To drive value from your content, focus on trust, not traffic

value from your content

By Mark Schaefer

Here’s a word we don’t use in business too often: love. But maybe this is more important than our industry obsession with “traffic.” Read on.

New research on America’s favorite brands from the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) includes Apple, Amazon and Wal-Mart at the top of the list, while Netflix, Costco, Samsung, Coca-Cola, Target, Jet Blue and Chick-Fil-A round out the Top 10.

No surprise, right? But what is it that keeps these brands close to the consumer’s hearts, minds … and wallets? The study suggest that the uniting force behind their greatness is an ability to forge an emotional connection based on trust with consumers. “Companies may use technical and functional attributes to drive the original choice but win by owning the heart and the mind,” says Michael J. Silverstein, of BCG.

Silversten calls these customers “apostle customers,” a concept similar (perhaps identical) to what I wrote about in a chapter called “The Alpha Audience” in my new book The Content Code.

Focus on the Alpha Audience

“Apostle customers are only two percent of the customer base—but they drive the vast majority of sales and profits, because they love the brand, make it part of their lives, and recommend it fervently to family, friends and total strangers,” Silverstein said in a recent article.

According to his research, one ultra-loyal customer from your Alpha Audience can generate eight times his or her own consumption through word-of-mouth advocacy. And two percent of consumers directly contribute 20 percent of sales. They drive 80 percent of total volume via their recommendations. They deliver over 150 percent of profitability, buying products without a discount and without regard for seasonality.

That, my friends, is why we need to change the marketing conversation.

Are you obsessed with “traffic,” or focused on the audience who believes in you at the deepest level. The audience who will be with you to the end. How does an incredibly deep connection like that develop?

Value from your content: Trust … or traffic?

In my book, I feature a wonderful PR professional, Shonali Burke. Shonali is certainly a member of my Alpha Audience. We met over Twitter and then over the years that weak relational link grew into a real collaborative friendship.

Shonali helps ignite my business in a small way every day when she shares my content. In fact, she shares every piece of content I write! Why would she do that?

In her own words:

shonali burke

Shonali Burke

One service I use offers the ability to automatically share people’s content. Now, I did not choose to do this for a long time, because not everyone’s content is consistent. That’s fine; we all have our bad days. But when you are between a rock and a hard place, trying to ensure you curate at least a minimum level of reliable content, you need it to be consistent! That means you have to absolutely trust the quality of content coming from those people.

That’s where your content comes in. You are one of the few people whose content I always share, because I trust you. I’ve read your blog for so long now, yet I’m regularly amazed at the smart content you publish—not just from yourself, but from other bloggers. So often I have those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” moments after I read your blog. To date, there has not been a single post that made me scratch my head and say, “Meh.” I don’t always comment because by the time I get to it, you have 76 other comments (!), but I do read. And given that I currently don’t have a lot of time to actively source more content, I have to go with content from those I trust: and that group includes you.

You’ve talked often about how hard you’ve worked to grow your audience, which is one of the things I like most about your blog {grow} (and you): You share your lessons learned openly and honestly, without minimizing all the hard work you’ve done. And one of the wonderful consequences of this hard work is that your audience—of which I am one—trusts you.

So, simply put, it comes down to trust, which is one of the keys for businesses grappling with a socialized world. The lesson I learned from you is that building an audience means 1) creating great content that people can trust; 2) curating good content regularly so that people can trust you’re not just out to put the spotlight on yourself; 3) participating actively in the social web by giving way more than you get (commenting on other blogs, talking to people and not just at them, and so on).

It makes me consider … what are we all willing to do to build so much trust that your audience would be willing to share your content blindly?

What are YOU willing to do to build trust?

Trust. That is a word I heard over and over again as I interviewed people for my book.

Trust is the launch code for the Alpha Audience rocket.

Trust cements you to the only people who truly matter in your digital world.

The question at the soul of this bond with your Alpha Audience is not “How can you trick, seduce, or coupon your customers into loving you?” It is “How loyal are you to your customers? Do you truly care about them?

The people on the other end of your content aren’t just avatars, users, or a target audience. They’re human beings who might be suffering, experiencing joy, or simply feel exhausted from caring for their children. And maybe in the moment of connection, they need you in some way. What every organization needs before conquering a digital strategy is a human strategy.

As I first wrote in The Tao of Twitter many years ago, the most successful marketing organizations don’t think of themselves as B2B or B2C—they’re P2P, striving every day to use these miraculous technologies to connect people to people.

Anybody can figure out ways to generate short-term web traffic. But that’s simply a battle for attention you can never win. Let your competitors knock each other out over that. Place your focus in just one place — nurturing a truly loyal audience by running your business in a way that demonstrates mutual respect, gratitude, enduring trust, and … dare I say it? Love. Love is not a word usually embraced by businesses, but how can you create unyielding loyalty without it? Maybe love is the ultimate killer app.

How would your business be transformed if your focus was demonstrating respect, gratitude, and love instead of “traffic?”

This is the digital crossroad, a genuine point of business differentiation today. You can pay people to create great content and then pay people to promote it. Huge companies will escalate and automate their content arms race with breath-taking, epic videos. Eventually computers will be creating excellent content for you with a push of a button.

But traffic alone will never, ever create an Alpha Audience.

Are you focusing on traffic … or trust?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and qthomasbower

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