Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook 1


Where’s your phone?

In your back pocket? On the table in front of you? In your hands because you’re using it to read this book? It’s probably somewhere within easy reach, unless you’re one of those people who are constantly misplacing their phones and my question has you rummaging through the laundry basket again or checking under your car seat. If you’re in a public space, look around. I mean it, pop your head up. What do you see? Phones. Some people are doing the old-fashioned thing and using them to actually talk to another person. But I predict that someone, and probably several someones, within a four-foot radius is playing Dots. Or double-tapping a picture. Or composing a status update. Or sharing a picture. Or tweeting. In fact, unless you’re visiting Aunt Sally in the nursing home—and even then, you’d be surprised at how iPads are crashing the ninety-year-old demo lately—it’s more than likely that almost everyone around you has a smartphone in his or her possession, and if not a phone, then a tablet. I know this because there are nearly 325 million mobile subscriptions in the United States alone. And when people are using their devices, it’s probable that almost half are networking on social media. If I wrote that line correctly, it should read with the kind of serious tone we reserve for Very Important News. But what’s the big deal? By now everyone gets it—social media is everywhere. It has changed the way society lives and communicates. It’s no longer just the first adopters and the young who are hooked—71 percent of people in the United States are on Facebook, more than a half billion globally are on Twitter—a population that includes everyone from the pope to a parrot named Rudy, and almost every small business in America in between —and almost half of all social network users check in on these sites at least once a day, often as soon as they wake up in the morning. It has altered the way people fall in and out of relationships, stay in touch with family, and find jobs. Finally, there are few if any holdouts who will deny that today business simply can’t be done without it, especially when one in four people say they use social media sites to inform their purchasing decisions.* Boomers, who control 70 percent of U.S. spending, increased their social usage 42 percent in one year. Moms, the buyers and budget analysts for most families, are all over it. The eyeballs marketers want to reach, the ones belonging to people who make purchasing decisions and who have money to spend, are spending increasing amounts of time on social media sites. They are doing this because they are no longer tied to their laptops and PCs to get their social media fix. Thanks to their smartphones and tablets—and eventually, their glasses and who knows what else— where they go, their social networks go, too. Social media is like crack—immediately gratifying and hugely addictive. With their mobile devices in hand, people may as well be getting intravenous drips of the stuff, a constant and incredibly noisy stream of information, imagery, and interaction. And as with any drug (so I’m told—dead serious, I’ve never tried anything), the more they get, the more they want. That’s why it matters that more than half the total U.S. mobile population are using their mobile devices to engage on social media sites—they’re there so much that it’s starting to alter the way they want to interact with brands, services, and businesses, even when they’re not on social media sites. Very Important News? You bet your ass it is. HOW SOCIAL BLENDED INTO DIGITAL This statistic alters current fundamental marketing principles. Over the last half decade, marketers have learned to divide their campaigns into three categories—traditional, digital, and social. We knew that traditional marketing had begun to lose much of its relevance and reach with the advent of the Internet and digital media options pulling the audience away from television commercials and print. Still, when properly aligned, these three platforms could often complement each other effectively. But now that people are addicted to their social networks, they get itchy when their media experience doesn’t have a social element, and they move on. Social media is no longer just pulling the audience away from traditional marketing; it’s cannibalizing digital media, too. The evidence is clear. Emails, banner ads, search engine optimization (SEO)—the power of all these stalwart digital marketing tactics of the Internet era is diminishing, with one exception: when the digital platform has a social media component. In fact, adding a social layer to any platform immediately increases its effectiveness.

Anyone who pays attention to media trends and history shouldn’t be surprised. It’s natural that every new marketing platform would usurp the one that came before. Radio leached away the audience for print, TV poached the audience for radio, the Internet stole audience from every one of these old platforms, and now social media (which is really just the evolution of the Internet) is well on its way to overtaking them all. What’s astounding, however, even to me, is the speed at which this progression is happening. It took thirty-eight years before 50 million people gained access to radios. It took television thirteen years to earn an audience that size. It took Instagram a year and a half. With the instant access to social media made possible by mobile devices, there’s no such thing as undivided attention anymore.* It’s not just that people are scrolling Facebook on their laptops while hanging out on the couch half watching The Voice. They’re sharing on Pinterest while crossing the street. They’re loading on Instagram while driving. And while they’re tweeting at the supermarket, they’re starting to ignore the expensive endcaps brands paid for at the end of the aisles, as well as the displays of candy and magazines in front of the registers.* From a personal safety point of view, mobile social networks are a disaster—no one is looking where they’re going. But from a marketing perspective, the writing is on the wall: The fastest-growing marketing sector getting people’s attention is social media. The strict dividing lines between marketing categories can no longer exist—they must all be blanketed with a layer of social. The problem is, most companies, marketers, and entrepreneurs haven’t gotten the message, and so they persist in overpaying for diminishing returns. It’s not that businesses aren’t trying. Many were dragged kicking and screaming to social media, but by now most understand that having a Facebook page and a Twitter account is critical for brand visibility and credibility. So they’re there. They’re just still not doing it right. While companies were getting comfy cozy with the idea of being on social media platforms, social media transcended those platforms, and few businesses have followed. Marketers and business leaders have got to catch up. People want to be social wherever they consume their media. This means that you need to fold a social element into all of your creative, including for traditional media, and into every interaction with your customers, whether by commenting on Tumblr, gamifying a banner ad, engaging on a news aggregator, or sending people to Facebook at the end of your thirty-second radio spot. From now on, every platform should be treated as a social networking platform. And now that your consumer is mobile, you’d better be, too. A quick look at many companies’ marketing efforts reveals that many have caught on that mobile networks and apps present the biggest opportunity for brand growth. They are disseminating content all across the mobile social media board, making their presence known on all of the most popular networks, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. For the most part, their content looks like this:

With the exception of the Twitter feed, can you tell which platform is which? Though some platforms may eventually implement changes that might alter this scenario by the time this book goes to press, as of this writing, you can’t. I write this with the utmost respect: Marketers, small businesses, celebrities, I know you’re trying, but with a few exceptions, the content you’re putting out there sucks. You know why? Because even though consumers are now spending 10 percent of their time with mobile (a number that is soon going to be much higher), you’re investing only 1 percent of your ad budget there. You can’t just repurpose old material created for one platform, throw it up on another one, and then be surprised when everyone yawns in your face. No one would ever think it was a good idea to use a print ad for a television commercial, or confuse a banner ad for a radio spot. Like their traditional media platform cousins, every social media platform has its own language. Yet most of you haven’t bothered to learn it. Most big companies haven’t put in the financial resources, and most small businesses and celebrities aren’t putting in the time. You’re like tourists in Oslo who haven’t bothered to study a word of Norwegian. How can you expect anyone to care what you have to say? Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a small business, or a Fortune 500 company, great marketing is all about telling your story in such a way that it compels people to buy what you are selling. That’s a constant. What’s always in flux, especially in this noisy, mobile world, is how, when, and where the story gets told, and even who gets to tell all of it. This book will show you how to create the kind of shareable, relevant, value-driven content that ensures consumers always pay attention to your story, no matter where they go, and then that they pass on your content, creating the word of mouth critical to actually making the sale. Ultimately, that’s the real reason to do any of this—because social media sells shit. HOW STORYTELLING IS LIKE BOXING Until recently, traditional marketing was nothing but a one-sided boxing match, with businesses slamming right hooks onto the same three or four platforms—radio, television, print, outdoor, and then later, the Internet—as fast and as often as possible. “Two for one, today only!” Punch. “Grab your keys and come on in!” Punch. “Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!” Punch. It was an unfair fight, but it worked. Customers had to take the hit since they had nowhere else to go to consume their media. Social media, however, finally gave them an advantage. Now the match was taking place on a platform that allowed them to demand a change in how the game was played. They were going to demand more time. They wanted their brands and companies to spar with them a little, pay attention to them, let them voice their opinions and concerns, and make the brand their own before giving them a shot at the hard sell. From now on, marketers were going to have to spend a lot more time jabbing at their consumer before landing their right hook. That’s why I spent the majority of my last two books explaining how to jab properly, even though I knew that managers and marketers cared mostly about right hooks. Jabs are the lightweight pieces of content that benefit your customers by making them laugh, snicker,
ponder, play a game, feel appreciated, or escape; right hooks are calls to action that benefit your businesses. It’s just like when you’re telling a good story—the punch line or climax has no power without the exposition and action that come before it. There is no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup. Ironically, over the past few years, the same technology that made it possible for marketers to successfully jab—to use social media to tell their story by engaging directly with their customers—has also made it ten times harder to actually reach those customers and convert the sale. Even the businesses that got in on social media early are now seeing diminishing returns on some of their efforts. While they’re working to get those jabs just right (and there is still room for a lot of improvement), companies also need to update and improve their right hook techniques. They need to pay attention to context. They need to think about timing. They need to start respecting the platforms and understand the nuances that make them interesting. At the heart of the content quality crisis is the fact that many marketers and small businesses still don’t believe in social media or even really understand it. They have a presence on social media platforms, but only because they realized they had to in order to be taken seriously. Though the interaction required by social media is like oxygen and sunshine to people like me, and others who have built successful businesses through these platforms, many marketers remain skeptical. Publicly, they claim to be thrilled to have the opportunity to engage directly with their customers; privately, they suspect, maybe even fervently hope, that Facebook and its spawn are fads. Because things were a heck of a lot easier before social media. If you were a big business you created a campaign, like the Geico cavemen, plastered it as far and as wide as possible, and sat back to see what happened. You used the same images and ideas for television, print, and outdoor. If the reports showed the campaign didn’t work, you blamed the data collection technique or some other random element. After six months, regardless of whether the campaign worked or not, you scrapped it and started over with a brand-new one. If you were a small business, you sent some fliers in the mail, created a cute little Yellow Pages ad, ran a local radio ad, and waited for people to come in. If you were really forward-thinking in the late first decade of the 2000s, you did some SEO! Wow! Now, if you truly understand how marketing works today, you know there is no individual sixmonth campaign; there’s only the 365-day campaign, during which you produce new content daily. Maybe you come up with three big campaign ideas—if you’re Geico, it might be the gecko, Maxwell the Pig, and Dikembe Mutombo happily blocking the shot—but you run them simultaneously, selecting a different platform for each, and only using the one that gets the strongest response as the seed for a television ad. Now, if you know what you’re doing, you scour the Internet daily, searching for references to your product or service so you can jump in on the conversation, or scrambling at a moment’s notice to respond to a 2:47 P.M. complaint via Twitter. To do social media right is harder and requires more time and effort than most people realize. And though the analytics get more accurate and sophisticated by the day, even the best right hooks can sometimes take a while to offer quantifiable, data-driven proof that they worked (like when you post call-to-action driven content asking people to buy airline tickets or a bottle of wine). So though the majority of marketers and businesspeople are working with social media, a lot of them are still questioning the value of the platforms, and few respect them enough to fully invest, either financially or philosophically. It shows. It shows in the low frequency of their posts, the inferior quality of their content, the lack of ingenuity with which they approach each new medium even as it gains in popularity, and worst of all, in the shocking lack of effort put toward showing care and respect for any community that has formed around their business despite all the previously listed failings. Here’s how most marketers react to new platform: Someone emails them an article that says something like Snapchat is exploding, so they head over to the site to see what it’s about. They spend a few minutes there and see a bunch of drunken twenty-five-year-olds posting bikini shots and text saying, “Walking the dog!” “Anchovies . . . FTW!” They write the site off as a waste of time and don’t come back until twelve months later, when everyone and their aunt is using it, at which point they make a big announcement praising themselves, as though being last in line is something to be proud of: “Look what we did! Isn’t it exciting? See how responsive we are?” It’s embarrassing. It pisses me off. (It also makes me perversely happy because their cluelessness has a definite upside for my clients, my friends, and for me.) A smart entrepreneur or open-minded brand manager, however, will head over to a new platform, see the bikini shots, and think, “How can I do better?” He or she will spend twelve months securing a solid dominance over the platform in their category, all the while reaping tons of earned media as bloggers and reporters chronicle their progress and analyze their strategy, and attracting the best young talent because the students coming out of business school want to work at progressive businesses. You’d think, given the advantages, that brands and small businesses would be scrambling to be first to market on these platforms, but most of the time their fear of failure, their legal department’s fear of lawsuits, or their perceived lack of
time outweighs their sense of possibility. They are playing defense instead of offense. Here’s my dirty secret: Though I get to things early and can often see the future, I’m not Nostradamus. I’m not even Yoda. I’m just the kind of person who shows new platforms the respect they deserve. I won’t predict what platform will see 20 million users in a year, but once it feels to me like it will, I put my money and my time there, testing the waters, trying new formulas, until I figure out how to best tell my story in a way the audience for that platform wants to hear. I can’t believe how many marketers will dismiss the media habits of five million people. Just because your teenage daughter and her friends are excited about a new platform does not mean that that platform is irrelevant to you or your brand. You may not see any value in sharing your thoughts on nail polish, or posting a picture every time you get a new tattoo, or telling the world every time you set foot in a Wendy’s, but when 20 million other people do, you need to do something with that information. Ignoring platforms that have gained critical mass is a great way to look slow and out-of-touch. Do not cling to nostalgia. Do not put your principles above the reality of the market. Do not be a snob. You cannot win big in social media if you’re going to be afraid of emerging technology. Those of us who spent time on YouTube in 2006 watched more than our fair share of dumbasses putting Mentos in cola or dressing their cats in silly outfits. But like a parent who knows that the infant currently squeezing handfuls of peas into mush will grow up to use a fork and knife, we had faith that this platform hadn’t yet reached its full maturity or potential. Some people saw an amateur video distribution site; we saw the future of television. For my part, I experimented and tested ideas to see what worked; I created an opening hook like an old-time radio program to make myself more meme-orable. I approached it as a major platform, and so did a lot of other people who are now big-name brands. (And they didn’t make the huge misstep to leave YouTube for Viddler in 2007, leaving millions of free views on the table, like I did. Even I screw up sometimes!) We didn’t do anything more than take the platform seriously and put in a massive amount of effort to figure out how to make them work for us, committing to the same intense process of testing and observation as any champion boxer before a fight. A boxer spends a lot of time analyzing his own technique, but spends an equal amount of time analyzing his competitor’s technique, too. Even when two fighters meet in the ring for the very first time, they already know each other well. For months before the match, in addition to their regular predawn training in the gym and practice ring, the competitors spend hundreds of hours studying each other on film. Like insanely fit behavioral scientists, they analyze every move and swing their opponent has made in previous fights, repeatedly rewinding and rewatching footage in an attempt to memorize their opponent’s technique, and particularly, the tics and habits that can warn a fighter of the swing that’s about to come. Does the opponent blink before he throws with his right hand? Does he hesitate to come back after getting hit with a cross? Does he drop his hands when he gets tired? Finally, on the day of the fight, a boxer will take all of this information into the ring with him, armed with a strategy precisely calibrated to take advantage of his opponent’s weaknesses and protect himself from the other’s strengths, so he can use his best moves to maneuver himself into a winning position. If, whenever they approached a platform, more marketers prepared their stories with the same intensity as boxers, they’d create much better content. Like great boxers, great storytellers are observant and self-aware. A great storyteller is keenly attuned to his audience; he knows when to slow down for maximum suspense and when to speed up for comic effect. He can sense when he’s losing people’s interest and can make adjustments to his tone or even to the story itself to recapture their attention. Online marketing requires the same kind of audience awareness, which we can achieve thanks to the tremendous data mining opportunities at our fingertips. The real-time feedback that social media makes possible allows brands and businesses to test and retest, with scientific precision, what content connects with their audience, and what leaves them cold. Ignoring the deep analytics available for your fan page through Facebook (and through other platforms soon) is the equivalent of stepping into the ring without even having watched a video of your opponent during a fight. WHAT MAKES A GREAT STORY? A great marketing story is one that sells stuff. It creates an emotion that makes consumers want to do what you ask them to do. If you’re a mobile company, you want to motivate people to sign up for a subscription to your service; if you’re Disney, you want to impel people to book flights and hotels and come spend money at your park; if you’re a nonprofit, you want to move people to make a donation. Your story isn’t powerful enough if all it does is lead the horse to water; it has to inspire the horse to drink, too. On social media, the only story that can achieve that goal is one told with native content. Native content amps up your story’s power. It is crafted to mimic everything that makes a
platform attractive and valuable to a consumer—the aesthetics, the design, and the tone. It also offers the same value as the other content that people come to the platform to consume. Email marketing was a form of native content. It worked well during the 1990s because people were already on email; if you told your story natively and provided consumers with something they valued on that platform, you got their attention. And if you jabbed enough to put them in a purchasing mind-set, you converted. The rules are the same now that people spend their time on social media. It can’t tell you what story to tell, but it can inform you how your consumer wants to hear it, when he wants to hear it, and what will most make him want to buy from you. For example, supermarkets or fast-casual restaurants know from radio data that one of the ideal times to run an ad on the radio is around 5:00 P.M., when moms are picking up the kids and deciding what to make for dinner, and even whether they have the energy to cook. Social gives you the same kind of insight. Maybe the data tells you that you should post on Facebook early in the morning before people settle into the workplace, and then again at noon when they’re taking a lunch break. The better you learn the psychology and habits of your social media consumers, the better you can tell the right story at the right time. A story is at its best when it’s not intrusive, when it brings value to a platform’s consumers, and when it fits in as a natural step along the customer’s path to making a purchase. Only you know what your story should actually say. At one point it might be “Our barbecue sauce will win you first prize at the chili cook-off,” but later you might decide it’s more important to tell the story that “our barbecue sauce has all-natural, locally sourced ingredients.” How did MasterCard know the time was right for the “Priceless” campaign? Nike had tried a number of stories before it hit on “Just Do It.” There are a number of tropes that often work, but ultimately the story that you decide needs telling can change from day to day, even from hour to hour. The perfect story is spun from your intimate knowledge of your history, your competition’s history, and increasingly, what you see going on in the world and what you discover your consumers want to talk about. Whatever story you tell, you must remain true to your brand. Native storytelling doesn’t require you to alter your identity to suit a given platform; your identity remains the same no matter what. I’ll behave one way when I’m giving a presentation to a client in Washington, D.C., another way while I’m standing on the train platform waiting to head home, and yet another way when I’m watching football with my friends that night. But I’m always the same guy. Different platforms allow you to highlight different aspects of your brand identity, and each jab you make can tell a different part of your story. Have fun with that. One of the biggest mistakes big brands make is to insist that their tone remain exactly the same no matter what platform they’re using. In clinging to this outdated model, they’re missing out on one of the greatest benefits of social media—always having more than one option. Entrepreneurs will have an easier time taking advantage of these options because they aren’t bogged down by the same red tape as Fortune 500 companies. While entrepreneurs and start-ups can respond with ease to real-time consumer feedback, corporate companies usually take a long time to steer their big old ships around. Because of their smaller size, entrepreneurs can make decisions quickly. Because they don’t have a herd of lawyers analyzing their every word, they can keep their sense of humor. They are able to retain their personality and humanity no matter what platform they’re on. Once start-ups grow enough to join the ranks of Corporate America, they often become overly cautious and start sticking to the safest, narrowest lane they can find. THE SWEET SCIENCE Marketers are constantly asking me for a fixed storytelling blueprint, something that delineates the optimal number of jabs before it’s appropriate to throw a right hook. That blueprint doesn’t exist. Social media storytelling is as sweet a science as boxing, requiring constant experimentation and hours of observation. Successful online content marketers pay especially close attention to variables such as environmental fluctuations and demographic shifts. At what times do we see the highest level of response? What happens when we use slang? How does the same image work with different taglines? Did it make a difference to add a hashtag? Is there an increase in engagement when we put out animated GIFs? The answers are out there if you learn how to test properly and correctly interpret the data. You can see right away how many people heart on Instagram; how many fans share and comment on Facebook; who repins on Pinterest and how often; how many people reblog and write notes on Tumblr. Allocating the time and budget for these analyses can be tough for both small and large businesses, but it is imperative. It’s not enough to experiment—you have to respond to what the results tell you. This is how you devise a formula to guide your future storytelling on the platform. But that formula should be treated only as an overarching framework, because like any boxer, you can’t use the same move over and over again. A fighter will concentrate on
trying to hit his opponent’s body if he learns that the competitor is reluctant to get hit there. But the next guy he fights might not be afraid to get hit in the body, so he’ll have to change his approach. Similarly, each platform is unique, and requires a unique formula. What works on Facebook won’t necessarily work on Twitter. Stories told through pictures on Instagram don’t resonate the same way when told in an identical manner on Pinterest. Posting the same content on Tumblr as on Google+ is the equivalent of the tourist deciding that since he can’t speak Norwegian he’ll just speak Icelandic and it will do. That’s stupid. Both languages share similar roots and are spoken by tall, gorgeous blondes, but aside from that, they’re totally different.* Today, getting people to hear your story on social media, and then act on it, requires using a platform’s native language, paying attention to context, understanding the nuances and subtle differences that make each platform unique, and adapting your content to match. There is a science to creating memorable, effective social media content for mobile that converts fans into customers. Now is the time to learn it. Today’s perfect right hooks always include three characteristics:

  1. They make the call to action simple and easy to understand. 2. They are perfectly crafted for mobile, as well as all digital devices. 3. They respect the nuances of the social network for which you are making the content.
    I’ll share more information that can help you improve your jabs, but I would like to try to get you to start throwing them in different places than you’re accustomed. I used to talk about going where the eyeballs go, but consumers would need sixteen eyeballs apiece to keep up with the multitude of devices and media that compete for their attention now. Every marketer’s goal is to reach consumers at the moment when they’re most influenced to buy. To do that, you need to be where they are. That’s a tough proposition when where they are is changing all the time, but it can be done. No matter where you go to meet your customer, however, you had better show up with a knockout story, and some killer content with which to tell it

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