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Engaging your audience

February 22, 2021 / Sarah Manley

Last month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mike Leon and Jay Wexler from Brand Heroes, and Debbie Harrison from CAA Insurance, about how to understand your ideal audience. During this chat we explored the steps of identifying your audience, and breaking them down into different segments while assigning personas.

Now with that work done, how do you apply it to creating content that will engage your audience. I once again chatted with these marketing experts to gain their insights and tips.

Before going full-steam ahead into interacting with potential customers and consumers, the first step involves a certain amount of planning. “You have to figure out what you want your content to do,” suggests Mike. “This will help you determine how to map out your campaign, in order to achieve your ultimate goal.”

There are four engagement stages a campaign goes through, each having an important purpose:

  1. Build awareness. People can’t like you until they know who you are. Building awareness is the first stage to help people learn who you are and what your brand offers.
  2. Passive engagement. You want to see some interaction, but a very small interaction to start. We live in such a distracted society, and if you ask for too much too soon, you can lose your audience. At this stage, a simple ‘like’ of your social post is your goal (as an example). This is a sign that someone has taken a small amount of time to show they’re interested in what you have to say.
  3. Active Engagement. Once you’ve gained enough currency, you can begin to ask for more – something that takes a little longer to do. This may look like someone sharing something you’ve written, or downloading something you’re offering. If appropriate, incentivizing people to do something can lead to results.
  4. Action. This is the last, most coveted step. This is when your audience does what you want them to do based on your ultimate goal. Perhaps it’s a purchase, a referral, or even just a phone call asking for more information.

All of these steps should not occur entirely through one post or one tactic. A collection of various mediums being used in your campaign will help you achieve your goal. When determining what content you develop, and in order to trigger the actions you’re looking for, different tactics may drive different levels of engagement. Mike suggests “First, pick the job you want each piece of your content to do. If you’re going for brand awareness, and you get a ‘like’, you’ve reached that person on an emotional level.” But he cautions not to generalize with your content. “Some brands get into trouble when they try to be everything to all people,” Mike continues. “An even bigger challenge is when you come up with a great idea and then try to shoe-horn it into your strategy. By starting with the job, then figuring out the emotion you want and the ultimate action, you can define what your content will actually look like and what it will do.”

Jay recommends creating a list to help with the process. “List out how you want your audience to feel, and what you want them to feel like after they’ve engaged with you. This will help you figure out what you want your content to do,” he says. “Make these lists before you even start thinking about the tactics and deployment.”

Once you’ve planned everything out by making lists, and you know what you want your content to do, the next step is determining how your audience behaves and where they like to interact to help determine the mediums. Look back to the audience segments and personas you created before to help determine the tactics and mediums to use to reach them and see engagement. This can be accomplished through testing your messaging. For example, pick one segment and speak to them with a certain message, while choosing another to receive a different message. By stress-testing your campaign through with different pieces of content, you will be able to see what resonates, and then evolve your messaging from there.

During the planning process, it’s recommended that each interaction and desired action be planned out, but there’s no need to roll everything out at once. Jay suggests: “Start with awareness building, and once you’ve gained some momentum here, you can look ahead to the next steps. Create a holistic campaign by thinking about all of your goals and how you will execute on each one, while keeping in mind that certain content will have a very specific job to do.”

When it comes to creating messaging, remember that no one cares about your content as much as you do. “When you get excited about an idea, it’s so easy to lose objectivity,” muses Mike. “You forget that the people you’re targeting don’t have the same level of commitment to your brand as you do. When someone is viewing something from you, they’re viewing something from 100 other brands. So you’re not capturing them at the moment where they feel what you feel – you’re capturing them at a moment when they’re distracted. Through the testing and learning process, you’ll learn how to speak to that kind of audience. And by doing so, you’ll gain the currency you are looking for.” Debbie adds: “Planning your campaign journey is critical. You can’t go from ‘awareness’ to ‘buy my product’ all at the same time. With a natural progression that follows through the required steps, in the end you will have engaged people that will be ready to buy.”

When looking at how you’re going to deploy your campaign, don’t feel you have to have all your messaging appear in one place. There are many places your messaging can live – through social posts, on a landing page or microsite, in an email, etc. “Once you know what job you want your content to do, you’ll be able to determine its length, where it will live, and so on,” suggests Jay. This is where testing your messaging will really help in seeing where it most resonates. “You may think you want awareness, but really you want sales. It doesn’t work that way – that’s like saying you want lunch and dinner at the same time,” quips Mike. “You have to pick a path, and testing your messaging helps you commit to that path.”

Debbie points out that it’s also important not to be too vague. “I find there are brands who try to sell you something you know nothing about, and you have to do all the research to figure it out,” she observes. “If I have to do all the work to learn about the brand, I probably won’t pursue that brand’s product.” By providing enough information, and easy reference points to more information, you can provide the full picture of what you’re offering.

Once you’ve nailed your content, your deployment plan, and hit the magic ‘go’ button, it’s not time to sit back and wait for engagement. It’s important to keep an eye on what you’ve deployed – particularly on social media. If people begin commenting on your content, engage with them – thank them for their interest, positive feedback or comments. But be warned, you may see some negative input, and this may be even more important to respond to. “When I’m shopping online and see a bad review, I look for the response,” says Jay. “And if I don’t see a response, this turns me off the brand. Dealing with negative feedback is never comfortable, and it’s important to have a triage process ready. For example, if the comment is really bad, how do you escalate the situation to ensure the response is meaningful? Bottom line – own it, and address it.”

Mike jumps in to add “On the flip side, even when you get negative feedback, people are still talking about you! This is still a metric and if it’s happening, it shows people care enough to say something about you. You can turn this into a positive experience by addressing the concern.”

What this all boils down to is ensuring you have a detailed plan for your entire campaign, and executing it through the channels and tactics that you feel will reach your ideal audience. At all times when people engage with you – respond (to the good, the bad and most importantly, the ugly).

To bring it all home, I asked the group for some closing thoughts:

  • Mike: “You will always need to adjust your plans. Start with the first steps based on initial objectives, and then depending on what happens, determine what your next steps will be.”
  • Debbie: “Don’t necessarily put a timeline on it either. And remember everything should not happen in one channel or all at the same time. Test the waters to see where you get the most engagement, and then start building out your messaging in those mediums.”
  • Jay: “Be patient at every step of the process. You can’t go from ‘awareness’ to ‘buy’ in two days. Have a plan and be patient with all of the steps.”

Screen capture of Zoom call with Mike Leon, Jay Wexler, Debbie Harrison and Sarah Manley