Given the sheer amount of content consumers encounter every day, brands have to work harder than ever to be seen and heard.
In part three of our series on the changing landscape of marketing, we discuss consumers' constant inundation with ads and branded content, and we examine what brands can do to make sure their messages are not drowned out by all the noise.
There was a time when a full-page spread in a newspaper could capture the zeitgeist. A time when a TV ad could transcend the medium and propel a brand into the stratosphere. A time when a billboard could change everything. A time when the same radio jingle was stuck in everyone’s head, all across the country.
Most Americans are now exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. Considering these numbers, it’s no wonder it’s almost impossible for any single piece of content to break through and capture the attention of consumers.
But here’s another way to look at the staggering array of content available: there is so much content online that 91 percent of it is never seen. Think of all the hours and dollars brands invested in that content—and it never received a single impression.
How did we get here?
The easy answer is that, despite the oversaturation, the system works. Let’s say you are a small widget manufacturer and you have $10,000 to spend on your marketing. Are you going to spend that on direct mail? A radio spot? A newspaper ad? Or are you going to spend it on social media ads?
Marketers use cost per mile (CPM) to measure how much it costs to reach 1,000 people. The numbers are always changing, but it costs about $57 to reach 1,000 people via direct mail, $10 for a radio spot, and $32 for a newspaper ad. For social media, on the other hand, it costs about $10 to reach a thousand people with a Facebook ad and about $5 for an Instagram ad.
Nine times out of ten, the widget manufacturer will choose social media advertising because it’s perceived to be more efficient, whether or not that marketing appears on the channel that will actually improve their bottom line.
The reason social media platforms and search engines are able to achieve that level of efficiency is volume: instead of a stack of glossy leaflets or a local radio spot that might reach a few hundred people at a time, social media platforms can push out ads to thousands and thousands of people in an instant. Plus, social media platforms make it so easy for brands and organizations to place ads; it takes almost no time, and no expertise, compared to all the time it takes to design and write and place a simple newspaper ad.
And that’s not to mention all the other channels constantly pouring content over our heads: emails, pre-roll video on YouTube, influencer social media posts, plus all the unpaid, organic content that brands produce every day: branded blogs, social posts, video content, and on and on.
The downside to all this? The scale makes it almost impossible for any brand to stand out.
There is so much content online that 91 percent of it is never seen.
There are deeper reasons for the content flood. Certain technological innovations and changes in consumer behavior have cemented how most brands produce digital content, and because of these, the scale at which content is produced will only grow.
The average American looks at their phone an average of 52 times a day. The number is even higher for millennials, who look at their phones 150 times each day. When you combine those numbers with the amount of time people spend online—three and a half hours every day—the smartphone revolution has provided brands with infinitely more opportunities to get their products and messages in front of consumers, and they are taking advantage of it.
But this unprecedented access also creates a conundrum for many brands: if volume is what matters in the era of smartphones, how much time and money should a brand invest in creating quality, high-fidelity content? When consumers are only skimming content for a matter of seconds (and that’s a good outcome), how important are beauty and design?
Thanks to all the user data offered by marketing, sales, and social media platforms, brands and marketers can target consumers more precisely than ever before. For example, Facebook offers more than 50,000 user categories for marketers to use when targeting ads. These categories run the gamut from location to relationship status to charitable donations to political affiliations. On one hand, this level of precision benefits consumers because the content served to them, in theory, is much more relevant to their real wants and needs than, say, a TV network constantly showing them the Kars4Kids commercial.
The downside is that a brand can go down a very narrow rabbit hole and end up marketing to only a niche audience, ignoring potential new audiences. Or a brand can misinterpret their target audience and end up marketing to consumers who just don’t care. In a world of precision targeting, accurate data-informed audience understanding and segmentation is everything.
Brands risk going down a narrow rabbit hole and ending up marketing to only a niche audience, ignoring potential new audiences.
Now that consumers are accustomed to engaging with brands all day, every day, they expect to have a voice in the conversation, and they also have very high expectations for the brand to respond authentically. This is a fundamental change in the relationship between brands and consumers. In the old days, consumers tolerated poor brand content and subpar brand experiences because they really had no choice. For example, Peloton wouldn’t have faced any consequences for its now-famous Christmas ad back then. All that would have mattered was: do consumers enjoy the product, and are they buying it?
Now, almost every brand is all too familiar with the backlash that happens when a piece of content doesn’t resonate with consumers. And that backlash isn’t confined to content that is seen as offensive or insensitive. According to this report from Adobe, 51 percent of consumers say they won’t engage with digital content if it merely takes too long to load. Thirty-nine percent of consumers say they are put off by content that is poorly written, and 28 percent are put off by content that is poorly designed. To make matters even more complicated, 51 percent of consumers say they are more willing to make a purchase if branded content is personalized for them, but 82 percent say they would stop purchasing from a brand if the content crossed the line and became too personalized.
Consumers now demand content that performs, is well-made, and is personalized (but not too personalized), which puts brands under a ton of pressure to perform.
Consumer share of voice has now surpassed that of brands.
At [B]RIGHT Brand Performance Group, content is king. We are experts at helping our clients craft relevant, resonant content on the right channel, with the right message, for the right audience, at the right time.
How do we do that? By helping our clients understand their audiences’ psychographics and contextual preferences. By helping them understand that personal values and beliefs are a big part of most purchasing decisions. By helping them express their core values to their fans. By helping them evoke emotional responses in consumers, and by convincing them that the brands that stand for something are the brands that win.
Here are a few other ways we help our clients produce content that is not only seen and heard, but that also performs.
At [B]RIGHT, one of our core beliefs is the understanding of where a piece of content fits on the form-function spectrum. Function is steered by the complexity of the marketing channel. For example, a brand’s website is highly complex, and it takes into account multiple algorithms, audiences, and formats, so you have to carefully develop a content strategy that factors in both function and form.
Another example would be email. Email is a perfect channel in the sense that it’s well-established, and it doesn’t have too many functional aspects that need to be optimized. You can still create a beautiful, image-based email that engages and builds affinity, and if you take that beautiful creative and pair it with live text, HTML5 markup, and optimized images, not only will your delivery rate increase, but so will your open rates and CTOR.
Relevance and resonance are the two most important words in marketing now. Brands must be selective and purposeful with what content they’re creating, for whom, on what channel, and when. If brands don’t consider the context, what is relevant, and what will initiate resonance with multiple audiences, their content strategies are doomed to fail.
Brands consistently overlook something very important when thinking about “their audience”—they need to focus on segments that have been neglected. That could be tapping into a new social media channel; posting hyper-relevant, micro-targeted content on their blog, podcast, audience-specific forum; or something as tried and true as connecting with local businesses to sustain and empower those strong community relationships and values.
Just as important in this era of content saturation is for a brand to express its core values and point of differentiation. At [B]RIGHT, we help our clients figure out what sets them apart from the competition, and we help them find the whitespace within their category and speak directly to the audience that is overlooked. Audiences are dispersing, becoming smaller and more fragmented than ever before, and this creates space for brands to market to these fragmented audiences and speak to them directly.
For almost every brand, the key to meeting high consumer expectations is telling a story rather than pushing products. Pull marketing, not push. Listen first, speak second. Have a dialogue with your consumer, never talk at them.
On a more granular level, choosing the right medium for brand expression is imperative. Something as simple as considering user consumption preferences can be the difference between content that resonates and content that is rejected. It might seem trivial, but nearly 65 percent of a brand’s audience members are visual learners. Brands should keep this in mind as they create and share content, making sure that photographs, videos, and other visual aids are being used to engage with the consumer.
And though it’s important for a brand to tell its story and to express its values, it’s equally important that a brand does so in a relevant and engaging way on channels that allow for sophisticated storytelling.
Which channels does your brand use for delivering content? Are your audiences trying to engage you in meaningful back-and-forths, and you aren’t sure how to respond? How does your brand tell its own story, communicate its own values?