Last week, digital marketers from around the globe descended upon Vancouver, British Columbia for the sixth annual Call to Action Conference presented by Unbounce. Attendees enjoyed two days of great networking, tasty Pacific Northwest treats and coffee, engaging marketing-focused minigames, and, of course, a high-profile lineup of speakers who covered a wide range of disciplines.
From the impact of design on a prospective lead’s emotional state — the next time you see a picture of a watch in an ad, check the time; it’ll almost certainly be 10:10 or thereabouts, pointed out TriggerPoint Design’s William Leach — to how machine learning and AI-driven insights can be used in combination with human creativity, CTA19 covered a tremendous range of topics relevant to us as marketers.
It wouldn’t be possible to cover everything that all of the fantastic speakers brought to the table. So instead, we pared the list down to 8 of our favorite tips, insights, and lessons we learned at CTA19.
Oli Gardner - Most of Us Aren’t the High-IQ Marketers We Could Be
Okay, this one feels a little like cheating. Unbounce’s Oli Gardner was the keynote speaker, who set the tone for the two days to come after him. His keynote presentation was about the differences in “marketing IQ” — that is, the thought that goes into the work we create and the plans we make.
Most of the marketers at the conference, hopefully, weren’t “low IQ” in how they approached their work; however, there was a good chance, Oli said, that many of us were “fixed IQ.” There was nothing necessarily poor about the work we did, but much of it was, well, standard. The norm. Fixed. Most of the time, as digital marketers, we’re content to repeat what we know works rather than trying something new or innovative that could possibly put us ahead of the game.
The rest of the conference would be devoted to ways that we, as marketers, can leave behind our “fixed IQ” ways and start being High-IQ marketers.
Sonia Thompson - Our Buyer Personas Need to Better Reflect Our Audience
Sonia Thompson, CEO of the Thompson Media Group, had some stellar insights into the current shortcomings many marketing agencies and departments face when it comes to buyer personas. In an era where people are more cognizant of different facets of their identities, and where millennials — increasingly the cohort with the largest purchasing power — want to buy from socially responsible companies, our old understandings of personas might not fully hold up anymore.
For one, while personas can often leverage homophily — the attraction between similar people — they may be pushing away people who are dissimilar. As marketers, we should think about who we might be alienating with our personas as much as we are attracting others. One salient example she showed was of a wedding dress site; rather than having models who were predominantly thin, traditionally beautiful, and racially homogeneous, it advertised through photos of real couples, who were diverse in a multitude of ways from race to weight to sexuality. The message was clear: This wedding dress maker wanted to sell to everyone.
Of course, what you need to consider in your audience depends on your offering. There are a multitude of ways in which people differ; some may be very relevant to what you sell, while others may not be.
Businesses and marketers of course only have limited time and money, and so may often have too few marketing personas, which can exclude people inadvertently by not even marketing to them in the first place; the example Sonia gave was of a stocking manufacturer who didn’t consider how its products might look on persons with darker skin, and as such, completely excluded them from its customer pool.
However, just as important was the need to avoid insensitivity while trying to diversify your audience. A superficial understanding of diverse audiences can lead to coming off as tone-deaf at best or offensive at worst — do LGBTQ people really appreciate it if they feel that Pride Month is just an excuse to sell them rainbow-themed merchandise? Having true, holistic understandings of these communities and how to serve them in an authentic-seeming manner is important. If your marketing team is not a diverse one, then be sure to actually reach out to members of marginalized groups before the campaign that you think is culturally sensitive turns out to not be so at all.
Angie Schottmuller - Don’t Solicit Reviews, Hold Satisfaction Interviews
Angie’s presentation was full of great information and strategic advice, like the “6 S Formats of Social Proof” for elements of a business’ profile that demonstrate social approval and satisfaction (pictured below). But one thing that stuck out in the talk given by the founder of Artisan Interactive was this: Marketers, whether in-house or agency, are going the entirely wrong way about soliciting reviews.
Most of us will be content to send out an email with a link to our profile on a review site like Facebook, Yelp, or G2, and “fire and forget.” This is fixed IQ marketing! Sure, it can sometimes get user reviews, but it’ll rarely give us the glowing results we’re hoping for, and it can risk us losing control over the conversation.
Instead, Angie suggested, hold satisfaction interviews. Talk to your customers about the things that drove them to seek out your solution. What were they struggling with that brought them to you? What concerns did they have about your product, what results or solutions did they get from your product, and how satisfied are they, ultimately, with your product or service? From here, if someone says something that would make a great review or testimonial, follow up with them directly — even rephrase their answer for them, if need be — and ask if they’d post it.
Be sure to also include reviews for things like free trials or demos, so that people unsure if they should sign up can be encouraged to take the plunge. And always include names or other pieces of identity in testimonials, so that visitors can know the reviews come from real people.
Ross Simmonds - Three Rs for Effective Content Marketing
Foundation Marketing founder Ross Simmonds offered a three-R approach for high-IQ content marketing strategies: Research, Rethink, Remix. These three stages involve taking a new approach to content beyond just writing a blog or some social media posts and tossing them into the void, hoping they get traction somehow, or somewhere.
Your audience is already consuming the sort of content that they’re interested in, across the channels they like using. When you identify the channels that your audience uses — Reddit communities, Quora, Facebook groups, and so on — you can start seeing the content that most appeals to them. Look at metrics like shares, comments, upvotes, links, and so on, to identify what has the greatest traction, and build on that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just ape what other people have done (how fixed-IQ!), but rather, you should think about what other things and what other content might drive similar levels of engagement. Afterwards, check your own metrics to see how your audience is responding to the new content, and remix further — for instance, convert an infographic into a blog, a blog into a YouTube video, and such.
When you know the channels and the content that appeals to your audience, you’ll stand a much better shot at effectively reaching out to them.
Joanna Wiebe - The Best Copy Comes From Your Audience, Not a Copywriter
For someone recognized as a modern copywriting guru, it was strange to hear Joanna Wiebe say that the best, most effective marketing copy wasn’t going to come from a professional copywriter.
But her point was a salient one: No matter how effective, talented, and knowledgeable the copywriter, they’ll almost certainly never be able to speak to the real concerns of an audience as much as a member of that audience will. They’re the ones who understand the pain points, frustrations, and need for solutions in a real, lived manner. To that end, the most effective copy will be copy that echoes what prospects and customers are saying and thinking, repeating it back to them in a way they might not know that they really needed to hear.
One fantastic hack for finding this copy (“Copyhackers,” indeed!) was to use Google to search product reviews on Amazon, specifically looking for the phrase “tired of (keyword)”. This would return the real comments of people who were having issues that your product was meant to solve. Your copywriters can then turn these pain points into real, actionable, authentic-sounding messaging.
If that fails, then a great solution is to interview the founder of the company — who is, when you think about it, the very first customer; they’re someone who saw a need and decided to fix it. Alternatively, listen to recordings of sales calls and demos, and note the things the prospective customer asks.
Once you have good copy that speaks to the real concerns of the audience, it’s important to validate it through things like preference tests and user tests, so you know it works.
One extra note from Joanna’s presentation: The best messaging is that which straddles the line between “breakthrough” and “bust.” Find something that your audience is saying that sounds bold or different, and use it — for instance, the visceral messaging about a customer sweating, pictured below. Sometimes it’ll go bust, but sometimes, you’ll have a real breakthrough on your hands that connects with the audience far more effectively than polished, “safe” copy ever could.
Larry Kim - How Politics and “Star Trek” Make Great Ad Targeting
Much of the presentation from MobileMonkey’s Larry Kim was about chatbots and ways to best use tools like Facebook Messenger for marketing campaigns, and Larry certainly had quite a few insights into the effectiveness of messenger services and chatbots for marketers.
One of the most interesting tricks in Larry’s arsenal, though, was a fascinating little tip he called the “inverted unicorn targeting method.” The inverted unicorn is perfect for Facebook marketers on a budget, who need to get high engagement and see return on what limited spend they have.
With the inverted unicorn method, you use Facebook’s powerful features to target a hyper-narrow segment of the population, meaning that you can craft a message tailored to speak exactly to them. The example Larry used was an article he published about how to influence an election over social media using fake news. The promoted post used a meme featuring Romulan Senator Vreenak from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and was targeted at people who were both politically liberal and fans of DS9.
The result was a reach of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom wondered how many others were getting the reference. (The answer: All of them! It was marketed to DS9 fans, after all!)
This may not work for the most massive of campaigns, but it’s a nifty, clever trick for Facebook advertisers who need to do more with less.
Larry also further suggested a strong focus on remarketing, rather than regular marketing campaigns. If 70% of conversions come from remarketing, which is only 10% of overall ad spend, this means that 90% of ad spend generates just 30% of conversions, he pointed out. It’s much better to do a PR stunt to make people aware of your brand, then remarket to them.
Nadya Khoja - Content Marketers Should be Growth Marketers Who Can Write
By the time Nadya, chief growth officer at Venngage, took the stage on the second day, we’d heard quite a bit about skillful content marketing strategies. She came to drop a bombshell: Content marketing as many of us think about it is obsolete. For most fixed-IQ marketers, we’re content to just write another blog and send it into the ether and hope it gets traction; maybe we write some social to accompany it. Instead, Nadya suggested, content marketers should think of themselves as growth marketers instead — scientists who can write.
For many marketers, content is content is content. However, she pointed out, different content appeals to different markets and has different purposes and goals. Some content excels at getting high-quality links from professionals or the press, which can build your site’s SEO domain authority. Other content can go viral, getting lots of clicks and generating traffic; still other content can be effective at driving conversions like newsletter subscriptions — but these aren’t always the same piece of content. In fact, they’re usually not.
As such, content marketers should always be focusing on what she called the GRAP process: Goals, Research, Authority, Promote. Before you create a piece of content, identify your Goals — is this a traffic-driving blog? Then, do Research on which keywords are best for achieving this particular goal, start establishing Authority, and produce the content.
Many of us stop here. We spend 90% of our time creating the content and only 10% of the time promoting it, when those percentages should be far more equal — if not fully inverted! This is when you reach out to the press, when you reach out to other professionals for linkbacks, for cross-promotion. But, she cautioned, don’t sound like a robot. Sound real and authentic, and give someone reason to respond to you, rather than just deleting your email from their inbox.
Carl Schmidt - There’s No Such Thing as the One Best Landing Page
Similar to Nadya’s point about different pieces of content serving different purposes, Unbounce founder Carl Schmidt pointed out that the time-honored practice of A/B testing landing pages to try and find the Best Landing Page was actually rather inefficient. After all, don’t different people like different things? If some people get shown A, and others get shown B, but if A might work on people who get shown B and vice versa, then not only are we getting incorrect data, we’re losing out on conversion opportunities.
Furthermore, fear of underperforming variants can hold marketers back. We worry about losing possible conversions with poor variants of our landing pages, but in the process become paralyzed and unable to make a decision.
In the future, we might be able to have AI-generated landing pages for each visitor, tailored for them in a way that might be most effective, but for the time being, that might not be possible. What is possible is to have multiple landing pages — not just A and B, but C and D and E and so on — that AI can direct people to on a per-user basis, so that everyone is getting a landing page that might be most appealing to them.
There were tons of great speakers and presentations from CTA19, many we didn’t get a chance to talk about today, like Nir Eyal’s guide to not getting distracted at work, Talia Wolf’s explanation of how to leverage customers’ emotional triggers, and Dr. Brian Cugleman’s fascinating talk on how automated research and insights can drive conscious creative design. These were just some of our favorites.
Thanks for a great time, Call to Action Conference! We’ll see you for #CTA20 next year.