When you drop a pebble into a body of water, the splash creates ripples that multiply and expand outward symmetrically. The ripples get larger and larger, reaching more and more space within the water.
Some people like to imagine effective content marketing in that way – an ever-expanding item that continuously reaches farther and wider than before.
Samantha Stone, founder and CMO of The Marketing Advisory Network, isn’t satisfied with that. Ripples are predictable and monotonous, and if you replicate them with your content, she argues, you’re not considering the experience that your audience is having.
Check out Samantha’s full opinion on content marketing as a ripple effect as well as much more in this exclusive interview!
In This Conversation:
- What “resonance” means to Samantha
- How clients push back against a resonance-forward content model
- How content marketing teams are now both creators and marketers
- More productive organizational structures for content marketing teams
- The importance of personalization for effective resonance
What comes to mind for you when you think of the word “resonance”?
“Resonance” is interesting. I wanted to look up the definition of it because I had an intuitive feeling of what the word meant, and I wanted to double-check my intuition. It turns out I was mainly correct. Merriam-Webster’s definition is: a sound that’s produced in one object that’s caused by the sound or vibration of another. The reason I think that’s so interesting is: in marketing, we have to think about it the same way. Generally, we don’t, when we create things.
Resonance is a lot more than just being relevant with our content. We as marketers talk a lot about building content that’s relevant to our audience. That is meaningful and important. But we have an obligation today – because of how much content is being produced, and how diverse the audience is, and how busy they are, and how many places they read and watch content – that we actually have to create experiences so that we’re not only relevant, but that our audience finds themselves in the material that we’re producing – that we’re actually playing off of each other.
My son just started at RIT in upstate New York. When we went to his Accepted Student Open House a few months ago, there was a gentleman walking up and down the aisles playing the violin. And I thought, this is a rather unusual thing for a technology school. But they explained later that he was only playing a small number of notes, and that the instrument had been programmed to take a cue from the notes that were played and to create the rest of the song. Only every once in awhile, would he redirect it by playing a few notes, and the instrument would redirect itself.
For me, that’s the same analogy. We want to create a rhythm that kicks somebody off, but then we want them to pick that up and make it their own. And interact with what they’ve made, and have that evolution back and forth.
Like a ripple effect, with the content we’re producing?
More than a ripple effect. What bothers me about the ripple effect is that it’s essentially the same thing moving outward. With meaningful resonance, we don’t just take our kernel and project it outward multiple times as a copy. We change our content and the way we create it based on the iterations we have with our audience. Their viewing of it, their feedback about it, their modification of it for their own purposes – they all inform what we create. Rather than a ripple effect, it potentially becomes a very different thing than we may have started out doing.
As a content strategist, what are some of the ways that clients are pushing back against a resonance-forward model?
I’m not going to walk into a boardroom and walk out with money for my resonance campaign. They’re not going to understand that.
Here’s the reality: when I show someone the research on what the buyers want and the strategy to apply it, I don’t get a lot of push-back. What’s the alternative? To create more stuff “about us”? More data sheets and collateral?
Conceptually, I find it very easy to talk about this notion of relevance and resonance, and focusing on the people that we’re trying to sell to. The challenge comes in the day-to-day operationalizing of that vision – when the CEO has a board meeting and wants a shiny new object to show. Or a salesperson just got off a phone call and says gosh, I desperately need this. All of a sudden, we get torn away from our core mission, and we start trying to create every content that’s ever worked for the company.
I firmly believe that content marketing is struggling, in every organization I go to, because they are actually no longer responsible for content marketing – they become responsible for content. That is a very dangerous slippery slope that cannot happen. We cannot write every proposal template, every web page. When content marketing becomes responsible to those day-to-day fire drills, it is impossible to stay true to the vision of what really needs to be done to move buyers forward.
What do you see as a more productive organizational approach? Should you have a communications team that handles that?
A portion of the content strategist’s job is to create efficiency within that organization. They have to be disciplined about taking time to create the structure, process, and tools that let them scale, and we have to give it to them. We have to set goals and metrics that gear towards that as opposed to just being responsive.
Candidly, most content marketing organizations struggle because the content marketers are effectively measured on the amount of content that’s produced. We need to go back to measuring them on the effectiveness of that content, so that they can be more disciplined about where they pay attention.
What role does personalization play in content resonation?
There is no way to build content that resonates without personalization. But I want to be really clear on what I think personalization is. To me, personalization does not require that I know everything about you as an individual. Nor is it replacing (First Name) with my name. It’s not personal to me that suddenly this video has my name in it, or my logo appears on the screen. It does uplift response rates to do those things. But that’s not really the heart of personalization.
To me, the heart of personalization is using everything I happen to know about you. Whether it be an order you placed in the past, some content you consumed in the past, or a conversation you had with my sales team – whatever it is about you that I’ve learned. That I use that to direct the right types of content that are likely going to have resonant, interactive feedback bouncing off itself. If we truly want to resonate with our audience, that’s the only way we’re going to do that with consistency and predictability.