There’s an old Monty Python sketch, spoofing traditional children’s TV favourite, Blue Peter, in which the presenters tell children how to rid the world of all known diseases. To do this, all the children have to do is grow up to be a brilliant doctor and then discover a fantastic cure. That’s the end of the segment. The presenters go on to show us how to play the flute (“you blow in here and move your fingers up and down here”), followed by the promise of showing us how to split the atom, how to construct a box girder bridge, and how to irrigate the Sahara Desert.
It’s funny, and we all know there’s a bit missing. But you know what, there are a growing number of ‘marketing practitioners’, who are selling the ‘new world’ concepts of ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘content marketing’ in a similar way to the Pythons. But this time we’re not supposed to laugh.
For people not familiar with the terms ‘inbound marketing’ and ‘content marketing’, the basic premise is that instead of trying to ‘sell’ your products and services to prospective customers, you try to ‘lure them in’ by engaging them with vibrant content (which can include anything from blog posts to video to animations to infographics).
Hang on a minute, there’s a bit missing.
What exactly makes up the content and how do you make it?
The truth is, the creation of good content for your marketing always was and always will be important. If you want to get somebody’s attention in a crowded marketplace, you can try shouting the loudest or you can show them something that they really want. Shouting the loudest, will get people’s attention, but if there’s nothing to back it up, they’ll soon lose interest.
A prospective customer’s interest in your company relates to your product or services and what you can do for them. Show them a wowee product or a compelling offer and they’ll want to know more.
There’s still a great deal of skill and expertise needed to present your products and services in an interesting and engaging way. Getting the message right, making it stand out and having the right impact are crucial in an increasingly hectic media world. Things like digital photography, video and animation, for example, offer powerful marketing opportunities for the many and varied digital platforms, opportunities that were just not feasible, even ten years ago. Words are still important - both in written form and spoken - and will continue to be so; informing, explaining, exciting and influencing.
Sometimes, it's easy to get carried away producing content that's interesting, entertaining or eye catching, but doesn't necessarily relate to your product or doesn't fit with your brand.
Once you have your content, how do you tell people about it? Many ‘inbound’ marketeers recommend social media as the vehicle to do this. It has its place, but again, it’s too simplistic to say: “then just tweet it to the world, sit back and watch your product fly off the shelves.”
Social media isn’t the panacea we’ve all been waiting for to let the world know what we’re doing, so they’ll all come rushing to our door.
Do you know how many followers a global brand like CocaCola has on twitter? 50 million? 100 million? 300 million? a billion?
It’s around 2.2 million.
According to Coca Cola’s website, they sell around 1.7 billion servings of Coke every day, worldwide.
That’s 772 servings per twitter follower – every day.
Even if every twitter follower (more realistically?) drank four servings each, every day, this would account for only 0.5% of Coke’s sales.
So that leaves in excess of 99.5% of Coke’s consumers that they need to reach by other communications channels. That percentage goes up if you include any non Coke drinkers they might hope to convert.
Closer to home, the Virgin Group boasts around 100,000 followers of its twitter feed. That’s not counting the people who follow the numerous other Virgin brand twitter feeds that the Virgin Group itself follows (we stopped counting at 80).
This includes Virgin Atlantic (203k followers) and Virgin Atlantic USA (6,362 followers) – two sites for the same thing? Whatever. What this means is that the Virgin Group have to constantly feed 80 plus twitter feeds with vibrant content to engage their customers.
But weren’t we quite happy to see Richard Branson flying a hot air balloon over the Atlantic? Wasn’t everybody engaged in that – the TV, radio, newspapers, all of us? Not just followers of a niche twitter feed that might ‘go viral’. Branson’s balloon rides did go viral, but before ‘viral’ had been invented.
More recently, Red Bull have picked up where Branson left off, but they’ve made it the core of their offer. Whether that’s sponsoring freestyle snowboarding events in the French Alps, getting a motorcyclist to jump across a partly raised Tower Bridge or organising the highest ever freefall from the edge of space. And, of course, they own and run a fantastically successful Formula 1 team. It’s all engaging, and it’s designed to relate precisely to their brand – it’s cool, it’s young, it’s extreme, it’s on the edge (literally in many cases). ‘If you drink Red Bull, you are all of these’ – not a bad marketing angle (1.2 million twitter followers, by the way).
Of course Red Bull use social media to engage with some of their audience, why wouldn’t they? It takes up a tiny fraction of their marketing budget. But they don’t rely on it, because it wouldn’t give them the reach they need – and this is one of the most well-known brands in the world, selling the most successful energy drink in the world.
They use their extreme sports events to feed the mainstream media (as well as their own media and the social channels). Because their events are that good – either in terms of the skills of the exponents or the sheer dangerousness of the stunt, people become enthralled (that’s even better than engaged). They let the mainstream press do their bit or let people watch how good the stuff is – they don’t really have to push it.
The really clever bit about Red Bull is that it’s simple – extreme events tied into an energy drink.
Interestingly, the Red Bull founder, Dietrich Mateschitz, still says the most important thing they do is concentrate on the product, on the basis that if people are disappointed in the product, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on marketing – you’ll never win them back.
Like Branson before them, Red Bull spend heavily in terms of money and resource to create their PR content (but far less than they would if they went down a pure advertising route – which probably wouldn’t help to define their brand quite so well, either).
It’s excellent content, well done and well delivered.
But before doing all of this, do you know what Red Bull used to do to engage their prospective customers?
They gave cases of Red Bull to student recruits to hold Red Bull parties or go to rock festivals and let people try it. These were young, cool people, who wanted to party hard and stay up late, but they needed a helping hand to do it.
Define your audience, know how to reach them, deliver the message in the most appropriate way.
Or as the Monty Python boys might have scripted it: “Become an adult, invent a best selling energy drink and get everybody to buy it.”
Next week we’ll be showing you how to become the richest person in the world.