By John Lane published January 31, 2014

Think People Hate Marketing? Try the Right Content in the Right Place

boxing glove holding back others-biasI have a hypothesis that I tend to look at clocks when there is a pattern present. It always reads things like 11:11, 12:34, or 5:55. Happens all the time. I’ve told my wife this on more than one occasion. And every time I do… she tells me I am crazy. She thinks I look at the clock all the time but only remember — or point out — the times that a pattern is present. (This follows the same logic as people thinking they always choose the slowest line in the grocery store.)

Neither of these things reflects reality. These are examples of perception bias.

If you think honestly — really honestly — about how many times you are in line (at the grocery store, fast-food restaurant, gate at the ballpark, and so on) and how often your wait is actually longer than the people around you, the percentage simply isn’t that great. (This hasn’t stopped people from thinking they’re overwhelmed by Murphy’s Law and searching for pointers on how to avoid it.)

So now that I’ve seen the light on my clock theory, I have another hypothesis to share: People don’t hate marketing. 

It’s become popular to say people do, but it’s not necessarily true. People think they hate marketing because they are more apt to remember — and complain about — the times when they are interrupted by marketing and advertisements that they don’t want to hear.

The interesting thing about this new hypothesis is that experiments to prove its validity have already been done. A lot of them. Because people continue to be influenced by marketing and advertising every day, and they spend money on the things that they need and want with an eye toward name brands that resonate with them. Whether they saw it on TV, heard about it on the radio, were told about a product by a friend, or learned about a brand on Facebook, they were influenced, and happily took action.

But perception biases don’t come from nowhere. So let’s explore two possible origins, and discuss how the right content can neutralize them both:

The “misdirected marketing” that people seem to reject most fervently is that which is considered disruptive for one of the following reasons:

A. Marketing in the wrong place: It’s the right message, but it interrupts the wrong audience.
B. Marketing with the wrong message: It reaches the “right” audience, but the message itself doesn’t resonate, for various reasons.

In either case, the disruptive nature of the message is conspicuous, and is likely to trigger a perception bias/negative association with marketing on the whole.

(There’s also: C: It’s the right message, and gets in front of the right audience, but it also reaches others who aren’t interested. Don’t worry so much about this one. This can never be completely eliminated, and “collateral hate” usually doesn’t become significantly detrimental to a brand… even though some companies tend to overthink it — and overreact to it.)

So if the perception bias of hating marketing is due, essentially, to missing marks by using blast methods of marketing, what is the best way to avoid the vitriol yourself?

Effective content marketing, of course.

The right content plan can help you avoid the perception bias altogether, because a primary directive of content marketing is this: to provide the right value to the right person, at the right time, and in the right place. (Notice this is the antithesis of both A and B above.)

To create the right content marketing, you need to start with a clear understanding of your audience. This provides you, the marketer, with a greater ability to anticipate its needs, craft more relevant messages, and place them where the eager audience is most likely to find them — rather than interrupting them with it when they aren’t interested in the least. It’s about recognizing patterns, and planning the best way to capitalize on them.

There are simple, direct ways to find these patterns. Here are three:

1. Primary research: That’s right, the old standby of actually asking questions of the audience you want to connect with. What kind of information (value) are they craving? What channels do they prefer? What is the optimal frequency of communication? Asking one person isn’t enough, but if you have an audience of any size, you’ll see that people will give similar answers and you’ll be able to map patterns of the right messages, the right times, and the right places.

2. Social listening: Not everyone can afford primary research. Or, perhaps you don’t actually have an audience yet that you can talk to so openly. In these cases, social listening can provide powerful answers that will point you in the right direction — only this time, you’ll be looking as much for the questions as you will for the answers.

For example, take a look at the Twitter activity of people who work in your target industry. What questions are they asking about most — what is the gap in information — in relation to your offering? On LinkedIn, what are the discussions about in relevant groups? In the comments of relevant blogs, what are people challenging authors on? What are the opposing points-of-view they are voicing? Where are they linking in order to support “their side”?

Within these platforms lies a gold mine of questions for which your audience is craving answers. If you’re willing to dig, you’ll be better able to map these patterns, and build a plan focused on right messages, right times, and right places.

3. Mining your call center or other customer service channel: We are constantly amazed by how much fodder for powerful content slips right through the grasp of organizations — the questions that are asked (and answers that are given) every day that aren’t being repurposed into content that serves the good of the rest of the audience (i.e., those who aren’t actively asking the questions that are on their minds).

By simply documenting the questions posed to you through customer service channels, you can find patterns that reveal what types of information your audience craves most. And by simply documenting the answers that your knowledgeable reps are providing, you’ll have the makings of proactive content — the kind of messages that hit the right audience at the right time, no matter where they look to find them.

Case in point

Any of the three means above (or others that exist) could have led McDonald’s to all the insight it needed to create the “Our Food. Your Questions” site for its Canadian audience — a perfect example of using pattern recognition to identify content that people will love (as opposed to marketing they “hate”):

example-mcdonalds our food your questions

Yes, there are a lot of questions about McDonald’s food being raised all across the internet (and beyond). And many of those questions are based in not-so-flattering assumptions (like the commonly accepted thought that McNuggets are random chicken parts blended and pressed into friendly shapes). Now McDonald’s could make a commercial about their nuggets being all-natural (and they likely have). But the company would probably have to spend a lot of money to make such an ad, which 1) many people would ignore (A, from above); 2) others wouldn’t want to hear about in the first place (B); and 3) some non-customers would simply use as fodder to depict McDonald’s as a liar, or denigrate the brand in other ways (C).

But what about people who were actively seeking information about McDonald’s food? For this audience, “Our Food. Your Questions.” is exactly the content they need — at their exact moment of need. It’s an engaging experience that provides the content people are looking for, while avoiding the pitfalls of A and B (and C) that add to the perception bias of hated marketing.

McDonald’s identified this “pattern” because the company listens to the questions its audience is asking. Then, it created the right content, and found a way to put it in front of the right people at the right time.

So start looking for the behavior patterns your audience is expressing — and stop feeding perception biases that keep our industry from achieving greater success and acceptance.

For additional examples of content that delivers the right messages at the right time and place, check out CMI’s Content Marketing Playbook: 24 Epic Ideas for Connecting with Your Customers.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: John Lane

Watching TV as a kid, I used to run to the bathroom during the shows so I could make it back for the commercials. Today, as Vice President of Strategy & Creative for Centerline Digital, I craft content strategy that helps clients like IBM, GE, and ChannelAdvisor engage their target audiences. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn (among other social channels).

Other posts by John Lane

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