Personalization is becoming more common in the world of today’s marketing. What can a company do when some of the most important marketing channels they use are unable to be personalized?
Ashley Plack, the founder of Strategist Marketing, provides her take on how companies can personalize their marketing by digging deeper into their customer segmentation.
listen to this episode
- Problems that companies face when they lack personalization through the sales process
- Why SEO’s lack the capacity for personalization
- The difference between personalization and segmentation
- What companies should focus on when segmenting their customers
- What marketing channels can and should be personalized
- 3 stages of segmentation implementation
- Integrating sales phases into the segmentation process
- How to successfully implement a segmentation
- Why companies shouldn’t force their brand language onto customers
- The primary guiding arrow when creating customer segments
Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com, the no fluff, actionable, marketing podcast for marketers, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I am your host Louis Grenier. In today’s episode, you will learn how to personalize when you cannot personalize. Very mysterious.
My guest today is the founder at Strategist Marketing. She empowers brands to provide exceptional experiences that meets real consumer needs. She’s been a speaker at several digital marketing conferences including the Digital Summit, SMX, HeroConf. She’s been mentoring marketing professional, volunteering in the community teaching digital marketing courses at Towson University. So she knows a lot about digital marketing and that’s why I am super happy to have Ashley Plack on the podcast. Welcome aboard.
Ashley: Thank you so much, Louis.
Louis: All right. So let’s dive in straight away into the problem we’re facing. There seems to be a lot of talk about personalization. Nowadays you can personalize a web experience. You can personalize your emails. You can personalize everything. Personally, I’ve yet to see a company doing it properly. I’ve yet to see a company nailing personalization to the point that you feel that your experience with them is kind of one-to-one.
I think it’s incredibly difficult to do especially across channels. And you have an interesting take on it but before we going into this take and kind of going through your steps on how to personalize when they cannot personalize, what are the problems that company face when they are not personalizing anything throughout the experience?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That’s a great question and I think even though personalization is very trendy right now, and we hear a lot about it, I think there are still a lot of companies out there who aren’t necessarily thinking of their brand experiences in terms of how they can personalize. So I think one of the biggest, I guess barriers, to being really effective with your marketing, if you’re not thinking about personalization at all, is really around relevance and meeting consumer needs.
So personalization, yes. It’s trendy. It’s a buzzword. But really when we’re talking about personalization, we’re trying to talk about how can we deliver the best possible content to users at the right time. So thinking about relevancy and context.
Louis: Right. And even if you would like to personalize the experience based on the context, based on the relevance, based on previous interactions with the brand, you are not necessarily able to do that, right? So there are some channels like SEO like search engines where you can’t really personalize that much, right?
Ashley: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right. Exactly. And even in some programmatic and display networks, there are limitations on how much you can personalization based on the platform’s editorial policy. But I think SEO is kind of the classic example. A digital marketing channel that really doesn’t have any built in capacity for personalization.
Louis: So tell us more about this. What does it mean that it doesn’t have any capacity for personalization really?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Right. So when we say this SEO isn’t oriented in a way that is designed specifically for personalization, we’re talking about there aren’t any tools available or platforms available right now that will help you align data about your users with your SEO.
So because there is no specific user targeting available, you’re not able to say, “I want to reach this specific user or this specific subset of users.” You’re very much limited to when you are developing an SEO strategy, you have to say as a marketer, “All right, with this piece of content or with this page, I’m going to try and reach people who are looking for this information on this particular topic, or people who are searching for this specific keyword or long-tail keyword phrase.” It’s more oriented around keywords and content rather than around user targeting.
With ads and really any kind of paid digital ad or with e-mail, you are able to target based on the actual, individual user or group of users. So that’s a functionality that SEO wasn’t designed for and I wouldn’t anticipate any features in that realm any time in the near future. That’s one of the things that people pay for when they are paying for ads, is that targeting ability. And so keeping that very separate is key and I think we can also think of organic social media posts. So Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. We can think of those in a similar way as well. When we are paying for the ads, we have some targeting abilities. We can reach users on a much more granular level. Whereas, with those organic posts, we cannot.
Ashley: And e-mail’s really held up as like the shining example because you have information like a person’s name and you can include those sorts of dynamic content in your marketing that you are sending out. Whereas, with SEO we would never want to include someone’s personal information in that even if we could.
Louis: Right. And that’s the major difference. So, your answer to this is basically when you can’t really personalize per se, you can segment. You can do segmentations. So what’s the difference between personalization and segmentation in your world?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. So, within my world, personalization would really be hinging on that targeting capability and including specific user data at the individual or extremely small group level. Whereas, segmentation, how we’ve traditionally thought of it is just dividing up your target market into different segments. If you are really into inbound, maybe you’ve created buyer personas or something like that to help you narrow that down a little bit.
And I think that using segmentation when you can’t use personalization is very helpful especially when you are thinking of it more in terms of that buyer persona idea where you are really trying to break it down into much smaller, much more targeted groups of people based on a couple of different things including where they are in the buying process, so what types of information and what topics they are looking for help on.
So you are looking for the general, I need help with X, Y or Z, but also are they looking for help implementing your product or are they looking just for solutions in general? Or are they still diagnosing their own problems?
Louis: Right. And companies, traditional companies when they use segmentation, they tend to focus on their own needs right? Instead of what people need.
Louis: So can you tell me more about this?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yep. So, from a marketing perspective you have limited resources, a limited amount of content most of the time and so when we segment we really think of it in terms of, well, this is kind of how it makes sense to organize our content. But I think segmentation can be much more powerful if rather than trying to just create these segments to create efficiencies on our own end, we really are taking those segments and basing them off of grouping people who have a similar set of needs.
And I think typically if we’re using it for this purpose, we would end up with a larger number of much smaller segments if that makes sense. Rather than grouping people into prospects into three categories, you would be more likely to have nine.
Louis: Right. And this is what we’re going to discuss now, right? How to actually do this. So let’s say when you work with a new company, or when you would you advise people to employ this strategy, what steps do you want them to take? And perhaps you can maybe mention the steps that you go through and then we can dive into each.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Sure. So when it is time to actually redefine those segments which is really just the starting point in developing a semi-personalization strategy, or trying to personalize on these channels where you can’t personalize, I think the first step is to evaluate if you are using personalization on any other channels. Now some, like you said, I think there are a lot of brands out there that are doing personalization and maybe could stand to be doing a little bit more. Doing this segmentation in addition to the personalization that they are using on other channels can be a great way to help create a more uniformed user experience across the board, but even if you are not doing any personalization on other channels, it’s just helpful to understand that that’s where you are at, and decide well, are we going to take the first step into this on these channels that are not necessarily aligned to personalization? Or are we going to start in another area and then de-prioritize this?
Louis: So you actually would audit the channels?
Louis: That your company is using, right?
Ashley: Yes. Exactly.
Louis: From your experience, what type of channels are traditionally personalized? So I think you mentioned a few like paid ads is usually, like you can personalize. What other channels can you personalize and what other channels companies tend to be able to personalize?
Ashley: Yep. So e-mail, I think we’ve mentioned briefly, that tends to be the leader in personalization especially because with surveys and user preference centers, you can ask for a lot of first party data from your users and that can be extremely helpful and you can get barely personalized information about them.
Things like using someone’s name can be really powerful in marketing and e-mail tends to be an appropriate channel for doing that. It’s not one of those channels where if you see your name or if you see something very personalized, you don’t think, “Wow, that’s so creepy.” It’s something that consumers have really come to expect. So it has a little bit less of that wow factor, but it also isn’t jarring to people.
Kind of at the second level is then when we’re talking about things like paid social and then to a slightly lesser extent, paid ads with paid social, you’re seeing a lot more personalization options and users are seeing it in a fairly personal context as well. So again, there’s a level of expectation there that they will be seeing something that is tailored specifically for them.
So whether that’s through remarketing or using other tactics, I think that is very common and then we see of course with display ads, the trend has been for some time to leverage that for remarketing with banner blindness and low click through rates, remarketing and having that personalized touch really can help improve performance on those channels.
Louis: Okay. And that’s the personalized side. And then on the non-personalizable type of side, you have SEO. What else you have?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So on the non-personalized side I would say probably the most closely aligned personalization would be organic social. So your Facebook page, Instagram, depending on your business, you might be using Pinterest or LinkedIn. Again, those would be areas where you don’t have those targeting capabilities. You don’t have any really well defined way to personalize content or personalize the distribution of that content. However, you are still showing up in a channel where people are again, expecting a certain level of personalization. They are really anticipating that there will be some level of it.
Ashley: And then I think SEO would kind of represent the least able to be personalized in terms of channels. It’s very much expected that you are having a certain level of user privacy when you are searching. You are expecting that you are going to get a fairly standardized answer to your question or standardized content related to the topic that you’re searching for. So SEO and search ads definitely are kind of representing the least natural path to personalization and where we have to work the hardest to leverage the segmentation to get people something that is as specific as possible and as relevant as possible for them.
Louis: So let’s take the example of a company that is using the channels that they can personalize pretty well, right? So they are using paid ads pretty well, they are personalizing it enough, and they are targeting the right people, but for those other channels like in particular SEO or social, in general, it’s obviously they can’t personalize that much and so we are going to use segmentation instead.
So what is the first step towards trying to show, as you said, something specific to the context of the people seeing it? How do you go from nothing is personalized from this channel to landing on an experience that feels like actually I can pick my own adventure, in a sense, and I can select what I want and it feels like they get me?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yeah. That’s a great question. For most brands that are using personalization to some extent, I would definitely recommend that they take a look at messaging, that they are receiving from their users, as well as keyword search data and grouping the topics or the keywords that you are seeing regularly based on that information. So for … and this is where I think a lot of people get tripped up.
When they are creating their segments, they are looking at the content that they already have and the content groupings that they already have and trying to match the segments to those existing content groups for the purposes of this type of segmentation where the focus is not on efficiency but is on helping get better information to users.
You kind of want to take the opposite approach and lead with the data that you have about what people are searching for, what people are responding to and developing your segments out of that and grouping the types of questions that people have out of that information. So taking a very data drive user first approach and then segmenting out from there.
Louis: Okay. So how do we do that in practical terms? I suppose you need to use some sort of a SEO tool to gather this information? Or like yeah, maybe you can take an example from a client you work with or a fictional example, whatever you are comfortable with to give an actual practical way to do this.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Sure. So I think one of the best tools that we have out there would be just using Google Search Console which will allow you to see what people are searching for when your site actually appears in search results.
Louis: So let me … can you just define what it is just briefly for people who might not know what it is?
Ashley: Yep. So Google Search Console also known as Google Webmaster Tools for those who don’t know is a free tool from Google. All you need to do is verify that you own a website and they will provide some basic data, things like how many times people … how many clicks or how many impressions you’re getting for different keywords and those keywords are things that people are searching for on Google.
Louis: Right. And so it shows you the number of impressions so the number of times your website or your page shows up and then it also shows you the number of clicks it gets and the average position, right?
Ashley: Yes. And the average position, correct.
Louis: This is data that you get for free, and this is organic data meaning it’s not paid. It’s like people searching organically click on the result that are organic, or competitors, I mean other organic result, right?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Exactly.
Louis: All right. Sorry to cut you in your explanation. So let’s say, as you said, you’re using Google Search Console and what you are looking for then?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. So from there what I typically do myself is organize that data usually starting with the most popular keywords and then sorting down to some of those keywords. If only one or two people are searching for them and it’s a site with millions of page views, those are things that you don’t necessarily need to prioritize right away. So just developing a large enough dataset where you are going to feel comfortable with doing a little bit of analysis on it. So that’ll really depend on your business.
For some brands they need to use all the data that’s in Search Console and that’s fine and some prefer to really focus on their top 1,000 keywords. Again, really depends on what your specific needs are and what your content capabilities are as well. So sorting that out and deciding what the dataset you’re going to be evaluating is, is really, really important. And if you are going to be pulling search data from other places or if you are going to include any other type of data in your analysis, you would want to define that now as well.
So if you have customer support data and you are able to see, well this is what people are … what our customers are asking about our product after they’ve actually already signed on, sometimes you can glean really helpful information from there as well. But you want to get to a point where you have a set of user generated search terms, whether they are searching internally on your website, whether they are searching on Google which is where Google Search Console comes in and that’s where I would say the bulk of, for most brands, the bulk of the information that they are going to be using is coming from Google search console.
Louis: And this is an interesting point you are making about the user generated keyword because … And I make this point often because I think sometimes we forget about it. The SEO data we get from Google Search Console or other SEO tools is actually based on actual people search for stuff, right? And it feels sometimes like we all work behind the screen and we are far removed from the actual people searching, but those are actual people thinking of something, searching for something and so it is user generated, user first. It’s really based on what people think, right?
Louis: And so as you mentioned, so search engines is a place where people search but as you said as well, it also might be searches from your help documentation. Could be searches from directly your website in the search bar. Are there any other places that are interesting to mention where people search for stuff? They can get data? Or is it pretty much it?
Ashley: I would say for most brands, the majority of information that is very readily accessible is going to come from those places. However, you could also potentially scrape your social profiles for comments that people are making. Again, there will probably be a lot of comments that aren’t looking for specific information so again, not necessarily right for every brand. But, you could definitely get some good insights.
Although it’s a little bit more of a labor intensive process. You may need to download a tool or come up with a way to collect that data in an organized fashion but if you can do that, that can be another area where you can get that type of information. Again, it’s coming straight out of the customer’s mouth and it’s not just what your marketing team thinks or assumes people are searching for.
Louis: Yeah. You’re making great points. I guess in the spirit of prioritization and focus, it’s fair to say that if you have a website already, you are likely to show up in Google and therefore, Google Search Console is probably the best place to get started, right? But I suppose that what we’re going to talk about in the next few minutes is going to be relevant whatever sources you are taking, you are using for what people are searching for.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yes. Exactly.
Louis: So we would export all of those results, like number of clicks per page, number of impressions per page from Google Search Console, but then how do you make sense of it? And again, in the spirit of prioritization and focus, I suppose that focusing on the 20%, roughly 20% of result that lead to 80% of the clicks is probably rule of thumb?
Ashley: Yes. In general, very good rule of thumb. The only time I would suggest something alternative would be if you are a brand that does not have a particularly strong online presence or you are in a market where there are few, very few searches and you’ll really know this when you see this if you have very few keywords, if you have less than a 1,000 keywords in search console, you should probably be taking a look at all of them.
Louis: Right. Okay. So, we have all of them, how do you … so you sort them out by clicks, number of clicks or do you have any other way to select them, to prioritize them?
Ashley: You can also search by impressions, sort by impressions as well. I generally don’t recommend going by click through rate or average position which are both, again, for the purposes of today, available in Search Console just because they don’t … those metrics don’t take into account volume at all. So you might end up with your lowest volume keywords and focusing on those which is not the right area to be focusing on.
So from there, that is sorting by your clicks and impressions is one great way to evaluate it but once you have that dataset in place, it’s really time to take the next step and start grouping things together. And I think you’ve kind of alluded to this a little bit. That’s really one of the more difficult parts of this. So, using something like an n-gram in Excel which is going to allow you to see how many times a particular word is used in the dataset. Something like that can be very helpful. You can use similar analyses even in something as simple as an Excel file, or in a Google Sheet, you are able to look at the frequency of individual keywords or keyword pairs or keyword phrases. So, that’s when you are really able to start to see more clear trends emerging.
Louis: And when we talk about grouping here, we are really trying to group by overall topic?
Louis: So, let’s say you have 10 keywords and you own a plumbing business, you have a lot of, that’s probably the worst example because I know no specific keywords that people will search for in the plumbing, but anyway, what you are talking about is let’s say you have like plumbing rates, plumbing pricing, plumbing prices, plumbing all of that. It’s likely that you want to kind of group them under the same topic of pricing, or like prices, right?
Ashley: Yep. Exactly.
Louis: So you are talking about an n-gram analyzer which is a thing that basically enables you, as you said, to look at the number of times a specific word or specific two words or specific three words appear in the list of things. How do you … once you’ve exported those results in Excel, what tool are you using to like for n-gram analyzer, what typically do you like to use if anything?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. So I typically just build something custom in Excel, but there are online n-gram analyzers where you can use it in a browser UI and just copy and paste your information in there. There are a few different ones out there. I would just caution everyone, if it’s something that is very sensitive information, for the most part Google does tend to strip personally identifiable information out of all those search terms, so if you are seeing it, it shouldn’t have anything too sensitive in there. That would be the only thing that I would be careful with.
Louis: Yeah. So if you Google n-gram analyzer you have plenty for free and you just plug the entire dataset in there. It’s going to return a list of results, and it’s going to return the top words match and the top two words mentioned, the top three words. And you can start looking. But I don’t think any machines can replace our job anyway in the near future, when it comes to actually going through the list and grouping things together.
It takes some experience to group topics together, right? And to see actually those terms are very close together in term of semantic, but in term of meaning, they could be very different. I am just going to give a quick example before I let you continue on the steps.
For example, website analytics and website analysis, right? So those two terms are super close to each other in term of semantic, but when you Google those two results, one of them is really going to be about the concept of website analytics and how to measure site traffic. A lot of tools. Website analysis would be more the concept of analyzing your website from a speed perspective. SEO. image size. I mean plenty of stuff. And so even though those two words are super close to each other, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should group them together.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yep. Exactly. And on the flip side, one of the key things as you are grouping together is determining what those synonyms are. And right now, from an automated perspective, there are very few, if any, tools out there that can do that effectively.
So a lot of the purpose of collecting your data and displaying it in these types of formats is to enable a marketer themselves to actually do that kind of human analysis as easily and as quickly as possible because when you are working with a dataset that’s very large, certainly you could have someone go through and manually look at every single keyword but that is time consuming and not the most efficient way to do things so it’s really about prepping that data and getting it into a format that is very easy to use.
So if you are working with a very small dataset, something like a word cloud can be helpful and referring back to your original dataset just to get metrics along side of there. But yeah, that’s the human element for now is critical in grouping these topics together.
Louis: So what’s the end result from a list of keywords that you have exported with a bunch of data to what is it? A list of topic? How do you like to transform this data?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yep. So for me, and for most of my clients what’s most helpful is dividing it up on a couple different I guess areas. The first one would be, like you’d mentioned, the topic. So if you are looking for plumbing, you might be looking for plumbing pricing, you might be looking for plumbing services. And I am trying to think of a third thing you might be looking for with plumbing pricing services.
Louis: Yeah. It’s the worst example.
Ashley: And then maybe location as well. Just for the purposes of this. And then you would then also want to categorize things on the other axis of for most businesses, where someone is at in the buying process. So again, are they very early in the process? Are they very late in the process? Are they in that awareness phase? Are they in that interest phase? Or are they in that desire phase or action phase? And making sure we’re breaking that down that way.
Louis: So what phases do you like to use? Because that is super critical. So what phases do you recommend people to use for this, in the process?
Ashley: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, typically I do recommend that people use whatever they are already using it overall. So if the overall marketing department has this list of phases, I think it can be helpful just to align with that because the area where the user generated content is really driving things is still going to be on that topics axis if you will. So it’s still, I would say, on the marketer side to draw those lines in the sand of, well we know that these people are roughly in the awareness phase or again, whatever the company or brand is always using. I think that tends to be the most helpful and also it facilitates the most alignment with other channels and that’s going to be really critical for the success of these types of marketing efforts.
Louis: And I suppose if you are not too sure about what stage a particular topic or a particular keyword is, a good thing to do is to Google it and see what other results come up, if all the results are like landing pages that ask for a sale, then you know it’s likely to be in the bottom of the funnel. If it’s more like informational, blog posts and what not, then it might be a bit higher. There is no … it’s difficult sometimes to know but do you have a few words that for example, in the software business where you know people are likely to buy … I mean the words like buy, try software and trial and that kind of stuff are kind of implying buying it right? So that’s another way.
And a small tip as well, I don’t know if you wanted to mention it, is to make sure that a keyword or a topic has some weight in term of can you generate money out of it. Look at the average pay per click value that it’s linked to. So you can’t really get that from Search Console, but any SEO tools like Ahref or Moz provides this information so if you have a keyword that is with an average pay per click of I don’t know, $20 or $50, you know that people are willing to bleed that much money for it. It must hold some value. While, in the contrary, if you have something that is worth nothing, no one really bid for it, you know it’s probably likely to be something quite high in the funnel.
Ashley: Yeah. That’s totally true. The only caveat I would say is to make sure you are gut checking and making sure it’s a keyword that isn’t just making money for other people’s businesses. It’s something that would be profitable for you as well. But I think that’s just a basic gut check. In general, you’re right. More expensive, it’s genuinely worth that to someone else in the market. It might be worth that for your business as well.
Louis: So we now have a list of topics, keywords related to this topic and then we have stages for it, right?
Louis: So what do we do this?
Ashley: So from there, you want to make sure that you are double checking up against the numbers that you have in your raw data and making sure that each of those segments, that cross section of who is looking for prices and is ready to buy. Making sure that you have enough interest in that area to merit making something specifically for that segment. That’s going to be the next step.
So again, that gut check to make sure, yes. There wasn’t an error on our end. We really … this really is a segment of our market that we can try and reach with a somewhat personalized message because we’re going to use this kind of hyper segmentation, this more detailed segmentation. So once that’s in place, it really becomes time to make decisions about how you’re going to reach people with that segment message and how you are going to revise your messaging that you already have.
So for some brands this is going to mean some of those bigger chunks of content are going to need to be broken up. You may need to assess the information architecture on your site. If you are leveraging these organic, social or this SEO segmentation, you want to make sure you are driving people to a resource that is tailored to them and doesn’t have a lot of additional information that they don’t need. You may take this to a content marketing team and identifies some gaps that you might have. The execution of the messaging side is again, extremely critical in ensuring the success here. So making sure that you have some coverage on all those areas is critical.
Louis: Right. And so how does it look like then when it comes to executing on those segments that you pick? What do you advise to do depending on, I don’t know, there might be a few scenarios here, but how do you then do turn those segments you have in the spreadsheet into things that generate business for you?
Ashley: Yeah. Absolutely. So what I typically recommend starting with is to prioritize the segments that you have. So you may be able to map this out to actual revenue, would be the ideal situation and that’s usually easiest for someone who has an online business or has a way of clearly tracking online users back to actual sales. Can be a little bit more tricky if you are, let’s say if you are a plumber, sometimes that can be a little bit harder, because someone’s finding you online, reaching out with a phone call. It can be a little trickier.
But you want to, to the best of your ability, estimate out what the value of each of those segments are and work backwards from there. So starting with most revenue driving, most profitable segments, and working your way down that last because again, you are going to want to try and reach as many as possible. But you need to prioritize first. Once you’ve prioritized … Oh, sorry. Go ahead.
Louis: No, no, no. Sorry. Please continue.
Ashley: So, once you’ve prioritized then you are trying to map out your existing content to these segments and this is where you really need to be somewhat ruthless. Again this is kind of where segmentation goes a little bit awry, sometimes, because you want to really force some of your existing content into these new segments that you’ve made and sometimes it genuinely is not a perfect fit. Sometimes you do need to create something new or revise what you already have in order to actually deliver.
So you have the topic. You know a little bit about the context of whether they are later in the buying funnel, early in the buying funnel. And you can create something more tailored than what you already have. And I think that’s where you can really get some benefits out of that.
Louis: Okay. And how does it look like in real life? And perhaps you can give me an example of how to execute on a particular segment, the first segment that you want to pick. Maybe you can tell me about this?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So if we want to keep going with the example of someone who is looking for plumbing prices and they are also ready to buy. What you would be looking for as a piece of content for that site would be something that closely aligns with the keywords that you have seen in that segment. So again, there’s going to be more than just plumbing prices in there. There will be other search terms as well, and so you want to make sure you are keeping an eye on those as well.
So you would be looking for a page or somewhere that you are driving people that has information about the prices and a lead form of some sort. Of if you are a plumbing firm that allows people to schedule online, it would be a link to schedule service. So that’s really what you would be looking for. A page that doesn’t have too much else.
Especially with pricing pages, we really have a tendency to want to put all of the benefits out there first before we show people prices, and that can be helpful especially for someone who is a little earlier in the buying process, but when you know the people are looking for this specific information, you don’t want to put too much in there. You really want to give them what they need and as little else as possible.
Louis: And likewise, I suppose once … Let’s say you identify a kind of topic and the stage that it’s in, it’s like the awareness stage which is usually people don’t even know your business exists, and you want to make sure that they do, right? Let’s say that all of your content is more like trying to push for a sale, straight away, right? So that’s usually a big no-no because people are unlikely to take an action straight away. They might take time depending on your buying cycle. If you are in B2B in particular, it might take awhile. So if you have a page, a landing page with a lead generation form or phone number and this is pretty much the only thing you give them when they search for a term that is more an awareness play, then you are kind of fucked, right?
And so this is what you also talk about when you talk about ruthless. To be ruthless about it, right? So if you say, “Hold on a second, the buying stage is awareness online and we are giving them this landing page and trying to squeeze every sale possible, that’s not going to work. We need to do something else.” So let’s say maybe for buying stage we can go through the typical type of content that works well and then reverse engineer that for listeners. So, for awareness in particular, let’s say you want people to be aware of your company, what type of things should you show them and should not show them as well?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So this is awareness can be a little bit tricky. Like you said, you definitely don’t want to be showing someone who is in that awareness stage just a list of prices and a link to buy and little else. That’s certainly not the direction you want to take. In general, higher level benefits oriented content tends to be very helpful. Again, depends very much on the business but quiz type content or diagnostic type content, content that helps inform the user a little bit about the topic at hand, those kinds of things can be extremely helpful as well. So it doesn’t have to all be very bland. It doesn’t have to be just branding content. You want branding to be the focus for sure. But there are ways that you can make it a little bit more engaging as well.
Louis: Yeah. There’s a great book about this. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. The ASK Method, which is basically just again, goes back to psychology 101 and how people behave. People want … people care about themself only and they want help about specific things. If they search for something online, it means that they are looking for help somewhere or another. They’re looking for information. They’re looking for prices. They’re looking for something. So they want to know that they are being given the thing that fits their exact situation and that’s why you mentioned quizzes. It’s a way to capture information to self, to make themself diagnose their issues, the problems they have, so that you can give them the right information. And yes, I would agree.
This is usually a very, very good first step which where you don’t ask them for an e-mail or anything like that. You just ask them to give you a bit more information about them, the problem they suffer from, who they are. Something that you care about as a business and that they care about as a person.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yes. Exactly. And again, we talked about, we want branding to be the focus but with the awareness stage, you do also want to be walking that tightrope of using the language that your users use, but also making sure that you are using language that is brand appropriate as well. So it can be very tricky. And I think that that’s something that’s usually best addressed by a team, rather than just an individual marketer.
Because you can introduce a lot of bias in that way and having a little bit more of a group mentality can be helpful. But I think in general, from what I’ve seen brands tend to be a little bit biased towards using their own brand language exclusively and not incorporating elements of user language, and I think that’s an area where many, many brands can stand to grow.
Louis: I think you are absolutely … you are being very candid. Very nice about those brands. Usually companies really struggle to talk about using a language that their people, their consumers are actually using and usually, as you said, it’s marketing bullshit, marketing lingo. I mean, you didn’t say marketing bullshit. I’m saying it for you. A lot of marketing lingo, a lot of things people don’t understand.
When I had Joanna Wiebe on the podcast a few months ago and she was saying that the best copywriters don’t write any content, they just steal it from their customers, right?
And that’s what it is. Especially, especially in the very top of the funnel when it comes to awareness and brand, don’t start to play like smart and try to be like this company that uses word that nobody uses. Use what people actually use in term of words and you will already be five steps ahead of the competition, right?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Louis: So after awareness, we have what? What is usually the stage that you like to consider?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. So typically for me and for my clients I think interest is usually the next stage. So they’re potentially returning back or they’ve already had some kind of touch with us previously and so they’re actually willing to consume some more content and that may be on the website. That may be on an organic social post. Really can be in a few different areas. And again, this is an area where being willing to revise your messaging is very important and very hard to do, oftentimes it’s easier said than done.
So, on the interest stage, that tends to be an area where you can start to introduce a little bit more detailed information about again, still benefits oriented but you can have a little more detail there and that generally tends to be a better time to start to introduce things like asking for an email.
Again, this really varies, so my clients are all over the place in terms of industry from e-commerce in an area where the average buying cycle is only four hours to higher ed institutions. So it really can be very, very different based on the industry. But in general, I would say that’s kind of the area where you are starting to dip your toe into the water of asking for something.
Whether it’s an e-mail, whether it’s a little bit more of their time, keep perusing information but it’s … again, still needs to be user oriented in the content that you are providing so that way they are able to actually get what they need.
So usually they need a little more detail, but not the type of thing where we had talked about with plumbing and you’re at the bottom of the sales funnel and you are looking for price where you just really need that pricing and a lead form as the primary elements on the page. You’re going to need something, again, a little more informational. A little more content, but not so bare bones as that.
Louis: So you’re just likely … you’re increasing the commitment a bit more. You’re asking them to commit a bit more towards you as a brand.
So, maybe for the awareness stage you’ve answered a few questions about themself, they’ve replied to quiz or they’ve viewed a page and then they left. They’ve done something small, or they’ve viewed a video, a 30 second video. What is the next step, right? You need to think about in term of incremental next step and not pushing the sale too much. Depending on the sale cycle length, as you said, e-commerce the average cycle is like four hours compared to maybe in B2B and complex product it could take years.
So depending on that you really want to make sure that you give them an experience that is in line with that. So you don’t want to take too much of your time in e-commerce, but you don’t want to force people in B2B either or else you’re going to lose it altogether.
But all of this data, all of this information will be available, is available to use through those keywords that you’ve mapped, right? You should be able to see what type of information people are looking for purely based on what they’re searching for when it’s linked to each stage of the buying journey.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Yes. Exactly. And that’s what you want to use as your primary guiding arrow, if you will. That’s what you want to be following is as closely as possible what people are actually asking for.
Louis: I suppose in this type of process, using FAQs, like frequently asked questions to actually answer the exact question they are searching for is also a great way to get them what they want?
Ashley: Yep. FAQs very powerful, especially at this stage.
Louis: And then let’s pick the later stage, right? Once the awareness, interest. They show you commitment. They are ready to buy. We’re talking about this last stage there. I think it’s the simpler of them all. What typically are you expecting to show here?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. So again, it can be very different based on your industry, what someone like you said, in a year’s long B2B cycle is looking for is going to be very different than if you are in a B2C e-commerce industry. But in general, again, it is going to be mostly fighting against the instinct to kind of throw everything at the user at this stage. This is not necessarily the time to be recapping in detail everything that you’ve said up to this point. A little summary can be helpful, especially if there’s been a lot of information exchanged. But the key there is to be brief.
So that’s something that tends to come up a lot is people are looking for just bullet point lists, short and sweet to recap all the information that they’ve received thus far. Information about how to move forward with the sales process. So again, when we get to this decision in action stage, it’s going to look a lot different for an e-com B2C company than a B2B company especially one with a long lead time. A lot of times, this is the point where you are going to be handing over to sales, whereas in B2C most of the time you are going to be actually leading the person through the purchase.
So two very different sets of needs. Again, if you expand out into a non-profit or higher ed, those are going to be very different as well. But a brief summary, information about what those next steps are going to be, whether it’s a sale or moving over to the sales professional, et cetera, helping them understand what the next steps are.
Louis: And in this stage what happens usually is if people are not looking for you to convince them, they are … they have convinced themself. What they want is just making sure that they made the right decision in their head, right? That happens quite a lot.
So as you said, you do want to them summary because it confirms their own decision, that they made the right choice and then you need to remove everything out of the way and give them what they want. Like if they want to buy something now, please do not push for, give them more information or whatever. They just want to buy. So make it simple for them. Right. Okay.
So thanks so much, Ashley for going through all of this with me. This step-by-step. I know you have probably a few more stuff to say when it comes to did it actually work, what you’ve done, reviewing the result and all of that. But I think we’ve covered the most important part which is actually providing the right information to people depending on what they’re searching for, how many people are searching for this, their buying intent and all that. So thanks for doing this.
Louis: So I have a few questions before I let you go and the first one being, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years?
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Oh, that is a great question. And I think it’s a little bit biased towards what we’ve talked about today but I do think that text analysis in its many forms, whether it’s the n-gram that we had talked about or other methods, using other tools out there, different methods of data visualization with your Data Studio, Tableau, things like that, and I think it’s going to be really critical over the next 10 years especially as we’re starting to see voice really start to gain a lot more traction. So we’re going to have a lot more text based data than we’ve ever had especially text based data that is user generated information. And understanding how to analyze that at scale is going to be really important in the next 10 years.
Louis: Yeah. I don’t think any other guests have actually said that, gave this answer which is super interesting. I would agree with you and the formats at which we are talking right now, the podcast, is exploding right now. Like voice in general because people have no time to write anything or to consume written content. I mean, they do but they have also more time to do voice like during their commute and whatever, so what you said makes total sense. And you start seeing then a lot of solutions out there that enable you to automatically analyze text depending on what you want to know. Sentimentalize, pattern recognition, like theme and topic recognition. But usually it gives you a good aid, it helps, but it’s far from being perfect. You always need a human to check it. But you can train those things, right?
Louis: You can train them to really give you proper answer based on millions of rows of data so I concur that this definitely something you want to look at in the future. What are the top three resources you’d recommend our listeners today? Could be anything from books to podcasts to conferences.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. In general, or specific to what we’ve talked about today?
Louis: Whatever you feel is kind of the top three. You can make it more specific if you want to or if you have any book that you always recommend to others. Whatever it is.
Ashley: Mm-hmm. Sure. I would say that for me personally, I found that learning in a more hands-on format and in an environment that’s in person can be really helpful and I think conferences are so great for that. I would specifically probably call out the Digital Summit series. There are a lot of them out there. I’ll be speaking at one this summer in D.C., but they cover a lot of different topics and it’s all very much digitally oriented but I think for someone with a broader marketing focus, it is a great resource and I always walk away having learned something totally new which is great.
I also am a big proponent of reading books that are not necessarily marketing oriented but are helpful in understanding either user psychology or general business, so one of the classics that I’ve been doing and going through and recommending to a lot of people is called The Knowing-Doing Gap, which is a great one. I believe it’s Harvard University Press. Really excellent and a classic.
And outside of that, I find that marketing blogs like marketingland.com, searchengineland.com, again for keeping up to date when things change so quickly and they have a lot of great content on strategy but they also have a lot of tactical information that honestly, really can help a marketer in their day-to-day. So being able to stay up on top of new things that are coming out, I think, for most of us, can be really beneficial.
And you know, we don’t necessarily have the time to be sifting through every new piece of information that Google throws our way about AdWords. So having resources like that, that can help sift out the most important information and the most important updates and let you know about them quickly is really helpful.
Louis: Thanks so much, Ashley. I concur like all of the stuff you said. I haven’t actually read the book you mentioned. I probably have never heard of it actually, and so I am going to definitely buy it as soon as this conversation is over. But yeah, once again Ashley, thanks so much for going through this step-by-step with me. For sharing all of this information. Where can listeners connect with you if they have more questions or they want to know more about you?
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. So I am happy to chat. Best way to reach me is either at strategistmarketing.com, or feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn as well. I tend to be pretty active on there.
Louis: And so, it’s Ashley Plack. Right? How do you pronounce your last name?
Louis: How do you write it down?
Ashley: Yep. Plack. P as in Peter, L-A-C-K.
Louis: Yeah. Exactly. Ashley, once again, thanks very much.
Ashley: All right. Thank you so much, Louis.