Marketing covers everything from product to packaging, promotion to price, and so many steps in between. The goal is to get eyes on goods and services, build trust and recognition, and satisfy customers every step of the way to the sale and beyond.
Now, the marketing landscape has shifted dramatically thanks to digital transformation, and brands are looking at new ways to gain an edge. Competition may be more intense, but there are unseen opportunities everywhere and huge potential for small brands to make big strides.
This is what business leaders are saying about the current marketing environment and how their companies are making changes to stay ahead of the curve.
Content marketing is a well known category in the modern marketing mix, but what is it supposed to accomplish? Some content is just for pure entertainment, and some just seems to fill gaps in social media feeds when there isn’t anything else going on.
The best content does it all. It’s informative, entertaining, educational, and most importantly, it moves the viewer along the customer journey, one step closer to making a purchase. The right mix of fun and value is the perfect content recipe.
“One useful marketing strategy is to provide content that helps the reader understand more about your products and services,” said Timmy Yanchun, CEO of LTHR Shaving. “An educated consumer is the best consumer, and you can do your part by providing helpful how-to guides and blog posts containing related and supporting information. Share your content on your social media platforms, and be sure to ask engaging questions.”
If they don’t know where to begin, marketers can look to competitors or influencers to get an idea of how to start building a complete content library.
What’s the difference between a stale, derivative marketing campaign and one that impacts viewers on a real, personal level? Story! Whether it’s a minute-long television ad or a 3-second gif on a social media site, every piece of marketing material needs to tell a tale and communicate key emotions to the view through narrative.
Brands can look inward to find great stories from their own foundation. There is often some compelling material to be discovered from the story of how the company was formed.
“Using stories in marketing has always been a driving force in my company,” said William Schumacher, CEO of Uprising Foods. “After all, I founded my superfood company based on my story. I have always been an advocate for healthy lifestyles and intuitive eating, and when my father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes it really impacted my motivation to help the masses like him. I tell my story to our clients in order to push them to join me on my journey to restructure lives, and we have had great success doing so!”
The more relatable and real the story, the more it will take hold and attract people in an authentic way, regardless of the context or format.
Family Business Feel
One downside of the digital age is that the atmosphere of the old-school family business has been diluted and lost to some degree. Some companies have abandoned the idea altogether, but others have found success in trying to bring it back.
What can be done to build the family business vibe? It starts with customer service that leaves a positive impression on every buyer, with personal touches that stay in their memory and make them spread the good word to friends and family of their own.
“We are huge advocates for marketing in a more customer-focused way that builds our community,” said Jim Beard, COO of BoxGenie. “Our services are optimized to give our consumers a personalized experience, so we translate that into how we choose to market our products as well. Participating in customer centric marketing can be as simple as advertising yourself as such. On our website, we market ourselves as a company that puts ‘relationships over transactions’. We are a family-owned business, so we like to incorporate a sense of community and familiarity into our customer experience.”
Customized offers, promos, emails, and social media posts are all great ways to generate a familiar and welcoming environment for a business that may not even have a brick-and-mortar component.
Leverage Community Hype
The most powerful modern marketing asset is an excited, engaged audience filled with people who can’t help but show their love for the brand. Genuine interest in a product or service can’t just be summoned out of thin air, and today’s shoppers can tell if brand buzz is organic or not.
Every online business needs to find their niche and focus on generating hype in small circles at first. From there, interest will develop naturally over time, and people on the outside will want to find out more about the brand with a fierce and loyal following. This approach may take longer than a big top-down campaign, but the results are far more sustainable and real.
“Our marketing strategy has really been focused on engaging with our plant-based, vegan audience,” said Aylon Steinhart, Co-Founder and CEO of Eclipse Foods. “We know they are evangelists of the brand and can be our megaphone. By getting them engaged through sampling events, influencer packages, ice cream socials, they have been gracious enough to share us with their network. That has allowed us to grow beyond just the vegan community, and we’ve been able to expand into a larger flexitarian audience.”
An online business can only do so much to promote itself, so the goal is to get the word out through personas and communities that have their own circles of influence. Strategists must take a Venn-Diagram approach to overlapping audiences and personalities to reach various corners of the web in ways that could not be accomplished by solo effort.
“Through social media, the chefs have been able to amplify these collaborations and raise awareness for these fantastic charities,” continued Steinhart. “Our flavors and collaborations are perfect for Instagram – they visually showcase how creamy our ice cream really is. Amazing ice cream photography has appetite appeal and can really generate curiosity in our brand. Moving forward to 2021 we plan to extend our marketing strategies with influencers and get back with our go-to-market strategy in the foodservice by partnering with restaurants and ice cream shops to build a stronger brand awareness.”
Switch Up Formats
Many established brands choose to play it safe when it comes to content, and that’s to be expected. Case studies, white papers, and the occasional social media post are all they really need in most cases.
Smaller companies looking to gain a competitive edge, on the other hand, need to branch out with different styles of content and try new formats that capture audience attention and build a loyal following. Video is a great place to start.
“We like to implement customer centric marketing strategies by utilizing video for our website,” said John Berry, CEO of Berry Law. “Using video is a great tool to gain new customers, especially in law firms. People want to see your face, your personality, and want to trust you. Having an initial way for them to see who you are, understand your values, and get to know you before they even book a consultation is pivotal. We have a video on our website that does just that.”
Video is so versatile that there is room for experimentation, as well. Clips can be different lengths and serve different purposes to educate, entertain, or promote a new product or service.
Build a Bigger Narrative
Add up all the content across a brand’s social media profiles and website, and the final result may not be so cohesive or make sense as a whole. Production quality may vary and branding might be inconsistent. It’s important for newer businesses to focus on weaving a narrative that works on a bigger scale.
“The brands that win are the brands that tell a great story,” said Mitch Joel, Author & Founder of Six Pixels Group. “When it comes to transmedia storytelling, the brands that win are the brands that tell many great stories and are able to connect them all together.”
There’s no harm in going back to edit or clip content that doesn’t fit the latest messaging, or repurpose older content to include new data or products. This is just part of the content marketing game and brands should feel comfortable making changes to the archives.
Trust and Customer Confidence
Given the events of 2020 and lingering uncertainty, people are not generally looking to expand their horizons with new products or services unless they are 100% certain about quality. This indicates a return to referral-based marketing and word-of-mouth, two old-school tactics that never really went away.
“As of late, customers are less likely to be exposed to new products on the market and therefore, are looking for word-of-mouth recommendations from their friends, colleagues, and/or favorite influencers,” said Assaf Kostiner, Founder of Paint Your Life. “People want to hear and see how reliable and esteemed a product is before they buy it, so your goal should be to establish a trustworthy reputation through influencer marketing and growing a larger social media presence.”
Brands that can leverage social proof and draw stubborn audiences out of their comfort zone in the current climate will undoubtedly have huge success when the economy kicks back into high gear and people are ready to spend big.
Organic SEO is Essential
With billions of searches conducted every day on phones, laptops, and voice-activated smart speakers, people are constantly asking questions. Savvy marketers aim to provide the answers by rising in the Google search ranks and putting their brand at the center of the conversation.
Just having a pretty site isn’t going to cut it, however. A brand needs a broad library of content on-site and across the web to make the most of SEO these days. Relevance and authority are top rank factors for banklinks, so marketers should start there.
“A great SEO method is guest posting,” said Brent Sanders, CEO of Wicksly. “Find blogs that are prevalent in your industry/niche and submit a guest post proposal. This is a win-win arrangement because the blog naturally reports in your industry and is always looking for new content and your website gets awareness and an added bonus of backlinks.”
A guest post will generate even more value over the course of months and years, earning clicks, shares, and many conversions along the way.
Optimize Existing Content
Google doesn’t offer perfect transparency into their ranking methods, but SEO experts work tirelessly to figure out what works through trial and error. One thing they’ve found is the power of internal links, which can be added throughout your site and included on other pages as well.
Besides, links make it easy for customers to uncover more info and spend more time learning about offerings. This is a compelling reason to bulk up on-site content and network with other major players in the industry.
“Internal links assist Google in ranking your website in a Google search,” said Nik Sharma, CEO of Sharma Brands. “It’s the ultimate on-page search engine optimization. The more links to your web page that can be found on the web, the better your web page ranks in searches.”
Going overboard with links can be tempting, but not advised. A reasonable amount will do the trick and encourage marketers to generate more original, quality material.
Diversify Platforms and Audiences
Marketers often perform useful exercises like building buyer personas and mapping out audiences online. It’s smart to be specific, but sometimes brands limit themselves by sticking to super narrow demographics.
The only way to carve out new territory is to branch out into different audience segments and discover first-hand whether people want to buy. Everything else is just speculation, and in today’s easy advertising era, it’s worth taking a small financial risk for big potential gains.
“Many companies may post almost identical campaigns on all of their social media platforms, not realizing that they’re missing out on a fantastic opportunity to target different demographics in different ways,” Jordan Dwayne, CEO of 6 Ice. “Create a post for LinkedIn that really hits your business-oriented audience, and look to more innovative platforms (think TikTok) to attract the attention of a younger consumer with video content. If you keep your posts diverse and engaging, you’ll see the same in your marketing results.”
There’s always time to play it safe, especially for brands running lean operations with a lot of runway to grow. This is the opportunity for marketers to test the boundaries of their brand and gather some crucial market research.
A company should have its own vision, operate independently, and create a totally unique experience for customers and clients. But when it comes to marketing, they absolutely need to make alliances with other people, publications, and communities online.
This network approach to marketing isn’t entirely new. Collaborations and partnerships have been a part of the game for decades, but now it’s on a different level with social media and influencer marketing.
From product crossovers to ambassador programs and endorsements from relevant personalities, expect to see very few brands operating entirely on their own when it comes to marketing.
“When you take a look at the marketing strategies for 2021, a growing trend will be that customers will need to ensure both their visibility and relevance,” said Timmy Yanchun, Co-Founder of LTHR Shaving. “Targeted marketing strategies will be of great importance, and will require innovative ideas and out-of-the-box collaborations. While many once focused on traditional methods of advertising, ecommerce sites will serve themselves well by exploring campaigns built on networking, outreach, digital PR, email marketing and more.”
Tap into Current Events
Companies had many mixed reactions to the events of 2020, but none of them just sat around and waited while things escalated before their eyes. Customers were looking for extra assurance in this time, and much of that sentiment has continued into the new year.
Brands that showed care and compassion over the past several months definitely earned some respect and repeat business from customers, teaching an important lesson about service and security.
“Now, we can easily see that consumers still made purchases throughout 2020, but they tended to lean toward companies that had a strong presence and offered unparalleled customer service,” said Rachel Jones, Head of PR of Hope Health Supply. “By supplying personal protective equipment, we’ve often found ourselves able to really put our finger on the pulse of our marketing situation, able to see the consumer environment and purchasing habits. In doing so, we’ve also chosen visibility over lowered marketing strategies, and have been proud to supply products that provide a great solution during these unusual times.”
World events are unpredictable, but some simply cannot be ignored. Marketers need to be aware of developments related to their industry and be prepared to step in with a solution for customers who need answers and a company they can trust.
Avenues of Engagement
Before the dawn of the internet, how were marketers supposed to track a metric like engagement? There was no way to keep track of advertisements that people circled in the newspaper or a commercial on television that made them laugh out loud.
Now, there are so many feedback inputs that marketers can keep an eye on as they manage campaigns and experiment with different engagement strategies. It’s a hit-and-miss game like any other aspect of marketing, but the data gathered can be invaluable down the road.
If a brand finds a winning formula for engagement, they need to run with it for all it’s worth.
“A marketing strategy that we use to grow our business through social media is to post/create content around asking the audience fun and original questions,” said Tyler Forte, CEO & Co-Founder of Felix Homes. “This type of strategy is designed to boost engagement on social media platforms as well as provides an opportunity to get creative and differentiate your content. A good tip to posting questions as part of your content strategy is to stay away from questions that sound rhetorical. Ask a question that stops the viewer and sparks a thought that will lead to a response. When the human brain is intrigued, it subconsciously wants to answer the question. A great example is the ‘would you rather’ questions because they are simple in creation but allow for lots of creativity and originality. They’re also great conversation starters because you’re guaranteed to have a difference of opinions, which leads to a discussion in the comments.”
The key discovery is that marketing is no longer a one-way street, but an ever-evolving conversation between brands, customers, critics, competitors, and partners. Things are heating up in the marketing space, but creative thinkers and bold action-takers have a lot to look forward to.