Brands! Stop leading with your features and benefits. Ask yourself this instead: How can I help?
Jay Baer challenged all the marketers and brand managers gathered for the digiSTORY 2014 conference to tell stories that matter. "Marketing sideways," he called it: "Making the story bigger." Callahan Creek proudly sponsored the conference, and we were excited to hear that Jay's talk dovetailed nicely with some of our own strategies.
Here are three challenges that marketers today face when it comes to getting their message heard:
- Audience disaggregation - Audiences don't clump the way they used to. There's no "Happy Days," "Cosby Show," or "Seinfeld" reaching a mass audience like they used to.
- Customers are storytellers too - They have instant access to tell social and web platforms and can tell horror stories about your brand. As Jay put it, "Customer service is a spectator sport." Everyone can see these negative experiences.
- Competition for attention - There is noise everywhere. Additionally, brands are fighting to cut through content that customers have carefully curated themselves with their own preferences. In your Facebook News Feed, for example, you'll see posts from friends and family that you interact with often. His biggest question, when it comes to relevancy: "Are you more interesting to me than my own wife?"
What brands tend to do is fall into a dangerous trap, falling back on hype. Telling stories louder. Literally, sometimes. Like this guy:
(Ironically, this kind of ridiculousness can be its own novelty. The video went viral, was featured on Tosh.0, and owner Mike Mixson is obviously listening on social media, because he responded to us on Twitter. And now we know who to go to when we're selling golf clubs.)
Instead of hyping your brand, what if you created stories that help? After all, as Jay said, "there's only two letters' difference between "hype" and "help." Catchy, eh? Yeah, he's good at that. But he's also good at making an idea come alive in simple terms that relate to companies' needs.
Baer's challenge to marketers is essentially to create a "story so useful that people will pay for it." (Earlier in the day, we heard from Brian Storm, who has created a viable business model with MediaStorm by telling engaging and important stories that people are willing to pay for. Most of these stories are meant as a call to action for social injustice or other cause-related things.)
Marketing sideways doesn't showcase features and benefits. It means giving something away of value that improves your business over time. And it works. It's something we are using right now for several of our clients.
One statistic Baer quoted (I don't remember the source unfortunately) was that useful articles are forwarded 30% more than average. That's kind of a no-brainer, but now consider this: The only thing that really matters is content, not the quality of the video. Take this video, for instance, with almost 150,000 views:
Amazing, right? I am totally doing that the next time I prepare corn on the cob.
Here's something else to consider: People are doing tons of online research before they purchase. In 2011, 10.4 sources of info were needed before purchase, which is twice as much as 2010. Mobile data usage doubled in 2013. Consumers are looking things up on their phones, even while they are in brick-and-mortar stores. Why not make sure that you own the conversation with helpful content on the very subject that consumers are searching for?
This summer, I needed some help with the filter on my backyard pool. I immediately went to YouTube and saw a series of How-To videos that covered every possible problem I might have and how to fix it. They were all from one guy at this company in Virginia. It was pretty funny when Jay mentioned him in his presentation, and not at all surprising to find out that these videos had affected his bottom line positively. Marcus Sheridan is the co-owner of River Pools & Spas, and in addition to the video(s), the company has an enormous amount of helpful content on the company blog.
So what types of stories can brands tell?
- Stories that inform. Stories that build knowledge on a relevant subject.
- Stories that build trust. Trust is the filter through which all business success must pass. One good way to do this is to be transparent, because the truth always comes out. Why not lead with it?
- Stories that build kinship. Giving your brand humanity gives your story a hero. Remember, friends and family are trusted 92% of the time. (Again, I don't remember the source of this stat - sorry.)
One secret to marketing sideways is that you have to give yourself permission to make the story bigger. Chompie's Deli has been around since 1979 when founders Lou and Lovey Borenstein moved from New York to Arizona. The videos on their YouTube channelaren't about their sandwiches - they're about them. And sometimes it seems like you're watching clips from a Christopher Guest movie! Check this out:
Another secret to telling good stories is to make the story smaller. Take those big stories and atomize them, like the #LowesFixinSix Vine videos, which show helpful hints for common problems around the house and clever shortcuts with a fun amount of novelty.
Lastly, empowering your fans to tell stories is always a great idea. It's also authentic and affordable. Jay mentioned a river rafting company that encourages their customers to tell stories of their trips with photos and stories on the company blog. Letting your customers tell everybody what a great time they had on one of your trips sounds like a pretty good way to drum up new business. And because its self-produced, the genuine quality of it makes it easier to trust.
"Youtility," as Jay calls it (also coincidentally the name of his book) is a process, not a project. Inspiration doesn't respond to meeting requests, so you have to look for examples in your life every day. It's an adjustment. You can be a utility. Your brand can be a utility -- a trusted source. His last challenge was simple: When you wake up every morning, ask yourself: "How can I help you?"