It’s little secret that the marketing landscape has shifted rapidly in the past 20 years. The internet, social media, and features like live video and podcasts give business more, varied and better opportunities than ever before to communicate directly with their consumer.
More importantly perhaps, the style in which we communicate with this consumer has also shifted. No longer is marketing the mechanism where a message is directed at a potential or existing customer.
Rather, it is a conversation you engage in with them, seeking their feedback, eliciting their engagement, and valuing their opinion while imparting the information that allows them to make a purchasing decision.
This conversation begins with content – quality content, that your customers seek out, turn to and embrace as part of a two-way process where they play an equal and invaluable role in an ongoing interaction with your business.
Here is an insight into the value of content as a conversation, and the components that underpin it.
Marketing as a two-way street
“The internet has turned what used to be a controlled, one-way message into a real-time dialogue with millions.” – Danielle Sacks, senior editor at Inc. magazine
Not so long ago marketing was all about targeting a message at the consumer. This one-way street involved getting a businesses’ message across by envisaging a customer’s pain points and solving their problems.
Quite simply, traditional marketing involved telling potential customers the essential things they needed to know, like:
- What the product was
- Why the consumer should buy it
- Why the consumer should buy it from a specific business
And this message was generally delivered using the best available traditional mediums like TV, radio or print advertising.
While these components still form an element of marketing, now messaging is no longer a one-way street. In a digital and social media age where the consumer is more educated and active than ever before it is no longer enough to talk at them.
Instead, modern marketing is about opening up a conversation with the consumer. It’s about getting to know them, understanding their needs, offering the information they require to make a purchasing decision, and allowing them to engage with a brand to build trust.
This is where content comes in. Great content allows you to engage with your customers and position yourself as an expert in your field. Most importantly, content has the capacity to operate as a two-way street that, targeted effectively, opens up an ongoing dialogue with your consumer.
When you are in an open conversation with your client base, you are in a relationship where your business is more likely to be front of mind.
The art of conversation
“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation.” Francois de La Rochefoucauld
Conversation is one of the most basic human communication forms. In the real world we engage in it everyday with the people we meet as we seek to understand and create meaningful relationships with those around us.
In modern marketing it is no different. The aim is to gain a better understanding of the consumer through meaningful exchanges that build a relationship of trust and authority.
And just like in the real world, it starts with small talk, not selling.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”- Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People
The first stage of any conversation is to understand more about the person you are engaging with.
Who are they? What makes them tick? What are their interests? What are their pain-points? Why are they on your site, reading your newsletter or visiting your Facebook page in the first place?
Much of what you know about your audience is derived from your customer persona, but that isn’t where it ends.
It’s important to seek their feedback and input throughout the content conversation, because like any discussion, when you open up a two-way dialogue, inevitably you learn something insightful you previously did not know.
Then the content strategy comes down to creating compelling articles, items, videos or memes that meet their needs, answer their questions, are interesting to them and are likely to elicit a response.
And this evolves over time, deepening, diverging and often becoming more intimate as the relationship between the two parties of a conversation grows.
“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.” – David Beebe, branded content producer
“And now we interrupt the news with a message from or sponsors” …20 years ago this sentence might have been enough to compel consumers to sit through a ream of ads. More likely it afforded them a welcome break from the news hour to make a cup of tea.
In an age where time is precious, the sponsors are many and the news is available in a live feed on your computer, it no longer stands up. Now not only has the audience gone to brew a cup of chai, they’ve entirely switched off, with the message entirely lost in the white noise of digital life.
Instead, brands need to be interesting, offering tips, insight and information that is useful to their audience. That useful information may not even pertain directly to the products a company is selling. Instead it offers consumers value, based on the interests they have.
When you create valuable, insightful content that the audience can find in few other places you build loyalty, trust and authority.
Along the way you ensure people keep coming back.
Top tips for polite content conversation
Know your audience
Just as you would in everyday conversation in the real world, take the time to get to know your audience. Understand their world before you begin the dialogue and actively seek to learn more throughout any discussion.
Ask them questions along the way to help deepen the relationship, like:
- What do you think?
- Have you experienced a similar situation?
- Is there anything we’ve missed?
- What would you do?
- Do you have any thoughts?
- Have your say here…
Be willing to learn
If your audience is taking the time to tell you something through engagement or even non-engagement, use this information to help hone the content strategy.
The digital and social media age offers a wealth of metrics to enable business to understand what topics, concepts or issues strike a chord.
Content is always a moveable feast that can respond to the interests of the audience you’re engaging with. Meanwhile, beneath the content the issues that matter to your audience offer a very real insight into the values, needs and experiential preferences of your consumer.
Speak so they understand
In real life, the tone of a conversation alters depending on whom you’re speaking with. For close friends it’s casual, for authorities its more technical and formal. A marketing conversation is no different. Ensure the voice of your business is clear, but the tone may alter depending on the medium.
In social media, it can be casual and conversational, on your website professional yet accessible and if you are marketing to other businesses, an implied level of knowledge might be assumed.
Whatever medium you are using or sector of your audience you are engaging with, ensure the tone suits the occasion, but the voice of your business is clear throughout.
Vary the delivery
Not every conversation has to be lengthy and intricate, sometimes it can be short and sweet with a quick tip or question. Sometimes it can utilise visual aids like video or imagery to help explain a point.
When the delivery is varied, it creates more interest, caters to more of your audience and helps spur the conversation along.
Invite them to engage
If you’re looking for your content to open up a two-way street rather than a one-way information flow, ASK your audience to engage.
Too often posts or website articles fail to welcome the audience in for the chat. Instead they act like lecturers touting their wisdom to the world, and in general audiences are a polite bunch who aren’t going to pipe up and interrupt your epistle unless you request they do.
Give them the tools to talk
Your audience can’t talk back unless you give them the tools to do so. That means you need to ensure the comment section is activated on your website.
You may wish to alter your settings so comments have to be approved prior to going live, and if this is the case, make sure you check in a publish them regularly, otherwise the interest wanes.
Acknowledge the engagement
Importantly, if you ask your audience to answer questions or offer feedback, recognise them for it by responding and staying part of the conversation.
A conversation is a two-way process and acknowledging or responding to what they post or say allows them to feel valued for their effort and part of your brand’s greater story.
Use the conversation
Now you’ve asked your audience to engage, you can also use that conversation to create further interesting content. You might draw from their responses to write a further blog or use their feedback to hone your products or services.
You will also soon have a greater insight into the topics and content that interests them most, allowing you to create even better more compelling articles in the future.
At Openseed we specialise in planting the seeds of customer reach through compelling brands and SEO optimised websites. We then nurture kernel of great content, devising strategies and storytelling to support business in their ongoing conversation with their customer. Ultimately it reaps an ongoing harvest that delivers business real and proven results.