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Content marketing: mitigating risk for luxury purchases

I’m often asked my opinion on what types of companies or brands would benefit most from creating content experiences for their customers. My stock reply is always, “All of them, of course!” However, branded content works especially well for companies where there is a high risk associated with either switching to or purchasing their product.

For example, it’s very easy and inexpensive to sample the menu at McDonald’s. You walk into the restaurant, hand over a few dollars and walk out with a cheeseburger, some fries and a Coke. If you don’t like what you’ve ordered, all you’ve wasted are 15 minutes of your time and some loose change. You can go back to Wendy’s or Burger King for your next fast food fix. No harm done.

If you’re an upscale real estate developer, however, the risks are significantly greater. Not only will your customer have to spend several hundred thousand dollars buying one of your homes, there’s always the possibility that, once they have moved in, they won’t like their neighbors, discover that their commute sucks or that their children have snotty teachers.

If you are marketing a high consideration product – such as an expensive watch, a luxury cruise or a designer label dress, you can use content to mitigate the purchase risk and also to shorten the sales cycle. Whether it’s in print or online, one of the key components of a company’s content marketing strategy should be to create an editorial or interactive experience that enables potential customers to “sample” the brand without putting their finances or their lifestyle at risk.

Content marketing: How to turn loyal customers into brand evangelists

One of marketing guru David Meerman Scott’s favorite lines is that consumers don’t care about your brand, your company or your products – that they are only interested in themselves. While there is a lot of truth in that statement, it’s not 100 percent bullet-proof.

Not only is it possible to create a following of loyal customers, using some simple tactics you can actually turn those brand aficionados into a small “army” of messengers who will go out and spread the good word about your company, product or services. Here are a few of the methods we used to help golf equipment manufacturer Callaway Golf identify their most passionate customers and turn them into brand evangelists.

1. Create a “reader panel” to identify the opinion leaders
Shortly after we launched Callaway Golf Magazine, we ran a small promotion in the magazine asking for volunteers to join a new “Reader Panel”. We explained that, as a panellist, you would be signing up to provide your opinion and feedback on editorial content and direction, to test and review new and prototype equipment and to participate in editorial features by agreeing to be interviewed or photographed.

The reason we asked customers/readers to jump through a few hoops in order to become a panellist was because we wanted to identify the “opinion leaders” among the audience – those readers passionate and opinionated enough about the brand to invest a small amount of their time to become more closely affiliated with the company.

The reader panel was incredibly successful. Over a three-year period, some 750 Callaway customers became members. The feedback we received from these hand raisers helped us to continually fine-tune the magazine. The end result was a greatly improved editorial product that met the evolving needs of the reader.

2. Seed New Products
Once the Reader Panel was established, we used that core group of readers/customers to help Callaway seed and “test market” new equipment. For example, prior to the launch of a new driver, we would select, say, 50 panellists and send them the new golf club to try. We swore the readers to secrecy and explained that they could keep the club if they used it in their next round and emailed us their thoughts on its performance.

We thought this would be a popular tactic, but we were amazed at just how effective it was. One reader emailed us and explained how he attracted a crowd of some 30 golfers at his club’s driving range on a Saturday morning when they heard the “booming” sound of his new driver. When pressed for information on the new club, our panellist was thrilled to tell the other golfers that he was secretly testing a new Callaway driver, but could not divulge any more information at that time!

Other times, we sent the entire panel a supply of new golf balls as a “thank you” for their continued participation and asked them to share them with friends, family and fellow golfers.

3. Deliver exclusive, behind-the-scenes experiences
One of the most important keys to creating successful branded content is delivering exclusive, one-of-a-kind experiences. In each issue of Callaway Magazine we tried to include at least one “insider” feature. For example, we would accompany one of the company’s sponsored Tour Professionals – such as Ernie Els or Phil Mickelson – to Callaway’s top secret Test Center in Carlsbad, Calif. and interview and photograph the player going through a clubfitting session.

On another occasion, we traveled to Pennsylvania to visit golf legend Arnold Palmer at his home at Latrobe Country Club, and were granted an exclusive interview, photoshoot and private tour of his memorabilia museum and personal archive.

4. Ask, listen, learn and acknowledge
Nothing makes people feel more special or important than asking for their opinion. We used the Callaway Magazine Reader Panel primarily to solicit feedback on the editorial content and direction. More importantly, we listened to that feedback, learned from it and then acknowledged it in the Editor’s Letter or in the news section of future issues.

When a specific idea was provided, we responded with a personal reply that acknowledged the communication and explained how we might use that idea in future issues. While we clearly couldn’t include every single idea or suggestion in the publication, simply giving customers the opportunity to provide feedback and then proving to them that you listened was an invaluable tactic in solidifying customer relationships.

5. Reward participation
Although no mention was made of any reward in the initial invitation to join the Reader Panel because we wanted to identify the authentic opinion leaders among the audience, we nonetheless felt it was important to reward participants. As such, we would frequently send a small gift to every panellist as a “thank you” for their continued support.

Summary: To turn loyal customers into brand evangelists who will passionately spread the word about your company, you need to deliver value beyond the benefit of your products or services. Evangelists need to be empowered with the “tools” to deliver that message – they need to be able to tell the stories about the very latest technology and their exclusive content experiences. They also need to have the depth of product knowledge that they can then share with others. And they need to be rewarded for their loyalty.

Are you a creator or an aggregator?

Last week, I found myself in a meeting with the developer of a series of sports-based web portals. The websites, all built using an identical design template, attract an incredible number of visitors and incorporate a huge amount of content – news, information, player profiles, stats, clubs, travel etc. Pretty much anything you could ever possibly need or want to know about your favorite sport is accessible with just a couple of clicks of a mouse.

The most interesting thing for me, however, was not so much the incredible traffic that these sites are able to generate, but that not a single piece of content – with the exception of a couple of blogs – was actually created by the publisher.

These days, with RSS feeds, affiliate and syndicated content programs and easily accessible online databases, all it takes is some nifty coding and a decent content management system to create a fully functioning, fully populated web portal in just a couple of days. And if you know your SEO stuff, you can have your new audience “liking”, “digging”, sharing and linking to your aggregated content on social networks and forums around the world as quick as you can say “delicious!”

This undoubtedly is a very impressive demonstration of how you can use the latest online technologies, sophisticated search engine optimization tactics and social media smarts to drive huge amounts of traffic to a website or portal. However, many developers are thinking that the logical next step is to convert that high volume of traffic into a living, breathing community. And this, in my opinion, is where the model breaks down.

As far as I am concerned, making the transition from an aggregated content website to an active and useful community requires more than bolting on a Facebook-style social media platform to the portal. Successful communities – whether online or in the “real” world – thrive on participation. Participation is dependent on passion. And passion is specific not general.

When I visit a website to indulge my passions, interests and hobbies, I want to immerse myself in authoritative, entertaining and relevant content. I want to read expert opinions and unique insights from people who not only know their stuff, but who share my interest and who can articulate their thoughts in a way that entertains and educates me at the same time.

Yes, aggregated content and SEO can create huge amounts of traffic, but without a voice, an opinion, a personality or authority, they will never deliver the passion that creates a community.

Content marketing: Why not all content is created equal

“Content” is a word that gets frivolously thrown around in marketing agency circles these days. Content, it seems, has suddenly become the miracle pill for any company’s communication problems. Want to more deeply engage your audience? Simple. Give them some content. Looking to revive a tired and dated brand? No problem. Content will revitalize it overnight. Need to reach a core demographic? Easy. A quick slice of content will instantly have your target audience lining up outside the store to try your product!
Unfortunately, not all content is created equal. Sure, you can go down the AOL or Yahoo home page route and churn out cheap drivel like “10 ways to tell if your man is cheating” or the “5 best ways to rewrite your resumé in a recession” However, that type of shallow content has very little engagement value beyond providing a quick two-minute diversion while you’re channel flicking and trying to figure out whether to watch American Idol or So You think You Can Dance. Content of that calibre has no place in any self-respecting brand’s content marketing program or campaign.
Creating meaningful and engaging material that engages, entertains and provides valuable solutions for your customers requires that you invest first in a content strategy and then in an accomplished editorial team to execute the plan. In today’s world, content is as much a creative representation of your brand as a 30-second TV slot, a magazine ad or a corporate brochure. In many ways, it is even more worthy of your attention since the content you create is often the first step in the meaningful dialog with your customers that leads to long term loyalty.

content marketing: empower your brand evangelists

Every conceivable conversation about your brand, your product or your service is taking place in some community or other, either in person or online. In some cases, that community is just two people talking face to face; other times, that discussion could be happening in a forum involving thousands of people.
The question is – what are you doing to reward your brand evangelists, those opinion leaders that influence others and who possess the power to move the needle?
If you’re not engaging your influencers and empowering them with the tools, information and content to spread your message to your target audience, somebody else soon will.

Content marketing: Kudos to Bonobos

Given that it’s difficult enough to lure most men into a regular clothes stores at the best of times, what does a retailer need to do to get the male species to fire up their laptops to browse the latest Country Club and Polo Set apparel? Sensible answers on a postcard please!

Online clothing retailer Bonobos has used the full gamut of social media content tactics to attract, engage and captivate its male buyers. For a start, there’s a great blog. I loved the post about how the team decked themselves out in stars and stripes apparel before heading to the local sports bar to watch the USA Vs Algeria World Cup soccer game. The day after saw a post discussing the attire of the old-style tennis players at Wimbledon circa the 1930s. Relevant, timely and interesting. Perfect.

The most impressive thing is that seemingly all of the company’s staff actively contributes to the Bonobos blog. Each day, there’s a fun, topical, interesting post that – and this is the best part – never includes any mention of the company itself. Great self-restraint, guys! It’s selfless community contribution at its best – no corporate censorship, no brand policing, no sales pitches.

As you have probably gathered by now, Bonobos has embraced the concept of social media marketing. The company has some 6,000 Facebook fans and it uses the platform to not only interact with its customers, but to demonstrate that the company is listening and caring. Bonobos reached out to one enthusiastic fan who mentioned that the clothes were out of his price range and gave him a $50 discount on his first online purchase – a gesture that quickly went viral and no doubt created a fan for life.

Buying clothes generally isn’t the most entertaining online experience. You browse. You buy. You quit. But blogs powered by great content can turn what would otherwise be a sterile online catalog into a fun place to hang out. And social media platforms like Facebook enable companies to personally interact with their customers for a deeper level of engagement.

The owner of Bonobos explains his philosophy on letting happy customers build your brand. You can read it here:

http://blogs.forbes.com/marketshare/2010/06/10/bonobos-on-letting-happy-customers-build-your-brand/

content marketing: my beef with bloggers!

Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And, boy, don’t we know it these days!  The internet has transformed our lives and brought many cool things to the world – chat roulette…the subservient chicken….online poker…Susan Boyle. For the most part, however, blogs aren’t one of them.

One of the great things about professionally created content is that you have built-in quality control processes designed to stop columnists or egotistical writers submitting their readers to boring monologues, inane, rambling, unstructured prose and self-indulgent drivel.

Unfortunately, no safety nets exist online, so anybody with a laptop and an Ethernet cable can fire up a WordPress template and start spouting their typo-strewn thoughts to the world.

With that in mind, here are three blogging types that make my blood boil.

1. The pseudo thought leader
This guy suggests one or two cool ideas or makes a few smart observations about business or human behavior and all of a sudden he thinks he’s Seth Godin. If you fuel this guy’s ego by responding with positive comments, the next thing you know, he’ll have a banner ad on his home page asking you to book him as a speaker for your next corporate away day. Then he’ll publish an e-book, ask you to “like” him on Facebook and start referring to himself as an industry “guru”.

2. The fanatical sharer!
If there’s one thing more aggravating than overzealous bloggers, it’s overzealous bloggers who don’t write their own material. Yes, I totally understand the concept of sharing relevant and interesting content with colleagues, family or friends, but if I read one more blog post that starts, “Great post today from…” I think I will go nuts. If I’m reading your blog, I want to hear what you have to say.

3. The shameless self-promoter
OK, so I understand that blogs have evolved from being the online equivalent of a magazine column or an opinion piece to a marketing tactic that generates inbound sales leads, but littering a post with SEO-friendly “keywords” and “meta tags” tends to ruin the editorial flow somewhat. Call me a traditionalist if you want, but I rather like the idea of people frequenting our company’s “content marketing” blog because they are interested in the concept of content marketing and want to read insightful thoughts on how content marketing can improve their business. I don’t want to keep repeating the words “content marketing” over and over just to get to the top of Google’s ranking of posts that include content marketing. That would quickly become very irritating. Get my drift?

For great blogs, go to: http://www.4th-e.com/blogs