Noise is what most consumers hear these days when exposed to marketing messages, regardless of the medium through which these messages are delivered. Today’s investor demands more than catchy slogans and slick ad campaigns. But, in what has evolved into an overwhelmingly egregious disconnect, most businesses continue to struggle to communicate even the most essential messages that will differentiate their brands in today’s crowded, confusing and expectation-laden marketplace.
With technology making it easier than ever for consumers to block and otherwise avoid advertising and marketing messages as they go about their online and offline lives, companies ubiquitously scramble for solutions — ultimately turning to content marketing to help them make and maintain meaningful connections with the marketplace, to the tune of an estimated $50 billion spent by U.S. businesses for 2015.
However, like many marketing innovations that are incubated to solve problems, content marketing could quickly lose its impact.
Those who are wildly successful at content marketing understand that the strategy is not just starting a blog and creating social media accounts. It is a disciplined approach to communicating with a target audience — one offering ample opportunity to tell a simple, human story that will educate, inform, entertain and, most importantly, compel customers in a way that fully captures mind — and market — share through messaging that truly resonates.
Some businesses, including carwashes, must completely re-imagine their approach to connecting with customers. How? By simply communicating with them instead of overlooking and not valuing them. Specifically, speak human, and not just in a given “handshake moment.” Rather, “speaking human” is a continual, friendly business engagement with a carwash consumer, before and after they become a customer, that is built primarily on trust and performance.
Here are three strategies that can help you make and maintain meaningful connections and create a lifetime value with customers in ways that will set your brand apart in a crowded marketplace, tell an authentic story, maximize engagement and breed brand loyalty.
Recalibrate low-level communications
We have long struggled with linear, low-level or one-way communication. It is a completely timeless human phenomenon that is at the core of every conflict or stalemate, from the ones we experience at home to the ones in our work and communities.
We focus on transmitting information but lose sight of the critical need for feedback, response or an actual “human” exchange of emotions or ideas. However, for decades this was our only way of receiving communication from advertisers, and many consumers “stomached” it because there was no alternative.
Today’s social networking tools can effectively and surreptitiously disguise “reach” with “results,” often only perpetuating linear, low-level communication. For example, let’s say you are on Twitter and Facebook, and you are tweeting and posting multiple times per day and perhaps growing a fan and follower base on each like clockwork with your “strategic” ad buy.
But your zealous, disciplined approach does not mean you are doing it effectively. Who, exactly, are all those followers, friends and fans? Are you meeting the information needs of your audience? And, are you really “speaking human,” creating content or telling an authentic story?
It might be that you are simply tweeting and posting just to check it off your task list and that your followers are re-tweeting or “liking” you for the exact same reason. If that is the case, then they are not really followers at all — and they are far from friends or loyal carwash customers.
“Speaking human” involves more than just opening a communication channel for that channel’s sake or doing social media just because someone told you that you should. Your “handshake moment” is where people actually discover the essence of who you are as a brand for the first time. If that is the case, what are they going to find? Will they be greeted by a sales pitch? Or are they going to find a real person — someone they might want to reach out to and who greets them with a warm hello?
If you are not asking these questions, let alone answering them satisfactorily, chances are your content is simply traditional advertising disguised as substance wearing a new outfit.
Master conversational media
Conversational media insists that we do not just sell ourselves, but rather, share ourselves. Further, it informs the listener about who we are, rather than what we are. We must learn the signals that tell us when to drop the jargon, cut the nonsense and simply talk — authentically and transparently — to those we hope might buy our product or service. Yes, we sell things, but good content is about providing essential information and education. Brands and services should not have to sell themselves.
An effective mix of messages includes telling people what you do, how you do it and even why you do it. Then, you draw them into your embrace with a story that is compelling and authentic. Afterwards, leave them alone to make the choice. But, why not influence the decision-making process with endearing, enlightening and empowering messages?
“Speaking human” is about engaging with someone for a mutual benefit: You need this information, and I must deliver it in a way that you understand, while you need to ask me questions in a way that makes sense. We are having a conversation. We are speaking human.
When the conversation takes place on social channels, participate in the exchange in such a way as to achieve the coveted “handshake moment.” How do you get there? What do you say to influence them to engage with your brand and your business? It is all about cutting through the jargon and the clutter that clogs the communication pipeline. It is not about your needs; it is about theirs.
Give them something to talk about
In this new economy of conversation, carwash owners must master the art of facilitating the relationship between the business and the consumer. For example, your carwash wants to run a campaign to advertise a specific product offering. The consumer is looking to meet a need, discover an innovation or solve a real problem.
Content marketers bridge the gap. They create the information the business needs to share and provide the information customers want to receive. The job of today’s content marketer is to work both in the world of traditional media as well as conversational media.
The goal is not bullying, but inviting. Not grabbing attention, but earning and holding attention. Naturally, you want audiences to take action. But, it is the rare brand that understands how the content and story must interact to add real value versus merely seeking to sell a product or service.
Storytelling is an essential human activity and must be the cornerstone of any meaningful content strategy. If the story is the nest, content becomes the baby starlings that grow strong and fly off carrying compelling messages. A story can instantly communicate your history, values and beliefs, and it gives people something to talk about. Unless you have a real story, loyalty is unlikely.
The Conversation Age
The Conversation Age finds brands in the midst of an evolutionary process. Social media and the overarching digital landscape have afforded carwash business owners the ability to engage in a transactional dialogue, often giving them a bigger platform and louder voice. This new power forces modern companies to become completely transparent in their brand storytelling. Thus, the Conversation Age requires modern businesses to educate, inform and even entertain their customers, all while telling a story.
Today, learning how to use conversational techniques in commerce to touch the heart of the customer must be a top priority for every modern carwash owner. No longer is it enough to merely “shout” at consumers through the one-way megaphone of traditional advertising, such as TV and radio spots or billboard and print ads. Nor, frankly, will consumers stand for it. Instead, sophisticated, modern consumers are demanding transparent, honest and authentic dialogue.
Industry veteran Kevin Lund is CEO of T3 Custom, an award-winning financial content marketing firm that helps brands speak human and, in doing so, realize up to 16 times the return on their content marketing investments. Lund, a lauded speaker, has been recognized for numerous top honors, including “Program of the Year” by the Content Marketing Institute. He may be reached at www.t3custom.com.