We’re living in one of the most open times known to humanity when it comes to connecting with others, access to information, & the ability to bridge information gaps that’ve historically kept cultures & countries separate. And, even though our social media laden existence is one in which the “social” is dialled up, more than ever we long to be seen, heard, & understood.
As marketing professionals we have job to do now that is unlike any other in any other time. As the gatekeepers of BIG BUDGETS in a world that’s been built upon foundations of seemingly unshakeable consumerism, we’re able to impact the world through products, services, stances, & stories that bring people together.
The stories we tell ourselves about who we are, how we move through the world, & what happiness is are the foundational elements of how we live, dream, & hope. They’re also the lifeblood of every single business that wants to stay relevant & profitable in 2020 & beyond.
Marketing was once a push.
A telling to.
A telling of.
A showing off.
Brands need to be more than money-making purveyors of shouty retail adds now. When a brand can tap into our hopes, dreams, & become interwoven into the yarns we spin about ourselves - they become inextricably linked with who we are. What we desire to become. Where we’d like to be.
Like many other things in life, obsessions, loves, & stories last for a season or a chapter only - but if a brand can evolve alongside a customer, then you get people who love you for life.
So how do brands come to life?
How do brands cement who they are, what they stand for, & where they’re headed if they’re evolving alongside humanity? The easy answer is this: they get messy. They embrace not knowing. They fuck up & do better as they go.
The way a brand comes to life is in the same way that all of us do:
Through stories that define us in moments big & small.
In our age of stories, content matters more than ever. Any touchpoint that you or your brands creates with a customer - be it in a high impact placement as part of a campaign or a micro-conversation in DM as a one-on-one interaction - is a moment that matters. Every moment of interaction is a chance of becoming a part of someone’s story.
So I can tell you, hand on heart, after working in & around content in every iteration for almost two decades now that the best skill you can learn to hone as a content creator or strategist is the best skill that any human can learn to hone: listening.
All too often brands kneel & pray at the altar of eyeballs, of clicks, of sweet-fix-shallow metrics that do little to bind stories & do a lot to create friction instead of fusion of ideologies.
When we pray at the altars of algorithmically driven buying media spreadsheets we forget to look up & into the eyes (& hearts) of the very people that we hope will love us enough to buy from us. We don’t listen, in turn we don’t hear. And then, above all else, we don’t see our customers for the whole, nuanced, beautifully diverse people that they are.
Brands & content creators who live & die by the sword of tactics & needed to be the centre of attention instead of a starter of conversation will not last. Your ad spend will continue to go up, your brand love will not rise with it.
In moving towards a modernity in which consumerism is underpinned by doing better by & for humanity, here are some of the best ways that creating & sharing your content aligns with the rules of good listening & relationship building...
Two Ears, One Mouth
Just as I was taught as a youngin’ waaaaaaaaaay back in the mid-1980’s when it came to making friends & communicating authentically, it is just as important as a brand to use ears & mouth (proverbially speaking) by ye olde 2-to-1 ration. Listen twice as much as you even think about opening your mouth to speak.
When creating branded or corporate content, do you actually search out information about the lives, mindset, & cultural context of the lives your consumers are living? And, I’ll call it here: I’m not talking about “listening” as a distillation of data-points in a giant machine of information, survey responses, & pre-selected questionnaires. I’m talking about listening for human narratives, for themes, for trends, for heart & emotion.
Are you 100% across customer queries, social media conversations & sub-threads? Are you committed to loving to learn about humanity? Until you can answer “yes” to all of this, you shouldn’t be creating content willy nilly simply to fill channels or gaps in media plans that you’re told you need to fill.
REPEAT AD INFINITUM
Don’t Fear F*cking Up (& when you do f*ck up, acknowledge your mistake & apologise)
This is one of those “Do as I say, not as I do,” pieces of wisdom I’d like to share with you.
The truth of the matter is that the fear of fucking up stops me A LOT from sharing what I feel or truly believe in to my core. Lived experience stops me, specifically as a woman, from writing with the sass & irony I’d love to write with 99.9% of the time.
Usually I not only second-guess every word that I speak or write, but I triple-check the double-check & find myself spiralling out of control in a world of self-doubt which usually ends up with me deleting a blog, post, or image simply because I am afraid of offending others or being misinterpreted.
Luckily, for me, I have moments of clarity when it comes to my self-confidence - & in these moments I allow others in. I allow myself the ability to make mistakes. I allow others to teach me, to criticise me, to process what I say & come back to me with other ideas or perspectives.
If there’s anything in the world that stops many of us from being GREAT communicators, it’s the fear of fucking up.
Well, fuck that.
Your unique perspective is one the world has never known before. When we hold back or water-down our content (yes, even as brands) we do a disservice to our consumers & customers. When we hold back or water down our calls to action (yes, especially as brands) we fail to lead purposefully.
Go on, fuck some $hit up.
Be a trampoline, not a sponge
Ohhhhhh, I love this one. It’s not my idea or saying, but holy moly guacamole - this resonates with me so much.
Bounce, don’t soak. The crux of the idea of being a trampoline is simple: when you’re listening well you engage. You seek to understand & then apply your understanding. By soaking information up & holding it within you’re unable to get the back-&-forth, up-&-down, spread-this-good-stuff-all-around vibe that all true engaging conversations & mutual relationships need to exist.
From a brand & content strategy perspective, you should always be listening. Sure thing! But you should also be asking questions, bouncing ideas off of your customers, having conversations in which you seek & take on the feedback of consumers. When your content is clear & displays an openness to different points of view your brand becomes a feeling. That feeling? Trustworthy knowing.
Some of the most impactful & industry/world-changing content as of late has come from ideas that bounce, bounce, bounce ideas of what business & cultural context mean. My mind goes to Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” campaign.
Analyse the strategy, creative execution, & influencer/grass-root storytelling all you want - the idea here was simple. Create moments for conversations about a brand during conversations that’re already happening at a macro cultural & micro cultural level.
When you’re invited into a conversation, when you then bounce to highlighting ideas as they form your brand becomes a thread interwoven into the lives of your customers. This is the kind of listening skill every human, business, government needs to create change. When your brand evolves along with culture, context becomes the foundation of your true purpose.
Be a trampoline my friends.
Bounce, don’t soak.
Above all else, be compassionate & kind
I shouldn’t have to write more than a sentence or two about this one, eh? If your content is serving only you, if it’s made to generate clicks instead of generating compassion or kindness - then your content will be not only fleeting, but a waste of space.
In a world where we’re inundated with too much of everything, make sure your content is at the very least KIND.
When it comes to listening deeply & creating fantastic content that drives deep conversations, BE GUNG HO FROM THE GET GO!
I’ve seen some amazing companies go boldly into storytelling & have been at the helm of quite a few teams who have done their fair share of changing the world for the better - so I know that any brand, business, or profession can succeed in the content game.
When it comes to the game, winning is all in how you define it. Don’t worry about how you play it if you play with passion.
For more information on content, or to get in touch with us on how we can make magic happen together across paid, earned, owned, or pure creative storytelling click here.