So Ric, one of the things I love about in your bio, you talk about being a lifelong learner. And how what you do in your company to continue that learning and to share it with others. Is it fair to say that one of the pillars of your marketing models is to be really as helpful as you can be?
Ric: Oh, by all means. Yes. Definitely. That’s pretty much been an underlying ethos, and an approach to the whole thing. And actually, with time I’ve come to understand the mechanism even better than I may have originally. I may have just been sort of intuiting, “Hey, pay it forward, help people.” And then later, with time, started to break that apart and what exactly is happening.
Ric: Find that, the fact that you’re developing trust. And what does it mean to develop trust. And well, if you’re paying it forward and being helpful and working from that vantage point, then you’re generating and creating a lot of trust. But if at all for a second someone gets a gist that you’re doing this in order to sell me something, that you have a different motivation . . .
Ric: . . . people are highly perceptive and will pick up on that, and not trust you. So, it’s very interesting, the entire mechanism of trust, and how people get to know one another to the point where they’ll do business with one another. So yes, I think that’s actually paid off. To back up a second, yes the lifelong learning aspect is critical, and has been critical by sheer happenstance and the fact that we’re in digital marketing. And digital marketing has completely turned the world of marketing upside down. It’s changing so rapidly, that I think anybody in this field in order to succeed needs to be monomaniacal about constant learning.
Susan: Mm. I think you’re absolutely right. And sometimes, I don’t know if you’ve found this, we eventually get there, but sometimes it is hard to get people who’ve been marketers for a long time, and who are with a brand, and they know this brand, and it’s sometimes tough to get them to understand that they really need to leave all of the pushing messages, and the, “We are so great,” you know, kind of band waving. It’s very hard to get them to take that step back, and not only that, but trust doesn’t happen because you throw a commercial at somebody. And it doesn’t even happen because you give them one bit of helpful information, it is a process.
Ric: Yes. Well, it’s interesting, one of the things that I do is I write a weekly column called “Big Brand Theory” for social media today. And I have the wonderful, wonderful good fortune to have conversations every week with brand marketers. And last week, my conversation was with the legendary Frank Elisason . . .
Susan: Mm. Oh!
Ric: . . . for his starting copy on the ComcastCares.
Susan: Yes, oh yeah, he’s great!
Ric: So he’s at Citi now, and Citi is a financial services organization, which traditionally, as you know, they’re somewhat low. There’s a mortgage bank, there’s a mortgage bank, right? And how does one stand out. I think Frank has done a wonderful job at talking about, “Let’s quit. Let’s not do that push marketing. Let’s help people.” And they’ve built a lot of mechanisms to help mortgage holders that are in stress.
Susan: Mm-hmm. Boy, that’s key. Especially now. Because I’ve followed Frank for years, and in fact I saw him in New York a few months back. When you think about the reputation that banks have, in general, I can’t think of anybody better to help take a bank or the banking industry from where it was to somewhere new and hopeful.
Ric: Right. Yeah, it’s very exciting. His entire approach to the whole thing is it’s not just about social media and how do we do social media better, but how do we re-invent the business from the ground up. So that even things like what we call people, their job descriptions . . .
Ric: . . . are part of the storytelling.
Susan: Mm. Wow, that’s a fundamental shift, that’s great. Storytelling, of course, is so important to our organization, one of the things that we are looking really closely at now is the whole hummingbird algorithm change . . .
Susan: . . . and does that give us more latitude to be a little less allegiant to keywords, the actual placement of keywords. And thematically, does that give us more leeway for better storytelling. So that you don’t have to have things right in the…
Ric: Well, yes it does. And it’s going to present new challenges, by all means. One of the wonderful things we’ve been talking about for years is that really, at its essence, if you stand back, and you think, “Well, what is search engine optimization all about? What does it mean to be found in search engine results?” And the engineers over at the search engines are working very hard at serving up the most relevant results to any query.
Ric: So if somebody says, “Gee, I’m looking for hand cream,” how do you give them the site that most deserves to be in front of them on that topic. And so the game then, is about becoming relevant. And being more relevant. Being perceived as being more relevant. So in the old days, of course, it was about a keyphrase. And we would talk about the fact that, “Well, bottles is not the same thing as bottle.”
Ric: The singular version. We need to be mindful of that. Today, it’s the fact that a bottle is a vessel, is a container. We can talk about containers and vessels. And so you’re not focused just on a keyword. You’re talking about neighborhoods of keywords.
Ric: That create clouds of relevance around a topic. And then, on top of it, this is where it gets very exciting, is content that’s related to people, and people exist within their own networks that are relevant. So that if a person who has authored a piece of content frequently talks about hand creams, and he’s in the world of beauty supplies, then the content that we’re seeing over here by this person probably has a higher probability of being more relevant to this query.
Susan: It is very exciting. It’s exciting because I think you’re right. Google has worked really hard to value quality of content over quantity. And to take the power away from people who would just keyword stuff.
Ric: Exactly. I mean sure, the people who are keyword stuffing are always going to be struggling to try to get their content… I frequently liken it to, if you can imagine looking out over a classroom. And the teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. Google, she stands up there at the front of the classroom and says, “Class! I have a question for you. Who’s got the best answer?” All the kids are jumping up and down and going, “Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! Call on me!” Well that’s all those different websites out there, and they’re saying, “Call on me.” And why should the teacher choose Mary instead of Bobby? That’s a very difficult questions, and sometimes it isn’t so easy to answer that. So the factors that the search engineers have to take into play for that are immensely, immensely more complex. And we get into the realm of what it means for machine learning. And artificial intelligence. And how the machine can somehow suss out the reality of relevance from a particular piece of content over another.
Susan: Context is becoming so much more important.
Ric: Yes, it certainly is. And that contextuality does point back a lot to the social networks as well. Because that’s where that context is being built. And how any particular piece of content, whether it’s shared by someone or authored by someone, or just even viewed by someone, tells us something about that content.
Susan: So, what kind of trends do you see coming along for search in the future?
Ric: Well, the biggest trend of course is that it’s not going to stop changing. It keeps maturing and the bad guys are going to keep trying to cheat the system, and the good guys are going to keep trying to beat cheated. There will be that. We’ve got the addition of the pervasive Internet, the Internet of Everything that’s coming into play. And so that’s bringing in a lot more data points. We have people using Internet-based clothing, clothing that somehow tells you about reality. You’ve got other things, objects that will tell you about reality, and then that will give even more context to any particular piece of information. So that as devices such as cars start to map the worlds, or telephones are mapping the world as people carry these devices around with them, it’s creating an entire other model of reality that the search engines can draw on.
Susan: And how all of that personal information fits into it. So you have watches that are actually, you look at Pebble or Fit or any of these other things that are actually monitoring your universe. You know, one of the things we talk about, well, two things about heroes, and the arc of the hero in storytelling. And that is that brands have always tried to be, the old advertising model is the brand is the hero. And really, the consumer has never felt that way. They’ve always looked at themselves as the hero of their own lives. [laughs]
Ric: You know the old spun, I’m sure you know the book by Nancy Duarte, the great speaking consultant, and she wrote this book, “Resonate.”
Ric: And she very clearly talks about the job of the speaker. You are telling a story. But no, you’re not the hero, the audience is the hero.
Ric: And the role of the speaker then, is the hero’s helper.
Ric: So we see this throughout storytelling for thousands of years. Yes, you have the hero. You’ve got Odysseus on his journey. But, he often has his helpers. And the brand can play that role. Which is very fascinating.
Susan: And the brand actually becomes much more valuable than trying to, I mean, nobody likes somebody who walks into a party and says, “I’m so funny.” [laughs]
Ric: Right. Yes.
Susan: And same with the brand. “I’m so this.” You know, we value people who help us, and the brand being that kind of helper. But we’re actually seeing another interesting evolution of the hero. And I do think it taps into and is rising because of millennials. And that is that the community becomes the hero. So we see millennials really looking to belong to something bigger than themselves. And in some of the work that we’ve been doing, we’re actually helping organizations re-characterize the hero, not even as the individual on the other side, but on the community to which they belong. And helping them aspire to be that.
Susan: And it’s a fascinating shift.
Ric: I concur with it. Now that brings you into a whole rich territory, and there’s a couple aspects to that that we frequency touch upon. And that is, the first thing, particularly in this realm that we call “content marketing.” Now, if you have what we call a “passion point” or a particular topic of passion that you share with your customers or your community, then we can talk all day about this thing that we’re mutually passionate about. And as a consequence, you’ll come to associate our brand with what we’re passionate about. So we see for instance in Red Bull, Red Bull never talks about the foul tasting fluid in the little cans, right?
Susan: [Laughs] Right.
Ric: They talk about extreme living.
Ric: People jumping out of helicopters and off of ski slopes. And as long as they keep talking about that, extreme living, the customer’s happy to go along for the ride. Red Bull has done brilliant, absolutely brilliant content marketing around this passion point. It’s very interesting historically how they came to be a marketing organization that focused on that. The other thing that I think is a noteworthy topic is the conversation around community. And what is community. Because of course, communities for millennia have meant, “Well, my shack, or my hovel was next to your hovel, next to where two roads met.” Or where a river met the road. And that was our community. And then with technology and transportation, people moving about, we now talk on the shortwave radios, or on Twitter, the nature of community has fundamentally changed. And what exactly, by the way, is community, anyway? I think a lot of the approach that, unfortunately, many brands are taking to community is they see community as that group of people to whom they speak.
Ric: I don’t think that makes a community. I think community happens and emerges . . .
Ric: . . . when we’re all speaking with one another.
Susan: Yeah. And I think, too, that the audience defined their own community, and you need to give them the space and the freedom. One of the things we really try and do is spend that time and that space of helping them define their own community, and not imposing solutions or community on them at the outset. But letting those communities emerge and self-form. And then . . .
Susan: . . . you get these amazing arcs of storytelling, and of content that you hadn’t anticipated, or couldn’t have thought of.
Ric: Right. Yep. And speaking about community, I’ll share a fun little story with you. I don’t know if you’re on Twitter. A few years back, a community emerged based just on a hashtag. Imagine that, right? Just a hashtag. It was #usguys.
Ric: And a group of people got together, and it started off as five friends, and they kept repeating their names, their long @ handles, in each tweet. So they said, “Well, wouldn’t it be easier if we just used a hashtag.” So they started using usguys. And little by little, other people started joining the group. And it became this 24 hour 7 day a week community. And what was very fascinating about it is that a lot of the group dynamics that you see in real life when groups form, and they go through Tuckman’s five stages of group formation, we saw that happening online.
Ric: And people formed splinter groups, they formed their own patois, they had a shared history that they could refer to, they started developing certain rituals if a new person came in, they would give them the welcoming gong, if you will.
Ric: And so a lot of those behaviors are so hardwired into people and behavior, that they’ll even happen around a hashtag.
Susan: Isn’t that extraordinary. I actually hadn’t heard that one. That’s amazing. So what are you working on now?
Ric: Well, we’re working on a few different big endeavors here. One of the very exciting things for us for a couple years has been something we call “Level 5” in social media. And it came about because some of us were sitting around one day, and somebody mused, “Well, on a scale of one to five, how good are we at Facebook marketing?” And that demanded the question, then, how do you measure what it means to be at the level five, or one to five. One is, let’s say, my mom. Right?
Ric: And then five is, well, who’s the industry’s best and brightest on Facebook marketing. Or LinkedIn marketing, or Twitter marketing. And that’s level five.
Ric: And so we started building out these capability matrices in which we could evaluate both brands as well as particular individuals and how well they’re doing in these platforms. So we’ve been working on that for a couple of years. It’s taken a lot of energy, but has been a very exciting project. Of course I speak and travel a lot, and I’m speaking a lot this year on the topic of what we call “deep content.” On one hand, you’ve got a lot of people talking about lean content, “Let’s do fast and loose content.”
Ric: Whereas a trend that I’m finding that’s very exciting is the idea of investing really heavily into pieces of the content. So we might be talking about hundreds of man hours into a particular piece.
Susan: And really finding something that’s deeply resonant with a very particular community. It’s true…
Susan: …we’re seeing that, too. We’re seeing that too. So level five, is that going to have a public interface, then?
Ric: Right now it’s something that we speak about and we talk about on the conference trail, if you will. And that’s where it is at this point. We might ultimately play that into a publication of some sort, or other pieces of work that we’re doing. We’re also doing a tremendous amount of continuing the work that we started a few years back, of training for the social media strategy work that we do.
Ric: Several years ago in my book “Social Marketology,” it developed a process around social media marketing. And we’ve been giving workshops all over the country, actually all over the world at this point in that. And it’s being taught at several colleges, and used in a lot of very large brands today.
Susan: I can attest to both. We keep “Social Marketology” and also your other book, the “DragonSearch Online Marketing Manual,” we keep both of those really close by and handy, and we live by them and love them. And you’ve certainly been a great place for us to turn whenever we’ve needed just that expert advice. You have it all going on, Ric. [Laughs]
Ric: Well, I appreciate that. We eat, drink, and sleep it, here.
Susan: Yeah, you really do. I want to thank you so much for being part of this podcast, I’ve enjoyed hearing you speak. I’ve seen you at a couple of conferences, and you’ve always just enlightened a room, and you can just see people’s eyes sparkling with possibilities after you’ve finished speaking. And I think that’s such a mark of a brilliant speaker. It’s really easy to get up there and intone and give people information, but it’s quite a different thing to inspire in them the possibilities of what they can do for themselves through training, and through learning, and through listening, and all of the things that you both offer and point people towards. And I think you’re just great at what you do.
Ric: I appreciate this, Susan, it’s been a blast.
Susan: Thank you, thanks so much.
Ric: Take care.
Susan: So, thanks very much, Ric. That was awesome, and I was conscious of trying to get you out in time for your next meeting without too much delay, but I really appreciate you suffering through all the technical delays and doing that with us.
Ric: Not a problem, my pleasure.
Susan: Thank you.