If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, did it really make a sound? Pretty much everyone has an opinion on that. It’s the pub chat version of Schrodinger’s cat. But since no one was in the forest, nobody knows the answer. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. At least not until you ask the same question of digital marketing.
According to a 2010 Technorati study, global bloggers will have published 2.75 million blog posts by the end of today. Call that 2.75 million and one. We’ll also upload almost half-a-million hours of video to YouTube, and four petabytes of cat-cuddling craziness into Facebook. At this point, the numbers are so big they don’t make sense. So to put that into context, four petabytes is roughly 80 times all the data from all of the books in the world – uploaded into Facebook, every day.
Now, I can’t speak to the accuracy of those specific numbers (I found them on the internet) but it does talk to a web that’s jam-packed with information (and rubbish) – and it’s getting busier every day. So, if I post my puppy pic on Instagram and no-one ever sees it, is she still adorable?
Distribution is cheap. Engagement is hard-earned.
To pick up on corporate jargon, the key point here is the difference between outputs and outcomes. The problem with the internet is anyone can upload anything they like. And they certainly do. But the internet wasn’t built for broadcast. It’s ultimately a direct channel of action, response and engagement. So why do we get seduced by output metrics of massive reach and always-on frequency when the only outcome that matters is engagement?
Put another way, are we posting, sharing, blogging and crafting content to build brand, drive sales and engage our customers? Or have we become an industry of digital litterbugs? The answer to both questions is yes. And obviously, we’d all like to be doing more of the former. So here are three easy ways to dial up the value of digital marketing and cut back the crap on the web.
Rethink the volume game.
There are three big reasons marketers love the internet. It’s relatively cheap to get a message out, it’s infinitely measurable and everyone else is doing it. But for some reason, we’re happy to settle for stupidly low metrics. Depending on who you ask, 2.6 percent is a benchmark engagement rate out of Facebook. That’s a like, a comment or a share. And when you weed out accidental clicks, robot fraud and your team liking their own stuff, that’s about one engagement for every 500 followers. Or is it? Metrics can be dodgy. But if we promote the post to chase more people eventually we’ll grab a customer, right? Maybe. But the Nigerian scam-man strategy is the digital equivalent of flying a helicopter over Hamilton, dropping a million flyers and waiting by the phone. It’s littering.
>> Don’t settle for mediocre metrics. Refine your audience, retarget your messaging and reframe your creative to make ads that actually connect with people.
Reframe the creative game.
Creative advertising is about earning attention in context to communicate a message. Great creative will earn you more attention. That’s because great creatives are expert at simplifying messages and crafting stories to make things easier to understand and harder to forget. Content marketing uses the same core strategy. It’s just faster and often cheaper. And if you’ve ever seen the triangle of fast, cheap or good, you’ll know where I’m going next.
Every time your brand communicates you are literally buying time from your customers or prospects. So you need to make it worth their while. More important than that, every communication in any channel reflects on your brand. And better brands mean better margin and lower costs in both acquisition and retention. So any investment in great creative is a genuine investment in your business. And anything that looks cheap and knocked together can have the inverse effect.
Most important of all, if you don’t have relevant and compelling creative that people want to engage with, you might not even be communicating at all. If we all post shots of pink-shirt day at the office and nobody wants to see them, were the shirts even pink?
>> People value interestingness and craft. If you’re not making great content, it’s hardly worth making it at all.
Review the helpful game.
Ever wondered how to make a balloon dog? The internet can tell you. And that’s just the start. Whether you’re checking your spelling or re-wiring your bathroom, someone’s already done it and blogged about it. It’s one of the ways the internet is handy. And one of the reasons the world makes 1.3 trillion Google searches a year.
It’s also something your brand can do to engage your customers. How to make butternut chicken. How to choose the right mobile. How to plan my retirement. You name it, your customers are asking. And there’s a prize up for grabs for the most helpful answers. It’s called more customers.
Obviously, you need to balance authenticity over sales. You’re way less credible if you’re obviously hocking product. But there are stacks of ways to build brand and drive sales through helpfulness – and genuinely engage some genuine customers on the way.
Better yet, in an internet full of knocked together videos from enthusiastic vloggers (like the balloon dog guy) a well-crafted, on-point, smartly branded version can earn itself way more attention.
>> If you’re genuinely helping real people (and take the time to make it good) building brand through helpfulness is a great use of content.
Looking for the secret of great content? Make great content.
It’s that easy. And it’s also hard. The internet opens the door to infinite and cheap distribution. But without great content, distribution is irrelevant. And of course, I’d say that because we’re in the business of crafting great creative. But think about it. What do you pause on? What do you share? What cuts through the clutter and earns your attention?
So how do you make great content? Here’s a starter for ten. Be genuinely useful. Be genuinely entertaining. And take the time to make something that’s genuinely great. Your customers will thank you for it, your brand will be better for it and you’ll be one of the marketers in the market who can genuinely say they’re not a digital litterbug.
That’s what I reckon, what do you think?
Michael Goldthorpe is managing partner at Hunch
This story originally appeared on StopPress.