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Your Audience Isn’t Really Interested in ‘Just the Facts’ Anymore [Rose-Colored Glasses]

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Your Audience Isn't Really Interested in 'Just the Facts' Anymore [Rose-Colored Glasses]


Last week, I spoke to a client in the health care industry whose team wanted to develop a new digital content customer experience. But they felt frustrated.

Five years ago, with help from a couple of ad agency consultants, they’d come up with the idea to launch a digital platform to provide easy access to facts. All they needed, they thought, was to set up a digital library that could answer every question existing clients might have.

They would “let the facts speak for themselves” and win the customer retention battle.

<Narrator>: “It didn’t work.”

You see, facts almost never speak for themselves (they’re bashful that way). And they almost never win an argument.

Think about the last time you presented a set of facts you thought would clinch your argument. Boom. You dropped the mic and the knowledge bombs. You won, right?

Nope. Presenting facts does nothing to correct a false belief, and it usually causes your opponents to double down on their beliefs.

A group of researchers actually have studied this so-called “backfire effect” and found that correcting someone “actually increases [emphasis mine] misperceptions among the group in question.”

The backfire effect indicates correcting someone actually increases misperceptions among the group in question, according to #research from @UMich and @GeorgiaStateU via @Robert_Rose @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In a big data, deep fake world, we have more “facts” than ever before. The question is: Does anyone care what we have to say?

A few years ago, researchers at Wharton showed people various algorithms. Most people in the study found them interesting and valuable – until an algorithm made a mistake. Once people saw the mistake occur, they were “very, very unlikely to use it and didn’t like it anymore.” Study participants seemed to judge algorithms more harshly than they would people, one researcher noted.

But, if these people had input into the algorithm or were allowed to adjust the forecasts, they not only liked the algorithms more, they didn’t lose nearly as much confidence when an error occurred.

These findings bode well for preserving the role of human involvement in an increasingly automated world. But it also speaks volumes in terms of how delicate belief and trust are.

So, the content question in 2022 isn’t about how to present “just the facts.” The question is how to make people care about any of the facts. And this isn’t just a marketing question. It’s a fundamental communication question.

Increasingly, facts are a commodity. They’re easy to attain, so we don’t value them. And because we don’t value them, they can be assailed with … well … “alternative facts.”

Facts are easy to attain, so readers don’t value them, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

As I told my health care client, companies have to give people something to believe in (to quote the classic Poison song). You have to give audiences something more than facts to care about.

If you don’t, you risk creating some version of this scene from the TV show The Simpsons: Lisa feels sad because one of her favorite teachers left. Her father, Homer, doesn’t get why. “I knew you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “Hey,” says Homer, “just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”

Ultimately, with every piece of content, ask this: “Do we want people to care?”

If not, there’s no problem going with the cold corporate template and “let the facts speak for themselves.” If you do want people to care, you better give people more than content they can believe. You better give them content they can believe in – even if it means putting in more effort.

Creating belief is about understanding intent

So, how do you start creating content that goes beyond simple fact-based research, data, and information?

Go back to that argument you had on social media or with the colleague or boss who never seems to “get it.” Think about those customers you’re trying to convince to purchase from you or advocate for you.

You’re never going to win those battles with facts – you must understand why they are arguing, searching, or deciding. You must understand their intent.

To understand intent, you must first create mechanisms – content-driven experiences – that enable your brand to listen more effectively to the signals generated across their interactions.

Create #content-driven experiences to understand audience intent and listen to signals generated by the interactions, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

As one might expect, this requires more effective use of data than is likely available for most businesses. A thorough content strategy is needed to provide data to help the business understand each piece of content’s type and purpose and how they apply contextually to each step of the customer’s journey.

What does that content strategy look like?

In my research and consulting practice, I’ve seen marketing organizations create a self-enablement process to create this level of capability. It typically involves a three-step process:

1. Arrange the data house

Create a dictionary or interpretation for understanding intent. Put simply, you need to discern the most appropriate response to the customer’s interaction with your content.

This is where a metadata structure and content tagging system to track behavioral context (or intent) come in. For example, a white paper called Discover How Digital Marketing Is a Good Thing for Your Business might be tagged with a “beginner” or “learning” intent. Someone who consumes this white paper would NOT be considered a lead but will be nurtured as an engaged audience.

2. Develop best next capability

Once you have an intent signal, you need to understand what’s the “best next” thing to make that customer understand and care about the answer.

Businesses need to create content-driven experiences to deliver a “best next” experience to content consumers. For example, that targeted messaging to the beginner or learning audience member should prompt them to want to read a how-to-change piece.

That’s overly simplistic, of course, but you can see how levels of nuance may need to be captured with more than just answers to a question. Through additional content consumption, a poll, or a survey, you can glean if this beginner is feeling confident or fearful about change. As you learn more about the nuanced aspects of the customer’s journey, you can automatically deliver the best next experience for that customer.

Similarly, it’s not all about technology and dynamic content. There’s a human element to this, too. You can share this information with others who can deliver additional experiences that fall outside the digital content realm. For example, you could share insights about the beginner prospect’s behavior with sales. Once sales understands what the prospect needs, their role can evolve from a persuader to a consultant helping the prospect understand the best way to move to the next step.

3. Connect the experiences

This step enables the most insight. Once you map your content to understand what you need to deliver based on intent, you must develop the capability to aggregate this data and serve up the content (and the intent) contextually across the different experiences. You need to find a way to connect the experiences into a singular view of the audience’s progression through their journey.

For example, if the beginner persona ultimately purchases your services, you might want to connect their profile to the onboarding or training module of a 101-level set of training classes. The insight gleaned from a more statistically relevant data set improves these activities or even makes them possible in the first place.

This third step may be the most difficult part of the process because it often means integrating multiple technologies to create a single view of the customer.

But you can start small. Even if you can just connect the intent upper/beginning part of the journey (awareness) to the mid part of the journey (sales), you are starting to get much better.

It’s the content, not the data, that makes people care

Data gives you the opportunity to make people care about what you have to say. To get beyond just “answers,” you must create compelling content that integrates those answers (facts, figures, data, information) into compelling experiences that appeal to the audience’s feelings.

One widespread marketing fallacy is that buyers want factual answers about the products and services they’re considering.

It’s not true. More often than not, the brand that supplies the least information, facts, data, etc., about a product and provides the most inspiration, belief, and emotional connection will be the chosen one.

You need to convince customers they are buying into a brand they can believe in. To do that, you need to give them an experience they believe in, too.

Want to learn how to balance, manage, and scale great content experiences across all your essential platforms and channels? Join us at ContentTECH Summit this March in San Diego. Browse the schedule or register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute





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MARKETING

5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

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5 Simple Things You Can Do To Improve the Content Experience for Readers

Who doesn’t like to have a good experience consuming content?

I know I do. And isn’t that what we – as both a consumer of content and a marketer of content – all want?

What if you create such a good experience that your audience doesn’t even realize it’s an “experience?” Here’s a helpful mish-mash of easy-to-do things to make that possible.

1. Write with an inclusive heart

There’s nothing worse than being in a conversation with someone who constantly talks about themselves. Check your text to see how often you write the words – I, me, we, and us. Now, count how often the word “you” is used. If the first-person uses are disproportionate to the second-person uses, edit to delete many first-person references and add more “you” to the text.

You want to let your audience know they are included in the conversation. I like this tip shared in Take Binary Bias Out of Your Content Conversations by Content Marketing World speaker Ruth Carter: Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns.

Go through your text and replace exclusionary terms such as he/him and she/her with they/them pronouns, says @rbcarter via @Brandlovellc @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

2. Make your content shine brighter with an AI assist

Content published online should look different than the research papers and essays you wrote in school. While you should adhere to grammar rules and follow a style guide as best as possible, you also should prioritize readability. That requires scannable and easily digestible text – headings, bulleted text, short sentences, brief paragraphs, etc.

Use a text-polishing aid such as Hemingway Editor (free and paid versions) to cut the dead weight from your writing. Here’s how its color-coded review system works and the improvements to make:

  • Yellow – lengthy, complex sentences, and common errors
    • Fix: Shorten or split sentences.
  • Red – dense and complicated text
    • Fix: Remove hurdles and keep your readers on a simpler path.
  • Pink – lengthy words that could be shortened
    • Fix: Scroll the mouse over the problematic word to identify potential substitutes.
  • Blue – adverbs and weakening phrases
    • Fix: Delete them or find a better way to convey the thought.
  • Green – passive voice
    • Fix: Rewrite for active voice.

Grammarly’s paid version works well, too. The premium version includes an AI-powered writing assistant, readability reports, a plagiarism checker, citation suggestions, and more than 400 additional grammar checks.

In the image below, Grammarly suggests a way to rephrase the sentence from:

“It is not good enough any longer to simply produce content “like a media company would”.

To:

“It is no longer good enough to produce content “as a media company would”.

Much cleaner, right?

3. Ask questions

See what I did with the intro (and here)? I posed questions to try to engage with you. When someone asks a question – even in writing – the person hearing (or reading) it is likely to pause for a split second to consider their answer. The reader’s role changes from a passive participant to an active one. Using this technique also can encourage your readers to interact with the author, maybe in the form of an answer in the comments.

4. Include links

Many content marketers include internal and external links in their text for their SEO value. But you also should add links to help your readers. Consider including links to help a reader who wants to learn more about the topic. You can do this in a couple of ways:

  • You can link the descriptive text in the article to content relevant to those words (as I did in this bullet point)
  • You can list the headlines of related articles as a standalone feature (see the gray box labeled Handpicked Related Content at the end of this article).

Add links to guide readers to more information on a topic – not just for SEO purposes says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. #WritingTips Click To Tweet

You also can include on-page links or bookmarks in the beginning (a table of contents, of sorts) in longer pieces to help the reader more quickly access the content they seek to help you learn more about a topic. This helps the reader and keeps visitors on your website longer.

5. Don’t forget the ‘invisible’ text

Alt text is often an afterthought – if you think about it all. Yet, it’s essential to have a great content experience for people who use text-to-speech readers. Though it doesn’t take too much time, I find that customizing the image description content instead of relying on the default technology works better for audience understanding.

First, ask if a listener would miss something if they didn’t have the image explained. If they wouldn’t, the image is decorative and probably doesn’t need alt text. You publish it for aesthetic reasons, such as to break up a text-heavy page. Or it may repeat information already appearing in the text (like I did in the Hemingway and Grammarly examples above).

If the listener would miss out if the image weren’t explained well, it is informative and requires alt text. General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text. That’s a short sentence or two to convey the image’s message. Don’t forget to include punctuation.

General guidelines indicate up to 125 characters (including spaces) work best for alt text, says @Brandlovellc via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

For both decorative and informative images, include the photo credits, permissions, and copyright information, in the caption section.

For example, if I were writing an article about Best Dogs for Families, I would include an image of a mini Bernedoodle as an example because they make great family pets. Let’s use this image of my adorable puppy, Henri, and I’ll show you both a good and bad example of alt text.

An almost useless alt-text version: “An image showing a dog.”

Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.

It wastes valuable characters with the phrase “an image showing.”

Use the available characters for a more descriptive alt text: “Author’s tri-colored (brown, white, black, grey wavy hair), merle mini Bernedoodle, Henri, lying on green grass.”

It’s more descriptive, and I only used 112 characters, including spaces.

Want to learn more? Alexa Heinrich, an award-winning social media strategist, has a helpful article on writing effective image descriptions called The Art of Alt Text. @A11yAwareness on Twitter is also a great resource for accessibility tips.

Improve your content and better the experience

Do any of these suggestions feel too hard to execute? I hope not. They don’t need a bigger budget to execute. They don’t need a lengthy approval process to implement. And they don’t demand much more time in production.

They just need you to remember to execute them the next time you write (and the time after that, and the time after that, and the … well, you get the idea.)

If you have an easy-to-implement tip to improve the content experience, please leave it in the comments. I may include it in a future update.

All tools mentioned in the article are identified by the author. If you have a tool to suggest, please feel free to add it in the comments.

If you have an idea for an original article you’d like to share with the CMI audience, you could get it published on the site. First, read our blogging guidelines and write or adjust your draft accordingly. Then submit the post for consideration following the process outlined in the guidelines.

In appreciation for guest contributors’ work, we’re offering free registration to one paid event or free enrollment in Content Marketing University to anyone who gets two new posts accepted and published on the CMI site in 2023.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

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The Ultimate Guide to Product Marketing in 2023

Product marketing is essential, even if you only sell one or two products at your organization.

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MARKETING

3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

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3 email marketing shifts to make in 2023

Whew! We made it to 2023! As we closed in on the end of the year in December, the finish line seemed awfully far away. Many marketers told me they were busier than ever. 

I myself was fielding calls for strategy help, working on business deals and managing the chaos all the way to the eve of Christmas Eve, something that rarely happens in my 20-plus-year career. 

Look back and celebrate, then move on

The first business for 2023 will be to step back, clear your head and take stock of all the great things you accomplished in 2022 despite the odds (i.e., coming out of COVID, going into a rebound and COVID round 2, moving into supply-chain shortages and other hiccups, facing down a potential recession) and how they affected the work you did to succeed.

And now it’s 2023. I hope you got your budget request approved and you’re ready to move ahead with a clean slate and new KPIs to hit. You’re probably wondering, “What can I do now to grow my program?

3 directional changes to grow your email program

Naturally, every marketer’s goals will be unique. We have different audiences, challenges, resources and goals. But I’m focusing on three major directional changes with my clients this year. Which of these could help you succeed this year?

1. Stop sending so many emails

Yeah, I know. That sounds strange coming from somebody who believes wholeheartedly in email and its power to build your business. But even I have my limits!

Email during this last holiday shopping season was insane. In my 20+ years in the email industry, I cannot remember a time, even during the lockdown days of COVID-19, when my inbox was so full. 

I’m not the only one who noticed. Your customers also perceived that their inboxes were getting blasted to the North Pole. And they complained about it, as the Washington Post reported (“Retailers fire off more emails than ever trying to get you to shop“).

I didn’t run any numbers to measure volume, isolate cadences or track frequency curves. But every time I turned around, I saw emails pouring into my inbox. 

My advice for everyone on frequency: If you throttled up during the holiday, now it’s time to throttle back.

This should be a regularly scheduled move. But it’s important to make sure your executives understand that higher email frequency, volume and cadence aren’t the new email norm. 

If you commit to this heavier schedule, you’ll drive yourself crazy and push your audience away, to other brands or social media.

If you did increase cadence, what did it do for you? You might have hit your numbers, but consider the long-term costs: 

  • More unsubscribes.
  • More spam complaints.
  • Deliverability problems.
  • Lower revenue per email. 

Take what you learned from your holiday cadence as an opportunity to discover whether it’s a workable strategy or only as a “break glass in case of emergency” move.

My advice? Slow down. Return to your regular volume, frequency and cadence. Think of your customers and their reactions to being inundated with emails over 60 days.

2. Stop spamming

In that Washington Post article I mentioned earlier, I was encouraged that it cited one of my email gripes — visiting websites and then getting emails without granting permission first. 

I could have given the Post a salty quote about my experiences with SafeOpt and predatory email experiences (“Business stress is no excuse to spam“) for visitors to its clients’ websites. 

Successful email marketers believe in the sanctity of permission. That permission-based practice is what you want to be involved in. Buying a list means you don’t hire a company to sell you one, whether it’s a data broker or a tech provider like SafeOpt. 

Spamming people doesn’t work in the long term. Sure, I’ve heard stories from people who say they use purchased lists or companies like SafeOpt and it makes them money. But that’s a singular view of the impact. 

Email is the only marketing channel where you can do it wrong but still make money. But does that make it right? 

The problem with the “it made us money” argument is that there’s nowhere to go after that. Are you measuring how many customers you lost because you spammed them or the hits your sender reputation took? 

You might hit a short-term goal but lose the long-term battle. When you become known as an unreliable sender, you risk losing access to your customers’ inboxes.

Aside from the permission violation, emailing visitors after they leave your site is a wasted effort for three reasons:

  • A visit is not the same as intent. You don’t know why they landed on your site. Maybe they typed your URL as a mistake or discovered immediately that your brand wasn’t what they wanted. Chasing them with emails won’t bring them back.
  • You aren’t measuring interest. Did they visit multiple pages or check out your “About” or FAQ pages? As with intent, just landing on a page doesn’t signal interest.
  • They didn’t give you their email address. If they had interest or intent, they would want to connect with your brand. No email address, no permission.

Good email practice holds that email performs best when it’s permission-based. Most ESPs and ISPs operate on that principle, as do many email laws and regulations.

But even in the U.S., where opt-out email is still legal, that doesn’t mean you should send an email without permission just because somebody landed on your website.

3. Do one new thing

Many email marketers will start the year with a list of 15 things they want to do over the next two months. I try to temper those exuberant visions by focusing on achievable goals with this question: 

“What one thing could you do this year that could make a great difference in your email program’s success?”

When I started a job as head of strategy for Acxiom, I wanted to come up with a long list of goals to impress my new boss. I showed it to my mentor, the great David Baker and he said, “Can you guarantee that you can do all of these things and not just do them but hit them out of the park?”

Hmmmm…

“That’s why you don’t put down that many goals,” he said. “Go in with just one. When that one is done, come up with the next one. Then do another. If you propose five projects, your boss will assume you will do five projects. If you don’t, it just means you didn’t get it done.”

That was some of the best advice I’ve ever received and I pass it on to you. 

Come up with one goal, project or change that will drive your program forward. Take it to your boss and say, “Here’s what I’m going to do this year.”

To find that one project, look at your martech and then review MarTech’s six most popular articles from 2022 for expert advice.

You’ll find plenty of ideas and tips to help you nail down your one big idea to drive growth and bring success. But be realistic. You don’t know what events could affect your operations. 

Drive your email program forward in 2023

The new year has barely begun, but I had a little trouble getting motivated to take on what’s shaping up to be a beast of a year. You, too?

I enjoyed my time off over the holidays. Got in some golf with my dad and his buddies, ate great food and took time to step back and appreciate the phenomenal people I work with and our amazing industry. 

What gets me going at last? Reaching out to my team, friends and you. Much of my motivation comes from fellow marketers — what you need, what you worry about and what I can do to help you succeed. 

If you’re on the struggle bus with me, borrow some motivation from your coworkers and teammates, so we can gather together 12 months from now and toast each other for making it through another year. 

It’s time to strap on your marketer helmet and hit the starter. Here’s to another great year together. Let’s get the job done!


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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About the author

Ryan Phelan

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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