Mark is a digital marketer, social brand strategist, speaker, blogger and educator. AT&T has sponsored the following blog post.

I was watching one of my favorite TV ads in the Allstate “Mayhem” campaign.  In this ad, the Mayhem character appears as a vehicle’s blind spot, hanging on to the driver’s side window and preventing the driver from being able to see passing cars.  As the driver prepares to change lanes, Mayhem reassures her through the side mirror by saying “You’re good!”  Unfortunately for the driver this proves not to be the case, as she immediately clips a passing car and spins out, with Mayhem laughing maniacally throughout the whole ordeal. Seeing this ad got me thinking: as marketers, do the content needs of our audiences ever get caught in our blind spots? If you can’t see what your audience is looking for, you need a new strategy.

The View from the Outside of the Maze

Did you ever get that lonely feeling like you are standing on the outside of a maze—looking in?  You’re not lost exactly because you’re not actually in the maze, but because of that you’re not succeeding either.  It’s like you’re stuck on the outside with no idea how to come up with a solution.  A better understanding of your audience’s needs helps focus your content strategy.  Here is a simple definition of strategy, courtesy of Wikipedia: “A plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal.”  A solid strategy can help your small business achieve a competitive advantage.  Social media can become a game-changer for your small business, but without clear goals and objectives you’ll be essentially jumping into the social media fray blind.

Understanding your Social Media Buyer’s Behavior

Marketers need to understand the consumer’s basic buying process in order to provide solutions at each step.  Developing a viable content strategy starts with understanding what your buyer is trying to achieve (see Social Media Buyer Behavior Model below).  Once your buyer recognizes their problem, they will seek a resolution.  This leads to information gathering to identify solutions from multiple sources—friends, ads, search engines, etc.  The bigger the item’s ticket price the more time is spent searching for information.  Next, the buyer evaluates alternatives and begins to narrow their options before making a purchase.  The marketer’s goal is to generate awareness of a solution and educate the buyer with various forms of communication, leading them safely to the action phase. Highly satisfied buyers will endorse the brand and may even become brand ambassadors.

A Social Brand Creates an Emotional Connection

Marketers have moved beyond the experimentation phase in social media.  We are coming to understand that we must reach the new social consumer with engaging content across all the social channels they care about.  Edelman Digital defines a social brand as “any company, product or individual that uses social technologies to communicate with social customers, their partners and constituencies, or the general public.”

Here is the key: a social brand makes an emotional connection with its audience.  The brand represents a collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer—whether good or bad.  Dr. Philip Kotler has coined the term “brand resonance” to describe the relationship customers have with a brand and the extent to which they feel they’re “in sync” with it.  To achieve brand resonance, the brand must deliver an engaging online experience.

Great Content Fuels a Social Brand

The new competitive advantage in our demanding, ever-changing world is, quite simply, great content.  The social media marketer needs to develop an arsenal (yes, an arsenal) of quality content including great brand stories, testimonials, demos, photos and more.  Great content fuels marketers’ efforts to reach, engage and persuade buyers to purchase.  However, content is not a “one size fits all” proposition.  Buyers have different needs in each purchase stage.  Marketers must engage prospects at every stage in the buying process with content that matters.

Delivering the Right Content, to the Right Audience at the Right Time

Your number one goal is to create and deliver content in all the right forms and places, and in a way that is specifically mapped to your audience’s information needs and buying stages.  As a small business, you need to understand your customers’ social media consumption behavior.  If your prime prospect spends the majority of their time on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or their blog—that doesn’t leave much time for other media.  Why waste your time trying to reach them with media they don’t consume?  Leverage the power of social media by reaching your buyer where they enjoy hanging out.

The Power of a Positive Media Environment

In a previous blog, I highlighted the dramatic shift from outbound marketing’s intrusive selling approach to inbound marketing.  In the days when print media was king, the typical ad agency recommendation included running ads in publications where consumers had a high emotional investment (places where they would enjoy a good, fun read) versus publications that just pump out bad news.  The result: higher readership, retention and involvement with brands because the consumer is more receptive to messages viewed in a positive environment.  Now, with social media, marketers have the ability to reach and engage consumers on their turf as they share photos with friends, tweet news to the community, blog about topics friends and business associates love to read, connect on LinkedIn, etc.

Remember the Mayhem guy?  He reminds us:  “I’m your blind spot … I hide big things.”  Don’t let content mayhem keep you from rewarding your community with remarkable content.

In a recent blog, Cheryl Burgess, Managing Partner of Blue Focus Marketing, wrote: “Our lives are being transformed with the worldwide explosion of rapidly advancing social technologies.”  The Rutgers Center for Management Development (CMD) is leading the charge to teach the skills needed to survive in this rapidly-changing environment with programs in Digital Marketing, Corporate and Customer programs, and Social Media Programs.

Allstate “Blind Spot” Commercial