Content Marketing in a HyperNormal world

Did you see the recent BBC documentary HyperNormalisation? In it, Adam Curtis explores how we as a community are facing a world that is becoming increasingly difficult to understand, explain and predict – all the while there is a “fake reality” happening around us.

As Sci-Fi-esque as it may sound, it is a disturbing story of how the world is allowing itself to be manipulated by various forces in sometimes subtle, unconscious ways. It makes us seem quite far from the enlightened, advanced society that we like to believe we are.

But aren’t we in fact all doing this ourselves, to our own reality, albeit on a micro scale?

If you’re reading this, you are most likely a “social animal” – you engage with other people and with various groups, brands and businesses on social media. But did you know that by absorbing information on social media you are in fact orchestrating the very information you see? The various algorithms at play in your Facebook or LinkedIn feed are far from straight-forward. There is a highly intelligent system which carefully selects content based on your demographics, your interests, affiliations, background, browsing history and much more.

You are in fact creating your own reality.

This selective reality is of course designed to help us. It’s meant to make our lives easier and more enjoyable as we see more of the kind of things we like and less of the things we don’t like.

So, what’s the problem with that?

  • True or not, it’s true
    One major issue is that many people are still under the impression that what they are seeing in social media is balanced and regulated. Juicy news stories often gain traction regardless of whether or not they are true – and by the time the story is validated or denied, it’s too late. Opinions are already formed. And what’s more, the original story often keeps making its rounds across the world.
  • Restricted voice for brands
    Another problem is that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people and businesses to reach anyone outside of their existing tribe of supporters. It’s no longer enough to be writing and sharing content while boosting it and advertising – because the intelligence behind the recipients’ newsfeed will automatically “censor” you if you’re not considered to be interesting enough to the reader.
  • A skewed reality
    Not only is this development making it difficult for brands to get their voice heard, it also means that the social audience is receiving a highly skewed version of perceived reality. In 2014, Mark Zuckerberg said about Facebook: “Our goal is to build the perfect personalised newspaper for every person in the world”. Out of thousands of news stories, only a small fraction makes it into our line of sight. And those stories will typically support beliefs and opinions we already have.

So how can we, as brands, outsmart this ever changing content selection process?
Short answer: We can’t.

We can, however, reduce our reliance on social media traction. We should still invest in the social platforms, but we need to become increasingly aware of the importance of our own media agenda. Websites, email lists, own forums and communications platforms – these will all need to play a much more crucial part of our strategy if we are to wriggle loose from the restrictive media display of the social channels.

The next challenge is of course to get traffic on these alternative channels, which may take time and patience.

But here, unlike in the distorted reality of Adam Curtis’s vision, you will actually be in control.

How to “un-lop” lopsided marketing

Do you know what the biggest threat to an organisation’s content marketing success is? It’s not the lack of budget or resources. It’s not corporate culture. It’s not even legacy systems.

It’s a little thing called afterthought.

The two faces of marketing

Content marketing is a double sided machine. One side will never reach its full potential without the other to complement it. It is impossible to realise a true return on investment on either one without managing the two in tandem.

Yet, surprisingly many organisations will spend the majority of their budgets developing and refining one of the sides – to the point where its counterpart becomes an expensive afterthought.

So what are these two aspects?

blog_twosidesThe content marketing process is based on a perfect balance between strategy and execution; between engine and fuel; between content and tactics. One is simply not effective without the other.

However, it’s easy to become blinded by the investment into either of these areas. A business that has poured thousands of pounds into a sparkling new website and accompanying CRM system may struggle to justify spending an equal amount on professional content creation to generate customer engagement.

Likewise, another business may have built an impressive library of strategically aligned content – without establishing the necessary systems and platforms for putting that content into the hands of their prospects.

In either scenario, some of the actual investment is wasted.

Merging the two

Regardless of the scale of the marketing plan, addressing this afterthought issue is simple. Incredibly simple. In fact, it’s all about simplicity.

Let’s face it: You don’t want anything to sit between your business objectives and your actual marketing results. So the important thing is to make the connection between the two as clear as possible. And the best way to do this is to build a simple mini workflow of content and execution that starts adding value to the business, as you gradually continue to develop both sides of your machinery.

By starting small you will be able to see the direct correlation between the two – and you won’t need to face the dreaded afterthought!

How to run a smooth marketing machine

Whether you work with a full service agency or manage your activities in-house, it’s critical to take control of this marketing see-saw. Resist the urge to be so dazzled by automation systems that you neglect to also create the messaging which will successfully use those systems to engage with your audience!

Ensure that your contracted agencies can supply the content specialism that your business needs and deserves.

If they can’t, get it elsewhere.
Like here, for example.

The world’s best sales letter

Picture of a sales letterOK, so I haven’t read all the sales letters in the world. But I’m daily at the receiving end of a significant amount of sales emails, out of which the vast majority get deleted before they even get to make their main point. So from the perspective of a professional receiver of sales pitches, here’s my five cents on how to avoid mindless deletion.

The Intro

I recently received an email from an organisation I was unfamiliar with. The email didn’t start off with a snappy, catchy subject line. There was no all-guns-blazing corporate introduction with pictures and links and interactive social media buttons. It just said my name, followed by “Invitation to connect”. That simple.

The text body then started out by clearly saying who was writing the email, which organisation she represents and 15 words on what they are all about. Nothing remarkable about that.

BUT – it’s what came next that really blew me away.

The proposition

Of course, I wanted to know why this person was emailing me. But with the following sentence, she instantly grabbed my attention. And what’s more  – I was smiling when reading it.

“I doubt very much whether you are currently looking to review your PR arrangements (if I had that kind of luck I would be emailing you from somewhere much more exotic than Kingston-Upon-Thames!), but I was wondering whether you might be willing to meet me for a chat in order to make an introduction?”

This is where things got interesting. The email continued:

“If I were you, at this point I would be asking myself ‘what’s in it for me?’. Well, the answer(s) to that question is…”

This then continued into three bullet points highlighting the benefits of meeting with the lady in question. Not only was I invited to a lunch at a venue of my choice (with the only caveat being “please don’t pick The Ivy as they won’t let me in with my Yorkshire accent and I reckon it would be quite embarrassing trying to hold a meeting through the window”). I was also in brief terms made aware of some very relevant ways in which this business could help me.

The reaction

The best thing about receiving this email was the fact that it made me smile. The second best thing was that I was actually reading it.

The unconventional format and the very “human” voice used made me feel a connection – one real person to another. It wasn’t just another faceless, personality-free corporate pitch. It was genuine. And at the wrap-up line of “What do you say? Next week perhaps?” I was poised and ready to be reeled in.

So – was it perfect?

No, by no means was this email flawless. The automated salutation line was unable to process the Swedish letter in my first name, making it a nonsensical “sa” instead of “Åsa”. This happens from time to time and it’s an instant put-off. So the fact that I decided to continue reading says a lot about how much I liked this format.


I can’t help but wish all sales emails looked like this. I do realise there are situations where a different level of professionalism is needed. But I am a great believer in the power of “being a human being” and showing your own style, humour and personality – even when representing a business.

It could turn out to be your company’s strongest asset.


[If you’re curious, the email was sent by Paula Fifield at EML Wildfire.]

What’s in a name?

definemeLead management is an essential business process – typically owned by Marketing, but impacting the entire organisation.

One thing which strikes me as I speak to sales and marketing superstars across various organisations, is the wide variety of terms and definitions used to describe sales prospects and the stages which they move through as they are qualified. “SQLs”, “suspects”, “prospects”, “opportunities”, “responses”, “conversions” – these terms can all mean different things in different organisations and different CRM systems.

Now – the following baseline is pretty clear:

  • We can’t achieve return on our Marketing investment unless we manage leads effectively.
  • We can’t manage leads effectively unless we have clear definitions.
  • We can’t have clear definitions unless we understand the sales engagement.

“Sales engagement? But – I’m in marketing!”

Let’s face it, we all know we rely on each other, but we often fail at being aligned. If you’re a marketer, when was the last time you listened in to a sales call or a prospect meeting? If you’re in sales, when was the last time you invited your marketing manager to join you at such a meeting? If we follow the musty tradition of ostracising sales and marketing, we are missing a vital trick and one which may well cost us more than revenue dollars (or euros, whatever floats your business boat).

One thing which often strikes me is how frequently Sales and Marketing use the corporate definitions differently. We often have clear guidelines for qualifying a sales lead by using the BANT criteria (Budget, Authority, Need & Timescale) – but what about the stages before that?

See the person behind the lead

Working in marketing, lead management can easily become all about the numbers. We may chase leads through the funnel without necessarily understanding the journey from one stage to another. What is the customer experience of being a ”Stage 1 Lead”, or a ”Prospect” or a ”Highly Qualified Sales Lead”? Does the prospect feel hassled when they’re on an email drip program, for example? Do they get too many sales calls when they’re at a certain stage – and not enough when they’re at another?

Successful lead management requires both sales and marketing to have clarity of the definitions used and provide constant input into the evolution of lead management.

The technology trap

Add then into the mix the various temperaments of The Marketing Automation System. If you have such a system in place, you know that it – or the people who run it – will occasionally fail and produce leads with the wrong definition. This is why it’s fundamentally important that all teams understand the logic and the ethos behind the definitions, so as to not rely on technology to place everything on the right shelf.

So, in summary: Whether you have 15 stages of lead development or just three, make sure that the definitions of those stages are crystal clear to all sales and marketing teams.

Oh – and if you get it wrong from time to time, don’t worry about it.
After all, you’re just like your leads: A human being.