Today, learning how to use conversational techniques in the course of business to touch the heart of the customer must be a top priority for modern marketers in any field. No longer is it effective to merely “shout” at consumers through the one-way megaphone of traditional advertising such as TV and radio spots, billboard and print ads. Nor, frankly, will consumers stand for it! Instead, sophisticated, modern consumers are demanding transparent, honest and authentic dialogue. Tweet This

Today’s consumer demands more than catchy slogans and slick ad campaigns. But, in what’s evolved into an overwhelming disconnect, most companies struggle to communicate in today’s crowded, confusing and expectation-laden marketplace.  Most consumers hear gibberish when exposed to marketing messages no matter which medium it’s delivered through.

With technology making it easier than ever for consumers to block and otherwise avoid advertising and marketing as they go about their online and offline lives, companies in almost all industries scramble for solutions. Some are turning to content marketing to help them make and maintain meaningful connections with the marketplace — to the tune of an estimated $50B spent by U.S. businesses on content in 2015, according to Contently.com.  However, like many marketing innovations that are created to solve problems, content marketing could quickly lose its impact.

According to Kevin Lund, CEO of T3 Custom, a content marketing firm that helps brands “speak human” to maximize content marketing ROI, “Those who are wildly successful at content marketing understand the strategy is not just starting a blog and creating social media accounts. It’s a disciplined approach to communicating with a target audience—one offering ample opportunity to tell a simple, human story that will educate, inform, entertain and, most importantly, compel customers in a way that fully captures mind–and market–share through messaging that truly resonates.”

“Companies must completely re-imagine their approach to connecting with customers by simply communicating with them instead of talking at them,” Lund urges. “Specifically, speak human. This is not just in a given ‘handshake moment,’ but rather it is a continual friendly engagement with a consumer, or the marketplace at large, that is built primarily by trust and performance.”

Below are three of Lund’s strategies that can help you make and maintain meaningful connections and create a lifetime value with customers in ways that’ll set your brand apart in a crowded marketplace, tell an authentic story, foster maximized marketplace engagement and breed brand loyalty:

Recalibrate low-level communications

We have long struggled with linear, low-level or one-way communication. It is a completely timeless human phenomenon that is at the core of every conflict or stalemate, from the ones we experience at home, work and in our communities to the ones between brand and consumer.  We focus on transmitting information, but lose sight of the critical need for feedback, response or an actual “human” exchange of emotions or ideas.  However, for decades this was our only way of receiving communication from advertisers and many consumers “stomached” it because there was no alternative.

Today’s social networking tools can effectively and surreptitiously confuse “reach” with “results,” often only perpetuating linear, low-level communication.  For example, you’re on Twitter and Facebook and you’re tweeting and posting five times a day, and perhaps growing a fan and follower base on each with your “strategic” ad buy. But your zealous, disciplined approach doesn’t mean you’re doing it effectively.  Who, exactly, are all those followers, friends and fans? And are you really “speaking human,” creating content or telling an authentic story? It might be that you are simply tweeting and posting just to check it off your task list, and that your followers are re-tweeting or “liking” you for the exact same reason. If that’s the case, then they’re not really followers or actual “friends” at all.

“Speaking human” involves more than just opening a communication channel for the sake of making sure that your company is on that channel, or doing social media just because someone at some seminar told you that you should. Your “handshake moment” is where people actually discover the essence of who you are as a brand for the first time. If that’s the case, what are they going to find? Will they be greeted by a sales pitch? A slogan? A press or media kit? Or are they going to find a real person—someone they might want to reach out to and who would greet them with a warm hello? If you’re not asking these questions, let alone answering them satisfactorily, chances are your content is simply traditional advertising disguised as substance.

Master conversational media

Conversational media insists that we don’t just sell ourselves, but rather, share ourselves. And further, it informs the listener who we are, rather than what we are. We must learn the signals that tell us when to drop the jargon, cut the B.S. and simply talk, authentically and truthfully, to those we hope might buy our product or service. Yes, we sell things, and so we must provide essential information about policies, performance and the like, but good content marketing is about providing information and education. Brands shouldn’t have to sell themselves.

An effective mix of messages includes telling people what you do, how you do it, and even why you do it. You draw them in with a story that is compelling and authentic and then leave them alone to make their choice. Why not influence the decision making process with endearing, enlightening and empowering messages?  Speaking human is about engaging with someone for a mutual benefit: you need this information and I must deliver it in a way that you understand, while you need to ask me questions so that I can make sure you get the information you need. We’re having a conversation. We’re speaking human. When the conversation takes place on social channels, participate in the exchange in such a way as to achieve the coveted “handshake moment.” What do you say to influence your audience to engage with your brand, your business? It’s all about cutting through the jargon and clutter that clogs the communication pipeline and making the conversation about them.

Give them something to talk about

In this new economy of conversation, marketers must master the art of facilitating the relationship between the business and its consumer.  For example, the company wants to run a campaign to advertise a specific product offering. The consumer is looking to meet a need or discover an innovation. Content marketers bridge the gap. They create the messaging business needs to share and provide the information customers want to receive. The job of today’s content marketer is to understand the world of traditional media and meet both the needs of the business and the consumer through conversational media.

The goal is not bullying, but inviting. Not grabbing attention, but earning and holding attention. Naturally you want audiences to take action, but it’s the rare brand that understands how the content and story must interact to add real value versus merely seeking to sell a product or service.

Storytelling is an essential human activity and must be the cornerstone of any meaningful content strategy. If story is the nest, content becomes the baby starlings that grow strong and fly off carrying compelling messages. A story can instantly communicate your history, values and beliefs, and gives people something to talk about. Unless you have a real story, loyalty is unlikely.

“The Conversation Age finds brands in the midst of an evolutionary process,” Lund continues. “Social media and the overarching digital landscape has afforded companies the ability to engage in a transactional dialogue, often giving businesses the bigger platform and louder voice.  This new power forced modern companies to become completely transparent in brand storytelling. Thus, the Conversation Age requires modern businesses to educate, inform, even entertain customers, all while telling a story.”

Photo Credit: nikitavantorin, Twenty20