The state of connectivity for marketers and creatives: Research findings

by Nina Brakel-Schutt, January 4, 2017

Connectivity Marketing Research Findings

Connectivity is something everyone experiences to some degree. At Widen, we talk about it often because we’re aware that connectivity affects our clients and our teams every day.

In this three-part series on connectivity for marketers and creatives, we’ll be discussing:

  1.     Connectivity research findings
  2.     Connectivity and digital asset management (DAM)
  3.     The future of connectivity

Before we get started with part 1 of the series, let’s begin with a baseline definition of connectivity.

What is connectivity?

At its simplest, it’s “the state of being connected.” If you do a search in google, that’s what will come up. But that’s kind of ambiguous, so it led us to this definition of connectivity which we used as the lens for our research.

Connectivity is the state or extent of interdependence among people, objects, systems, information, and places — and the nature of those relationships.

In terms of marketing, connectivity has many contexts including, engagement, data, personalization, technology, and the integrations of those technologies to make it easier and faster for us to work and connect with our audiences.

What we wanted to learn

Our research began with the desire to answer four specific questions:

  • How marketers and creatives define “being connected”
  • What they want from a connected community
  • What challenges they face connecting content
  • Which tools they use to stay connected

In order to gain non-partial answers, we surveyed 221 professionals — none of which are Widen customers.

Here’s a breakdown of the professionals we surveyed:

Connectivity Marketing Survey Demographics

Industries represented included:

Content Marketing Across Various Industries

What we learned about connectivity

After completing our quantitative and qualitative sessions, we found that three key findings had emerged:

  • The human side makes connectivity real
  • Collaboration is a core component of connectivity
  • Taking a break from connectivity is necessary to maintain balance

The Human Side Makes Connectivity Real

Our research indicates that connectivity, or being connected, is more about being human than being digital. We found that people are driven to connect by the desire to interact, to be understood, and to enjoy relatable experiences. The device is just a vehicle.

Other recent studies show that the human brain is actually hardwired to connect with other people. For instance, according to researcher Matthew D. Lieberman, Director of UCLA’s Social Cognitive Neuroscience lab, wanting to connect is basic human desire. Our brains are literally hard-wired for it. After two decades of research, Lieberman concluded that staying socially connected is a lifelong human need, just like food and warmth.

What does it mean to be connected?
How do marketers and creatives define the idea of “being connected?” This question was the catalyst for our Connectivity Report and was the first question asked of our research participants.

The top three answers from our online survey respondents are:

Being Connected Brand Management & BeyondAnd while accessing information and knowing what’s going on are commonly about files, documents, or dialogue, there’s still a human element involved. When we get information we need, we know what’s going on and feel satisfied. Connection to information is fulfilling.

Across the board, our research participants reported that different emotions are at play when they feel connected versus when they don’t.

71% of our interview participants said they feel calm, confident, or engaged when they’re connected at work. When disconnected, they experience negative feelings like frustration, overwhelmed, vulnerable, alone, and stressed out.

Sam Mosier, one of our research participants, said:
“There’s a certain calm and confidence people get when they’re connected. They know they’re making the right decisions for the right reasons — and they don’t have to second guess it.”

Digital Tools
67% of our interview participants also say that usability or user interface would make them more loyal to one tool over another.

Marketers and creatives want to use tools that do what they say (functionality), yet provide enjoyable, people experiences (humanness). In essence, what we’re really talking about here is how connectivity is affected by the user experience (UX). The more enjoyable the UX, the more likely someone is to become loyal to the tool.

What constitutes an enjoyable experience? Interview participants say:

  • Tools that are intuitive, frictionless, easy to use
  • A sense of partnership expressed through good support over chat, phone calls, email, and content
  • Familiarity and comfort — a resemblance to common, popular systems, or systems they already use at work
  • Mirrors a user’s preferred work style and process

Real live vs. virtual life
As great as digital tools can be, to connect with accurate data, marketers need to emulate real life human interactions. And sometimes the best way to do that is in real life.

This is summed up nicely by another research participant, a Marketing Director at a North American food and beverage company:
“I’ve done package testing in a virtual store where consumers put on headlamps and we asked, ‘can you find this product?’ And they do. But something in my gut says, ‘this isn’t in real life.’ There’s no kid crying in a stroller, the lights are perfect, and it’s not messy.”

 

Download report

 

Connectivity Marketing Case Study Bendyworks

Meet Bendyworks
Bendyworks is a Madison, WI, based company that designs, builds and fixes digital applications. Brad Grzesiak, pictured above, is the CEO and co-founder of the company.

Let’s take a look at Bendyworks’ successful approach to connectivity.

What
Brad is conducting an internal email series that is sent to all Bendyworks employees three times a week.

How
The emails are managed and sent through an online service called Know Your Company (knowyourcompany.com). Each email has a different question with a specific point of focus.

  • Email #1 is a question about what employees are working on at work
  • Email #2 is a company-related question (leadership, culture values, etc.)
  • Email #3 is a question about individual employees on a personal level

Answers are NOT analyzed or shared formally and employees don’t have to participate. Responses can be seen by all and are fodder for building conversations, camaraderie and interest among employees.

Why

  • To connect his employees, give them a voice, and help them get to know the company — and each other — better
  • To share the responses with new employees, so they get an idea of the Bendyworks people as a team, and as individuals
  • To be transparent as a company in order to build a more egalitarian culture, and ultimately, more trust

Results

  • Conversations are happening among employees that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. Especially around the questions that allow employees to get to know each other on a personal level — like books they’ve read or movies they’ve watched.
  • Employee morale has improved
Better Team Management Improves Brand Management

 What does this mean to marketers and creatives?

  1. Act on people’s desire to connect and be understood by delivering enjoyable, relatable experiences (voice, message, content, device) that make them FEEL confident, engaged, validated, etc.
  2. Know when your marketing will benefit from real life vs. virtual life
  3. Put humanness first and technology second; Experiences that neglect the human element risk alienating people at every touchpoint

Collaboration Creativity & Connectivity

Our research shows that collaboration for marketers and creatives is about more than just working in a group. We found that It means interacting with others on a personal level to create something greater than what we can build on our own. And from that comes great satisfaction, pride and trust.

What is the best way to achieve a sense of connection at work?
When we asked online survey respondents the best way to get a sense of connection at work, 53% indicated collaboration with co-workers.

Collaboration & Content Marketing StrategyInterview participants elaborate that collaborating with co-workers means they’re sharing information, ideas and opinions together. They felt this consideration of diverse viewpoints leads to more creative ideas and faster solutions because it opens communication, promotes free thinking and drives consensus faster than working separately.

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute, puts it this way:
“Collaboration is when we can work on something, a joint effort together, where we’re more than the sum of our parts. And to me, that is most pronounced when I can do it in person. I happen to believe there’s a real magic that happens in the room that gets lost when you do it virtually.”

Connectivity & Face-to-Face Collaboration

In fact, 76% of participants feel collaboration is best in person — where you can see facial expressions, hear tone of voice, and experience the energy of back and forth dialogue.

Being face to face also promotes respectful dialogue, camaraderie, accountability and productivity, which participants feel makes their teams more functional.

And while 62% of our online survey respondents said they would prefer to maintain work connections in person, only 8% said being connected means being together in a physical space.

This may seem like a disconnect, but we think it may point to something many interview participants shared: that multi-phased collaboration can be especially effective.

The multi-phased collaboration approach involves:

  • Sharing prep work online, in advance
  • Establishing strategy and expectations in person
  • Managing the execution of content via email or phone calls afterwards

How important is being connected to a professional community for career growth and satisfaction?
Another area of collaboration that we touched on in our research is the idea of community, both professional and less formal.

When asked how important professional communities are, 83% of online survey respondents said “somewhat” or “very,” while only 17% said “not at all.”

What would an online community need to offer you, as a customer, to be worth your time?
We also asked about online communities ...

Intelligent Content and Online Communities“I’ve had some really great conversations at conferences where you get good ideas from people about different things they’re doing that you haven’t tried, and different ways they’re doing it. Those conversations are fantastic.”
— Michol Banes, Marketing Manager, Baker Tilly

Many interview participants said they don’t want to be “sold to” at larger events or conferences. They want to learn something new, share ideas in a casual setting, and gain actionable practices that can be applied directly to their work.

“I have a couple of groups that I meet with that are informal, and made up of creatives. We get together and discuss projects we’re working on and give each other feedback. It’s nice to get an outside perspective in an unstructured way.”
— John Bistalfo, Founder, Bark Design

The idea of small, unstructured groups or “micro-communities” offers an opportunity for authentic connections to form quickly. Micro communities are on the rise for the same reason as microbreweries. They provide a venue for a niche group with a passionate following.

Marketing Connectivity Case Study ERDMAN

Meet ERDMAN
ERDMAN is a planning, design, and construction company specializing in health care facilities. Jenne Meyer, pictured at center above, is the Vice President of Brand at the company.

Let’s take a look at ERDMAN’s successful approach to connectivity.

What
Once a month, Jenne’s marketing team dedicates time off-site to simply being creative. This time connecting is called is a Creative Co-lab.

How
They leave the office, and traditional meeting agendas, behind to find a place where they can work together, feel inspired to generate ideas — and have fun.

The location and topic are always very organic. They take location suggestions from everyone on the team. When a Creative Co-lab is coming up, Jenne will ask what team members want to do.

Past Co-lab locations include:

  • A walk around the block to get the blood moving
  • Starbucks to relax and get centered
  • A paint store to talk about color

Why

  • To give her team time away from the everyday things and gain inspiration for brainstorming
  • To connect as people and focus solely on creating something together for their clients; Because often times in marketing, we get busy doing something and forget to build in the creative time we need

Results

  • Conversations are happening among employees that wouldn’t have happened otherwise — especially around the questions that allow employees to get to know each other on a personal level
  • Employee morale has improved

Face-to-Face Brand Management Collaboration

What does this mean to marketers and creatives?

  1. Trust is the magic behind collaboration; Building trust can result in faster consensus, greater productivity and more functional teams
  2. Structure your teams and processes to receive feedback and act on it; Allow great ideas to come from anywhere in the organization
  3. Communities, both formal and informal, are important for collaborative learning and sharing of ideas; Try to facilitate the problems of your audience at community events, online or in person

Taking a Break from Connectivity

Connectivity can inspire greatness, but there are two sides to the coin.

To best connect with ourselves, our work, and our community, people need the discipline to disconnect from their devices. We need down time to let our minds wander, inspire creativity and keep balance in our lives.

What is the top device you use today to stay connected?
It’s no surprise that when asked what is the top device you use today to stay connected, 61% of our online survey respondents selected their smartphone. Our phones go with us everywhere.

How have we become this connected to our devices and other digital tools? As marketers, we’re trained that we’ll gain more efficiencies from using more tools. And while this is true to an extent, it can also be too much.

Marketers and creatives are already drowning in a flood of available tools, yet more solutions and applications keep cropping up. Since only 8% of our online survey respondents said being connected means learning new tools or techniques, it’s obvious there’s little interest in making a change once a good tool is found (remember, a functional, enjoyable tool creates loyal users).

“Too many tools lead to marketing technology (martech) overload, which is as overwhelming as not enough martech. You’ve got to find that balance. Too many apps, tabs, and disconnected data will be about enough to drive anyone to a point of feeling paralyzed in their work.”
— Jake Athey, Director of Marketing, Widen

What is the greatest challenge you experience with the marketing content you need to get done?
When we asked this question to interview participants, many told us “bandwidth” (time and resources) was at the top of their list. Creating valuable content came second.

Visual Content Marketing & ROIThere are many aspects to creating valuable content, but one key part is the ability to think creatively. As creativity expert Gaia Grant, author of several books including Who Killed Creativity?, says:

“Creative thinking requires a relaxed state, the ability to think through options at a slow pace, and the openness to explore alternatives without fear.”

When we’re constantly connected, we can’t reach this relaxed state. So, does this mean we can be too connected? Our research indicates yes.

  • To technologies (too many tools and devices can actually hinder work progress)
  • To our teams (too many meetings and nothing gets done)
  • To processes (too many processes defeats efficiency)
  • To data (monitoring too often makes it difficult to measure)

Our research participants cited both pros and cons about this.

One of the cons …
“One thing to note is that we can be too connected. It’s a problem. Our team has access to internal analytics in real time for our sales and marketing programs, and we can get in the habit of checking them too often. When we do that, it’s not meaningful for our team.”
— Director of Marketing, Medical Technology Manufacturer

One of the pros …
How marketing connectivity integrates systems, processes, and people.

86% of our interview participants said they would prefer a “happy medium” between a very integrated solution and a mix of solutions — where things “feel connected” rather than actually integrating at an operational level.

This means tools can sync with each other, but not necessarily have to be a single solution. It’s the experience participants want to feel seamless, like the way you can sync Dropbox on your phone, desktop, and tablet.

Connectivity Marketing Case Study LinkedIn

Meet LinkedIn
OK, so you’ve probably heard of LinkedIn, but today we’re going to focus on the customer marketing and internal training programs that help LinkedIn clients become better content marketers. Mike Pilarz is a content marketing evangelist at LinkedIn.

Let’s take a look at how Mike approaches connectivity.

What
Mike helps marketers create content that solves the problem of an audience and builds a direct, human connection with them.

How
Establish content goals from the get go and reach out to people on your teams to get at the information your audiences crave.

  1. Ask your customer service team: of the calls you got this week, what were the top four or five questions asked? (Create content to help answer those questions)
  2. Ask your sales team: what pain points and challenges are you hearing from clients in terms of what they’re trying to solve for as professionals? (Create content that speaks to their pain points)
  3. Ask your marketing team: what keywords are buyers and prospects using to research your product or service? (Which ones do you have the expertise to deliver content on?)

Why

  • To identify real challenges that prospects face and deliver useful, practical advice on how to address those challenges
  • To understand the human passion behind an audience by talking with them directly and those they interact with most

Results

  • Goals that help you prioritize how to structure your content strategy
  • The creation of successful content through the pain points of your audience
  • A direct connection with an audience you can own

Mike Pilarz Content Marketing Evangelist

What does this mean to marketers and creatives?

  1. Make use of the tools that truly help you move your business forward; Technology overload is real and can consume time better spent on creating valuable marketing content
  2. Turn off our devices, spend time alone; People need down time to let their mind wander and inspire creativity – which can lead to more efficiency
  3. Resist the temptation to measure marketing and sales data too often

More information …

Although we’ve covered a lot here, there’s even more information about connectivity we’d like to share. In Part 2 of this series, we’ll be talking about Connectivity and DAM, and in Part 3 we’ll discuss the future of connectivity.

Can’t wait for the rest of the series?
Download the full report now.

Topics: Resources, Content, Marketing

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