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Marketing Content to Gen Z? You Better Play by Their Rules

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Marketing Content to Gen Z? You Better Play by Their Rules

As Generation Z emerges from their older millennial siblings’ shadows, they expect brands to play by their rules.

Appealing to this digitally savvy and empowered audience requires reevaluating your marketing strategy to better connect your company’s content with them.

Gen Z isn’t willing to play by brands’ marketing games; they expect brands to follow their rules, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

To get inside the post-millennial mind, Streamly (owned by CMI parent company Informa) interviewed several youth marketing experts at Content Marketing World. Here’s what they say about what makes Gen Z consumers tick and click and what brands must do to win their attention, trust, and loyalty.

Support of Gen Z’s goals and identities

Even though the tail end of the generation hasn’t yet reached adulthood, they already have tremendous influence in the marketplace. A 2021 report from Bloomberg (subscription required) put their estimated disposable income at $360 million. But, growing up in an era of financial instability, Gen Z tends to be savers, not spenders.

To get them to pay attention to (let alone spend with) your brand, you must prove your worth. That starts by meeting Gen Z’s need to be understood and for their values to be upheld.

Likely the most diverse U.S. population in history, 48% of Gen Z is non-white, according to 2018 data from Pew Research Center, followed by millennials (39%) and Gen X (30%). Furthermore, according to a Gallup poll, 20.8% of Gen Z identifies as LGBT.

Those characteristics may factor into their attitudes around equality and social justice – and why they often spend with brands that share their views. Almost three-fourths (72%) say they’re likelier to purchase from brands that contribute to social causes, according to a WP Engine report on generational influence.

Yet, Women in Revenue’s Deanna Ransom says that isn’t a simple equation: “With young folks that are marginalized, there is an extreme passion and need to be heard accurately,” she says. “They’re more mission-driven [and willing] to put themselves out there across multiple platforms to say, ‘We will not stand for this.’”

Deanna characterizes this attitude as “radical intolerance” for the systemic barriers that impede Gen Z’s goals. To attract this generation, marketers should communicate their alignment with that intolerance and back up those words with action.

To attract Gen Z, brands need to align their message of intolerance and back up those words with action, says @DeeRansom3 via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

“They consciously look for companies who do good in the world, stand for more diversity, and want that inclusion. And they will vote with their dollars to support brands helping shift the narrative,” Deanna says.

A lovely example of an inclusive story comes from the whiskey brand J+B. It delivered a heartwarming holiday video on transgender acceptance to its audience in Spain – with a surprising, multi-generational twist.

The non-spoken spot features an older man as the central character. He borrows, shops for, and tries on cosmetics, clocking the judgmental stares of shopkeepers.

He remains undeterred in his purposeful mission. Ultimately, viewers realize he did it to empower his young grandchild to come out to their family as transgender. (Note: YouTube has an age restriction for the video.)

Though a single video is one small gesture, the effort speaks volumes about the whiskey brand’s vision of acceptance and understanding of Gen Z’s drive to live authentically.


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How to update your content strategy to reflect Gen Z better

Generation Z wields plenty of marketplace power. But to compel them to use it to benefit your brand, you need to tailor your outreach to their engagement preferences and communication style.

Understand and incorporate their perspectives

Before attempting to engage the Gen Z audience with your content, Deanna says to ask, “What do we want to say to them, and what’s important to them?”

Revisit and update your marketing personas to reflect this audience’s interests and preferences accurately. Deanna also recommends bringing in external expertise to expand your content team’s perspectives. “You must be mindful of what you’re putting out and what it looks like to others,” she says.

Communicate empathetically and act intentionally

Gen Z never lived without social media’s existence. Seeing a prevalence of fake news and false claims online trained them to look for conflicts between what brands say and what they do.

“If marketers are signaling a virtuous purpose that doesn’t ring true, young people can pick up on that,” Deanna says. “It shows a lack of empathy. We all know when someone is talking at us versus when someone is talking with us, and those nuances are so important.”

If you don’t want to set off Gen Z’s BS meter, forgo lip-service messages. “They’re not just looking for statements and soundbites. They’re looking for action, and they’re going to keep pushing back until they get it,” Deanna says.

Feed their love of video storytelling

Born between 1997 and 2012, Gen Z cut their teeth on social media and viral videos. They’re used to connecting to their friends via smartphones, and they’re more likely to view their news than read it.

Those visual preferences also apply to their product research and brand engagement activities. For example, a 2020 study found 70% of Gen Z say product videos and photos are particularly helpful when making purchasing decisions (78% of millennials say the same.)

Semrush content director Lenox Powell advises marketers to focus heavily on visual content for young audiences. But, she says, your videos won’t get much traction if you create them for Facebook and Instagram. Gen Z is all about TikTok.

Your videos won’t get much traction if you create them for #Facebook and #Instagram. Gen Z is all about #TikTok, says @LenoxPowell via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Working with this new social platform has been a challenge for even experienced content marketers: “There’s still this big question mark – ‘What the heck do we do on TikTok?’” says Lenox.

To find the answers, Semrush analyzed hundreds of TikTok videos for the most popular hooks. Lenox reveals some of the resulting tips:

  • Keep it snappy. The TikTok audience is conditioned to scroll past videos that don’t immediately grab their attention. Ensure the spoken words hit in the first three seconds and adopt a friendly, informal tone.
  • Bring the party. Use music to foster a fun, engaging vibe within the first three seconds.
  • Invite viewers to the experience. Avoid slick promotional approaches. Instead, create one-on-one conversations where the audience is a welcomed guest. Gen Z isn’t interested in being pitched. They want to go behind the scenes, learn who you are as a company, and feel like they’re part of the creator’s community.
  • Aim for raw and real over polished perfection. “This generation is far more willing to embrace imperfect selfies, and they want to see the raw elements of your brand,” Lenox says. “They want photo captions far more than posed pictures or filters.”

Snappy is the hook for #TikTok videos. @Semrush analysis found using words, music, or both in the first three seconds works, says @LenoxPowell via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Lenox says marketers may struggle most with the last tip. “Brands want to put their best foot forward. They don’t always want to show a ‘warts-and-all’ view,” she says. Still, marketers must push themselves out of that comfort zone to appeal to Gen Z’s demand for authenticity.

Consider visual formats other than video

Marketers also can incorporate other visual content formats into their mix, including motion graphics. “Visuals is an umbrella term. Create visuals, images, and graphics that simplify the complex. The more we can tell and show the story in an impactful way, the more effective it’ll be overall,” Lenox says.

A great example of non-video visual content comes from the apparel brand Mossy Oak. The company regularly publishes nature-centric imagery in blog posts, Gamekeepers Magazine, and associated video podcasts.

Though NFTs are de rigueur for Gen Z audiences, Mossy Oak hit differently by producing a limited-edition tangible stamp collectible depicting wild turkeys in their natural habitat to support turkey conservation.

1678903288 339 Marketing Content to Gen Z You Better Play by Their

Image source

This visual content effort also aligns with Gen Z’s interest in engaging with brands that give back: According to Fast Company, the $15 stamp raised $25,000 in its first 24 hours for Mossy Oak’s Gamekeepers’ Grant program to support wild turkey habitats and population research.

Redefine influencer marketing

Millennials may have launched the career category of online influencers. Still, Generation Z doesn’t always vibe with its legacy of pay-for-play product endorsements from celebrities and internet-famous pitch people.

Research shows that 37% of consumers trust influencers over brands, with Gen Z and Millennials being twice as likely to do this compared with their Boomer counterparts. Further, 32% of Gen Z rely on social media influencers to help them discover brands and products.

Yet, Gen Z is even more likely to identify with (and be influenced by) people they can personally relate to. That includes fellow content creators and everyday consumers who speak about brands from an organic, authentic perspective and actively build communities around their interests.

“The days of sponsored content as the execution of influencer marketing are dead, says Jason Falls, executive vice president of marketing at CIPIO.ai. “More sophisticated influencers and content creators realized that real brand value comes from longer term relationships.”

The days of sponsored #content as the execution of #InfluencerMarketing are dead, says @JasonFalls via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

To build those relationships, marketers need to reframe their vision of influencer marketing. “We need to put content through [influencers] who can persuade the audience to take action,” Jason explains in his presentation at Content Marketing World.

To do that, Jason recommends working with savvy, forward-thinking creators who keep the audience’s best interests top of mind and recognize the need to consider the brand’s goals.

He points to three red flags for creators considering your potential engagements:

  • Prioritize the financial over the value exchange: If the first thing an influencer asks is, “What’s your budget,” look elsewhere. It shows they’re not mature or experienced enough to understand the process and how to deliver value for your business.
  • Show disinterest in your offerings: Candidates should ask for access to your services or samples of your products. If they don’t, it could be a sign they’re more concerned with growing their own audience than creating an authentic and believable endorsement.
  • Fail to ask about your goals: To create content that meets your brand’s expectations, they need to be fully informed on what you want to achieve through the partnership.

To get the best response from the Gen Z audience, Jason says, influencers should be willing to custom-build the content and adeptly present their messages in informative, engaging, and entertaining ways.

For example, Nissan USA frequently casts celebrities and other youth-friendly spokespeople for its pre-scripted ads on TikTok. But for this custom-created video, the brand partnered with comedy and culture influencer DreaKnowsBest who showcased her personality when demonstrating how she packs multiple suitcases for a weekend trip in her Nissan Rogue. The effort received over 24,000 “likes” on the platform and Drea engaged with many of the comments posted.

@dreaknowsbest Who’s guilty of this? 🙋🏾‍♀️😅 Cause y’all know how IMPORTANT options are on a trip! And it fits my Rogue trunk with room to spare so…. 🤷🏾‍♀️ #NissanPartner @Nissan USA ♬ original sound – Drea Knowsbest

Be real, do better, and get to work

Generation Z isn’t afraid to show who they are or advocate for the changes they want to see. But to get their attention, you’ll have to earn it on their terms. Follow these rules of engagement to deliver the authentic, resonant, and valuable brand experiences they’re looking for.

To hear more insights from Deanna, Lenox, and Jason on creating an authentic connection with Gen Z consumers, check out this highlights reel from CMI’s colleagues at Streamly:

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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How to Use Email Marketing Automation to Encourage SaaS Adoption

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How to Use Email Marketing Automation to Encourage SaaS Adoption

SaaS adoption refers to the process that earns your product a permanent place in your user’s workflow. This happens when you empower your audience to extract useful value from your solutions.

Email, a tried and tested communication tool, plays an essential role in helping brands relay their product’s value to their customers and educate them on how to make the most of it.

However, smaller teams might find themselves at a crossroads, balancing the need for personalized communication with the scale of their user base

Email marketing automation offers a practical solution by ensuring that each message is tailored and timely, yet sent out with minimal manual effort.

In this article, let’s look at five tips that will help you build robust email marketing automation that will motivate your audience to adopt your tool and make it a part of their daily lives.

1. Segment your audience

Audience segmentation is crucial for personalizing your emails, which in turn, can significantly boost SaaS product adoption. Remember, a message that resonates with one segment might not strike a chord with another.

The key to effective segmentation is understanding where each customer is in their journey. Are they new subscribers, active users, or perhaps at the brink of churning?

Here are some actionable steps to segment your audience effectively:

  1.  Analyze User Behavior: Look at how different users interact with your SaaS product. Are they frequent users, or do they log in sporadically? This insight can help you create segments like ‘active users’, ‘occasional users’, and ‘at-risk users’.
  2.  Utilize Sign-up Data: Leverage the information gathered during the sign-up process. This can include job roles, company size, or industry, which are excellent parameters for segmentation.
  3.  Monitor Engagement Levels: Keep an eye on how different segments interact with your emails. Are they opening, clicking, or ignoring your messages? This feedback will help you refine your segments and tailor your approach. Plus, consider setting up small business phone systems to enhance communication with your audience.

2. Create campaigns based on behavior

Sending behavior-based campaigns is pivotal in effective email marketing. By focusing on performance metrics such as open rates, click-through rates, and engagement times, you can gauge the effectiveness of your emails and adjust your strategy accordingly.

You can also use digital signage to entertain or make customers aware of something new – product or service, through a digital sign.

Different types of email campaigns serve various purposes:

  1. Educational Campaigns: These are designed to inform and enlighten your audience about their problem. They can include tips, best practices, and how-to guides. The goal here is to provide value and establish your brand as a thought leader in your industry.
  2. Interactive Campaigns: These campaigns encourage user engagement through surveys, quizzes, microblogging platforms, or feedback forms. They not only provide valuable insights into user preferences but also make the recipients feel heard and valued.
  3. Onboarding Campaigns: Targeted toward new users, these messages help them get the value they seek from your product as soon as possible. They can include step-by-step tutorials, video guides, or links to helpful resources.

4.Re-engagement Campaigns: Aimed at inactive users, these emails strive to reignite their interest in your SaaS product. They might include product updates, special offers, or reminders of the benefits they’re missing out on.

3. A/B test before deployment

Rather than pushing a new campaign to your entire audience as soon as you draft the emails, A/B testing helps you know whether your messages are any good.

Here are some best practices for A/B testing in email automation:

  1. Test One Variable at a Time: Whether it’s the subject line, email content, or call-to-action, change just one (or a couple) element per test. This clarity helps in pinpointing exactly what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Choose a Representative Sample: Ensure that the test group is a good mix of your target audience as a whole. This way, the results are more likely to reflect how your entire audience would react.
  3. Measure the Right Metrics: Depending on what you’re testing, focus on relevant metrics like open rates, click-through rates, or conversion rates. This will give you a clear picture of the impact of your changes. Along with these steps, it’s important to use an SPF checker to ensure your emails aren’t marked as spam and increase the deliverability rate.
  4. Use the Results to Inform Your Strategy: Once you have the results, don’t just stop at implementing the winning version. Analyze why it performed better and use these insights to inform your future campaigns.
  5. Don’t Rush the Process: Give your test enough time to gather significant data. Adopt comprehensive marketing reporting solutions that give you a clear picture of your campaigns’ efficacy.

4. Leverage email templates

When managing multiple email automation campaigns, each with potentially dozens of emails, the task of creating each one from scratch can be daunting. Not to mention, if you have multiple writers on board, there’s a risk of inconsistency in tone, style, and branding.

Email templates are your secret weapon for maintaining consistency and saving time. They provide a standardized framework that can be easily customized for different campaigns and purposes.

They are also a great way to communicate with your customers. Another way to communicate efficiently with your customer is through best small business phone systems, which is especially efficient when conveying information about your product or service.

Here’s a rundown of various types of templates you should consider having:

  1. Welcome: For greeting new subscribers or users. It should be warm, inviting, and informative, setting the tone for future communications.
  2. Educational Content: Used for sharing tips, guides, and resources. If you are making this template to introduce online GCSE physics tutor services that you provide, you should be clear, concise, and focused on delivering value in your template.
  3. Promotional: For announcing new features, offers, or services. It should be eye-catching and persuasive without being overly salesy.
  4. Feedback Request: Designed to solicit user feedback. This template should be engaging and make it easy for recipients to respond.
  5. Re-engagement: Aimed at rekindling interest among inactive users. It should be attention-grabbing and remind them of what they’re missing.
  6. Event Invitation: For webinars, workshops, or other events. This should be exciting and informative, providing all the necessary details.

5. Use a tool that works for you

Email is more than just a marketing platform; it’s a multifaceted tool that can drive customer engagement, support, and retention. Given its versatility, it’s crucial to choose the right email automation tool that aligns with your specific needs.

When selecting an email automation tool, consider these key features:

  1. Intuitive Interface: Even your non-technical team members should find it easy to use.
  2. Robust Segmentation Capabilities: The tool must offer advanced segmentation options to target your emails accurately.
  3. A/B Testing Functionality: Essential for optimizing your email campaigns.
  4. Integration with Other Tools: Look for a tool that integrates seamlessly with your CRM, analytics, and other marketing platforms. Additionally, integrating a multilingual translation support can further enhance the tool’s versatility, allowing you to reach a diverse audience with tailored content in their preferred languages.

Popular tools like Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign offer free trials which are great for brands to take these for a spin before making a choice.

Wrapping up

Leveraging email automation makes it easier for SaaS brands to market their solutions to their audience and ultimately increase adoption rates.

Segmenting audiences, creating messages based on their behavior, testing emails before setting campaigns live, utilizing templates for speed and consistency, and adopting a tool that you are comfortable working with are essential email marketing automation tips to help you get started on the right foot.

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

How long has it been since your marketing team got restructured? 

Wearing our magic mind-reading hat, we’d guess it was within the last two years. 

Impressed by the guess? Don’t be.  

Research from Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds that almost half of marketing teams restructured in the last 12 months. (And the other half probably did it the previous year.) 

Why do marketing teams restructure so often? Is this a new thing? Is it just something that comes with marketing? What does it all mean for now and the future? 

CMI chief strategy advisor Robert Rose offers his take in this video and the summary below. 

Marketing means frequent change 

Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds 46.5% of marketing teams restructured in the last year — a 5-percentage point increase over 2023 when 41.4% of teams changed their structure. 

But that’s markedly less than the 56.5% of marketing teams that restructured in 2022, which most likely reflected the impact of remote work, the fallout of the pandemic, and other digital marketing trends. 

Maybe the real story isn’t, “Holy smokes, 46% of businesses restructured their marketing last year.” The real story may be, “Holy smokes, only 46% of businesses restructured their marketing.” 

Put simply, marketing teams are now in the business of changing frequently. 

It raises two questions.  

First, why does marketing experience this change? You don’t see this happening in other parts of the business. Accounting teams rarely get restructured (usually only if something dramatic happens in the organization). The same goes for legal or operations. Does marketing change too frequently? Or do other functions in business not change enough? 

Second, you may ask, “Wait a minute, we haven’t reorganized our marketing teams in some time. Are we behind? Are we missing out? What are they organizing into? Or you may fall at the other end of the spectrum and ask, “Are we changing too fast? Do companies that don’t change so often do better? 

OK, that’s more than one question, but the second question boils down to this: Should you restructure your marketing organization? 

Reorganizing marketing 

Centralization emerged as the theme coming out of the pandemic. Gartner reports (registration required) a distinct move to a fully centralized model for marketing over the last few years: “(R)esponsibilities across the marketing organization have shifted. Marketing’s sole responsibilities for marketing operations, marketing strategy, and marketing-led innovation have increased.”  

According to a Gartner study, marketing assuming sole responsibility for marketing operations, marketing innovation, brand management, and digital rose by double-digit percentage points in 2022 compared to the previous year.  

What does all that mean for today in plainer language? 

Because teams are siloed, it’s increasingly tougher to create a collaborative environment. And marketing and content creation processes are complex (there are lots of people doing more small parts to creative, content, channel management, and measurement). So it’s a lot harder these days to get stuff done if you’re not working as one big, joined-up team. 

Honestly, it comes down to this question: How do you better communicate and coordinate your content? That’s innovation in modern marketing — an idea and content factory operating in a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative way. 

Let me give you an example. All 25 companies we worked with last year experienced restructuring fatigue. They were not eager creative, operations, analytics, media, and digital tech teams champing at the bit for more new roles, responsibilities, and operational changes. They were still trying to settle into the last restructuring.  

What worked was fine-tuning a mostly centralized model into a fully centralized operational model. It wasn’t a full restructuring, just a nudge to keep going. 

In most of those situations, the Gartner data rang true. Marketing has shifted to get a tighter and closer set of disparate teams working together to collaborate, produce, and measure more efficiently and effectively.  

As Gartner said in true Gartner-speak fashion: “Marginal losses of sole responsibility (in favor of shared and collaborative) were also reported across capabilities essential for digitally oriented growth, including digital media, digital commerce, and CX.” 

Companies gave up the idea of marketing owning one part of the customer experience, content type, or channel. Instead, they moved into more collaborative sharing of the customer experience, content type, or channel.  

Rethinking the marketing reorg 

This evolution can be productive. 

Almost 10 years ago, Carla Johnson and I wrote about this in our book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. We talked about the idea of building to change: 

“Tomorrow’s marketing and communications teams succeed by learning to adapt — and by deploying systems of engagement that facilitate adaptation. By constantly building to change, the marketing department builds to succeed.” 

We surmised the marketing team of the future wouldn’t be asking what it was changing into but why it was changing. Marketing today is at the tipping point of that. 

The fact that half of all marketing teams restructure and change every two years might not be a reaction to shifting markets. It may just be how you should think of marketingas something fluid that you build and change into whatever it needs to be tomorrow, not something you must tear down and restructure every few years.  

The strength in that view comes not in knowing you need to change or what you will change into. The strength comes from the ability and capacity to do whatever marketing should. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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