Why Your Content Isn’t Connecting. Part I: Humanizing Content in an Engagement Economy.
Obviously, engagement is a huge priority for media professionals in almost any facet of the industry. The internet has advanced mediated communication and allowed digital marketing to quickly and effectively convey information to an incredibly diverse and distracted audience (Garcia-Gavilanes, 2016) whose collective attention has dynamically changed in-step with technology. An ideal for marketing communication is centered around the idea of prompting action and desirability from a target audience or viewer. By way of algorithmic and analytical tools, user engagement (and behavior) can now be measured and observed by advertisers’ curious to the true impact of their campaign or content via engagements, direct sales or otherwise (Dodson, 2016). For me personally, as a content creator, it’s always a goal to genuinely connect with an audience, prompting action from them or even being able to convey a feeling would be the highest accomplishment.
So how do we tailor content for specific markets or audiences? How do we get them to care or notice our message awash in a sea of competing digital interference?
Effective content strategy is a contemporary discipline that demands a wide-breadth of comprehension. Superficially, the operation of content strategy requires versed competency in new media design, social networks, audience/community discovery, branding, digital marketing, platform application and transmedia storytelling. In layman’s terms, content strategy is the practice of truly connecting with the fragmented audiences of the internet era. I hope this series of articles will detail some of the primary and effective ways of connecting with your audiences. It should also be noted these papers are not disclosed or prioritized in a systematic approach.
Humanizing content in an engagement economy
Establishing a meaningful connection or relationship with potential consumers has changed drastically in modern times through technology's digital interference, changing the way people interact. Therefore, we must stress the necessity for brands to be conscious of an engagement economy -- strategies that flip traditional models of uni-directional marketing to create more personalized, engaging and authentic experiences for their tech-savvy consumers. Changing the operational model for connecting with customers in contemporary environments can be a challenge, especially at scale. However, do not under estimate the importance of having a holistic, human approach to connecting with customers as opposed to pushing programmatic and artificial messaging.
Although saturation and automation are still leveraged heavily, we are witnessing an operational transformation in strategy for marketers who realize the importance of establishing a relationship with consumers. "Advertising functions largely to create consumer relationships to brands and to establish brands as familiar, essential, even lovable" (Sturken & Catwright, 2013, pg. 276). Content strategists must realize that internet-based communication hasn’t just enhanced the way we reach users but categorically transformed our audiences. Technology has entitled consumers, changed their values and marginalized their economy of effort. Consumers have access to vast amounts of information and networks and expect to have their needs met in immediate context. This supposition seems unreasonable but we can readily observe consumers online instantly comparing prices, examining user reviews, and navigating their own unique pathways at lightning speed through this mobile mindset (Van Vuuren, 2013). As a result, companies must be ever-present through a litany of digital touch-points in addition to offering genuinely valuable, unique, and ultimately engaging content to their target audience.
Admittedly, this subtopic is the most complicated and intriguing for content strategy. Without delving too deep into the philosophical, engagement can be defined as "a multi-level construct that emerges from the thoughts and feelings about one or more rich experiences involved in reaching a personal goal" (Calder et al, 2010). Fostering an authentic connection and relationship to your users, departing from asynchronous marketing campaigns of the past, is a proven method for strengthening the experience connected to an audience. While no exact formula for humanizing content across markets exists, there are foundational principles we can adhere. As a preface, it should be noted that these touchstones are best leveraged in combination with the discovery of target profiles and communities, which will be discussed later in this series.
Interact, don’t publish – Planning content around insights doesn’t stop when you distribute and promote. It’s an endless cycle of being proactive with your audience’s feedback, truly listening in an effort to refine your content. Interactivity also requires content strategists to conduct market research, analytical review. Determine what your audiences are searching for, which type of content medium they prefer (i.e. Blogging, Visuals, Social Media, Email, etc.), and what makes them like, comment or share similar content. Better understanding your users and channeling the community requires proper customer demographic & psychographic discovery, which will be addressed in Part II of these papers.
Infuse emotion – There’s no escaping the fact that humans are emotional beings. An easy way to infuse emotion into your content and marketing can be achieved through story-telling. Stories can highlight relationships, encourage problem-solving, illicit action or excitement and exceptionally espouse humor. For decades, countless studies in marketing have linked consumer buying decisions with emotional and rational factors (Landry, 2014). Some characteristics of successful viral content include the ability to exude positive feelings (joy, anticipation, trust), emotional complexity (diversity of reactions), and even the element of surprise.
Personalize – On the surface, this means making the content personalized in itself. Similar to branding, audiences gravitate towards content that resonates with their own interest and disposition. Don’t shy from developing a particular style or universal thematic for your content. Personalization also can be achieved through user reference. This customer-directed strategy rewards loyal consumers. By sharing active user questions or posts publicly, you openly recognize and appreciate their brand loyalty reinforcing digital tribalism for the community. In summation, users will connect more readily with brands and businesses that acknowledge them.
Transparency – Nothing will skirt an audience quicker than broadcasting flat, artificial and automated content. Show the “human side” of your business or brand, the people behind-the-scenes. Furthermore, don’t shy away from sharing real customer testimony and dialogue. Establishing authenticity in a virtual environment is challenging, businesses are judged as valuable or invaluable according to whether consumers perceive it as trustworthy.
Be helpful – Your content should carry with it some value. Provisional entertainment is commonly achieved but informative content can be significant and meaningful. This type of content will create a value continuum with potential consumers. Anytime we can offer prospects value-in-advance with our content we establish a better foundation for engagement. As a last note, the Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.” The key word here is “valuable” -- it echoes the traditional marketing mantra of matching a company's products and services to the people who need and want them.
Davis Mersey, R., Malthouse, E., & Calder, B. (2010). Engagement with Online Media. Journal of Media Business Studies, 7(2), 39–56. doi:10.1080/16522354.2010.11073506
Dodson, I. (2016). The art of digital marketing: the definitive guide to creating strategic, targeted and measurable online campaigns. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Garcia-Gavilanes, R., Tsvetkova, M., & Yasseri, T. (2016). Dynamics and biases of online attention: the case of aircraft crashes. Royal Society Open Science, 3(10). doi:10.1098/rsos.160460
Landry, C. (2014, January 1). The Impacts of Time Pressure and Emotion on the Information Behavior of High Stakes Decision Makers: The Home Buying Experience. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1652862804/
Sturken, M. (2009). Practices of looking: an introduction to visual culture (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.
Van Vuuren, C. (2013). Mobile Mindset. Public Utilities Fortnightly, 151(12), 52–54. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1470791398/