Nick Johnson

Brand Director interested in the future of marketing

Relevance: Building content that appeals directly to your target customers

Nick JohnsonComment

The below is an extract from my new book, "The Future of Marketing"

In my last post, I discussed why content is becoming ever-more important to the in-house marketer, and finished by highlighting the four key challenges when scaling up a content strategy:

  1. Creating content of the requisite quality
  2. Ensuring produced content is relevant to your target audience
  3. Disseminating content in the right way
  4. Measuring the impact of content strategy

In this post, I'll focus specifically on the second of those challenges.

Relevance: Appealing Directly and Engagingly to Your Customers

Twenty-seven percent of marketers say the most challenging part of building a content marketing strategy revolves around working out what the customer wants – determining what content will appeal to and engage them.

It’s another manifestation of the “relevance” pillar of marketing as ART. The content you disseminate must be engaging, useful, and valuable in some way to the target audience you’re attempting to appeal to. Again, we can revisit the social media dinner party: The stories you tell your grandparent are somewhat different to those you tell your best friend. It’s the same with content marketing. As with traditional marketing campaigns, picking the right message for your customer is essential. What’s more, particular target audiences want their content delivered via a particular medium, or via a particular platform.

When striving for relevance, companies tend to focus on either content that aims to be useful or content that aims to be entertaining

Content That Is Useful

A great example of useful content comes from HubSpot, the marketing software provider. Hubspot is a business to business (B2B) company – companies in the B2B space have been leaders in content marketing for some time, largely because of the way marketing works in the B2B space. Customers and products tend to be of higher value.

The purchase cycle is longer, and more is spent on individual customer acquisition. Therefore, the value proposition offered by content marketing is more obvious.

HubSpot sells a marketing technology. The goal of its content campaign is to make its owned media a valuable destination for the target audience to spend time at. The company thus spends an awful lot of time generating white papers and other insights to share with its community.

Not only does this content position HubSpot as an authoritative voice on marketing best practice (thus increasing loyalty, trust, and the likelihood of a longer-term customer relationship), but it’s also designed to highlight that HubSpot does the job these customers are looking to do better than any of their competitors. The use cases and step-by-step guides that the white papers cover all use HubSpot as the tool for getting the job done.

Content That Is Entertaining

The video opens in a close-up on Jean-Claude Van Damme’s face.

His voiceover begins to tell us that his life has been made up of his fair share of bumpy roads and buffeting winds. Through focus and a relentless drive for perfection, he’s overcome all challenges. He points out that the precision engineering of his body has allowed him to master “the most epic of splits.” As he solemnly intones an inspirational version of his life story, staring directly into the camera, that camera pans out. First, we realize that he is standing on the wing mirrors of two Volvo Globetrotter articulated trucks.

Next, it becomes apparent that the trucks are moving. Backward. Fast.

Finally, as the voiceover reaches “the most epic of splits,” the trucks begin to part, forcing Van Damme to do the splits – 12 feet up, fast, and in reverse. As the camera swings around him and the rapidly reversing trucks, some text is superimposed onto the screen: This test was set up to demonstrate the stability and precision of Volvo Dynamic Steering.

Seventy-seven million people saw that video on Volvo’s own You- Tube channel alone. When they finished with it, they saw links to other “Volvo Live Test” videos, including one featuring a gerbil driving a truck using some sort of mechanical contraption that converts the rodent’s scurrying around an exercise wheel into steering a several-ton truck. Another shows a ballerina performing on the roof of a truck as it speeds down a highway.

The Volvo video campaign is a high water mark for entertaining content. The company managed to broadly entertain and engage a huge audience, considerably raising the general population’s awareness of the Volvo brand and products. What’s more, for the core target audience of truck drivers and fleet owners, there’s a “dog whistle” that only they can hear – a series of specific references to the truck’s attributes that will further engage this core audience.

This group can, for example, appreciate the difficulty inherent in driving two trucks with such precision that Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn’t end up in a crumpled heap on an airport runway. They can appreciate a ride so smooth that a ballerina can perform on the roof. They can appreciate steering so precise that a half-pound gerbil can control it.

Volvo commissioned market research firm GFK to survey 2,200 transportation companies (half existing Volvo customers, half customers of the competition) about the impact these “Live Test” videos had on their brand perception.

The results are persuasive. YouTube subscribers for the brand rose from 3,500 to 90,000, and Volvo Trucks website traffic increased from 175,000 to over 300,000. In total, the value of the earned media generated was somewhere around $150 million. More importantly, the highest-performing in the series of videos, Technician, convinced 39% of viewers to take action (visit a website or contact a dealer); while another 19% said they intended to take action in the future. 2 Those are strong results from what at first glance looks like a relatively light-hearted brand awareness exercise.

It’s worth pointing out the fine balance the overall campaign had to achieve. The Van Damme video (clearly, the most popular of the six videos, with 77 million views) was also the least impactful in terms of influence on brand perception. It seems that, in striving to entertain a broad group, the brand lost out in depth of impact on their actual target market.

This article is an extract from my new book, “The Future of Marketing”, published by Pearson. You can purchase your copy at Amazon.

How Content Marketing Drives Brand Engagement

Nick JohnsonComment

The below is an extract from my new book, "The Future of Marketing"

“One must require more marketers to develop content capabilities so there’s a way to engage other than selling and pushing. Marketers must be looking to stay relevant when people aren’t in a place to buy.”

John Kennedy, Chief Marketing Officer, Xerox

“Content marketing” is an increasingly popular and important term in the world of marketing in 2016. Before going into detail on what is a broad and somewhat amorphous topic, it’s worth trying to define the term. Content marketing is simply about using engaging, relevant content to attract an audience.

It’s about finding valuable, shareable insights to engage – not sell to – an audience.

It’s a concession that customers have a choice and that you’ve got to offer more than a shiny sales message to get their buy-in. And it’s a critical pillar in a forward-looking marketing strategy based on authenticity, relevance, and transparency. Content marketing is remarkably powerful in a world in which customers are overwhelmed by sales messages, where social media has given relationship building the capacity to scale enormously, and where brands are starved of customer attention.

That’s why 64% of marketers say that content marketing is “definitely” important and “working really well” for them, with an additional 30% saying that’s “probably” the case, as you can see in Figure 9.1.

Given all that, it’s entirely unsurprising that a huge seventy-four percent of marketers will “definitely” do more content marketing over the next five years, and an additional 19% will “probably” do so, as you can see in Figure 9.2

The popularity of content as a marketing strategy is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of a broader shift in marketing to reflect customer power. Marketing is no longer about positioning your product and then pushing people down a funnel. It’s about attempting to engage a bored population that is skeptical of sales messages and almost omnipresent advertising.

In an age when customers hold the power, the marketer’s job is to position the brand as part of a conversation on increasingly powerful social networks. Content – stories, videos, audio, and more – is a powerful tool to do just that while also building a longer-lasting relationship at the same time. If we treat marketing over social media as similar to creating a good impression at a dinner party (for more on this, see Chapter 10 , “The Opportunity – and Imperative – of Conversation” in my new book on the future of marketing), then content is the stories you use to reel people in and entertain them around the canapés.

Fundamentally, content allows brands to be more worthy of a customer’s time than the competition. Of course, it’s rather difficult. As brands become authors and publishers, they effectively have to enter an entirely new industry. Consider the four key challenges in scaling a content strategy highlighted in Figure 9.3:

  1. Creating content of the requisite quality
  2. Ensuring produced content is relevant to your target audience
  3. Disseminating content in the right way
  4. Measuring the impact of content strategy

This article is an extract from my new book, “The Future of Marketing”, published by Pearson. You can purchase your copy at Amazon.

What are the biggest issues in Marketing right now?

Nick JohnsonComment

In a world where brands have more capacity to understand their customers than ever before, and where customers have the power to be more choosy than ever, it is incredibly important for marketing departments to deliver valuable customer engagements.

To do so, brands must not only define a deeper, more nuanced picture of customers, but they must actually put themselves in a position to leverage that more nuanced picture to deliver more relevant and personalized engagement.

In that context, the results below are instructive.

There are five issues that over 30% of marketers classed as ‘essential’ for the year ahead.

The clear leader is content marketing - which 53% of respondents identified as an essential focus for 2016 and beyond.

Following that, there is sales enablement and storytelling with 40% and 39%, and then Single Customer View and Social Media for Customer Service with 33% and 31%.

Content Marketing is of course a huge issue, and we go into rather more depth on the specific elements of content marketing that are being focused on right now in Chapter 4 of our new 30-page research white paper, which is available to download (for free) here.. It is clear that in a world where customers receive over 500 marketing messages a day and retain less than 1% of them, that marketers must strive to deliver more value in an effort to stand out from the crowd.

Content marketing - and its close cousin, storytelling - are evidently the favorite methods to deliver that value for the marketing community as a whole. Largely, that is echoed for the in-house marketing community, of whom 48% label content marketing as essential, and 36% say the same of storytelling.

Beyond this, we see an increasing awareness on the part of marketers to understand their customers better - the other side of the ‘deliver value’ coin. 33% of the marketing community and 29% of marketers have identified “Single Customer View” as an essential immediate focus for 2016.

The broader community puts “social media for customer service” fifth on their list of essential tasks. It would be fair to say that the customer service department will play an increasingly critical role in delivering a seamless, high-value and engaging experience to customers in a world where the number of touchpoints a brand must manage is spiralling out of control. Social customer service is a fundamental pillar of the edifice you must build to deliver both deeper understanding of your customers, and a more relevant and engaging experience for them.

The ongoing integration of marketing’s key tenets of delivering customer value into other departments is evidently continuing apace. Not only is there an increasing recognition that customer service teams must play the game, but an enormous 40% have identified that the “new marketing/sales relationship” is going to be an essential focus this year. Again - sales teams, particularly in a b2b space, have a significant responsibility to deliver a consistent message and experience, and can do so most effectively when empowered with the data and insight marketing teams are now in a position to collect.

Interestingly, while in-house marketers essentially mimic the response of the broader community in four of the five essential foci, they differ in one area. Corporate marketers put social media for customer service 6th on their list of priorities, and replace it with ‘location-based marketing’, which a surprisingly large 25% identify as ‘essential’.

We confess this high placing has caught us somewhat off guard. It is hard, however, to see this in any other context than that of delivering more relevant, personalized experiences - leveraging a new dataset (customer location) to deliver messages and experiences more tailored to the individual.

Download your complete copy of the "Incite State of Marketing 2016" whitepaper here.

How to measure the effectiveness of your content campaigns

Nick JohnsonComment

In the run up to our first conference on Content Marketing, I moderated a fascinating discussion o measuring the effectiveness of content campaigns.

It's available for you to stream/download here.

It features 

  • Jeff Pundyk, VP of Global Content Solutions for the Economist
  • Ana VIllegas, Marketing Director for Dell
  • Reinhardt Schuhmann, Product Manager for Trackx
  • David Savoy, Digital Marketing & Strategy Director for Farmer's Insurance


Marketers are Under Pressure to Increase Speed

Nick JohnsonComment

To a great extent, the internal organisational evolution that marketing departments around the world are experiencing is intended to ensure that companies are able to quickly deliver relevant customer experiences and marketing campaigns. So it's not entirely surprising that 94% of marketers say that 'the pace of change' in marketing has increased.