Two weeks ago I had the fantastic opportunity to attend Digital Summit – an all-things-digital marketing conference that takes place in 6 locations across the nation. This month, TechMedia took its largest live media event to Phoenix. And aside from the beautiful weather, the true crux of the trip was the chance to interact with more than 800 leaders and professionals in the digital marketing space.
Over the course of 2 short days, speakers like Arnie Keunn (Vertical Measures), Rob Humphrey and Jason Miller (LinkedIn), Glenn Fishback (eBay), and Leigh Heyman (The White House), examined the latest forces in SEO and content marketing. We learned new and more effective ways to connect with audiences, personalize experiences, and create more intimate engagements that can be trusted to deliver higher conversions and lasting customer relationships.
But for me, there was one unifying takeaway. It’s what we’ve been told time and time again, and what those “listicle” forecasts have shouted year after year:
It’s all about the customer.
Can they reach you? Do they understand you? Do you understand them? Are you answering their questions?
To quote Arnie Kuenn,
“Buyers are searching for information that helps them make an informed decision. Business that provide that information – will win.”
This was the driving message behind every talk I attended. If you’re not meeting your customer where they are – you’re seriously behind. Let’s look at some of the main ways that this applies to you and me.
I shouldn’t have to tell you that content marketing is one of the most influential yet cost effective marketing tactics today. There are handfuls of statistics that back this up. For instance, B2B companies that blog generate 67% more leads per month than those who don’t. Or, the average cost to generate a lead through inbound marketing is about half that of outbound marketing. Content marketing is here to stay. But it’s your approach to and understanding of content marketing that matters.
As I said earlier, customers are searching for answers to questions that will help them make the most informed decision for themselves or their business. It is your job as a business to answer these questions. This is where content comes in – it’s the vehicle that delivers the answers. But how do you know what questions need addressing?
Arnie Kuenn’s answer is simple…Ask.
Ask your sales team, your customer support team. What do you get asked most often? What are our customers’ pain points?
Ask your SEO or digital marketer. What are people searching for? What are they trying to find and how are they going about it?
And heaven forbid you ask your customer! What made you come to us? What could we do better?
Kuenn gave a great example in his Content Marketing Strategies and Implementation workshop about River Pools and Spas, a small swimming pool provider serving residents of Virginia and Maryland. When the economy tanked in 2008, River Pools and Spas faced bankruptcy. But in that moment, CEO Marcus Sheridan decided to swim, not sink. His plan – build a magnetic content marketing strategy. He decided to create a blog post for every question his company had ever been asked, starting with “How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost?” That one blog post was the catalyst that earned River Pools and Spas a 120% increase in organic traffic in the first three months, coupled with an astronomical $1.7 million in sales.
The takeaway here can be summarized in a quote from Sheridan:
“The ultimate content strategy is listening.”
If you understand what your customers want and need, and bridge the gap, you have the potential to become the leader in your space, in search, and in sales.
In SEO, our job is to make our businesses as visible as possible. Whether through search, social, or other content channels, our goal is to meet our customers where they are. Remember the customer questions we worked to answer via content marketing? We want our answers to be as accessible as possible. We want them to see us. So what do we do?
As Upasna Gautam of Razorfish discussed in her talk, The Science of Search, a good place to start is a comprehensive SEO audit to understand what is obstructing traffic to your site. That is, what’s keeping your customers from finding you?
Once you’ve optimized your site performance (security, tagging, load time, etc.) to ensure search engines can find and extract the valuable information you provide, the next step is to optimize based on how people are searching for you. In comes keyword research.
Upasna shared a great formula for keywords and natural language search phrases to help with this: [Brand + Unbranded Keyword Phrase + Location]
With this formula you’ve optimized on three levels; brand authority, search intent, and market locality.
The takeaway here is that even the goal of SEO boils down to the customer. We want to 1) identify and correct what’s keeping them away, and 2) adopt and advertise using nomenclature that is familiar.
Trackur CEO Andy Beal gave a hilarious closing keynote talk aptly titled Reputation Roadkill. After 2 days knee deep in fast-paced digital marketing sessions, Andy properly reminded us that as professionals we have a lot of power to write and publish much of what we want. But that’s where digital marketing gets dangerous. You only have one reputation, and that is your company’s reputation. In fact, 87% of people tie a CEO’s reputation directly to their company’s.
The point is that digital marketing affords us the most intimate relationship with our audiences, next to knowing them personally (big data is trying to crack this). But we must honor this relationship reverently, because that same intimacy can destroy us and our brands if we are careless.Photo credit: Andy Beal, Trackur, DSP ’15
The ultimate takeaway here is – by all means; find your center of influence in your audience. Go where your customers go. But value the intimacy of the relationship and handle it with care. Train team members for consistent voice and values. It only takes one careless moment to taint the relationship you’ve built with your customers. As the saying goes, it’s the hardest to gain trust and so easy to break it.
So those are my golden nuggets from Phoenix. This was the first time Alexa has attended Digital Summit and I can tell you, it won’t be the last. Not only was this a great learning and professionally enriching experience, but it’s also well produced. Cheers to TechMedia for a great event. We will see you again!