Four Ways to Maximize “Minimalist” Marketing

clutter

Familiar with the tiny house, declutter, and downsizing trends? Then you may have heard of the “Minimalist” movement too. The concept has taken off, with more than four million followers of its books, podcasts, a documentary, and tons of media attention.

But what the heck is this minimalist thing and why does it matter to marketing?

First some backstory: the Minimalists idea emerged from two 30’s, corporate worker bees who walked away six-figures jobs in the throes of typical American “success.” They were miserable on the endless hamster wheel and wanted to find more meaning in their lives. The Minimalist Guys (yep that’s what they call themselves) decided to strip away the life clutter. Disengage from rampant capitalistic culture. Find happiness and make time for what matters―stronger connections, personal growth, and happiness.

Intrigued by this idea, I watched the “The Minimalists” documentary. It begins with quick-cuts of the ‘90s consumerism excesses as the narrator quietly judges our complicity. It was a stark reminder that not much has changed in the digital age. “More” is still the mantra. The time is ripe for marketing to adopt own brand of minimalist philosophy.

Here are some ways you can apply the Minimalist principle to your marketing and be more effective with less.

Keep your content clean (NOT the NSFW kind)

When you’re living the Minimalist life, your home won’t be packed with “stuff”. No knick- knacks. Electronic devices gathering dust. Pictures that don’t bring you joy. Yet every day (every waking moment, let’s get real) consumers are overstimulated by busy websites trying to get us to click, crowded social media news feeds, red notification lights blinking and buzzing incessantly. We, as marketers, should help our readers focus on the most important messages. There’s a reason why Apple, Volkswagen, and other iconic brands share the legacy of of the best advertising around: there is a strong visual element, few words, and a supporting message hammered home. Adopt this principle of simplicity wherever you communicate. Keep everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Channel Your Inner Editor

The life of a minimalist means that you don’t overcomplicate things. Take what you need. Give what you can, but do no more than that. As marketers, the writing practice should be just as disciplined. Don’t let the important messages you have to say get lost in a word jumble. As a writer, I strive for brevity but it often tempered (and tempted) by wordiness. Instead, deliberately choose your language wisely and say no more (there’s this thing called editing. And more editing.). And don’t overwhelm your reader with messages. Make more impact with less. Something else to ponder: if you can’t say what you need to in a sentence, go back to the drawing board. The last benefit? Readers will notice what you say instead of staring into a sea of words.

Social Media Master of None

Minimalists don’t do five things at a time and multi-task the hell out of them, they one or two very well. Visit a friend, make a connection, focus on the beauty of the moment. When it comes to social media marketing, we tend to view all channels as one unit―incorrectly. Social media now an established part of the marketing mix, but you don’t need to be everywhere―just where your customers are. Some companies hop on the latest platforms because they’re “cool” or for novelty’s sake. Sure, test the waters, but don’t invest tons of time and energy with a square peg in a round hole. Spend social capital with what works best for your business. If your target audience is young, Snapchat. If you have a visual product or can creatively express your business on Instagram, post away. If you’re B2B, LinkedIn and Twitter make sense. If you have a start up, there are other considerations. Reign in your social media in and you’ll reach the people that matter.

Choose Quality Over Quantity 

Though the Minimalist Guys hug as many people as possible at their events, their philosophy is about making the space to spend time with those that really matter. In the same way, as a marketer, don’t try to attract every audience. Do a spring cleaning of your database and get rid of the dead-weight; take a hard look at your personas and see if you’ve overdone it and can condense or toss a few; drop excess mailing lists you’ve been on that aren’t paying off; and finally, scrub “we’ve always done it this way”from your marketing vocabulary. Excising marketing programs can be a painful pill to swallow for marketing organizations, but a worthwhile change.

These are a few ideas but certainly is not an exhaustive list. What would you do to pare down your marketing? What will be the first thing you cut?

 

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Five Marketing Takeaways From This Crazy Presidential Election

 

clinton_vs_trump_2575979Tomorrow morning we’ll wake up with a new President-Elect.

And make no mistake: it’s been difficult to find positive aspects of this grueling election season, but marketers take heed: we’ve been given the gift that keeps on giving. Witness all the branding, advertising and other dos and so-do-not-dos we’ve seen this election cycle.

Here are five stand outs. They also speak directly to the candidates’ values and vulnerabilities.

Hillary Clinton’s unpopular logo

Remember that less-than-stellar debut? Everyone was suddenly a graphic designer and had an opinion. It was too plain; it was ridiculously old fashioned. It looked like a mash of arrows. It was even officially trashed. But Hillary was resolute to her commitment to the logo and did not back down and change it. Remember when Airbnb was crucified for their logo? They kept it – but this is the exception not the rule. Gap, Coke, and other brands all fell prey to public discourse about their graphic sensibilities and new brand identity. What message does that send about your company and your brand?

Branding taglines: they work!

Every company needs a tagline and so does every politician? Some say Hillary’s “Stronger Together” is as uninspired and uninteresting as her logo, but it’s a quick hit about what she’s fighting for – a unified country. Trump’s theme is “Make America Great Again” in his best attempt to be folksy and send a clear message to his voter. But what exactly is #MAGA referring to? Segregation? 1776? That’s the “MAGIC” of #MAGA –  it’s open to interpretation by his true believers. As an awkward punctuation mark, Trump consistently sports a MAGA baseball hat paired with a suit and red power tie. Which leads us to our next topic…

Damage to the Trump Brand

No other election has seen the circus atmosphere as this one. And what better way to usher it in than a businessman known for his showmanship, brashness, and hucksterism. Though Donald Trump has both collected and nauseated and millions of voters with his polarizing rhetoric, it’s become clear that he’s also permanently tarnished his brand. This is definitely not a case of “Any PR is good PR.” In addition to his divisive popularity, this election also brought out his dirty laundry out in the public for a wash: failed businesses, tax evasion, proclivity for suing people, sexual misconduct. The list goes on. Trump Hotel sales are down even before the election is over. He’s even done damage to his daughter’s successful clothing line. So what happens after the election? He’s lost his well-heeled consumers but gained lower-income fans that can’t afford his brand but who will flock to his much-hyped “Trump TV” or whatever else he cooks up. But no one will ever look at the Trump name in gold the same again.

Hillary’s marketing tactics aren’t so different than our own

Everyone talks about Hillary’s strong “ground game” – they should see her online presence. As someone in marketing and has a low tolerance for overly-zealous campaigns, it’s been a challenge to stay on Hillary’s marketing list. With the regularity of daily emails, texts, and phone calls from multiple sources, I tried to turn down the volume – no such luck. The marketing faucet is either on or off. But given the importance and short-term of this election, I summoned the tolerance of a saint. The campaign employs typical B2C/B2B email tactics, with subject lines with “Re:” as if they were responding to my email (oldest trick in the book); guilt attempts “Can We Count On You, Janice?”; and even “personal” letters from President Obama, Joe Biden, and other political superstars. The HRC campaign get points for their veracity, volume and variety to get my attention. But they get knocked for their seemingly blind-eye to the communication avalanche. In the end, both campaigns have had their email marketing pros and cons.

“Market Research” aka Polling

The media loves polls more than anyone and the public gobbles it up – no matter how valuable it is. After every bombshell announcement of the election cycle –  whether it’s the FBI doing further Clinton private server investigation or Donald Trump’s famous Access Hollywood bus ride, daily WikiLeaks, or women suing Trump for sexual harassment, It felt more like an insane sporting event: Monday Hillary: 1; Trump: 0. By Wednesday the score is reversed in the others’ favor for talking points at their next rally (we can also thank our illustrious media for rapt attention no matter if rumor or proven fact). Bottom-line is that polls are overvalued sentiment throughout the election. Like brands, measuring customer opinions should have a before and after – not the equivalent of a constant heart monitor. This creates a skewed data points that have no relevance if the pulse is taken on a daily basis.

Crisis Communications is Alive and Well

With the lowest likability ever for presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, whether the Trump or Clinton campaign, each of their crisis comms person isn’t just on speed dial, but I suspect perched next to them 24/7. There hasn’t been a week, day, or sometimes hour where the PR spin room wasn’t summoned for either candidate. Why? Both candidates have lots of bad PR on irregularly-regular basis. For Clinton, it’s a legacy of attacks dating back to her husband’s presidency, but “emails” is the word that creates the drip-drip every single day. Then there’s WikiLeaks and a host of other perceived missteps and mistakes. For Trump, the light shining on his pre-politics life that is dark as night: the many sordid details about his business dealings, personal behaviors, and temperament that allows him to send rabid tweets at 3am. Ironically there were so many crisis moments for both candidates, that as a public, we tended to become accustomed to the drama of the campaign and even non-plussed at times. Crisis communications became normal news of the day. This is not where you want your brand to be.

Persuasion “Secrets”

Remember Scott Adams of the comic strip “Dilbert” fame? He’s famous for something else: he is a persuasion expert (who knew?!). When Trump was inching closer to nabbing the Republication nomination, Adams did the talk show circuit to explain how this unthinkable candidate could possibly make it to the top of the GOP ticket. Think: “Crooked Hillary” “Little Marco” and all the other short nicknames Trump developed that we remember. It makes an impact. Adams outlines all of the persuasion techniques used by Trump quite effectively on the human brain. Marketing is all about appealing to emotions. Trump takes it to an extreme with his base – and now we know the science behind why it works.

But I’ve saved my most powerful marketing lesson of all for last, and it’s really short: go vote.

 

 

 

LinkedIn Tries to Wiggle Out of Its Work Khakis

Think fast: what social networks do you expect girls in bikinis, political statements, and religious rants? Facebook…Instagram…LinkedIn. Wait what??

Insert screeching brakes sound here.

These types of posts are becoming more and more common on LinkedIn. In fact, a war is being waged in the LinkedIn community upon itself. Newsfeeds are filling up fast with complaints of personal, off-color or racy images, mixed with those defending it. And it’s gotten downright nasty, taking up more real estate than ever.

Examples? (replete with thousands of comments pro and con)

– Before-and-after photos of a woman in a skimpy outfit to demonstrate a personal trainer’s results

– an image of a fast food employees praying through the drive-through window with a customer

– An image of an orange-faced businessman with bad hair who happens to be running for president

-A dad showing off the breakfast food porn his kids made that morning

-Posts complaining about these types of posts

-Posts complaining about posts complaining about these posts

…Get the idea?

The fact is, many LinkedIn members want the network to remain the buttoned-up workplace they know, while others choose to use it as a fertile sharing ground for anything.

While LinkedIn does have a community behavior policy in its terms of agreement (like other networks), its ambiguity leaves the policy’s implementation frayed at the edges and open to interpretation (also like other networks). The specific clause forbids a LinkedIn member to “Act dishonestly or unprofessionally, including by posting inappropriate, inaccurate, or objectionable content.”

But what do those words mean in the age of social media and increasingly blurry lines between personal and work lives?

The grandaddy of social networks has made it clear it wants to stay out of this touchy conversation and leave it to members “work it out.”

But me thinks there is something much bigger going on here.

The loud silence gives voice to the idea that the old network is simply
“pivoting” in true Silicon Valley fashion. All of the signs and symptoms are there. And it would seem like the next logical step to attempt unicorn social media status and attain relevancy in all parts of its users lives.

But no matter how it dresses for casual Friday, LinkedIn screams work. It’s decidedly not the go-to for a fun fix like a Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook. And that’s why the company is taking its cue from the blue-logoed, most popular social network in the world.

Look at the mounting evidence: the red notification that excites and brings on that Pavlovian response for more; the “like” button for posts and new jobs; larger, multi-size imagery; more targeted ads and messages on the sides of the pages; the ability to publish (ala post); the new chat feature replacing messages; network birthday notifications, a snazzy new Facebook-like app, and other telltale signs.

The only thing that’s missing so far? Community acceptance.

The fact is, something is not quite connecting for  millions of LinkedIn users. Could it be that the community DOES like a modicum of  personal and work life to remain separate? Most people feel uncomfortable sharing vacation photos, opining their views on political candidates, or ranting about lousy customer service to a network mostly from former and current employers, professional event or other work circumstances.  We have lots of other places to do that, thank you very much.

LinkedIn wants to have it both ways—to be the “world’s largest professional network”— but  change the definition of what that means in order to grow and more deeply engage its users.

And it may be fighting a losing battle and in the process turn off community members to what is perceived as a degredated, cheapened network.

The fact is, we all have our own definitions and standards of what stays in the outer circle but there are some common threads—that’s not going to change much over time. It’s the reason we don’t wear shorts to an interview. Or tell our boss we got in a big fight with our mate. Or share that we’re going to a political rally on the weekend. It’s this thing called “boundaries.”

My rule of thumb is if it’s not something I would say to a colleague, it doesn’t go on LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean I can’t have fun or a sense of humor or show my personality— it just means I have no interest in doing more than that on LinkedIn.

This is as personal as it gets.

 

 

 

7 Ways to Better Marketing in 2016

2016
Let’s start the new year right: out with the old and in with the fresh.

#1 Get off the training wheels articles

Dear content experts: We know that images are processed 60x more than text. We also know that tweets with images get tons more shares than those without. We get it. There are hundreds of articles on these basics. If you want more SEO, be less of a sheep and more of a leader. Got an interesting take on why Twitter sucks for certain businesses? Or an argument to do long-form blogging instead of 500 words? Bring it. Make us think, provoke us and push us further in our education, don’t give us the same-old.

#2 No more gobbling up junk food infographics

Ratios are important, including infographics. For instance, when the largest element of an infographic is the logo of the company that produced it, it’s a clear warning sign. Many infographics these days are filled with fluffy, contextless stats aimed at showcasing themselves for shares and/or hopping on popular culture (not very well). We have more innovative data visualization opportunities than ever. Let’s use this information to educate and inspire ideas, not dumb down readers.

#3 Overthrow the content monarchy drivel

…Is so 2013 (I’m guilty myself). No more using “content is king” or corollary: “content is queen” context, engagement or anything else that is sidekick to the King. (and why does the Queen always have the helping role?) These cliché terms are ubiquitous and mean nothing anymore. We’re way beyond this revelation (see #1). It’s time for the next level analysis when we write about content. Speaking of which…

#4 Doctor’s orders: marketing does not cure cancer

I do suggest one new monarchy term: “Content is the new court jester”. We’re a pretty humorless bunch. We do have the Condescending Corporate Facebook page, Clickhole, recaps of social media flubs, and the occasional catch-all. But more laughs and less self-importance is the prescription for what ails us. There are brands that get humor thankfully. Yes, meaty, relevant content is an essential ingredient for smart marketing strategy and contributes to revenue (fingers crossed), but let’s have some fun, people.

#5 A fresh litter is worth 10 copycats

A blog post compiling expert views is one thing, but regurgitating others’ ideas with few word changes has a centuries-old legal term: plagiarism. It’s spread online like rancid butter. If you have an opinion, state it and back up with well-thought ideas and research. While we’re at it, let’s do away with hijacking trending stories unless an authentic connection is there. The passage of time often reveals more interesting or thoughtful insights. Better yet, let the story ride out its 15 minutes and write about something original.

#6 Social media deserves a demotion

There, I said it. While social media continues its star billing, advertising (save for ethically ambigious “sponsored content”), events, and everything else in the marketing wheelhouse is relegated to the D-list. Social also gives  click-bait culture a huge boost. True, social media disrupted how we communicate with each other and brands, but ALL marketing is a part of the promotion landscape. Young marketers are taught to burrow heads into their screens 24/7 without understanding or caring about what they can learn by looking up and around. All pieces of the promotion pie are part of our rich legacy. (P.S. Apple does billboards, so you know it’s still cool).

#7 Time travel to forward-thinking content 

There are tons of articles about “next year…” this time of year, but what about visionary pieces that look at marketing five or 10 years down the road? The internet of things, mobility, and other technologies are reshaping the way we market. Let’s peek into future so we can plan for the Next Big Thing (or avoid a trending rat hole). Like: why virtual reality will change the way we shop or how robots are invading into journalism . Let’s learn about these futuristic ideas now and start planning for what’s to come . Even if these predictions never come true, it opens our minds to new possibilities and ways of thinking.

Here’s to a great marketing year in 2016….hold the filler.

 

 

 

 

 

What Becomes of Content in 2015?

cwordThe word “content” has supplanted itself as The Marketing Word in 2014, to the point that I’m hard-pressed to find a digital headline or article without it this past year. Then there are the white papers, conferences, books, and even the Content Marketing Institute (sounds very heady, doesn’t it?). You get the idea. But let’s get some perspective here: Content, in all its incarnations over the years, was simply called something else—be it copy, copywriting, promotion, website content, marketing blurbs, plain old writing, insert big etcetera here. With the rise of social media and other digital marketing to further a brand—whether posts or podcasts, vines or viral videos—this marketing expansion now sits under the same umbrella: Content. One and all. The blending of terms combined with the craving for sky high shares brought to the forefront big changes swirling around in advertising, journalism, and marketing the past several years. Some good, some not so good. I believe we reached a tipping point in 2014 and are venturing to the point of no return. Sure, there is plenty of smart, insightful, and creative content out there, but it is overshadowed by junky digital filler caused by “content mania” and insatiable need to feed the social media sharing beast. Let me explain.

Sponsored Content, aka Native Ads

This kind of promotion has been around for ages in other forms (corporate advertorial in trade magazine, anyone?) But online sponsored content is a bit more dangerous in such prolific quantities. Why? It’s more than a hoodwink; it confuses consumers expecting unbiased articles, whether they care or not.

Sponsored content has seen explosive growth in the past few years due to the expansion of digital publishers, coupled with news outlets desperately looking for a panacea to cover plummeting ad profits. Mission definitely accomplished, but the tricky (read: ethical) part is the barely-there line between “real articles” and those brought to us by our favorite and not-so-favorite brands. Even the bastion of buttoned-up news, the New York Times, got into the sponsored content business. You see, the lines have really (really) blurred, even for the Gray Lady. The FCC stepped in to help consumers identify sponsored content, but many readers eat it up if it’s “interesting” no matter how indigestible the thought of brand involvement might be. Studies show it decreases trust of content, but it doesn’t stop them from clicking.

Brand Journalism

Which leads us another trend from the content explosion—brand journalism—companies who deploy articles the way a news reporter might—factual information? Yes, but with words that supports the brand’s message, liifestyle, or agenda. This content fuels brands with a great resource for well-written blogs, C-level ghostwriters, and sponsored content, not to mention spawning new careers for jaded journalists, frustrated fiction writers, and corporate careerists looking for a fresh start.

Hootsuite’s CEO Ryan Holmes even nonchalantly dropped a reference to its corporate “newsrooms” at a conference earlier this year. A reach perhaps, but it appears to be the future of The Brand. Welcome to the new blurry world of the “news” where articles you read might not have a clear bias but the source of the materials will.

Attack of the Content Creators

Another way content has taken hold lately is the crazy-big growth of “content creators,” “content experts,” and other fill-in-the-blank content titles (full disclosure: I brand myself this way too). Hardly anyone is simply a “writer” anymore. Sure, including a white-hot industry in your title might make your keywords stand out more, but consider the downside: lots of competitors use this title too, making it a crowded field.

Digital publishing outfits like the Huffington Post, Gawker, and other media companies large and small often won’t pay or divvy out peanuts based on article shares. After all, if you won’t write for free, someone else more hungry for the lure of digital fame will. The more that writers that offer their services without compensation or laughably low pay, the more devalued the profession becomes. This cannot be undone (another disclosure: I have written for zero pay to get my name out there). I get why it happens—it’s called supply and demand—but there is collective power in writers holding out for what we deserve instead of giving in to this pressure.

On their own, none of these trends is necessarily catastrophic for content. But when you put them together it gives me great concern to think where content is going in 2015 with the jumbling of words, images, and audio breeding only as share fodder, the cocktail of news and brand agenda, coupled with the cheapening of writing as a craft, I wonder if we’ve lost some of our core quality standards and beliefs in what content is about. Like the “click-bait headlines” that trick us into thinking we’re getting one thing instead of another, we’re fooling no one but ourselves to say it doesn’t matter in the future.

Image: Velocity Partners

Confessions of a Marketer: 3 Buying Sins We Commit

airline-word-cloud-540x368No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make, there are common things we tend to do when it comes to buying products. Marketing 101 tells us that these decisions are based on logical touchpoints like price, familiarity, ease of use, brand experiences, and the like. But then you add the emotional flavoring packet of how we feel when we use it, reaction to the colors, influence from friends, to name a few. The melding of logic and emotions is so interwoven and subconscious during the buying process that it’s nearly impossible to pull the two apart. Our brains on brands can be quite the conundrum, and, frankly sometimes make no sense. Take three diametrically opposed buying behaviors that many of us engage in regularly, whether at the Big Box retailer, the local store, or that online site.

Buying from brands we hate: For me (and millions of others), Comcast is No. 1 when it comes to brand loathing. Unsurprisingly it’s honored on the 10 most hated companies in America list. The majority of the top 10 are popular and profitable, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Ironic or par for the course? For me, I’m a hater of Comcast’s horrible customer service, erratic connection, and dominance on an industry, yet I still pay that hefty “Triple Play” bill each month. Admittedly, part of the reason is that I am too lazy to find other resources for my internet, cable, and landline (yep—I still got one), many of which are equally unappetizing. In a nutshell, I stay with crappy Comcast because it’s the path of least resistance, and shamefully that trumps everything else sometimes.

Supporting small brands that went corporate: One of my favorite “natural” products is Burt Bee’s Coconut Foot Creme. I love that undisturbed-coconut-y aroma. For years I thought my purchase was going to a small, organic company in some cute Vermont town, which made me love it even more. It turns out I’ve been supporting Clorox’s corporate coffers since 2007—that’s quite a different smell. But Kashi, Honest Tea, and many other “small” brands have also gone big. Large corporations will chase the organic, sustainable money on its unstoppable upward trajectory—they obviously want a cut of that action. The recent purchase of Amy’s Organic to General Mills reminded me of the grieving process I went through with Burt’s Bees: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I tend to get stuck at the bargaining stage: I don’t like the fact that my David is now a Goliath, but I am willing to forgo my values for their awesome macaroni and cheese. Sadly, case closed.

Going with brands that are against our values: This can be the most difficult one. Even if you’re not a scrapbooker or DIY type, you’ve probably heard of the recent Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court case: It fought and won against covering birth control pills for employees under ObamaCare, claiming it went against their values. If Michaels and Hobby Lobby were equal distance from my house it would be an easy decision for me. But plenty of corporations we do business with every day espouse opinions and use profits from our purchases for causes that we mildly or vehemently oppose. For instance, Dominos Pizza and Carl’s Jr. are big anti-abortion supporters and Expedia is a supporter of a climate change denier organization. But do these factors weigh in when we want to buy something? Yes…and no. Knowing the political and cultural leanings of corporations means we might think about switching, but the emphasis on “might”. We’re guilty of sometimes squashing our moral values for a product or service we love, need or is easier to get.

Ultimately, the only person we answer to when we buy something that goes against our core is that face in the mirror— how do we feel ethically, morally, and financially about our purchasing decisions? Whatever “games” we have to play to make that occur, we will do it if motivated enough, because in the end, we want what we want. And isn’t that what consumerism is all about?

The State Of Content With Martin Jones

martin jonesAs we hit the halfway mark on 2014, it’s time to see how brands are living up to the hype and promise of content, clearly the biggest marketing trend of the past few years, with no indications of slowing down. For an expert view, I talked with Martin Jones, Senior Marketing Manager at Cox Communications, and a leading authority on all things content. Martin first caught my attention with a presentation at New Media Expo earlier this year and one of the most Twitter-worthy soundbites of the conference: “Social is how customer hear about you, search is how they find you, and content is how they’ll remember you.”

Let’s start with the content marketing trend for companies. We know thousands of companies are doing it, but who actually gets it right, and why?

I’m happy to say a lot of brands are doing it right. General Electric, Whole Foods, Home Depot, to name a few. They are going beyond Facebook and social across multiple channels. People are turned off by seeing the same content on all platforms. Take Home Depot, for instance: With 160K followers, they are continually updating and making it relevant to their different audiences—by seasons, interests, etc.

We’ve been hearing the term “content shock” lately. With so much content out there, eventually the barriers to entry will increase and only the strongest (best) content will win. Agree or disagree?

One of the arguments against content shock is that whatever you give to your consumers must have purpose. Don’t just throw content up on your site to meet some sort of quota. Unfortunately we still see a lot of decisions made in marketing, PR, IT, and other silos, which can lead to this. There is not always a strong discovery process for content programs or campaigns. Always start with a question about the consumer and ask it. Figure out what problems you can solve for them. Otherwise, people have this natural filtering process and get burnt out on content. What’s important to consumers cannot go by the wayside.

So what can small businesses do to leverage content marketing with teeny budgets and resources?

There are a lot of small business tools out there: Ones like SocialEars let you plug in different terms and see who the influencers are, letting bloggers and marketers quickly see what things are being talked about and what’s the most engaging content right now. It’s critical to know what to talk about by monitoring, rather than falling back on what you know best. It should be about what the consumer is interested in and gearing your content towards that.

I was surprised you mentioned GE: Something I often hear is that B2B brands have difficulty making their content resonate with customers. What do you think the trick is there?

With B2B, it’s about personalizing content in the right voice—your voice. Again it comes down to relevant content. You have to be careful not to alienate your audience if all of a sudden you try to change to the snarky, cheeky Taco Bell-style. It’s not going to work. What’s important is that the content is going to be helpful to the consumer, that it’s personalized, and it answers questions. That’s what your audience cares about most.

What are content marketers still struggling with?

There’s talk of the sales funnel being dead, but it’s really that marketers are creating a lot of content on top of the funnel and then they get to the middle and don’t know what to do with these people. This is where evergreen content really pays off, along with paid media. Your content can still be providing leads to the organization and can move them through the sales process.

What are some of the trends we’ll be seeing as we get closer to 2015?

Deeper content and, again, more consumer-focused. One shift we’re seeing more of is horizontally rather than vertically-focused content on products and services. For example, what are your readers’ passion points? What are they interested in? Talking to companies about growing your business, how to scale, engaging in common interests. Recently I was at a conference where one of the speakers said “Social media is the new golf course”: now that conversation is happening online. Consumers don’t want to talk about products and services, they want to carry on a normal conversation.