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.

Etiquette: Why It’s Vital for Communicating with Customers

I have now listened to the podcast interview that Jeff Julian conducted with Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager for Textron Aviaton twice and watched it once (incidentally, I want the t-shirt that Jeff wore for the interview: “I Plan Therefore I Am” because it’s brilliant) and each time I have a new takeaway.  But if I had to summarize the gist of their conversation, it’s about etiquette.

I have often told clients I work with as well as colleagues that all forms of communication, from social media to emails (internal and customer-targeted) should be treated like face-to-face communication.  I have also noted that the people that I trust and like the most electronically, are invariably wonderful people in person as well.  While I have not personally met Mike Turner, I can tell he’s wonderful and here’s why…

Mike recommends considering the whole team when developing communication and working through the sales cycle.  He wisely points out that in the aviation industry, the mechanic also has a “dog in the fight” so to speak because they will be the people working on the plane long term.  Makes sense, right?  I feel the same applies to being considerate of front line staff in retail settings.  One cannot fully understand how (or more importantly if) a product is the right fit for a retailer without communicating with the front line staff who actually do the selling.  Those mechanics or front line staff will likely be able to provide great insight into the challenges they face as well as what kind of feedback they get from customers on a day to day basis.  As Mike says, “content marketing cannot be one-dimensional,” meaning that strong content marketing should reflect that the author has taken the whole of the business into account and truly understands the whole of it, not just the sale.

Purchases are mission related.  Especially major purchases.

-Mike Turner, Senior Marketing Manager. Textron Aviation

And consumers are getting smarter!  That is a very good thing.  One of the primary goals of content marketing is to provide valuable information and knowledge and as a result, consumers are more knowledgeable than ever before.  We ought to be respectful of them and communicate with consumers in a way that engages them and enhances their knowledge.  We have all opened a targeted email or post, read the opening paragraph and quickly determined that it is too low level so we quickly delete the email, close the link and move on to content that is valuable to us.  I love that Mike Turner mentions mission–the emails and links I am most likely to open and read are those that, in their headline, entice me with a mission or value related statement that aligns with my own mission and values.

Most, if not all of us, do not like to receive unsolicited emails simply because the sender was lucky enough to happen upon our contact information but did not take the time to consider whether we wanted to hear from them.  Further, when we do hear from them, it’s awfully nice when the content is not only relevant but offers value in the form of knowledge or connection.  I liken receiving these unsolicited emails to being at a party, having a great conversation with a group of people that is easy, natural and comfortable, only to have the conversation interrupted by someone who butts in with off-topic comments and then asks you to pay him for the drink he’s peddling.  That is usually when I am heard to say, “pardon me, I need to excuse myself” and then I beat feet to the bathroom or the door to leave.  Of course, I also avoid that guy like the plague the next time I see him.  Point being: don’t spam them just because you can.

How well we communicate with customers and what value we offer them affects customer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.

However, the folks in the C-Suite do not always see things as we content marketers see them.  Often focused on quarterly sales numbers first and foremost, it is a challenge to educate executive leaders on the value of long term, well-handled, relationship development with clients.  How we communicate affects consumer opinion.  That’s not a judgement, it’s a fact.  What cracks me up about this is that there are now so many ways to analyze customer opinion (including analyzing social media data) and doing so can provide incredible insight into what a content marketer can do to improve that opinion.

For example, Dominoes Pizza recently started running a television ad that cops to the fact that they had been misleading customers with a “pizza deal” by only offering it on weekdays.  Clearly, they had heard from many a customer who ordered a pizza on a Friday night and felt duped by a misleading ad.  What was cool was that they copped to it!  And apologized! This is a clear example of the importance of customer experience and how it can translate to customer loyalty or customer loss.

Perhaps the best way to reach C-Suite on the importance of well-constructed, well-timed, relevant content and it’s role in the purchase cycle is to call upon them to examine their own purchase practices–i.e. empathize with the customer.  In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Charlie Brown advocates “assigning metrics that measure relationship activity.”  What he means by this is that for many of us, the purchase cycle is longer than it used to be (especially for major purchases, like a jet, right Mike Turner?). Measuring than relationship activity over time can provide incredibly valuable insight into where and when the customer may “fall away” and then making the necessary adjustments to fix it.

And a good rule of thumb is to remember that spam is the electronic equivalent to interrupting someone in the midst of a conversation with totally off-topic remarks.  It’s just poor etiquette.