Using Content Marketing to Drive Sales

Content Marketing Is Driving Brand ConversationsSocial media offers brands a set of inexpensive tools that can quickly get marketing messages out through interactive discussion and rapid word of mouth and, properly managed, can deliver measurable results.

You can use content marketing to create conversations around topics and social channels related to the need for your products.

Use a two-pronged approach to creating awareness and driving interest and sales

To do this successfully, you need to take advantage of both a top down and a bottom up approach to social media.

  • Your top down strategy is to create broad awareness and credibility among experts and consumers
  • Your bottom up goal is to drive consumer awareness and engagement through grassroots and in-market activities

How to spark and drive sustainable conversation and recommendation

Social media platforms for your content marketingHere’s how to spark and drive sustainable conversation and recommendation through social media:

  • LISTEN:  Track and identify key trends, stories, posts and influencers
  • DEVELOP:  Build content that makes it easier for consumers to share and recommend your brand
  • ENGAGE:  Work together with consumer influencers to drive discussion, posts, reviews, give feedback, conduct contests and share recommendations with others
  • OPTIMIZE:  Ensure both new and existing content is tagged to make brand discussions easily searchable and sharable
  • PROTECT:  Establish a protocol for responding to negative word-of-mouth and mitigating damage from competitors and brand detractors
  • MEASURE:  Build-in metric that demonstrate the impact of engagement at each point in the Conversation Engine

The most important step in building your social media foundation is creating a “sharable story”

Sharable story is like an elevator pitchA shareable story is basically an elevator pitch story with messaging that connects your key points together in everyday, natural language.

The sharable story shapes all engagement to ensure the story you want to tell is infused into all of your conversations.

Become the leading expert, resource, authority and trusted partner in your space

Next, you need to engage leading industry eminents across all relevant vertical channels. Find and engage those individuals who can influence people to consider your category and become interested in your brand.

Screen influencers using rigorous criteria to ensure identifying only the leaders:

  1. Reputation
  2. Reach
  3. Visibility
  4. Accessibility

Remember, these influencers are going to give you credibility so focus on engaging the right online influencers.

Track & identify key trends, stories, posts and influencers

Track & identify key trends, stories, posts and influencersThrough either subscription-based tools or through publicly available free tools, develop a daily monitoring routine to identify opportunities, influencers, and key trends.

Create conversations around topics and social channels related to the need for your products

Social media platforms for your content marketing

Now you are ready to activate your online social media channels. You want to create conversations around topics and social channels related to the need for your products.

Consider doing this in stages so you don’t overwhelm your team or confuse consumers by creating online content but not having the time or energy to keep it fresh and current. A possible phased approach is to launch on Facebook and Twitter initially.

Once you have Facebook and Twitter up and running smoothly, and the team is comfortable managing and posting content, it’s time to expand to additional channels like Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Google+, etc.

These channels allow you to broaden your content and create additional content that your created and control to help further enrich the consumer education process and provide opportunities to link into your customer websites with rich content.

Your goal is to drive fans and followers with these two sites. Remember, these sites require you to engage regularly. That means you need to manage and moderate daily, especially since you will quickly find consumers using these sites to post customer service, quality or warranty issues.

Don’t worry if there are negative comments. Ultimately your goal is to bury these comments under an avalanche of helpful tips and advice on where and how to buy your brand. It’s this kind of news that will ultimately shape your brand conversations.

Focus on building assets that make the benefits of owning your brand shareable and portable

This will allow you to leverage the full capabilities of online multimedia sharing sites to maximize visibility and reach.

  • Action Words Bullhorn Megaphone Motivation MissionCreate checklists for occasions or life events that should include your brand
  • Build video demonstrations and distribute to YouTube and beyond through services such as TubeMogul
  • Build photo libraries that illustrate specific benefits of safe ownership and distribute to publicly indexed networks like Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram
  • Encourage consumer-generated testimonials (stories, videos, photos) – leveraging the capabilities of Facebook and Pinterest for running sweepstakes and contests

A good way to draw consumers to your social media sites is to host contests. It’s a straight forward way to build followers of your brand and ultimately to have them “opt-in” to being open to receiving email offers from you for new products, services or promotions.

Create and share content regularly that engages consumers and encourages them to share, recommend and, ultimately, buy

The final step is to measuring the impact of your online social media efforts.  A great way to do that is with a measure call an Earned Digital Engagement or EDE.   Earned Digital Engagements are the metric you can use to measure the direct impact of your online social media efforts, independent of natural conversation.

Using an EDE methodology, you’re able to provide a comparable measure of the number of people reached online, but this form of measurement also accounts for their action.  The EDE measures the number of people reached through a brand’s social media efforts across channels – from blogs to Facebook to Twitter and YouTube and Flickr.

An earned engagement consists of the number of people influenced by an interaction with your brand that results in a:

  • Post
  • Tweet
  • Photo
  • Video
  • Or public Facebook engagement

Forrester Research said it best: “…interactive marketers must move beyond experimentation by making social applications a permanent part of marketing, measuring and demonstrating their value, and integrating them into marketing efforts.”

Are You Driving Engagement?

Spark and drive conversation and recommendationHow people talk about and recommend your brand is the single most powerful reason for whether they buy you or your competitor.

But what happens if your category or brand has low visibility, interest or conversation?  You can still tap into and harness the interest and attention of a core group of influencers that are plugged in, motivated and savvy…to drive brand awareness, relevance and sales.

Identifying needs and driving consideration with Social Media

Conversation-RelationshipsYou need to build relationships with top influencers in your category and give them clear reasons to recommend your brand.  That will help create brand awareness and sharing that will ultimately drive traffic into stores.  To tackle this goal of building these key relationships, use this three-step approach:

            • Make the connection
            • Position your brand
            • De-position competitors

When you make the connection, you are creating a deliberate link to your brand to the specific conversations happening in and around your category.  More importantly, you are bringing your brand to life in these conversations, sharing the unique benefits of owning your brand among key influencers and within key market groups.

Do do this best, you need to:

  • Listen to the conversation happening around your brand before engaging.
  • Through either subscription-based tools or through publicly available free tools, develop a daily monitoring routine to identify opportunities, influencers, and key trends.
  • Define and own a brand vision to leverage in an overall communications strategy (see my earlier post: Do You Need a Brand Road Map?).
  • Align your brand with the issues and topics related your category and brand.
  • Provide resources and information to specialty groups – building contractors, designers, architects, realtors, etc.

Creating a deliberate link between your brand promise and product ownership

Position your brand for success

In the second step, position your brand, you are fortifying your position as best in marketplace while de-positioning your competitors.  Here your goal is to create a deliberate link between your brand promise and product ownership.  For this you need to focus on:

  • Clearly establishing the need for your brand – why it’s important in the conversation.
  • Become the go-to resource for information which will create opportunities for your brand to share and recommend.
  • Create broad awareness about your brand vision and how your brand delivers against the promise.
  • Educate key influencers, called eminents, across special interest categories.
  • Give your audiences reasons to consider your brand by engaging bloggers and media across special interest areas.  Proactively building relationships with key offline and online influencers is critical to fortifying your market position.

This step puts you on the path to becoming the leading expert and resource for helping consumers think about your category and brand in the right way.  It also provides the reasons and opportunities to put your brand into conversations where consumers are sharing their experiences and recommending you to others.

Provide reasons for consumers to engage with you in the places they already are

Become the leading expert, resource, authority and trusted partner in the space around your brandYou want to create “reasons to buy” in consumer circles where the benefits of brand ownership are clear, relevant and meaningful.  One of the best ways to do that is to reach consumers during and around the events and interests they care about.  Your secret is to create conversations around the topics and social channels related to the need for your brand.  If you are just starting out in social media, see tips from my post: Are You Following These 8 Basic Steps for Online Success?

The goal is simple: become the leading expert, resource, authority and trusted partner in the space around your brand.  You do this by creating top-of-mind awareness about the importance of your brand, both online and offline by:

  • Providing purchase influencers with sharable resources (sell sheets, photos, videos, testimonials, checklists, research, samples, etc.) to pass along to audiences.
  • Provide bloggers with content to pass along to audiences to spark and facilitate discussion and recommendation.
  • Monitor online conversations for opportunities to proactively insert your voice.

Take steps to make sure your brand is considered the leading authority

Social Media IconsFacebook allows a direct channel into the day-to-day lives of consumers.  This becomes the first step toward building an online presence that complements and integrates with activities across all channels – including blogs, forums, Twitter, LinkedIn, and beyond.  Facebook becomes the anchor that helps tie together your brand’s benefits – through stories, interaction, contests, and rich media.

Your website and your Facebook page should be tied very closely together. Facebook gives you interested consumers to leverage for events, promos and new product launches.  All this leads to more visitors to your site, invested in your brand, and looking for content.  All those visitors will eventually be lead to a retailer where they will become consumers!

For a great example of how Heinz used a dedicated website to create powerful content and relevance with food service professionals, take a look at this story from ABC News: How Heinz Website Energized Food Pros.

Create competitive barriers by de-positioning competitors

Competitive AdvantageIf you don’t define your space in social media well, then the competition has the capability (and goal) of taking your expert position away from you.  That will leave you with the crumbs they leave you with.  You cannot allow the competition to steal your position within your industry or with your consumers!

To do that, you need to prove expertise and leadership by winning the trust of consumers before competitors do.  Create competitive barriers by:

  • Proactively building relationships with key offline and online influencers to fortify your position.
  • Ensuring all points of engagement are compelling, relevant, “sticky” and focused on your brand’s promise.
  • Monitoring conversation for inaccuracies, competitive threats and ensuring eminents understand your value proposition before they hear from competitors.  Reinforce this through frequent engagement.

If you create a steady drumbeat of focused, relevant and compelling dialogue and conversation, you will be successful at sparking and driving opportunities for consumers to engage with your brand and build lasting relationships.

Graphic credit: INSIGHTOVATION.COM

Can This Business Be Saved? How To Create A Product Line Review Strategy For A Big Box Home Center

How to Sell Lowe's and Home DepotWhen a buyer calls a line review, it galvanizes the entire team.  And when you are the top supplier, you are always the target. The competition wants your business and the buyer wants more margin. One way or the another, it’s going to cost you.

Because the business world is filled with teamwork and collaboration, Doug Thompson and I are teaming up to share how we would each respond to specific sales and marketing situations.

We’ll take a challenge and independently approach how we’d solve it, blend the thinking (or debate the merits of each approach), and come up with an approach to keep the business

How can we hold our distribution as the dominate supplier at both big box retailers despite a product line review for our category?

IMG_0122Our challenge: what if a line review was called and our buyer wants something new and different from the other box. And to make it even more realistic, the buyer is also hinting that they are looking at going private label on a portion of the business. Best of all, we got the phone call to come in and pitch.

To give focus to our thinking, we have selected the ladder category since one major brand, Werner Ladder, appears to us to have the majority of the category at both big boxes.

Here’s our thinking “out loud” so you see the collaboration and teamwork behind our conclusions.

“If the buyer isn’t seeing growth, then it’s all about profit”

Greg: This request is really about the buyer wanting to differentiate from the other box. The private label hint suggests that Werner Ladder is not driving top line sales for the category.

If the buyer isn’t seeing growth, then it’s all about profit.  Either we as the incumbent brand drop our price or the business is going elsewhere.

“The buyer wants a concession but he is also looking for an advantage”

Doug: We know that both boxes are trying to increase the percentage of private label in their aisle.  In most businesses a few key SKU’s make up a majority of the sales, and finding a source for 3 items covering ~$200M is bound to get someone’s attention.

Yes, the buyer wants a concession but he is also looking for an advantage. I think you immediately look at two things.

  1. Creating an advantage.
  2. Determining how real the PL threat is.

“Creating an advantage starts with product differentiation”

Greg: Creating an advantage starts with differentiation.  There are a couple of ways to do this:

  • Improving the set by shifting the mix to higher volume skus.
  • Value-added accessories to drive ticket (a ladder stabilizer, for example, on all extension ladders).
  • Improvement to the product that could drive a greater margin in addition to differentiation.
  • New price points.
  • Offering to create an OPP ladder that has fewer features or lower rating.

It may not be affordable, but adding an aggressive promotion plan designed to drive sales along with one or more of these ideas would clearly get the retailer’s attention.

“I think it is time to put together some brainstorming sessions to find out what innovations consumers wish they had on a ladder”

Doug: I am not sure that you want to push more volume into core SKU’s, that will only make it easier to private label in the future.

As ladders have a huge safety component, I think a de-featured ladder for $10 or $20 less might not sell if the story and accessories push the consumer to at least an MPP (mid price point) ladder. I am thinking the path may be to split the volume.

Add a feature onto the current product to make a premium version, and take something out to make a cheap one. Pros won’t touch a cheap ladder so you will probably shift them up. Consumers will probably go cheap unless you have a gadget that attracts them.

I think it is time to put together some brainstorming sessions to find out what gizmo consumers wish they had on a ladder.  I’ve got a couple of ideas already.

“Holding your space as the dominate brand requires you to be both nimble and smart”

Greg: Finding out what shoppers want is critical. Not only will it give us confidence that the innovation we offer will perform better on the shelf, but it will also allow us to be category experts.

Staying the dominate brand requires you to be both nimble and smart. Big box customers include both DIY and pro customers. By asking both groups what they want, we’ll be able to share what’s important and why to the retailer.

We can then build a bay that maximizing the sales potential based on that retailer’s core consumer, even customizing our mix and assortment based on common store clusters.

More importantly, we’ll learn from those consumers and pros how to best communicate on the packaging. It’s a critical step to improving bay navigation and helping consumers quickly and easily find the right ladder for them.

“Let’s go walk some stores and see what we insights and issues we can pick up from the guys who are talking to customers each and every day”

IMG_0140

Doug: Agreed. Any kind of trademark and overarching packaging themes will help protect us from competitors.

The ability to help segment your offering by store helps keep the small players out as well. I’ve got qualitative research set up for next week for both consumers and professionals, let’s see what we get out of that.

I also have a friend at the testing lab, let me give him a call and see if he has seen any unusual activity from other companies looking to certify new products.

Let’s go walk some stores and see what we insights and issues we can pick up from the guys who are talking to customers each and every day.

That’s how we’ll dig up the facts that will help us tell our story — and create differentiation for each customer along the way!

Good Selling!

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