Finding Your Pre-Customer: How to Speak to (and Convert) the People Who Aren't Even Looking for You


Here's a little exercise for you. Think of a film or book you happen to be fond of. Take a second to review the story in your head. Now try to recall a character or two as well as their basic motivations. Odds are ten-to-one that you'll also remember a moment when a fateful decision was made, a point when someone did something that altered the trajectory of events. 

That's the way it goes in all storytelling, no matter the form, no matter the genre. Be it opera, westerns, a daytime soap, or even WWE wrestling, there's no story without a decision or two thrown in. Think about it. Hamlet isn't Hamlet if the Prince of Denmark never decides to avenge his father's death. Star Wars is pretty pointless without Darth Vader's defection to the Dark Side. And what good's a wrestling match without someone deciding to swing a metal folding chair at an opponent? 

Thus it goes with digital marketing as well. Every brand has a story to tell, as does every customer. What's more, these stories are filled with decision points that either move a transaction forward or keep it from happening at all. A person becomes a customer, for instance, by making a critical decision at a key juncture. Without this decision, no transaction ever takes place and there is no story to tell. 

So how can a brand insert itself into a potential customer's story in order to turn that person into an actual buyer? A lot of tactics have been offered up as answers to this question, but the best approach is to understand the story and the decision points that lead someone to make a specific purchase. Why? Because when you understand the story and the decisions that must be made, you are better able to speak to them. You are better equipped to connect with those who need what your brand has to offer. 

But who exactly is the person who might be needing what your brand has to offer? How on earth do you speak to them? At EdgeTheory, we call this person the pre-customer, and we speak to them by referencing the decision points they may be facing. 

An example might come in handy here. Let's say you own a rental condo in Aspen, Colorado, that you need to keep booked across the entirety of the tourist season. After a bit of research, you determine your pre-customers consist of well-to-do professionals in their forties and fifties. By thoughtfully considering the life experiences of this group you can easily figure out what you need to talk about. The loss of youth. Twentieth wedding anniversaries. The need to escape the noisy kids (or elderly parents) for a few days. The yearning to decompress from a stressful career. Suddenly your Aspen condo becomes more than just another space for rent. It's now the solution to all of these issues. 


With regards to the pre-customer, there are three things you should try to accomplish. First, you need to capture their attention with well-crafted messaging. Second, you need to engage them in conversations that align your brand with their specific needs. Lastly, if you've done it right, you should be able to convert them into paying customers. 

It's important to remember, however, that the onus is all on you. The pre-customer isn't even looking for you, after all. In fact, the pre-customer doesn't even know to look for you. The pre-customer is simply clicking around the Internet, often seeking the answer to an ill-defined question or need. Unless you volunteer how your Aspen condo can make middle-agers feel young again, your pre-customer is likely to go off and book a canoe trip instead. 

I won't lie to you. The Internet's a noisy place. There's clutter and chatter everywhere. In order to stage meaningful conversations with your pre-customers, you've got to figure out a strategy for cutting through the electronic din and connecting with them. Social media offers the perfect place to start doing this. It's a low-cost platform that most people are already using. What's more, you can gauge the effectiveness of your efforts through your monthly and weekly performance stats - and ultimately through your sales as well.

Success in finding and converting pre-customers isn't always immediate, and the only way it can become permanent is through continual effort. Scale back on your messaging and your pre-customers suddenly vanish. There's every reason to be optimistic, though. You already have a distinct advantage over your competition just by knowing that the pre-customer even exists at all. 

Why CaaS? : How Content-as-a-Service Can Fuel Online Conversation


Run a Google search on the phrase "content is king," and you'll get nearly 450,000 results. It appears that content really is king, and everybody knows it. Now think of the millions upon millions of websites lining the byways of the Internet. Think of all the sites you go to on a regular basis. Finally, ask yourself where any one of them would be without their content. Exactly. With no content a website simply doesn't have a purpose for being. 

But there's a major problem when it comes to content. It's not so easy to produce. Yet lots of websites need major injections of the stuff everyday just so they can survive. It's one thing if you run a small blog and only need to put up one or two short posts at a time. But what if you're bigger than that but not big enough to sustain a small army of creatives? How are you supposed to keep your pages fresh? 

That's where Content-as-a-Service (Caas) comes in. Since most websites can't afford to pay hundreds of writers and artists, they often rely on other agencies to procure their content for them. Over time, this method of acquiring text new material has come to be known as Content-as-a-Service, or CaaS for short. CaaS providers tend to be digital marketing firms, tech startups (like EdgeTheory), and even freelance professionals. 

Simply put, the Internet is powered by the rocket fuel of conversation, regardless of whether it takes the form of thought-provoking articles, user comments, or interactions on social media. People come to the Internet for the simple reason that they want to interact with others. CaaS is the method by which many small and medium-sized websites make such conversations possible for their audiences. 

There are any number of ways by which CaaS can be configured. Some services simply syndicate content across the various websites that purchase it. Others repurpose or reformat it for special usage. EdgeTheory, for instance, has a product called Soundboard, which allows users to share content on social media and even provides them with suggested text for posting. 

 You might be wondering if the CaaS model means that the same content gets published and republished all over the web. Far from it. Since most online conversations take place within niche specialty domains, CaaS providers strive diligently to avoid redundancy through content duplication. I'm sure you've seen an article in one place reappear elsewhere. But if you think about it, it's probably not an everyday occurrence. 


Could CaaS Work for You? 

Regardless of your particular industry or specialized community, Content-as-a-Service could feasibly enable your brand or organization to broaden its own online conversation as well. Some distinct advantage of CaaS include the following:  

  • CaaS can be tailored. Web publishers can specify the kinds of content that benefit their audiences and enhance their online conversations. 
  • CaaS can improve your conversation share on social media. Conversation share is critical because it contributes to organizational authority and enhances your online reputation. 
  • CaaS can be automated. Once you've contracted with a provider and the back-end development work has been accomplished, the content usually appears in your feed or website without further prompting - unless you specify otherwise. 
  • CaaS can be specially formatted. Need an automated social media feed? A CaaS provider can handle that for you. Trying to build a niche website? Again, CaaS might be your answer. 
  • CaaS can improve your Google rankings. Generally this is achieved through traffic volume and social media activity, rather than the content itself. Still, higher rankings are higher rankings. 
  • CaaS offers a more comprehensive means of promoting your brand. Audiences are more discriminating than ever now and want to engage in conversations that go beyond your products and services. CaaS offers an innovative means for promoting your brand without being pushy about it. 

We are still in the early stages of the CaaS model, and it remains to be seen how it will evolve as Web 2.0 gradually morphs into Web 3.0. One thing remains clear, though. As the spiraling global conversation that is the World Wide Web continues to add new users, the demand for fresh content is only going to intensify. Success will come more readily to those who can provide it, while those who cannot will fall by the wayside. 

The question before us now is this: where in that equation do we want to be? 



Developing a Social Media Audience: A Go-To Guide for Making Your Brand Shine


You can't be all things to all people, the old saying goes. You can, however, be some things to some people. For the purposes of online marketing, think of these people as your audience. Regardless of your passion or product, there's likely a built-in following just waiting for you to find it. It's a tricky proposition, though. You can't just blanket Twitter or Facebook with nonstop advertising and expect the masses to come calling. So what on Earth are you supposed to do?

Good question. Glad I asked it. To begin with, there are no hard and fast rules in digital marketing, which is just as much an art as it is a science. It's important to remember that what works in one context won't always yield results in another. That being said, there's still plenty of people who either want or need whatever it is you have to offer. The following set of best practices can help you develop - and expand - a well-informed and ever-faithful digital following. 


Where most digital marketers go wrong is in confusing what they do with advertising. The truth is, it's anything but. As the emergence of Web 2.0 has taught us, audiences are anything but passive. They can - and do - speak back. Beat them over the head with too much ad copy, and they'll call you on it before abandoning you for good. For this reason, it's essential that you steer clear of perpetual self-promotion. 

Instead, you need to recognize digital marketing for what it really is - a form of ongoing conversation. This means you have to do more than merely speak to an audience. You also need to listen. Indeed, it's only by 'listening' and paying attention that you can even figure out where your potential followers are lurking. Keep reading to see what I mean. 


In the parlance of online conversation, listening essentially amounts to research. Different social media platforms attract different kinds of people, and you need to figure out where you'll make the biggest splash. The goal is not to run a campaign on every social media site, but to excel on a chosen few. Do your research on the front end, and you won't be wasting time and energy down the road. There are several ways to 'listen' to social media chatter to figure out where you'll strike the loudest chord.

  • Develop a conversation map and test response to different keywords on different platforms
  • Research the demographics of each social media platform you're considering to see if there's a natural fit for your brand
  • Perform searches on various social media sites to find specialized communities or conversations
  • Poll your existing customers about their online behavior. Use your findings as a starting point


Once you've figured out where you belong, you need to start talking to your audience. Again, take care to do more than simply drown them in promotional ad copy. At a minimum, you should be offering content they find meaningful and worthy of their attentions. The net you cast can be fairly broad, too. Your content needs merely to intersect in some way with your audience's overriding interests. Some examples of relevant content might include

  • Topical memes and cartoons
  • Book reviews
  • Pertinent news stories
  • Related scientific studies
  • Interviews with key figures in your company or market sector
  • How-to pages
  • Appropriate Youtube videos
  • On-Topic movie reviews
  • Relevant bills or legislation 
  • Popular trends 
  • Audience contributions
  • Lots and lots of images

Because online audiences literally flock to relevant and interesting content, your following will inevitably cluster around you. Remember, it's okay to push some promotional content so long as you keep it within reason. What counts as 'reasonable' will vary from brand to brand, of course, but keep it to a modest amount to ensure your audience doesn't defect. 

Here's another way to think of it. Imagine your feed is a television station and your promotional content is the advertisement that pays for the other stuff. How much of it do you want mixed in? Ten percent? Twenty percent? Answer that question and you'll have a basic formula for running promotional content. 

A conversation requires that you do more than talk, however. You also need to listen. As you continue offering quality content, your audience will begin to engage with you in whatever forms are available to it - likes, shares, comments, emojis and so forth. Pay attention and, in time, you'll develop a sense of who exactly your audience is and the kinds of content it prefers. 

And don't be afraid to poll your followers about your brand's offerings from time to time. This can be a great way to glean insights and feedback. But again, be careful not to overdo it. 


An online audience can't just be developed. It also has to be sustained - and preferably enlarged. Digital marketing is a marathon, after all, not a sprint. Stop nurturing your audience, and it will dissolve like thin ice in hot water. 

The good news is that once you've built an audience you've already got some idea how to sustain it. In most cases, consistency is key. Keep them coming back by offering the kind of content that brought them to you in the first place. 

At the same time, though, don't be afraid to try new approaches. Experiment. Crack jokes. Use your analytical tools to see what flies and what bombs. Adjust and repeat. Feel free to be anything but bland and antiseptic. 

And don't be dismayed when something you've tried suddenly stops working. See it for what it is - a sign that it's time to change strategies. Adapt and move on. Remember, you don't have to be all things to all people. That's not the point of digital marketing. But you do have to be a consistent voice and reliable ear to those who comprise your audience. Achieve that and your brand might just outperform even your wildest dreams. 



Mapping Your Online Conversations: A Go-To Guide for Digital Marketers

Having a conversation map is the easiest way to keep your campaigns going in the right direction.

By Gregg Newby

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Someone once said that every conversation is an adventure. You go new places and discover new things without having to change locations. While that's certainly true, it’s also true that no adventurer worth their weight in salt ever left port without a map in hand. Thus it goes for online conversation as well. While it’s fine to let your day-to-day interactions ebb and flow as they may, no digital marketing effort can really be complete until you’ve developed and fine-tuned a bona fide, grade A, client-approved conversation map.

But what exactly is a conversation map? Essentially, it’s a visualization of the conceptual and linguistic parameters that your digital marketing efforts need to observe. In layman‘s terms, it includes everything your campaign is going to talk about while omitting everything else.

Some readers might be thinking at this point that a conversation map sounds like another silly marketing gimmick.  Isn’t it obvious what your campaign should and shouldn’t be discussing? Not necessarily. No two clients are alike, even when they’re in the same industry. Therefore, the conversations they build with online audiences are going to be highly individualized. A conversation map serves to keep each campaign focused on its key concepts and, ultimately, to stay on message.

Here’s a real world example to drive the point home. Let’s say you have two clients in the athletics footwear sector looking to build their following on social media. Let’s say they both specialize in running gear for marathoners. Shouldn’t they be discussing the very same things? You might think so at first, but after sitting down with each client you learn that company A also sells a line of energy bars, whereas Company B is focused solely on the footwear. Suddenly you have two very different conversation maps. Client A needs you to talk about the body's depletion of nutrients after a workout. There's no way you can ever bring that up for Client B, however. It's irrelevant and could actually cause some runners to question whether marathons are even a good idea.

So how exactly do you go about making a conversation map, then? Essentially it begins – and ends - with the client. Before you even draft the first piece of content, it’s essential you schedule a sit-down to learn about the client’s various offerings and the challenges it’s facing. Think of it as a question and answer session where you delve as deeply as you can into the client’s business model and zero in on expectations.

After that, it’s time to start plotting. You need pen and paper for this exercise, and the more people who can participate the better the map will be. The good news is that there’s no set format a conversation map has to follow. It can be a word cloud, a series of connected bubbles, or just a plain old list of words. The important thing is that you get the key concepts and themes down on paper before you start drafting content that goes too far astray.


Once you have your conversation map, it’s time to double back with the client. Trust me on this. The client needs to review what you’ve put together in order to ensure the resulting content is going to be in line with its business objectives. No company wants to see its marketing revenue spent on immaterial content, no matter how clever it happens to be. Gaining the client's documented approval helps ensure you never shoot at the wrong targets. And if something does happen to be missing from the map, it’s the client who’s best positioned to point it out.

Not until the client is happy with this map should you begin creating your content. Here’s the thing, though. Conversation maps are never static. As needs change, so must the way we talk about them. As the client develops new products or services and discontinues older ones, the conversation necessarily evolves. So too must the map you use. This means you need to periodically revisit it and double check its relevancy. When done properly, you’ll find yourself adding new words and concepts while eliminating older ones. This will ensure that the content remains dynamic and that the right audience is kept in the crosshairs.

I won’t lie. A proper conversation map can be a lot of work. But remember, a conversation is an adventure. If your map’s wrong then you’re liable to end up like Columbus, who landed in the Bahamas believing he was in India.

Choosing Your Online Conversations

It's important to figure out what to say before you start talking.

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Don't quote me on this, but Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote something to the effect that a good conversation is just as stimulating as black coffee - and just as hard to sleep after. That's part of the problem with the Internet these days. It's an endless warren of conversation, where people can quickly click away from anything that doesn't interest them. Unless you've got something of substance to offer, your audience is gone. 

This is the main reason why digital advertising doesn't work all that well. Admit it - you don't click on those banner ads, do you? And ten to one, you probably click the 'skip ad' button on YouTube videos just as soon as they appear. Am I right? Of course I am. In an online world built around the concept of fluid conversation, static ad copy comes across like tone-deaf buzz-sawing. No one wants it. 

So what's the alternative? Thankfully, that's an easy one. If it's conversation people want, then it's conversation you have to provide. It may be hard to accept, but your word isn't the last word on anything anymore. 

Whether you want to raise awareness for your cause, find new followers, or simply promote your brand, you've got to meet people where they are. You have to talk to people. You've got to listen and process what they say. Finally, you have to take their input into account and respond in a thoughtful manner. In other words, you have to engage them in a meaningful conversation.

Sound difficult? I won't lie: it can be. Unlike traditional marketing, an online conversation can be ongoing and hard to control. As customers' needs change, the resulting conversation is going to change as well. It's going to veer off in new directions, touch on new subjects and, ultimately, offer up new insights. 

The good news is that your brand can benefit from all this change. In order to own a greater conversation share, you simply have to be willing to listen to others and respond accordingly. Saying that you have the solution to X is of little use if people are complaining about Y. In other words, when people start talking about Y, you've got to talk about it too. Otherwise, you're just shouting into the void - the place where no one hears you. 

This means you have to deliberately choose your conversations. You have to identify your target audiences, determine their specific needs, and then zero in on the keywords and calls to action that are most likely to compel them. All the while, you need to keep in mind that conversations ceaselessly change directions the same way a river can, which means you have to pivot and veer in order to stay on course. 

Essentially, it all comes down to research. Imagine yourself walking into a cocktail party and scanning the room for a place to insert yourself. Researching online conversations is, in effect, the very same thing. You're checking out the partygoers, looking for familiar faces, and trying to figure out where you best belong. You could just walk up to a group of strangers and start jabbing away, but no one does that in the offline world, and you really shouldn't do it online either.

Thankfully, there are a ton of way you can carry out your conversation research. Some predominant examples include:

  • Keyword Everywhere - a Chrome & Firefox plug-in that offers intel on Google search terms
  • Customer review sites like Yelp and Angie's List
  • Retail sites with product reviews (Think Amazon & Target)
  • Q & A sites like Quora, Fluther, and Yahoo! Answers
  • Twitter hashtag metrics
  • Specialized Facebook groups
  • Weblogs related to your brand, product, or topic of interest
  • VidIQ - A YouTube metrics plug-in that measures video keywords and SEO

These are just a few of the ways you can find the intel needed to construct a coherent and meaningful conversation campaign. It needn't be a tedious or overly painful process, either, but the more time you spend researching your conversation the more knowledgeable you'll become. Because here's the thing: Understanding the conversation before you dive in gives you a significant advantage over the loud-mouthed advertisers who haven't yet figured out the new digital landscape. In the end, you'll be better positioned to offer up that black coffee of stimulating conversation that kept Anne Morrow Lindberg up all night. 

Until next time, 




Conversation Share: The Digital Metric that Matters Most

Whether you’re looking for customers or followers, you’re going to want to read this. 

 A conversation, by its very nature, is something that is shared with others.    

A conversation, by its very nature, is something that is shared with others. 


There are any number of ways to think of the Internet. It’s a giant information portal, for instance, a repository of code and data streams. It’s also a hyper-charged entertainment and shopping platform, powered by a vast network of workstations and server racks.

Beyond that, however, the Internet is essentially one massive, ceaselessly spiraling, barely containable cornucopia of conversation. Actually, scratch that. It’s more like a sprawling cocktail party spread out over millions of gigabytes of cyberspace, with side conversations going on all over the place. No matter where you go on the Internet, somebody’s talking about something. That’s what it’s there for.

On the World Wide Web, almost all media has become social media. The old days of simply reading something are gone now. We don’t just passively consume content anymore, the way we would a newspaper or magazine. We now engage with it in a variety of ways. We share it, comment on it, like it, favorite it, retweet it, and so forth. Not only can we comment on content, but we can comment on other comments and then comment on comments that are about comments – ad infinitum. Sounds like a conversation to me.

The impact that all this online conversation has in the offline world is monumental, too. We buy products, eat in restaurants, and even vote in elections based on what we encounter online. In fact, the two most recent presidents found their way to the White House via some form of Internet conversation. Just think about it. What comes to mind when you imagine the current commander-in-chief? Why yes, of course. His Twitter account.

There’s no question, then, that conversation matters. To make an impact in cyberspace – and thus the physical world – you need to play a sizable role in the conversations that matter to you. Some might even say you need to “own” your conversation, but that’s a questionable assertion. A conversation is not a wrestling match, after all. Think of the last time you encountered a person trying to dominate a conversation at a picnic or cocktail party. How did they come across to you? As obnoxious? A boor? Something worse? Thus it goes with online conversation as well.

The better approach is to slowly develop what is called ‘conversation share.’ And what, precisely, is conversation share? Simply put, it’s the percentage of an online conversation that belongs to you. The basic formula for determining it is actually quite simple.  Its your contribution to a given conversation divided by the entirety of the conversation within a certain domain, such as Twitter. Let’s say you tweet 50 times about stopwatches in a one-week period, during which a total of 500 stopwatch-related tweets go out. Your conversation share for that week is therefore ten percent. See how that works?

You might think it would be ideal for a brand (or person) to have 100% of a conversation, but no. If you contribute the entire input on a given topic then no one else is talking about it. And if you own 98% of a conversation, then you’re drowning other voices out, which really isn’t acceptable either. Remember the last TV commercial you saw one too many times? Remember how sick of it you were? That’s what happens when you have too much conversation share.

So how much conversation share should you have, exactly? Well, it depends. Some conversations are simply too large to dominate. Think of topics like “health” or “cooking” and the millions upon millions of searches performed on those terms every single day. It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to dominate in those arenas. Instead, you want to try for a percentage of a smaller conversation that’s well defined and navigable. You’ll never own ‘fitness,’ but with enough diligence and effort, you could have a sizable share of the ‘boot camp workouts’ conversation. See how that works?

There’s no denying that conversation share is a dense topic that requires a great deal of unpacking. Just look at how much cyberspace we've burned up already. In fact, there’s no way it can be adequately covered in a single blog post, let alone three or four. No sooner is one topic brought to light than a new gaggle of questions appear. Am I talking to the right people? Am I saying the right things? What kind of tone should I take? How can I contribute something meaningful and impactful? And which conversations should I even be participating in?

Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be exploring the topics of online conversation and conversation share in greater detail. We’ll look at strategies you can use to broaden your reach and extend your impact. For now, though, feel free to join in on this conversation. I invite you to leave your comments and questions below, follow EdgeTheory on Twitter and Facebook, and even shoot us an email. I’ll be back in a few days to dig a little further into conversation share.

Until then,


Why is Everyone Talking About Content Amplification?

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The Sales Force Awakens: Empowering Your Team with Smarter Content

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All Aboard! Why You Should Jump on the Flipboard Train

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Now is the time for curating, creating, and publishing your very own content, pulled from ALL of your favorite outlets and presented as your creative directory.  For businesses, that can mean an excellent and innovative avenue for social publishing and self-promotion.

Don't Be Clueless About Word of Mouth Marketing

Don't Be Clueless About Word of Mouth Marketing

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Employee Advocacy: Your Sales Force of Social Superheroes

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Get Smart: What Is Smart Marketing Automation?

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The Thrill Is Gone or The Ad -Blocking Blues

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For you blissfully unaware, ad-blocking providers like AdBloc let users remove all of the ads shown on every web page they visit. Tech Crunch reports, "a whopping 200 million people worldwide use ad-blockers when surfing the web."