Podcast #21: Sharing vs. Advertising, the Marketers Winning Hand
Sharing puts the audience first, while advertising or marketing in the classic sense of the word is selfish—it puts the needs of the individual or organization first. To be a great creator, to share yourself or your ideas effectively, you must share them without selfish inten- tions; you must put the audience first. Consider the current retail conundrum. For years, stores had seasonal mega-sales. Instead of improving their product, building bonds with their customers, and creating value, they chose to manipulate customers into action with discounts.
Customers only shop when there are massive sales, profits are eroded, loyalty becomes nonexistent, and, eventually, businesses close. While this applies to the many, a select few have discovered the antidote to this apathy.
In a world where most consumers value meaning over money, experiences over material goods, and crave meaningful connec- tions, the only way to break through is to share, not sell; to be selfless, not selfish.
The components of an effective sharing toolkit—our package of marketing tactics—have changed. For instance, traditional public relations efforts have lost significant influence over consumer behav- ior with the introduction of social media. As we explained, what used to be a controlled, one-way message, like a restaurant review or gossip column placement, has turned into an active dialogue between brand and consumer: your Instagram or LinkedIn feed. And that dialogue happens primarily through the three critical elements of modern marketing—creative, distribution, and experiential—and you’ll need to master them to effectively share your ideas.
“Creative” (as a noun) encompasses everything from your logo to your social media photos to all the content you produce—vid- eos, photos, blog posts, email newsletters, printed flyers, business cards—and even the way in which you communicate your message. Creative is expressed through content, which is directed toward specific audiences via any form of media, from television to the Internet, smartphones, books, e-books, magazines, and live events. Creative is the product of transforming your idea into sharable forms of messaging people can interact with, relate to, and use, whether on Netflix, Instagram, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, or any of the other modern platforms.
What does this mean for you?
Consumers, especially those under the age of forty, don’t pay attention when they’re being sold to directly, especially when the source isn’t a trusted one, so your only way in is to entertain and creatively engage them. Your brand must be a wellspring of inspiring, beneficial, and interesting content that reinforces your core value propositions and beliefs—and once you have that, you have to amplify your creative and get it in front of the right eyes.
This brings us to distribution.
Sharing is good, and with digital technology, sharing is easy.
—Richard Stallman, Internet activist
Distribution refers to how you share your creative with the con- sumer. How do you get the word out? Think of your creative as a tree falling in the woods. You can have the best content ever made, but if you can’t get eyeballs on it, no one will ever know. In the mod- ern world, digital is the primary way for you to get that message to the most people at the least expense. It is highly efficient, requires minimal investment, and provides instant feedback.
For instance, seventeen percent of the world’s population is on Facebook, with many people using the site every day. They provide gobs of information, from where they are hanging out to what they are watching to what they are planning to do and who they are planning to do it with. This is a marketer’s bonanza, a strategic sharer’s ultimate playground. Google search is similar: if you are signed into your Gmail account when you are searching and using Google Chrome as your browser, then Google basically has access to everything you are doing on the web.
While from a user standpoint this is less than desirable, it provides amazing information to marketers, and for you, that is an enormous opportunity. Digital channels are by far the most effective, efficient, and measurable way to disseminate your idea. The challenge in digital is matching the right message (your “creative”) with the right customer, demographic or psychographic. While there are some amazing tools available to help you do that, like Facebook Business Manager and Google Analytics, it really is a high-tech game of trial and error. Test, test, and test again until you find your audience.
The kinds of distribution channels you’ll be using generally fall into four buckets:
Distribution you purchase on any channel, such as Facebook advertisements, Google search advertisements, or just plain old magazine ads or billboards.
Distribution points you are in full control of, such as your website(s) or in-room advertisements at a hotel.
Your social media channels, where you’re part of a community and can actively share your content with that community.
This mainly refers to other people talking about you because they like what you’re doing. If someone writes an article about your new handbags in Vogue or blogs about you, that’s earned media, public relations, and referrals.
All these channels work together to reinforce your message. Think of your messaging like items on a menu at a restaurant. Certain items will be sure sellers, such as hamburgers and pizza, while others won’t sell, like tripe or snails. You need to determine which of your messages—a/k/a your menu items—are the sure sellers, and which are the dogs. You’ll know this through both anecdotal feedback and hard data from your analytics platforms and website usage. Tools like Google Analytics and Facebook Ad Manager are free and easy to use, so you have no excuse not to know more about how your messages are performing. Once you have the informa- tion, even if it’s just a hunch, you need to combine your messages in a way to yield the best results. Once again, think of this like a menu—you’re trying to figure out the combination of appetizer, entrée, and dessert most people will order. Your goal is to filter and refine the feedback so you can focus your resources on the most effective channels and messages. The greater your distribution, the more amplified your message.
The third element of modern marketing is experiential. Experiential is where your idea comes to life in some physical form your audi- ence can interact with. This can be in the form of an event, a live marketing activation, or a retail store. Even if your business has no brick-and-mortar presence, it’s still very important that customers be able to experience who you are and what you do. That may mean hearing you speak, tasting or sampling your product, or visiting a pop-up. Whatever you choose, the physical manifestation of an idea helps people understand what you do and gives them permission to believe more deeply.
Religion is the best example of this phenomenon in practice. All great religions have places of worship—temples where you can go pray to the god you believe in. These places of worship give individuals a place to gather and reinforce their shared beliefs. It is much easier to be a believer when surrounded by other believers, especially when it is in an environment designed to reinforce those beliefs. Viewed from this perspective, there is no difference between a church, a synagogue, or an Apple store: all three are designed to reinforce beliefs and get people more deeply engaged. It’s nearly impossible to create a movement without bringing people together for a shared experience—just imagine how little you would care about your favorite sports team if you couldn’t see them play.
The Winning Hand
Back in the marketing dark ages before Google and Facebook, the winning hand for those promoting a product or service was to throw the most resources possible—generally speaking, money spent on advertisements and creative talent for storytelling—at business problems, launches, repositions, etc. And then back up that onslaught with some level of hand-to-hand combat: events and other direct-marketing techniques, like mailing out brochures. That was your advertising campaign.
Was it working?
The only way to know was if the numbers went up or the phones were ringing more than usual.
Today, we don’t have that problem. Today, there’s a very clear winning hand—a surefire way to reach your audience, to demon- strate the value of your marketing efforts. And this winning hand is enabled by, though not limited to, digital.
Let me expand on this.
In the short term, you need cover. In the business world, cover comes with revenue and cash flow. The best way for marketers to show return on investment is to focus their spend on low-funnel, measurable, high-return channels. Digital marketing is that channel, and within it, Google is the lowest part of the funnel, used by prospective customers who already intend to do something. Digital is the salvation of the marketer. No longer should marketers be dragged over the coals by their peers or bosses for spending money with no measurable return. Now, marketers can show exactly how many clicks, purchases, views, and other engagements their efforts receive to demonstrate the ROI—return on investment—of their marketing spend. Digital is the short-term cover we always dreamed of, and it’s part one of the winning hand.
Short-term revenue is great and necessary, especially in a society obsessed with now. But there’s far greater value that can be generated by creating a trusted brand. Think of it this way:
You may buy something today because it’s on sale, but that doesn’t mean you’ll buy it again later. The brands you love—the ones you’re loyal to—you’ll continue to consume for many years into the future whether they’re on sale or not. That’s long-term brand value, and that results in far greater revenue over time than the short-term income generated from picking up the low-hanging fruit on digital. Therefore, the second part of the winning hand is brand-building. While this can and should be done partly through digital awareness channels like Instagram or an owned content platform like a blog or newsletter, the practice of branding is done through a consistent aspirational dialogue with your audience. Build trust, put their needs ahead of your own, inspire them and improve their lives, and combine that with a strong perceived value, and you’ll have a customer for life. But that doesn’t happen overnight; that requires consistent investment without a clear short-term return.
To achieve marketing success, you must have both revenue and relevance. That can only be achieved by effectively implement- ing both parts of a winning hand, the magic and the math. Satisfy the skeptics with the only thing that cannot be debated, short-term revenue and ROI, and then invest the time to build the thing that everyone really desires: long-term brand value and loyalty. That is the winning hand in the Age of Ideas.