By Bob Pearson, President, W2O Group
Today when we talk about “understanding the customer,” we’re really talking about developing an audience architecture that uses digital tools to align your story with your audience by reaching “influencers.”
We live in a world today where we have a tremendous amount of data coming in. We have lots of options on channels, and more content is available than ever before. That sounds very complex, but when we think about how the human brain works and how human behavior supports the brain, we actually tend to make things finite and very small. It’s our way of dealing with complexity; it’s just who we are as people.
So when you look at the brain, and when you ask questions about a brand, people can’t remember more than 200 to 400 questions to ask about the brand. You can determine how many question there are, and you can figure out how big that box is.
Similarly, if there’s an issue, a plant blows up or there’s some kind of crisis for a company, there’s not more than 77 questions that people ask over and over and over again. So you can see where you are in an issue by where people are — what questions they’re asking and at what point in time.
When you align the content that you care about with what people are searching for, usually there are not more than 15 words or phrases associated with a brand at any given time. We assume there are thousands of keywords, but the reality is there’s very few to really make a difference driving shared conversation about a brand anywhere in the world.
We work regularly with Fortune 1000 companies in 20-plus languages worldwide, and we find there’s usually not more than 50 people who drive the majority of shared conversation on a brand. There can be millions of people moving content, but very few who are actually catalyzing the conversation and driving share of the conversation over time. So we make the world small.
The question is, do we know who exactly and what exactly matters to people? Can we figure that out over time?
I grew up like many of you, I’m sure, learning Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where you learn about food and shelter and clothing and the basic needs that we have as human beings. Turns out we actually have a different set of primal desires, and there are three that we’ve seen repeatedly over time whether you’re in China, the U.S., Brazil, Germany, you name it. And that is that people want to share ideas to help other people. They want to share product knowledge to help their peers, and they want to help those same peers with any problems they may have.
Customers Like to Do Three Things Online More Than Any Other Action
- Share ideas – Let’s improve the next product or service together
- Share product knowledge – Here is what I know…hope it helps you
- Help peers with problems – I had the same problem, here is what I did
Sure, people like to be entertained, and they like to just hang out. But they really engage when they’re doing one of these three things – sharing ideas, sharing product knowledge and helping solve problems. Most companies actually miss the point in understanding that if you can get into these three needs you really can make a big difference.
Then consider how technology is changing our world. The fundamentals of communications that we learned in school or are learning in school, they’re the same. The fundamentals don’t change. What does change around us is how technology is changing the same media that we have been working on for years.
Today there are five drivers of news flow or content flow. For healthy brands, we find that two-thirds of content flow is driven by blogs and Twitter. A Facebook wall also is an important news source. Mainstream media is really important from the standpoint that blogs and Twitter carry mainstream media. Then video is the fifth driver of news flow.
The Media Landscape Has Completely Changed
An interesting point on mainstream media is that we’re moving from what we call a “coverage mentality” to an “influencer mentality.” Think of it like this: The Wall Street Journal is a great publication. They do a story today and reach more than two million people. But do they really? Do all two million-plus subscribers read every single article in The Wall Street Journal? Is that accurate? The answer is “no,” it’s not accurate.
What you have to do today is take that coverage, and then move it to social channels like Twitter or Facebook. Then move it out to the communities that matter to you so people you care about actually see the coverage that you think matters.
Changing technology is changing our need to actually tell a story. Our media plans to reach our customers are changing. The customers’ needs ultimately are the same—they still want to learn about the brand, they want to understand if they’re making the right decisions — but the technology and channels we use to reach them are changing
Another thing we know is that more than two-thirds of people believe they are visual learners. That really is no surprise. I mean, television has been incredibly important for 50 or 60 years, and it will continue to be important in some regard. People prefer to learn visually. If you think about the classroom setting, you know we always do better if the teacher is in front of us and we can see him or her. They’re drawing on the whiteboard; they’re giving us visual interpretations of models while they’re also getting us to read the book. If we are just sitting looking at no one, reading a book, and that’s all we did, we’d be very unhappy or bored. Our brains work better when we’re able to process visually as we see content.
Another thing happening with customers is that there’s always been a certain finite number of customers that have made an outside impact. What we can see now is exactly who those customers are. So the only difference between 2016 and, say, 1996 is that in 1996 we totally guessed at who these people were. We had to say, “We think people like our brand, but I’m not sure where they are, but if we reach them with enough content, enough people will like our brand. Somehow, through pure muscle, we’ll get there.”
Now, if you look at what you can do with the influencers, we see exactly who cares about the brand. We know exactly who doesn’t like the brand. We know exactly where they live, and we know exactly what time of day they go online. We know so much about them that it’s a different kind of job communicating with them now, which is not to say can we write a good story and then just pump it out there. We still have to ensure that we are aligning with our audience. We need to know what content they want. Are we writing stories that are going to connect with them, or are we just writing what we actually think is important?
Now, if we go into models that matter, one that’s most important is the 1-9-90 model. This model was created about 10 years ago, and it has held true and fast ever since.
The 1-9-90 Model for Earned and Shared Media
Anywhere in the world, less than 1% of a market creates content. These are people who are journalists, they’re bloggers, they’re people who create original content. They get the story going. The 9% are people who share content. They care enough about the story that they’ll retweet it, repost it, add a comment, resend it. They want to make sure that their communities hear about it. The other 90% of us just listen or “lurk and learn.”
It doesn’t mean that most of us are totally passive, sitting on a couch drinking Diet Coke. It means that we’re willing to use Google or go into our Facebook communities. We search for information, and we learn from the people we respect.
So imagine a brand. Who are the customers in the 1% who are creating content about that brand? Do you know exactly who they are? Most people don’t.
Today we can see the 9% of people who share content about a brand. We can identify exactly who these customers are who really care deeply about our brand or organization. We know exactly who they are by first and last name. But what do we do to keep in touch with them? This question usually leads to a blank stare. As a result, we’re losing this massive opportunity to understand our customers better so we can understand how to shape the market which then impacts close to 100% of the market; certainly 100% of the market that is online. So these ideas lead into how our communication business is changing. If you think about 20, 25, 30 years ago, the PESO model — paid, earned, shared or owned media — was driven by advertising. The advertising people would tell you what to do, and everyone would basically compliment their plan.
A New Media Planning Model Is Emerging
Now, because you can see your customers, what they do and what they want, you can start media planning with earned media and free media. You can get your story out there, get the right coverage, pull it through shared media — meaning social media channels — and you can use paid media, lightly, to make sure that you go deeper to reach your audience. And “light paid media” means you might spend $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 on Facebook, for example, to reach a much wider audience where before we might set up a flight of 100 segments of a commercial across three months, across many TV stations at a cost of a couple million dollars. So, our ability to be efficient in our use of media and budget makes our work far more interesting.
This updated ESO-P model also allows us to take owned media, our website, and reintroduce the website through shared media. Imagine each day you’re introducing a new part of your website to your customer. The reality is that the majority of customers don’t know you. They don’t know your brand. They have not spent time to get to know what you do. Yet, we assume that they know us because we’ve researched them and we draw conclusions about the customer.
So, you could actually take your entire website, no matter how good it is, and reintroduce the content piece by piece, and the world is going to see it as brand-new content because the majority of the world has never seen it. When you actually look at very high-performing websites, the number of people who visit every day is usually less than a quarter of a percent of the total population of people the website owner is to reach. So a quarter of 1%, meaning 99 3/4% of people who are potential customers are definitely not coming to the website on a regular basis.
Now let me get into a couple of other ideas.
One of the things that’s really interesting about people who have influence is that they are influenced by other people. I created a slide to illustrate the point. It shows a woman in the center. Consider her to be the number one influencer for your organization. She doesn’t necessarily know who influences her, but when we look at human beings they always follow patterns. People will repeatedly follow a link or quote or visit certain outlets online more often because they get more inspired for the next piece of content they will create.
50 People Drive the Majority Share of Conversation for a Brand
It turns out that no matter how many places people go online, we tend to follow a pattern of no more than four people who are the muse to the influencer. Now, if you think that’s hard to believe, think about yourselves. You know, we sit in the same seat in class. We generally walk the same path to the class. We generally hang out with the same friends. We often do the same things at night. We are in deep patterns all of the time, and we’re often unaware that we’re in the patterns.
All we’re really doing today with analytics is we’re showing the subconscious behaviors of what people are doing to follow patterns to get by and then figure out what that’s telling us.
The other thing that’s happening that’s fundamental to customers and media, is that if the woman depicted in my graphic is a top media outlet, a top reporter, let’s say for a brand, what we can do is see who she connects with: The people who influence her, who respect her. You start to see the ecosystem of this really important reporter. And importantly, we can now see who we should we be following. Who do we need to brief beyond this reporter? What kind of content do they seem to be talking about? So the ability to know the influencer is so much more intense than it was even just a couple of a years ago.
Search has been very mysterious and complicated and it’s something that only the search department works on. The reality is that search is becoming a core skill of communications professionals so we can reach customers more effectively.
This network graph represents an Algorithmic approach to identifying topics and emerging themes in organic search.
Each node in this graph represents an organic search keyword and the connections denote clusters of keywords with shared search results.
Color coding indicates similarity between keyword phrases and identifies common search behaviors exhibited by users.
Overall, this is showing the top 157 organic search keywords in the hyper-converged infrastructure space and their relationships composed through shared search results.
If you look at the cluster of topics in the graphic I created, it looks very confusing. But in today’s world you can cut through that cluster and identify the outlets that are actually driving the position for those topics when people make search queries. Or, you can go another step and see these are the people who are driving the position as well.
All of the sudden, we can determine how are we reaching those people. Are we inviting them to events? Are we reaching out to them by phone? What are we doing to make sure that we’re reaching the people and outlets that actually impact the search position of the brand we care about?
Search Influencer Discovery
Search is really just human beings looking for information. When you strip it apart you see which human beings have the most influence on the search experience. Therein lies your answer of how customers are actually interrelating on a brand or topic.
This is a really important point for communications professionals: Our customers are at the center of everything we do. They’re always in the middle of shaping what’s happening and we have to kind of peel the onion to ask what our customers are telling us. Specifically, who are they, and what do we do about it?
If you can get to the point where you know the answers to that, you’re in a great place to make a difference. If you don’t know the answers to that, it’s okay. It’s just important that you acknowledge you don’t know the answer and you’re guessing.
And guessing is never as good as knowing, but sometimes we have no choice because we don’t have the budget or something and we have to give it our best guess.
Now, when you look at the communication channels that are being created that our customers visit, any channel that comes out — whether it’s Pinterest or Snapchat or something new — will fit under one of ten areas. The question is, what channels matter for your customers?
So again, what we see by looking at thousands of brands is that people herd into no more than four channels. Think about yourselves. If you are on Facebook and Snapchat and Twitter you probably don’t go to a lot of other channels on a regular basis every day. We have a limit in our brains that we usually can’t or don’t have time or don’t want to go to more than two, three, four channels.
Sure enough you can see where your customers are congregating by topic, subtopic, language, country. What that really is doing is creating the beginning of media planning for communicators.
Media planning always used to be something that advertisers did with paid media, but now we can see which social channels matter by every topic for a customer or customer type. When you look at that closely you actually have the beginning of media planning for earned and shared media — particularly shared media, and that’s pretty exciting. That’s a whole new area for communications professionals.
Content Elasticity Is Driven by the 9%
One last thing related to content. When you know the content that matters, content people make a big mistake. I’m going to use Kim Kardashian as an example. If you look from left to right and through that spike, that’s the average day, every day for a brand. There’s a certain number of comments, posts or articles that occur.
And then let’s say a celebrity like a Kim Kardashian does something, you get a big spike that day and then it goes away, but no one really knows why that happens.
Well, the reason why it goes away is because that celebrity is not really that relevant to the community going forward. What we do find, which is really more intriguing for communicators, is that customers want to continue to tell a story or share information with relevant information. So relevancy does not mean newsworthy. Relevant means what it is.
If you look from left to right from the spike on, the reason that those numbers go up is this particular company was giving their 9%, their shares, recipes, a whitepaper, a video, a tweet, you know, just little pieces of information that were very relevant to what they were looking for and the result of that is that they continued and increased the level of conversation.
What we’re finding is that there’s a little bit of economics and communications too and we need to know the content elasticity of any topic that we talk about. In other words, if we start a conversation, how long or how elastic is that conversation? Could we continue to provide content and make it last a week, two weeks, three weeks? Forever? What is it?
And that’s something very different than in the past where we used to get coverage, count the coverage and declare a victory. Now we know if you go back, say before, we know the coverage is just the start. We have to take the coverage and move it to social media to even reach people, and we also have to — once we catalyze or get people’s attention — give them relevant content to allow them to keep telling the story.
Assume all communications and marketing models are old school
Assume agencies will never admit this
You have to push for what’s next
So overall, the customer hasn’t changed a lot; technology has. The ability to share content has the ability to reach a wider group of peers. So communications are really morphing and evolving to the needs of the customer like never before — a renaissance for communicators and an opportunity to be leaders in how we reach customers for our companies and our brands.
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THE STRATEGIC SUMMIT: The 8th National Summit on Strategic Communications is May 9-10, 2017 in Arlington, VA.
BOB PEARSON: One of the pioneers of social media marketing, Bob Pearson is globally recognized as a marketing visionary who is driving “pragmatic disruption” in the new world of what is now called “Social Commerce.”
Bob is President of W2O Group, an independent network of digital communications and marketing companies known for their creation of algorithms and their ability to evolve current models and create unique advantages for their clients worldwide.
He has written two books based on key learnings from the firm’s work with innovative companies and individuals, Pre-Commerce and Storytizing; What’s Next After Advertising?
Prior to W2O Group, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function, an industry-leading approach to the use of social media, as highlighted in the best seller, GroundSwell. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee.
Bob has served as an advisor and investor in many capacities. Highlights include serving on the board of The Advertising Research Foundation, teaching at the U.S. State Department’s Marketing College on the subject of crisis management and acting as an advisor for the University of Texas Center for Global Business, as well as finding time to serve as a board member for The Association for Multiple Impaired and Blind to build homes for those who cannot support themselves.
Bob resides in Austin, Texas. His full LinkedIn profile is here.