Stories Change Beliefs and Behavior

Good stories matter, and if they’re good enough, they make an impression on all who listen. A significant part of a child’s upbringing centers on moms, dads, and grandparents telling tales of heroes, villains, and clowns. They’re fundamental to our understanding of ourselves, our families, and the world around us, and they stay close to our hearts as we move through life.

Humans are social beings and are wired for connection. Recent studies show brains respond to stories to foster empathy, understanding, and ultimately action. If marketing aims to do the same, writers are wise to incorporate good storytelling techniques in their narratives to captivate audiences and win them over. The result is a client who now has an emotional connection to your brand or product — all with the help of neurobiology and responses within the brain.

Humans Are Hardwired for Empathy

Human beings coexist for survival and happiness, and, it turns out, empathy plays a big role. Oxytocin, a neurochemical that is produced when we experience trust and kindness, motivates cooperation with others by enhancing our sense of empathy. When we tap into how others are feeling and understand their motives for action, we’re better able to respond to situations ourselves. So, empathy brings us closer together but also safeguards us from harm.

But oxytocin isn’t released only in ‘real life situations’. According to studies conducted by Paul J. Zak, the oxytocin system is triggered by character-driven stories. To come to this conclusion, his research team took blood samples of participants before and after watching a narrative film. They found that heightened oxytocin levels led to more participation and voluntary cooperation (in this case, donating to a charity group).

But behavioral changes won’t occur if a story doesn’t keep an audience’s attention — a key finding of the studies. Only when viewers are captivated will they produce the amount of oxytocin required to motivate action. What’s more, maintaining an audience’s attention depends on the amount of developing tension within a narrative — a necessary strategy for creating character-driven stories. The more tension that exists within a narrative, the more that’s at stake for a character. This is what captivates a reader or viewer.

With an understanding of a character’s troubles and their eventual resolve, audiences create an emotional connection with the person on screen or in a book. The character’s relationship to the rising action within a story connects readers to his or her plight, forcing them to empathize with difficult circumstances that must be overcome. Sure, it sounds dramatic, but relying on classic storytelling techniques is proven to be effective, even on a neurobiological level.

Translating Storytelling to Content Marketing

The key to crafting compelling copy, then, relies on your ability to compel individuals to empathize and change. There’s a saying in the marketing world that says facts tell but stories sell. With an understanding of brain behavior and storytelling, we’ve laid out some basic principles for creating marketing materials that matter most to customers. Here’s what we found.

There is a story behind everything you do, and it should be explored and communicated back to customers. This means understanding the significance of a product or service on an emotional level. Describing the design features of a horseshoe, for example, while interesting to a farrier or metallurgist, may be lost on horse owners who care most about the well-being and comfort of their four-legged friend. A family may have lived on their farm for generations and owning livestock may be essential to their happiness.

These sentimental details need to be examined to captivate an audience, and if you feel a product is essential for someone’s well-being or happiness when creating content, you’re onto something.

It’s equally as important to speak your client’s language and communicate branded stories in a way that resonate with a variety of demographics. Having a strong grasp of your audience’s voice and identity is crucial to your marketing journey. So, learn your client’s language. You’ll more easily pull at their heartstrings.

It’s also strategic to listen to stories already being told online by clients. This is a great way to begin learning about what matters most to those you represent, and you can easily tune in to conversations circulating on social media or other public forums. When you understand the issues that resonate with clients, you can more authentically craft stories that address the things they care about most.

The Brain-Story Connection

Stories that speak to an individual’s ability to overcome a unique set of obstacles affect viewers on a neurobiological level. Audience members form emotional connections with characters who transform themselves for the better. The brain responds to these stories by increasing capacities for empathy and connection through the release of oxytocin. These studies suggest that, on a biological level, humans are meant to empathize, learn, grown, and connect.

Tapping into this somewhat primitive yet profound concept has long-lasting effects, and it’s a useful strategy in creating content that speaks to clients on a deeper level. At the end of the day, your content needs to matter. Once you empathize with clients and understand why their products or services make a difference in the world (or in their world), you’ve got their attention. And that’s what matters most.

Are Whitepapers Still Useful (and Will They Be in the Future?)

Whitepapers are prolific in the marketing sphere, but few marketers (digital or traditional) examine the true utility of whitepapers to their consumers. They are written to serve a purpose and do so often, but even in the wake of excellent engagement data, the creators and distributors of whitepapers are left to wonder just how useful the content really is.

But web content isn’t going anywhere. Over one billion blog posts have been written in the last year (counted from the date of the publishing of this blog post minus one year), and that only counts the content that has reached RSS feeds. Just keep multiplying that; there are countless web pages, emails, ads, and whitepapers written on top of that number, and even Forbes has touted the benefits of generating whitepapers for leads and engagement.

Whitepapers are here to stay, and we believe they may be closer to the well-rounded, deeply researched, and informative content you’ll see much more of in the future.

Where Did Whitepapers Come from?

The term white paper came into use less than a century ago in England. The earliest known example, the Churchill White Paper, was written in response to the Jaffa Riots in 1921, and it served as the basis of the original use of the term white paper, a government-issued document that made a firm suggestion for policy change based on thoroughly-researched evidence.

Only in the early 1990s did marketers begin using the term more broadly to define a document that combined logic with facts and statistics to build credibility or sway potential customers in the direction of purchase. As marketing in the digital realm became more prevalent during the maturation of the internet, so too did the usefulness of the whitepaper in bringing curious readers to businesses of which they had never heard before.

So Whitepapers Are a Modern Marketing Tool

whitepaper document with generic textBusiness-to-business (B2B) marketers use whitepapers most often as a means of generating web traffic, converting potential customers into leads, and generally engaging with real and potential customers who seek valuable information.

Largely, today’s whitepaper market is part of a concerted content marketing effort tied to search engine optimization (SEO). Businesses with a B2B target can authoritatively raise awareness of their services or products while simultaneously building brand awareness, thought leadership, lead volume, and overall value.

How Can We Use Whitepapers Today?

Since they are well-researched and authoritative, whitepapers make great incentives for users to convert to potential customers or clients on your website. We call this approach gating.

By requiring that interested customers provide their contact information in exchange for free and highly valuable content, you essentially build a gate around the content. The ticket to entry is usually just a few seconds of the customer’s time, but it could turn into a huge business opportunity for those companies who are quick with the follow-up.

You can do more than gate your content, though. Whitepapers are an incredible opportunity to gain clout in your industry. By drawing logical conclusions about your products and services based on peer-reviewed information that already exists, then publishing and promoting those conclusions in a whitepaper to leaders and influencers in the industry, you can get important voices resonating about your offerings.

As more businesses and curious consumers seek your content and find value in it, they will build that value for free by sharing your content and engaging with it. Plus, whitepapers are inherently more SEO friendly since they contain larger amounts of information-rich text that pleases both users and web crawlers.

So, yes, whitepapers are still useful and will absolutely be so in the future. In fact, it’s most likely that, as voice search technology and machine learning become more prevalent, whitepapers will become the go-to standard for outputting valuable web content. Get those fingers ready for typing, marketers.

We’ve written stacks of whitepapers for our clients and would be happy to help you, too. Talk to us about our content offerings today!

Traditional Marketing Still Has a Place in Digital Marketing

To a digital marketing agency like ours, it comes as a shock to learn that, sometimes, successful businesses aren’t maximizing their potential because they haven’t even tried yet to dip into digital marketing. Even more surprising is when we find out that small or medium-sized businesses have yet to consider digital marketing as a main avenue for overcoming the hardships of a budding business.

Many of these businesses are relying on traditional marketing tactics to drive their businesses. There’s nothing wrong with doing so; traditional marketing is named so because it is a collection of tried and proven methods of drumming up business.

Traditional marketing includes such classic approaches as:

  • Print advertisement
  • Newsletters
  • Television commercials
  • Radio spots

But in the internet-driven business world, we recommend keeping traditional marketing efforts around to bolster a much more robust digital marketing strategy rather than relying wholly on print, TV, and radio advertising.

It’s All About Support

Digital marketing covers product and service-selling strategies for all current internet-based channels. That includes such advertising pathways as social media, user-experience-backed web design, ongoing content creation, and email marketing. All digital efforts, however, have room for support from traditional marketing.

It’s especially true for businesses that rely heavily on such sales methods as traveling sales teams, referrals, and cold calls. Having tangible advertising material on hand to support sales teams in their marketing efforts, especially when it points to digital resources, is still a reliable method for boosting the effectiveness of sales.

What Types of Traditional Marketing Fit into Digital Marketing Campaigns?

generic traditional marketing brochure

There really is no wrong answer, but there are certain traditional marketing materials that tend to be more effective when support digital marketing than others. You’ll likely find the most utility in:

  • Leaflets – Single-page informational flyers can give salespeople an offline means of sharing relevant company, product, and service information with potential customers in scenarios that don’t ordinarily involve immediate connection to the internet or screens for presentation.
  • Brochures – Brochures and pamphlets offer even greater opportunity to showcase products and services and provide in-depth information on them in an easy-to-read format.
  • Branded Merchandise – Selling or handing out branded merchandise creates a permanent advertisement that will keep you top-of-mind for serious potential clients and customers, but creating the merchandise comes at a hefty price.
  • Business Cards – Business cards that carry professional information and help direct customers and clients to your online resources are still a viable option for making connections, especially when a particularly wide-reaching convention or meeting comes up.

While radio and television ads still increase awareness and bring in the occasional lead, they are rapidly becoming less relevant, trusted, and effective. They also tend to compete with, rather than support, your digital marketing efforts, even when traditional marketing ads point back to your digital assets.

Who Performs These Tasks?

Employees at digital marketing agencies work hand-in-hand with one another all day, which means they are always picking up relevant and useful skills that can be used to drive traditional marketing efforts.

Content creation teams are skilled at outputting copy for traditional marketing, even if they haven’t worked outside of the digital realm before. That’s because the skills necessary for digital content creation translate easily to traditional marketing – unfortunately, it doesn’t work quite as well the other way around.

Paid search teams are also adept at writing copy, especially for advertisements that need to be dense with information. All copy can be adapted to print media by graphic artists and web designers who will work together to build user-friendly materials. SEO teams may also get involved to make sure that print materials support digital efforts with maximum effectiveness.

It won’t hurt to ask your digital marketing agency if they are prepared to handle traditional marketing materials, especially if you’re already on track with a successful digital marketing campaign. Even if your agency is unable to handle your request, there are teams available elsewhere with the skills and know-how to boost your digital marketing strategy with traditional marketing.

At Leverage Marketing, we’re not afraid to dive into some traditional marketing. Learn how we can support your marketing efforts with a digital and traditional combination today!

The 6 Biggest Myths About Buyer Personas

Whether you’re in marketing, sales, product development, or customer service, creating buyer personas can help you deliver what your customers want. However, your buyer personas may not give you the insights you need if you’re going about them the wrong way. There are several pervasive myths that can cause businesses to waste time on poorly-conceived buyer personas:

  1. Buyer personas are entirely fictional.
  2. Buyer personas are only representations of a company’s best customers.
  3. Buyer personas should contain as much information as possible, even if it’s not obviously relevant.
  4. It’s best to have as many buyer persona segments as possible.
  5. Each buyer persona represents a specific person.
  6. Once you create your initial buyer personas, you’re done.

We’ll look at each of these myths in greater depth, but let’s pause for a moment to define the term “buyer persona” for the purposes of this article. Inbound marketing pioneer Hubspot sums the buyer persona up nicely as a “semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” You can use customer interviews and other historical data to create profiles for different segments of your target audience. You can even give them names like C-Suite Cecily and Freelance Freddy if you want (Hubspot is really into this). However, what’s much more important than the names is determining how and why the persona makes certain purchasing decisions. By figuring this out, you’ll get better at developing marketing materials that strike a chord with your audience.

Creating accurate buyer personas is harder than you might think, and there are a lot of misconceptions that can lead both novice and seasoned marketers astray. We’ve debunked six of the most common myths about buyer personas below.

Myth #1: Buyer personas are complete works of fiction.

When creating buyer personas, you shouldn’t be polishing your creative writing skills. Don’t just write personas based on what you think you know about your customers or what your sales team has told you. Look at real customer behavior, from time spent on different pages of your website to survey form fills to purchases. Conduct interviews with a large swath of prospects and customers. Interview team members from different departments within your company (sales, marketing, customer service) as well. These team members interact with customers at different points in the buyer’s journey, and bringing their insights together will give you a clearer picture of the path to purchase your customers take.

Myth #2: Buyer personas should represent your ideal customers only.

satisfied customer five star conceptAccording to Hubspot’s definition, buyer personas represent your ideal customers, but we politely disagree on this point. It’s easy to call up a few of your company’s best customers and let the praise wash over you. But that’s not going to give you insights into your typical buyers. It’s okay to reach out to your biggest fans, but you should also interview the people who make infrequent purchases, started as prospects but didn’t close, and even those people who have had a bad customer experience with your company. Figuring out the stumbling blocks that prevent people from making a purchase will help you develop better personas—and that may help you remove those stumbling blocks.

Myth #3: The more information you can cram into your buyer personas, the better.

You don’t need to include irrelevant information just for the sake of making your buyer persona seem like a well-developed character. You probably won’t ever need to know if your target customers ride motorized scooters or regularly eat French toast for breakfast (unless your company is in the motorized scooter or breakfast food industry). Getting too granular can be a waste of your team’s time.

That’s not to say that your buyer personas shouldn’t be specific: they just need to focus on the details that are most relevant to the buyer’s purchasing process. Here are a few things you probably do need to know:

  • What causes them to invest in your products or services
  • Concerns they may have when purchasing from you
  • What selling propositions (e.g. free shipping, high-quality materials) are most important to them
  • How they expect your products or services to solve a problem for them
  • Who or what influences them during their decision-making process
  • How they prefer to shop for your products (e.g. in-store, on their smartphone)

Myth #4: The more segmented personas you have, the better.

It’s easy to get carried away when creating buyer personas. You’ve collected all this data, and you start to convince yourself that maybe there really are 20 different buckets into which you could segment your customers. There’s no right or wrong number of buyer personas, but creating a bunch of microscopically specific personas is going to be confusing and unhelpful. Start with one or two core personas and build out from there as necessary.

Myth #5: A buyer persona represents an individual.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that Freelance Freddy isn’t a real person. In fact, Freelance Freddy (or whatever you’ve named your buyer persona) isn’t even supposed to represent a specific person. To paraphrase Hubspot again, your buyer personas come from an amalgamation of data provided by your customers. That means that there will be some variation within each persona (for example, some people who fit the persona might be Content Marketing Managers while others might be Directors of SEO).

Myth #6: Once you create your initial buyer personas, you’re set.

Maybe you and your team decided to create buyer personas as a marketing exercise a year or two ago but filed them away and haven’t looked at them since. If that’s the case, you’re wasting a tool that can be valuable across the sales funnel. Get those personas back out and bring them up to date. And even if you have been using buyer personas consistently, you should make a goal to update them periodically, especially when your business goes through major changes that could affect your personas (e.g. a new product offering, a subscription price increase).

Take the time to get your buyer personas right, and you’ll be able to use them to develop marketing materials that attract qualified visitors, leads, and customers.

Need help developing buyer personas or creating content that speaks to your audience’s needs? Contact Leverage Marketing to learn how we can help you target the right prospects.

The Pros and Cons of Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs)

The AMP Project, another step forward on the road to a totally integrated internet experience, aims to build a framework for web designers to easily create mobile-ready web pages.

accelerated mobile pages amp symbol 3dAccelerated Mobile Pages (AMPs) are pages that meet or exceed guidelines set forth by the AMP Project. They include code provided the AMP Project that enables special search features in our most well-used internet search tool, Google. As of April 2018, AMPs enjoy placement above other search results in a carousel, or otherwise display the AMP lightning bolt symbol.

In March 2018, Google began to roll out its mobile-first indexing features following testing and experimentation since 2016. Under mobile-first indexing, pages that are mobile-ready for multiple devices will receive priority during indexing by Google. Since Google is carrying out their mobile-first plan and they already support AMP features, digital marketing teams are exploring how AMP could change the way they build and maintain websites.

But in its early stages, the AMP Project still suffers from limitations. Creating content that is easy to view and navigate across a sea of internet-ready devices is a tall order, and in the AMP Project’s current state, it may not always be the best fit for your business.

Discover what digital marketers think are the advantages and disadvantages of AMPs; use our pros and cons list as a jumping-off point, then make your own to decide if you want to pursue a transformation to AMPs.

amp style lightning bolt in green for pros

Pros of AMPs

The AMP Project is, at heart, an effort to improve the mobile internet experience for users. It is well-intentioned, and the experts working on it don’t cut corners. AMP is beneficial to businesses and organizations with an internet presence in ways such as:

Standardized Mobile Optimization

In a world where AMP is the standard, there is no question what optimized for mobile means. But we don’t live in that world – at least, we don’t live in that world yet. Right now, we have to guess what works and what doesn’t for mobile users and build or retrofit websites accordingly. Accepting and using AMP standards gives us a ruler for measuring what’s mobile-ready and what isn’t.

Improved Ranking in Mobile-First Generation

It stands to reason that building pages to a mobile standard would help your website rank better in Google SERPs that are governed by mobile-readiness. Though AMPs may not be directly connected to better rankings, getting your pages prepared for fast mobile load times and user-friendliness is sure to improve performance site-wide.

Speed Improvement

Besides ranking better in SERPs, you might find that your users enjoy your site better when it performs better thanks to mobile- and AMP-readiness. Getting pages to load within five seconds seems to have the most positive impact on user engagement and conversion, which is especially handy if you run an ecommerce website or a site that makes most of its revenue from ads.

Placement in Carousel

AMPs also ride in a carousel placed above all other search engine results in Google SERPs. The carousel is horizontal, which allows users to scroll through AMPs sideways without ever having to scroll down. It appears for broad, high-traffic searches, but as the algorithm continues to learn, it may pull more and more AMP results. Beware, however, that like other search features, the AMP carousel may not be permanent.

amp style lightning bolt in red for cons

Cons of AMPs

In the infancy of any project, putting together all the pieces is a sizable undertaking. There are still moving parts to the AMP Project that make implementation and execution a challenge, including:

JavaScript & CSS Limitations

For the most part, AMPs contain very little in the way of branding and individuality. That’s in large part because load times suffer greatly when web designers use JavaScript and, to a lesser extent, CSS. By minimizing flashy extras, mobile pages speed up significantly, but it puts a strain on your branding and style.

Tracking Problems

AMPs don’t work with your already-implemented tracking. They are stored and tracked differently than standard pages, even mobile-ready ones. Solutions are bound to appear, but at the moment, tracking takes special effort and resources that you may not have immediately available.

Serving Cached Pages

One of the ways that AMP makes pages load so fast is that it allows Google to serve a cached version of an AMP-enabled page to users. The pages that appear in search results are held by Google, which means you’re not even serving up the content you originally created – it’s only a copy cached and stored elsewhere.

Implementation Is Not Straightforward

Though implementing AMP Project guidelines is designed to be user-friendly, conflicting information and consistent updating of the standard can make it confusing. Though some content management systems (CMSs), such as WordPress, have AMP-integration tools available, they often conflict with popular SEO tools like Yoast. Implementing AMP isn’t easy – yet.

Should I AMP or Not?

Most organizations that are not large are talking the wait-and-see approach, which is wise. Since Google hasn’t given out many clues as to the influence of the AMP Project on rankings, the risk may currently be too heavy for businesses that don’t have a backup plan.

But it’s not too early to start learning. We recommend finding out how the implementation process would work for your organization and weighing the resource cost to benefit if pros from our pro list apply to you. You may even consider creating a page or two to test in an AMP environment – it may be more telling than the sparse data that is currently available.

The Leverage Marketing team can help you build a remarkable content library worthy of high Google rankings, AMP or not. Talk to us to learn more!

How Online Apparel Brands Succeed with Digital Marketing

Of all the consumer goods available online, the apparel category—including clothes, shoes, and accessories—has seen some of the biggest gains.

Revenue for online apparel in the U.S. reached $80.96 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow to over $123 billion by 2022.

Online sales are expected to account for 40% of the apparel and footwear market by the 2030s.

In the past few years, major fashion houses like Louis Vuitton and Gucci have begun shifting marketing dollars from print ads to digital channels in response to the steadily growing popularity of online apparel shopping.

Apparel brands that focus on their ecommerce presence have opportunities for dramatic growth as shoppers move online. But the competition is stiff. Big brick-and-mortar retailers like Macy’s and Kohl’s have been investing significant resources in building their online stores, and Amazon is cutting into the apparel sales of traditional apparel retailers with its low prices and fast shipping.

Niche apparel brands can’t compete with Amazon and other major retailers on price and shipping, so they must carve out a unique selling proposition—and clearly communicate that proposition to their target audience—to succeed online.

How are small- and mid-sized apparel businesses standing out from the competition and connecting with online shoppers? We spoke with three business owners (and Leverage’s own Director of Strategy, Dan Valle), to find out what digital marketing strategies have worked best for them.

Foolies: Developing a Buyer Persona to Grow a Brand

Niche apparel brands can’t succeed in a crowded online space unless they have a clear understanding of who their ideal customers are. This was something that Alex “Nemo” Hanse, owner of the T-shirt company Foolies Limited Clothing, learned as he built his brand. “When I started seven years ago, I thought that my brand was for EVERYONE,” Hanse says. “Incorrect!”

Hanse realized that he needed to focus on a narrower audience, so he began building a profile of his ideal customer, including details like where she works, what her goals in life are, and how his brand would bring value to her. One thing he realized as he developed his buyer persona was that he should be focusing on marketing to women of color. He stresses that this doesn’t mean other women can’t buy his T-shirts. “It just means I know who I need to talk to [in order to] get my message across and help my brand grow.”

Developing customer profiles, or buyer personas, can help brands like Foolies make decisions about where to engage with their audience, what content formats to try, and what messaging to use. While a buyer persona may begin as a semi-fictional representation of an ideal customer, apparel brands should use customer surveys, interviews, and sales data to shape their personas as their company grows.

T.C. Elli’s: Creating Content That Stands Out in the Fashion Industry

Content marketing allows ecommerce apparel companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, attract more organic website visitors to their site, and convince shoppers to buy from them. However, new ecommerce brands may discover that the data-driven and long-form content that’s dominating other industries isn’t as effective for them.

Tahnee Elliot, CEO and founder of the Texas-based fashion boutique T.C. Elli’s, is quick to make this distinction. “Fashion retailers are competing with top fashion bloggers, magazines, and other influencers in a space that can only be described as crowded,” she says. “Content for fashion brands must provide benefits for the customer, be visually and aesthetically pleasing, and meet the ‘first, better, or different’ principle.” T.C. Elli’s mix of content includes a visually-compelling blog and Instagram posts that highlight ways to wear the brand’s pieces. Elliot says that by regularly producing high-quality content, “we managed to increase traffic both online and in-store, boost organic rankings, and build brand awareness.”

One Tribe Apparel: Finding the Right Collaborators

Influencer marketing—a partnership between brands and consumers with a large or engaged online following—has become a key strategy for many ecommerce apparel businesses. As a visual platform with 500 million daily active users, Instagram is an obvious place for fashion brands to find relevant influencers. But some apparel brands have found success by looking beyond Instagram.

Ryan O’Connor’s company One Tribe Apparel, which sells handmade clothes and accessories from Thailand, has gotten the best results from collaborating with bloggers in the brand’s niche. “I chose bloggers specifically because we can have many points of exposure with them,” O’Connor explains. “Not only do we usually get a product review with a link for SEO value, but we get photos of them in our clothes that are usually shared on their social channels as well.” O’Connor adds that many bloggers also run product giveaways, which allows One Tribe Apparel to grow their audience by requesting that social media users follow their brand accounts to enter the contest.

For O’Connor and his team, working with bloggers has a bigger ripple effect than working with social media influencers alone. “If we work with just an Instagram influencer, we usually get one to three posts from them, whereas with a blogger we get the SEO benefit, social media benefit, and referral traffic from their site.”

Leverage Marketing: Identifying the Best Strategies for the Brand’s Stage

At Leverage Marketing, we recognize that there’s no silver bullet strategy that will work for every apparel brand. Whenever we take on an apparel client, we look at where they are in their brand lifecycle and identify the tactics with the most potential for the stage they’re in. Dan Valle, Director of Strategy at Leverage, points to two specific cases where tailoring our tactics to an apparel brand’s stage led to significant growth.

“One of our clients was an already-established brand with a good amount of brand awareness and a substantial set of current and past customers,” Valle says. “With their target audiences, most audience members had heard of the brand and had a positive affinity for it. We saw an opportunity to expand into new audiences while continuing to build lifetime value for current and past customers.” Leverage began pursuing newly targeted, non-branded search terms to reach new audiences and grow the brand’s customer base. At the same time, we prioritized email marketing to cross-sell and alert past and current customers about new products, leading to an increase in repeat purchasers.

Leverage also worked with an apparel brand that was in the introduction stage of their brand lifecycle and had a modest budget. “We committed to improving this client’s brand awareness through influencer marketing and content marketing,” Valle explains. Leverage also began building out search engine-optimized onsite content to work towards the longer-term goal of helping the client rank for keywords with a high volume of monthly searches.

Valle recommends that every apparel brand looking to grow takes stock of their current audience and stage in the brand lifecycle. “With this knowledge, you can make better decisions about the tactics that have the most potential now and in the near future,” he says.

Using Digital Marketing to Make an Impact in Online Apparel

As an apparel company, you don’t need the marketing budget of a Macy’s or a Nordstrom’s to succeed online. What you do need is the ability to identify your audience, tailor your content to them, and provide value that they can’t find elsewhere. Taking a customer-first approach will help you win over online shoppers and keep them coming back to your ecommerce store.

Not sure where to start? Leverage Marketing can help you target your ideal customers, develop campaigns to stand out from competitors, and measure your results. Contact us to learn about our full suite of digital marketing services for ecommerce apparel brands.

Your Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Content Marketing Strategy [UPDATED]

Note: This post was originally published on September 6, 2017. We updated it on March 13, 2018 to include a downloadable content marketing strategy checklist.

As a business owner, you’ve heard that content marketing is less expensive and generates more leads than traditional advertising. Sounds like something you should get in on, right? After hearing about the benefits of content marketing, your first impulse might be to start a blog that you or your team members update when time allows. Unfortunately, you’re not the only business who has had that content marketing idea, and it’s no longer enough.

Every 60 seconds, there are 1,445 new WordPress blog posts published. In that minute, there are also 500 hours of video uploaded to Youtube, 3.3 million Facebook posts published, and 65,972 Instagram photos uploaded. That’s a lot of content to compete with, and adding your blog post to the mix is kind of like throwing a rock into a deep lake. Your target audience isn’t going to find it, and you’re not going to see any meaningful returns.

content published every minute on stopwatchSo how do you plan a content strategy that will have a real impact? Blogging can certainly be a part of it, but you have to go further—the best content marketing strategies involve:

  • researching the target audience
  • using a mix of content formats
  • optimizing for search engines and readers
  • and aggressively promoting on multiple channels.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those steps. If you don’t have time to read the full post now, or if you’d like to get these steps (and more) in a handy list format, you can click below to download our Content Strategy Checklist.

content marketing strategy checklist download button

Get Familiar with Your Audience

If you’re taking a scattershot approach to content marketing—planning and producing content that you think will appeal to the widest possible audience—you’re wasting your time. To drive potential customers to your site, you need to know who your target audience is, where they spend time online, and how they prefer to consume content. Here are a few ways to find that information:


  • Survey your current customers. Find out what websites they enjoy browsing, what social media platforms they use, how often they read blogs or listen to podcasts, what questions they have for your business, etc.
  • Audit your current website content. Which pages have gotten the most traffic? Where have readers spent the most time? What path do shoppers take before making a purchase? Diving into Google Analytics can give you some great insights into what content is and isn’t working.
  • Pay attention to social media. Look at the types of content your followers comment on and share on social media. Facebook Insights and Twitter’s Audience Insights Dashboard (available with a Twitter Ads account) will both help clue you into the interests, preferences, and purchase behavior of your audience.

Experiment with Different Content Types

Writing blog posts might seem like the most straightforward way to get your business into content marketing, but if this is all you do, you’re limiting your audience. Not everyone enjoys consuming online content in the same way, so it’s important to experiment with different content types to see what’s most successful with your audience. Online content formats include but are not limited to:

  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Webinars
  • Case Studies
  • Quizzes

alpaca fleece fictional company logoYou should also create content that appeals to people at different stages of the sales funnel. For example, a company that sells alpaca fleece blankets might produce the following content pieces:

  • Awareness Stage: A video showing the eco-friendly process by which alpaca fleece blankets are made
  • Interest Stage: An infographic showing some of the benefits of alpaca fleece
  • Evaluation Stage: A product comparison guide for sheep fleece vs. alpaca fleece blankets
  • Decision Stage: Testimonials from real customers who love having alpaca fleece blankets in their homes

Make Sure Search Engines Can Find Your Content

The best content marketing strategies incorporate search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is what helps your web pages rank well for relevant search terms so that more potential customers can find your site. SEO strategies are complex, and there’s no way to thoroughly cover them in a single blog post, but we do have a few tips to get you started:

  • Do keyword research. Keywords are the terms that internet users search for (and that will ideally lead them to your site when they find one of your pages in their search results). You can find keywords that are related to your business and content topics using tools like Google Keyword Planner and Moz Keyword Explorer. Use keywords naturally throughout your content (i.e. add them where they make sense, rather than adding awkward sentences and phrases just to work them in).
  • Write title tags and meta descriptions for all pages. Your title tags and meta descriptions are what web users see in the search results, so it’s important to write compelling copy that will make readers want to click through to your site. If you’ve built your site on WordPress, you can enter your title and meta description using a plugin like Yoast. If you’re not using WordPress, you can still plug meta information straight into your site’s HTML.
  • Optimize your visual content. If you’re producing videos, infographics, or other visual content, include a transcript or written summary on your site so that search engines can find the content.

Promote, Promote, Promote

content promotion on social media conceptContent promotion is an essential part of any content marketing strategy, but novice marketers all too often skip this step. Failing to promote your content is kind of like prepping for a dinner party and forgetting to invite your guests: you will have put in a lot of work and potentially produced something amazing, but no one will get to enjoy it because they don’t know it’s there. (That was the last analogy for this blog post, I promise.)

There are many different content promotion routes you can take, and it’s best to promote your content across multiple channels to increase its reach. For example, you could:

  • Share your content on your social media accounts and encourage readers to share on social media as well.
  • Bundle several recent content pieces into a bi-weekly or monthly newsletter that goes out to all your subscribers.
  • Write a press release announcing your new content (this approach is best when your content includes original research or a truly newsworthy update).
  • Reach out to influential industry bloggers to see if they will share your content or offer you a guest posting opportunity.
  • Invest in native advertising (e. paying a third-party publisher to include your piece on their site as ‘Sponsored Content’).

Putting Your Content Strategy Plan into Action

Implementing a content marketing plan for your business won’t yield results overnight. However, if you consistently produce and promote original content tailored to your target audience, the benefits can ultimately include increased traffic, greater brand recognition, and more conversions.

Great content marketing requires a lot of time and resources that you may not have in-house. That’s where Leverage Marketing can help. Contact us about our content marketing services: we’ll do all the heavy lifting so you can focus on running your business.

Old School vs. New School SEO Strategy

There’s no question that the world of search engine optimization (SEO) has changed drastically since the advent of Google and its original competitors like Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista back in the 1990s. SEO marketing strategies have adapted to modern user trends, Google’s algorithm updates, and today’s technology. Old school SEO relied on agencies and websites gaming search engines to pull in customers and become first in the rankings. Even though many outdated SEO techniques no longer work, they’re still common advice given to new content creators and SEO specialists.

These outdated SEO strategies and content writing can penalize your sites, as Google recognizes and demotes websites with low-quality or irrelevant content as of its Panda and Penguin updates.

Google large SEO

Old School SEO (late 1990s-late 2000s)New School SEO (early 2010s-forward)
Ranking for all keywordsRank for relevant keywords
Use multiple variations of the same keywordKeywords are secondary to content
Keyword stuffingUse keywords sparingly
Continuously reuse evergreen contentWrite new, relevant content
Put links, keywords, and tags into footerUse a clean footer with important information
Cloaking (one page to search engine, another to users)Never employ black hat SEO practices
Overusing internal links with same anchor textOnly employ internal links when pertinent, use anchor text that fits within content
Dedicated pages for every keyword variant, separate microsites, and domainsAppropriate landing pages for content, but no additional pages to rank
Unstrategic linkbait to get users to clickAppropriate titles that draw users in

Learn how to avoid the black-hat methods of old-school SEO and use updated SEO techniques to target your customers.

How Did Old School SEO Work?

SEO content has evolved drastically in the two decades since we started using search engines, but it had to start somewhere. While some examples of “how it used to be” are exaggerated, writing for SEO used to mean:

  • Keyword Stuffing– Jam keywords everyone you can—in the content, into tags, into locations. The more keywords you could fit onto a page, the higher it would rank.
  • Keyword Variants– If your primary keyword target was “engagement ring,” you’d use dozens of variations on that—like “diamond engagement ring,” “engagement rings,” “engagement rings jewelry,” etc. It would go on endlessly to attempt to hit any keyword match possible. Without the power of broad match keywords, exact matches were a necessity.
  • Cloaking and Writing for Engines– Back in the early days of SEO, cloaking was common. You’d develop a set of SEO keywords for the search engines and show the users something totally different on the page. Sometimes this created instances where the keywords didn’t match the content at all.

SEO strategy evolved over the 2000s, as keyword stuffing become less common, domain names were no longer keyword intensive, and links become the most important part of SEO content writing. Google’s algorithms grew more sophisticated, and the search engine market started to shrink. By the end of the decade, only Google and Microsoft were real players in the market—and SEO specialists were developing their techniques to suit their algorithms.

penguin google

How Does SEO Work in 2018?

So how has writing for SEO changed in two decades? Should content writing even focus on SEO and keywords anymore? The goal today is to solve the searcher’s query. Content should answer questions people are asking, helping them accomplish their task. That can be purchasing a product, learning how to complete a DIY task, or educating themselves about a new topic. Content that performs these goals will be most successful. Additionally, some SEO strategies have gotten simpler, and some more complex in response to Google’s changes in its Panda and Penguin updates. Panda can detect lower quality, and thin or plagiarized content and Penguin can easily detect link and tag manipulation. Algorithmic updates affect site rankings and SEO content writing, but good writing is more likely to rank highly.

  • Intent Matching– Inserting every single keyword variant is no longer necessary. Instead, think about the searcher’s intent. Write a piece of content and use keywords that factor that intent in. Using the engagement ring example, a single page about how to purchase the perfect engagement ring would suffice, incorporating several relevant keyword phrases.
  • The Tags that Matter– Whereas all tags used to be stuffed with keywords, only a few really matter anymore. Those are the title element and body content. These are the areas in which you need to use your keywords. It’s still valuable to use keywords in other places, like the URL field, meta description, and image alt attributes, but they’re not necessary.
  • User Experience Reigns Supreme– With Google Analytics to view engagement data, you can see how users interact with your content. That means that the experience of reading content and engaging with your website is more important than ever before and contributes to Google’s rankings. High-quality writing that your users interact with provides results.

Develop SEO Optimized Content

When developing content in 2018, create a workflow that incorporates SEO strategy for the modern age. Follow some basic steps, and you’ll be on your way to crafting first-class content that your users want to read.

  1. Develop a keyword list you want to target
  2. Determine what searchers want to achieve with their queries
  3. Create an outline and draft your piece
  4. Write primarily for the audience, integrating the keywords
  5. Figure out why people will want to share this—make it exciting

If you’re still employing old school or black hat SEO tactics at your company, Leverage Marketing can help you start employing new techniques. Our content marketing team knows how to write for SEO and connect with your audience.

How to Tailor Your Content Marketing to the Sales Funnel

From a content marketer’s perspective, it would be great if the typical sales funnel looked something like this:

A web user searches for tips on networking for creatives.

The user finds a blog post called “How to Master Networking as a Creative Professional” and clicks on it.

The user is awe-inspired by the tips in the article and checks the author’s bio. They see that the author is promoting a networking book she wrote, and they immediately drop $30 on a copy.

There may be some situations where the conversion process is this quick (especially for smaller purchases), but in most cases, movement through the funnel is slower. Content marketing is a long game that depends on building trust with your audience over time. To build that trust, you must be consistently useful to your audience. And to be useful, you must tailor your content marketing to the sales funnel.

For our purposes, we’re going to define the content marketing funnel as having three sections:

  • Awareness (Top-of-Funnel Content)
  • Consideration (Middle-of-Funnel Content)
  • Decision (Bottom-of-Funnel Content)

There are no strict rules about what types of content to produce for each section of the funnel. However, we do have recommendations for content types that are well-suited to each stage.

Awareness Stage Content

Your top-of-funnel content should be tailored to potential buyers who have little or no familiarity with your brand and products. At this stage, the shopper is:

  • Looking for an answer to a question
  • Trying to figure out how to solve a problem
  • Looking for a tool or resource to meet a need

Your content needs to provide the solution the web user is looking for, in an easy-to-digest format. Content types that work well at the Awareness stage include:

Blog Posts

Quora inspiration for top of funnel content

When planning blog topics, think about the problems your customers are typically trying to solve with your product or service. If you’re stuck, the question database Quora can be a good place to start. Search for key terms related to your business to find out what real people have been asking.

Once you’ve decided on a question, give a concise answer in the first paragraph of your blog post, and then use the rest of the post to elaborate. This format can increase your chances of landing in a Featured Snippet (i.e., the content box that appears at the top of many Google search results pages.


Webinars provide an opportunity to educate and start engaging with your audience. As with blog posts, your top-of-funnel webinar content should focus on solving a problem for your potential customers rather than promoting your products or services. You may also want to build in a Q&A component where webinar viewers Tweet or message you questions to answer at the end of the webinar. This allows you to interact with your audience directly and get ideas for even more Awareness stage content.

Bite-Sized Downloads

Single-page guides, checklists, or tip sheets are great resources to attract potential buyers at the top of the content marketing funnel. They can also be powerful lead generation tools: simply make them downloadable and ask readers to enter their email to get the PDF file. We tested this at Leverage and found that we get a steady stream of leads from a downloadable list of 40 questions to ask before hiring a digital marketing agency.

Video Tutorials

video rounded corner cutout with trees and mountainVideo tutorials appeal to visual learners and can be a useful tool to walk your audience through a process that’s difficult to describe in words. Videos are also highly shareable on social media, making them a key content type for the Awareness stage.

If your company produces video tutorials for your website, you should also upload them to YouTube. YouTube is the second largest search engine and has 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users, so it can be a powerful platform for growing brand awareness.

Consideration Stage Content

Your middle-of-funnel content is for potential buyers who are starting to search for the best solution to their problem. They may already be actively comparison shopping. This is the point in the content marketing funnel when you need to convince them that you can deliver something your competitors can’t. You can do this with content types such as:

Case Studies

Case studies provide cold, hard proof that your product or service has helped real people. You should incorporate data, but your focus should be on telling a story. Each case study should reveal the problem your customer or client was facing and how your product or service helped them.

Downloadable Long-Form Content

Have you come up with a topic that’s too in-depth for a single blog post? Turn it into a whitepaper or eBook that site visitors can download when they enter their email. Focus on providing information that your audience can’t easily find elsewhere online (after all, there must be an incentive for them to share their contact info). If possible, include original research.

Product Demo Videos

Shoppers typically want to see how a product works before they buy it, especially if it’s a type of product they haven’t used before.  Product demo videos give you a chance to show your product—and your brand voice—in action. One great example of a successful product demo is Blendtec’s long-running Will It Blend? series, which has given the Total Blender a chance to pulverize everything from iPhones to glow sticks.

FAQ Page

It may not be the most glamorous piece of content on your website, but the FAQ page serves an important role. It gives you a space to publicly answer some of the questions that customers commonly ask you when they contact you. Your FAQ page can also address objections or concerns that potential buyers may have. Use your FAQs to reduce friction so that buyers can move to the decision phase of the sales funnel.

Decision Stage Content

Bottom-of-funnel content is intended to sell buyers on your product or service. At this point, the buyer has done their initial research, become familiar with your brand, and compared you to your competitors. Now you can encourage them to convert with content types like:

Comparison Charts

example of bottom of funnel content

Comparison chart example from Permaflow Gutter Protection

Make it easy for buyers to see how your product or service packages compare—or how your products stack up against competitors’. A comparison chart or table lets buyers review the pros and cons of each option without toggling between multiple pages.

Customer Testimonials

85% of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Let your current customers become your salespeople by featuring reviews or testimonials on your site. If you’re a smaller B2B company, you may want to reach out to clients directly to see if you can feature them on your site. If you’re a bigger company, use social media and email surveys to encourage your customers to share their thoughts.

Email Drip Campaigns

Email series are ideal for people who have engaged with your company (think: added items to their shopping cart or downloaded an eBook) without completing a purchase. Run an email campaign with an offer your potential buyers can’t resist, like a free trial of your software or a discount on their first order.

Producing content for every stage of the content marketing sales funnel can help you nurture leads and increase conversions, but it also requires a lot of work. If you need help creating content for the entire buyer’s journey, contact Leverage Marketing. Our content marketing team is ready to help you meet your business goals.

3 Ways To Use Emotional Marketing To Reach People

While you might not immediately think of emotions when you think of marketing to your customers, they are an integral part of relating to your clientele and establishing a genuine brand connection. According to Shayna Smilovitz from Instapage, “Emotional branding then is creating an emotional connection to one company that separates it from the rest, creating brand loyalty over time.” By playing on different kinds of emotions, you can humanize your brand and show customers how your products and services solve their essential problems.

You can establish genuine trust with customers by making them feel like they’re an important part of your brand and creating content that gives your readers something to discuss. Fifty percent of every buying decision is driven by emotion, so creating effective emotional advertising is the most effective means of gaining and retaining customers.

But how do you craft this emotional connection effectively? Do you use branding, ads, or stories to facilitate the relationship? We’ll explain how to use storytelling to engage with your audience, review several different approaches to emotional marketing, and show how utilizing this strategy can benefit you in the long run.

Using Storytelling to Connect with Customers

storytelling advertising

Ultimately, whether you’re writing the great American novel or crafting retail content, you’re trying to tell a compelling story. Emotional advertising is about developing a story that speaks to your audience by entertaining them. Even if you’re just writing a “how-to” guide or a recipe, you can make it fun and exciting, adding storytelling elements into it. Customers respond more readily when you use emotional marketing that appeals to the senses directly.

When writing or creating emotional ads, you’ll need to consider your audience. What are their wants and needs? Understanding their desires and aspirations will help you create relatable content.

When telling your story, it’s essential to use the tone of your audience. Write in the vernacular that your target customer is familiar with, with authentic words and powerful verbiage, to craft copy that directly speaks to your customers.

Different Approaches to Emotional Marketing

An excellent emotional branding campaign successfully transforms a casual customer into a brand advocate. According to the Disney Institute, emotionally engaged customers are:

  • At least three times more likely to recommend your product
  • Three times more likely to re-purchase
  • Less likely to shop around
  • Much less price sensitive

These statistics show why it’s integral to create a campaign that stimulates your customers’ emotions.

There’s more than one way to make an emotional connection with your customers. Hubspot has identified six core emotions that encourage sharing, engagement, and purchase including happiness, sadness, fright, surprise, anger, and disgust. By playing on these feelings, you can create personalized advertising suited to your customers’ needs. Emotional advertising is about understanding how to utilize these core emotions, evoke a response in your readers, and have that lead to action. That act can be a purchase, sharing, or engagement, depending on your goals.

Your Customers’ Deeper Desires

emotional advertising

Emotional marketing can also tap into certain desires of your customers, utilizing deeper feelings than the core six emotions. Developing an ad or campaign that utilizes these approaches (detailed in Entrepreneur), can be more powerful and lasting. They include:

  • Inspiration: Creates pride, like a human interest story
  • Aspirational: Taps into audience’s dreams, like a lofty goal, lifestyle, or experience
  • Expressing love: Reaches into personal and raw emotions
  • Milestone Connection: Celebrates a brand anniversary or important life events
  • Local angle: Connects to people’s passion and pride for where they live

This way of approaching emotional marketing helps create meaningful connections with your customers in a way that feels reliable and honest. If you don’t manage this authenticity, your advertising can fall flat and damage your relationship with customers. It’s essential to determine which strategy will work best for your business. The key to emotional advertising is understanding your audience and telling an authentic, believable story that will stick with them.

Are you interested in developing an emotional advertising strategy? The Leverage Marketing team specializes in creating campaigns that build lasting relationships between brands and their customers. Contact us today to learn what we can do for your company.


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