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This episode of Ecoffee with Experts features Mana Ionescu, Founder of Lightspan Digital. Matt got Mana to share the best ways to add the oomph to a brand and create an effective customer journey. Watch now for some deep insights.
Talk to people around you. Talk to your customers. Ask them; What do you see in us? And you will find that sexy story. You have to believe that it is there, and it is.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
This is a trick statement of mine because fundamentally, all brands are exciting. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be in business. They have to be exciting to somebody. We want to think they’ve built revenues and are doing well. So it’s not about making the brands exciting but bringing that out for them. And many companies I talked to think they’re not exciting and have no stories to tell. I’m not sure where that comes from. I don’t know. Because many of them are not marketers, they don’t think in terms of storytelling, or maybe they’re just humble. But I talked to many people who are like, we watch all of these brands on Tik Tok, and we’re not like them. So how are we going to be on social media? And I am here to tell you that it is possible. Everybody can be attractive online while being true to themselves because that’s another concern. It’s that, I don’t want to start putting gimmicky stuff out there so I can be on Tik Tok. And I’m using Tik Tok as an example, but that is not to say that I advise all companies to be on Tik Tok.
Let’s see if we can find something.
How about selling sand? It’s more boring than accounting.
This is the interesting thing about life. Many transactions are happening worldwide and many products are being made to make the products we know of. We may not know or think of them, but they are crucial to our daily consumption. We can’t have a glass without silica, without sand. We may see a beautiful glass object, a piece of art made from glass. Well, somebody sells that raw material to somebody else so that they can turn it into glass. So yes, there are companies, and because I live in the Midwest of the United States, a very industrial area. We have Caterpillar. There are sand mines here. All sorts of stuff happening here makes it so that we can buy things we use in our everyday lives. So if we were to look at just that one object or that company, it might not seem that sexy.
But the ultimate result of having that is very sexy. So if we allow our creativity to go wild, we can go from thinking of sand as something that weighs a lot and has to be carried around to these beautiful Sandglass creations. So that’s an example. Another example, we worked with a company that makes sewage cleaning equipment. So, how does that compare to accounting? So, some companies out there may make Accountants feel very exciting.
First, it’s all about knowing your customers, knowing who’s buying? What are they going to use it for? Are they going to make glass? Or are they going to make other applications, or they’re going to use sand for blasting? It’s all about your audiences. And then, the trick is to find out what’s exciting to those audiences and create content that is sexy to them. Because as we know, what’s interesting or even what’s funny; What’s funny to me may not be funny to you. It’s the same with what makes sand sexy. What may be interesting to one particular buyer may not be for another. If the buyer makes glass, there are a lot of stories that tell about the applications of glass. If the buyer is in construction, there are many stories about the role of sand in construction. There are a lot of stories that tell about the supply chain. The supply chain was not a commonly used term, except most people did not think of supply chain until COVID hit. And then everybody talks about the supply chain. So, it’s a really interesting time to create content about what makes the world spin because the supply chain is what makes things happen. And as we can see, we have shortages because of breakdowns in the supply chain, which we never had to think about before. So now, when it comes to content marketing, and a lot of these companies that produce raw materials or that handle raw materials, there are a lot of very interesting transportation and supply chain stories.
The audience must match the stories. And we have to also pay attention to it. Let’s go back to the sewage cleaning equipment. Here we’re talking about significant machinery. Large in size, very expensive, and technologically advanced with cameras and other tools that can act as our eyes in a dark environment. So the people who buy this equipment are very proud of what they do. And they are very proud of their machinery. So we found them in forums and social networks showing off their equipment. So when we think of sewage as gross, they think this machine is awesome. And I’m awesome because I have a super high-tech machine. And to them, it was often like showing off their new car. And then they also know how to have fun. Not because they do dirty jobs, they know how to have fun. So we found forum conversations where they were talking about what is the weirdest thing you’ve found during a cleanup? And the list was hilarious. Everything from wedding rings to full costumes, like Halloween costumes and things. So the end-users know how to have fun. And they provide clues on how to make this more fun for them, even though we’re making a machine for a dirty job?
I have. Let me add a little nuance to it. It is just things that I’ve noticed happening. One does not want to spend money on it. Getting to know your customers by doing it strategically, consciously, and intentionally takes a lot of time, and it will be very expensive. So, you have to have the vision, as in, know there’s this painful process that I have to get through to have the fun, beautiful marketing out there. And we don’t have that patience. And by we, I mean the universal we – whoever’s involved as part of the project. Whether an internal team or a cross-functional agency, we do not have the patience and the money. We do not want to put the money into it. And it’s intangible. So it’s very hard to make a case for paying for something that is not the outcome. It is the facilitator of that outcome. And many people don’t know how to make a case for it. And the other thing happens, and I see this with my students. So I teach a Professional Certificate in digital marketing at Kellogg at the business school executive education programs here in Chicago. And we have as a big part of the education is profiling. Whether it’s personas, segmentation, and so on, methods of doing it, and the students complain that it’s too much, and we’re spending too much time on it, they want to get to how I tweet. And I have to remind them repeatedly that it is the most important. Before you know how to tweet and what to tweet, we need to get through that stage first. So even as practitioners, we’re impatient, we want to get through it as fast as possible. And then the third thing that happens is that we are still doing it in an old-school way when we have limited data. We haven’t evolved our way of listening to audiences and profiling them so that it’s more nuanced in real-time. What I mean by that is that we need to look at the sentiment. We need to understand that personas are fabricated concepts that we need to put to the test. Now our real audiences may not function like personas. We must incorporate that people give us a lot of information online. It’s not just about demographics anymore. It’s about, what’s their mood? What’s trending for them right now? How do they feel? And thus, what do they need not just from a, I want to buy this perspective? What do they need based on where they’re at in their lives and how they feel about things? Like right now, people are exhausted. And the most powerful element you can add to your marketing right now is compassion and the ability to say, I hear you, these have been a couple of very difficult years. I hear you, and I’m there with you. No matter what company you are in, your audiences are probably feeling that. And most profiling, most personas do not take that into account. So times have changed, but the method of building audience personas and targeting lags behind what’s possible and available to us today.
Well, I don’t think the human touch is replaceable. I don’t think we can use a tool to do it for us. But we have ways to speed up access to information. So we have tools that tell us what’s trending online at any given time. The big social networks published reports. They give the data to us if we pay attention. Twitter just published a report to support summer trends. They can help with their meanings. It may not be immediate; it takes some a couple of months or months to put the data together and give us the report. But they tell us exactly what will be trending, what people are into, and what they seek. As they said, this is the return of fun. This summer is the return of fun. The first year in a few, where people seek to be out there, again, without the fear of COVID. Where they’re excited to be returning to music festivals, there’s a list they just published last week or the week before of things that can inspire your marketing. So then there’s no excuse not to talk to your customer. Most people think of talking to their customers before they start a project, and then they don’t do it again. A very long time ago, this was before my agency; one of my clients was Bose. So I was working in banking and credit cards, we were doing marketing for the Bose credit card at the time. And they insist that anybody who works with them should go to the facility in Boston and spend a day in the Customer Service room and listen to customer service calls to get a sense of how they talk to their customers and handle things and what customers say. It changed my life. Since then, I’ve asked clients, can we listen to your customer service calls? Can you guess how many yeses I’ve done? I’ve worked with hundreds of companies in the past 13 years.
None. I’ve gotten the – we will send you some recordings, or you can interview our salespeople, and they’ll tell you what our customers say. And fundamentally, I realized that the infrastructure is not there for marketing people to sit in on customer service calls without fear of disrupting the process. So, in the cases where we did turn to the sales teams, we realized that they did not have a good sense of what the customers were saying. They were so focused on the potential and future customers that they weren’t listening enough to existing customers. So long story short, there are a lot of gaps today between what is possible when it comes to an understanding of the customers and how much we do to understand the customer. Hence why we see the rise of an in-house discipline. So the user experience or the customer experience discipline, that’s not quite customer service. So that’s a little bit of marketing because it is possible and very, very needed.
And why are they saying what they’re saying? So one of the exercises my students do is to take a scenario, such as I think this scenario is given to them, it’s Uber. They get three personas and then develop a campaign for the three types of personas with different needs. So most students pick, for whatever reason, the business traveler and their needs. The business traveler flies into an airport and takes Uber from there. They pick that scenario and that persona. And these students don’t know each other, I’ve taught across multiple cohorts, and they gravitate toward the same answers. And the answers are entertainment during this trip from the airport to where they’re going, to their hotel. People assume that this business traveler needs something to do while in the car from the airport to the hotel or other assumed needs. So I asked the students why? Why do you think that is? And why and why? And I believe in this, asking why five times method to get the core of what motivates our audiences. We make so many assumptions in marketing, so many assumptions. So we must constantly challenge ourselves to ensure that we’re not investing all of our money based on an assumption, personal bias, or an assumption that comes from seeing everybody else behaving a certain way. Now, what I tell my students is, what if this traveler in this Uber is just really tired? Maybe what they need is for the driver not to talk to them. Like, what if they’re really hungry? What if they’re, start thinking about their emotions and ask yourself questions beyond the practical function of this ride from the airport to the hotel.
No, but they also don’t look for it. Now, this is a class. You don’t have all the resources at your disposal. So it’s more a matter of having those conversations where the idea is planted, we need more research here to figure this out. Another example is a toothbrush brand that discovered that the kids, these are all hypothetical scenarios, discovered that kids don’t want to brush their teeth. So what parent hasn’t run into that issue? The kids are okay, brushing their teeth in the morning but not at night. So the students are asked to do a marketing campaign. And the interesting thing is that they gravitate toward product enhancements, not marketing campaigns. So they come up with ideas like, we’re going to do an app. Although in marketing, marketing and product development are getting closer and closer together. So I think a lot of times, as marketers, we get distracted from thinking about the customer. And think we have solutions a lot faster than we should. And we dive right in to try to implement things. It’s very tempting. It’s very tempting for me to jump straight to wanting to do things and not stop to think about what’s happening there.
Well, yeah. Ethnographic research has come to us. We don’t have to travel and be in the customer’s homes. We can go on forums and get an estimate for how they behave. But it’s also advanced to the point where research companies will give a tablet to a participant and then go into a store. And the tablet walks them through prompts as they shop and interact with the products and then records their experience. So, that way, we capture ethnographic research type information and user behavior information, even in a retail scenario, it’s possible with the technology available today. So, in your example, about finding people who are about to have children. Facebook has some targeting indicators or all estimates. But if you wanted to run Facebook ads targeting potentially pregnant people, you could do that. Then there’s a classic target example where targets miss targeted people, or rather they started sending baby information to the family home, the daughter was pregnant. Still, she didn’t want the parents to know.
That’s a classic of Miss targeting. So that’s the danger of having so much information. We may think that we know and are allowed to speak to people with a certain familiarity that may turn them off. So I think we have to be careful not to go from; we get you to we’re stalking you in your home. So there is a fine line where we can overdo it with our targeting.
It’s a big question, and I wrote a blog post about this. I’ve researched it because it’s been a concern for many for a very long time. So there are two parts to this answer. One is that the technology is there. So it is possible for Facebook’s Messenger that has a microphone feature built-in, it’s possible for them to listen to you. The Google and Alexa devices pick up voice cues before activating. Right. So technically, they are listening to us. The tech giants have reassured people that that is not the case. On Facebook, you can turn off the microphone feature in Messenger if you don’t want it ever to be on.
I have mine turned off because I don’t do voice calls through there. But also, scientists have researched this, they looked at the data transfers. They had conversations, recorded everything, and then measured who saw what. And they’ve discovered that it’s just a bias. That’s because we just talked about it is top of mind. When there’s an ad or a mention, we often talk about trending trends, so we’re probably already seeing those ads. And also another element is that we drop clues through our behavior online. So when we talk about something, we probably also do other online behaviors, making advertisers pick up on this person who may be interested in this because the ability to predict our online behaviors has gotten pretty good. So, the reality is that today, advertisers are in a race to try to guess our minds. And they will do everything. And they will use all data available to try to guess our minds to predict what we want before we even know we are looking for it. So I think a lot of what we’re seeing is not that they’re listening to us, but that the predictive methods are getting pretty good. And that we are dropping a lot of clues online. I was listening to a podcast yesterday, which I think was from the New York Times, where they brought on a security specialist. And they were talking specifically about how apps collect data on children and how that’s illegal. But even those that say that they don’t, they do. And how technology now leaves something that we’re talking about. And we leave something like a million bits of data every day. Like someone in the interviewer challenged. He was like that sounds like too much. And the technology expert said everything is data, every single thing is data. Every pixel gets transferred. On apps, they can track battery levels and usage; they use all sorts of data to create a fingerprint for us, to identify each phone independently. They create an identifier for me even if they don’t know my name and email address. And because we use our phones eight to ten hours a day, we drop many bits of data. And companies are getting very good at using that data for predictive targeted advertising.
I think brands are getting very good at it if they create relevant, targeted advertising that enhances somebody’s online experience rather than detracts from it. And I think that is what we should aspire to even with advertising. Is this ad going to enhance somebody’s experience online? We only think of ads as something that should convert. We don’t all think that, but there is the tendency for brands to only care about that conversion. But before we get to that conversion, we have to win them over. They may not even know who we are. So there is a process, there is a life cycle to it.
Yes, and I advise companies to incorporate paid advertising planning into their overall editorial planning so that stories align. And what that person may see organically and paid flows as part of one journey and one experience.
I don’t know how they do it? But I did find that smaller businesses know their customers better than bigger businesses. Because they are closer to them, they hear firsthand, and the decision-makers of the smaller businesses hear firsthand from their customers. So they appreciate the closeness, which indicates that smaller businesses are better at communicating with their customers than big businesses. The challenge that small businesses have is that they don’t have time. So, while they know their customer very well, they may not have the time or ability to translate that into prime time and activity. And I don’t know how to solve that. So many small businesses are lucky to have one of the company’s founders as their marketing thinker. Because they are good at it, they do it themselves. They will have interns. I think it is very important to hire the right people, given that they are entry-level. I have worked with entry-level employees, some are very fast learners and did well. But, at the same time, some needed a lot of hand-holding. So if you are a small business, you can’t bring in somebody who needs a lot of hand-holding. So you will want to hire people who care about listening to the customers, and the third one is, and I say this about social media, you want to hire somebody who likes people. So I remember hiring somebody who said I’m anti-social and don’t like people. They did not last very long. their marketing wasn’t that great. Didn’t like people? We don’t think of that before you hire somebody. But to me, negative will not be a good Marketer.
Admittedly, they are interested in the creative side of things if you want to create or mesmerize. They want to create interesting things. And that is a big part of being a good marketer. But you have to like people. Some of the best marketers I have worked with were formerly bartenders, people who loved people more than your average person. They were probably extroverts and loved to listen to people. So who you hire matters, especially if you are a small business.
Some call it how stuff works? And then there is one about Entrepreneurs, specifically how businesses are built.
The origin stories are very compelling. You see it every day and everywhere around you. The origin stories are the things that are the glade. They are the easiest to discover and the most compelling to people. They are what we call mythological patterns. Mythical thinking patterns make for the most compelling stories, such as the battle between good and evil. The origin story is the hero’s journey. All of those are used in creating content that people care about.
Boring is a relative term, but I notice that big trucks are not that interesting for your average person, for little kids. But Volvo does an amazing job. They have a Youtube channel and, at one point, a series of videos done from the drivers’ perspective. And they were almost like travel videos from the perspective of the drivers. These long-haul drivers would tell stories as they were driving their trucks. They are not filming themselves because that would be unsafe. But they are being followed around and tell stories as they drive in their trucks to Norweigh. They are not talking about the truck. They are talking about this country and this road, but somehow it has an impact on making you remember Volvo. For that particular purpose of brand recognition, that is very impactful. They focus on women drivers. There is a shortage of women drivers for commercial vehicles. So they will have women drivers tell stories while driving these Volvo trucks. Then we realize these trucks are amazing. Like, the living conditions in them and the technology and everything. So as we take you on this journey, you will learn how amazing their trucks are. But you don’t even realize that’s what is happening. But when you walk away from it, it completely changes your mind about who Volvo is. It’s brilliant.
I have talked so much in many different directions.
The one thing I want people to remember is that everybody has a very interesting story. You just need to find yours. Don’t ever think that you don’t have something to say or something to say that people would care about. Talk to people around you. Talk to your customers. Ask them, What do you see in us? And you will find that sexy story. You have to believe that it is there, and it is. Most companies will have that story, and it’s about bringing it to light and enchanting people with it.
It’s all online except for office hours and things that are real-time. Everything is recorded, and it’s online. In every cohort, I have somebody from Canada. There are people from everywhere in the world.
I am not sure where the link is.
I am not involved in promoting it, it is their program, so I can mail you the link if you are interested and I can find it.
You can find me at lightspandigital.com. And on every social network, such as manamica, even on LinkedIn. On Tik Tok I am ManaIon.Manama was taken and can be found anywhere online as Manama.
Thank you, Matt.
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