Embracing the Audience: 5 Tips on Customer-Based Marketing from Brian Solis

Sylvia Ng, VP of Growth and Analytics at Rock Content, sat down with Brian Solis at the 2015 Digital Media Summit in Toronto to discuss customer-based marketing strategies, digital anthropology, and misquoting the Dalai Lama.

Brian Solis is one of the top influencers in the marketing sphere and holds a number of titles including digital marketing analyst, speaker, blogger, award-winning author, anthropologist, and futurist. His exhaustive resume includes several publications including, Engage!: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web, which is now considered the “industry reference guide” for brands and businesses looking to adapt and succeed in the era of “digital Darwinism.” Solis currently works for the Altimeter Group where he studies the effects of disruptive technology on businesses, brands, and society.

In the midst of endless blogs, podcasts, tweets, instagrams, and snapchats, how does a brand or business get noticed? For Solis it’s about more than just choosing the right technology. Creating a truly effective marketing campaign is about understanding your brand, and more importantly, your audience. We’ve compiled highlights from Sylvia’s conversation with Solis into five actionable tips that will help you improve your marketing strategy.

1. Stop Talking About Tools and Start Thinking About Strategy

What role do software tools play in engaging the audience?

Software tools facilitate engagement, make marketing departments more efficient, and help scale content campaigns. However, for Solis, there’s almost too much technology in the software sphere, and a lack of focus on how we’re putting these tools to use. Today’s marketers “place too much emphasis on the tool, and software vendors place too much emphasis on the capability” but “not enough people are talking about what the real human application of any of this stuff is,” explains Solis. Marketers need to start asking “what is it we are trying to scale and why?” and how do we use any of this [technology] to make a difference or to matter?”

2. Establish #WDYSF (What Do You Stand For)

How do you navigate the convoluted marketing technology landscape? What technologies do you think are worth keeping an eye out for?

According to Solis the real challenge, before you concern yourself with software, is to determine what makes your brand or business special. “What is it that really makes you worthwhile,” asks Solis, and “how can you connect or engage your audience?”

Solis frequently uses the hashtag #WDYSF (What Do You Stand For). “It’s this idea of just thinking about [what your brand stands for] first, and then what’s the purpose? What’s the mission, and why should I spend my time paying attention to you? What are you going to do for me?” Customers have goals, objectives, challenges, and frustrations. It’s only once you understand this aspect of the consumer that you can begin using marketing tools, graphics, videos, eBooks, and other tools to engage your customers. “The advice I have is to stop acting like marketers, if you have to market that means that there is something wrong,” states Solis.

3. Cultivate “The Embrace”

Social media marketing versus content marketing – where is the industry going?

For Solis, discussing the distinction between social media marketing and content marketing “is just marketers trying to figure out how to keep earning their jobs, getting paychecks, and being part of the buzz,” which, for Solis, is ultimately part of the problem. There’s a tendency to say that content marketing is the new social media marketing. However, Solis believes this conversation perpetuates the problem and ignores the more pressing need for good content.

“Everybody is trying to be the special snowflake in the blizzard” and not enough people are focusing on determining why people should even care about their brand’s content in the first place. “Why should you pay attention,” asks Solis, “and what am I going to do with your attention once I have it?” Solis calls this strategy ‘the embrace’ and believes that if marketers paid more attention to this aspect of content marketing they would be less concerned with ‘the buzz’ and spend more time creating the kind of content their audience is looking for. “Everybody is too busy thinking about how to go viral or, you know, how to use whatever the latest platform is” – if we become too preoccupied with technology, we will neglect the experience.

Solis wants marketers to ask themselves “do I want to just throw stuff at you and get the view” or do I want to do something great? For Solis “the art of engagement is action, reactions, transaction,” and the goal is to open the door for a real experience, to do something that will make the audience feel something. He would like to shift the focus away from conversations like ‘content marketing versus social media marketing’ and towards creating experiences that “embrace” the audience, that make them “walk away saying ‘that was amazing’.”

4. Observe Your Audience

What tips would you give business leaders looking to ‘embrace’ the audience?

For Solis, a marketer’s top priority should be understanding their highly social audience. What are their aspirations? What challenges do they face? The trick is to humanize your audience and find out what questions they’re asking. “You walk through their journey and you see where they go and what they find, and you really start to understand that all of your marketing, all of the subjects that you have been doing, all of your sad strategies are misaligned to the world you thought you knew versus the world that exists.” Solis’ strategy demands that marketers understand “who the new customer is, or the new stakeholder is and reverse engineering it, that’s where to start…you learn all of the things that you need to do just from observing.”

“You know it all comes down to looking at the brand and the brand promise,” says Solis, specifically the divide between what you say your brand is about and what your audience believes your brand to be about. Once marketers understand this “experience gap,” they can work backwards and rebuild the brand to cater to their audience. Again, Solis emphasizes the #WDWSF strategy; brands have to ask themselves “what is our experience, what is our brand?” and then make this a reality.

5. Question Everything You Know

Do you have any recommendations or resources for marketers trying to understand their audience? Or is this a trial and error strategy?

Solis is hesitant to declare that there is any one specific resource for understanding the audience. He emphasizes that media is essentially “digital anthropology.” “What we could all do is start to open the door to humanities,” explains Solis, “and better understand how to use all these tools to look at the human behavior, to look at the groups of behavior, look at the trends, look at the possibilities.”

For Solis, the best way to do great content marketing is to really learn about the people you’re talking to. “One secret of success that I can share with you is that you have to get the other person’s point of view and add it to your own,” then “you can sort of read in between the lines.” Again, the best way to reach your customers is to learn about your audience and let them inspire you. “That’s what Steve Jobs does very well,” explains Solis, “he watched what people did,…he just watched and made things more workable, better, more efficient.”

“These are the things that start by really questioning, you know? Why do we do things this way? What if we did this? What if we started from scratch? That’s the advice I would leave anybody with – once you start questioning you realize that the shit that you believed in that was supposed to be the right thing turns out not to be the right thing because times have changed and we just haven’t changed along with it.”

Solis illustrates this point with a reference to the Dalai Lama; “it turns out the Dalai Lama never said ‘be the change you want to see.’” In fact, many of the famous quotes that we share and talk about are merely interpretations or misquotes. What does the Dalai Lama have to do with marketing in this highly social digital landscape? Solis uses this metaphor to remind marketers to challenge established truths and question the marketing ‘rules’ because they are “no longer valid.” In the current marketing landscape the true visionaries are the ones who focus on customer-based marketing and continue to question and innovate.


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