Includes: ecosystems, product development, buyer’s journey, personas, segmentation, go-to-market and omnichannel
What is Brand Activism?
Building Brand Equity by Supporting Progressive Policies
For most of the 20th century, corporations were conservative. They only recognized one stakeholder: the shareholder. The dominant mantras were “free markets” and “driving shareholder value.” The conservative business perspective was taught in all large MBA schools. We learned that “What is good for business is good for America.” Indeed, progressive views on corporate responsibility that recognized all stakeholders rarely saw the light of day.
In terms of marketing, companies were product-centric. Their focus was: How do we get more people to buy our product?
During the conservative business era, no one said it was “political” to hire lobbyists to advocate for conservative legislation favoring the company and its shareholders. Donations for politicians who supported lower corporate taxes were normative. Going further, large corporations often supported candidates in both parties. This was even better for business … if you could afford it.
But product markets changed radically starting in the 1990s. Corporations lost their monopoly on product information, thanks to the internet. By the 2000s, buyers could complete most of the buying process before contacting a company or a sales representative.
Just as important, labor market power shifted radically. For most of the 20th century, it was hard for job seekers to learn about a company’s true labor practices. Now, sites such as Glassdoor provide forums where current and former employees can anonymously review companies. Job seekers use the internet to choose which companies to pursue or avoid. So, even while union power has faded, workers increasingly vote with their feet by avoiding or quitting poor employers.
Corporate support for diversity was the first major shift toward progressive business practices. The 1964 Civil Rights Act had a widespread impact, including the formation of the EEOC and its power to enforce laws against workplace discrimination.
While many companies resisted it initially, many others created competitive advantages by embracing diversity programs. Diversity laggards suffered the consequences. Customers and job seekers tended to avoid corporations that did not support diversity.
One of the early adopters of diversity is Unilever. Their Dove “Real Beauty” campaign, which started in 2004, is the stuff of legends. The campaign delivered a 60% jump in revenue over 10 years.
Today, corporate diversity programs are normative. Companies are not labeled “activist” when they feature people of color in ads or require diversity training for all employees. That said, there is still a long way to go, especially in industries like hi-tech.
One especially stubborn aspect of corporate responsibility involves pay equity. White workers are about 50 percent more likely than workers of color to hold good jobs, and much less likely to be displaced from their jobs by automation. Women receive 81 cents for every dollar earned by men.
These statistics highlight the systemic nature of racism and sexism in the US.
A leader in correcting pay iniquity is Salesforce. They have spent over $12 million on pay raises to reduce it.
The Salesforce example is not yet normative. Many corporate boards conveniently dismiss pay inequity as inappropriate corporate activism. They say it is not their fault if the labor market pays less to minorities and women.
Others, like Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, regard their pay equity investment as good business strategy. It is closely tied to maintaining their top competitive position around the world.
Corporations now pay close attention to the environmental catastrophe due to global warming. GM recently announced it will only offer electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035. Most US utilities offer customers incentives to adopt energy efficient products (e.g., LED lighting, solar generation) and technologies (smart thermostats). The examples are numerous and growing daily.
Companies that offer sustainability products and services or favor suppliers who actively support sustainability are now normative. They are not activist corporations.
What Are Conservatives Afraid Of?
The number two Google search result for the term progressive corporations is a self-proclaimed “consumer watchdog” website. It declares at the top of its home page:
The Cardinal rule of business is to never even discuss politics, yet some companies have recklessly chosen to alienate half of the country by attacking Donald Trump and/or Republicans, pushing for censorship of conservative speech, and/or supporting the false and racist narrative of systemic racism in police and in America in general. These companies are a threat to our freedoms. If we do nothing, then their left-wing ideologies become the norm.
On the one hand, it is shocking this fake consumer watchdog site ranks so high on Google. On the other, it is a sign of the tumultuous times we live in.
The Way Forward
Many large corporations now enhance their competitiveness by embracing progressive thinking. For marketers, brand activism is nothing more than aligning marketing efforts with the company’s use of progressive thinking to improve its competitive position.
Companies that think business success depends on a singular focus on the shareholder are getting left behind.
Want to learn more about how to leverage progressive thinking into your marketing programs? Contact us.
Read More: Brand activism
The Ethical Disaster Called Facebook
*** Personal Opinion ***
Tim Cook’s recent takedown of Facebook was a long time coming. Facebook has been an ethical trainwreck since its inception. It enables bullies and terrorists. It claims First Amendment protections for its members and absolves itself of responsibility as a technology platform rather than a publisher.
Though Facebook denies any partisanship, the facts are compelling: Facebook is a Republican-favored institution.
- Analyses of 2016 search activity show that Facebook usage was highest in Republican-stronghold states.
- In 2016, Facebook was most popular in highly racist states that often used racist slurs in their internet searches.
- The third-most powerful predictor of Biden’s 2020 victory was low interest in Facebook.
- Using Facebook data, Cambridge Analytica assisted the 2016 campaigns of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and the overall Republican National Committee.
- COO Sheryl Sandberg lied during the Cambridge Analytica scandal by denying knowledge of a PR scheme to spread a false narrative that George Soros backed an anti-Facebook backlash.
- Peter Thiel, a Facebook board member since 2004, donated $1.5 million to Trump’s campaign one week after the Access Hollywood tape leaked.
Facebook’s ethical failures are tied to its business model, which converts members into products. For years, it sold advertising based on customer data harvested without consent. Now, after being shamed into making an effort to secure consent, Facebook offers confusing menus of data privacy options.
It is only a matter of time before the US starts to regulate Facebook and hold it accountable for harmful content. It is easy to predict, however, that Facebook privacy and harm regulations will be strongly resisted by Republicans.
Third-Party Syndicated Content Boosts SEO and CX
Most marketers know they can syndicate their website content, such as blog posts, by making it available for publication on other websites. Various services are available to help you do this. Some are free (e.g., Medium), and some are PPC (e.g., Outbrain). When successful, these efforts build backlinks to the content on your site, enhancing SEO and site traffic.
But what about the reverse, where you publish relevant syndicated content from third parties on your website? Sure, a constant stream of self-generated content is excellent, but very difficult and costly to achieve. This is where third-party content comes in. You augment your stream of content with outside syndicated material. When well-executed, you enhance SEO and site traffic and improve the customer’s experience (CX).
The Buyer’s Journey
Let’s look at the issue from the customer’s perspective. In general terms, the buyer’s journey has three phases: problem and opportunity recognition, alternative definition and evaluation, and purchase.
Very often, companies focus their content on the second phase by describing product features and benefits. Perhaps they go even further by comparing their products to competitors. This type of content is helpful … when the buyer is in the second phase of their journey.
But what if buyers are in the first phase of their journey? Then their needs are not met, and they have a frustrating buying experience on your site.
One way to remedy the problem is to write content that helps buyers think through their situation more generally. For example:
- Provide points of view on broad business trends that relate to your products.
- Describe use cases that describe problems or opportunities you have solved or addressed in various industries.
The problem with early-phase, company-generated content, though, is bias. Buyers assume it represents points of view that favor the company.
When you offer perspectives written by outsiders on your website, you reduce the buyer’s tendency to view your content as biased. A mix of inside and outside authorship shifts the feel of your website. From the buyer’s perspective, you are now putting their needs first. You are serving their need for unbiased information by providing multiple and diverse sets of views.
Yes, But …
Some of the most common objections to third-party content include:
- Quality: What if the outside content is poorly written?
- Distraction: Can it distract buyers from embracing our point of view?
- Diversion: Does it take people away from our site?
Syndicated Content Quality Management
While there are multiple tools for managing syndicated content quality, it is too easy to get the cart before the horse. Quality management should start with … you guessed it … the buyer. Who are your buyers? What jobs do they need to do in the early phases of their journeys? When you know the answers to these questions, you can then design a syndicated content strategy that delivers high-quality information for your buyers.
Once you know what content serves your buyers, you can calibrate your syndicated content feeds to align with those needs. For example, you can restrict your feeds to keywords that are especially attractive to your buyers, or to sources or authors held in high regard.
You Can’t Manage Buyers
Stop trying to manage buyers! You will fail, so don’t even bother. The internet is so rich with information that your buyers will find alternative perspectives, with or without your help. So why not help them, and build goodwill along the way?
When you provide content with multiple perspectives, you do two things. First, you give buyers what they are looking for. Second, you force yourself to achieve high content standards that sufficiently offset alternative perspectives.
This does not mean you should flood your website with content that contradicts your point of view. Instead, it means you should allow a dose of high-quality content that provides different perspectives. Remember: diverse content is already out there, and buyers will find it, so why fight a losing battle? Instead, serve the buyer’s needs, and you will reap the rewards.
Let Them Go … They’ll Be Back
When you provide buyers with links to high quality, syndicated content, you are increasing the likelihood they will leave your site. This is true, but only in the moment. The wise digital marketer remembers their job is to win the customer and make a sale, not maximize session duration. Remember: Buyers can simply return to the prior tab on their browser to continue browsing your site.
Where’s the Proof?
When you serve customers useful content, they respond. The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is one example. Studies show that an industry’s NPS leader tends to outgrow its competitors by a factor of two.
During the buyer’s journey, one of the most valuable things a company can do is provide useful content. Our clients often improve their Google search rankings on important keywords simply by providing relevant syndicated content on their websites.
One client frequently appeared on page two or three in Google searches for important keywords before engaging us. Several weeks after launching relevant syndicated content on their website, they consistently appeared on the first page for important organic keyword searches. And these site visits cost them a fraction of prevailing AdWords rates.
You can publish a custom syndicated content feed on your website for only $500 per month plus initial set-up. For more information, contact Mark Blessington at Consentric Marketing or Leland Morris at Content Engine.
Keyword Hierarchy: The First Step in Ecosystem Marketing
Marketing ecosystems revolve around information, or content, that can be found on websites. The first step toward understanding the digital ecosystem that surrounds your products is to create a keyword hierarchy. In other words, you need a quantitative answer to the following question:
What terms and phrases—keywords—are used by your buyers as they think about making a purchase?
Seven concepts are consistently helpful in answering the above question: buyer’s journey, jobs-to-be-done, level of aggregation, inclusivity, search volume rank, degree of relevance, and content strategy. Each is discussed briefly below, and links are provided if you would like to access additional details.
1. Buyer’s Journey
Business people often start a buyer’s journey when they want to determine whether they have a problem. Sometimes it is obvious because something in their business is broken and needs repair. Other times, buyers are thinking about their business more generally and want to be up-to-date on the latest thinking in their industry or profession.
Then buyers might try to assess the size of the problem and whether they can solve it on their own or need outside assistance.
If the buyer concludes they need assistance, then they start to look at more specific topics such as price and product features and benefits.
As buyers look for useful information during their journeys, they enter search terms into browsers. These keywords tell you what the buyer is looking for. They give you insight into what is important to them.
To use the buyer’s journey in building a hierarchy, write down the major stages of the buyer’s journey, and then list words or phrases that typify each stage of the journey.
When creating a list of keywords, it is important to include all of the various jobs buyers are trying to complete as they move through their journeys.
During the “Do I Have A Problem” phase, one job buyers are trying to complete is to understand their situation better. For example, they often ask basic questions like “What is GDPR” or What is website security?”
Each job a buyer is trying to perform contains at least one if not more keywords. Add these terms to the list from #1.
To help you apply the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) concept to your own business, the table below provides several brand names and the associated JTBD.
3. Level of Aggregation
Keywords can be sorted by their degree of inclusiveness and precision. For example:
- Industry-Level: IT (information technology)
- Product Category Level: GDPR Compliance
- Product Level: Website Data Security
- Product Features: User Data Encryption
When building a list of keywords, it is important to include all levels of aggregation. This way you can determine which keywords are most common, and how they relate to one another.
As buyers search for information on the internet, they often use a variety of words to find useful content. Sometimes they use abbreviations, other times they spell things out. Sometimes they start with detailed keywords and later realize they need more general information. Other times they start with broad search terms and then drill down to what is more interesting to them in subsequent searches.
So, when you create a keyword list, be inclusive rather than exclusive. Later you can assess the degree of relevance of each keyword. Keyword lists commonly have 30 to 60 words or phrases.
5. Search Volume Rank
Once the hard work is done and you have a comprehensive list of potential keywords, the next step is to measure the monthly organic search volume for each term, and sort the list from high to low.
6. Degree of Relevance
An inclusive keyword list will have terms that vary widely in relevance. For example, an industry-level keyword may be very popular, but not highly relevant to the buyer’s journey. Or, industry-level keywords may give you ideas about how to tag your website content.
Once your keyword list is sorted by search volume, the next step is to establish their relevance to your business. Often it is helpful to create a relevance color-code. For example, light green terms are highly relevant to your product but not as popular. But, dark green terms are somewhat less relevant but far more popular. Yellow terms might be relevant but rarely typed into browsers.
7. Content Strategy
A common content strategy is “drafting” (like in NASCAR): Use less relevant but more popular keywords to draw attention to your more relevant but less popular keywords.
For example, website data security might be a more popular term than user data encryption. So, the title and subtitle for a new blog post might include both terms.
The keyword hierarchy can be used to assess the degree to which your current website content covers the most relevant and popular terms. It can also help you assess your competitors.
Need help with creating a keyword hierarchy or a content strategy? We can create a keyword hierarchy for as little as $1,500 per product. To find out more, contact us.