Customer Engagement

Metaphorically Speaking, Showing and Thinking

Metaphors, like this one about gay marriage, touch the familiar and trigger emotions that can persuade, explain or entertain. Some of the most powerful metaphors are visuals that elegantly make a point with few or no words.

Metaphors, like this one about gay marriage, touch the familiar and trigger emotions that can persuade, explain or entertain. Some of the most powerful metaphors are visuals that elegantly make a point with few or no words.

Getting noticed is getting harder. With a lot of money, you can pummel your audience with advertising, assuming they are still tuning in where the advertising is placed. Without a lot of money, the best course is to penetrate the brains of your intended audience wherever they are.

Metaphors are a proven path into people’s brains. By piggybacking onto something familiar and that you can sense, your message has a better chance to get noticed, triggering a memory and evoking an emotion. Neuroscientists have found that emotional responses are accompanied by physical reactions, which are key to actual decision-making.

Journalist and writer James Geary said in a TED Talk that “metaphor lives a secret life all around us. We utter six metaphors a minute. Metaphorical thinking is essential to how we understand ourselves and others, how we communicate, learn, discover and invent. Metaphor is a way of thought before it is a way with words.”

Linguist Adele Goldberg says a familiar line such as “that was a sweet comment" can activate human taste centers and the portion of the brain linked to fear or pleasure. The phrase touches emotions and memory. More importantly, it sticks because our subconsciousness tends to be literal.

Chip and Dan Heath in their book Made to Stick point out the value of “concrete” references to create mental “stickiness.” Something is concrete, according to the Heath brothers, when it can be “described or detected by human senses.” One example – a V-8 engine is a concrete reference contrasted to a high-performance engine, which is more abstract.

Metaphors add concrete to what you say. Instead of noting a box of movie popcorn contains 20 grams of fat, you could more persuasively say the box contains more fat than a bacon and eggs breakfast, Big Mac lunch and steak dinner combined. People know what fat is, but they can taste, see and smell bacon and eggs, a hamburger and a steak.

Writing for ragan.com, Nick Morgan said metaphors reach the senses with “sweet lines, loud opinions, beautiful phrases, soft poetry and smelly scenes.” Put another way, metaphors put abstract concepts into concrete – and more familiar and digestible – terms.

While we commonly think of metaphors as words, pictures and symbols are often more powerful metaphors. Icons are a great example. We see a light bulb icon and our minds associate it with a “bright idea” or “innovation.” Familiar shapes or visual devices serve as handy metaphors, such as faces of clocks, luggage tags and party invites. Their shape sends a message our minds receive.

Visual metaphors help propel the eye through visual explanations and infographics. Metaphors also can take the form of familiar formats like a flipchart or a website with easy-to-find navigation that enhance user experience and lessen frustration over finding what they want. Pattern recognition can be a key to people’s willingness to explore or engage.

And there is such a thing as an anti-metaphor, which psychologists call cognitive dissonance. Writers refer to it as a “man-bites-dog” statement that startles a listener. Geary’s example: “Some jobs are jails.” The juxtaposition isn’t familiar, but the imagery is concrete and the meaning is clear.

Metaphors can help you get noticed, make your point and earn valuable media coverage. Hillary Clinton showed how in her speech this week taking aim at Donald Trump’s business record. “He's written a lot of books about business,” she said. “They all seem to end at Chapter 11."

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

Online Quizzes: Recreational and Informative

Online quizzes, like this one from  AARP , are all the rage because they are an entertaining form of customer engagement. But of course, they also can be engagingly informative.

Online quizzes, like this one from AARP, are all the rage because they are an entertaining form of customer engagement. But of course, they also can be engagingly informative.

People shrink from responding to phone surveys, but they trip over themselves to participate in online questionnaires, like BuzzFeed’s personality quizzes

While public opinion pollsters have to make more calls to achieve a representative sample on a phone survey, people eagerly take online quizzes on anything and everything from personality types and careers to celebrities, dog breeds and sex. As changes in the marketplace are complicating traditional polling methods, maybe now is the time to consider the potential of online quizzes as an alternative.

Yes, the two have some big differences. Where public opinion polls dig for people’s views, online quizzes often only offer a chance for a few minutes of pleasurable escape. Public opinion polls, of course, are intended to produce findings. Online quizzes, on the other hand, are about fun and engagement, not hard numbers.

So yes, online quizzes may not generate “data” in the truest sense. However, they do reflect popular themes and gratify people’s narcissistic obsessions, especially those of the “me” generation. Why do people love me? What career should I pursue? Which superhero do I resemble? Who am I really?

Online quizzes aren’t just for the kids, though. AARP posts trivia games and online quizzes about entertainment, leisure, money management and dementia symptoms. In its effort to protect against elder financial abuse, AARP created “Catch the con quiz” featuring Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose story of outsmarting victims and the FBI was told in the Steven Spielberg movie Catch Me If You Can.

Ultimately, quizzes are just a cheaper version of contests to stimulate interaction. There usually aren’t any prizes or judges involved – people judge for themselves. But if a brand can glean tidbits of information about people from their quiz answers, it is engagement with a purpose.

In some cases, online quizzes can have an educational value. Participants can discover some unknown facts about subjects that interest them. And they can learn what they don’t know.

BuzzFeed is one of the leading practitioners of online quizzes. The site posts just about any kind of personality quiz imaginable, with fetching headlines that resemble a call to action. Data indicates BuzzFeed’s quizzes have drawn millions more page views than the company’s other content. 

The bottom line is that as polling faces participation challenges, online quizzes are enjoying unprecedented popularity, and they can help turn your electronic platform into a game board. While many topics are mostly for just fun, online quizzes can be a gentle introduction to more serious topics.

Online quizzes are more recreation than research, but that doesn’t diminish their value as an outreach tool that gets people talking.

Influencer Marketing Is a Good Investment

People trust other people more than advertising or promotions, which makes influencer marketing initiatives a good investment with long-term dividends.

People trust other people more than advertising or promotions, which makes influencer marketing initiatives a good investment with long-term dividends.

Influencer marketing is assuming a similar mission-critical role as influentials in market research.

Influentials are the people other people turn to for good advice, whether it’s what camera to buy or who to hire to remodel your kitchen. In research, influentials are a valuable resource because they are typically well-informed and willing to share what they know. They provide researchers with a clear window to see the wonders and warts of a product, service or idea.

Market influencers are the people others trust for advice on a buying decision. You don’t have to be a celebrity to be an influencer. In fact, most influencers today are bloggers or vloggers who offer views and advice in concentrated areas, whether it’s gluten-free food or smart parenting tips.

There is an analog to market influencers in the crisis communications space – third-party validation. Claims that an environmental spill has been cleaned up or that a financial practice has been corrected carry more weight if an independent third party verifies the claim. That party is essentially a “market influencer.”

The underlying truth is that people are prone to trust other people more than advertising or promotional pitches. A corollary is that brand managers, marketers and public affairs professionals often overlook the prowess of influencer marketing initiatives, especially ones that can ignite with a powerful employee advocacy campaign.

Jay Baer of Convince & Convert says influencer marketing is shockingly more successful than digital advertising, and he undertook a study to prove his point. Baer worked with a digital marketing firm and a research company that specializes in food to persuade 258 fitness and food influencers to create content related to Silk Almond Milk and its Meatless Monday initiative. The content was allowed to pulse out organically on social media without any paid promotion.

“Households exposed to influencer marketing purchased 10 percent more Silk products than the control group,” Baer reported. The return on investment after 12 months for the influencer marketing outreach was 11 times greater than the cost of banner ads, he added.

There are extended values as well, Baer explains. Influencer marketing content has a shelf life that keeps generating impressions. Brands can repurpose the content, which becomes in effect testimonials from trusted sources. And, the cost to produce the content is borne by the influencer.

‘We’ve known for years that online influencers can generate net-new impressions, clicks and even e-commerce sales,” Baer says. “But this new study demonstrates that online influencer marketing yields offline purchase shifts, too.”

Design Websites From Your Viewers’ Eyes

If you want to drive more eyeballs to your website, talk to the people who view it to find out what attracts them, what they look for and how they look for it.

If you want to drive more eyeballs to your website, talk to the people who view it to find out what attracts them, what they look for and how they look for it.

The role of websites continues to evolve, but what hasn’t changed is the need to design websites for the viewers that click on them. Research plays a pivotal role in learning what attracts viewers to a website, the content they want when they arrive and they like to access it. 

Analytics tell part of the story, especially what pages gain the most views and sustain interest. While that gives you a clue about website content and design, it doesn’t flesh out the viewer persona. The best way to discover the needs and preferences of individual viewers is to interview them.

This kind of qualitative research doesn’t require a formal survey. You need a few basic questions to explore what a target viewer looks for on your website, how it could be packaged for ease of access and suggestions for content. You also want to find out what drives them to go to your website, so you make that access as seamless as possible.

Because websites have become engagement hubs for organizations, there are often more than one type of viewer persona for you to interview. How young eyes view your website versus older eyes can make a huge difference in what you place on a page. Make sure to chat with a reasonable sample of each viewer persona group to obtain a well rounded perspective and tailor your questions to each viewer person group.

The insight you glean from interviewing viewers is invaluable to determine the most effective architecture, navigation, content and look and feel of your website. This is a very different approach than laying out a website map and looking for great images.

Finding the desired functionality of a website from the perspective of viewers and designing to that functionality is the most reliable way to ensure the website does its job, whether it’s marketing products or services, sharing resources or providing useful information.

Contemporary websites tend to be more visual with less text. Information is packaged rather than forcing viewers to search for it via drop-down menus. Viewers appear comfortable with scrolling down a home page to find what they are looking for, but they want a one-click journey to that information. Websites, even ones with video content, need to load quickly and be optimized for mobile devices. Those broad guidelines provide the frame for the website you create. Viewer insights inform the choices you make in terms of visual assets, navigation tools and content packaging and placement.

For organizations with multiple viewer personas, the design challenge is more complex. However, that complexity is easier to address if you are following the advice of people who view, use and rely on the website.

Website redesigns offer a great moment to rethink – or think about for the first time – how to inform your internal audiences. Employees are a critical website viewer persona, which also may have varied interests and content needs. Content creation for a website should take into account how it can repurposed or promoted in internal communications vehicles that can range from an enterprise system such as Yammer or Slack or an intranet.

Refreshing your website is never ending, not a one-and-done exercise. While that may seem like a pain, talking regularly with your website audience should be viewed as a pleasure. If you tie a website refresher to viewer contacts, you will keep your website on point – and your business on track.

Examples of Viewer-Centric Website Design

Here are three examples of websites that reflect a viewer-centric design and navigation strategy. These examples, plus 12 more, were singled out by HubSpot. Click each image below to see full-size views of the websites. 

The Dropbox website makes a difficult task seem simple through the simplicity of its design. It answers the viewer questions of “How does it work” and “How hard is it to use.

The Dropbox website makes a difficult task seem simple through the simplicity of its design. It answers the viewer questions of “How does it work” and “How hard is it to use.

The White House website looks like a news site, which is its purpose. The site is constantly being upgraded with fresh content.

The White House website looks like a news site, which is its purpose. The site is constantly being upgraded with fresh content.

The Basecamp website uses colorful, friendly looking illustrations to explain what it is and why it is useful to businesses as a project management tool. Notice the website’s scrolling design, with several places to respond to the website’s call to action – using the product for 60 days for free.

The Basecamp website uses colorful, friendly looking illustrations to explain what it is and why it is useful to businesses as a project management tool. Notice the website’s scrolling design, with several places to respond to the website’s call to action – using the product for 60 days for free.

Use Research, Make Smart Decisions

Trying to figure out why your customers are unhappy? Try talking to them directly.

Trying to figure out why your customers are unhappy? Try talking to them directly.

Quality research can reveal problem areas in your operations, as well as provide clues on how to fix them. Research also can point out what your customers like about your operation.

Seeing the good, the bad and the blah becomes an invaluable decision-making tool. You know what needs improvement, what is going well and what is just sort of meh. You have a basis to make smart decisions with confidence.

Customer satisfaction research or authentic engagement with a web-based panel of your customers can yield insights that might reinforce what you already know or totally surprise you. Either way, you aren't operating in the dark. Your customers shine the light.

Organizations can convince themselves of a problem area, but without solid data, they are simply guessing. Blame lagging sales on your sales reps, only to discover your customers love the sales reps, but don't like erratic delivery of your products. Instead of shaping up the sales force, you should be taking a hard look at your fulfillment department.

In a marketplace full of choices, it is smart business to know what your customers think of your business. For all the nest efforts to brand yourself, in the end customers determine your brand, so it's better to find out from them sooner than later.

Many leaders resist research because somewhere deep down they don't want to know what's wrong. If they don't know, they don't have to undertake the hard work to fix it, which can mean anything from personnel moves to culture change. But it is getting increasingly tricky to skate by problems, which can be an iPhone image away from going viral.

This kind of research comports nicely with the emerging trend of customer relationship management. It is hard to have a relationship if you never talk to your customer. Asking questions, in formal research or informal contacts, can be an excellent way to build those relationships.

You wouldn't make a financial decision without looking at business numbers, so why make decisions about your operation without checking in with your customers? At times, checking in with customers can be a humbling experience. But better a little humiliation than a disastrous decision.

Make smart decisions by soliciting and acting on advice from your customers, who in many ways are the business partner in your enterprise that really counts.