In my last dispatch to you all, I provided the first set of what I think are the essentials of marketing. The main idea was that, while you can always try new experiments that break through the noise of the marketplace, you need to ensure that your bases are totally covered. The essentials are always evolving. A lot of the things that are on this list really didn't exist all that long ago. But that hardly matters: today, you need to have these things if you want to operate a solid presence.
Today, I want to provide the balance of the list: three more things that you need to make sure you have in place to be the 21st century marketing powerhouse that you know you can be. Remember, these are the things that you just need to have - not all of them need to be totally blown out and you may prioritize one over the others. You may decide that your potential path to success is by going heavy on one of these, and doing just a bit on some of the others. The important thing is that you consider each one of these completely before setting off in too many experimental directions.
Essential 4: A Broad Activity That Isn't (Exactly) Selling Your Product
Increasingly, people want to understand the companies that they are doing business with as more than just a supplier of things. They want to get a sense of what the company values and how it thinks about the world as a whole. The best way for a brand to do this is to become involved in something that isn't directly about selling your brand, but rather a part of a community as a whole. This could be as simple as sponsoring the local softball team or museum exhibit. This could also be your social responsibility project, working to improve the environment or support a community.
The important thing about this, from an advertising and a digital perspective, is to ensure that you not only let people know about this, but also get them involved in it. By creating sections of your Facebook presence, for example, that highlight the work you are doing in a community, you can not only attract new people to the brand (and give them a sense of the sort of people you are) but also provide ways for them to participate. You want to find ways to allow people to participate with you as you are a part of the community as a whole. This could be as simple as asking people to help spread the word (via sharing, for example) or even to pledge time or money. But take a stand and give people a clear way to participate. That's the important thing.
Essential 5: A Home (and a Few Sub-Homes)
This seems like a no-brainer at this point, but your brand needs a home base, where everything that you do can be easily found. This should definitely be a website, but it's become a bit more complicated than that. You also need to make sure that you have a space on the places where consumers are living. That means you need to have at least a presence on sites like YouTube and Vimeo, Twitter and Pinterest, and LinkedIn and SlideShare. All of these presences should connect back to your main home (which is most likely your main website). But you have to make sure that you have a simple and well-defined presence in these spots. Don't leave any out. Even if you don't plan on ever posting a video, make sure that your brand is alive on YouTube. You can point to other videos that you think may be important or interesting if you don't have anything else to put up, but that would be somewhat lame. If nothing else, sit your CEO down for five minutes and have her tell the story of the company, or describe your best product, or talk about why you are located in the place where you are located. Just make sure that you show up when someone does a search.
Essential 6: A Never-Ending Pasta Bowl of Content
This is probably the newest thing that brands are just beginning to realize that they need to have. The fact of the matter is, you are no longer interacting with people (current and prospective consumers) just through broadcast ads. You are talking with them consistently, often in somewhat casual ways, generally through social media channels. Now, you can simply go on social media and tell a joke or take a photo of a sunset, like most people do. But, for brands, the bar is a bit higher. You need to bring something of value to the conversation and that generally means providing some kind of content.
Now, content has quickly become everyone in marketing's favorite word, and it's at risk of being overused and under-defined. That is, people are calling just about everything "content," from short tweets to long films. Plus, there has been a sharp upward trend in the chatter around "content marketing." Many brands are finding themselves in a spot where they realize they need to do content marketing but are not quite sure how to do it.
But this is an essential, nonetheless, so we should be sure to have a solid and simple definition of what it is. Content is something that you can provide to a consumer that sparks a conversation or at least sparks some curiosity, but isn't directly a sales pitch. So, a coupon isn't content, but the story of someone using a coupon is.
You need to begin collecting these pieces of content and have them available to use in these social media settings. These pieces can be things you create yourself or they can be things that you want to point to (news stories, for example) that are relevant to both you and your brand. Have a collection of these available and dole them out through your channels.
That's all. Those are the essentials, at least as I see them. Please remember that this list is meant to free you, not constrain you. Once you get all of these simple things sorted out, you can be confident that you're doing the right things to grow your brand. And once you have confidence, then you can really start to explore.
Essentials image on home page via Shutterstock.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
March 19, 2014