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Is Content Marketing Killing Your Customer Conference?

Is Content Marketing Killing Your Customer Conference 351x200 Is Content Marketing Killing Your Customer Conference?

I consistently hear from clients and colleagues how hard it now is to drive attendance to annual customer and user conferences. Many vendors do everything under the sun to entice customers to sign up, yet these events still suffer from below-goal attendance and a hit to the bottom line.

Why is this? Many of us remember when customer conferences were all the rage in the early-to-mid 2000s. Customers hungered for the vital information and vendor connections conferences gave them—needs that weren’t met in other ways at that time. So vendors raced to launch inaugural annual conferences, despite the years it usually took to break even on them.

So what’s changed? And what does this mean for the future of customer conferences?

I see three main reasons for this shift:

A fractured target audience for technology products.

Before, software was sold via perpetual license to an IT buyer—purchasing decisions on these high-priced, technical applications weren’t trusted to non-technical users or departmental leaders. At the same time, IT was often the application user, too—not just the buyer. So vendor user conferences were designed for a specific, succinct demographic and psychographic segment: information technology professionals.

But then trends like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and the consumerization of IT changed the tech landscape in a myriad of ways. As far as targeting users and buyers, though, they really mixed things up. The buyers aren’t necessarily the users. They aren’t even usually the day-to-day admins.

Also, thanks to SaaS’s common freemium model and easy-to-use apps, any employee can introduce an application into a company’s technology environment (barring integration and security policies that might be in place, that is). And with consumerization of IT, some companies even encourage this behavior.

As a result, line-of-business leaders from departments such as marketing and sales now influence technology buying—and renewal—decisions more. And their information needs and interests—essentially the reason why one attends a vendor’s customer conference—differ greatly from IT.

So, while IT is still very much involved in the buying process for most technology purchases and very much a target for event marketing, focusing solely on IT in today’s world means you exclude the critical, non-technical buyers, influencers, and users who could introduce, advocate on behalf of, or approve/veto your technology at any point during the buying cycle.

Customer conference competition and fatigue.

It seems nearly every vendor with revenue of at least $ 50 million offers its own customer conference. Vendors deluge end users and administrators with conference invitations, often competing for the same attendees. Recipients face a confusing flood of invitations, most promising the same vague benefits for attending one conference over another.

At the same time, many employees can only attend 1-2 conferences per year due to budget and schedule restrictions. They’re challenged to do more with less and make the most of their technology investments, yet most struggle to find time to step away from the office to do just that. And, if they do find time, the vendor has just one chance to deliver the relevant, compelling information the employee desires, or risk losing their attendance forever. So vendors are under intense pressure to make their conference more compelling, fun, and affordable than others.

But primarily—I believe content marketing is responsible.

Before, users and IT/application managers attended a vendor’s annual customer conference to get the information they needed to successfully deploy, integrate, use, expand, and manage the vendor’s application. This was their once-per-year chance to get detailed instructions and face-to-face help on how to make the most of their substantial investment. And let’s face it—IT staff back in the day didn’t get to leave the office much. An all-expense-paid getaway to a warm-weather vendor conference didn’t take much convincing.

Today, marketers—and the tools they use—are getting better and better at identifying and fulfilling their audiences’ specific interests and needs on an ongoing basis. Purposeful, persona-based content marketing can feed a near-constant stream of relevant information, helpful tools, and best practices to aid everyone involved in the buying, implementation, usage, and ongoing management of technology tools.

Thanks to content marketing, your audience no longer relies on a single event—your customer conference—for their ongoing technology education. So, unless you demonstrate that your conference serves more than just that basic need, attendee targets may have a hard time justifying their attendance at your event.

This is today’s reality, but it doesn’t have to be a harsh one. Content marketing doesn’t have to spell doom for your customer conference. By modifying your approach, you not only can keep your conference relevant—you can actually make it thrive. Here’s how:

  • Be uniquely relevant to everyone.

Take the time to create custom conference content appealing to each different persona using your technology, for example, target a range of people, from non-technical end users to IT administrators. Figure out what truly matters to each role, the specific business problems they face that your technology helps address, and what information they need that would compel them to attend your event over others they might be considering.

Once they arrive at your event, fulfill your promise by giving each role/persona interesting sessions that prove to be relevant and meaningful to them. Offer them networking and learning opportunities where they can connect with other people like themselves, in similar roles, who face the same challenges.

Effectively and properly serving the needs of all of these different roles and segments takes a lot of work. But the payoff is worth it. And there are different ways to do it. Some vendors create conference agendas featuring a different track for each role they target (IT, marketing, sales, etc.); others split their single conference into smaller, separate conferences targeting different roles/personas. There are benefits to each approach—do what works best for your audience and your company.

  • Focus on customer connections and customer stories.

Consistently receiving high ratings in post-conference surveys are the activities where customers meet, interact with, and learn best practices from each other: case study presentations, “birds of a feather” dining tables, customers-only networking hours … you get the idea.

So give them more of what they want—pack your conference agenda with as many of these activities as you can. Allow for and encourage attendees to meet and interact with each other. Coach customer presenters to really dig into the meat of their projects in their presentations—what they did, why they did it, what did they consider but decide against (and why), what lessons did they learn along the way, what would they do differently, what kind of ROI are they achieving, and so on.

In a nutshell, don’t merely regurgitate straight-up product or company information that’s easily found and understood online, no matter how interesting you think it might be. At your conference, give attendees value they can’t get anywhere else.

  • Think and act holistically, and timelessly.

No longer can you consider your conference a standalone annual event. Rather, your “annual conference” needs to morph into a continuous two-way conversation you maintain with each and every customer. By providing more value more often, you more easily and naturally sustain a long-term symbiotic relationship with an individual who is then more inclined to actively participate in any conferences you offer.

In this model, content marketing becomes the strategy for how you provide—via both online and offline interaction—the most relevant information to each persona on an ongoing basis, based on feedback continually received from them. Here, content marketing melds seamlessly with your online customer communities and customer marketing efforts, giving your customers a unified knowledge base and experience with which to interact.

When undertaken as mutually exclusive endeavors, content marketing definitely competes with—and even threatens—annual user conferences.

When viewed as peers, content marketing can, for example, help you identify topics most likely to entice people to register for your conference—the highest-rated, most-shared or most-commented on blogs, white papers, webinars, how-to articles, etc.

But when engaged as two complementary strategies supporting the same goal—fostering a long-term, mutually beneficial, two-way customer relationship via both online and offline means—content marketing and customer conferences can feed each other the critical insights needed to provide continuous value for users throughout their customer journey with you.

Do you have any tips for creating customer conferences that people are eager to sign up for? Share them here!

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The Internet of beige: How personalization is killing the web’s personality

bored 780x485 The Internet of beige: How personalization is killing the web’s personality

Last month, journalist Kyle Chayka wrote an article for The Verge in which he coined the term ‘Airspace’ to describe the “coffee shops, bars, startup offices, and co-live/work spaces” that share a certain set of hallmarks (raw wood tables, exposed brick, Edison bulbs etc). Chakra’s theory is that this faux-artisanal aesthetic has spread thanks to digital platforms such as Foursquare and AirBnB, which are creating “a harmonization of tastes.”

But this trend for homogeneity is not confined to the physical world; our digital spaces are also becoming increasingly bland and it’s thanks, ironically, to our ongoing mission for personalization.

We have all heard about hypertargeting and the untold opportunities that await those who can uncover the elusive “Segment of One.” But it seems that in the hunt for this holy grail we have instead crafted an unnerving facsimile of what we think the personalized web should look like: a sludge-brown mix of slightly off recommendations and unearned intimacy.

Ever had a salesperson use your first name a few too many times in a crude attempt to win you over? Well that same feeling is creeping into our apps and our emails, caused by brands spraying a sheen of ‘personalization’ on to their communications in order to cover up the gaps left by too-big data and cumbersome algorithms.

In our attempt to engage everyone individually we are unwittingly creating a beige web, a homogenous echo chamber that is aesthetically and tonally normalized. And so we have to ask ourselves the question: when did personalization become so important? Who asked us for an individual experience? When did this become our mission?

Ironically, you could argue that it was born out of a genuine desire to create standout experiences and services. To differentiate. To genuinely engage and interact.

All good intentions (and undoubtedly powerful if you can pulle them off – I’m thinking about AirBnB’s subtle preference matching, or the 1.4 million individual logos TH_NK created for Atom Bank), but those intentions are largely powerless in the face of the unpredictability of human behavior and the relatively blunt instruments at our disposal. Right now we are Neanderthals attempting to decorate our caves after seeing a nice picture of the Sistine Chapel on Pinterest.

It’s time to stop trying to hold a wonky carnival mirror up to every member of our audience and instead put the power back into their hands by designing services and products that they can relate to and learn to love. To move away from presenting bespoke elements that only induce choice paralysis and instead aim to develop loyalty and trust through consistency. To stop building echo chambers and instead create recognizable personalities and distinct voices for people to discover and learn to love. And, instead of trying to force every type of person through a personalized experience, we should tap into the power of audiences and group effort, and empower users to create the types of experiences that can only be produced collectively.

Personalization can undoubtedly be a powerful tool in the right circumstances and in the right hands, but it is not a cure-all that can be magicked at a moment’s notice. It’s a scalpel, and by wielding it like a sword we are in danger of shaving off the edges of the web and turning something beautiful, exciting, and fun into something distinctly beige.

Rob Hinchliffe is Content and Community Director at TH_NK.

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You’re Killing Me

Texas famously slashed funding for reproductive health clinics in the state by two thirds, which caused more than 80 clinics to shut down. This reduced health services to women by half across the state. Texas also defunded all Planned Parenthood clinics completely (regardless of whether they provided abortion services).

The result? The number of women who died due to complications related to pregnancy doubled in the state in just two years. Texas now has the highest mortality rate for pregnancy in the developed world. To put that in perspective, the probability of dying from a pregnancy is more than ten times higher in Texas than your chances of dying from terrorism in the entire world.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world managed to reduce the mortality rate from pregnancy. Similar defunding efforts in other states caused to that rate go up around 27% for the entire US. The exception to this was California, which has similar demographics to Texas but fully funds reproductive health. As a result, the maternal mortality rate declined in California.

Republican efforts to cut funding for women’s health has had very real, and very deadly, results. Now, how are they actually going to “Make America Safe”?

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How Noise And Distractions Are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix It

Can you believe we’re more than halfway through 2016 already? It feels like just yesterday when we were making our 2016 content marketing predictions last year.

In 2015, 88% of marketers said content marketing was core to their overall marketing strategy. Their top five priorities included creating more engaging content, developing a better understanding of their audience and what content is effective (and isn’t) for them, finding more and better ways to repurpose content, creating visual content, and becoming better storytellers.

According to Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 76% of marketers surveyed said they had planned to produce more content in 2016 in order to drive more brand awareness, engagement, lead generation, lead nurturing, and sales – the top five content marketing goals marketers said were most important to their organizations.

So what are marketers doing in 2016 to achieve these goals? This Business 2 Community post looks at five of the top content marketing trends we have seen so far this year:

1. Content personalization

With so many marketers and brands around the world creating new content every day, it’s not enough to just create good content anymore. Just like the rest of us, today’s consumers are pressed for time, and so when they want to read content they will only want to see what is valuable and relevant to them.

To do so, many brands have started creating more personalized content tailored to their target audience’s needs and interests. Personalized content that helps solve a customer’s biggest pain point or answer a tough question they have is key to standing out from the flood of content that is out there today, to win your target audience’s attention, increase reach and engagement, and ultimately convert them into sales.

Here is an example of effective content personalization. According to the Business 2 Community blog, the e-commerce company Clymb was able to increase its sales by 12% by personalizing the products shown on the home screen when users visit the site.

Screen Shot 2016 05 12 at 2.50.26 PM 15.png 15 How Noise And Distractions Are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix It

To get started, here are some helpful tips you’ll want to know to develop a successful content personalization strategy.

2. Visual content

Today’s audience needs more than plain text to engage them. They want valuable content that not only educates and informs but also entertains them.

That’s where visual content can help. According to this HubSpot article, research has found that visuals help increase people’s willingness to read a piece of content by a whopping 80%! What’s more, people remember visuals six times more than plain text. An average reader also remembers 60% more of what they see compared to what they read.

It’s no wonder then that nearly two-thirds of marketers believe visual content is core to how they communicate their brand story, and that it is a top priority for marketers, as the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs study has shown.

With YouTube becoming the second-largest search engine and third most-visited site on the web, and the rising popularity of visual-focused platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, brands need to incorporate visual marketing into their content strategy if they haven’t already.

Here are 15+ best practices and tools to help you create effective visual content your target audience will love.

 How Noise And Distractions Are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix It

With so much content and so little time, coupled with shorter attention spans, it’s becoming harder and harder to reach and engage today’s consumers. This is why some brands are turning to interactive content to make a lasting impression on their target audience and to drive more engagement.

Interactive content, at its core, drives two-way conversations and allows the audience to actively participate in content rather than passively consuming it, as with static content. Content types like quizzes, tests, calculators, polls, and surveys allow consumers to gain tailored results or insights on topics they care about, or on challenges or problems they are facing, while also having fun in the process of interacting with the content.

Tourism Australia’s official website, for example, uses a variety of compelling interactive content to better engage potential tourists and convert. Its series of 360-degree virtual reality video tours, which can be watched with a VR headset, allows individuals to truly immerse themselves and virtually experience various stunning adventure spots in Australia, from swimming with whale sharks to climbing up the country’s highest building, SkyPoint Climb, for a breathtaking view of the Gold Coast.

Capture How Noise And Distractions Are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix It

Tourism Australia 600x253 How Noise And Distractions Are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix It

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4. Influencer marketing

One of the ways to cut through the content clutter and differentiate your brand today is through influencers. Influencers are individuals in your industry who have an engaged following on social (an audience that you want to target), and can help promote and amplify your content.

According to a McKinsey study, campaigns that used influencer marketing generated more than double the sales of paid ads and had 35% higher customer retention rate.

Here are 4 helpful tips to get you started with developing and driving a successful influencer marketing campaign.

5. Mobile-first content marketing

Smartphone and tablet usage accounted for 60% of all digital media time spent, according to a comScore report last year. It also reported that smartphone and tablet usage are up by a whopping 394% and 1721%, respectively!

With mobile quickly becoming the go-to device for everyday digital media consumption and services, many brands have started exploring new tactics and technologies, such a mobile apps, to create and deliver content that is mobile-first.

IKEA, for example, created a catalogue mobile app that offers customers exclusive features they are not able to get with a printed catalog. The mobile catalog gives customers access to enhanced content, such as additional product information and videos. Another useful (and fun) feature of the app allows customers to virtually place IKEA products using the camera of their mobile phone, so they can get a preview of what an item would look like in their home.

I hope these content marketing trends will inspire you with new ideas to help your brand stand out from the crowd. If you have any other content marketing ideas or strategies that you think your marketing peers should know about, please share them below!

Are you interested in engaging and converting new customers for your business? Contact me here and let’s talk about how we can help. Or follow me on LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook. and if you like what you see, subscribe here for regular updates.

The post Top 5 Content Marketing Trends Of 2016 So Far appeared first on Marketing Insider Group.

 How Noise And Distractions Are Killing Office Productivity – And What You Can Do To Fix ItPhoto Source: flickr

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Fox News is Killing the GOP

A recent article in Salon starts with a headline that says it all: “Sean Hannity is killing the GOP: Fox News & conservative media have the party in a stranglehold“. At one point the Republicans might have thought Fox News was on their side, but one has to wonder what the GOP is thinking now that Hannity is cheerleading for Donald Trump. He even says that the other Republican candidates should learn from Trump.

But the problem goes deeper than that. The Salon article points out that despite taking over both chambers of Congress, Republicans really haven’t gotten anything done. The GOP is still fighting lost battles, like trying to defund Obamacare and fighting against same sex marriage. I’m not sure I can even say what the Republican agenda is, let alone point to any things they have accomplished on it.

And what would they do if they did get their way? Even Republicans acknowledge that if they somehow managed to repeal Obamacare, it would be a disaster for their party. Heck, they were even secretly hoping the Supreme Court wouldn’t rule against it.

Instead we see the following scenario repeated way too often:

The dysfunction typically follows a familiar pattern: the GOP leadership in one or both Houses tries to follow through on some basic task – funding government agencies, for example – but runs into opposition from conservatives. The leadership tries to accommodate the right, but finds that the right’s demands are unreasonable and inflexible. The whole legislative process derails, and then the Democratic minority steps in to save the Republicans from themselves.

Is that any way to run a party, let alone a country?

But there may not be much the GOP can do. A paper out of Harvard points out that the Republicans, who promised in the 2014 midterm elections that they would show the nation how well they could govern, if only voters would put them completely in charge of Congress. Well, the voters did, and the result was humiliation after humiliation. Republican Congressman summed up the first three weeks, before the honeymoon was even over:

Week one, we had a speaker election that did not go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we got into a big fight over deporting children, something that a lot of us didn’t want to have a discussion about. Week three, we are now talking about rape and incest and reportable rapes and incest for minors. I just can’t wait for week four.

The following weeks only got worse. The GOP staged a showdown against Obama over immigration policy, insanely vowing to withhold money for homeland security (as terrorist acts filled the news) unless Obama reversed his executive decision and deported millions of people who were brought to the US illegally as children.

The fight completely backfired. (But that hasn’t stopped Trump from still fighting it, with his “rapists” remark against immigrants.)

It is clear that the GOP is out of control. So who is in control?

As many of them concede, it is conservative media – not just talk-show celebrities Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham, but also lesser-known talkers like Steve Deace, and an expanding web of “news” sites and social media outlets with financial and ideological alliances with far-right anti-government, anti-establishment groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and FreedomWorks. Once allied with but now increasingly hostile to the Republican hierarchy, conservative media is shaping the party’s agenda in ways that are impeding Republicans’ ability to govern and to win presidential elections.

According to another Republican staffer:

It’s so easy these days to go out there and become an Internet celebrity by saying some things, and who cares if it’s true or makes any sense. It’s a new frontier: How far to the right can you get? And there’s no incentive to ever really bother with reality.

It is too easy to play on people’s fears and make money off it. And according to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott “If you stray the slightest from the far right, you get hit by the conservative media.”

Is there any way the Republicans can break out of this vicious cycle?

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