As we all know, lead nurture is a great retargeting tactic – but seldom used effectively. Because most marketers know what pages their prospects already viewed on their website, they can easily place high-quality leads in a predetermined workflow. This workflow might consist of several emails or pieces of unique content designed to put some positive pressure on prospects to move forward; ensuring any messaging received is appropriate for each stage in the customer journey. In other words, they don’t want to send out welcome messages over and over again.
Consider the movie, Hitch. In the film, Will Smith is a relationship consultant that works exclusively with men to help them build meaningful relationships. During the movie, Hitch advises a client who’s secured a date with a woman who is (in the client’s eyes) out of his league.
Hitch’s advice: “When you’re wondering what to say or how you look, just remember, she’s already out with you. That means she said ‘yes’ when she could have said ‘no.’ That means she made a plan when she could have just blown you off.”
This is also really good advice when it comes to effective lead nurture. Think about it. Sophia already signed up to receive Coronado University’s emails. They don’t want to mess it up by sending her the wrong content or inundating her with too many emails, too quickly. Like Coronado, marketers should take a measured approach and create workflows that support where prospects are in the customer journey with the intent of helping them take that next step. Marketo found that 96 percent of visitors who come to your website aren’t ready to buy after their first interaction. With that in mind, we need to build relationships with individuals who have shown interest in our brand to push them to make a purchase down the road.
“That means it’s no longer your job to make her like you. It’s your job not to mess it up.”
Continuing the theme of movie references, you might remember the popular quote from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come.” While that might be relevant for a bunch of baseball-playing ghosts, it’s not necessarily the case when it comes to content.
This is largely due to how we retain information online. Our brains are amazing filters. Jay Walker-Smith of Kantar Consulting says we’re assaulted with more than 5,000 marketing and advertising messages every day. “We have to screen it out because we simply can’t absorb that much information. We can’t process that much data,” he said. “So, no surprise, consumers are reacting negatively to the kind of marketing blitz; the kind of super-saturation of advertising that they’re exposed to on a daily basis,” he continued in an interview with CBS News in 2006.
He didn’t say it yesterday – he said it twelve years ago. We’re willing to bet you can go an entire day now without noticing a large percentage of the ads he was talking about.
Jerry Seinfeld, once said, “There is no such thing as an attention span. There is only the quality of what you are viewing. This whole idea of an attention span is, I think, a misnomer. People have an infinite attention span if you are entertaining them.”
Another comedian, Steve Martin, offered a similar statement: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”
Because we’re a distracted society, many of us multi-task and move from screen to screen throughout the day, chasing shiny objects that attract our attention.
But Jerry and Steve have it right. Organizations can break through the clutter if they deliver content that’s so good the audience can’t possibly ignore it.
Using amplification to break through your audience’s internal filters
If it weren’t for our ability to filter out non-essential messages, we’d never get anything done. That’s essentially what amplification – specifically paid media – is all about. Amplification is a much more proactive way to put those pieces of content to work, and have a sophisticated conversation that moves an audience through the customer journey. Brands aren’t bringing their prospects back to the same landing page or sending them to their websites and hoping they find the way to a service or contact page. Without amplification, you’re crossing your fingers and hoping people see your highest-converting content. Or, at the very least, hoping that you look better than any of the competition.
Content amplification aims at expanding the reach of content to target audiences when and where they need it most. When executed effectively, amplified content can reach a wider and more targeted audience than it would on its own. Think of the ads you see on Facebook, posts from someone you follow on LinkedIn or even tweets from an influencer you follow on Twitter. These are strategies of content amplification that are produced to put content in front of not only more people, but the right people.
When should content amplification be used to support the customer journey?
The customer journey is not linear. Your prospects might have visited your website on many occasions, and they’ve most likely been retargeted with other forms of content from your competitors. This is important to note, because organizations most often put their focus, budget and resources on amplifying content that’s catered to later stages of the journey, rather than earlier.
From a strategic standpoint, only amplifying content or using paid media to target people in the decision stage is a common mistake – a strategy that often leaves a lot of potential revenue on the table.
Erik Solan, Vice President of Client Services & Strategy, positions a unique analogy for strategizing amplification earlier in the customer journey: “Have you ever been on Mill Avenue near ASU in Tempe, Arizona? You walk by a bar on a Saturday night, and there’s people standing in front of each bar handing out fliers that basically beg, ‘Please come in to our bar.’ These people are hoping that because you’re on Mill Avenue late on a Saturday night, because you’re as close as you can get without actually walking in, you’ll end up wandering in and buying a drink – or four.”
Solan continues, “That always struck me. Why are you standing outside of your own bar? I’m already outside of the bar. If I liked what I saw, I would walk in. Right?”
“These little bar fliers act as the last-ditch effort to get me in for a two-for-one special, or whatever. But the amount of people that walked down that street, right in front of the bar, is possibly the smallest audience that bar could reach. Of course, in the bar’s eyes, they think, “Well, those are the most likely to walk in and buy a drink,” Solan explains.
“Yeah, you might land a 50 percent conversion rate if the offer is good enough. But for other verticals, where the buying cycle is longer, it’s not smart. Why wouldn’t you move the staff handing out fliers and put them one mile out from your bar? There might only be 100 people who walk right in front of the bar, but a thousand others down the road who might still be interested.”
By appealing to a larger audience with a different offer, you avoid sitting in the lower funnel and simply waiting for people to show up. When you fill the upper stage of the funnel, and amplify your message earlier in the customer journey, you start to fill the middle of the funnel with more people that are asking questions with your product or service in mind. You increase the click-through rate and you increase the engagement rate so when next Saturday night rolls around, you might get 500 people walking by your bar instead of 100. Apply that to your own organization and the sheer number of online users, and you could be missing out on tens of thousands of potential customers.
How can you target prospects throughout the journey?
For the sake of our story, we decided to focus on amplification later in the customer journey, but we could’ve covered it within the first few chapters, back when our protagonist was still in the awareness stage – and it all started with a cookie. We’re not talking about the Girl Scout cookies hidden in your top desk-drawer at work – we’re talking about a website cookie that can track online activity within a specific browser.
A large amount of your audience will never provide a personal identifier voluntarily. That’s just the nature of the digital conversation. Some people are very comfortable trading an email address or a phone number for information, while others will never share. For those who guard their personal information, brands can track behavior through an analytics program like Google Analytics (GA). Cookies allow you to understand your audience based on their behaviors, such as time on site, visits to a certain page or taking certain actions. With cookies, each person that comes to your site is uniquely tagged and their behavior is tracked.
Cookies can tell you:
- Where did your customers go on your site?
- How long did they spend there?
- What type of actions did they take?
- Did they return to the site later?
- How did they get to this site in the first place?
- What channel brought them there?
- Was it social? Was it a search? What type of search?
- Where were they located?
- What kind of device were they on?
All this information is contained in the cookie, including all behaviors before and after a user came to a brand’s website. This might sound pretty straightforward, but if anything, there’s too much information to digest. Brands often need an analytics expert to help decipher what parts of this data is worth using, such as proximity. If you have a brick-and-mortar location and a prospect is within 50 miles of your location versus another that’s 500 miles away, you may want to put extra effort to amplify your content to the individual who’s closer. The person who is 500 miles away may have 10 options between you and their location.
This data allows you to not only choose whom to target, but also choose whom to exclude. From here, you can choose how to spend your budget wisely so you’re not investing on targeting everyone with your content. You could learn if the targeted audience looks engaged, if they spent more than two minutes on your website, if they went to three or more pages, if they ended on a program or a service-specific page, but they didn’t fill out the form. This segmented audience, based solely on information provided from a standard cookie, should be put into a bucket of highly engaged audience that requires specific messaging.
Brands can follow each cookie to sites users visit after your own website, and place specific messaging on the next page they visit with a display ad that says, “Hey, we saw you were interested in this service, watch this video!” Or, “We saw that you didn’t take action, so here’s what you need to see in order to feel comfortable about buying from us.” The actual copy should be more strategically worded, but you get the idea.
Using the data from your analytics, you can also learn more about users who do end up converting on your website. This data can provide useful information on how to accurately target other prospects with similar behaviors.
- Where do they come in?
- What pages do they visit?
- How long do they spend?
- What actions do they take?
- When do they convert?
- How long did the whole process take?
- Did it take seven days, 14, 45, 90?
- Were they on a mobile phone and then went to a desktop?
- What was the specific sequence of events?
After you’ve collected enough of this data, you can develop a model for more engaged audiences versus less engaged. For example, if someone went through the first steps that users typically do on your website, but then three days later never came back to where your users typically return, that might identify an area where you would start a specific email workflow or social retargeting campaign to call them back with a piece of content that might interest them most.
Keep in mind, you can get too specific. If you focus too much on specific behaviors, there might only be 50 people in that audience to retarget. Your audience buckets need to be broad enough so there’s enough people to work with, but specific enough that you’ll have a safe assumption that the blog posts, videos, infographics or whatever other types of content you show them will help this group move forward in their journey.
The Different Types of Content Amplification
Content amplification with owned media
To reach the largest possible audience, a unified amplification strategy across owned and paid approaches is crucial. Owned amplification refers to existing channel assets that your brand owns – any content over which a company has complete control. If someone like Sophia completes a search, comes to your website but doesn’t convert, you should put them into a specific audience segment where a search campaign reacts to their next question in Google. You need to have precise copy for the next message. Whether it be a social ad, video ad, search ad or native ad, that initial copy must immediately grab that user’s attention. Think of your website, branded blog posts, email newsletter, social posts and traditional media like printed direct mail. The more owned media channels that you have, the better, as long as the assets are maintained and kept relevant.
Content amplification with earned media
Earned amplification occurs when an external publisher markets your brand through non-owned channels like social media, news coverage, or a review on YouTube. You should think of earned media like a big thumbs-ups for the great content that you have. If an influencer is willing to promote your content, it’s likely because they believe in the product or service that you’re offering, and audiences know that.
One of the chief characteristics of earned media is that you cannot control it. Marketers don’t have much power over earned media – hey can’t influence it in any way. It’s happening because of direct experiences an audience has with your brand, positive or negative. Earned media typically comes in the form of reviews, testimonial videos, backlinks or other content produced organically on external channels.
Content amplification with paid media
Paid amplification is a targeted, paid placement on behalf of your brand. A paid marketing strategy increases overall brand visibility by using existing audience-engagement metrics to direct targeted sponsored content. Sponsored placements allow you to choose when, where and how frequently your amplified content appears in front of prospective audiences, most likely through search and social media. Facebook and Google know everything about you – scary, we know – but this is good news for marketers. They can pay for ad space on search and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so content is served to those who are most interested in becoming customers.
Developing a winning content amplification strategy
Sometimes people don’t like to mention this, maybe because they’re intimidated by the enormity of the organization, or because they rely on it for the wellness of their own businesses, but Google is simply an advertising company. Just like Facebook, and everyone else, they don’t want you to get free traffic.
An organic approach will always be the backbone of a winning SEO strategy, but over the last decade (and even more so in the last few years), the re-engineering of the SERPs to blend ads with organic results continues to place emphasis on paid media. Sure, they want to provide the most relevant results for users, but they are also fine with those results being promoted behind paid amplification. Today, a business can pay to include more information on relevant searches, more local details (like hours and contact information), and pictures of its building or product, right there on Google.
Your audience is not scared to click an ad on the Google SERPs anymore. In fact, data shows many audiences are becoming more comfortable with clicking on those paid placements, rather than on the organic results. However, if you currently rank #1 for a search query, try this:
Google that query on a mobile device. Are you even visible in the results page without scrolling?
It used to be that when you were visible, you were the answer. But now, users must scroll to even see the organic listings on mobile. And as we’ve illustrated throughout this book, most of your audience is using mobile to conduct their research throughout the entire customer journey. That’s a large audience you might be missing out on if there’s no investment or strategy for paid amplification.
Erik Solan notes a common theme between successful and failing amplification strategies: “The battle needs to be won before that initial search even occurs, and that means amplifying content at the awareness stage, getting in front of that person before they even make the first query. So, when they do the query and see whether it’s paid or organic they recognize you, the trust is already there, and then they click-through.”
Today’s digital marketing landscape means you’re not going to achieve that true awareness from your audience unless you pay to get in front of them. You can’t find that organic success in the awareness stage unless someone’s already looking for your brand or specific product. Your top organic position in Google just might not be good enough anymore, and that’s because brands are beginning “conquest campaigns” where they purchase the top ad space on your winning organic queries to steal that potential traffic.
Your competition might be trying to push you down in the SERPs, and the only way you’re going to get that visibility back is by knowing when to put budget behind amplification on certain queries. Sometimes we forget that paid search and organic search is still search – users are still asking the same question – but now there are two different ways to reach them and two different places to show up in the SERPs.
Your competition might be sneaking into that spot for pennies, because no one else is competing for the term. The term you could be owning organically and through paid might be one of the cheapest ones they could buy. And if your brand doesn’t have a strategy to combat this, you may be losing a prospect that was very close to deciding on using your service or product. Unlike the increasingly limited control you have over the organic position in the SERPs, you could create a paid ad that expresses urgency and increases click-through rates. Who knows, you might even kick a competitor out of that top position, driving more traffic to some of your highest-converting pages.
We showed our client examples of branded queries their audience might use in search, and sure enough, they weren’t in the top paid results; their competitors were. This competing brand had a nice, big fat ad on the top of the result page. On a desktop or laptop, a user could still see the client’s organic listing, but on mobile (which is what their audience used most) you could only see their competitor. What kind of impression does that make? In a way, it looked like our client couldn’t afford to show up for their own term. And it also made it look like they don’t pay attention to their audience. How many tens of thousands of dollars could that be costing you?
For our client, this was a great real-world example of why putting paid amplification on their own brand terms directly impacted their ROI, but also why SEO and paid media must work together. It solidified their need to implement both paid and organic throughout the strategy, because in most circumstances, the click-through rate is close to double what it would be if just the organic listing is there.
Estimating ROI from your amplification efforts
Let’s spend more time talking about getting a solid return on investment from paid amplification. Forget the formula where we promote a piece of content to an audience, we get them to the site, they buy something, and we know exactly what that product is worth. That’s easy. To create a real estimate for paid amplification, let’s use Coronado University as an example.
If it were trying to gain page views that result in more student enrollment, we would first ask:
- How long does someone stay on any given page?
- Do they end up graduating? If so, what’s that rate?
- What’s the cost of the program they’re interested in?
- What revenue do you make on each student?
If you’re paying $20 for every 1,000 page views, what’s the lifetime value of those visits? Let’s say the school makes $20,000 per student per semester. What does that average per month? How long does the average student stay enrolled? Let’s pretend the school was able to obtain a 0.02 percent click-through rate in search. Using our formula above, if the school gets two clicks, each one costs $10. The school gets two people on a landing page and asks them both to fill out a form, but only one of the two provides an email address.
What did that email address cost? The $20 investment got the initial two clicks, but only one provided their email, so theoretically, it cost $20 to gain that contact. This email address goes into a lead nurture workflow. The school knows from previous measurement that 10 percent of email contacts entered into this workflow convert and enroll in a program. Another easy way to look at this: The school needs 10 emails to get one purchase. So, what do these ten emails cost the school? $200. And their ROI would be calculated by the lifetime value of their students (customers), but we will spare the details of that for the sake of your sanity. Obviously, if the close rate was that successful, universities would be investing a lot more than $20 for 1,000 page views, but you get the point.
You help start a relationship with your audience through amplification, and that should yield email or contact information for your organization. And, if you’re using lead nurture effectively, a contact should convert into a paying customer. But you need certain details in order to estimate an ROI from your specific amplification efforts. You need to know order values or lifetime value, and you must track analytics to see how a user moves through your purchase process. The best digital strategies include amplification, content, and organic tactics working together. If a digital strategy does not include both organic content and amplification tactics, there will be gaps in your ability to get in front of the ideal audience.
It’s like creating a staircase to your product, but with some steps missing. Some people will have long enough legs to reach the next step, but others will fall right through. And when they fall through, there will be another set of stairs right below, leading to someone else’s product. That’s digital marketing without amplification.
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