital Presence, which, based on their company name alone, probably knows a thing or two about digital reach/presence, describes digital presence as “how you present yourself using digital media.” So, the first question is, do you have a strong online presence? If so, great, but if not, then get on that because it’s absolutely necessary. The second question, however, which depends on you already having an online presence, is, when people encounter your company digitally, what do they think about you and how does that affect their opinions of your company’s professionalism and abilities? The sad truth is that even if you are hands-down the best in your industry, and even if you have better products and/or better pricing, if your website is 1997-style web 2.0, you’ll still be struggling to compete.
Think about this: when you decide to find a restaurant to eat dinner at, or even buy some new clothes or decorations for your home, where do you start your research? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that your answer begins with “inter” and ends with “net.” Unless you’re already pretty familiar with the company, or if you’re just unnaturally naïve and trusting, a poorly designed or outdated website, blog, Facebook page, etc. is an immediate deterrent. And, honestly, it doesn’t take a lot of work and money to look good online. When you look good, people are impressed enough to give you a chance to prove how awesome you actually are. But when you don’t look good, however superficial the dynamic might seem, you don’t even get that chance.
Now, given, it’s easy to say, “make yourself look better online,” but how do you actually make the appropriate changes that work for you and your business, and translate those changes into tangible, measurable results? As much as I would love to have a “magic wand” answer, that’s simply not the reality that we’re dealing with here. However, Andreas Roell, writing for iMedia Connection, presented five tips for evolving your company’s digital presence, which should shed some needed advice on the subject.
1. Think before you act
2. Don’t forget: Consumers have control
3. Make digital marketing work for you
4. Don’t miss the boat
5. Learn from mistakes
The two keys to always keep in mind while developing your digital presence are, firstly, to understand your own company and brand. Put in the time to understand everything about it: its identity, its competition, its strengths and weaknesses, its market, that market’s perception of it, your expectations and goals for it, etc. Secondly, think creatively, and be willing to take calculated risks—key word being calculated, don’t go off the deep end on something that could jeopardize what you already have—that remain true to your brand’s identity. So, if you’re mostly marketing to a mature adult audience, don’t infuse your web pages with cartoony art and annoying music that will drive them away as soon as they get there. Just because something worked for one company doesn’t mean that if will necessarily work for yours. That means that you have a responsibility to do your research on other companies for inspiration and also to realize what not to do. Besides, research—at least in this sense—should be fun; just put yourself in a potential customer’s shoes and ask yourself what impression each web page gives of that specific company, and what does it make you want to do?
All in all, the digital world opens up business and marketing opportunities that were never available before: it’s pretty much free, you can easily reach millions of people, and you get to use your creativity to continually develop and redevelop your company’s image on platform that are just as fluid and dynamic. The fact is that people are on Facebook, they read blogs, they use Twitter, and they surf the internet on search engines; the real variable is whether or not you’re confident and prepared enough to take advantage of that huge market. It takes work—lots of it—but have fun with it and it will definitely pay off in the present and in the future.
What is content marketing?
Simply, it’s complicated. But honestly, it’s something that if you’re not doing, you’re really missing out on your business’s potential. Content marketing goes by many names and guises, and is generally implemented across media channels and avenues, and its importance in today’s ever-changing market is paramount.
But the real question is, “if content marketing is so important, how does it contrast with traditional marketing?” The brief answer is that it supports all of the goals and aims of traditional marketing, but its focus, rather than honing in on ROI’s and other fancy acronyms, is on building a community and, in effect, selling an idea. This includes basically all marketing functions except for actual selling: blogs, social media, newsletters, even magazines. The inherent difficulty with this paradigm is that its effectiveness is nearly impossible to measure—quantitatively, at least.
As with any relatively new marketing strategy, you’re bound to experience a “blindly feeling around in the dark” sort of sensation, but don’t worry, that dissipates with time. And it is also important to remember that, although content marketing seems to be a new phenomenon—especially considering the prevalence of socially oriented websites that seem to constantly be popping up everywhere—it has actually been around for over 100 years.
The problem that companies are increasingly finding with traditional marketing is that the internet has completely altered the dynamic of seller and consumer, forcing companies to either adapt or go extinct. Josh Allen Dykstra of Fast Company commented that, “humanity is experiencing an evolution in consciousness. We are starting to think differently about what it means to ‘own’ something….” Without getting too philosophical—which would likely provide a poignant example of ineffective content marketing—people have all the tools they need to avoid seeing advertising if they want to, and the truth is that most people don’t want to be marketed to. This is especially true for millennials, who get pretty much all of their news, entertainment, shopping, etc. online, and have jobs with titles like social media director, community manager, and blogger.
So how can you adapt to this changing marketplace and avoid going the way of the newspaper industry? This is where the genius of content marketing comes into play: it can be intimidating sometimes—especially if the extent of your social media presence is uploading vacation pictures to Facebook—but I promise, it’s worth it! Oh, and even better, once you have your blog and your social media accounts, it’s basically free!
Just like the first step in addiction recovery (don’t worry, this will be my only comparison to addiction recovery), the first step in developing and implementing content marketing is admitting that you have a problem. The fact that you’re reading this right now shows that you’ve made that initial step—or leap. The next step—before talking about marketing platforms, strategies, campaign development, etc.—is what I consider content marketing dogma, the breaking of which is inexcusable: don’t try to sell your audience anything! Consider this the crux that everything else rests upon: that middle stone at the center of the arch that they always spend way too long talking about on History Channel shows about Roman aqueducts—it’s that important! The reality is that that’s what your website is for; if you start using your content marketing sites to sell things, they will become mere extensions of your website that are totally pointless. I mean, come on, you’ve already got a website, and people don’t set up Twitter accounts to buy stuff.
This rule of all rules is the main difference between content marketing and traditional marketing. However, once you’ve got this down, the opportunities are endless and limited only by your imagination—sorry, that was cheesy, but still true. The amalgam of the world’s social networks will become your tacit oyster—yeah, that one’s better. This doesn’t, however, mean that you can’t talk about your product; try looking up Skittles’s blog and Old Spice’s Facebook page. There are lots of candy and deodorant on those pages, but somehow, you don’t feel like a consumer; it’s more like you’re playing a game or watching a really weird movie. You feel connected, but not in the traditional sense of company and consumer, and that feeling is why content marketing is important, and why you need it in today’s marketplace.
It’s also important to remember that, although content marketing is substantially different from traditional marketing, it is still a branch, and good marketing practices still apply; the most important of these, of course, being to know your customer. You probably noticed a distinct difference between this blog and the previous links to Skittles’s blog and Old Spice’s Facebook page. This not-so-subtle difference is quite evident, I hope, because my audience, as I’m sure the folks at Skittles and Old Spice will agree, is far different from theirs.
You need to be willing to challenge your own trusted paradigms, yet at the same time, create something appropriate to your audience. Successful content marketing should supplement your overall marketing efforts, but its direct initiative is to provide for customers’ wants and needs in an environment where the focus is not on sales, but on community development. For more ideas on how to use content marketing, check out The Content Marketing Institute’s list of 42 channels used for content marketing.