Posts Tagged "Strategy"


7 Questions for your 2016 Marketing Plan

Most marketers are well into planning their 2016 budgets–an arduous process that runs the gauntlet of budget approvals. And even though it’s invariably about the numbers, at some point you know someone will be asking you, “What did you accomplish?”

With that in mind, here are a few questions to ask yourself about your 2016 marketing plan to ensure you have a great story to tell this time next year.

1. Does Your Plan Reflect The Way Your Target Audience Engages With Media?
You would be surprised by how many marketing plans still start with traditional media and then add digital. That doesn’t mirror the importance of digital media to your consumers, which is why it’s time for a digital-first plan. That doesn’t mean you cut out traditional marketing–it just means you start with digital at the center of your plan. Consumers form their buying decisions through digital influences so much that to approach consumers in any other way is foolhardy.

2. Have You Done Your Strategic Homework?
The path to purchase is now so complex that you have to map it as the Consumer Decision Journey. This is a channel-agnostic process, which maps the journey for each of your target audience segments so you can see where the critical interaction points are. When combined with other audience research and competitive analysis, you get an accurate picture of when and where it’s most effective to influence your prospects.

3. Do You Have A Content Plan?
How you communicate with prospects when they are exploring your category is different than when they are evaluating options. So whether it’s the copy in an ad or a video on your Web site, you have to know exactly what to say to each audience segment, at every stage in the journey. The only way to know for sure is by doing the work of a content strategy, which acts as the messaging guide for all of your communications.

4. Does Your Plan Prioritize Owned, Earned, And Paid Media Intelligently?
The good news is many opportunities for exposure exist today that do not require you to buy media. This exposure saves you money, but has more influence on consumers than paid advertising. Therefore, your plan should start with owned and earned media before jumping to paid media. If your agency suggests otherwise, then it’s probably making money by spending yours.

5. Do You Have An Integrated Measurement Plan?
Marketers have correctly come to expect detailed metrics and analytics for everything they do. This not only allows you to optimize as you go, but also to measure your performance against goals and plan ahead. In order to really get the value of all this data, you need to plan with clear goals and KPIs, an integrated view of data from all media (both digital and traditional), and a really good analyst to tell you what it all means.

6. Is Your Digital Infrastructure In Place?
The basic idea of an integrated marketing plan is to tie together your marketing touch points into one unified system across all forms of media. This requires some basic pieces of digital infrastructure, which you can’t do without.

This includes probably the most important piece: a mobile-friendly Web site. According to Nielsen, consumers trust brand Web sites more than any other marketing, so your Web site has to be designed for mobile devices.

But technology is not enough.

The Web site is where you must cultivate that trust and convert general interest into sales. This requires state-of-the-art strategy and user experience design. Remember, it’s up to your site to convert interest into action, so make sure yours is best-in-class. Other areas that are often part of digital marketing infrastructure are your social presence across social touch points, search engine optimization (SEO), and search engine marketing (SEM), email, ratings and reviews, mobile Web sites or apps, and marketing automation.

7. Is Content A Priority?
Perhaps the biggest problem with most plans is a lack of focus on content. The word “content,” of course, is a catch-all that includes everything from banner ads and TV spots to videos and interactive tools. All of your planning, media, and infrastructure are there to deliver content. That’s because content is the part of the equation that influences the consumer.

Brands that commit to creating an ongoing stream of high quality, original, compelling content in all forms win hearts and minds. Brands that don’t, regardless of the rest of their marketing investment, cannot win.

Of course if you’re only now getting around to asking these questions, it’s getting late. But go for it anyway, because it’s never too late to start adapting to the realities of the new consumer.



Twitter: Now With Ocean-Breeze Long Form!

Twitter's Long Form Announcement

According to Recode Twitter is releasing a new product that will allow users and brands to publish content that exceed the current 140 character limit of the native Twitter timeline.

Most of the Internet including yours truly originally took this news to mean the Twitter timeline we love would become a bloated mess. And from a user perspective we expected this feature would drive us away. The current Twitter timeline isn’t built or designed for long form. It would take forever to scroll through someone’s late-night alcohol-fueled post-breakup novella. Let alone a verbose poorly written brand statement about their most recent social media gaff.

But this is not the case according to that article. This will be a new product possibly akin to the recently released Moments. We are betting this new feature, like Moments, will be accessible via Twitter’s mobile apps and desktop.

But long form on Twitter is exciting to think about from a marketing point of view. When your strategic research is founded in proven best practices, long form Twitter could be a marketer’s and brand’s dream come true. We will have a new and exciting way to reach users, fans, and followers that is less limiting; allowing us to craft more engaging stories and inspire deeper consumer actions.

You might be asking, “But why is Twitter doing this?”

The 1985 Global System for Mobile Communication set the character limits on text messages at 160 characters. When Twitter launched in 2006, they set the limit at 140 leaving 20 characters for the username. This allowed the tweet to be delivered in one complete text message rather than multiple messages.

But the mobile technology we use every day has evolved far past those early days and Twitter needs to grow to help people (and advertisers) tell their story and share more information. For example, Twitter made a play on native texting earlier this year when they removed the character limitations in Direct Messages.

At the end of the day Twitter is a publically traded company with shareholders to please. Twitter has a highly vested interest in making its platforms and products are more engaging to stimulate its lagging growth and increase use to turn a profit for their investors.

So here is the 140 million dollar question. Will long form Twitter increase engagement and the user base? Probably. At least when the feature is first launched. But we have to also remember that other social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn have had the long form corner of the social web locked up for a long time.

Need help with your social strategy? Let us know how IQ can help you!

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IQ CEO Tony Quin interviewed in Cannes

  • 09.29.15

IQ CEO Tony Quin interviewed in Cannes

Recently IQ CEO Tony Quin made a pilgrimage to the Cannes Lions festival, representing both the agency and the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) as the Chairman. While at the festival he participated in the Executive Perspectives interview series and shared his thoughts on advertising trends, the benefits of having talented, driven employees and how data drives strategy and creative to produce exceptional work at IQ.

Here are a few notable excerpts from the interview:

KR: How would you define success in your role?

TQ: The most important job that I have as CEO is to have a sense of where we need to be as an agency 24 months from now so that I can be making sure that the agency is moving toward that. That’s the most important. Because if you don’t get that right, you’re not in business.

KR: What do you do to help your team be successful and help keep them in line with your goals for the company?

TQ: My job is to make sure that I have the smartest people on the bus, and not necessarily in the right seats, and listen to them and empower them. What I’ve learned is that if you just collect really smart people who have the right character for the work, then they are going to tell you the right place to go.

KR: In a world so driven by data today, why do you think creative still matters?

TQ: Creative is the business of connecting emotionally to people. Creative is not about data. Creative itself is really not measurable. Data helps to tell you where to point creative. The strategy that comes out of data – because data itself means nothing; it produces insights and strategy – tells you how to pick the places where you want to spend your money and those places are where you’re going to apply your creative. That last mile is informed by data but it’s always takes some magic which is inspiration and an understanding of the psychology of the people. It’s really hard to make that a science.

KR: Do you feel like creative always needs to be measured?

TQ: You can measure the end result of whether something happens or not. There is some testing you can do around creative. It’s the whole Steve Jobs approach to doing new things. You can’t base it on what’s happened in the past so at some point somebody is taking a leap of faith or just having a creative idea and you just have to go with it or not. You don’t really know what’s going to happen.

KR: How do you motivate your team on a day-to-day basis?

TQ: Every company, whether it’s a big company or a small company, has to have a vision of tomorrow. It’s kind of what we’re selling to our brands. Any kind of branding is a promise for tomorrow. That promise is, in some way, “tomorrow is going to be better.” It’s the same thing with a team. The reason you’re doing this work, other than getting a paycheck, is to create some better thing and you have to define that a little bit for people and make them excited.

KR: Can you describe the attributes of one of your top performers?

TQ: What I look for is people who are self-motivated, have an entrepreneurial spirit, are not about doing the mechanics of their job. They are about achieving the goals of their job. It’s not really about how they do it; it’s about how they get there, which is very entrepreneurial. I look for people who are sufficiently confident in themselves and aren’t afraid of taking risks.

KR: How would you describe the difference between an idea and a solution?

TQ: Ideas are bigger than solutions. Solutions, you have a problem and some parameters around a problem and you want to find something that solves that problem.  An idea can be much bigger than that. An idea might solve a problem but it might have many more ramifications to it. Ideas are about what capture the imagination of people. They can drive companies. They can change the marketplace. They can create movements. Whereas a solution is just, “I’m really glad we solved that problem.”

KR: What are you looking to take away from Cannes?

TQ: I wear two hats. I have my agency, IQ, and it’s always interesting to hear what’s going on and I always get ideas. With my primary job being what’s going to happen 18 to 24 months in the future and “are we on the right path for that?”, it’s great to come to these places where people are talking about those things, about what’s next. The other hat I wear is as the founder and chairman of the board of SoDA. SoDA is a wonderful organization where I get a chance to give back to my community and to have great relationships with people who are in the same boat that I’m in, running agencies around the world, so that’s very fulfilling.


Coming Home

Noah Echols Rejoins IQ as Director of Strategy

Noah Echols Return to IQ

It’s different for everybody, but I’ve learned over the past couple years what it is that makes me happy at work.

I worked for a large agency several years ago and I got to work with some really big, exciting clients on projects that make careers. Prior to that I worked for a journalism start up that focused on the niche topic of juvenile justice. I went home each day feeling as if I was doing something beneficial for society – helping to shed light on a topic that is under covered by mainstream media outlets. And just recently I led digital marketing for a large, very stable, well-respected company. I had the privilege of having the trust of leadership to do a lot of big projects in a relatively short amount of time that separated the company from its competition in terms of its digital marketing sophistication.

While all great jobs, none of them fulfilled me professionally.

For me, it’s the people and the environment we create together that matter. I don’t mean that I just need to like the people I work with – at each of the places I’ve worked, the people have been fantastic. It’s the culture that we cultivate that matters – one where you work hard together and at the end of the day feel like you accomplished something great AND grew personally in the process.

The reason I came back to IQ is because I craved the indirect opportunities to learn and grow by just being surrounded by so many brilliant people approaching a similar problem from different perspectives. IQ is especially unique because egos are non-existent, the people are fun and friendly, and the culture is one of support and collaboration unlike anywhere I’ve ever seen. It truly is a hub of innovative thinking for our clients because we all love what we do and thoroughly enjoy doing it everyday with each other.

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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Smith & Wesson Blows up the Competition

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At IQ #weloveATL

  • 05.07.15

Smith & Wesson Blows up the Competition.

M&P_ExperienceStrategy and creative teamed up for IQ’s new campaign for the American icon, Smith & Wesson. The POV campaign lets consumers project themselves into the shooting experience and see how it looks and feels to have a Smith & Wesson M&P in their hands. And there’s nothing quite as fun as blowing up a watermelon.

Watch the TV spot:

See the rig that let’s the camera shoot right down the barrel during live fire:

This is one of many campaigns IQ has created for Smith & Wesson brands. IQ is an integrated agency with digital at the core. We work primarily with brands that need strong strategy, planning and integrated execution across media. Check out our Portfolio section to see more of our work.

Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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The New Brass Ring: Trusted Knowledge Source

How Facebook’s New Algorithm Impacts Brands


The New Brass Ring: Trusted Knowledge Source

Brass Ring

In this digitally enabled world consumers have been trained by search and the internet to think they can make the best, most balanced choice for every purchase every time. However, as all of us know, it is not so easy and there lies the opportunity for brands.

The problem with selling stuff is getting people to buy on your schedule vs. theirs. As a business you need sales sooner, not later, so the solution has always been discounts and promotions to motivate people to act now.  Discounts and promotions, however, assume the consumer is already sold. They pre-suppose that the only thing standing in the way of the sale is timing and cost. But what if the prospect is actually in tire-kicking mode? I’ve heard that the rule of thumb is that only 1-2% of prospects are ready-to-buy at any particular moment. If true, and it seems reasonable, that would mean that 98-99% of the target audience you are going after, are not actively interested in buying.

I am amazed how many times brands are still hunting for that 1-2% of ready-to-buy people and hoping that the sales they get make up for the inefficiency of wasted exposure to the rest.  It used to be that the sales generated justified the cost, and the silent majority didn’t matter.  But the silent majority of consumers today, while perhaps not ready to buy, are far from idle. They are doing their due diligence, digital style, and ads, as we have learned, may not be the best way to approach them.

Trusted Knowledge Sources

Search has trained us to presume we can gather all the knowledge we need to always make the best buying decisions online. And according to the Nielsen Trust in Advertising Report, people get a lot of that knowledge from brand websites because they trust them second only to recommendations from friends. This underscores the importance of a good website at the heart of a smart marketing ecosystem. But what it really reveals is that consumers are looking for trusted knowledge sources that will help make the process of getting to that perfect decision easier, faster and more reliable.

If you think about your own online research, invariably it’s hard to find a credible, apparently objective source of information. In most categories there are sites that purport to offer objective reviews, but are really just shills for paid sponsors.  Then there is a plethora of articles and opinions, social and otherwise, that pop up in a general search. Poring through them all on a quest for fast and easy truth can be frustrating and time-consuming. The result is a wide divergence between what the web actually delivers and consumer expectations of being able to make the perfect choice every time. As Barry Schwartz described in “the Paradox of Choice” lots of choices overwhelm people quickly, and since we all want to make the best, most informed choice, it’s never as easy as we want it to be.  This lays bare the opportunity for brands to leverage the goodwill that consumers already feel for them even further, by becoming the go-to trusted knowledge source in their category.

Driven by the two consumer objectives of “making the best choice” and “making it easy”, the true battle is to be among the handful of brands that get a trusted source spot on the consumer’s mental shelf, which is the modern version of Reis & Trout’s Positioning. These are brands that can be relied upon to not only deliver content that is relevant and valuable, but also to operate with perceived transparency and objectivity. This is not something that brands can fake, and has to be a commitment to actually deliver on consumer expectations.

Simplify the Process

Most consumers don’t know much about many of the product categories they explore, like buying light bulbs or a digital camera, and in their quest to make quick, informed decisions, they jump to search. This usually starts with wading through the body of knowledge associated with the category that has built up over time, across many companies, and is sitting in the archives of lots of brand websites. Invariably it’s an overwhelming, complex mountain of knowledge, hard to sift through and often impossible to find what you are looking for.  Making this process easy is clearly the first opportunity that brands should be looking for in their category. The objective is to simplify the process of evaluating and buying, by doing the heavy lifting for the consumer. That means developing tools and systems to make the buying process easy and intuitive, delivering exactly the right information at the right time, and answering questions. For those consumers who have an interest in the category beyond just getting a purchase made, it also means developing content to feed those interests.

Many people may have an active interest or passion in a category long before, they become ready-to-buy or even start their digital due diligence. Figuring out what the associated interests and passions of a category are, however, can be tricky. If you are lucky enough to be in a category like pet food, for example, the passions are easy to see. But what if you sell generators?  A brand might assume there are no passions and give up on staying connected to prospects through content. But that’s when you have to dig, talk to consumers and maybe get a little creative. We actually went through the generator exercise and came up with intense interest in the relationship of weather patterns to power outages, which led to an idea for a service to help predict outages. If we could keep an open, regular line of communication to cultivate qualified prospects, the thinking went, we would be top of mind when they became ready-to-buy, without the cost of finding them again through advertising.

The digitally empowered consumer has made the cultivation part of the sales cycle more important than it ever was. As a result figuring out what content it’s going to take to keep them connected has become critical. But even with the right content strategy and compelling content, the challenge is how to keep your brand front and center until prospects become ready-to-buy.  Of course you could go old school and just buy non-stop paid advertising, but the better way is to let your content work for you with SEO, SEM and social, with a little email thrown in for good measure. There is still nothing better than having a qualified prospect in an email database.

Good old-fashioned email is still a golden goose that’s worth its weight. Despite the ever-growing volume of spam, permission email has lost none of its luster. It’s the perfect channel when done right; cheap, personal and two-way. The problem comes in what brands tend to do with it. All too often people sign up to get something that’s important to them, and end up being given something that’s important to the brand. Unfortunately because it’s so cheap and misunderstood, brands often end up spamming their best prospects, sending too many offers too frequently, and not investing in content.  As a result the people they worked so hard to get to sign up in the first place, stop opening their emails, and the cost of acquiring them, and the opportunity to cultivate them, goes down the drain.

How to win hearts and minds varies in each category, but it takes a commitment to the unfamiliar and very different business of creating engaging, valuable content and using it to carefully cultivate consumers, while resisting the urge to badger them for sales. Most companies, by now, are at least paying lip service to this idea, but few really get it. The result is a lot of noise that neither differentiates nor positions brands.  Becoming a trusted knowledge source doesn’t just happen, and consumers armed with their digital devices and high expectations will anoint only the few that genuinely serve them.

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  • 07.16.14

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m interrupting you”

IQ - Facebooks "new" old model


This is one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill, and what Facebook might be thinking as it tries to ram a new ad model down the throats of brands and consumers alike. Having already vented in my last post about this, I thought the greater implications of their actions on social media worthy of further comment.

A Giant Step Back

When Facebook decided to make brands pay to post content to their own fans, they took a giant step back into the old ad world.  Faced with ROI pressure brands can’t afford the luxury of content oriented posting, instead they have to turn to fast pay-off tactics like promotions, coupons etc.  This puts us back in the old world of interruptive advertising, where you’d be watching TV or reading a magazine and an ad would interrupt you. Consumers put up with this model in the pre-digital years because it seemed like a reasonable exchange; get the content in exchange for watching the ads. That was before we retrained them.

We Are Not a Captive Audience

Fast forward to today and digital consumers.  We don’t like interruptions, we don’t like delays and we don’t like ads. We have been schooled to find and use the most efficient ways to answer questions, solve problems, research solutions and evaluate options. Digital consumers are not a captive audience, so if ads interrupt our flow and slow our productivity we won’t put up with it. That’s why it’s more likely you will survive a plane crash or win the lottery than click a banner ad.

The Post-Advertising Age

Facebook just wants to make money, which is fair enough. But just because advertising is about the only business model that might work for them, doesn’t mean it will. The problem is that we live in the post-advertising age. We still need to tell brand stories; we just can’t do it effectively with conventional ads anymore; at least in digital channels. Even armed with all the creativity in the world the only way to consistently get the attention of the digitally empowered consumer is with relevance and timing.

Changing Hearts & Minds

So if marketers can’t use ads to get their message across, what’s a brand to do? The way to the digital consumer’s heart and mind is by serving up the right content at exactly the right time. The right kind of content is that which is appropriate for the context. So if someone has clicked to watch a video about planting a lawn, don’t have a pre-roll ad for Home Depot, have lawn care tips courtesy of Home Depot. The big difference is that one supports the consumer’s journey, while the other interrupts it. Seems simple enough, but the complexity comes in planning where and when to connect with each consumer segment, and developing just the right content for each situation.

The Magic Algorithm

The temptation today is to think that marketing has become a predictable machine. All you have to do is crunch some media numbers, apply an algorithm and magically consumers will come flocking to your brand. Of course this is what the purveyors of all manner of media ad wizardry would have you believe.  This ignores, however, the need to connect the dots; all the touch points that have to become one consistent story, personalized as narrowly as possible. Everything a brand does, therefore needs to be built on a foundation of consumer insights. This includes the critical exercises of mapping the Consumer Decision Journey* and developing a Content Strategy. Together they tell a brand when and where to connect with each target segment, plus what to say and how to say it at that critical moment. At the same time this work lets brands see, understand and design the cumulative effect of all the interaction points together. Inevitably this leads brands to shift their thinking from a product oriented, advertising approach to a content oriented, consumer approach.

The Training Wheels Come off

Facebook is trying lots of things (a few pretty out there), looking for ways to cash-in on their huge audience.  Some may work, but this shift to making brands pay to reach their own communities isn’t probably one of them, because consumers, let alone brands, won’t stand for having the content they came for taken away.

The good news is that social media marketing is not over; it’s actually shifting to a more mature model where brands have much more control and influence. What we are seeing with social media is the same kind of shift that we saw when users graduated from AOL’s training wheels to managing their own online experience. That’s happening now as consumers are becoming more experienced, and Facebook’s move is only going to accelerate it.

So it’s time for brands to strike out on their own and connect directly with their consumers without going through the gatekeepers anymore. That means starting with the foundational work to discover the when, where, what and how, which will drive their new social media, marketing plan.

* Mckinsey & Co

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  • 05.28.14

Connecting, Cultivating, & Converting Modern Consumers

This deck presents a simple to consume and communicate vision for how to approach the complex new marketing environment. Of course many experienced marketers will know much of what is contained here, but they may not have a simple way to connect the pieces and think about it holistically, or more importantly to communicate to those less sophisticated than themselves. With that in mind our Connect, Cultivate and Convert method outlines a new model for marketing.


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The Great Social Media Bait & Switch

The social media free ride is over.

Free Social Ride is Over.

Brands are either hip-deep in social media or in the process of getting there. At the center of it all, of course, has been the astonishing rise of the big social platforms. With millions of users at the ready, brands have jumped into this candy store with both feet.

But now their addiction to the free sugar threatens to backfire: It appears that it’s time to pay the piper.

What’s happening is that Facebook is ratcheting down the number of people who can see a post within a brand’s Facebook community. At the moment, only 2.1 percent to 6.2 percent of a brand’s community will see a brand’s post (see chart, below); according to research conducted in February, the amount may go to zero before too long.

That means those huge communities of “likes,” which brands have spent millions to build, will be worthless unless they buy Facebook ads to reach their fans.

FB Marketing Statistics

Of course, the big social networks need to make money. I suppose they could ask consumers to pay for the privilege of using their platforms, but that wouldn’t go very far.

As Jason Loehr, director of global media and digital marketing at Brown-Forman, which has millions of likes on its Facebook pages, described to Digiday: “This is business, after all. It was more of a wake-up call for the marketer that platforms are a ‘leased’ channel. And there are downsides to renting, not owning.”

Loehr went on to say,“It’s not just them, it’s going to be Instagram, it’s going to be Pinterest, it’s going to be Twitter, it’s going to be all of those guys. At the end of the day, they have shareholders to answer to.”

To add insult to injury, research from Forrester shows that social engagement is much more effective than ads. So what’s a brand to do?


The New Social Marketing

Just because brands might not be able to leverage all of those likes on Facebook for nothing anymore doesn’t mean the social marketing party is over. It also doesn’t mean that brands will be forced to pay for notoriously ineffective Facebook ads. Instead, it signals that brands need to refocus on their own digital ecosystems–all of the pieces of their digital marketing infrastructure that they can control without paying someone else.

The good news is that within a its own ecosystem, brands can still take advantage of the power of social posting to attract new prospects and cultivate rich relationships–all without paying a dime for access.

It also means that “owned” media properties are more important than ever for brands. That includes brand Web sites, mobile sites, apps, content, blogs, CRM, and email. If they haven’t done so yet, the time has come for brands to create their own communities built around the content and functionality they offer on their own properties.

With the social networks devolving into just advertising networks, brands have to first maximize the most effective and efficient media opportunities open to them–their own communities.

The brand Web site lies at the heart of the owned brand ecosystem. It has three missions: It should be where prospects get the most persuasive, comprehensive, personalized pitch; where customers can easily accomplish account tasks, and get social community and knowledge; and it should filter other constituencies, such as investors, employee candidates, and press, and get them to the right place.

The brand Web site is also where a brand should build its CRM database, enable brand ambassadors in social media, and attract natural search with content. It should be the hub of everything a brand does not only because it can be controlled, but because it’s where consumers go anyway. According to the 2013 Nielson “Trust in Advertising” study, brand Web sites have become the most trusted form of advertising.

The idea is to build a system. You start with your Web site, which you populate with content designed to attract search. Search and advertising deliver prospects, who you convert into your sales pipeline or your CRM program. Your CRM program uses email and content to cultivate them over time, and you enable social sharing of that content. The result is a self-sustaining marketing system that you own.


Content Deja Vu

The hardest part about building this system is creating the right content. That includes not just articles, pictures, and videos, but also tools, apps, and functionality. Most marketers have already figured out that content is critical–so much so that the amount of all kinds of content being created is enormous.

The challenge is, therefore, to stand out and create content so compelling, relevant, informative, and entertaining that people will want to share it. To begin, every brand needs to develop a first-class content strategy. This guides what to say to each persona at every touch point, and how to say it. Guessing is not an option.

So perhaps the free ride on social media is almost over. Now we all have to work a little harder for our supper. The good news is brands are all a lot smarter and have the tools and experience to build brand ecosystems that can do the job better than ever before.






How to Become a Knowledge Source and Win the SEO Game

Win the SEO Game

If you can’t figure out how your competitors manage to get to the top of the Google rankings while your brand lurks on page 3, or how to attract more visitors to your blog or website, or even what content to create, don’t worry you’re not alone.

The constant tweaks by search engines in the last 3 years have left many marketers wondering if their next SEO tactic will get them traffic or a penalty from Google. The search engines have always wrestled with how to present consumers with results that actually meet their needs.

But it’s been a game of cat and mouse as marketers create cleverly optimized sales pages and users never know if they are going to land on real, valuable content or a pitch. Over time the game got very complicated and Google’s algorithm evolved to the point where it evaluated over 200 factors about each webpage in order to decide whether that page actually met a searchers’ needs.

The Turning Point

In the last three years, however, there’s been a turning point. With Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates there has been a new focus on the quality of content versus the quantity. Instead of relying merely on the attributes of the content on the page, or using links from webpages to judge the quality of a webpage’s content, the search engines are now finally able to incorporate social media signals.

Using social media likes and shares, Google finally developed a way for people to in essence vote on which pages had the best quality information. Today search engine rankings are essentially being heavily influenced by the actual preferences of real people.

Unfortunately this makes your job as a marketer more difficult, because these search engine changes require you to really get into the customer’s head and create content that genuinely meets their needs. This has caused some old hands to throw their hands in the air and declare SEO to be dead. But the reality is that the game is just more demanding.

High-Quality Content

It would, therefore, appear that now the only reliable way to increase search rankings is with high-quality content that people will like and share with others. Creating a continuous stream of relevant and useful content that meets customer needs is the most effective way to dramatically grow your traffic from both social sharing and from search engines.

Value First

Looking back on my experience with online content building, I’ve seen many cases where this approach to quality content has paid off dramatically. For example a financial services client focused on creating articles, blog content and videos that answered actual user questions and met customer needs for financial education. This value first approach built trust and triggered social sharing. As a result search optimization started to increase web traffic dramatically within the first three months of the content building process.

The Right Content at the Right Time

Guiding this process is our understanding of the Consumer Decision Journey, which helps brands map what content they will need at various points on the path to purchase and beyond. This approach allows brands to prepare exactly the right content for each step along the way, and is equally important in search and social visibility when the consumer is searching for answers.

For example a company in the housing vertical combined social media sharing and search optimization to promote content on their website that was useful to apartment seekers. Research revealed that the two main target segments had different needs. The Young Singles were concerned with sports and activities near their potential apartment location. The Young Family group on the other hand, was more concerned with nearby schools and the neighborhood quality for their children.

Surprisingly, further research uncovered that the Young Singles group, frequently owned pets and that they would actually change their choice of apartments if offered nearby pet parks. With these insights in hand, the content team set about building hundreds of pages of neighborhood-specific content, covering schools, sports, activities and, yes, pet parks. The payoff for meeting consumer needs was dramatic. The peak search and social traffic grew from 1.1 million visits per month to 2.1 million visits per month.

Finding Out What Content to Make

It starts with listening to target consumers. Find the forums, social media networks and blogs where your potential customers are asking questions and talking about their problems. There are lots of ways to do this, but at IQ we find the fastest way is to use a social listening platform.

For many, just making a list of customer questions about problems and challenges that customers care about can be a powerful starting point. If you can generate a list of 50 to 100 questions that consumers routinely ask, you can start to hone in on a content strategy.

When consumers begin to look for a product that meets their needs or that solves a problem they usually start with very little information. So the opportunity is to intersect that process and become a knowledge source for their journey.

How do you create this type of content?

  1. Find the relevant forums, social networks and blogs where customers complain about their problems and ask each other for advice.
  2. Catalog all the consumer questions that your brand can solve.
  3. Identify solutions to common questions that you uncovered in your list of the most common 50 to 100 questions.
  4. Create useful content that answers questions in multiple ways, such as infographics, presentation slides, articles, blog posts, videos and images.
  5. Make sure the content is useful and actionable so that it helps users to understand the most important parts of solving their problem.
  6. Distribute your content to your owned media and get it shared using social media to expand your reach.
  7. Build links from social sites and forum sites that are authoritative sources on this topic.
  8. As you answer these questions, target long-tail phrases rather than single keywords in your SEO.
  9. Structure your website content to clearly and concisely answer all the key questions that you uncovered in the earlier steps.

Search engines reward content that answers customer questions and meets customer needs with a higher search engine rank. The key is content that is relevant to the searcher at that particular moment in their journey.

If a brand maps the journey correctly, makes engaging, valuable content for every key step on the way, and makes it easy to find, it will become the trusted knowledge source for the entire journey and for consumers throughout the category.

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