Tag Archives: content marketing

7 Tips for Creating a Great Content Experience

7 Tips for Creating a Great Content Experience

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Content marketing is a sound strategy. Using email, texting, and social media, companies, and brands are taking advantage of an effective way to connect with customers. Most companies use content to deliver value-added information that gets customers excited about what they sell. That makes sense, but it’s limiting. Think beyond marketing and sales. You don’t just want people to buy your products and services. You want them to experience your company. Beyond what you sell, you want customers to know who you are, what you stand for, and more. A good content strategy helps make that happen.

Perhaps a better way to describe content marketing in this context is to rename it content experience. So, with that in mind, here are seven ways to create an experience that uses content beyond a sales pitch:

1. Get Customers Excited

This is ultimately what you want your customers to experience—excitement for your brand. Share the latest and greatest, and maybe even a sneak preview of what’s to come. Make them feel like they made the right decision to give you their contact information. Get them excited about you—and motivated to want to buy from you and evangelize your brand.

2. Educate the Customer

You might think this is about teaching the customer about your products and services, but there is more. For example, let’s say you sell sports shoes. Look beyond shoes and educate your customers about anything related to your industry. An intelligent customer makes better—and often easier—buying decisions.

3. Highlight Success Stories

Customers want a successful experience with your products, so why not share how other customers have experienced success? Showcase these examples. Turn them into case studies that customers can use to duplicate success. Let your customers tell their stories.

4. Let Customers Showcase the Best Way to Use Your Products

If you’re going to highlight success stories, consider letting your customers do the talking. In effect, these are third-party testimonials and endorsements that are worth far more than traditional paid advertising.

5. Create a Customer Support Forum Run by Customers

Create a place where customers can answer questions posed by other customers. Consumers who have problems or questions love to learn from their peers. By the way, you will want to moderate the responses and be there to comment, add information, and thank customers for their help.

6. Create Meaningful Conversations That Go Beyond What You Sell

Your content experience strategy shouldn’t be one-way. Don’t just post something (a short article, video, white paper, etc.) and walk away. Start a conversation. Ask questions that get your customers to respond and share their opinions, which will ideally lead to other customers chiming in with their thoughts. Then respond to these answers. This type of engagement can bond you with your customers.

7. Stand for Something That Creates a Bond with Your People

There are companies that are admired for their “give-back” strategies. These companies are often charitable. Or they have such a strong belief in a cause that they make it part of their publicly stated mission. It could be sustainability, diversity, and inclusion, or any other cause, charity, or important issue that might excite customers and resonate with them so much that it takes the relationship to something beyond a typical transaction of trading money for a product or service.

Content marketing becomes an experience when you go beyond sales and marketing and make it about the customer. If the content you share creates value for your customers, makes customers feel connected to you and your brand, or makes your customers smarter, you’ve crossed over from sales and marketing to the level of experience. Make your content strategy an experience.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Rise of the Evangelist

Chief Evangelist Braden Kelley

What is an evangelist?

When many people hear this term, their minds used to picture Billy Graham or Pat Robertson, but this is changing. Why?

Our perceptions of evangelists are transforming as the pace of change accelerates to construct a new reality faster than most human brains can process the changes.

This creates a chasm in understanding and change readiness that evangelists can help bridge in a number of different ways.

Let us look at what an evangelist really is…

Oxford Dictionaries say an evangelist is a “zealous advocate of something.”

Nine Innovation Roles EvangelistIn business, the evangelist is a role that any of us can take on (with varying levels of success). Evangelism is very important to innovation success, which is why the evangelist is one of The Nine Innovation Roles™. This is how I define this particular role:

“The Evangelists know how to educate people on what the idea is and help them understand it. Evangelists are great people to help build support for an idea internally, and also to help educate customers on its value.”

Notice at this point we are talking about an evangelist as a role that can be played by one or more people, and not as a job that one or more people hold. Evangelism normally will be a role and not a job, but there are inflection points where this must change.

Outside of an innovation context, evangelism often falls on the shoulders of CEOs, business owners and product managers within organizations. When the need for evangelism is small, this can work. But for most organizations, this is no longer the case.

When should you hire an evangelist?

The time to cross over from evangelism as a role to evangelism as a job is when:

  1. The pace of internal change is accelerating faster than employees can grasp without help
  2. The pace of external change is accelerating faster than customers can understand without help
  3. Your company is facing disruption by new entrants or existing competitors
  4. You’re considering a digital transformation
  5. You’ve already embarked upon a digital transformation
  6. You’re using Agile in product development
  7. Your brand essence is being shifted by you or your customers
  8. You need a more human and personal presence in your marketing efforts to better connect with customers

When one or more of these conditions are true, you’ll find that it isn’t possible for CEOs, business owners and product owners to meet the needs for evangelism in the short spurts of time these people can dedicate to the necessary activities.

As highlighted by Agile Product Development’s presence in the list, organizations leveraging Agile to develop software-based products will find that their product managers are always engaged with the backlog with little time to focus on evangelism. They’re always focused on shipping something.

Some organizations will resist adding evangelists to their team, feeling that such a role is superfluous, but having one or more people focused on evangelism delivers value to the organization by executing a range of incredibly important activities, including:

  • Growing awareness
  • Building a community around the company and/or plugging the company into pre-existing external communities (potentially taking the brand to places it has never been before)
  • Generating interest
  • Working with customers and the marketing team to identify the stories that need to be told and the themes that need to be introduced and/or reinforced
  • Creating desire
  • Building and maintaining conversations with the community that cares about your products/services/brands
  • Engaging in an open and honest dialogue to help gather the voice of the customer
  • Facilitating action
  • Practicing a human-centered design mindset to continuously elicit needs and surface wants and desired outcomes

Depending on the size of the organization you may decide to have a single evangelist, or some larger organizations have more than one type of evangelist, including:

  1. Chief Evangelist
  2. Brand Evangelists
  3. Product Evangelists
  4. Service Evangelists
  5. Innovation Evangelists

This specialization occurs when the evangelism an organization needs become too big for one evangelist to handle. At that point a Chief Evangelist creates the evangelism strategy and manages the execution across the team of brand, product, service and other evangelism focus areas.

So what makes a good evangelist?

Evangelists arrive from a range of different job specialties, but key knowledge, skills and abilities include:

  • Empathetic
  • Passionate About the Company’s Mission, Products/Services, and Customers
  • Comfortable Public Speaker
  • Efficient and Effective Writer
  • Human-Centered Design Mindset
  • Experienced with Social Media, Audio and Video
  • Skilled Content Creator
  • Continuous Learner
  • Self-Directed and Comfortable with Ambiguity

… and ideally your chosen evangelists will already have some presence in the communities important to you, or the knowledge of how to establish a presence in these communities.

Customer buying journeys are notoriously unpredictable, meandering, long and non-linear. Evangelism is a critical part of helping to build relationships with potential buyers and increasing the chances that your brand will be top of mind when a non-buyer finally becomes a potential customer of your products or services.

It’s a long-term non-transactional investment, one that will pay dividends if you see the wisdom in making the expenditure.

Has your organization already invested in evangelists? What learnings would you like to share in the comments?

Are you ready for the evangelists to rise in your organization?

Or do you need help with evangelism? (contact me if you do)

Share the love!

p.s. I wrote a follow-up article for InnovationManagement.se that you might also enjoy — Increase Your Innovation Reputation and Velocity with an Innovation Evangelist


Accelerate your change and transformation success

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Consulting Industry Being Attacked on Three Sides

Consulting Industry Being Attacked on Three Sides

The worlds of employment and business are becoming increasingly turbulent as the stability of the enterprise grows ever shorter, the loyalty of the enterprise to its people faces extinction, and the wealthy countries of the world stand at a precipice of overhanging debt. Increasingly intelligent digital technologies and mercurial customer expectations threaten both people and enterprise at every turn.

One would suppose that this would be an amazing time for consultancies, full of promise and opportunities. One would imagine that clients desperate for solutions that help them cope with these challenging times would be banging down the doors of consulting firms outbidding each other to the firm’s next client.

But that is not the reality…

Because, the same forces that are causing a feeling of disequilibrium for the firms that consultancies serve are also causing the same unease, trepidation and challenge for the consulting firms themselves.

The fact is that the consulting industry is being attacked on three sides:

  1. Increasingly Available Intellectual Property
  2. Internal Consultants
  3. Artificial Intelligence

Let’s look at each threat in turn:

1. Increasingly Available Intellectual Property

In my last article, “Thought Leadership Builds Firm Value”, I wrote about the importance of thought leadership in today’s digital age and its role in helping to drive inbound sales leads.

Hiring a consultancy, even for a small project, is a big expenditure for most companies, something that requires several levels of approval before the project can begin. Given that, company employees take to the Internet to build their consideration set and to do their research into how each company thinks and who seems to be the leader in the space where they need help. For help with building an innovation or digital transformation strategy or process, often they find me.

The way that company employees find the companies they will include in their consideration set, and the individual (or firm) they will ultimately hire, is by finding and evaluating thought leadership created by consultants like myself who are good at creating frameworks and other tools aimed at simplifying complex concepts (referred to as eminence by some firms).

Because the discovery and evaluation of thought leadership by potential customers is a key way that independent consultants and advisory firms attract new business, and because it is easier than ever to create and share thought leadership while simultaneously becoming an increasingly important factor in the buying process, independent consultants and advisory firms are creating more pieces of thought leadership and eminence than ever before.

On the plus side, thought leadership and eminence help independent consultants and advisory firms to win business. The down side however is that in much the same way that kids in Hawaii have learned how to become professional surfers by watching YouTube videos, as advisory firms create more thought leadership and make it publicly available to win new business, they also stand to lose an accelerating amount of new business as well. The reason is that the proliferation of eminence and thought leadership will inevitably lead to:

  1. Increasing numbers of line managers feeling that they know enough to tackle the challenge themselves that they might have otherwise outsourced to a consulting firm
  2. Increasing numbers of senior leaders deciding that someone inside their company could spin up and lead an internal consulting group

2. Internal Consultants

Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, an increasing number of senior leaders are becoming fed up with spending $500/hr on newly minted MBA’s from McKinsey, Bain, BCG, etc. when they could hire them on full-time for $75-100/hr by taking one of their promising senior leaders and having them spin up an internal consulting group.

Many companies have already created internal consulting groups to handle the bulk of their strategic project work in order to either:

  1. Save money
  2. Increase responsiveness
  3. Increase speed to market
  4. Keep the knowledge gained from such projects readily accessible
  5. Create and retain a competitive advantage

For me, reason number five is potentially the most compelling reason because it is impossible to expect any large consulting firm to unlearn the insights they acquire on one consulting project and not leverage them on a subsequent project with a competitor somewhere down the line. Doing projects with your competitors is how a great deal of industry expertise is gained by large consultancies, and this expertise is one of the primary reasons that managers hire a consulting firm.

3. Artificial Intelligence

Roboadvisors, chatbots, and other implementations of artificial intelligence have captured people’s imaginations and led to both an increase in the number of articles written about artificial intelligence, but also in the practical implementations of artificial intelligence. People are becoming increasing comfortable with artificial intelligence thanks to the recommendation engines on Amazon and Netflix and IBM Watson’s appearance on the game show Jeopardy and battles against chess grandmasters.

But what does consulting have to fear from artificial intelligence?

In the short run, maybe not a lot. But, in the grander scheme of things, over time enterprising technology vendors will inevitably build upon publicly available artificial intelligence frameworks made publicly available by companies like Microsoft and Google (who are seeking to increase the sale of cloud services) to automate some of the tasks that recently minted undergraduate analysts or Indians perform now for the large consulting firms.

Conclusion

These are challenging times for independent consultants as they respond to these attacks from three sides. Only time will tell how quickly and how broadly artificial intelligence (AI) threatens the core business of consultancies. The internal consultancy threat is real and growing in scope and threat. What may have started in Project and Portfolio Management (PPM), Six Sigma, Lean and Agile practices in some organizations, is quickly expanding into other Operational Excellence areas and even into Innovation, Digital Transformation, and traditional Strategy. Increasingly available intellectual property poses a Catch-22 for consultancies as a refusal to participate in the creation of eminence and thought leadership will lead to less business in the short-term, but doing so will certainly over time lead to an overall reduction in the size of the market for consulting services. Some consultancies are responding by diversifying their service offerings, attempting to create consulting superstores. What will be your response to this attack from three sides?

Build a Common Language of Innovation

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Drowning in a Sea of Content

Drowning in Content

In #MyIndustry, content creation (I’m an author, keynote speaker and publisher), there is already a flood of content and the flood waters will not recede anytime soon. In fact, the rate of content creation is increasing as more companies launch content marketing and inbound marketing campaigns to pull customers to them.

Before the Internet came along, content was naturally limited by the potential throughput possible through a relatively fixed number of available channels:

  • Handful of TV stations
  • Radio stations
  • 1 or 2 local newspapers
  • A few dozen magazines
  • A handful of book publishers

Things remained relatively stable for several decades, then beginning in about 1980 this began to change. Cable and satellite television began to arrive taking television from a handful of stations to hundreds. The number of magazines began to grow, doubling between 1980-2000 according to Pew Research, online services and eventually the Internet emerged to provide a plethora of alternatives to traditional newspapers, and satellite and internet radio arrived. At the same time Amazon, Lulu and others launched the self-publishing revolution.

The amount of content available to people has exploded over the last 35 years. I saw a statistic recently that more than 1 TRILLION photos will be taken in 2015, compared to 2.7 Trillion photos cumulatively stored through the end of 2014.

With the rate of the content deluge increasing and with none of it draining out the bottom of the Internet bathtub, it will become harder and harder for a content creator like myself to capture people’s attention and to afford to continue to deliver quality insights from research, collaboration, and connection.

Being a content creator is a lot like being a space object, there are lots of asteroids in space, and it is easy to float around as an asteroid, but to carefully tend and cultivate an ecosystem that helps you attract enough mass and an atmosphere capable of generating and growing life is much harder.

Creating unique and differentiated insights to power content that educates, informs, or entertains (or potentially all three) is hard enough, but if you want to create something with its own source of gravity, you need to collect and harness many more skills, while also looking for potential collaborators with complimentary skills.

This will always be true for artists, musicians, authors, and any other kind of content creator. There is no going back?

So, what’s your center of gravity?

And how can you make it stronger?

In my own content creation sphere, I continue to work to strengthen the center of gravity in the innovation arena by working on a site redesign with my great Innovation Excellence co-Founders and the digital professionals at Juice Interactive, and growing a new center of gravity in the change arena with some new partners as we seek contributing authors for an upcoming launch of Charting-Change.com.

Helping to make innovation and change insights accessible for the greater good is what drives me, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I possibly can!

Image credit: Bunchcast


Accelerate your change and transformation success

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

People-Centric Marketing

People-Centric MarketingWe live in an increasingly complex world where both the volume of change and the pace of change are accelerating. But it is not just change that is accelerating, choice is proliferating as well.

Witness the example of General Mills’ Cheerios. Introduced in 1941, there are now 13 varieties of Cheerios on the market, not including snack mixes introduced in 2008.

In its 70+ year history, General Mills introduced no variations in the first 35 years; all of the new varieties have been introduced during the second half of Cheerios’ lifespan, with eight of 13 new varieties being introduced in the last decade. The 13 current varieties of Cheerios (with launch dates) according to Wikipedia are:

  1. Cheerios (1941)
  2. Honey Nut Cheerios (1979) (see above)
  3. Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (1988)
  4. MultiGrain Cheerios (Original in the UK) (released 1992, relaunched 2009)
  5. Frosted Cheerios (1995)
  6. Yogurt Burst Cheerios (2005)
  7. Fruity Cheerios (2006) (Cheerios sweetened with fruit juice)
  8. Oat Cluster Crunch Cheerios (2007) (sweetened Cheerios with oat clusters)
  9. Banana Nut Cheerios (2009) (sweetened Cheerios made with banana puree)
  10. Chocolate Cheerios (2010) (Cheerios made with cocoa)
  11. Cinnamon Burst Cheerios (2011) (Cheerios made with cinnamon)
  12. Dulce de Leche Cheerios (2012) (sweetened Cheerios made with caramel)
  13. MultiGrain Peanut Butter Cheerios (2012) (Multigrain Cheerios with sorghum, not wheat, and peanut butter)

We have an overwhelming amount of choice in the supermarket, but we also have an ever growing roster of entertainment options as well:

  • Terrestrial, cable, satellite, and on demand television
  • Internet television (NBC.com, Comcast.com, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus)
  • Television on DVD or DVR
  • Over the air, satellite, and internet radio
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Vine and streaming music
  • Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Google+
  • Console, PC, Tablet, and Smartphone gaming
  • Snapchat and Wechat
  • Live events and recordings of live events
  • and on and on

Advertising is proliferating:

  • TV and radio advertising
  • Out of Home advertising (Billboards, buildings, airplanes, buses, trucks, etc.)
  • Print advertising (Magazines, newspapers, etc.)
  • Movie and TV product placements
  • Movie theater advertising
  • Airborne advertising
  • In game product placements
  • Digital advertising (banners, videos, etc.)
  • Mobile advertising
  • Naming rights (stadiums, etc.)

Marketing is proliferating too:

  • Direct marketing (direct mail, email, telemarketing, etc.)
  • Partner marketing
  • Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing (aka SEM)
  • Social Media marketing
  • Inbound marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Viral marketing
  • Loyalty and retention marketing
  • Spam
  • and my least favorite (contact form marketing – aka spam)

With this deluge of choice and competition for our attention, people are in fact more annoyed and less affected by advertising and marketing than ever before.

Growing Customers in a Deluge

So in today’s world, how do most effectively cultivate future customers, strengthen the relationship with existing customers, and maintain connections and grow commitment over time?

There is no single answer of course, but effective marketing in today’s world of endless choice and competition for people’s attention requires the appropriate mix of push and pull and recognizes that the ROI from marketing efforts should not all be attributed to the last click but instead is attributed to the overall customer journey and uses technology that allows you to connect together the different customer touchpoints and impressions over time to help you better understand how your holistic revenue generation system is working. Because effective marketing is not about converting leads, but instead about building relationships.

When your marketing efforts focus on building a relationship, trust, and even partnership with your customers, your organization stands to benefit more than by just seeking the quick scale. Even non-customers can be referrers and recommenders, and as companies grow, a single individual can have a customer, partner, and a competitor relationship with the same organization.

Are you living in marketing’s past?

So if marketing today is more about the customer journey, building relationships and even co-creation, then it becomes even more important to build understanding and trust. The power of the story, the power of experience, and the role of content in this new world become increasingly important in capturing and holding people’s attention. You’ll notice that I said people not customers or prospects, and their is an important reason underlying it.

Because of our increasingly interconnected and always on world, where Yelp has grown to become a more powerful engine of influence than neighbors and co-workers, it’s getting harder to tell who is an influencer and must tell a consistent story not just to prospects, but to all people. And in a world where algorithms determine whether you even appear in the places your potential customers trust, having the right content in the right places, at the right time, so that people (not just prospects) can find it at the various stops along the often long, meandering non-customer to prospective customer evolutionary path.

Embracing an expanded marketing focus on non-customers may be hard for some marketers, but others will see the importance of it in growing and maintaining the long-term health of the organization’s sales pipeline and brand equity.

How do you grow new customers?

Well, by growing the level of comfort and trust that people have in your organization and its employees. There are many ways to do this, but they require a strategy that first seeks to understand the typical paths that people take from non-customer to customer. A lot of people talk about trying to loyalize customers, or turning customers into advocates, and while that may sound logical, there is a flaw in that thinking. The flaw is that people can be influencers and advocates for your products and services before they become a customer (or who may never become a customer) if you’re doing a good job with your people-centric marketing.

When you better understand the journeys people take from non-customer to customer you can better understand what parts of the story to tell when and where. And often as you shift from a lead-generation, prospect-driven marketing focus to a people-centric one, you will start to see that in order to build the comfort and the trust and the excitement, that it will be more about barriers than benefits, more about problems than solutions.

As marketers we love to talk about benefits and solutions, but where we really need to focus is problems and barriers. Where is the friction? Where is the confusion? What are the chasms to be crossed? What are the pitfalls to be avoided?

When we start to understand these things, we will start to understand the stories and the content that need to be told and created in order to provide the jet pack to accelerate an individual from one level of comfort, trust, and purchase readiness to the next. The better we grasp what people are seeking to understand in order to evolve their level of comfort and trust, the better we can do at shaping our messages and our strategy to meet people where they are.

Who’s your thought leader?

This is where having a thought leader on staff comes into play, and why you might want to hire one or convert an existing employee or two into one. The job of the thought leader is to be a storyteller, a brand advocate, and ultimately to be the person that builds those bridges across the chasms and guides non-customers along their journey of understanding by demonstrating understanding of the problems, barriers, and pitfalls that non-customers and customers face, and helping to educate them on some of the ways that progress can be made and success created.

There is nothing wrong with trying to lead the thoughts of others. Someone has to lead, or at least to provoke. Just keep your ego at bay and focus on being a discussion leader and a facilitator within the topic area you are focusing on and key in on the transitions that you are trying to encourage. Ultimately what you are doing is growing customers, but there is no set timetable for when a non-customer might become a customer, and we’re not focused on speed as much as we are on acceleration. The closer we can draw non-customers to us, the more likely they are to want to become employees, partners, co-creators, advocates, or even aid in creating post-purchase rationalization instead of buyers remorse.

But the sad part is that most companies don’t recognize the importance of thought leaders, and the unique skillset that some people in understanding the journey and the problems, pitfalls, barriers, chasms, and transitions that matter to non-customers. Most consultancies want their consultants on the road billing every possible hour, and don’t allow anyone to focus on this important area of growing future customers. They dabble, and maybe they publish a white paper here or there that looks just like the white paper their five other competitors just put out, but they don’t commit to any marketing activities that result in immediate lead generation. There are a few consumer product companies that are doing surprisingly well in this area, but the two areas of greatest opportunity probably lie in the business-to-business (B2B) and service industries (consulting, legal services, etc.).

I’ve done a bit of work in these areas helping companies like Innocentive, Planview, Imaginatik, and Crowd Computing create single content input, multiple content output strategies to help evolve their ranks of non-customers along their journey with some informational pieces.

Thought leaders can and should play a large role in your innovation efforts as Evangelists (see my Nine Innovation Roles) and in helping your organization do a better job of value translation and value access (see my article on Innovation is All About Value). As you launch innovations into the marketplace, a people-centric marketing approach can make a huge difference in translating the potential value better for customers and non-customers alike and identifying areas of opportunity for improved value access (based on the thought leaders’ understanding of the non-customer’s journey) that can be communicated within the organization and new value access offerings that complete the core value creation of the innovation.

I hope by now you see the importance of focusing more on people-centric marketing and in understanding non-customers as well (or better) as we currently understand our customers.

But, of course in order to become a thought leader, someone must inevitably find what you have to say worth following.

So identify the thought leaders in your organization, or hire one, and start building your people-centric marketing strategy today!

Image source: bashfoo.com


Accelerate your change and transformation success

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.