According to Kim Browne, CEO of digital media architects, Twisted Toast, any conversation is good, even if the content is not positive. “Even bad conversations provide you with valuable insight into how your brand is viewed in the market place,” she says. “Knowing what people think is the first step towards giving them what they want.”
Of course, what you ideally want is to create ‘brand fans’ who market your products or services for you, and this requires giving them content they can use and send on. “You need to start a conversation by appealing to the ideas and concepts that your customers care about or find interesting,” says Browne’s business partner, Twisted Toast’s MD Louis Eksteen. “But you also need to understand that once that conversation has begun, it will grow organically. You can’t control what form or shape it will take, and if you do, people will immediately notice what you are trying to do and your message will lose credibility.”
So, how do you create quality content that starts a conversation, creates fans, and that people will not only listen to, but tell others about as well? According to Browne, the first step is to get the whole company involved. “Creating earned media brings marketing from the external to the internal,” she explains. “Traditional marketing has a role to play, but it should also draw attention to where the conversation is happening — whether that’s on Twitter, Facebook or the company’s own website or blog. Once the conversation starts, a company needs to keep creating content, and that takes buy-in from the full team. Your company’s message needs to be implicit in everything you do. It needs to be part of your culture. Your whole staff needs to understand it, agree with it and act on it. If everyone is consistently creating good content, you will give brand fans what they want: something to talk about and pass on.”
This doesn’t always need to be product or service specific either. “Ultimately you are creating a full and rounded brand identity,” says Eksteen. “You want people engaging with your brand, not only using your product or service.” To get started, analyse what you are already doing. “Content creation is really about recognising opportunities,” says Browne. “Most companies already sponsor something or host an event. The trick is to incorporate that into your strategy. Think about all the modes of media available today: video, photos, articles — every one of these can be utilised. Just plan for it. Always have a still or video camera handy and include content from all events on your website and social networking sites.”
Browne has one firm warning though: using owned media like paid media will result in pushing a message instead of starting a conversation. “People will ignore content that is not interesting to them or feels forced. Don’t push your brand. Give people an excuse to do that for you,” she says.
One example of letting people drive a campaign is offered by Jason Stewart, MD of HaveYouHeard, a Cape Town-based word-of-mouth marketing agency. He hones in on an international campaign for hemorrhoid cream. “There is absolutely no way to make hemorrhoid cream exciting,” he says – or is there?
According to Stewart, the team responsible for creating the ad campaign around a specific brand hit on an interesting fact: many of Hollywood’s stars use hemorrhoid cream to hide their wrinkles. Stars like Sandra Bullock actually endorse it as a great beauty product. “That’s a fact that not only intrigues people, but they will tell other people about it,” points out Stewart. “Suddenly you’ve started a conversation that people will respond to — and you’ve created earned media, because the word will spread without you spending another cent.”
Creating brand fans
The first rule in creating a brand fan is to have a good product or service. “We always say that if you want people to ‘remark’ on you, you need to be remarkable,” says Stewart. “The second is that you need to identify your market and the most influential people in that market, and the environments they operate in.” This can be done both online and offline. For example, you can find online brand advocates who will retweet your messages, or concentrate on a local sports club or association where people actually get together and engage with the community there.
You will need something to engage them with, however. “The most important thing is content,” says Eksteen. “If you don’t have real content, you aren’t giving your fans anything to work with.” For many companies, this involves giving up a bit of their intellectual property for free. “You need to position yourself as an expert,” elaborates Eksteen. “You want people to trust you and respect the advice or information you are giving them. This will keep you top of mind, and when they or a friend or colleague are looking for a company in your field, they will recommend you.” Offering expert advice can be done through a blog, video blog, or social networking sites.
What if you don’t always have advice to offer? The truth is that every industry faces challenges, and whether you offer financial or legal solutions, or manufacture ballbearings, you should be able to offer advice or discuss key issues. However, another — equally successful — way of providing content is to link your content to events. “If you host an event, or sponsor an event, make sure you have a photographer there,” says Browne. “Give people free access to photos of themselves at the event that they can share with others. It might be an added expense, but it allows them to ultimately share your brand – and their good experience — with others.”
Creating meaningful content
- Find out what people are talking about and use it. Often companies are pushing one thing, (a great new ingredient in a body cream) but what people are really talking about (the really easy nozzle of the bottle) is ignored. Stay in touch with how customers are reacting to your product or service.
- Integrate consumers into every aspect of your product. Ask them to test new products and make recommendations. If they have been involved in the development of something, they will be more likely to recommend it to others.
- Be honest. Recommendations work on trust — if people don’t believe you are being honest, they will not spread your message.
- Give people what they want to talk about. There are three main things people want to talk about: product experience, customer service and information that is surprising or useful.
- Implement good customer service principles. People want to talk about positive experiences — so give them something to talk about! This also generates amazing loyalty.