Chief Content Officer 2021 Preview
The latest CCO explores how content marketing leaders will build trust, speak up, and turn empathy into more than a buzzword in 2021.
CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER
Change Is Gonna Come
Have you ever felt this relieved to realize things are about to change? The prospect of safe and effective vaccines suddenly on the horizon has me looking to 2021 with renewed optimism. But we’re not there yet.
No matter what positive changes loom, 2020’s wake continues to rock many boats. The stories we’ve gathered in this issue (some new, some previously published but especially relevant) offer clues to how content marketers can help our businesses and audiences through these choppy times. They prescribe a tight focus on what you can control: relationships and actions. Each of these requires a level of empathy and bravery that goes beyond the norm, and you’ll find ideas exercising or building those muscles here, too.
Oh, and speaking of change, you might notice this issue looks and feels a little different. I hope you enjoy this preview of what’s in store next year.
Editor-in-Chief: Jodi Harris • Editorial Consultant: Ann Gynn • Creative Director: Joseph Kalinowski • Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
How to Convince Your Company’s Brain Trust to Trust Your Content Team
Executives and technical experts hold the keys to uniquely powerful stories. But wrangling these apex collaborators is a challenge. Follow this advice to extract their wisdom so you can distill it for your audience.
When Should Brands Take a Stand?
Professional troublemaker (and 2020 B2C Content Marketer of the Year) Luvvie Ajayi Jones offers a helpful guide on how to decide.
Hey Google Analytics, Can You Add This Sweet Metric?
Andrew Davis offers Google’s head of analytics some unsolicited advice about the one metric content marketers crave.
Activate Empathy: Manage It, Measure It, and Market With It
Creating empathetic content requires a deep understanding of your audience. Try this four-step process to get it.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Content Experts Share What Matters Most in 2021
How can you build a content plan for 2021 when you don’t have a clear picture of what’s going to happen tomorrow? We invited seven experts to hash out the key issues, priorities, and ideas that should shape your content marketing strategies and initiatives in the coming year.
We Can – and Should – Do More Than Talk About Diversity
Marketers sometimes shy away from addressing issues like racism, bias, and discrimination for fear of saying the wrong thing. But silence leaves influential audience members out in the cold – and potential revenue on the table. Take this advice, then take a stand.
How to Convince Your
Company’s Brain Trust
to Trust Your Content Team
Executives and technical experts hold the keys to uniquely powerful stories. But wrangling these apex collaborators is a challenge. Follow this advice to extract their wisdom and distill it for your audience.
By Sarah Mitchell
When I worked in sales, the executive assistant (aka the “sales prevention officer”) often stood as a human hurdle to making my quota. Yet, it was essential to win this person over to my side. Without their support, there was no way I was going to convince the decision-makers and budget-holders to greenlight a deal.
The same dynamic can occur when content marketers need to tap into their brand’s brain trust – the company executives and other subject matter experts (SMEs) who possess the deep insights, specialized knowledge, and wealth of experience with topics and technical considerations helpful to your audience. These same people can also become gatekeepers to your ability to tell your best stories and profile the cool stuff your company is doing.
Unfortunately, obstacles abound. Some experts and executives are uncomfortable with writing, being interviewed on the record, or communicating with laypeople. Others put a low priority on content creation or have schedules that make it hard to keep your deadlines. Some are reluctant to get involved with marketing at all.
Yet, getting technical experts and executive talent to contribute is a challenge worth overcoming. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reports 68% of respondents view company technical expert as the most credible source of information. This makes your SMEs instrumental to creating high-value content.
68% of those surveyed see company tech experts as the most credible sources of information, according to @EdelmanPR 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer via @CMIContent.
How do you earn the trust of these wisdom keepers so you can extract their insights and translate them into audience-friendly stories? Having spent the first 15 years of my working life in coding and software design roles, this challenge has informed much of my content career. Through experience, diligence, and sage wisdom from fellow content advocates, I’ve found a few tried-and-true techniques.
To gain internal support,
start with a strategy
The fastest way to win the interest and trust of your brand’s experts is to have it paved by someone who has more weight and authority in the company – an executive sponsor. It’s not a fast process, but it gives everything you do more credibility in the organization – and can help clear a path for more innovative ideas and better funding.
The fastest way to win the trust of internal experts? Ask someone who has more authority to pave the way for you, says @SarahMitchellOz via @CMIContent.
Astrid Fackelmann, brand manager at Floveyor, is an experienced brand strategist. She has spearheaded large content marketing initiatives and has a knack for getting support from some of the busiest people around – CEOs, researchers, and technology professionals. Astrid says the first step to get the company’s brain trust to participate in content creation is to meet their needs, not yours.
“They’re not there to do you a favor,” Astrid says. “I don’t expect people to recognize what brand building is and what I do. It's actually about demonstrating the value of content marketing in the context of the overall brand and generating commercial value with it.”
Taking time to get the strategy right and committing to key performance indicators (KPI) based on that strategy leads to securing an executive sponsor. Astrid believes this is a required step to get other organizational leaders to participate in your content projects.
“It's essential to communicate the value of their participation in a way that makes sense to them, showing that you understand there's a business problem that you can help solve, rather than saying, ‘Can you help us with some marketing?’” Astrid says.
To do that, Astrid says, create a documented strategy based on business goals, not marketing objectives. Having something that shows how their expertise will be presented – and how the resulting effort’s performance and impact will be measured and reported – is critical.
“Then you have the champion who's already got the credibility with those subject matter experts and internal stakeholders. That is your entrée into their world,” Astrid says.
Develop a process to
While executive support is essential, don’t expect it to generate unbridled enthusiasm from your SMEs. The experts – engineers, scientists, technicians, product managers, or other highly skilled personnel – may dread the experience because they don’t know what to expect or what is expected of them.
Don’t expect unbridled enthusiasm from your subject matter experts when it comes to content creation, says @SarahMitchellOz via @CMIContent.
Susan Kreemer Pickford, general manager for Western Australia at Engineers Australia, is an engineer and writer on engineering topics. She has been on both sides of the content creation equation and has a keen understanding of how to encourage internal talent to get involved with content initiatives. She believes a formalized approach goes a long way to encourage reticent SMEs to contribute.
“Engineers love to follow a process,” Susan says. She advises outlining exactly what participation entails to help an SME understand their obligation to the brand and the value they bring to a project.
Put your first outreach in writing and include:
- Full project timeline, including deadlines
- Content purpose and goals
- Indicative questions you want them to answer
- Contact details for marketing team members they’ll be working with
- The time when marketing will be in touch to speak with them
- Their deliverables and how marketing will assist
It also helps to share the internal process for content creation. By detailing all the steps required, the SME can see where they fit. It can be a simple checklist and should include security of permissions, expert identifications, steps of content creation – writing, editing, graphic design, etc., – approval process, publishing, distribution, and promotion.
“Most engineers, without that framework of risk analysis and signoff, are going to be very reluctant to contribute,” Susan says.
It’s also useful to provide content examples. Too often, technical SMEs assume marketing is nothing more than glossy brochures. They may not see how content marketing differs from traditional marketing or understand how their expertise would be used – and how it can help the company and potentially boost their reputation and professional image.
Engineers also may have personal concerns that compound their reluctance to collaborate. For example, engineers often prefer to avoid claiming individual accomplishments. Marketing terminology often contrasts with that.
“(Engineers) struggle with the term ‘expert’ because we work in teams. We're never 100% confident or feel secure in providing commentary (as an individual), especially if we haven't been allowed to collaborate or have it checked by our peers,” Susan says.
Do the heavy lifting
Extracting valuable insight from SMEs is one thing. Translating what they share into language your customers can understand is another. Mark Schettenhelm, senior product manager at Compuware, a BMC company, has worked in technology for the better part of 40 years.
“It can be difficult for subject matter experts to communicate effectively with consumers and laypeople because they may assume a certain level of knowledge that doesn’t exist within the target audience,” he says.
Both Susan and Mark say content marketers can help close this gap by having a face-to-face conversation about the things the experts find most fascinating about their work rather than the finer details of their work.
“I get them talking about their passion,” Mark says. He also relies on a series of questions that prompt even highly technical people to share their knowledge in a way easy for anyone to understand:
Why do you feel this is important? What does this mean to you? Why does this matter?
What don’t people understand about this? What common knowledge or assumptions are wrong? What details do they commonly overlook or misunderstand?
Why don’t they understand it? Is this new knowledge? Does this go against what has been taught and known for years? Do they have a way to get by and fail to see a reason to make a change? What are their barriers to changing their view?
“Then I ask what can be done to correct those mistaken impressions and ask if they would be interested in working on that together,” Mark says.
Minimize the strain on your
Collaborating with your SMEs – rather than expecting them to write something – can help your team steer the content into areas with wider appeal. It also can take some pressure off for those who aren’t natural communicators or who feel uncomfortable taking on creative tasks in a different format.
Collaborate with SMEs – don’t expect them to write something on their own. You’ll be able to steer content into areas with wider appeal, says @SarahMitchellOz via @CMIContent.
(Story continues on page 6.)
Mark says he’s found a universal truth about executives and SMEs: They are short on time for projects that don’t interest them. The more your team can reduce the burden on their schedules, the better the chance they’ll contribute.
“If writing is a weak skill (for SMEs), they may question whether their time may be better spent doing something else,” Mark says.
Another challenge: The expert may fear revealing too much information, lest it weakens their personal brand or harms their standings within the company.
“They could be protective of their knowledge since it is a source of power. If others know what they know, what is their value,” asks Mark. “More often, though, you’ll find the opposite to be true: They have a strong desire to share their passion and are eager to have others join them on their journey of discovery – they just do not know how best to go about it.”
Mark says being curious, asking questions at a higher level, and letting their answers guide the conversation will help SMEs cast their
experiences in a different light – one that can lead to more insightful and impactful storytelling.
“It forces them to break down complex ideas and make them more explainable,” he says. “It will reveal their passion as they open up. It will make them organize their thoughts in a way they don’t have to do when speaking to their own peers in the industry. This will provide the basic outline you need to get their expertise across to your audience.”
Build trust for lasting value
In my sales roles, I learned that the best way to gain influence with sales prevention officers was to charm them into compliance. With enough persistence, common courtesy, and (sometimes) the odd box of chocolates, I eventually got the meetings I needed.
Unfortunately, the same doesn’t always hold true when working with those in your organization’s brain trust. They are often cynical about marketing, too busy to see it as a priority, or both.
If that’s the case, quit talking about marketing and brand, and, as Astrid advises, put everything in commercial terms that they can understand and appreciate.
- Start with a documented strategy. It can help you gain support from the executive team and open more doors than any charm offensive.
- Invest time in creating good processes and a clear, understandable structure for the content efforts.
- Recognize you’re dealing with people who have different motivations, pressures, and comfort levels with content initiatives. Approach the ask on their terms.
- Guide your experts through each step, holding their hand if necessary and helping fill their content creation skills gap.
- Be patient yet persistent. Maybe the timing is off, the story is the wrong fit, or they don’t see the point in working with marketing. That might not be the case forever.
Making the experience as pleasant as possible is the best way to groom enthusiastic experts. The end result is highly credible content trusted by the people who need it most. You may even find a new ally to champion your marketing cause and collaborate with you again and again. CCO
Sarah Mitchell is the founder of Typeset, a specialist editorial services, content marketing, and journalism company with offices in Perth, Western Australia, London, UK, and Kansas City, USA. Sarah is on a mission to make the world a better place for readers everywhere and frequently speaks on topics related to content marketing and Typeset's State of Writing research. Follow her on Twitter @SarahMitchellOz.
Should Your Brand
Take a Stand?
Luvvie Ajayi Jones Offers
a Useful Guide
A “professional troublemaker” who happens to be a 2020 B2C Content Marketer of the Year offers helpful advice on when brands (and the people who work for them) should speak out.
By Kim Moutsos
Has there ever been a year in which marketers felt so compelled to respond to headlines – and so conflicted about whether and how to speak up? 2020 may have been intense, but the pressure on brands to take a stand won’t disappear in 2021.
Self-described “professional troublemaker” Luvvie Ajayi Jones offered useful advice for navigating these impulses in her keynote Speaking Truth to Power at Content Marketing World 2020.
If the thought of taking advice from a troublemaker makes you uncomfortable, that’s OK. One of the lessons Luvvie teaches is to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” (as she named her popular 2017 TedTalk).
But following Luvvie has the marketing chops to back up her advice. After all, she formulated it while doing the work content marketers do every day.
Hear Luvvie explain her truth-telling formula.
Luvvie started her professional career as a marketing coordinator who wrote a humor and culture blog as a hobby. Over time, she built an audience by consistently delivering straight-talking observations about the world around her.
When laid off from her job in 2010, Luvvie used her marketing background to launch an independent career as a blogger, speaker, and author. Her first book, 2016's I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual debuted at the No. 5 spot on The New York Times bestselling list. Her second, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, comes out in March.
Like many content marketers, she hosts a podcast (Rants & Randomness). In 2019, She launched a community, LuvvNation, which today has more than 13,000 members. This year, CMI recognized Luvvie, and her co-founders of the #ShareTheMicNow and #KeepSharingThe Mic campaigns, with the B2C Content Marketer of Year award.
Luvvie’s simple rubric for evaluating when to speak up is a great guide for any content leader. And her ideas for coping when your (or your team’s) impulse is to stay silent can help you separate the truths that need to be told from unproductive noise.
How to decide when and
whether to speak up
Impulsively blurting out your truth of the moment isn’t always the best option. Nor is entering a conversation as a brand – no matter how well-intentioned – without thinking it through. How to decide whether to say something is a question Luvvie gets asked again and again.
So she developed this decision-making formula, which works for both brand and individual decisions.
Ask these three questions:
- Do I (or does the brand) mean it? Do you believe in what you’re thinking of saying, or are you chiming in only to disrupt or be part of the conversation?
- Can I/the brand defend it? If you’re challenging something, you have to be OK with being challenged. If you can’t defend or justify your position, you probably shouldn’t air it.
- Can I/the brand say it thoughtfully or with love? How you communicate a message affects how it lands. This is also a good checkpoint to make sure that you're thinking about the humanity of the person who will receive this message, Luvvie says.
Before you speak, ask: Do we mean it? Can we defend it? Can we say it thoughtfully? @Luvvie via @CMIContent
If you answer yes to all three, you have a responsibility to speak out, Luvvie says, even though there’s no guarantee the message will be received as you meant it.
That’s the point of her rubric – to save your truth-telling for the moments that matter. And when it matters, Luvvie says, “Your job is to say it in the best way possible. However it lands after that, you can deal with it.”
Telling the truth isn’t easy for anyone
If you think truth-telling is easier for a personal brand than for a corporate (or even nonprofit) brand, Luvvie wants you to know that’s not so.
“I could show up tomorrow and say, ‘You know what, today I'm not going to be a truth-teller,’” she says. “It’s a moment-by-moment decision we make to stand up and elevate and challenge the things that aren’t OK. And the truth is scary even for those of us … who've been practicing for a long time.”
Saying nothing costs something
Nearly every brand marketer, agency, and content creator can name missteps from brands whose attempts to enter a current conversation went wrong: the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad, Starbucks’ Race Together campaign, Burger King’s #FeelYourWay, Gilette’s The Best Men Can Be, DiGiornia’s #WhyIStayed tweet, and the list goes on.
It’s easy to ascribe these missteps to a flawed strategy, lack of audience understanding, or a credibility deficit on the issue. But it’s also a person or several who didn’t tell the truth.
“Every time a company has major backlash over something they did publicly, like when they put out an ad that wasn’t thoughtful at all, (I think), ‘Who was the person who knew that this would not go well but did not speak up,’” Luvvie says.
When companies suffer backlash for poorly conceived ads or commentary, @Luvvie asks, “Who was the person who knew this would not go well but did not speak up?” via @CMIContent
How to encourage truth-telling
on your team
Far from excoriating the people who stayed silent, Luvvie suggests understanding what kept them from speaking out.
In most cases, she says, their reasons fall into one of these categories:
- They feel like it’s not their responsibility or purview.
- They want to say something but fear the consequences.
- They feel like they’re always the ones to speak up and decide to stay silent for a change.
And all these reasons are perfectly valid, Luvvie acknowledges, but that doesn’t make them any less detrimental to the team or brand's outcome.
Luckily, each excuse has an antidote.
Counter the not-my-department mindset
It might feel safer in the moment to not speak up because you think it’s not your responsibility or place, but Luvvie says that’s a false sense of security: “If my neighbor's house was on fire and I say, ‘Well, not my house,’ what happens if the smoke and the fire reach my house right next door? Then who helps me put out my fire? I thought it wasn't my business, but it quickly became my business.”
As for brand missteps, Luvvie asks, “What if that commercial goes nuts, the backlash comes, and the company suffers a financial loss because of it. Now they have to make cuts in your department … maybe even you.”
If you’re a team leader, it’s your responsibility to encourage people to speak up for the good of the team, campaign, or brand as a whole.
Counter the fear of negative consequences
It’s also your responsibility to shoulder the burden of making people feel (and be) safe enough to speak out.
Luvvie says the fear of consequences is especially prevalent among people in marginalized groups. She encourages people in leadership to make sure people with less power can speak up without fear of losing their jobs.
“We can use our power to make sure they have more of a voice, more access, more power to be able to say something,” she says. “The intern who is afraid, ‘If I speak up, I might get fired,’ … should not feel like they need to be the ones to lay themselves on the line. The vice president of the department should put themselves on the line.”
That means, if you are a person who has standing at the company, you have the responsibility to speak up even when afraid of losing something. “If you’re the person who's been at the company for 15 years and has amazing job security, what’s the consequence you're afraid of?” Luvvie asks.
She suggests working through the worst-case scenarios. Will you be embarrassed? Will HR write you up? Or will you be fired and unable to support yourself and the people who depend on you?
If that last worst-case scenario isn’t likely, then what are you afraid of?. “If we're constantly in our best-case scenarios because of the fear of the worst-case scenario, we're not going to have a great world because we are afraid of whatever consequence might come,” she says.
Counter the truth-teller’s day off
As Luvvie says, truth-telling is hard and sometimes scary work. It’s understandable for fatigue to set in. That’s why you need to cultivate more than one truth-teller.
“My hope is that if one truth-teller decides to be quiet that day, another rises up and says, ‘I'm going to take the baton today,’” Luvvie says.
And maybe that truth-teller needs to be you. “We shouldn’t constantly depend on other people to do the jobs we should be doing. We're constantly waiting for Superman or Superwoman when we also have red capes. We’ve got to start using our red capes,” she says. CCO
Kim Moutsos is vice president of editorial at the Content Marketing Institute. In 2021, she'll take the reins as editor-in-chief of CCO. Follow her on Twitter at @KMoutsos or connect with her on LinkedIn.
Who was your favorite recent #CMWorld celebrity keynote?
- Luvvie Ajayi Jones (2020)
- W. Kamau Bell (2020)
- Mindy Kaling (2019)
- Henry Rollins (2019)
- Tina Fey (2018)
- Dewitt Jones (2018)
Hey Google Analytics, Can You Add This Sweet Metric?
Welcome to Unsolicited Advice, where Andrew Davis dishes out content marketing guidance to one unsuspecting target – whether they wanted it or not. This time around he offers Google’s head of analytics a suggestion about the one metric content marketers crave.
Head of Analytics
Dear Mr. Mitkovski,
There is a metric missing from Google Analytics, and it's the number that would transform marketing forever.
I love Google Analytics. It's so insightful. It provides marketers like me with a window into our customers’ greatest informational needs. There's no denying that your tools have shaped how we create, share, and analyze our web properties' performance. Kudos to you and your team for keeping brands focused on delivering a useful, high-quality content experience – and reminding us of whom we are creating it for!
But as a content marketer, I need access to just one additional insight: revenue per subscriber. I know you’re making big changes to enhance consumers’ privacy and their online experience, but what about those consumers who want a deeper relationship with the brands they’ve discovered?
As a Googler (is that a thing?), I know you appreciate the power of creating content to build a trusted relationship with an audience. For many of us, that means inviting the content consumer to subscribe for reliable access to our most valuable insights. Then, over time, we can inspire them to buy from and evangelize for our brand. (Not just once, but over and over.)
Sure, Google Analytics allows us to set up subscriptions as a goal and build a funnel to see how effective we are at converting casual browsers into loyal followers. But then what? How do we determine the impact those followers are making on our business’ bottom line?
All I want to know is how valuable a subscriber is? Are they more valuable to us than just a one-time buyer? Do they buy more often? Do they spend more when they buy? Can their subscriber status be used to help us grow our customer base?
I'm sure you have hundreds of feature requests and algorithm updates on your team’s to-do list, but I have a deal for you (and, you kind of owe us for taking our tracking cookies away): Empower marketers to report on their revenue per subscriber, and I'll help you teach every marketer I can how valuable that number is. Not only will you make your marketing customers happier, you'll transform our ability to build more satisfying relationships with the customers we serve.
What do you say? Do we have a deal?
Whether you wanted it or not,
Host and author, The Loyalty Loop
How to Manage It,
Measure It, and
Market With It
Creating empathetic content requires marketers to shift their focus – from educated assumptions about transactional needs to a deeper, more holistic understanding of their audience. How? The answer may lie in this four-step process.
By Gina Balarin
Quality B2B content can lack empathy. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2019 B2B research, 42% of B2B marketers talk to clients as part of their research.
Turn assumptions and biases on their head to create empathetic #content that gets results, says @GBalarin via @CMIContent.
Yet empathy isn’t just a nice-to-have. Acknowledged as “a key source of business innovation” by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, empathy helps you connect with others, lowers your stress, and relieves “burnout,” as well as guide your moral compass, according to Psychology Today.
But beyond empathy’s aspirational and psychological benefits, it can improve the quality and effectiveness of your content. Even better, it can deliver other positive outcomes for both your business and your audience. For example, empathy:
- Enables marketers to identify and better understand those who will be most receptive to their content – and when.
- Increases audience trust by promoting a willingness to address their needs as humans rather than as “marketing targets.”
- Raises awareness of perspectives of others, which can lead to greater marketing-sales alignment.
B2B buyers want empathy
At Content Marketing World 2019, April Henderson of Forrester Research made the bold statement that B2B buyers want empathy, not empty promises. After all, B2B buyers are no less human than B2C buyers, they just purchase under a different set of conditions and constraints. Still, marketers assume that logic is the primary driver of their decision-making.
It’s an unnecessary assumption – and one that limits your content’s ability to resonate with the B2B audience. As April points out, “They don’t turn off their B2C brain when making a B2B purchase.”
I suggest an alternative approach – one that strikes a balance between the rational and the emotional decision-making factors. It starts with revisiting our storytelling roots and, more importantly, tapping into the emotion at the heart of those roots. Only then can our B2B content become truly, deeply empathetic.
Truly, deeply empathetic content is rooted in storytelling, says @GBalarin via @CMIContent.
Personas are more hindrance
If increased empathy in B2B content is a wondrous magic-bullet solution, why do brands struggle to incorporate it consistently and successfully? The fault may lie with some of our most fundamental marketing processes and collaborations. The solution may require a bit of refocusing in key areas – or at least a session or two of sensitivity training.
For example, empathy requires a deep understanding of humans and humanness. Personas – generalizations intended to characterize and categorize consumers into targetable segments – arguably, help create that deeper understanding of who we’re writing for and, ultimately, selling to. That’s why sales and marketing departments commonly rely on them as a tool for creating targeted messages and distributing them at the right time and place to influence purchase decisions.
Unfortunately, reality doesn’t always reflect these ideals because personas aren’t designed to help marketers develop empathy. More often than not, personas don’t help marketers convey real human understanding in their content that ensues.
Why? For starters, most personas don’t go deep enough. Sure, they can help us understand that CFO Sam likes to make money; but they fail us in exploring our prospects’ emotional triggers, their hopes and fears, and their personal purchase motivations. In short, they overlook the why behind the buy.
Personas overlook the why behind the buy, says @GBalarin via @CMIContent.
Of necessity, personas are created by making assumptions about audiences based on their exhibited behaviors or stated opinions. But that focuses on finding similarities rather than exploring meaningful differences.
In my book, The Secret Army: Leadership, Marketing and the Power of People, I argue that the risk of creating these surface-level personas is that marketers end up putting customers in a box and talking to them like they’re all the same without ever really knowing what makes them tick.
Further, even if we gather data using the most “human” tools (focus groups and interviews, for example), any insights gathered may be tempered by biases and groupthink. Sadly, people aren’t always honest or forthcoming in the information they reveal on certain channels, particularly in group settings.
Our cut-and-paste process for applying personas to our content creation efforts is problematic, as well. It can keep the focus on our brand’s priorities than our audience’s. CMI’s 2020 Content Management and Strategy Survey reports, “showing empathy with customers’ values/ interests/ pain points” is secondary to “driving our brand’s value proposition.” This puts us at risk of becoming so concerned with doing right for our business that we forget to tell a good story – one that involves and engages our audience and compels them to invite us to take part in their journeys.
Investments in empathy pay off
in brand trust
Can increased empathy help marketers achieve business objectives, including enhancing team collaboration, increasing productivity, and driving greater ROI? For an answer to this question, I spoke with Daniel Murray, chief empathy officer at Empathic Consulting, who helps companies apply this skill to drive more competitive and contemporary business strategies.
While a clear link between empathy and organizational success has not yet been researched well or empirically demonstrated, the logic is simple, Daniel says. “I know it seems like it’s obvious, and these things should go together, but in chasing the numbers we sometimes forget the meaning that lies underneath. (As consumers) we want to be around people who understand us, whom we like and trust. We want to able to do business with people who understand what we need, who ‘get’ us at a deeper level. We want to have relationships with them – and we are more likely to buy products and services from those who can meet our unspoken needs,” he says.
Plus, feeling someone really gets us makes us feel better. And if it works for us, you can bet it will work for those who read or engage with our content, too.
Empathy delivers internal benefits
“I can hardly think of an interaction between humans where empathy won’t add some benefits,” says Daniel. Think about the relationship between sales and marketing teams. Challenges often arise because both groups must become experts in their field, which requires developing specialties. Each team doesn’t focus on what the other group does. As they develop specialized skills, particular viewpoints, and a certain focus, they lose touch with what they have in common, he says.
How do we change that? Daniel suggests focusing on the common denominator that drives our success – our customers:
“Let’s really dive into understanding the customer: not from our world, from our perspective, but from the customer’s perspective. Let’s sit in that place with them, or imagine how it is in their world, and discuss what their needs are, what they love, what they fear, what’s important to them. Then, we can step back to our frameworks and think, ‘How can we best serve these needs with the toolsets we have?’”
Can empathy in content be measured? Listen in.
How marketers incorporate empathy
“When I think about empathy, it’s really about trying to understand what drives people. What makes them work?” Daniel says.
The direct approach is often the best: Ask. But Daniel urges us to remember it’s not only about what you ask but how you ask.
“There is nothing better for connecting with a human than starting a direct, human-to-human conversation,” he says. “Deep psychographic research or research that’s based on understanding human stories is critical.”
To set the stage for more emotionally open conversations, content marketers must sharpen their interviewer skills – learning to be comfortable asking uncomfortable questions, listening to the answers without judgment, and following up when the response is not fully understood.
There also is an art of observation that lies beneath great interviewing. Daniel believes the best way to get a true, deep understanding of your customer is to see them in their natural habitat. “Much as animals behave differently in a zoo than when they are in their natural habitats, so do humans,” he says.
Daniel suggests content marketers can achieve this by asking to visit customers in their office or sit and chat with them in their workspace (teleconferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams make this an easier ask today.) As you chat, observe their surroundings and ask questions about the things you see – what’s on their bookshelves, what artwork or memorabilia they have on display, or which people (or pets) might pop by in the background. Even if these conversations happen virtually, getting a sense of place for your audience provides an invaluable opportunity to truly contextualize the information your customers share verbally.
Getting a sense of place for your audience provides an invaluable opportunity to truly contextualize the information your customers share verbally, says @GBalarin via @CMIContent.
“That’s the trick with empathy,” Daniel says, “it’s not necessarily what they say that’s important. It’s what they’re feeling. The challenge is to get past their façades and (get invited) into that space.”
Peel away the façade
Shrek was half-right. It isn’t just ogres that have layers like onions. Humans do, too. To get to those deeper layers of meaning, we use empathy to peel back surface expectations, behavioral norms, and boilerplate responses until they trust us enough to reveal their true selves.
It’s not always easy to achieve, but it is possible. Daniel’s four steps (below) for unpacking empathy in a leadership context can help, but, as deeply curious humans, content marketers must get out of their own way to get to the crux of a great story.
“The biggest barrier to empathy,” says Daniel, “is assuming we already understand.”
Step 1: Be consciously curious
We have unconscious biases and preconceptions. When you enter into a conversation thinking you already know the answers, you can’t fully listen to the responses. Making a conscious effort to park your biases during the discussions, you’re more likely to learn new and valuable insights that reshape your customer vision in a more empathetic and resonant direction.
Be OK getting challenging answers to your questions and responses that conflict with your point of view. That’s a desirable situation because it can unlock new ways of seeing the world through your customer’s eyes.
Step 2: Explore openly
Once you consciously put aside your biases, you can ask open-ended questions to explore a topic in richer detail. Daniel’s tip? Learn to say, “That’s really interesting. Tell me more.”
Being genuinely interested, shutting up long enough to let people tell their story, and asking questions that probe areas where things don’t make sense, you can discover unusual insights that can turn into powerful and uniquely original content.
Step 3: Challenge your
By listening with curiosity and openly exploring the reality that someone else inhabits, you can create a new mental model to make decisions (or produce content) with a newfound understanding. In other words, you start to see what life is like for the person you’re interviewing, which helps you write for them with greater empathy.
Think of the acronym IRATE: If what you write is interesting, relevant, appropriate, timely, and entertaining, educational, or engaging for that person, it prevents them from feeling irate while consuming it.
Step 4: Inspire curiosity
Rather than encourage everyone to get enthusiastic about the things that you (as brand marketers) love, inspire curiosity by helping your audience step into a consciously curious place and providing an environment for them to think about things in a different way.
Once you live inside your prospect’s world and demonstrated that you know and understand them, you, as a business they trust, can subtly suggest solutions to their problems to satisfy their curiosity. You earn this right by sharing stories of people like them (especially using real-life customer stories, quotes, and case studies) or providing them with evidence that they’re not alone.
Extend your empathy strategy
Practicing empathy and listening to your audience allows deeper understanding that better inform your content marketing strategy and even improve conversion rates. “The more we can dive into the world of the people we want to do business with, understand their needs as people, and meet those needs in a meaningful way, the better,” Daniel says.
What are you waiting for? If you aren’t being consciously curious, openly exploring, challenging original models, and using this new depth of understanding to create satisfying storytelling experiences, what’s stopping you? CCO
Remember: Facts tell, but stories sell.
Gina Balarin isn’t just an inspirational TEDx and keynote speaker, storyteller, and B2B marketing leader, she is an MCIM Chartered Marketer with a master's of education in management communication and a member of the Professional Speaking Association. The author of The Secret Army: Leadership, Marketing and the Power of People, among numerous other texts, Gina’s goal is to magnify the impact of her clients’ influence through her expert guiding hand, visionary consultancy, and authentic storytelling prowess.
Content Experts Share What Matters Most in 2021
To make 2021 planning feel like less of a moving target, we asked seasoned industry change agents about the trends they’re watching as they form their content plans for the new year.
Read the highlights and takeaways from the discussion here, or watch the 60-minute video.
By Jodi Harris
Be flexible and look for
Deanna: COVID-19, as well as all of the other things that happened in 2020, has significantly shifted my content strategy. For my high-level content goals for 2021, I’m looking at how to create a strategy that’s flexible. It has to serve the needs of my audiences and their preferred channels. It needs to emphasize humanity because people connect with people. And I need to measure my content effectiveness a little differently – maybe by looking at consumption measures and feedback indicators versus volume and design.
How do we make it as easy, as painless, and as fun as possible to experience our marketing? We need to be able to deliver experiences, says @4MarkB via @CMIContent.
Marcus: [The way marketers talk about content] is often about the things people hate. No one’s like, “Yes! White papers. Love them,” right? No one goes to the movies [pre-COVID] and says, “Man, Christopher Nolan gave us some great content,” or “Drake just dropped some really dope content.” No one says that. People say, “It was a great album.” “It was a great movie.”
If we think about the messages that we put out in the world … things that are experiential, that add value, that feel good, that feel human, I think that’s how marketers start thinking about people first and creating the messages that help propagate these communities that we’re a part of.
Mark: The thing that we’ve been thinking the most about is how do we make it as easy, as painless, and as fun for people to experience our marketing as possible. And the conclusion that we came to is that we need to be able to deliver experiences.
Digital transformation doesn’t matter unless it’s customer-first, says @JBergmann via @CMIContent.
Jessica: COVID forced us all to align. We’re a big company. We have a lot of different teams, a lot of regions. And when we all came together and focused on episodic content, it helped us tell a wider range of stories within some guardrails. I think in this current environment, having foundational elements that maintain some flexibility so you can balance short-range and long-range planning is key to achieving success – being able to move fast enough while having all of your teams cross-functionally aligned to get the work done.
Know audience priorities
David: For our clients, there’s been a really interesting focus on understanding the audience, resetting the audience’s needs because they’ve suddenly been reprioritized – the more basic needs are now much more important than ever before. If you get that right, everything else becomes easier, and you get out of the tactical game of developing thousands of pieces of content that are, frankly, irrelevant.
Jessica: We talk a lot about digital transformation at Salesforce, and the COVID situation has accelerated that investment for our customers. But digital transformation in and of itself doesn’t matter unless it’s customer-first.
So, we talk a lot about customer-first transformation and hearing from the communities – not trying to market to them, but actually going where they are. Sometimes they’re on Slack channels and just want to connect with peers and get help. We’ve started to look more at how we can help build these communities so they can share information quickly … It’s about helping, listening, and making sure their voices are part of our content.
Kristin: I work for a B2B tech company that serves creative people. And I think all these creative people in the room will agree with me when I say I miss that sense of connection. We were supposed to go to 12 in-person events this year and all of them were canceled overnight. So, all of a sudden, we realized that our audience was really craving this connection with their peers, and everybody wanted a chance to see what everybody else was doing.
They didn’t necessarily want to hear from us; they wanted to hear from each other and to connect with each other.
One of the things that we did was a virtual summit where we brought together a bunch of different speakers from all over our community to share what they were doing. But then we also launched a Slack community … and the response was amazing.
Really, we could plan all the programming we wanted, but the real value was in that sense of, “Oh, I’m not alone. Other people are going through the same thing.” It provided such a valuable sense of connection in a time where everybody needed it.
Deanna: You’re spot on with community and connectedness. We even thought about how we could not only help and connect peer-to-peer but also give them time back and make it so that they could connect on their terms.
So, we started with biweekly 15-minute chats over coffee to give it that more human connection. “Join us here, learn from each other, take it back into your day, and let us know how it’s working and if it’s valuable.” It’s bidirectional, yet human; it’s less about a marketing message and more about peer-to-peer learning. I think those types of experiences are going to be key.
It gave us a chance to hear with some empathy where they are. What were they experiencing? What were they needing?
And then, we married in the digital components of the intent data and the technographic data. What are they searching for? What was expressed? What has been searched? What is in place? And then we asked, how can we support the whole human? That’s what makes it authentic.
Lead with empathy and
Marcus: It’s not enough for us to “walk a mile in our audience’s shoes.” We have to see how they see the world and remove our own biases, our own judgments. Because if we understand how people make meaning, then we can take that understanding of who they really are and solve the problems that they have, be it wants or needs. And a lot of that comes from being a part of the discourse that we see in social listening – asking the right questions to get the answers that really unearth the things that are in people’s hearts.
We must see the world as our audience does and remove our own biases and judgments, says @MarcToTheC via @CMIContent.
David: The content world is very good at meeting functional needs, but not at all good at meeting emotional needs. Yes, you have to tick the box of the functional needs, but you’re going to know that all of your competitors are going to do that, as well. And that leads to commoditization and generic solutions.
But the emotional need … if you can describe that in a unique and interesting way, that’s what leads to big ideas. The content world has very, very few big ideas. But if we get better at getting to the emotional insight, a brand can own that. And then I think it will lead to exciting ideas, concepts, and experiences. It’s easy to say but hard to do, I think.
Act fast (enough)
Kristin: I think it’s really important to act on insights really quickly, especially at this time, because you never know when something’s going to be irrelevant even in a couple of weeks. And one thing that we’ve really pushed for is more real-time storytelling. So, after we talk to a customer, how can we turn that story around really quickly?
This is the time to take risks because everyone is a little bit more forgiving right now, says @KristinTwiford via @CMIContent.
David: Kristin, is there a risk of moving too fast?
Kristin: I think there’s a risk of moving too fast, but then there’s also a risk of missing an opportunity. I think you need to take a calculated risk … OK, maybe something isn’t going to be at its best, most thought-out level of quality as much as it could be if we spent a year on this. But then again, we’d miss the opportunity if we wait a year on it or even a couple of months. This is the time to take risks because everyone is a little bit more forgiving right now.
John: The beauty of digital publishing and digital content is you can make media changes judging by response and performance. And I think you can pivot very, very quickly and go down a different route. I don’t think you can ever go too fast – I’m more scared of moving too slowly, because the world is changing super, super fast. I worry that our content could be getting left behind.
David: One of the lessons Manifest has learned is that many of the initial responses to COVID-19 in hindsight were wrong and ill-advised and had to be changed. So, I think you always have more time than you really think you have.
I counsel clients to [take the time to] get it right, especially because of the brand-building implications of content. Content can really mess up a brand strategy if we experiment too much. Brands need consistency and stability. So, I would vote for a more organized approach – less breathless, more organized, maybe a little bit slower.
I counsel clients to take the time to get it right, especially because of content’s brand-building implications, says David Brown of @Manifest_Agency via @CMIContent.
Make a lasting change
for all audiences
Marcus: If you don’t have representation of those communities [in your organization], then [you aren’t] being fully empathetic and understanding your consumers – how they see the world, how they make meaning.
And to me, it’s like, it’s about damn time. Good grief. The buying power of the Black community alone is out of this world. And to be ignored for as long as it has just seems like dumb business. It seems stupid.
So, I appreciate the fact that [the need for greater diversity] is now clear and present for the business community more broadly. And I hope this is not a moment in time, but rather a lasting change to our perspective of how we go to market and how we run our businesses.
Deanna: We’ve been talking about empathy and humanity quite a bit in terms of our audiences. But it should start with how you are purposefully creating and ideating on [those ideals] before you put [your content out] into the world.
Think about not just the needs of one particular audience but of all of your audiences. Think of stories – and representation in those stories – that connect on that emotional level with them, which is where you’re going to get a connection …
It’s about time, across the full spectrum, that we purposely think about the people that we are connecting with and how to serve them better.
Mark: I feel that each of us needs to look at ourselves and think about our own preconditioned biases. I think we all need to start listening to and having conversations that may be difficult
We spend so much time thinking about #content. We need to take the same type of approach to thinking about our own viewpoints as they relate to diversity and cultural differences, says @4MarkB via @CMIContent.
We spend so much time thinking about our content. Well, maybe we need to start taking the same type of approach to thinking about our own viewpoints as they relate to diversity and cultural differences. We need to come together to try to make this the long-term work, not just pay it short-term lip service.
John: I think this whole remote thing has basically kind of opened the door to this at Atlassian because now we’re not necessarily relying on the Bay Area and Silicon Valley for the hiring process. We can now look for talent everywhere.
In a way, it’s not about content, but it is about getting your team and representing them in the right way. It’s been tough all year. But there are some real opportunities there.
Jessica: In addition to making sure there are diverse voices in our content, we’re also thinking about our immediate hiring processes.
How do we make sure we’re doing blind portfolio reviews – looking at portfolios without seeing any names attached – to remove any of our biases?
Before putting your #content out into the world, think about the needs of all of your audiences, says @DeeRansom3 via @CMIContent.
[We’re] making sure we’re holding vendors, and contractors, and all of our partners accountable, as well. [We’re] taking a look at things that were just standard practice and really questioning, “How do we increase the diversity of the pool of candidates we’re bringing in?”
It’s diverse voices and representation [in our content], but it’s also the hiring practices, in combination, to make sure we’re able to do something ourselves, but also change the way [marketers] operate within the company.
Deanna: That is so authentic that it resonates. It starts with “you.”
Before you ever think about what you’re going to put out, look around your room. Before you think about what you’re going to create, what voices are you hearing? What imagery are you shining? Work from that, inside out, and then it will ring true. CCO
Jodi Harris is the director of editorial content and strategy at Content Marketing Institute and serves as editor-in-chief of its digital magazine, Chief Content Officer. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.
We Can – and Should –
Do More Than Talk
Marketers sometimes shy away from addressing issues like racism, bias, and discrimination for fear of saying the wrong thing. But silence leaves influential consumers out in the cold – and a lot of potential revenue on the table. Before you take a stand, take some advice from these four diversity warriors.
By Jodi Harris
Content marketers have always been tasked with understanding the challenges our audiences face. But few of those challenges are as complex, painful, and difficult to discuss as the effects of bias, systemic racism, and other damaging forms of discrimination.
If you’re wrestling with the role your brand and content plays, look (and listen) to the voices that exist outside of your typical echo chamber. Then, take an honest look at your business’ value through a broader and more inclusive lens.
We spoke with Christine Michel Carter, author, creator of Mompreneur and Me, and founder of Minority Woman Marketing LLC, in 2019 about the work content leaders must do to increase the diversity of thought in their processes and practices.
The advice she shared rings just as true today as it did then. Given the higher priority businesses are now placing on actively counteracting racism and inequality, we reconnected with Christine for an update. No article on diversity and inclusivity can be adequately covered from just one perspective, so we invited more industry voices to share their thoughts and ideas.
Cutting a check to a nonprofit advocating for #BLM is great; committing to having a percentage of your brand’s leadership be Black is even more meaningful, says @CMichelCarter via @CMIContent.
It’s not just about adding
voices … it’s about putting
them in positions of power
One of the biggest problems that I’ve seen is that while companies might have some diverse professionals within the organization, and those folks may even be placed in leadership positions, they aren’t given the titles, the pay, or the clout to really sit at the table, which means that their ideas can often be ignored. That’s a huge problem because then we’re not really bringing diversity of thought and taking it seriously within the organization. We’re just giving people pet projects and checking a box, but it doesn’t really solve problems in the long run.
Bring diversity to the table –
or risk leaving money on it
What are brands putting at risk if they aren’t taking the initiative to increase the inclusivity in their content efforts? Money. Money is what’s always at risk. For example, if we’re talking about [omitting Black women’s voices from our conversations], we’re putting an estimated $1.5 trillion at stake because those women are not only able to purchase, but they’re also able to influence other generations within that race and across other races. They’re quite often thought leaders and innovators within the consumer landscape. So, you’re really losing a lot when you fail to consider that entire audience.
Hire for culture add, not culture fit
One of the beautiful things that I’m seeing is the increase in hiring for diversity – including freelancers, influencers, and content creators – as companies begin to accept that they need help learning to speak to those audiences.
Look for somebody who has experience speaking to that [distinct audience segment] you’re targeting, such as consumers in urban communities – somebody who has a great personal blog or a great social media presence and has already developed a voice in that community and strong rapport with that audience.
Take actions that speak
louder than words
There’s a large population of Black women who are bloggers. Yet, when you go on social media, it doesn’t necessarily reflect the volume of their voices. It wouldn’t be hard for a company to find experienced, diverse bloggers who can support their content marketing goals. They just need to be willing to do it.
That work includes putting their leadership (and not just their money) where their mouth is. For example, cutting a check to a nonprofit advocating for Black Lives Matter is one thing; committing to having a certain percentage of each department’s leadership be Black is even more meaningful.
Deanna Ransom, Televerde’s head of marketing and marketing services penned a powerful article on how Black employees felt and the actions they wanted business leaders to take following the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd. Here, Deanna shares her thoughts on how brands can increase their support of BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) audiences – in their content and among those who contribute to it.
It’s OK to not have all the answers
I’ve seen some brands struggle with making clear statements on where they stand. For me, a good step one is taking an honest assessment of how you, as a company, really feel about diversity and inclusivity. You have to start there. What is your stance? And if you’ve not formally created a stance, what an awesome opportunity you have to do it now.
I mean, when you look at a company like Nike, they have always had a pretty clear stance on who they are and how [diversity] fits with their brand purpose and brand promise. It is very authentic because it’s built into the brand’s identity. And when something’s a part of the identity, it definitely leaks into the strategy.
It’s about asking, “Who are we right now and who do we want to be?” Have you just found a gigantic gap [between those states]? It’s OK if you do find a gap. But then ask, “Do we have voices that can help us be authentic in how we speak to that gap?
If not, that’s OK too because now you know to go look for partners and alliances that can spark those deeper conversations in your content. There’s nothing more authentic than saying, “I don’t know,” right? We might not have the right words to speak, so we’re reaching out to our partners and asking them, “What should we say until we get the words?” How powerful is that?
Not sure how to create authentic connections with BIPOC audiences through #ContentMarketing? You have the power to say, “We don't know … but we want to,” and then ask your brand partners for help, says @DeeRansom3 via @CMIContent.
Seek native authenticity
Look around the room. If everyone in the room looks like you, you need to invite other people into the room. Give permission to the people in the room to say, “Wait a minute, we’re missing a couple of voices.”
If you have a lot of really, really, really smart people, but you’re not getting different voices, different people to contribute, you’re not going to have authenticity [with BIPOC audiences] in your content. It may have the intellectual piece, but it won’t ring all the way through.
For me, great content marketing means that I’m going to be able to find myself in your brand’s message, in your story, in your imagery. And that’s a big part of what I look for – not whether it rings to me professionally or it rings to me personally since those can be two different things. But what I love most is when it rings to all of me. Content has the ability to do that.
Include BIPOC audiences in
your storytelling journey
Here’s another thing that content can do: It can help to say, “We’ve identified something [we want to explore]; take this journey with us.” Who doesn’t want to get brought into a journey? And helping a company that is willing to say, “Help us be better”? Well, now through your content, you are enabling new voices to power your journey in a powerful way. You’re also enabling them to connect with you, and that’s so authentic.
Everyone can buy into that. And I think that’s a powerful place where content leaders could help spark that conversation. You have the power to say, “We don’t know, but we want to.”
Content leaders can put, as part of informing their strategy, a story-gathering component into their storytelling process. In areas where your brand doesn’t have the right stories to tell, this enables you to go get them from your audience.
You might find a story that is so powerful, you may want to ask permission to tell that story or to share that story. It becomes very authentic because it’s in that person’s voice, so you become an amplifier.
Our success is really about our customer success. It’s their story, we just power it. We just enable it. If it’s not an authentic experience and you can’t speak to it, there’s nothing wrong with that – I mean, we’re not all living the same experience. We’re not all coming from the same place. But gathering stories, sharing stories, telling stories, using the right imagery, and messaging to share that story … now you’re finding [your] blind spots… [filling them in] will only make your brand stronger, your reach stretch further, and your resonance greater.
CMWorld attendees may recognize Sydni Craig-Hart from the many presentations she’s delivered on multicultural marketing. Here, the co-founder and CEO of Smart Simple Marketing, an agency that advises brands on how to engage small businesses, women, and minorities, talks about the difference between empty virtue signaling and serving audience needs in a meaningful, empathetic way.
What a meaningful shift
toward diversity looks like
Everyone’s so concerned right now about not making a mistake and not getting it wrong. But here’s the thing, you’re not always going to get it right. There are no easy answers to any of this. A genuine effort, genuine interest, and genuine investment in diverse
perspectives, that is going to shine through in what you’re trying to do.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of this exact formula is Google. Google has created a product inclusion team. This team’s specific job is to consider diverse perspectives as the various teams build products.
I think it’s really cool that, at the product development stage, Google is trying to invest in making sure they’re inclusive. Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect; but, they put a considerable amount of money and resources into serving their incredibly diverse audience, and you can tell. You can see it in the result of the product, which then, of course, makes our job as marketers a lot easier. So, I think that’s a really important consideration too.
Doing that level of investment on the front end and the awareness that it creates and the insight that it provides, that’s priceless. That’s really how you shift people’s perspective.
Brands that invest in customer-centricity will have fewer problems with multicultural marketing. And then diversity doesn’t have to be dealt with. It’ll just be a part of how we do our jobs, says @SydniCraigHart via @CMIContent.
I think the more companies follow that example and invest in getting to know their customers – meaning talking to them, or spending a day with them, not trying to pitch them, not trying to sell them, just to watch how they operate from their eyes – the more successful they will be at creating inclusive content. That is what customer-centricity looks like. Brands that invest in genuine customer-centricity are going to have a lot fewer problems with multicultural marketing. It will just become an organic part of what they do. And then [diversity] won’t be a thing that has to be “dealt with” or a thing that we have to fear making a mistake around. It’ll just be a part of how we do our jobs.
Marketers have a responsibility to speak to all customer communities
I feel so strongly that, as a marketing community, we do not respect, own, and do right by the responsibility that we have. We have an amazing impact on the conversations that happen in the world, how consumers think about certain topics. The content we create can either unify people or create more division. We have this amazing opportunity and responsibility, and we do not do right by that as a community. At all. We keep getting caught up in our KPIs, and “will management want this?” We don’t advocate for all the people we claim we want to serve. This is not a black, or white, or any color issue. This is across the board.
If you have a supplier diversity program at your company, you need to get to know what those folks are doing and leverage their expertise. They can help you source and vet diverse suppliers who can support your efforts to create more inclusive content. They are fantastic partners for you and will help you do a better job of meeting your goals. The supplier diversity team will help you find all the resources you need at every stage of the marketing funnel and save you from yourself because usually, nobody’s team is diverse enough to take into account all [your customers’] perspectives.
If you do not have a supplier diversity program in your company, you should. Until your company launches a formal program, you can still go seek out diverse voices – even if it’s freelancers. Maybe you don’t have the budget for a consultancy or an agency. You can hire more diverse writers to write for you. At the very least, you need to invite in multicultural marketing experts to weigh in on your overall strategy. There’s no excuse for not inviting diverse voices to the table.
Paying attention vs.
paying lip service
I’m so annoyed at this knee-jerk reaction of, “Oh, well we gave the XYZ organization $10 million.” OK, that’s nice. I appreciate that. But where’s the accountability for that donation? So, you wrote XYZ organization a check and …? You don’t know what the impact of that is. Are you going to be following up with them and tracking what they’re doing with that $10 million and what the impact will be on your business?
If a company wants to stand up and say, “We want to advocate for people of color,” “we’re going to make sure we’re inclusive,” “we’re committed to inviting diverse perspectives to the table and supporting diversity,” writing a check doesn’t let you off the hook for doing the work.
If you want to create a meaningful impact and create change in your organization and better support multicultural audiences, you need to create your own program, put the right people in place, and make them do the work on themselves, and the brand, and the marketing. You can track that. There’s accountability there. There’s an impact there, versus just writing a check and going back to doing what you always did.
No matter [what organizations] you give the money to, they’re going to use it for what they think is important. And that may not align with your audience and your customers. To create a meaningful impact, create your own program, invest in that program, and hold yourself accountable for meeting your commitments.
Norel Mancuso, CEO of Social House, Inc., has spent much of her career battling the stereotypes of a gay, female leader in the business community. Below, she shares her views on content that resonates strongly with LGBTQIA audiences and the benefits brands stand to gain by engaging them.
What it takes to engage LGBTQIA audiences
There has never been a better time for brands to bring the diverse perspectives and backgrounds of the LGBTQIA community into their content initiatives. Marketing campaigns are often created from the inside of an organization and then broadcasted outwards. However, now more than ever, content needs to be created from the outside, and those perspectives need to be brought inwards toward the brand and its audiences.
Historically, marketers have gained a reputation for generating creative campaigns in silos; sometimes they work and sometimes they come across as pandering. As a solution, I would encourage and advise brands (of any size) to work with their LGBTQIA employees and external agency partners who will know how to appropriately and authentically engage this community in ways that will bring positive change (versus just checking a diversity box).
Do more than signal support
Although the intention is to showcase the support of those who are LGBTQIA, brands launching products with rainbows on them is just not the solution to engaging the community. Supporting the community needs to consist of actions that are ongoing, relevant, and don’t just occur during Pride Month. Consider the challenges that the community faces and help by donating to these causes and incorporating authentic LGBTQIA stories (from real people) into your ongoing social content narrative.
Placing rainbows on your products is not “engaging” the LGBTQIA community. Support needs to consist of actions that are ongoing, relevant, and don’t just occur during Pride Month, says @OurSocialHouse CEO Norel Mancuso via @CMIContent.
Manage responses to your
People will always have opinions on the actions of brands, so it's mission critical that there are proper checks and balances in place prior to content being published. Get second opinions on content you think might be misconstrued.
In terms of community responses to discriminatory comments on social media, we advise clients to have community guidelines posted on your website and/or on Facebook Notes. These community responses should state what your brand will and won't tolerate in terms of things like hate speech, heckling, and other actions. CCO
Jodi Harris is the director of editorial content and strategy at Content Marketing Institute and serves as editor-in-chief of its digital magazine, Chief Content Officer. Follow her on Twitter at @Joderama.