Data is to strategy as content is to influence. We harp a lot on the data side of marketing, because it’s the foundation of an effective digital strategy. But let’s talk for a moment about a very important component of that strategy that’s often overlooked, and poorly executed because it requires a high degree of empathy, ingenuity, and data.
Let’s discuss content.
“SPEAK TO YOUR AUDIENCE IN THEIR LANGUAGE ABOUT WHAT’S IN THEIR HEART.” -JONATHAN LISTER
Content can fall short of expectations for many reasons, but ultimately disappoints when it fails to elicit a human response from its audience. This isn’t to say any one professional or another is to blame for the copy, the design, or the overall targeting (because in a way, they all are – including the executives who approved the final product). The bigger question is WHY it failed.
We know when content is great, because it acts as a powerful stimuli. In other words – it conditions the audience (to varying degrees). And a conditioned audience, after being previously neutral, will associate with this stimulus prior to forming a conditioned response . Now most people might think of Pavlov’s dogs when they think of classical conditioning (I think of the Red Robin jingle) – but this shouldn’t exempt those same scientific principles in their application to modern day consumer behavior. Even tenured, sophisticated marketers struggle with the reality of “selling” in the digital space, because the basic principles of learning are always operating and influencing those very behaviors. In a world where consumers are bombarded with over 20,000 messages a day, habituation undercuts consumer attention, and messaging needs to change in order to stay relevant.
So how do we go about making our content more human? And, thusly, memorable?
Remove Guesswork From Your Data
Building personas for targeting purposes based on your audience research will make or break you, because conventional methodology dictates the tools you’re using are in fact, unfixed sources. Google Keyword Tool, Google Analytics, Google Insights, Facebook Insights, Google Trends, social media monitoring, community management, and even social listening platforms (for those that use them) give us clarity about our target audiences but by no means completely define them.
The personas you develop need to be well grounded with all of this data, both from internal and external sources. This includes surveying your audience, speaking with influencers, A/B testing your messaging while asking for audience input, and working with client facing departments to understand the conversations that are happening in and out of house. The more customer touch point data you have, the greater the precision there is in crafting an accurate buyer persona.
But just as consumer behavior is constantly influenced, so must your persona be. Recognizing that adjustments need to be made more frequently on a 60-90 day basis calls for attentive monitoring. As your target audience shifts from stimuli to stimuli, the persona must also shift to accommodate alternative conditioning tactics. A good marketer can pre-empt these lateral moves, and when a brand garners enough influence, can even initiate them in their favor.
A solid example of strong persona development can be seen in Pfizer’s “Get Old” campaign, which fosters a candid, if not humorous discussion centered around aging. Engagement aside, the Get Old Facebook campaign alone has garnered over a quarter of a million followers, and uses actual influencers and contributors in the space to develop stronger brand relationship.
Another well known example of conditioning in advertising is the YouTube campaign behind the One Dollar Shave Club. In addition to fulfilling a very real need, the genuineness and simplicity of their first video ad generated such a strong response it completely modified consumer purchasing behavior and resulted in millions of sales. Their subsequent ads never outperformed their original campaign, but the content has continually been tailored to fit the profile of their primary consumers – who have in turn been conditioned to tell everyone they know about how great the product/company is.
Create Experiences Through Content
For a brand to garner the kind of influence where consumers are intuitively conditioned to respond, means their content must be incredibly powerful – and incredibly human.
Enter consumer psychology; half-cousin of the associate conditioning theory. The study of thought processes, emotional responses, reasoning and free will, and competitive selection among buyers. It uncovers the conscious and (more interestingly) subconscious constructs that influence consumer-purchasing behaviors. And scientists have repeatedly found that a brand’s likeability and emotional connection with its consumers result in brand loyalty above and beyond the attribute or features of any product.
It’s here we discover the concept of “social identity” (how we identify ourselves as consumers) influences our receptiveness to marketing advertisements (and ultimately our level of persuasion). We like to harp on marketing being memorable – but, as they say, what’s memorable to one consumer is forgotten by another , so our personas, ads, and campaigns should be built to target the social identities of our target audiences.
For example, the “Girls Don’t Poop” campaign by PooPourri. Humor is a commonly used stimuli because of its memorability factor – however fear is equally palatable in ads that prey on our more perceived human imperfections. PooPourri sales have topped to date at $30 million by happily (and subconsciously) shaming consumers into purchasing their solutions.
But this is also where the subtleties of messaging can go awry. Everything from your words, language, implications, energy, color, choice of graphics, delivery, and/or media must tie into your message. If it doesn’t – audiences will sniff it out. Ads that don’t develop themes for their audiences to cling to suffer terrible engagement; graphics that are unrelated or poorly placed create suspicion or dislike, and abrupt or disruptive messaging needs to be strategically utilized or run the risk of alienating whole segments of an audience. When people see or hear an ad that presents identity threat – they’re automatically motivated to forget it as part of a subconscious defense mechanism.
The ASPCA commercial for animal abuse awareness is just this – everyone knows it, has seen or heard of it, and no one likes it. The visceral response is one of anger, sadness, and distrust. Understandably, the topic is difficult to not present in a dim light – but by negatively reinforcing their message with depressing music and images of hurting animals they create incredible diversionary and dissociative responses in consumers.
So in summary, content can condition the audience both positively and negatively, even unintentionally, depending on the message and accuracy of data driving that message. The biggest struggle in creating an experience through content is being able to bridge common ground with the right audiences and successfully elevate them to an emotional reaction – ultimately conditioning a favorable response. The key components here being the “right audience”, and “common ground.” Because at the end of the day, deploying more “human” content not only results in increased conversions, potentially new sales, and greater brand influence etc etc – it can potentially cost less over time. And as consumer behavior continually evolves alongside technology, soon emotionally driven content that is specifically tailored to segmented groups (like Facebook’s recent algorithm changes have started doing) may be the ONLY content consumers engage with.