Web pioneer and digital diva Aliza Sherman shares her insights on experiential marketing and the power of creating real connections.
In a world inundated with content marketing, bandwidth, growth hacks and wheelhouses, Aliza Sherman stands out. An international speaker, author of 10 books and the brain behind the first woman-owned internet company ever, Aliza Sherman knows that what works in this industry goes far beyond buzzwords.
We sat down with her at Digital Summit Phoenix in February and discussed experiential marketing and how to organically build a community for women, that happens to sell wine.
I found your piece, My 2011 Tech Predictions Revisited in 2015, so interesting to see what struck out (QR Codes) and what has stuck (content marketing). As a veteran digital consultant, you’ve seen the game evolve into countless fads. What has stayed true throughout the years? Is content marketing going anywhere?
What has stayed true? The fundamental truths. In over 20 years, the things that remain constant are that people want to connect with other people who have shared interests and experiences. They want to belong to something—a community, a tribe, whatever you want to call it—but they want to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves.
Those are the building blocks of what people are currently calling content marketing. Everything we do is producing content; content doesn’t have to be words, it can be experiences. Going forward, that is what will be much more successful than continuing to try to get people to write stuff. It’s all about an immersive, ubiquitous experience.
I’m just trying to get people away from this obsession: “I have to tweet 70 times today.” So much of content marketing is lacking any breath of life in it.
You wrote about micro communities and the benefit brands can see from creating small niche groups of super fans. Do you have a favorite social outlet for building these relationships?
The one thing I like about Facebook is how it can be used to create a greater feeling of intimacy. What I think is being underutilized are Facebook groups. I think brands can benefit from culling from their pages, and pulling super fans, VIP customers into groups and giving them a much richer, deeper experience.
A well-managed Facebook page gives you a sense of place and togetherness—instead of just a place to broadcasting to. But a Facebook group, if you get the right people there, becomes the coffee clutch—a wonderful, conversation-rich place where people look forward to checking in and seeing who is saying what and sharing only things that interest them. It is so underutilized.
But because of the nature of the online community, there is a tipping point. After a certain number of people join, it becomes noise, it loses control and people move away. So that is why a lot of brands don’t want to invest in it—because of the time required and the smaller numbers—but what they don’t realize is that if you engage those smaller numbers of people who really care, they become evangelists, brand ambassadors and become way more vocal. And they are super connected to you.
In your presentation, Content Marketing That Won’t Kill Your Community, you discuss the Wine Sisterhood as a brand born in social media. By utilizing the three Cs—community, convenience and connection—you were able to organically build a massive community. What has the Wine Sisterhood done to grow its audience?
Before we even launched a product, we began thinking about our audience. We know who wine sisters are, but what do they really like? Sure, they like to gather with their girlfriends. It isn’t just about the product, it isn’t just about the wine … it is about getting together with their girlfriends and sharing wine.
Once we had established that, we needed to get to know them even better. So, we surveyed them by asking a few questions via Facebook. We began to survey and hint that we were going to be making and selling wine, and we started asking our community what they thought it should be called. We were crowdsourcing before they even called it crowdsourcing and we got real opinions. We asked, do you like Goody Two-Shoes for a wine name? How about Sweet & Sassy? Sweet & Sassy became the moscato.
So now we don’t just know what they like, but we have involved the community in coming up with these brand names and now they are invested. They were a part of it. This goes way beyond writing a blog post. This is about building content that is greater than just a few words. And the motto in those first few years was be opinionated. We want your opinion.
Social media gives us all a spotlight, and everyone wants to be heard. You have to understand why people are online in the first place, and then serve their needs, wants and desires and turn content into a connection.
How do you create content for the Wine Sisterhood that stays on brand without blatantly selling wine?
Through A/B testing their content, Wine Sisterhood learned a few things about their audience that wasn’t what they initially thought. Sure their audience was interested in food and so many other things one associates with wine, but they were mostly interested in snarky humour. That’s what they wanted, thats what they shared and posted—it’s what they responded to. How do you sell wine with snarky humour? Here are a few examples of simple posts that attracted people to all of our social platforms.
We are now using snarky humour on our wine labels. What worked in social, comes full circle and has influenced our product development. Serve your audience. Know them, know what they like. Every time we move away from snarky humour, we get crickets. Make your content relevant.
How do you utilize “superfan marketing” in a huge community like the Wine Sisterhood?
To start, we don’t say: “Sign up for our email list.” We say: “Join the Sisterhood.” Be a part of a community of women who share your interests. We even take that a step further: form relationships with people you can get to know beyond this space. As a marketer, don’t just think of email and social posts, think of all the places where you can touch that consumer.
The best content is experiential. How can you create an experience that pulls in your customer and keeps them with you? You don’t realize how hungry your customer is to meet other customers of yours because of a shared interest. I first began speaking about superfan marketing six years ago; it takes your content, your community and supercharges it.
Here is the life cycle of your super fan:
- Get their attention with content. You don’t need a lot, just the right content.
- People begin participating: maybe it’s a like, maybe it’s a share.
- They then begin interacting because you are there interacting with them.
- They will then join your community and will really start to take ownership: they are there on a regular basis. They post, they comment to each other—it is now their community, you’re just there as the host.
- Now they are loyal to you. They think about you and check in to see what you have to say. They are looking for your email, your post, your tweet and they cannot wait to connect. They are now your superfan, your brand ambassador. They are out there telling other people about you because they are apart of something.
Wine Sisterhood took advantage of this phenomenon by elevating their followers. They look at their feed and take advantage of opportunities to surprise and delight their fans. If someone is already a fan and you notice that they interact with your content a lot, reward them, elevate them.
How does Wine Sisterhood do that? We interact. We say: “I see that you like Wine Sisterhood. Did you join our email list? Oh, you are on there! Are you a super sister? Fill out this form and become a super sister!” We ask additional questions, gather more data, and they become a super sister. “Oh you’re a super sister, would you like to be in the inner inner circle? Join our super secret salon.” The Super Secret Salon is a Facebook group: small, intimate, personal. The women in the sister salon go in every single day and post and get to know each other. Some are even meeting offline.
Is there a favorite campaign you’ve worked on over the years? What made it stand out?
My favorite campaign, the thing that I love that Wine Sisterhood does and they don’t even see it as a campaign, is that we look at what the women who are fans of the page are saying and doing. We seek out opportunities to surprise and delight.
You’ve heard that phrase, but what does it mean? One woman commented that she couldn’t go on a vacation because her mom was in the hospital—we sent her a gift. Reaching out to people, and not just the, “OMG, that’s breaking my heart” posts, but reaching out to someone who posted, “I’ve had a bad day.” It’s all about reaching out and paying attention to customers by making a genuine connection. How hard is it to pop something in the mail that they’ll enjoy? The whole thought of this condensed campaign that happens now here and its gone is so overrated. What it really is, is that every single day you have an opportunity to reach out and make an impact. We don’t promote it, we won’t tell people, sometimes they will organically, sometimes they won’t, but that isn’t the goal. It is under the radar. It is making contacts and connections in a real way.