Seattle Interactive Conference 2013: A Feast of Marketing Insights

Several R2i staffers—Marketing Coordinator Dustin Brown, Senior Account Strategist Natasha Jarmick, and Content Strategist Natasha Petroff—attended Seattle Interactive Conference (SIC), October 28th-30th. The event coverage was broad—including everything from evolutions in search to the role of hackers in innovation—a smorgasbord of insights on the latest trends and best practices in digital media. We put our notes together to add our own perspectives on some of the discussions.

Social Media Analytics: Beyond Customer Satisfaction Metrics

Organizations are increasingly turning to social marketing to gauge customer sentiment and chart movement along the customer lifecycle. No surprise, then, that social analytics was a hot topic at the conference.

Two room-packing presentations delivered new insights into the future of social analytics: a session by Simply Measured CEO Adam Schoenfeld and R2i’s own VP of Social Marketing, Page Sands. (For a copy of Page's presentation, click here.) Between these two presentations, some themes overlapped, providing a useful variety of perspectives, namely:

  • Social properties need to be perceived as a loyalty platform. To nourish and sustain followers, brands need to establish consistency.
  • Brands must identify content that resonates with target audiences, and the best way to do this is to analyze un-owned social channels. On these third-party blogs, forums and discussion forums, brands and their products are discussed with all filters removed, allowing savvy marketers to compile invaluable perspectives that matter to the bottom line, from candid feedback on product quality to insights on customer service.
  • Paid content is a critical component to boost brand awareness. With social marketing maturing so fast, brands have to find ways to boost visibility and make sure valuable content reaches consumers. Paid amplification via un-owned channels is a great way to gain this visibility and stand apart from competitors. - DB

User-Generated Content: The Customer Is the Brand

User-generated content was another hot topic at SIC. Starbucks VP of Global Digital Marketing, Alexandra Wheeler, presented a wealth of insights on the brand’s success with fostering a global community of engaged, responsive enthusiasts. The brand’s social team keeps the community fired up by focusing on people-oriented stories, and amplifying customers’ brand interactions. With campaigns like #SipFace and PSL Day, it’s clear that Starbucks is listening to their consumers and using their stories to create a single, ongoing brand narrative.

Wheeler’s focus on the amplification of consumer behavior mirrors r2i’s approach to social strategy: stand back and observe how your current customers are behaving online. Work to understand their daily behaviors and typical reactions to changes to your brand. If you can get a handle on this, you can succeed in developing an integrated and engaging digital strategy.

User-generated content should be at the center of any consumer brand. Using your buyer’s behavior to drive brand strategy isn’t a new concept—but it’s an extremely effective one. Many marketers fail to truly understand this, because they assume their customers behave and think like them. This is rarely the case. Throw all preconceptions about your buyer out the window and listen to them. If you allow consumers to generate their own organic content, and provide them with the tools to amplify what they’ve created, your content strategy will have a foundation for success.

Starbucks has become a model of brand loyalty using social and digital tactics to cultivate customer stories, and using those themes to drive its all-up content strategy. It is one of the few globally-recognized brands doing it right. While there’s always room for improvement, Starbucks is the brand to watch for what’s coming next in customer-engaging, user-generated social content: like the new Tweet a Coffee feature—a wholly “consumer-brewed,” customer-driven activity. - NJ

Trust First, Money Later: New Guidelines for Content Strategy

SIC presenters resounded with the message that great content evolves alongside the digital landscape and the needs of users. Users are, after all, people. Carlos Abler, global manager of content strategy for 3M, went so far as to say that trust is the secret sauce. Beyond knowing the customer and distributing only quality content, digital publishers need to adopt the mentality of an NGO—or, as Abler put it, “Empower the human need.”

Abler posited that there are a handful of useful “helper” personae to adopt online:

  • Thought leader
  • Trusted advisor
  • Mentor
  • Assistant
  • Entertainer
  • Friend

Not a helper? Consider these other methods for engaging users.

Ask for user feedback. Of course, this practice goes back to the dawn of the Internet. What’s different now is that users are savvier or more jaded, or just busier, depending on what day it is. Not only are they hesitant to fill out another form, but recent events have everyone a little edgy about what they do online. What’s the workaround? Find clever ways to glean feedback, beyond submission tools and surveys. Think contests and incentives—i.e., make it fun.

Make it fun. Can’t say it enough. Brian Marr, director of strategy for Smashing Ideas, told us that customer loyalty is down, especially among millennials who are perhaps the savviest consumers. To win them and other customers, we need to think about what motivates them both internally (accomplishment goals) and externally (acquisition goals). And we need to “gamify”—which really just means apply good design.

He said to consider four types of fun to tap into:

  • Serious
  • Hard
  • People
  • Easy

So look hard at the most common deterrants for users, such as onboarding, as excellent places to insert play.

Storytelling is a lingering buzzword in social media, and it got plenty of playtime at SIC. Not only does it feed the human need to connect and identify with one another, and nurture trust, it’s also fun and engaging. Storytelling is, in and of itself, a content strategy. Not only can your content portray an arc—problem, struggle, resolution, ta-da!—even in 140 characters (if you’re good), but an entire campaign can follow an arc. Consider that highly visible campaigns will occupy users’ screen space for months on end. Give them something to chew on over time. Don’t just vary the content—propel it along with words that convey timing and momentum, challenge and ultimately resolution.

Give readers good reading. With the proliferation of blogs, there’s been a resurgence of long-form and a more journalistic approach to social marketing in general. Corporations are stepping up to consumers’ demand for authenticity by publishing original content that’s presumably based on fact, unless otherwise stated.

Professor Ken Rufo of the University of Washington Department of Communications proposed that the “attention economy”—with its pop-up ads flickering and mutating on our screens like rotaviruses—is giving way to a “trust economy” where survival of the fittest means survival of the most honest. That seems optimistic—but it’s also a reality check. How many ghostwritten CEO blog posts go unread by the CEOs themselves?

Customers are reading those posts, by the way. Text still reigns in capturing user attention, but the very best content integrates captivating visuals, which are the key to retention. Jonathan Woods, senior editor of photo and interactive for, advised: “Play fast and loose, and risk failure” with visuals. There’s another nod to making it fun.

Revisit your strategy. Again. Again. Are you evolving along with the digital world and your user base? How can you make your digital content more fun and more compelling? Woods advised SIC audiences not to consider monetization. Let quality lead the way. - NP

Natasha Jarmick

About the author: Natasha Jarmick

Natasha is a Senior Social and Digital Marketing Strategist at R2i and manages to represent both the left and right brain in her work; she’s a rare analytical creative person. She’s an Excel enthusiast but also understand how to bring creativity and strategy into social marketing. She also maintains her own fashion blog, The Chic Curve where you can find her covering local Seattle fashion, events and products.

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