• Jeremy Shere

Building loyalty w/ Ahava Leibtag

The following is a partial transcript from my interview with Ahava Leibtag, founder and president of Aha Media, on the Engage Your Tribe podcast. Listen to the episode here.



Jeremy: Welcome to engage your tribe., The podcast about marketing and audience engagement. My guest Ahava Leibtag, founder and president of Aha Media, based in Washington, DC. Ahava, thanks for being on the show.


Ahava: Thank you for so much for having me, Jeremy. It's great to be here.


Jeremy: So we're going to talk about building loyalty through content marketing campaigns. But first, Ahava, tell us a little bit about yourself and about your company.


Ahava: Sure. So, a little bit about myself. Well, let's see. In the last 700 days I made a sourdough starter. So I don't typically do what the crowd asks, but this time I did. I run a business of 45, content, strategists, writers, and editors. We create content mostly for the healthcare and the healthcare technology space.

We try to help our clients understand exactly what it is that they're trying to say, how to say it the right way that will really land for their audiences. And also how to maintain brand awareness without getting annoying cloying or sounding like everybody else.


Jeremy: Okay, great. So, I want to talk about a recent blog post that you published on the Content Marketing Institute website. This was back in May. And listeners, we'll put a link to it. So you can, you can check out the full post it's well worth reading. And in the post, you make the interesting observation that due to the pandemic, healthcare marketers have had to scrap whatever plans they had laid out probably last year, and rework everything on the fly.

To produce content relevant to co to COVID-19. And you know, that it's pretty clear that they're not trying to go viral like you might in normal times, it really was focused on a lot of this content was focused on building trust, building relationships and building loyalty. So just, what are some examples of that?


Ahava: I think it's nteresting that you're talking about this article being written in May, because I do think that we saw marketers, not just healthcare marketers but all marketers, had to pivot and sort of rethink how they were going to address a lot of these issues and then Black Lives Matter happened.


And I think that we also saw tremendous reaction in the way that marketers. Then had to deal with confronting another large social issue, but one that had a social justice part of it, although certainly in healthcare, you would say that the pandemic revealed some social justice and inequality issues. So I think that the brands that won this game are the brands that have been the most authentic and the most straightforward.


I think that they have come out and they have talked about exactly what they're doing and how they're handling it a hundred and healthcare. I have their CEO come out and every day. Talk about the numbers and talk about what was happening and post those figures on Facebook. There are a lot of hospitals that were terrified to do that.


They thought if we give people so much information, then we're going to scare them and they're not going to come through the doors because of COVID. But if you spent the time to explain how you were handling the COVID non COVID patients, the PPE that we're using how you were managing infection control, that kind of thing, I think you you did better. I think another really great example was, Banner Healthcare, their pediatric hospital put together this ABC book for kids, the ABCs of the coronavirus. And they illustrated, it was really cute and sweet. And I think it also showed this tremendous brand transparency and the ability to say, this is our point of view, and this is how we want to talk to people and this is how to do this. And then I think in looking at what different people have done with Black Lives Matters, you kind of see sort of even an evolution from the coronavirus of saying, how are we really not just going to pay lip service, but how are we also really fundamentally going to add to the conversation in an actionable way?


And so I think it's been really interesting to watch how that's happened. In terms of building loyalty, people have to have a great experience I think to build loyalty. You're not going to build loyalty from writing a great blog post. That's just probably not going to happen. You may catch people's attention.


You may get them to think about you. You may get them to follow you. How are you going to get them to keep coming back? And I think that marketers are not as in control of that as they'd like to be. I think that's an operational issue. I think that's a product issue. And so certainly in healthcare, we would be talking about the service issue.


And so the way I think that you build loyalty is by being a trusted friend, when it comes to finding content. The way you build actual buying loyalty is through an operational thing that I don't think marketers can control a hundred percent.


Jeremy: okay. So now in your piece, you discuss several ways that marketers in other industries beyond healthcare can learn from some of these examples. And so for example, You write that the first step or one of the first important steps is answering audience questions in using clear language, just in a really clear, direct way. So why is that important?


Ahava: You know, it's so interesting because I started Aha Media Group because I had a life threatening illness and I was really passionate about getting people content that they could read and absorb and understand that wouldn't scare them. And one of the things that I used to do at workshops, I don't do it anymore, but I used to say to people, I want everybody in this room to get their computers out and start figuring out how you are going to get a license from the United States government to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. And people's eyes, like, you know, they're like, I don't know, where do I even start? What do I do? And then I would say to them, okay, this is what people feel like when they're told that they're diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia.


Jeremy: Is that what you had?


Ahava: No, I didn't have that. Actually that's, that's a heart condition. I had a GI issue. And so the whole world has now been awakened to the fact of what it feels like to be going through a health crisis and not know what to do, not have clear direction, have conflicting pieces of advice and opinion, not being able to really understand where the data's coming from and what the data's really telling us.


And so if you think about people who are undergoing a massive health crisis individually, personally, within their family, within their community, they want information. That's going to make them feel like they have some sort of control control over their choices, control over how to move ahead, control over how to put a plan together. When marketers and industries, no matter what the industry is, if they're not clear with people and they use elevated language jargon, they begin to sound like everybody else. So right away, if you want to have loyalty with people, don't let them stop trusting you. So the minute you start using MBA speak, you know, you lose people and they're just gonna jump right off your page or out of your content because you're not helping them understand what they need to do next.


And I think fundamentally, marketers often think of themselves as having to inform way more than they think of themselves as having to sell. And it has to be a combination of both things. You have to educate people up until the point where you then educate them about why they're the best choice. And the only way I think really to do that well is to be as clear as possible in your information so that they trust you to then believe the sell on this is why we're the best place to choose for this kind of service product, whatever it is.


Jeremy: Yeah. Okay. Great point. I think just generally speaking people don't like to be sold. They don't like to feel like they're being sold something. And they certainly don't like to feel like they're being talked down to, or that you're trying to confuse them so that you'll somehow buy something.


Ahava: I think that there's a subtle way of selling that people don't feel like they're being sold to. So for example, when we're writing medical content, one of the things that we really talk about is no flabby content. A flabby piece of content is a piece of content that you write that doesn't have anything to back it up.


So, if you look at the world around us with fake news, flabby content is everywhere because either it's not backed up with real statistics from real studies or it's quoted from a place that doesn't have real journalistic integrity. And so when you write stuff like that and it falls apart on people, they feel like they're being sold to. If you say to somebody, we perform X number of these surgeries in the state of Texas, more than any other hospital in the region, that's selling to people, but it doesn't feel like selling to them. It feels like informing them about why they should trust you.


Jeremy: Yeah, answering that "why" question with substance.


Ahava: Which is a sale, but it's not a sale in the classic way of, you should buy this.


Jeremy: Right. I mean, it's content marketing, right?


Ahava: Well, to me, content marketing is about becoming a trusted friend so that when people need something, they come back to you. So in the healthcare space, to me, that would be blogging about health conditions, where people would feel like your doctors knew what they were doing. Then when they needed you for something specific, they would come to your content and read about the number of surgeries you do on this particular issue they have to be concerned about.


Jeremy: Now in a related sense, you say the companies also need to be transparent. So what does that mean exactly? And why does it matter? I think it's related to being clear, but it's not exactly the same thing.


Ahava: Yeah, I know. It's a good point. I think that when you look at, for example, the case of Hunterdon Healthcare, where the CEO got up there and was very clear and transparent about the numbers. So he was being clear by using plain language and by just talking about it in a way that anybody could understand it. He was being transparent by lifting up the curtain and showing people the inside of what was really happening. And I think that's the difference between clarity and transparency. Clarity is communicating in a way that anybody can understand it. Transparency is when you're actually showing people something about the way you're making decisions, about the way you're doing things that that they can then understand why they should trust you and why you should be the people that they choose. So to me, that's really the difference. I think it's interesting to see in terms of transparency with the coronavirus, my Honda dealership sent me an email and told me about how they were cleaning out my car and how they were handling that. So that didn't really matter to me that much. But when I'm buying packages off Amazon, I want them to tell me how they're taking care of their workers and their work in their warehouses so that I don't feel guilty about buying off of them, which I may feel guilty about anyway, for other reasons, because I want to know that they're not putting people in jeopardy so that I can get the book that I want to read because the library is closed. They can be as clear as they want about how they're doing shipping. But if they're not transparent about how they're handling infection control in the warehouse, they've lost my trust.


Jeremy: So kind of taking you behind the scenes maybe ...


Ahava: Also I would say transparency is , a commitment to sharing your values and exposing them for what they are.


Jeremy: Can it also mean showing vulnerability?


Ahava: Absolutely.


Jeremy: What I mean by that is, especially during this pandemic, no one has all the answers, right? There are still a lot of unknowns, even at the highest levels. And so. that's a tricky thing, right? Because especially in marketing, you always do want to project that we have a great solution or we do have the answers that you need and we're the experts at it. But at the same time, especially with something like this, like a global pandemic, could there be some benefit to saying, We don't know everything, but here's what we do know. And here's what we are doing and we're doing our best.


Ahava: So the number one thing that I've said more in the last 700 days than I've said ever is, I don't know the answer to that question, but we're going to find out together. And I think that's why a lot of people do trust me and do come to consult with us and do want our opinion about things. Because I'm not afraid to say, I don't know, or, I really don't know what to tell you, or let's think through the different options. And I think when companies do that, when they're vulnerable like that, they actually are going to win over people, particularly in this time period where people are feeling so incredibly vulnerable.



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