Lynn Manternach/Tree Full of Owls

Things are changing fast in the land of marketing communications.

Technology is prompting changes in how we interact with content and other consumers. In addition, marketers are trying to figure out how to get the measurable results they’ve promised, in an environment that continues to shift.

Despite the constantly evolving technology and communications environment, there are some consistent themes that marketers can grab onto and maximize. And all of them are related to keeping your focus on the needs of consumers.

It’s all about the consumers. Your brand is not what you say it is; it’s what the consumer says it is. That means you must be tuned in to your external stakeholders. It’s easy to get wrapped up into what those inside your company think of your product or service and what they think people care about. Take an outward-facing stance. Make sure the voice of the consumer is represented within your organization. Consumer research is the most direct and reliable approach to tapping into the voice of the consumer, and there are an increasing number of ways to listen in to the consumer conversation and understand how to best meet consumer needs. The right mix of insight and interactivity can build relationships with consumers who become brand advocates.

You must be online, because that’s where consumers are. The online culture IS the culture, whether you are there or not. People are hyper-connected, with smart phones, tablets and computers – and they are using them to navigate the complexities of being a consumer.

The web was built for communication, not commercialism, and businesses are still trying to figure out how to participate in the online conversation. There are many opportunities out there, and as social media and technology evolve, there will be even more ways to engage with consumers and gain insight into what they want and need from your brand along the way.

So get in there and participate in the conversation. People are talking about your brand whether you’re involved or not. Providing helpful information, solving problems and connecting with customers who are not happy is in your brand’s best interests.

Give the people what they want: Information. Consumers don’t want you to tell them what to buy. They want clear, unbiased information that helps them decide what to buy.

Content marketing is the creation and sharing of compelling and relevant content to build your brand. It’s the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. Instead of pitching your products or services, you are delivering information that makes your buyer smarter and more informed.

Although the focus of the content may not be specifically about your company or products, content marketing provides an opportunity to demonstrate your category or industry expertise and highlight your company’s unique strengths and services. People don’t want to know why they should buy from your business. They want “how to” information, success stories and expert interviews. They want free guidance and assistance.

The idea behind content marketing is that if businesses deliver consistently valuable information to buyers, they will reward companies with their business, along with their loyalty and trust. They will “opt in” to allow you to communicate with them regularly over time. That means there is a long-term opportunity for conversation, relationship-building and ultimately, trust.

To build that trust, you have to remember that content marketing is not a sales pitch disguised as useful information. Content marketing is relevant, valuable information that inspires and excites.

Relationships matter. Ultimately, this is all about relationships. Consumers are looking for opportunities to have relationships with the brands they love. Relationships require communication, trust and transparency.

Is your brand ready for a relationship? Are you looking out for your consumers’ best interests? Do you behave in a way that makes your consumers want to go out and talk about how great you are? If something went wrong, would your consumers defend you?

Trust is a critical component of relationship-building, and you build it by communicating the human side of your brand. Ultimately, this is all about people connecting with other people.

What we know for sure is that the communications and technology landscape will continue to change, and consumer preferences will continue to shift along the way. But if our focus is constantly on the consumer and how our brands can meet their needs and make their lives better, we’re well positioned for success.

Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. (www.mindfirecomm.com) in Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities. Contact her at lmanternach@mindfirecomm.com.

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Samantha Kollasch currently serves as Chief Digital Officer at the Corridor Business Journal. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a BS in Management Information Systems....