Lights! Carrots! Action!

Following on from our recent posts about the fabulous Muddy Carrot, an online farmers market based in Dorset and the future of marketing for independent businesses [Why content marketing rules the day, 7 September 2012]. It struck us that Muddy Carrot are ticking all the right boxes when it comes to getting closer to customers.

Customer engagement is all about helping people understand what you are about, what you personality is, so how better to get to know the people behind a company than through the use of video.

‘I’m local and I know it…’ ,a two and half minute film, is a great example of how to embrace all the different kinds of people that will visit at your website. A video can engage your audience with a bit of fun and sell your story in a way that your customers will love. Sure, you have to go that extra mile but we think it’s worth it. Check it out here and I defy you not to smile.

Tall stories: Why content marketing rules the day

computer game called Story Machine
Everyone likes stories. Whether it’s bedtime stories read to children, hard hitting news stories updating you on world events or blockbuster films seen in the cinema…stories make the world go round.
Since time began, people have told stories to explain complex things, or to help people remember.
And brands, businesses trying to sell their products or services, are no different.   Since the birth of advertising, stories have been used to create memorable ad campaigns, capture the public imagination or simply make people go “aaah”.
For businesses wanting to tell a story, it used to be TV commercials that offered the quickest route to mass awareness, and many of the best TV ad stories have more than stood the test of time.
For example, Metro reported a survey carried out by UTalkMarketing which asked people to vote for the most romantic TV ad ever.  The winner was the ongoing, on-screen relationship saga between the Nescafe ‘Gold Blend’ couple.  Back in the ‘80’s, Antony Head and Sharon Maughn kept us all waiting with baited breath with their will they, won’t they on/off love affair.
And they weren’t the only ones, by any means.  Whether it was the Milk Tray man going above and beyond the call of duty, “all because the lady loves…”, or the excitement of swimmers rushing towards a pint of Guinness, the best ads told stories we could latch on to and engage with.
Fast-forward a few decades and lots of people don’t even watch TV ads.  They watch on demand or after the event purely because they want to escape the ads.  Interruption marketing, in which brands force themselves down the throats of anyone who happens to be in the way appears to have had its day.  Today’s customers are very much in control of their ad consumption and they expect something more individual and valuable than a simple sales pitch.
But that’s not to say they no longer like stories.
Content marketing is all about telling stories.  It’s based on the idea that sharing content that is interesting, valuable… and different…. will help you win, sell to and retain customers.
Instead of interruption marketing, content marketing produces something and invites people to share it.  Only the best content gets shared… it’s a subtle way in which consumer power is gradually forcing the hand of businesses who want to talk to them – which is great, since raising the bar when it comes to content (on or offline) can only be good for us all.
Anyone can get started with content marketing, you simply need a story to tell, an interesting way of telling it and a readership that’s interested enough to share your story with some friends, who share it with their friends and so on, and so on….
It can be a cost effective way for small businesses to talk about themselves since there’s no need for big TV spend, radio commercials or even glossy brochures.  All it takes is an internet connection and a computer.
Content marketing is just another way in which the internet is levelling the playing field.
Suddenly, with customers demanding ever more personalised, niche content, it’s not the big guy with deep pockets that has the upper hand but rather the small guy who’s stayed closer to customers, knows what they want, and has the in-depth expertise to provide it.
Content marketing is about another step towards the small independents taking over from the huge corporations and we hope the tips we’re planning to share over the coming weeks and months will help all of our small business readers take a few more steps forward in the way in which they engage with their customers.

Social Media: The future’s up for grabs

sign to 'future city'
Earlier this year, I read a Forbes article that was debating the future of Google and Facebook and asking whether one or other, or even both of them might disappear within the next 5 years?
It’s an interesting point because sometimes the main argument against using social media to promote your business is precisely the speed at which it’s changing and evolving.  After all, how many people use My Space now?  Does the rate at which social networks come and go mean that you should never invest the time and effort to learn how to use them, or is it important to ride the digital wave?
For me, how long an actual network lasts – Google or Facebook, for example, – seems less important than the more fundamental changes that are taking place in how we live our lives.  Digital guru Brian Solis makes a similar point in his excellent book, The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution choosing the example of how mobile phones have changed society:
“Displacing landlines is one thing.  The cell phone’s impact on behaviour is something different altogether.  For years, we frowned on bringing anything to the dinner table that might detract from the interactions that meals foster.  But then cell phones quietly took over our attention one by one, until the table was surrounded by people with their heads downward and their thumbs texting away.  To an outsider, this conduct would appear nothing less than rude.”
So what are the broader impacts of digital media and social networking on the way a business talks to its customers?  The list is potentially endless, but here are a few of my suggestions:
It’s no longer enough to hit people with one size fits all messages.  Customers expect something targeted and individual, that speaks to them.  Social networking may be cheaper than mass marketing campaigns but it takes just as much, if not more, planning to get right.
Social media is part of a general trend in closer relationships between businesses and the customers they serve.  Twitter – by its very nature of limiting updates to 140 characters or less – is driving a move towards more informal, more direct conversations.
If we once thought twice about whether we needed a mobile, now it’s more likely to be the laptop that gets left at home.  Customers want to check info, find products and buy on the move so your website has to be accessible for mobile devices.
2-way conversations
Talking to customers about products and services is no longer a one way street.  Customers want to get involved, share stories and make suggestions… if only you let them.
Good not greed
If there is one lasting legacy of the credit crisis that improves society it will be the move to focus less on greed and more on the collective good.  More people want to give back and get involved in movements that genuinely help the world, which is great news for businesses that are involved in something bigger than simply the products they sell.
And finally, back to that Forbes article which ends with a rallying call that should motivate even the most cynical social networkers… “those who own the future are going to be the ones who create it.  It’s all up for grabs.”
How is the way you talk to customers changing? Leave us a comment below to share your experiences.