In the spring of 2020, digital marketers
(Which it can be argued is the only kind of marketer that exists now! But back then they were a specialist breed.) the world over, faced probably the worst existential crisis they had ever experienced
(and that’s saying something, if you know any seasoned digital marketers! 😂😂😂).
That’s when the cracks in the celebration of random-automation-of-all-things started to show.
Let me explain.
The world of online marketing and communication is a very complex thing. Often, the number of pieces it takes to hold one funnel together would boggle the average brand manager’s mind. And in every step of that way there tend to be copy lines, sentences, images, experiences. Much of it is forgotten and defaulted.
Want to know why? Because most marketers like to stay in the sexy front end of things. Where there’s beautiful concepts and copy to be had. And complex problems to be solved theoretically.
Far fewer practitioners even understand the degrees of messaging that goes into the layers that knit together an online experience of any type (including scheduling an appointment, or a delivery/collection of an order for example. Each of us has done perhaps a 100 of those since the pandemic broke.) And fewer still want any part of writing those.
A HUGE opportunity lies there to entertain your audiences.
Which leads me to very-important-lesson-number-5-in-entertaining-with-your-content: go down the path of least resistance with your humour. In marketing, that’s often the deeply unsexy back-end.
To start this out nice and easy, let’s begin at 404 pages. Most websites (no really, most. Maybe even all.) have one or more pages that don’t work. Most website platforms have a 404 page that lets people know that page isn’t in action and offers a way back to the home page. And a HUGE percentage of the time that default page is what audiences get.
This is an easy win. An obscure win. If all goes well, nobody would even see this. Unless you want to brag about it (which is not a bad idea either).
Here are a couple of examples of good efforts. The first from Magnt a web firm (obvs). Some clever ribbing of the fact that very often people who arrive at 404 pages could have mistyped a URL.
And this delightful little mind map from OrangeCoat.com Everyone loves a decision tree. And this one is super entertaining.
Quite simply one key indicator of how DULL things have gotten: automated email sequences attached to almost every action performed online.
Technology has created a world inconceivable to most of us 15 or 20 years ago – a world that actually allowed many of us to BE ABLE to continue working, continue living, even during a global pandemic – it also reminded us that without the human being behind it – it’s just that. Technology.
And boy. Can it make some big-a** mistakes without our guiding hand. Let’s dwell on the many opportunities for things to go wrong when held together like duct tape with so much automation that can’t remember when a senior set of marketing eyes last looked at it, shall we?
In March of 2020, when people were trying to figure out how to work, school, and live without physical social contact, many large brands dropped the ball. Hard.
“I think some people are falling down on the automation. While maybe most social and ads have been checked for tone, one of the things I’m finding is email is quite bad – there’s this perception that [emails] need to be going out to people all the time.
[For example] I am on an email list for a retail clothing outlet that I like, and I shop at all the time. And every day, (during the first few weeks of the pandemic I got) an email from them “60% off”. [My thought was this] ‘Okay, right now, I’m not looking to buy clothes, I don’t really need clothes. That’s not an essential.’”
Martin Waxman, Digital and Social Media Strategist, LinkedIn Learning Instructor, Digital Marketing Professor (in an episode of our podcast, The 4 am Report, on crisis communication)
Back when the pandemic was originally rockin’ our collective worlds, there were some doozy marketing mistakes that, most likely, were due to automation. Not to name and shame but:
- There was a tweet from some thrombosis society from somewhere, yadda yadda, warning folks about the correlation between flying and Deep Vein Thrombosis. Flying?? I mean, seriously. Read the room, random Thrombosis society.
- A gift company shared “The State of Swag” – when chances are there won’t be many corporate, swag-sharing events in the near future. Never mind the fact that many cases of Covid-19 originated at packed conferences and the like.
- And multiple big brands had to frantically pull ads left, right and centre, after they ran and got slammed with complaints, for promoting huge gatherings, high fives, sharing a soda, even “booking a cruise.”
That may have passed, but there IS LOTS of room for jazzing up other automation in your marketing.
However! Before you embrace any of it, you do need to take the steps to make sure your messaging – and your brand voice – is crystal clear.
And first on that front is this 👇
‘Recenter to your values’ sounds cliched, yes? It’s not.
If you’re a large corporation you’re likely used to weeks of wine-soaked dinners and full day planning with major motivational voices to set all of yours down in powerpoint stone.
And if you’re a small business, maybe you pay more than you can afford to get primo consultancy hours to help you define some of it.
So, we know you have that covered. Or do you????
2020 was the year it became non negotiable to use those values.
Take them out of the dusty PPT and use them.
Determine what you stand for, and how you will articulate that, across all your communication channels. Then make sure every staff member knows it too.
That’s where the “human” part of marketing automation comes into play.
Keep your ears and eyes keenly focused on what’s going on around you – out in the big, wide world. Track socio-political movements, know when another crisis hits (or is about to hit) and slam the off-switch on your automation.
Unsolicited advice for this week in history. The week of April 19, 2021.
A lot is going on with the anti-Black-racism movement.
Daunte Wright was shot dead by a veteran police officer who says she thought her gun was a taser 😱
Derek Chauvin is on trial for the murder of George Floyd. He declined to testify last week. And it looks like the case built might not be enough to buy him punishment that meets the gravitas of the inhumane crime at hand.
Check your comms this week and the weeks going forward. Check your tone. Stop automation. And make sure your internal communications are tapping into the empathy that your Black talent needs from you now.
Alright, PSA over.
Let’s focus on where we can lighten the move for humankind. With a little smile. Deep in the underbelly of your automation, where no one expects it.
Data from 2013 was some of the earliest on humour on the interwebs. A study showed that people were 49% more likely to share a funny post than an important one.
“While you may be thinking a funny post being shared doesn’t have any value, it is actually showing off the fact that your brand isn’t an emotionless robot, but instead, a lovable personality.
In a world run by robots and computers, a personality speaks much stronger to your audience. By using humor as an engagement tactic a company can increase share-ability while also staying true to their brand.”, says this round up of some of the funniest brands on social media.
There’s the theory of it. Now here are more examples of where personality can be applied in the back-end. The guts of your marketing engine where no light shines.
Think push notifications.
Does some touch-point of your marketing include push notifications? Like app notifications, chat bots on your website, an automated sign-up notification?
That’s another place where people tend to default to out of the box #basic
Where customization is applied, it tends to be in look and feel terms, like brand colours etc. That’s not even half of what you can do with those programs. Don’t forget the language. While you might be tempted to say that behemoth brands like Tinder and Netflix have resources you don’t, please don’t. This type of content is easy to create and a few conversations with your website and alternative development teams, whether internal or external, can fix it relatively easily.
How about them chat bots? The number of websites that have bland and boring bots that add zero value boggles the mind. Here’s a good example of bot done right 👇
And this absolute gem of a case study in the application of humour even when the subject is deeply serious and scientific – like Covid-19. Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I talk about this government health authority A LOT! Ottawa Public Health.
It’s a wonderful example of how making people laugh on social media can go so far into the DNA of your brand that the back-end is not forgotten.
Back story: they first put out this tweet after the Superbowl this year. A seemingly errant tweet that was botched by a sad social media manager dubbed ‘Bruce’.
Oh, poor Bruce 🤣🤣🤣
Immortalized in a tweet
Was it automated? (you know what we’ve said about stupid automation up top!)
Was Bruce hammered after the game? 🔨
Did Bruce fall asleep because the game was so boring??
The following day, based on the viral reactions to that tweet, OPH PIVOTED and embraced the attention, using it as an experiment to show how quickly misinformation about Covid 19 spreads.
Then we got the inside scoop from Kevin Parent of OPH (the man whose team is behind all the consistently funny material from the public health authority) about how they have worked it into their chatbot as well. Genius!
Where can you start?
If all of this feels hard and unattainable for the ‘average Jill’ brand, take heart. One of the easiest ways to start is by experimenting with good email headlines. It’s low pressure; there’s so many to play with. People won’t hate you if it goes off a bit. Here are some good examples.
Eater Boston: (Dining guide platform, in one of their daily emails)
“Where to Drink Beer Right Now” (Sent at 6:45am on a Wednesday.)
Groupon: (Daily deal site)
“Deals That Make Us Proud (Unlike Our Nephew, Steve)”
The Muse: (career advice platform)
“We Like Being Used”
Warby Parker: (online opticians)
“Pairs nicely with spreadsheets”
Do it. Change some of your automated email headlines this week.