Not a salesperson. There’s no joke here, just an attempt to convey what we all know in 2019 — sales doesn’t work like it used to. Not only are direct-to-consumer avenues like door-to-door canvassing and telemarketing all but extinct, but the entire formula for generating sales has been flipped upside down. Now, thanks to the internet and social media, the buyer comes to you fully equipped with extensive knowledge about your product or service, not to mention competitors, price breakdowns, customer reviews and trend analyses.
That knowledge gives the consumer the power. How can small- to mid-sized businesses stay relevant in such a dynamic environment? One word: content. The more you produce, the better your chances of being seen and standing out in a crowded marketplace. And the best places to start generating content are on a company blog and via social media channels.
Lessons From a Content Connoisseur
Mark Bunting, chief marketing officer at Microsoft partner Rackspace, is well aware of the movement toward shorter, snappier pieces of content that consumers can digest with minimal effort — essentially summarized short-form versions of longer content. You simply have to meet consumers where they expect to be met, and that’s online for the foreseeable future.
“Additionally, video is now necessary which is why at Rackspace, we’re going to market with video-first content more than ever before,” Bunting says in a nod to shifting consumer preferences. “You must be precise, and storytelling has become the art of the compressed.”
One clear development Rackspace has seen is that each social media platform’s audience is becoming more defined, which means audiences know which platforms to go to for which content. For example, people tend to go to LinkedIn for thought leadership, whereas they gravitate to Twitter for more technical conversations.
It’s important to develop a reliable publishing cadence, too. Random schedules of uncoordinated posts reflect poorly on your business, fair or not. Furthermore, when an SMB is tasked with building or transforming a brand, Bunting encourages healthy debate around exactly what content to produce.
“You must have a thoughtful balance of respect for the past and an appreciation for where/how change is injected into a brand that carries significant equity,” Bunting says. “Placing customers at the heart of everything you design and create is also important. You will see that ‘customer-first’ mentality across all elements in our new brand — from the logo shown behind our customers, in service of them; to our tagline (‘So you can be great’).”
“We re-imaged this brand to truly resonate with customers wherever they are in their digital transformation journey,” says Bunting.
Putting customers at the center of everything demanded that Rackspace implement not only a customer-first content strategy for social posts and the Rackspace blog, but also the use of real-life customer testimonials as the de-facto storytelling tool on these important channels.
Yes, data and hyper-segmentation and attrition modeling all matter — but so does the human capacity to tell stories and, ultimately, to be “sold.” The ability to persuade and influence begins and ends with the creative capacity to communicate effectively. Whether it’s by the campfire or on a red hot new social channel, the value of a compelling story has not changed; only the ways in which we can tell those stories has.
Getting More Bang for the Buck
If you happen to be serving SMBs with limited budgets, there are a couple of ways to help them maximize the ROI from their content and social investments:
Leverage your employees.
It’s something a business of any size can do. Create a social workforce and/or internal advocates — this effort will have a larger reach than the brand has on its own, spark conversations between trusted advisors and their peers, and demonstrate a positive workforce and culture. The benefit to employees is that they can build their personal brand as well as support the brand they work for.
Use it as a recruiting tool.
Rackspace has seen its social engagement drive talent acquisition. In fact, the company can trace nearly 300 new hires to LinkedIn Elevate, from entry-level employees all the way up to senior leaders. That means 300 people first engaged with Rackspace via posts they saw in their network because Rackspace employees shared content from LinkedIn Elevate. It’s hard to argue with those numbers!
Still skittish? Put your personal reservations about a website blog or a LinkedIn account aside. The public has spoken. More than half of the world’s population is online, and businesses with an onsite blog get 55 percent more traffic than those without. LinkedIn is closing in on 600 million active users and is changing how talent finds desirable openings. That’s but two of dozens of channels on which you can make inroads with a demanding general audience.
To attract customers in this new paradigm, you need the magnetizing forces of social media and blog posts. Nobody will knock on your door otherwise.