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From positioning statements to elevator pitches to taglines, here are eight messaging elements you can use to define and promote your business or nonprofit.

Let’s come right out and say it: technology branding strategies are undervalued.

In an industry racing to define the future, the short-term rush of product marketing too often steals focus from the slower wheel of brand development. It’s easy to see why. The big picture, the deeper story, the overarching audience relationship feels less urgent by comparison. Less important.

Major tech brands like Google, AT&T, and Microsoft would disagree.

“When I first started my career in high-tech B2B marketing, I didn’t know what branding was,” said Juliette Rizkallah, CMO at SailPoint. “I was trained in product management and product marketing, and in my mind if the product was good, that was all the company needed.”

The same mistake is common in Silicon Valley, where it’s easy to “think that the best product will beat out all of the competition,” said Samantha Warren, Experience Design Manager at Adobe Stock + Typekit. Problem is, the best products don’t always make the most successful companies, Warren said.

In fact, according to entrepreneur Larry Alton, “not having a brand” tops the list of mistakes that tech startups are prone to make.

Your technology branding strategy deserves at least as much attention as the evolution of your tech. Strategically, it’s the foundation that supports everything you aspire to do — so how to make it a good one?

To answer that question, let’s see what we can learn from some of the strongest technology branding strategies out there. Microsoft, Google, and AT&T are counted among the top 25 “biggest technology brands of the world.” They each invest significant energy in their branding, using it to unite many disparate offerings into a coherent family while expressing a focused emotional undercurrent that draws customers to their door.

There are many aspects of the example they set that we could highlight — but one secret they all have in common is simply this:

Their brand promise is unmistakably clear

A brand promise is one, at most two, core concepts that express your basic value proposition and sum up why your customers choose your brand.

These promises look simple, right? And so they should. A brand promise needs to represent a clear, simple idea that’s easy to wrap your mind around.

But defining a promise of your own is usually harder than it looks. Working with technology firms here at the MAC, we’ve found that when you’re deep in the weeds in product development and internal company dynamics, it’s not easy to zoom in on the one true idea that effectively distills your identity into a few words — the core, unifying, emotionally-resonant promise that’s strong enough, important enough, and authentic enough to provide a lasting foundation for your brand.

Nonetheless, it’s a challenge that all technology branding strategies must overcome in order to succeed. Following are a few tips to get you moving in the right direction.

1. Your brand promise originates from your vision

Our client Shadowserver is a nonprofit organization working quietly behind the scenes to make the Internet more secure for everyone. Their vision of “a more secure Internet” provides focus for everything they do. Thanks to the altruism that drives it, Shadowserver has built credibility with cyber security teams across the globe and pioneered a radical shift toward collaboration and transparency in their field.

That’s the power of a vision. If you know what you’re aiming for and why, your tactical efforts can converge upon a goal that not only makes you more effective internally, but gives your external audiences a reason to rally with you.

Ask yourself this: how does your company vision benefit your audience? Articulate the answer, and you’ll be one step closer to a strong brand promise.

2. Your brand promise communicates your USP

What are you doing well, that no one else is doing at all?

Your unique selling proposition (or USP) is a fundamental component of your brand. It defines who your audience is and why they care about you: vital information when claiming your position in the heavily saturated technology market.

Defining your USP is a principal goal of our discovery process at the MAC. We unearth it through a thorough competitive analysis, informed by extensive interviews with internal and external stakeholders. Once we’ve defined your USP, we build on that with your visual identity and essential messaging components — not the least of which is your brand promise.

3. Your brand promise translates to a story

When a customer purchases your product, does it give them the power of a magician to transform reality? That’s the storyline behind the Apple brand, and it’s a good one.

Does it turn them into a rebel, subverting expectations and rewriting the rules? In past decades, Apple tried that story on for size, too.

Does it make your customer a creator who reenvisions the world around them? Sony told that story when advertising its cameras.

There are many ways to tell a compelling story with your brand. The point is, all great technology branding strategies tell one.

Think of it this way. If your brand story defines the relationship between your company and your audience (who are you to them? who do you help them become?), your brand promise drives the plot. It’s the kernel at the center, around which the rest of the story spins.

There’s a silver lining to the fact that technology firms tend to undervalue branding. It means that by defining yours, you can develop an edge on your competitors.

In that spirit, we encourage you to step back from the lemming rush on the short term, and pause for a moment to reflect on what you do and why (your vision). Identify what’s unique about your offerings, a quality not shared with anyone else in the world (your USP). Figure out why your customers care; then brainstorm who that makes you by extension (your story).

Out of these exercises, your brand promise will emerge.

Need a hand? We’ll be here for you.

This article is also published on Medium.

You’ve spent countless hours developing a game-changing technology. You know all the nitty gritty details of its functionality and want to showcase your technical skills and knowledge.

Your website is laden with pages of detailed descriptions, specs, and a chronology of product development.

But, the people aren’t listening. The problem — your granular descriptions don’t compute.

When people visit your website and encounter dense paragraphs, they’re likely to click away. These details matter to you, but they likely do not speak to your customers.

A technology branding strategy will help make your nonhuman offerings relatable to humans.

Technology branding strategies add value

Even if you’ve found the perfect combination of price point and performance, if you don’t have a branding strategy, you’re missing a piece of the formula.

Having a strong brand to lean on will:

How to humanize your technology brand

Brand strategy is a broad topic, encompassing a defined organizational purpose, consistent brand behavior, an emotional impact, and more.

A key purpose of a strong technology branding strategy is to inject humanness into your brand. We can accomplish this by defining your brand personality and the emotional response you want to elicit from your audience.

Consider the following brand personalities and examples to help guide your own brand strategy development, and transform your robotic interactions into interactions that grow customer loyalty.

The reinforcer brand

A reinforcer brand confirms its audience’s perspective. They’re dialed in on their consumers desires and needs.

If you’re serving a particular industry or narrow audience, this is likely your strategy of choice.

With a specific offering that resonates on a deep level, your audience will gleefully form a community.

For example, VMWare, a leading enterprise technology company, offers a diverse selection of products and services ranging from cloud management to data security. Its healthcare solutions target the industry’s needs specifically with digital workspaces, data security, and IoT for hospitals and clinics.

Its brand personality can be observed in its web content, which is centered on use cases and the end user. What you don’t find here is a slew of technical specs and product development history.

VMWare reinforces its relevance by building community with an active social media presence and blog. Its brand is actively aligning its offerings with its consumer’s worldview to build trust and community.

VMWare’s healthcare community

Takeaway: As a reinforcer brand, pinpoint ways to closely tie your offerings to your audience’s needs and desires. To live out your brand personality, integrate messages that encourage collaboration, community, and trust.

The supporter brand

A supporter brand invites behavior modifications or improvements. They’re solving a problem with an innovative solution that asks their audience to make a change.

If you’re a supporter brand, you can win your customer’s heads and hearts with educational resources and inspirational stories.

IBM’s suite of collaboration platforms invites employers to find the tools that empower their people to “do what they do best.” The product video presents complicated technology in an inspiring and captivating way.

Takeaway: As a supporter brand, look for opportunities to help your audience make adaptations so they can successfully use your product or service. Focus your messages on empowerment, rather than product capabilities. Be your customer’s cheerleader.

The challenger brand

A challenger technology brand questions the status quo and offers a groundbreaking alternative. They’re persuasive and rebellious.

Its audience also thrives on thinking outside the box and regularly seeks alternatives.

Slack, a business application, challenged the way teams do work. The founders questioned the logic of disconnected channels and created a centralized hub for all communication and collaboration needs.

Slack centers its brand on the need to change workplace behavior. This message comes through in its product video and social media content.

Takeaway: As a challenger brand, you can activate your audience with a directive to change their behavior. But be tactful. If you’re too pushy, your approach will backfire.

Bridge the gap

Whether you’re a reinforcer, supporter, or challenger, a technology branding strategy can bridge the gap between your human audience and your nonhuman offerings.

Each of these strategies focuses on the end user rather than the ins and outs of the product or service itself.

Choose a brand personality that aligns with your organization, and centralize your messaging on that persona. The result — a technology brand strategy coded for humans.

This article is also published on Medium.

Last summer, Forrester Research made an observation. Times are changing in marketing, and thanks to the recent flood of digital channels, social activity, and mobile tech, CMOs are “taking on significantly broader, and often unfamiliar, responsibilities.”

Nearly all (96 percent) feel that the breadth of skills required for success these days has “increased dramatically.” Almost half (44 percent) said they struggle to “find the right combination of people and skills in the job market.”

The struggle is real in healthcare, where hospital and group practice administrators strive to protect quality of care, manage finances effectively, and market their organizations — all at the same time.

Sometimes it’s practical to handle all this in-house; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the difference isn’t clear. So how can you tell when it’s time to outsource your healthcare marketing strategy?

1. You’re in a moment of change

When in the midst of an organizational transition — growing, expanding into a new market, or launching a new service — it’s vital to have the focused attention of a specialized team to guide you through the change successfully. An outside marketing partner will bring a larger perspective at a time when your focus is quite reasonably divided and supply you with the expertise you need at a sensitive moment.

2. You’re facing a short-term challenge

When you have a project on the table that’s larger than your team is set to handle, or when the deadline requires faster results than you can typically deliver, outsourcing is an excellent fallback.

3. You can’t see the big picture

There’s a difference between healthcare marketing tactics and a healthcare marketing strategy. Tactics are the hands and feet of your marketing effort. Strategy is the brain.

If your team tends to jump into tasks without thinking about the big picture, it’s time to take a step back. You may be headed in the wrong direction. Your efforts may be scattershot. You may get a better return on investment by redirecting or tightening your focus.

Bottom line, when you’re up to your neck in details, a strategic partner can lift you above the mêlée and help you direct your effort where it counts.

4. You need new ideas

Maybe you’ve got a solid marketing strategy in place — but you’ve hit a rut, and you need some fresh thoughts. Maybe the strategy that has served you well for years just isn’t pulling its weight anymore, and you’re not sure why. Or maybe you just need an expert’s input on a particular challenge.

When coming up with new solutions is the sticking point, it may be time to see what an external strategist can do for you.

5. You’re at capacity

If you can think of a thousand things off the top of your head that you’d love to be doing with your marketing, but despite your best efforts, you have yet to fit them in, you’re at capacity.

There are several options in that situation. You could allow your healthcare marketing strategy to remain where it is. You could make a long-term decision to expand capacity by adding new hires to your team. Or you could outsource. Which option is best?

  1. It’s okay to leave things as they are if your current approach is working for you.
  2. Hiring is an option if you have the budget and facilities to support the new position long-term, if you can find the right candidate from your talent pool, and if you can bring in enough new hires to manage the amount of work you need done.
  3. Outsourcing is the right choice when the scope of the work is larger than your new hires can handle, when you don’t have the budget or space to make the long-term commitment of hiring new staff, or when you’ve determined that a short-term engagement with a marketing agency is simply more cost-effective.

Case in point: our client Samaritan Health Services has an in-house marketing team, which capably handles their day-to-day needs. They call the MAC when facing special projects like PainWise, a regional public awareness campaign that Samaritan launched to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic. Having provided the original branding, naming, and strategy for that effort, we continue to serve as the task force’s strategic arm.

6. You want to know the costs upfront

When you need to protect your endeavors from budget-creep, outsourcing can serve as a strategic tool to contain costs. In-house projects may sprawl, but your external marketing partner will set clear parameters around the project and hold it on track, so you’ll know in advance what will get done, at what cost.

7. You can’t tell whether or not it’s working

An experienced agency will provide more than expertise and follow-through. They’ll also help you set achievable goals with metrics in place to evaluate project success.

That’s important, because metrics are your flashlight. A healthcare organization might employ the best marketing tactics in the world, but without metrics, they’re shooting in the dark. This type of uncertainty is hard to live with, long-term — and there’s no reason to. Your marketing strategy is an investment. If you don’t have the vantage point from which to measure its return, consider looking for someone who can help turn those lights on.

8. You need to rebrand

There’s a reason they call it “identity.” Your brand defines who you are, what you do, for whom, and why. To answer those questions is a gigantic undertaking with major business implications, and it calls for a dedicated and experienced team of professionals to do it right.

If an upcoming rebrand is part of your healthcare marketing strategy, make sure it’s in good hands. At no other time is outsourcing more important.

The eight points we covered above are just examples. But as you may have noticed, they do represents a few common patterns. To put it briefly, the outsourcing question boils down to this:

When needs like these arise, consider outsourcing your healthcare marketing strategy to a trusted partner.

This article is also published on Medium.

All right. It’s time to talk about Gen Z.

Meet the population demographic born between 1996 and 2010 — the middle-schoolers, high-schoolers and college students of today.

If, like many businesses and marketing teams, you’ve allowed yourself to suppose that these youngsters aren’t (yet) terribly relevant to what you do, think again. Gen Z is already making its presence known throughout the U.S. economy, and in just a few short years, they’re going to be the most powerful generation around.

Bottom line, if you want Gen Z to listen to you, care about you, and buy from you tomorrow, then put it in your planner to get to know them yesterday.

What makes Gen Z such a force?

There’s a lot of them, for starters. Children and young adults between eight and 22 years old are more than 25 percent of the population today—making them the largest demographic out there.

And while the youngest of these are still in the single digits, make no mistake. Gen Z is about to take over. “No one seems to realize that in just a few short years, Generation Z … will account for 40 [percent] of the consumer market, and be an even bigger group than both Baby Boomers and Millennials,” said Nicolas Cole at Inc Magazine. “Which means, while everyone else is still debating over what to do with Millennials, their younger brothers and sisters will be the largest, most untapped audience out there.”

Their influence isn’t just potential, either. Gen Z represents $830 billion per year of consumer spending in the U.S. right now. A good $44 billion of that is directly in the hands of children and young adults, and their buying power is only going to grow from here.

So, who are they? How can we reach them effectively? To understand the answers to those questions, first we need to understand the world that Gen Z has grown up in.

Gen Z is shaped by three things

Gen Z was born into a world facing some pretty unique pressures. As such, it isn’t a typical generation.

Typically a generation spans 20 years; members of Gen X, for example, were born between 1961 and 1980. If Gen Z had followed this pattern, they would have waited for the Millennial window to come gracefully to an end in 1999 — but they didn’t. Instead, they cut their older siblings’ time short by about three years, bringing the Millennial window to a stop in 1996.

There’s an important reason for that, and important ramifications. Members of Gen Z demonstrate “big shifts in … behavior and attitudes” when compared to their millennial siblings, according to psychology professor Jean Twenge.

Why? Because the world changed for kids after 1996.

1. Terror

If you were born in 1996, you were five years old on 9/11. The attack on the World Trade Towers had a dramatic impact on American culture, changing everything from what it’s like to fly on a plane to what’s considered normal in political dialogue.

“While most [of Gen Z] were too young to personally experience the devastating impact of the terrorist attacks, they have grown up not knowing anything else but terrorism and ongoing wars,” said Ama Triangle at the American Marketing Association.

2. Recession

If you were born in 1996, you were 12 when the Great Recession burst. Unlike Millennials, who were born into the prosperity and stability of the 90s, Gen Z has no such memory. They cut their teeth on the financial havoc of the downturn.

Both of these forces, terror and recession, give Gen Z much in common with the Silent Generation: those born between 1920 and 1940. Political and financial instability formed a generation that craves order, leans conservative, and brings a fierce determination to beat the odds.

But there’s just one more wrench to throw in the gears.

3. Smartphones

While many Millennials can remember living in a household without a computer — a pre-Internet world — Gen Z are the world’s first true digital natives.

Let’s not forget how deeply the digital revolution has transformed society. It’s redefined how we find information, communicate, consume media, and just about anything else you can shake a stick at.

No wonder this cultural shift made a major impact on those who came after. “Around 2010, teens started to spend their time much differently from the generations that preceded them,” Twenge said. “These teens and young adults all have one thing in common: Their childhood or adolescence coincided with the rise of the smartphone.”

Consequently, Gen Z is “the most connected generation,” and “their connectivity is increasing,” according to Triangle. George Beall at HuffPost said that a full 40 percent “are self-identified digital device addicts.”

When we say device, by the way, we mean mobile. As Triangle put it, Gen Z is not mobile-first. They’re mobile-only.

Marketing takeaways

So what to make of all this? From a marketing perspective, certain things are very clear.

1. Start talking to Gen Z now.

While Millennials are currently the most powerful generation, the day is just dawning for Gen Z. They’re already a force, and their power is set to grow. Get good at speaking to them now so that you’ll be positioned to maintain their loyalty later.

2. Reach them online, not in print or TV.

“If this younger generation is constantly on their phones or devices and not watching as much live TV, we may experience a massive shift in advertising methods and marketing messages,” Beall said.

In fact, that shift — print > TV > Internet — is nothing new. It’s a continuation. However, it is worth recognizing that the trend is getting stronger.

3. Get to the point.

We learned this lesson from Millennials, and it’s going to serve us well for Gen Z as well. When talking to an audience that’s been inundated in advertising from birth, you have to demonstrate the value and relevance of your offerings right off the bat, or they’re going to bounce.

Again, the moral here isn’t new, but the urgency is. “On average, Millennials use three screens (and bounce between them intermittently)” said Forbes contributor Deep Patel. “Gen Zers use five: smartphone, TV, laptop, desktop and tablet.” They’re less focused, less likely to click, and less patient, so if you want to win them, distill your message.

4. Don’t expect them to overshare.

“While the millennial generation infamously pioneered the Facebook beer-bong selfie, many in Generation Z have embraced later, anonymous social media platforms like Secret or Whisper, as well as Snapchat, where any incriminating images disappear almost instantly,” according to advertising trend consultant Dan Gould.

If you’re wondering why, recall the correlation between Gen Z and those born between 1920 and 1940. “The parallels with the Silent Generation are obvious,” said economist and generation researcher Neil Howe. Prudence about what and how one shares is one of the results. “There has been a recession, jobs are hard to get, you can’t take risks,” Howe said. “You’ve got to be careful what you put on Facebook. You don’t want to taint your record.”

5. Update your UX.

Digital natives take certain things for granted, and user experience (UX) is one of those things. If your website is ugly, cumbersome, or dated, your Gen Z audience won’t cut you any slack for auld lang syne.

When something is hard to use, they think it’s broken. “When it doesn’t get there that fast they think something’s wrong,” said Marcie Merriman, executive director of growth strategy at Ernst & Young. There’s nothing nostalgic about a poor user experience for Gen Z, and expectations are running high — so if the look, feel, and function of your website isn’t up to snuff, now is the time to locate a branding partner who can help you over those hurdles.

Up next?

What we’ve covered today is just the tip of the iceberg. For more actionable insights on how to reach Gen Z, keep in touch, because we’ll be circling back to this in the future, for sure.

This article is also published on Medium.

Millennials — currently between the ages of 23 to 37 years old — are estimated to yield $200 billion in annual buying power. The caveat: only six percent of Millennials consider online advertising to be credible.

So, how will you reach the other 94 percent?

With Millennials, you must cut to the chase and tell the truth. If you don’t, they’ll move on or rat you out.

However, when alignment between a brand and a Millennial is achieved, the results are powerful. This demographic proudly aligns themselves with brands that authentically speak to their values. They can become your most vocal advocates and brand ambassadors.

To get to this point, you must relentlessly build trust through compelling and authentic messaging.

As with any generational segment, Millennials comprise individuals with diverse traits. Despite this, some characteristics are nearly universal and provide a starting point for creating a message they can’t ignore.

Loyal millennials: A paradox?

Contrary to Baby Boomers, Millennials inherently distrust organizations. They want to know the motivations behind what you’re selling and if it aligns with their own value system.

If distrust is so rampant, some argue Millennials will never be loyal customers. However, a Forbes and Elite Daily study found Millennials will develop strong brand loyalty when the product is quality and they are actively engaged by the organization.

So, through honest and strategic messaging, you can build trust and create a loyal Millennial audience.

Get to the point

Thankfully, combatting distrust and building loyalty doesn’t require long, complicated messaging. Millennials prefer you get to the point simply and directly, and tie it back to what is genuinely valuable to them.

But don’t fool yourself into thinking simple means easy. Millennials have a strong aversion to anything remotely salesy. To strike a chord, your simple and direct message must be creative and original.

Brands that talk like a human (not a corporate robot) and take an empathetic approach will win.

How do you create such a message?

Well, you are in luck. We rounded up some examples of brands that are framing their message in a way that the Millennial market can’t ignore.

Stand for something

Millennials want to give back and drive change, and they seek out brands with the same mentality. Whether it’s social advocacy, environmental sustainability, or community-building, brands that clearly stand for more than themselves will draw in the Millennial crowd.

Take note from 26-year-old entrepreneur Marcus Harvey. He founded his apparel company, Portland Gear, on pure pride — the pride that Portlanders have for their city. He positions his company not just as an apparel company, but on the desire to build a strong community.

With 300K followers on Instagram, Harvey has clearly struck a nerve. Almost every post features a community members’ photo and invites others to contribute.

In an interview with Oregon Live, Harvey said, “People do crazy things because they want to see their photo on the @portland page.”

Harvey is continually nourishing a brand that taps into people’s values, their pride of place.

Make a connection

Millennials don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be involved. They’re more receptive to messages that come from those they trust.

A study conducted by SocialChorus found that 95 percent of millennials say friends are the most credible source of product information.

By tapping into pre-existing connections and encouraging engagement, brands can build trust with their audience. If they do so continually, they will grow a vocal group of brand advocates.

In our digital world, there are many ways for brands to connect with their audience and build relationships. Crowdsourcing and user-generated content are just two examples.

Connecting through crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is when a brand presents a problem to their audience and asks for their help in creating a solution.

Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer that’s been on the market for more than a century, has witnessed a resurgence since shifting their marketing toward Millennials. In an effort to connect with this generation, Pabst Blue Ribbon turned over their product design to Millennials through its PBR Art contest. Users were asked to recreate the PBR logo for a chance to win $30,000.

Connecting through user-generated content

A user-generated content strategy involves inviting or curating user content (typically a video or photo). Since the content originates from other users, not the brand itself, it builds peer trust and engages your audience.

Smart brands actively invite users to submit their content and then share it on the brand’s social networks. User-generated content helps turn passionate followers into brand advocates.

There is no need to overthink this. Hydro Flask incorporates user-generated content on its social channels and website. Most Instagram pictures are curated from followers, and some web pages feature customer photos.

Millennial messaging that resonates

Millennial consumers will leave you in the dust if you give them a sales pitch. They want to connect with a business that speaks to their values.

By being direct, standing for something, and encouraging engagement, you’ll build trust among this demographic.

If you continue to deliver, they will become your extended grassroots marketing team.

This article is also published on Medium.

It’s a summer evening and you’re attending a benefit concert for a local nonprofit.

As your eyes sweep the crowd, you notice a 55-year-old woman subtly snapping pictures of the band that she’ll later post to Facebook or text to her kids. She has donated to the nonprofit for years, and the concert is just one more opportunity to make a contribution.

Meanwhile, a 37-year-old couple is hovering around the beer garden, waiting for their chance to take a picture with the nonprofit director and big benefactors so they can impress their Facebook friends. As they wait, they browse the organization’s website to learn about donation opportunities.

A group of 25-year-old friends first learned about the concert thanks to the trendy band. When they found out it was a benefit concert — extra bonus! As the lead singer croons, they artfully take pictures and videos for their Instagram feed: #giveback.

Everyone appears to be enjoying the evening, but as a member of the board of directors, you’re concerned that the nonprofit has missed an opportunity to drive home its message with potential advocates.

What could have been done differently?

Generational marketing

Generational marketing, the strategy of segmenting audiences based on generational characteristics, provides marketers with insights to the preferences, ideals, and values held by different age groups.

This knowledge allows organizations to craft messages that will resonate with target audience segments. That said, as with any segmentation strategy, remember that each audience group is comprised of unique individuals. Be wary of making sweeping generalizations or stereotypical appeals.

How to use it

Depending on your business sector, your unique selling point or brand promise could be cross-generational. This is especially likely if you’re directing a nonprofit.

Regardless, when sharing your message you’ll need to adjust your approach to effectively reach different generational segments.

Start with common characteristics, and then dig deeper for each targeted generation.

Once you’ve nailed down your message for each segment, you can ask:

Messages that drive action and engagement

So, how can you use generational targeting to drive engagement and action among different audience segments? Here are some ideas to get you started.

For Baby Boomers, your message could appeal to their desire for self-fulfillment by using the second person point of view. Also, do not remind them that they are aging.

Marketing tactics for baby boomers

When creating a compelling message for Generation X, focus on your brand value. Make a direct connection between their individual needs and how your brand could impact their life. Also, if appropriate, subtly appeal to status.

Marketing tactics for generation X

When targeting Generation Y (aka Millennials), brands have the opportunity to align their message with this generation’s desire to make a difference and help the greater good. If you do this while creatively communicating your brand’s personality, you’ve struck gold.

Marketing ideas for millennials

Encore: Taking these principles to the next concert

Another benefit concert has arrived.

This time, your nonprofit has a firm understanding of the generational differences and preferences among its target audience groups. With this knowledge, you’ve used targeted messaging in your pre-event promotions to encourage attendance.

You recognized Baby Boomers as valuable contributors, thanked them for their regular donations, and told them that the founders wanted to meet them in person at the concert. At the concert they received material about becoming a legacy donor, meeting their desire to make a long-term impact.

You encouraged Generation X to attend, since the funds raised could improve their families’ access to a new community initiative. The invitation to become a regular donor was included in their confirmation email.

You targeted Generation Y through messaging that clearly outlined how attendance would help the organization raise the remaining funds necessary to finish a community project. You also provided the opportunity to text your nonprofit a small donation, as the first step towards a long-term relationship.

As a result, attendance increased 20 percent over the previous year, and the nonprofit met its fundraising goal. Better yet, individuals from Generation X and Y — groups that had been minimally engaged — signed up for volunteer opportunities and sustaining, automated donations.

Knowing your target audience’s age and the factors that shape generational attitudes and perceptions allows you to craft a message that is more likely to resonate and drive action.

This article is also published on Medium.

As business leaders and marketers, we know the importance of using different marketing strategies to reach specific audience segments.

Despite this knowledge, choosing how to group your audience effectively is mind-bending.

A strong first step is segmenting based on the age groups of your target audience — known as generational marketing.

By dividing your audience by their generational cohort, you create segments who share similar life experiences that shape how they view the world, their values, and ideals.

This information empowers you to craft a relevant message that draws a direct connection between individuals and how they relate to your brand.

The following are overviews of generational segments most commonly targeted — Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y — each with a prompt for crafting an effective message.

Messaging for baby boomers

Baby Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, putting them at 53 to 71 years old.

They are often defined as optimists who value exploration and achievement. These traits are attributed to growing up during the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement of the 60s and 70s. These free-thinkers are responsible for coining the terms “glass ceiling” and “equal opportunity workplace.”

Many are nearing retirement age of about 65, but plan on staying employed to maintain a sense of identity and purpose.

Thanks to younger generations, Baby Boomers are embracing the use of modern technology. According to a Pew Research study conducted in 2016, 61 percent of American adults aged 50–64 used Facebook.

Common generational values include individualism, community involvement, prosperity, ownership, self-actualizing, and health and wellness. Baby Boomers have the desire to achieve the goals of their youth.

Messaging Takeaway: How can you align your brand message to align with Baby Boomer’s desire to fulfill their potential?

AARP does this artfully by using phrases such as “life-re-imagined,” “disrupt aging,” “real possibilities,” and “you’ve still got it.”

Messaging for generation X

Falling in the age range of 37 to 52, Generation X was born between 1965 and 1980.

As kids, they witnessed Watergate, Three Mile Island, and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. Understandably, this gave them little confidence in institutions and organizations.

Generation X learned independence from a young age, as many were left in charge of their siblings while their parents worked.

When it came time for Generation X to enter the workforce in the late 80s, the country was in economic turmoil. So, despite their independent proclivity, a large percentage lived with their parents while in their 20s. The “American dream” they expected quickly turned sour.

Despite slowly developing careers, choosing to delay marriage, and postponing the decision to start a family, Gen Xers are now having children and buying homes. Likely due to their own childhood experiences, some are choosing to have one parent stay home or work part-time.

Generation X is known for bridging the gap as their use of technology and life values overlap with Baby Boomers and Generation Y, depending on which end of the spectrum they were born.

While this generation grew up during the era of emerging technology, younger Gen Xers are more reliant on it than their older peers. Typically, they use digital tools for convenience, such as online banking, rather than as a key element of their social lives.

Generation X values contribution, feedback, recognition, and autonomy. They tend to be pragmatic and individualistic, with a desire to protect themselves and those close to them. Stereotypically, they are defined as status-oriented.

Messaging Takeaway: Given Generation X’s independent thinking and skepticism of organizations, how can your brand prove its trustworthiness and help them achieve their needs?

Abound, a client of the MAC, provides guidance on schools across the US for adult degree seekers. Its trustworthiness is reinforced by phrases such as, “the colleges we work with are nationally recognized for program excellence.” A direct appeal to Gen X’s needs are made through, “get the resources, tips, and opportunities to get you moving. It’s your future — claim it.”

Messaging for generation Y

Generation Y, commonly referred to as Millennials, were born between 1980 and 1994, putting them at 23 to 37 years old.

A large percentage of this generation are not fully independent. They’re characterized by self-exploration. However, their optimistic outlook is tempered by an uncertain future characterized by crippling student loans and competitive workforce.

Millennials are frequently stamped as entitled (just don’t ever call them this). Thanks to parents who praised them no matter how well or poorly they did, they carry similar expectations into adulthood — if stereotypes are to be believed, that is.

Accustomed to rapidly developing technologies, Millennials rely on tech more than Boomers or Gen Xers and have little patience for delayed responses.

Among the generations discussed, this group is the most ethnically diverse. They value self-expression, transparency, and the pursuit of lifestyle enjoyment over wealth. Millennials want to make a difference and effect change.

Messaging Takeaway: How can your brand genuinely appeal to Millennials desire to make a difference?

Charity:water does this well by encouraging supporters to “do something crazy to raise money for clean water.” Instead of being directly targeted for a monetary donation, Millennials can start their own fundraising campaign to benefit charity:water.

Using generational targeting for effective messaging

Now, fellow marketer, you are armed with generational characteristics you can apply to segment your own audience.

When crafting your message, look at your brand through these generational lenses and ask how you can effectively reach different demographic groups.

For Baby Boomers, does your product or service help them fulfill their potential? How can you overcome Gen X’s skepticism and meet their needs? Can you support Millennials’ desire to help the greater good?

Now, go forth and send the right message to the right people.

This article is also published on Medium.

In the rare case, a visitor comes to your website and immediately signs up for your service or purchases your product.

In a more typical case, a visitor needs to be courted before they’re ready to commit (or in marketing jargon, “convert”).

A potential customer travels through the marketing funnel, learning more about you, engaging with your content, and determining if they’re going to purchase.

It’s your job to provide the perfect content, at the ideal time, to the right person.

This starts with a complete understanding of who that person is. At the MAC, we peel back the layers on their needs and decision making process through our Discovery method.

Armed with this research, you can accurately match the marketing funnel with your web content strategy, smoothly guiding the prospect to a decision.

This post demonstrates how to align a customer’s journey through the marketing funnel (awareness, consideration, action) with user-friendly web design and captivating content. We’ve also thrown in examples of content types to demonstrate how to implement this approach.

How the marketing funnel and web content strategy align

A lead generating website guides visitors through a specific set of pages, tied to a three-tiered funnel, leading to a desired set of outcomes.

For those of you who are visual learners, here is a helpful graphic:

Conversion factors

Before we dive further into the funnel layers, it’s a good idea to get a grasp on what leads a visitor to convert. Key conversion factors include the website’s usability, the site’s relevance to visitors, and the ease of navigation. These are supported by content quality, reader-friendly formatting, clear calls-to-action, and simple conversion forms.

Your goal is to keep the visitor’s attention and motivate them to take the desired action. If they have to dig for an answer, they will likely move on to a different option.

Content creation

Once you have your conversion factors squared away, you can fill in the marketing funnel with compelling content.

Create content to answer questions and concerns that arise at different stages of the decision making/buying process. More on this to come.

You may need to create different funnels for different target audiences or conversion goals. For example, a completed inquiry form or an actual purchase could be two types of conversions on the same website.

Additionally, the types of content you share and where it belongs in the funnel typically shifts depending on your industry and if you’re targeting businesses or consumers.

Are you starting to get the sense that this is a fluid practice? Well, you’d be spot on. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure approach, guided by your audience’s preferences.

Some examples to help clarify:

Top-of-funnel: Awareness

The awareness phase is where you build the connection between your brand and the topic. Your target audience has a problem and is searching for answers. You want to direct their attention to your solutions.

Content types for the top-of-the-funnel:

We took this approach with PainWise, a public awareness campaign addressing the opioid epidemic.

For the first phase of a digital marketing campaign, different messaging and imagery were used for specific audience segments. The goal here was to purely drive awareness. Clicks to the site were an added bonus and the goal of the second (consideration) phase.

Above: Samples of PainWise Facebook ads for specific audience segments.

REI has mastered funnel-driven content. To plug into people’s needs, they’ve produced a series of short how-to videos. These videos nudge someone closer to purchasing from them when adventure calls.

Middle-of-funnel: Consideration

If a person has entered the middle-of-the-funnel, you’ve successfully captured their attention. The consideration phase is where you educate and engage. This is also where you typically build subscribers and followers.

Content types for the middle-of-the-funnel:

Havenly, an online interior design service, prompts visitors to take a style quiz. To view the results, the visitor completes a simple contact form with the option of booking a consultation with an interior designer.

Above: Havenly invites visitors to sign up to view their interior decor style.

Another example comes from Willamette Community Bank, one of our clients here at the MAC. Each product page includes a short contact form. Visitors are then contacted by a loan specialist with the intent of moving leads down the funnel.

Bottom-of-funnel: Action

At the action phase, leads are compelled to make a purchase decision, converting them to customers. Continuing to build trust and providing the right content can greatly impact your conversion rate.

Content types for the bottom-of-the-funnel:

Sprout Social takes a 30-day free trial approach. Teams have the opportunity to test out the social media management software, before taking the plunge.

Above: Sprout Social offers visitors a 30-day free trial before committing to a paid subscription.

Use content to improve conversions

With an in depth understanding of your audience and industry appropriate marketing funnel, you can accurately align your web content strategy to the customer journey.

To match the marketing funnel with your web content strategy:

Fine-tune this approach and you’ll improve your customer relationships and conversions.

This article is also published on Medium.

You wouldn’t launch a business without a plan. Likewise, launching a website without a strategy will leave you with a site that sends prospective customers running for the hills.

A web content strategy is essential for creating a site that helps you meet your business goals. And, your most valuable players will benefit.

The following outlines key elements of a content strategy and provides actionable steps for you to implement. If we were in math class, we’d say these are your order of operations.

Element 1: content strategy goals and mission statement

Address how your website will help you achieve business goals. These site-level goals will guarantee each ensuing decision supports your organization.

Abound, a client of the MAC, provides guidance on schools across the US. Its goals include serving a previously untapped audience (adult students) and positioning themselves as a leader in the college guidance market. These goals directly dictate the site’s functionality and design.

Tied to your goals, your content mission statement steers audience-focused content.

The Content Marketing Institute offers a great template:

Abound’s content mission statement is:

Action step: Outline your goals and fill out the content mission statement template.

Element 2: Conduct an audience analysis

Knowing our audience’s needs, wants and desires is essential. This detailed understanding is key to providing them with helpful information. The more helpful you are, the more likely they are to reciprocate by subscribing/purchasing/etc.

This process, officially called persona development, is tightly woven into the MAC’s Discovery method. Asking key questions on the front-end helps ensure your audience is effectively and efficiently targeted.

Action step: Ask the audience.

The questions you ask will slightly differ depending on if you’re targeting organizations or individual consumers, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

Element 3: Messaging matters

Now that you’re in tune with your audience, how will you craft messaging to inspire action? What voice and tone will resonate?

Remember, how you speak to your customers is not necessarily how you want to be spoken to.

Action step: Create a brief guide outlining your messaging standards. Don’t pull your hair out; just jot down your approach on paper (or Google Doc) so any member of your team can write copy with your voice. MailChimp has a phenomenal example.

Element 4: Determine web features

Before you jump into what your website will look like (don’t worry, you’ll get there), consider what features and capabilities need to be integrated. Examples include email signups, calendars, ability to buy a product or make a donation, lead capturing, and responsive display.

Going back to Abound, its site needed to house thousands of colleges and their unique offerings. The solution: a custom database enabling users to filter schools by college, program, class type, location and more.

Action step: Compile a big wish list of features. Then, prioritize the features that are most critical for when your website launches.

Element 5: Get organized with an information architecture

Don’t let the phrase “information architecture” scare you. We’re not asking you to pull out your protractor.

If it helps, think of information architecture as an outline or site map illustrating your content and navigation. You must consider your target audience, features and data comprising your website.

Gather a team of designers and content strategists for this step. If you are stuck, ask the experts.

Action step: List out all your possible pages, how they will link, and what they will be called.

Element 6: Conduct a content inventory and audit

Your information architecture serves as your guide for content and copywriting. So, what do you have and what will you need to create?

Take inventory of what content you have to work with. This content could live onsite or offsite.

Next, carefully audit what you’ve collected. Is this quality content? Is the messaging on-brand? Will it meet audience needs?

Action step: Review your inventory and evaluate the quality.

Element 7: Plan your web content

Now you can select appropriate topics to address customer needs and fill in content gaps.

All content topics you produce need to serve a purpose, whether it’s entertaining, informational, helpful, or some combination. This purpose should be directly tied to your marketing funnel.

For instance, an infographic linking to a landing page serves prospects at the top of the funnel or awareness phase. An informational webinar, demonstrating how you solve a problem, belongs in the middle of the funnel.

Finding the sweet spot between topic, content type, and buyer’s journey ensures your content is intentional and drives site visitors through your marketing funnel.

But how will a prospect find your content? Introducing, content hubs.

Your topics, or keywords, should form content hubs. Developing hubs means your site is meaningful for visitors and is search friendly.

Action steps:

Identify your key topics and affiliated keywords. Here is a SEO guide to get you started.

Plan out what types of content (landing pages, blog posts, videos, ebooks, photography, etc.) you will produce to support your topics and marketing funnel.

If needed, go back and adjust the information architecture to sync with the new content you are planning.

Element 8: Determine ownership

By now, you have a solid plan of what you will create and where it will go on your website. But, who is going to create all this wonderful, actionable content…and when?

This is where ownership comes in. Establishing ownership is essential for well-managed content that builds a strong brand image.

Web design and development is a multidisciplinary practice. Delineate who is responsible for content creation, production, distribution, and maintenance.

Establish your workflows — who is responsible for each step, and the order of those steps.

Also falling under the ownership umbrella are brand standards and messaging guides. You want your audience to know your content is your organization’s just by the way it looks or sounds.

Action step: Create two documents. One is a working document specifying your brand and messaging standards. (If you followed this outline, you should already have your messaging standards ready to go.) Another is your editorial calendar specifying what, when, where, and who.

Put the elements of a content strategy to work

To avoid random acts of content and a bloated website, gather your team — and web strategists — and start creating your web content strategy.

The purpose of creating a plan is to transform the experience for your team and your audience. The result: a website that helps you meet your business goals.

This article is also published on Medium.