Bold Move: Tell Your CEO She Needs to Listen to her Customers

In addition to being the author of a truly killer resource,  The Content Formula, Michael Brenner is a leader.  How do I know?  Because I listened to the interview Jeff Julian conducted with him and I could hear the calm, deliberate, and assured tone with which he spoke about content marketing, our role as digital marketers, and how to approach the bold move of telling your CEO that she needs to listen to her customers more and in a different way than she has been.

summer-2011-097Let me get more specific: the subtext of what Mr. Brenner proposes is the phrase, “Um hey, I get that you’re really excited about your latest brainchild, product, and/or service but it’s actually not about you.”  Yikes.  That’s a tough and bold statement but it’s also extremely important to say for these reasons:

  1. There is a dynamic tension between what CEOs want to communicate and the results they expect from content marketing.
  2. If that dynamic tension is not addressed, it leaves the CMO and her team in a position to fall short of the CEO’s expectations or even fail.
  3. Unless the realities of the respective (and different) roles the CEO and the CMO play are addressed and shared goals are established, objectives will not be met.

Heck, I get it and it actually makes sense that the CEO would focus on new and shiny things that she herself is excited about but that is precisely why she needs a sharp, honest, authentic CMO who will tell her that there will be time for the shiny new thing just as soon as the customers tell us it’s time.  Meanwhile, we need to be walking in the same direction on customer-focused content.

Natalia Angulo notes in her article, “10 Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2016 and Beyond“, that “smart marketers will focus on the consumer experience.” Well, yes and of course everyone at the table will agree with that statement but ensuring shared understanding and shared goals requires a deep dive, an intensive conversation, hopefully, conducted regularly and not just during the monthly report meeting.  Of course CEOs know that focus on the customer is important but what they may not understand is that the customer not only now has a voice, the voice of the customer is actually more important and can say more about a brand than the brand itself.

Perhaps it’s helpful to “tee-up” this conversation by offering up a couple proposed talking points:

“We need to keep our finger on the pulse of what the customers want from us.” 

“We need to actively address them and interact with them and that means letting the customer dictate the conversation.” 

Neil Patel nails it in his article,“8 Brilliant Content Marketing Innovations from the Worlds Best Brands,” by commending Whole Foods who “has worked hard to establish itself not just as a grocery store, but as a lifestyle choice. The brand embraces healthy living and earth-conscious eating.” They have done so by putting the customer first in their content.  And while one might think that encouraging shoppers to save money on groceries is counter-intuitive, Whole Foods does just that.  Patel tells us, “Whole Foods does a great job of living those brand principles in its content marketing. Articles about how to save money but still eat healthy or tips to change your diet for the better make Whole Foods’ products and lifestyle more inclusive. On top of that, it uses a lot of proactive language (“I want to learn/do/both” as a search option in its navigation bar) which makes the audience feel like they have an active role in the experience.”
It’s funny how much difference the use of a customer-centric pronoun can make!  There are numerous studies that support the use of “My” over “Your” and “I” over “You” and it’s basic psychology at work.  Use of the more customer-centric pronoun signals to the customer that they really are understood.  It’s a basic and time-tested use of language but it absolutely works.

So if Ann Handley is accurate in her prediction (and I believe she is), that “content marketing will truly “grow up” in 2016, as content strategists tell “bigger stories with a braver focus and a bolder voice” then all the more vital that leadership and marketing are aligned about what that precisely means and how customer-centric it really needs to be.

Michael Brenner is also a man of his word, having just launched his own enterprise of which he is the leader.  He is also getting started on his next book.  But don’t trust me about that, listen to the full podcast to hear about his new book as well as his tips for becoming a better writer.

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Writing for the Audience Rather Than at Them

Every time I drive past this gas station in the Ozarks (yup, weezums in Missoura like people to say what they mean ana mean what they say) I smile–not only because it’s funny as heck but because clearly, the proprietor knows her audience.  She  does an excellent job of speaking their language and relating to them which is what is at the core of good copywriting.

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Listening to Jeff Julian and Jonathan Kranz discuss copywriting at CM World 2016 in Cleveland was a huge treat and a pretty much made my day because they confirmed what my instincts have been telling me: it’s good to be empathetic.  Jonathan Kranz (author of Writing Copy for Dummies) does a fantastic job of walking us through his learning curve and poses a series of hard questions that prompted me to re-frame how I think of copywriting.  Many of us start a project with the end goal in mind (if we’re going about it strategically, anyway) and oftentimes in copywriting, that goal is to sell.  But what if we conceive of the end goal not by asking the question, “did you sell?” but rather, as Jonathan asks, “are you real?” and “will you tell the truth?”  Of course, selling matters but the whole point of any communication with our customers ought to be relationship development.  Long term relationship development.  Would you want to be in a long term relationship with someone who was always and only trying to “sell” you or would you prefer to spend your time and energy on someone who offers intrinsic value by being authentic, compassionate, and in the end, helpful in solving problems?  Kind of a “no brainer,” right?

The approach Jonathan Kranz advises for copywriting, applies to consulting as well (incidentally, you should Google Jonathan Kranz and click on the second link that you see).  As Jonathan and Jeff note, we are far more likely to place trust in someone who admits they are not perfect, have made mistakes along the way, and most importantly, learned from those mistakes than we are likely to trust someone who is blustery and claims to be infallible.  The takeaway from this for me is that copywriting as well as client meetings need to be real conversations, meaning we are actively listen and empathize to understand as well as converse openly about mistakes and learning experiences.

When I was teaching, I often utilized a neat feature of McGraw Hill Textbooks: case studies.  I found carefully examining the case study to understand what happened behind the scenes of some of the biggest PR events in my lifetime was incredibly illuminating.  We got to examine how and why Johnson and Johnson took immediate action during the Tylenol scare of 1982 and what the creative process was for the “Got Milk?” campaign.  These case studies (because they were written for textbooks) always included a lesson–what the professionals learned along the way and better still, how they learned from their mistakes.  I agree wholeheartedly with Jonathan Kranz and Jeff Julian on the statement that being honest and forthright about one’s fallibility and the lessons learned from being fallible is far more endearing than the pretense of perfection.

I got further confirmation on the power of listening and being empathetic from  Marketing Prof Ann Handley, who points out in her article, Why “targeting” customers is the wrong approach, that use of the word “targeting” is an indicator that we may be going about it all wrong.  img_0934Ann asks, “What if we didn’t target customers, but instead sought to serve them?” Oh yeah!  The customer is always right, even when it comes to what words we use to communicate with them.  That means we need to be pathologically empathetic with the customer.  Along with that empathy, there also ought to be, as Jonathan Kranz puts it, “something of intrinsic value for the customer,” meaning we need to literally put the customer first and by doing so we find the copy becomes more real, more authentic, and hopefully, a lot like talking to a friend.  As someone who possesses what could arguably be too much empathy at times, I was delighted to read that empathy is a great asset to the copywriter and concurrently to the marketer as she talks to clients.  Turns out wearing my heart on my sleeve isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

 

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