Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How Content for Home Appliance Brands Can Put the Spin on Engaging Users

Content is the platform by which manufacturers can tell their stories, answer consumer questions, and demonstrate their products to potential buyers. It presents multiple opportunities across media for companies to interact with consumers (and potential customers) and can provide a space for customers to interact with each other in the social space. This collaboration in turn expands a company’s online presence, polishes its reputation, and boosts sales. All the better when content is part of an integrated marketing mix, as with home appliance manufacturer Whirlpool.

Home appliance manufacturers have ample opportunities and formats to engage target consumers through content. For example, rather than just talk about machine features, Whirlpool has used storytelling to convey the benefits of its products. This content (through TV spots, website content and print advertising) draws in consumers with stories that relate to their concerns.

Print ads and television commercials can drive users to social media and websites, where niche marketing messages can live. Online videos that tell relatable stories easily demonstrate product uses and features (and are easy to share with other users). In the case of home appliances, these can be about dishwashers, washers and dryers, ovens and cooking ranges. This video content can be written to address specific niche markets (home chefs who want to know how the cooktop will help them look like Food Network stars, teenagers concerned about how their jeans will wash). Microsites on the brand’s parent website can continue the conversation with more videos, FAQs, and case studies.

Touting product benefits without overtly promoting product is a vital part of a successful content marketing effort. This makes social media an excellent place to talk directly to consumers via targeted informational posts that create an open online community. For example, consumers can tweet questions about how to use a product or post something to a company’s Facebook page, giving the brand an opportunity to “talk” to potential customers and become a trusted resource for them.

Engaging case studies/product usage stories can make for great social media fodder, along with links to the product website and its additional content. In Whirlpool’s case, its Institute of Fabric Science enables consumers to ask for help with issues related to the company’s appliances but not necessarily about the actual products. Questions about how to wash or dry something—unrelated to Whirlpool’s products—are answered by corporate representatives and this content in turn positions the company as a trusted brand.

If you market home appliance brands, think about how content can be used to engage your target audience. Videos for product demos, FAQ sheets, online forums for product discussions, social sharing of appliance “wins” from happy consumers are all ways that content puts a positive spin on customer engagement. 

Images courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Colleges and Universities are Earning High Marks Through Tailored Content

It’s not just large corporations that use social collaboration tools and content to connect different audiences. Institutions of higher learning are reaching out and communicating with their various stakeholders through different types of content as well.

Graduation Cap, Education, SchoolStudents, faculty, staff, alumni and donors … these all represent different audiences for whom content must be tailored. Those colleges that are using content to engage and create stronger community are going to the head of the class.

Content for educational institutions must sometimes be the same and just as often be quite different.
  1. Students want to read about what they’ll discover at the school or get information about courses, clubs and schedules; staff needs access to content regarding employee policies and procedures or financials.
  2. Prospective and current students may want to read the school’s blog on career advice, the advantages of various majors, or learn about successful graduates and their paths to success.
This content can be used to attract new, high-quality students, recruit strong faculty, encourage donations, or boost the school’s online visibility and brand reputation. It can be website content, an alumni newsletter, segmented emails, even social media posts. By inviting various constituencies to read and comment on content creates community and in the world of higher education (just as in the corporate world), engaged students are happy students.

For example, the Fashion Instituteof Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in California had needed to create content and platforms for its various groups to use. Students, staff members, alumni, student prospects all need access to different information and applications (not the enrollment kind).

The college needed solutions that would weave together the thousands of students, employees and others. Three portals are used (one for the public, one for students and alumni, and another for employees), the different programs are related to those specific audiences, but all users have a single point of access to get the content they need and enjoy online collaboration. You can read the full case study of how solutions from IBM helped various stakeholders access the online information and apps they need.

Content for different users: students, faculty and staff
There are many ways to create content geared to the different constituents in a college/university setting—and many reasons to do so. From developing and maintaining a donor base to recruiting new students, content can be a dynamic growth generator. And because the audiences are so diverse across ages in particular, the need to communicate across traditional and digital channels is important. Here are a few ways to bring content marketing into higher education and go to the head of the marketing class.

·        Blog posts, infographics and videos are excellent recruiting tools, combining the valuable information that prospective students and families need in an engaging, image-rich format. The more information (or education about the school) you can give users without being sales-y, the better.
·         Website content hubs by user – Microsites for various audiences, all accessed through the school’s public website, allow for community engagement for new students, prospective students, parents/families, alumni, and faculty. Everyone has access to the same general information but can read up on what’s most pertinent to them at any time.
·        Online tutorials and competency-based learning -- Self-paced learning, outside of the traditional lecture hall, gives students as much time as they need to grasp a challenging concept and is an excellent tool for students who need additional help with course material. They can watch the content as many times as they need, at their own pace to keep up with class work and achieve better grades. Remedial courses or massive open online courses (MOOC) can also be deployed by colleges to boost efficiency and serve more students. MOOCs, which arose out of distance education (a growing trend) use collaborative tools that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants.
·        Online press releases help support an institution’s messaging about programs, the student body or faculty, and feed into website and newsletter content about the same or similar topics. Together, they can be a marketing powerhouse.
·         Alumni magazines help keep alumni connected to the school through their content. A 2010 survey from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) found that 58 percent of alumni feel that these publications strengthen their personal connections to universities.
  • Articles may be about interesting faculty or alumni, new research or curriculum initiatives, and showcase outstanding students or staff. These stories all engage alumni and can help keep endowments strong and develop the next generation of students there.
  • For younger students or alums who are accustomed to doing lots of reading online, digital editions make a lot of sense and save money over print versions.
·        Email – Offices of student life, alumni, student financial services and the bursar, the dean of students or department heads … the list of emailers and audiences is vast in a college or university setting. Email marketing requires content to engage each particular audience.
  • Another CASE study* (about the use of social media in higher education) found that many school administrators think of email as a legacy medium that is being replaced by texting and other short messaging tools; however, the white paper states that, “When asked to compare email to social media for its success in meeting unit goals, 46 percent of this year’s respondents confirmed that they considered email more effective than some social media channels, and an additional 31 percent rated it over all social media.” [Source: *Social Media Enters the Mainstream: Report on the Use of Social Media in Advancement, 2014 by Jennifer Mack and Michael Stoner

·         Social media – it’s here to stay and it’s growing in the higher education field. But even YouTube videos need well-written descriptions (content) to help boost each video’s online presence and social media communications (Facebook posts, tweets) can be part of an overall content marketing strategy. Between 70 and 87 percent of institutions in the study were using it in their annual giving programs (generating interest in an initiative, thanking donors, keeping donors in the loop); and 47 percent overall (public and private institutions) were using social media in their fundraising efforts.

Content enables educational institutions to connect with its diverse audiences in so many ways. Implementing collaboration tools that help foster even stronger connections pave the way for a more engaged student body, provide opportunities for distant (and different) learning, and provide avenues for alumni and donors to maintain long-standing connections to their alma maters.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Getting to Know You: How Content Fosters Stronger Relationships Inside and Outside a Company

 As the adage goes, people do business with people they know, like and trust. Business professionals network, they join trade associations, and get referrals from clients and colleagues. But how can companies build that “know, like and trust” factor between corporate and workforce, employee-to-employee, and between employees and customers? 

By sharing content.

1 - Get them to know. Content that is relevant and gets employees talking to each other and to customers helps build relationships around common goals. Providing a platform for them to become familiar with each other by sharing common ideas (or sharing disparate views of a shared conversation) is the great equalizer that draws people together.

Expert byline articles are great tools for this. Sales people can send an email to the consumer with helpful tips and a link to an article about a shared topic of interest (fashion tips for fall, color trends for spring, what not to wear), or a manager can share an article related to a specific department or product and get employees talking about it--together.

2 - Get them to like. Sharing informative, educational, and practical content with customers and between employees creates brand buzz and develops a corps of brand ambassadors from inside and outside the company.

That’s because content allows for a productive exchange of feedback. Whether it’s a survey or an article that encourages comments, brands can use the feedback that is elicited to develop customer loyalty programs, employee recognition programs and other activities that engage everyone on both sides of the content (and corporate) fence.

A few years ago, an article in Social Media Today stated that, “Engage your internal audience just as you do your external one, and you’ll find your workers are much better equipped to talk the company talk.” I submit that this remains true today. Sure, technology changes all the time but some basic tenets will always apply.

3 - Get them to trust. In the customer service realm, content provides an avenue for employees to converse with customers that trust because the information being shared is content that customers are interested in. In the human resources area, content can be used to showcase a great job performed by an employee or team through a case study or results of a survey.

  • Content fosters collaboration -- Content is ready-made to get the conversation started. It brings employees and their customers together over common ground; collaboration tools, if employed by your company, keep the conversation going.
  • Content fosters social learning -- Users are reading the articles or training materials—and in so doing, they are learning and sharing information.
  • Content aligns users around brand goals -- Share blog posts and newsletter content that promotes a brand with employees and/or customers; encourage them to comment and exchange opinions (moderated, of course) about the shared content.
  • Content creates data -- By curating shared content generated by employees—blogs, social posts, newsletters—a company can develop a content database that can help brands provide better service or expand their product lines.

Sharing meaningful content internally (with your workforce or between employees) as well as externally (employees “talking” to customers) creates a more social business by providing the bridge that pulls together the workforce, connects consumers with employees, and gets users to know, like and trust each other as well as the brand.