They’re onto us. Interruptive, self-serving and self-centered marketing tactics no longer work the way they used to, and in the age of smartphones, social media, and being virtually connected all the time, their effectiveness is only going to decrease as more time passes. So what’s going to replace the way we’ve been practicing marketing all this time?
As humans, there is a deep psychology attached to why stories speak to us. We use them to make sense of the chaos in our lives, to explain the things we don’t understand, or to help us remember why something is important. Consider this example. What’s more impactful? A list of ingredients in a packet of flavored oatmeal or a story about a company’s mission to bring “tangy sweetness of a blueberry and the warming power of a bowl of oatmeal to kitchen tables around the world?” Our brains have a pretty hard time differentiating between something that we’re reading about and something that’s actually happening to us. Stories just seem to stick no matter what.
Google released the findings of their research project, Zero Moment of Truth (a seriously great resource for anyone in the marketing universe), which found consumers today are engaging in twice the amount of content online year over year leading up to a buying decision. We are constantly connected. Our greedy brains are hungry for information and we’re all yearning to make a personal connection. It’s crucial that a brand can identify that moment when a consumer decides something is important enough to buy and make a part of their daily lives. Brands must work to create a meaningful role for themselves in the consumers’ lives and stand out. It might be hard to imagine how a brand can do this when so many are vying for the same attention, so it’s more important than ever to tap into what really resonates with consumers.
It starts with content marketing. By definition, content marketing is different from traditional advertising, which is usually transmitted around someone else’s content. Content marketing is the production of real, valuable, and relevant content or information penned by the brand itself which over time will (hopefully) create a positive behavior from a customer. While it may not focus primarily on sales of a product, it promotes the brand’s story and has the potential to drive sales. Take John Deere as a classic example of great content marketing. John Deere created an online publication, The Furrow, to educate farmers on new technology and farming business tips. It wasn’t a vehicle to to directly sell John Deere equipment, but by becoming a central resource for information and education, farmers started to turn to John Deere before anyone else because it was not only at the “top of mind,” but also perceived as an expert in the field, increasing the company’s sales revenue. Top brands like Etsy, Coca Cola, and Birchbox have also harnessed the power of content marketing becoming leaders in the storytelling space.
So where do you start? Cultural anthropologist Simon Sinek tells us that the best brands focus not on what they do or how they do it, but on the why. Everyone has a why, and the most memorable brands live the stories they tell.
Your “why” should be the basis of your story. Brands that tell compelling stories speak to our intrinsic human values and what we stand for. Today, consumers want to have a participatory role and be advocates for the brands they know and love sharing them with friends, family, colleagues and their ever-growing online network. Creating a two-way, reciprocal conversation with consumers can turn a one time buyer into a loyalist and brand advocate, a person who will help your content become discoverable and shareable. Just as the Zero Moment of Truth explains, it’s crucial to listen to your audience and understand what they are thinking about and implement that across the brand. For example, the most common type of stain searched for on Google? A red wine stain. Maybe that’s why we see the ominous glass of red wine on white carpet in nearly every stain-removal product commercial. What’s on the collective minds of humans right now? Coconut oil. People really love coconut oil. We have to know what matters to consumers and do our best to speak to that if we can.
An important aspect of your brand’s story is your purpose. It’s the part of your brand and story that people will connect with the most. Commit to your story and put it at the forefront of your marketing strategy–not as an afterthought. Don’t simply “post and pray.” Be purposeful about where and when the message you are sending is distributed and aim to encourage social interactions with your story. Ensure that what you put out into the world can be shared and shaped. Consumers can easily recognize if a brand isn’t being transparent, so live your brand. Be authentic, master your story, and share your own “why.”
Elisabeth Wright is a marketing pro with experience in the public, private, and educational sectors, with a special interest in international relations and social entrepreneurship. She joins The Garage with a passion for work in higher education and a love of all things student centered. Elisabeth received her BA in cultural anthropology and her MPA, specializing in nonprofit management, from Northern Illinois University.