Communication or information?

In my two years as a content manager, my earlier suspicions have only been confirmed: even though I like content, and I know a bit about marketing, the two put together don’t make a content marketer. For that I’m just too much of a ‘content’ person. If I hadn’t been, I might have called this blog ‘marketingrambler’ and found myself rambling about the connection between marketing and gardening. Hmm. That doesn’t really work for me at all. Content gardening, however, has made it into my blog several time.

On to another topic: that of the connection between communication and information. Or really content, communication, and information.

  • Communication without information is … well, answers tend to range from impossible to politics to smalltalk I suppose.
  • Information without communication is just stuff sitting on a shelf.

Information is basically what people communicate. They might steer away from sharing one bit of information and convey another bit, but not communicating anything is… erm, the result of true dedication?

So basically, we communicate in order to transfer information from A to B. I think I saw something like that in a book about communication once.

And that means a communications professional views both communication and information from a very different angle than an information professional. (which is my preferred angle, whenever I get to it).

Communications teams may view communication as part of a project. However information professionals look at the transfer of information as part of a process within the organisation. When faced with tasks resembling those of communication professionals, they’ll probably view the project at hand as a process, wonder where information should enter the process, and where the process results in new information. And although information professionals are able to ‘do communication’, their hands will probably itch to improve and streamline the process, define all the information gaps, get some governance on the whole thing, …

In short, they’ll want to make structural changes whereas communication professionals will probably focus on the stuff that needs doing for that particular project.

Just my thoughts on a Friday (evening…). I’m getting seriously distracted by Gardeners’ World now, so more next time. Meanwhile, any thoughts on communication, content, or information? If so, just let me know in the comments section (or possibly Twitter).

Content sharing and the unintended audience

Anyone who has shared content on Twitter will have noticed that sharing certain kinds of information attracts followers like a flower attracts bees – or, in some or many cases, like dung attracts flies.

Content and the (un)intended audience

The thing about the followers you attract in this way is that they’re often a lot like you. They share your interests. But if your aim is to attract people who might one day buy something from you, you need to share information that’s not necessarily the kind of stuff you’re personally, or even professionally, interested in.

The right content to attract the right audience

Business content

For business purposes you need to share content that your potential customers are interested in – which also relates to something they could buy from you.

What’s the right content for your potential customer? The correct answer is:

it depends…

Who is your customer?

Don’t get me wrong: your customers may be people just like you. Suppose you’re a parent. You run into the fact that a lot of kids’ clothes just aren’t practical or fashionable enough. You design items that are (of course!) wayyy better than the rest and start trying to sell them to… To people like you. To parents who are dissatisfied with the clothes already available.

Then again, you may need to attract people completely different from you. This is where buyer personas come in. Well, nearly…

Analyzing your current audience

Suppose you analyze your audience, such as it is today. That analysis doesn’t necessarily yield an overview of potential buyers. What it does give you is some idea of the groups that are interested in whatever you say – or don’t say.

In the case of a company website, you might review your e-mail list and find:

  • your competitors eagerly following what you do, so they can copy the things you’re doing right and do everything you’re not doing.
  • smaller businesses relying on you for dependable information, which they use to serve their customers.
  • a host of people hiding behind Gmail and the like, which might be competitors, or potential customers… hard to tell.
  • your (potential) customers.

Now a mix of all of these groups is normal. It doesn’t hurt to have competitors watch you. If they don’t, it may mean you’re not interesting. Your competitors aren’t stupid. If they were, they’d be out of business.

If you have a host of competitors and very few potential customers, it’s a different game. You need to change the content you’re publishing. But change it into what?

Describing your customers?

Buyer personas are basically a detailed description of a couple of very different (potential) customers for your products or services.

How much detail should you put into a buyer persona? There are plenty of sources that’ll tell you what data you need, but there are many ways to Rome:

Way back in my time as an art history student, I wrote quality descriptions of the 200 paintings and drawings I listed for my thesis. The question “Why?” will need to wait for the right blog post, but something remarkable happened after I finished my thesis, which contained all of my descriptions. Two fellow students ran into a drawing which they were able to identify with absolute certainty using my description. This drawing had actually been called lost or destroyed by earlier sources.

This is the kind of description you need for each type of (potential) customers if you want to increase your ability to share content that will attract them. You need to add the kind of detail that allows your sales people to recognize their real flesh-and-blood customers immediately. Without that kind of information about your customers, you’re basically relying on educated guesses. Which may work, if your guesses are well-educated 😉

An outsider’s view (more or less) of email marketing

Some time ago I noticed Maria Pergolino’article Reactivating your database – Key steps to getting your leads to re-engage. (Nov. 2012)

Now I’m sure Maria knows more about email marketing than I do. I’ve just started emailing newsletters as a part of my current job and I have only a vague notion of who the recipients are. Fortunately I’m learning as I go, so I’ll hopefully leave the stage of “random acts of marketing” behind me (term probably from @PamMarketingNut).

Spot your customer (butterfly playing hide-and-seek with birds)

Spot your customer (butterfly playing hide-and-seek with birds)

What works in email?

Despite my wafer-thin layer of experience in sending bulk emails, I’m at the receiving end of a number of email campaigns and I can say a couple of things about what works and what doesn’t in emails:

  1. Regular but not-too-regular updates via email are fine. If you sell good stuff at your store (we’re talking clothes here) you may expect your emails to be opened every once in a while.
  2. Your emails will get more attention if there’s genuinely interesting information in them. A bit of a no-brainer, unless you think providing only the smallest possible amount of information will trigger me to visit your website. It won’t.
  3. The right frequency is a matter of balance. Having to delete offers I’ve missed does not motivate me to buy anything from you. Getting several emails about a collection I can’t check out (no time) doesn’t work either.
  4. Some people don’t shop online for clothes. If they happen to live five minutes away from the shops and a lot of clothes aren’t the right fit they will visit your shop. And please, don’t expect anyone to print a discount offer you emailed to take with them to your store. (Does this still happen? If not, it’s because it was a bad idea.)
  5. Good subject lines work, but the actual email should deliver on the promise the subject line makes. Is this an open door? I hope so.
  6. Emails specifying there is only one day left for your special discount may work for students or single lads and ladies. Those of us with a husband and/or kids and a job won’t react so positively – unless you provide day care for the kids (husband).*

*I know – I’ve seen – parents do their version of parenting while jabbing at their phones or talking loudly about their day to an unseen friend.** Wondering where your kids are (in trouble) while trying on a new pair of whatnots doesn’t really work either (it derails any attempt at making a sensible decision).

**It’s not always what you think though. I had someone stare at me accusingly – someone who needed explaining that I was entering our appointment for a new passport into my calendar. I might have been messaging to my friends – but I’m just not that rude (unless people start staring at me accusingly).

Good in email (I think)

  1. Send them when they’re useful. You can have too much of a good thing.
  2. New collection? Fine, but make sure to add all the available colors/sizes/styles. Don’t just feature the most fashionable items and colors, especially if they’re oversized sweaters in pastels (the 1980’s were gruesome).
  3. Depending on your audience, send a reminder at least half a week before the end of your discount campaign. Some of us have meetings we can’t skip (well, we can, but that’s just the start of our problems).
  4. If you know where your customers are, use that information to improve your emails. Not as in “I know where you live” (I read a blog post some time ago about an email that got creepy) but you might shift your call-to-action according to what you think you know. If they live around the corner, “come check our web shop now” may not be a relevant trigger. Or it may be. It all depends on your customers.

Do you have any do’s or don’ts for email (marketing)? Any great or not-so-great experience with calls-to-action?

Blogging stew: mixing content creation, curation, and marketing

If content is part of your profession, you need to keep an eye on all aspects. Not just the bit you happen to be responsible for at any given moment. Why?

  1. Because these different aspects are glued together and you’ll get asked sooner or later: “But what about X?” Although you could say that’s out of your jurisdiction, that answer won’t get you anywhere nice.
  2. Because it’s actually nice to stay up to date about topics that are related to what you do for a living, or for a hobby – like blogging.

Blogging stew: content ingredients

Great-looking ‘Mayan stew’. Click to view on Flickr [cloud2013].

As a content enthousiast you’re involved in content creation, content curation, content marketing, or all of them mixed up into a (hopefully) savory stew. What’s the result of putting in your time and energy? Continue reading

Storytelling in the age of content marketing

Has content marketing changed consumers?

My version of the customer decision journey

My colorful version of the customer decision journey. Click to view McKinsey’s version.

The question popped into my mind while reading this blog post on Pamorama. Pam neatly shows two models for the process a customer goes through before (and in the second case, after) they make a purchase.

There’s quite a difference between the two models. But does that difference reflect a change in consumers? If so, did content marketing cause that change?

The pre-content marketing sales funnel

The pre-content marketing sales funnel shows a straightforward process with a beginning and an end. At the end, you’ve bought something. Congratulations! Goodbye – and you never hear from the (web) shop again.

When, if ever, did this sales funnel model match reality? Under what circumstances is there no contact between ‘shopkeeper’ and consumer after the purchase – or, would one map only this part of the process? Continue reading

Blogging impressions: this is when you stop talking about yourself

A while ago I blogged about the difference between a journal and a blog. This post centers around the question when you should or shouldn’t blog about yourself.

An offline journal is usually written by you, about you and your latest experiences, and for you – and maybe a few others. Old ship’s journals or logs are like that. “Sailed 14 hours straight today, ended up at a new undiscovered patch of ocean in the middle of nowhere, possibly near India.”

Image by Dennis Skley [Flickr]

Easter eggs image by Dennis Skley [Flickr]

In the online version, a lot of readers can read along and enjoy your jokes or sympathize with you on a bad hair day.

Blogging, like I wrote in my earlier post, means you focus on your readers. Ideally you start a conversation with your readers. So how much can you talk about you on your blog – and when should you stop? What are definite don’ts?

Private blog: when do you stop blogging about yourself?

Hey, I’m not telling you what you can’t do in a general sense. It’s your private blog or possibly journal, not mine. However:

  1. If you catch yourself ranting or whining, stop. Don’t whine or rant.
  2. If you do decide to whine or rant, tell your readers why. And then make sure they take away a couple of tips like:
    1. Boiling the Easter eggs before painting them is a good idea.
    2. Appearances can be deceptive. Just a few pitfalls I fell into which you should avoid: 1, 2, 3…. 24… (perfect list post).
    3. How I tried to make money sleeping and was swindled out of my life savings in just under a week. (Surprise: takeaway tips should tell readers how to hold on to their money.)
    4. What blogging might lead to – see my post about my experience with the side-effects of blogging.

The entertaining type of post beats whining by a streetlength. If you know an appropriate street, let me know in a comment 😉

Business blog: when do you stop blogging about your company?

Don’t blog about yourself. You might ask how you’re supposed to do that but seriously, your blog should be as little about you as possible. Focus on taking the picture, not on being in the picture.

A few further tips:

  • Don’t tell me your company and services are unique. Share thoughts and facts based on your personal experience to show the (possibly unique) value you can add, without getting up people’s noses.
  • Don’t lump your readers into a group they don’t identify with just because you see them as a market segment. Whenever you do this, you’re taking yourself as a starting point rather than your readers’ interests or your clients’ needs.

When can you talk about you?

Feel free to share your happy (business) moments:

  • Upload that picture of your kitten after it crawled into dad’s empty pajama’s – you’ll keep people going for a week. (I’m sure my parents still have that photograph in an album from the, what, 1970s?)
  • Let us know you just launched new product X and how hard you worked. Then snap out of it and tell us how that will help us. Blogging is about your readers, remember?

What do you think: so long as you mind how you do it, talking or blogging about yourself or your business isn’t such bad thing – or is it? What are your definite don’ts in blogging?

Why relationships deserve your time even if you don’t have any

A while ago I happened to read Mark Schaefer’s reply to a comment on his blog. He stated that nowadays there seems to be less time to nurture client relationships since the first few contacts are online. What are the consequences of our online quests?

Marketing concerns: points of contact

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships

Network: How Are Your Business Relationships?
– Cartoon by HikingArtist.com

From a marketing point of view, relying on face-to-face contact means you’re missing part of the client’s route towards making a buying decision – and you may miss out on a sale without even knowing it.

A lot of effort from (social media) marketing is aimed at going where your customer has gone. When you find them you don’t want to annoy them with pointless ads in a place where they don’t want your darn ads.

Content marketing is a way to patch up the hole in the long road of relationship building caused by the people’s access to online information. You want to be found before your potential clients create a shortlist that hasn’t got your name on it.

‘Online’ and the impact on professional relationship building

If you leave aside the commercial impact of having fewer meet-ups, there’s also a ‘human’ aspect that you need to address. Research and experience give you a good idea of what goes on in your client’s market. But to know instantly what’s in your client’s head even without having talked to them recently, you need to have a fairly complete understanding of your client’s personality and experience. It’s hard to really care about people you don’t know, and you’re at your best if you do care about them:

  • if you care you want to know,
  • you don’t care if you don’t know,
  • … it’s a Matrix again I think – feel free to sketch one 😉

All this means just one thing:

Your relationships deserve your time, even if you don’t have any.

If you have a lot of clients you may be able to buy some marketing tool to support this kind of online/offline relationship building. But not everyone has a lot of clients or the access to such a tool (and tools can’t solve every issue). Fortunately you can look at what you would have done in an offline relationship – rather than viewing social media as a megaphone you shout your message down.

You do need to plan when you need to meet up and what you’ll share at what stage in the relationship. Another thing you want to know is if your online content has inspired the trust you want to inspire in your clients. And: what can you expect from them at what stage?

Invest time in your relationships. Risk really getting to know each other. There are probably worse things in life.

Read more:

How do you view the time and effort you invest in your (business) relationships?