Digital Marketing Experts: It’s Time to Rethink How You Connect with Your Audience

By Daniel Lai

For many companies struggling to find their place in today’s digitally-driven world, lack of a clear marketing plan and failure to adapt to new platforms means getting left behind and losing business.

That was a key message marketing experts laid out to more than 200 attendees during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s first Digital Marketing Boot Camp last week at the College for Creative Studies. The event was sponsored by MLive and Motown Digital.

Sola Obayan, principal consultant at BTO Solutions and founder of the Social Media Association of Michigan, said at the heart of any good digital marketing strategy is understanding what a target audience wants and crafting that message to draw in potential customers to a company’s website.

“Oftentimes we get caught up in the ‘what’ or ‘how’ message when really we should start with the ‘why,’” she said, drawing on examples from companies like Hallmark.

The greeting card company reaps millions of dollars every year by playing off of customers’ emotional response.

“Think about how you want your audience to feel when they engage with your brand,” Obayan said. “By building that bond with your audience, you can drive action.”

Don’t Build Your House on Sand

Before a company jumps on the latest social media platforms, it must first take the time to invest in a user-friendly website. Two of the biggest “no-no’s” Obayan often sees from small and medium-sized businesses are confusing websites and stretching resources and messages across too many social media platforms, a phenomenon she called “shiny object syndrome.”

“Don’t build your house on sand,” Obayan said.

Michael Taylor II, creative partner for SS Digital Media, agreed that a company’s website is key.

“You have to do a good job of providing the customer with the content promised,” he said. “If you send someone to your website via social media, they shouldn’t have to spend time searching.”

Taylor was part of a panel of experts led by Eric Hultgren, director of marketing at MLive Media Group, that also included Lynn Haliburton, senior account executive at Marx Layne & Co., and Dan Fuoco, interactive marketing manager for the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Hultgren said businesses must invest in websites that are mobile-friendly.

“If your brand is not here, you do not exist to the customer,” he told attendees, holding up his smartphone.

Fuoco said platforms like Facebook and Twitter are also good to promote a company’s news coverage, or “earned media” in order to increase brand awareness. However, he stressed that the platform a company chooses to use should correlate to its message goals and target audience.

“If you aren’t posting minute-by-minute updates than perhaps Twitter is not the space for you to play in,” he said.

Drawing on examples from her client, McDonald’s, and its use of social media to promote the limited release of its signature Big Mac sauce in certain stores across the country, Haliburton said social media can be a good tool to “shock and delight” loyal customers.

Putting Humans Back in the Social Media Driver’s Seat

The most important advice of the day came from Marcus Burrell and Eric Thomas, senior partners at Saga MKTG.

Thomas said too many businesses forget to talk like humans when engaging with customers online, a phenomenon that can have dire consequences for brand positioning.

“People often forget the ‘social’ part of social media. Don’t be afraid to engage and start a story with your followers. What do you want people to know about you or your brand?” Thomas said. “The most important thing we can do as digital marketers is speak to and with people, not as a robot.”

Understanding your audience and pushing out messages that connect with them is critical, Thomas said, pointing to the success of President Trump’s Twitter growth during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“He speaks in a way that makes people want to listen. He has mastered his digital messages for his demographic,” he said.

Finally, Thomas said when communicating with customers on any digital platform, “don’t tell stories you wouldn’t want to hear.”

To read more digital marketing tips, check out the Digital Marketing Boot Camp blog page.

Daniel Lai is a communications specialist and copywriter at the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

1,000,000 views later. My secret to social media success.

By Eric Thomas
Senior Partner and Brand Specialist
Saga Marketing

This post is part of the Digital Marketing Boot Camp series, a new set of blog posts across different mediums designed to provide intel to people and companies looking to improve their digital marketing strategy.

My Social Media Stats (Built in 15 Months):

Blog views: 1,697,925 (and counting)

Linkedin: 4,501 Followers

Facebook: 3,601 Friends

Instagram: 1,048 Followers

Published or Cited by: New York Times, Free Press, Metro Times, Next Shark, Web Designer News, Deadline Detroit.

Speaking: TEDxDetroit, IDSA Design Conference, Pancakes and Politics, Creative Mornings, Black Women’s Expo, P.U.L.S.E. Adult Literacy Conference, Urban Entrepreneurship Symposium 2016, The Start Up Effect, Millenials Change at Microsoft, Launched / She Is Project, Urban Consulate, Branding Your Story 101, The PR MANdate, PRSA of America – Video Storytelling, Biz Grid Live, Appearances on the Karen Dumas Show, Appearances on Brenda Perryman

It has been 15 months, 32 blogs, and over 1.6 million views (not counting republishing) since I first started sharing my thoughts on LinkedIn. The success of my blogging has changed my life. But this didn’t all happen by mistake. This is actually the result of an experiment that popped into my head in the Spring of 2015.

My business partner and I were revamping our marketing agency and realized that it was our opportunity to create something that the world actually needed. The Storytelling Agency — Saga . A hybrid between a marketing and branding agency, it leverages our unique cultural identity and experience in business development. We decided to get back to basics. How do humans communicate? What makes them tick? How do ideas spread?

This started us on a journey to create a brand, build a skill set, and develop a circle of influence that fit the type of impact that we wanted to make. If you are trying to change career paths, build a company, or develop a media presence these are the steps I used to go from “that graphics guy” to “Storytelling Expert” in a little over a year.

The Law of Random Collision

The universe in all of its vastness is mostly atoms and matter, colliding and creating new things. True magic happens when there is density. I fundamentally believe that everything in the universe operates this way. Everything from bumping into an old friend to life its self is a result of happenstance. Greatness happening is a matter of creating more opportunities for that greatness to happen. Simply put, you’re more likely to go viral if you create more chances for yourself to go viral. You’re more likely to be seen if you’re in the public more often. This sounds simple, but it’s a crucial part of creating a brand that we don’t see as a part of our career strategy. So how did we leverage this universal law to build our brand?

Build and Activate a Network

March 2015 I had about 1300 Facebook friends, 300ish LinkedIn Connections, no Instagram, and a basically dead Twitter. I had to decide where to focus my energy and what to build up. Two master networkers in my life, James Logan and Lakyra Shackelford, kept telling me about the power of Linkedin. My expertise was mostly business based, so that became the home for my professional identity. Facebook was by far my largest network and much more informal. It’s where I could be myself and build an audience in an organic way.

On LinkedIn I reached out to people that made sense for my network who seemed to be thought leaders or success. I sent each person a personal message about why we should connect. I did that for 5 months before I even published my first blog. Why blog where there are no readers?

Important point: My channels might not be your channels. Think about where you can make the most impact with the skills you have. Pinterest, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all different and require different strategies and strengths.


MORE: Check out more ways to grow your social media following and tell your brand’s story at the Digital Marketing Boot Camp, Feb. 15.


Produce. Provide Value. Be Authentic.

David Ogilvy, sometimes regarded as the father of modern marketing, placed a heavy emphasis on writing. He often preached that great campaigns started at the written word. I figured that writing a blog would be great practice to creating the types of campaigns I dreamed of. My biggest challenge? I didn’t know how to write yet, or so I thought. The last time I wrote anything was before I dropped out of college almost a decade prior. One day my business partner and I realized, “Hey, if people like the things I say, maybe they’ll like them if I write them down too?” But what to write about? The things I care about. I can’t be the only one that worries about these things.

“Write the way you talk. Naturally.” – David Ogilvy

People will always parse words and even data, but it’s hard to rebut your genuine lived experience. Taking something you’ve studied and worked in for years and filtering that through the unique lens of your identity creates the type of content that can’t be copied. Most importantly, it can make topics that have been covered before fresh again.

“Experience + Expertise is a powerful combination.”

The Virality Equation

Content + People + Timing

First, if you don’t produce you won’t be seen. Second, if no one is around to see what you create then it won’t be shared. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to snapchat it, does it really matter? Thirdly, going viral is like a lightening strike. It happens when you least suspect it, but only when the conditions are right. The bulk of my LinkedIn audience came from being a first mover on the design disaster that led to Steve Harvey botching the Ms. Universe contest. How Bad Design Wrecked Steve Harvey’s Universe is by far my most read blog.

Analytics for my blog “How Bad Design Wrecked Steve Harvey’s “Universe”

Analytics for my blog “How Bad Design Wrecked Steve Harvey’s “Universe”

I wrote this the night it happened, published it at around 2AM and woke up to thousands of reads. Much more than my typical average of 200 or so at the time. I didn’t just cover what happened, I provided a solution, based on my particular skill set, complete with a redesign. 1.5 million views on LinkedIn is rarified air. As far as I can find I’m in the top 20 most read ever. Even the CEO of LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner, weighed in and shared it.

Stay Relevant. Take a Stand.

Even with the international reach of my Steve Harvey blog, nothing has had such a profound impact on my daily life like Why I Hate Detroit. I’m stopped almost daily by someone that’s read it. It’s become the way I’m introduced. Though the Linkedin post only got a little north of 130,000 views, one could speculate that it’s been much more widely viewed. It was republished in the Metro Times, published in an abridged form by the Detroit Free Press, and covered by Deadline Detroit and Mlive. I landed television interviews and it was even cited by the New York Times which resulted in a call from Soledad O’Brien. Not bad for an opinion piece that I thought was too long and frankly too dangerous for my career to post. Why all the shares and love? It was honest, grounded in facts, rooted in my experience as a life-long Detroiter, and most of all timely. Even Dan Gilbert, reigning king of Downtown Detroit, told me he thought it was a good read.

“No Brand with values is for everything or against nothing.”

At the end of the day, speak openly and authentically to your tribe. They will reward you with loyalty.

Set Goals. Leverage Success.

When I first started blogging I set a modest goal. 1,000 reads per month. If I could expose 1,000 people to my personal brand each month I’d be happy. At this point, that would be 15,000 reads. I’ve exceeded that goal by a great deal. Next was to speak at conferences and become a thought leader around storytelling.

In the past year I’ve been fortunate enough to lead storytelling workshops, speak at the IDSA Design Conference with heroes, present at TEDxDetroit, share a Crain’s 20 in their 20 award with my business partner, sit on numerous panels, and elevate the relevance of storytelling in business from a buzzword to a business function for many businesses in the city of Detroit and beyond. More importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to share a story of success and opportunity while representing my community and neighborhoods like mine in what I hope is a positive and authentic way.

When setting out to build your brand, be honest and realistic. My goal was to move the needle significantly within 2 years. I think I’m well on my way. Even overnight successes don’t happen overnight. Aim, strategize and get closer every day. It’s time for me to switch into the second phase of my grand experiment. I hope you use what I learned in Phase 1 to build strong and impactful brands.

Eric Thomas will deliver the closing keynote with his business partner Marcus Burrell at the Digital Marketing Boot Camp.

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