How to Set Them Up for a Knockout: Social Media Strategies for a Competitive Age

Who would’ve thought that digital marketing could be like boxing?

The analogy is surprising at first, but it turns out that the same key principles can lead to great success in both realms. The details are in Gary Vaynerchuk’s book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World. With this guide to digital marketing in the present day, the challenge of standing out in a sea of content suddenly becomes much more manageable. All it takes is a good strategy, and the right combination of hits.

Round 1: The Setup 

Before a boxer steps into the ring, he has already sat down with his manager and studied the upcoming opponent in detail. They have watched the tapes together, analyzed every move, and studied the strengths and weaknesses of their own side as well as that of their adversary.

Digital marketers would be wise to prepare themselves in a similar way. Before you craft any story, you need to know the extent of your own abilities, and those of your rivals in the same space. Only then can your company define its brand identity online, and decide on a target audience. These steps are crucial to all that follows; good storytelling depends on the audience’s likes and dislikes, just as much as a good boxing approach depends on the opponent’s own preferred tactics and abilities.

Understand that in each sport, the nature of the game is to wear down the defenses of the other player. In the world of marketing, audiences begin with their defenses up: They don’t know who you are, or why they should give you their time or money. Moreover, they may not have a positive impression of advertising in general. In a world saturated with content, it is no longer worthwhile to simply bombard the audience with a single message, over and over again, as people have trained themselves to ignore such attempts.

And yet, people’s defenses are not always up. They let friends and family in at a moment’s notice. Likewise, even businesses can generate genuine excitement among consumers, provided they have primed their customers to expect good things from them. To make another analogy: Some doors just cannot be forced – but swing open effortlessly when the right key is placed in the lock.

   Jabs and Right Hooks 

A basic understanding of boxing can shed light on the strategic issues at play. The two main punches in boxing are jabs and hooks. A jab is a straight punch – designed more to distract than to hurt. A right hook is a full swing, when the boxer gives it everything he has. A hook is much more likely to miss its target if the opponent is expecting it; but if he is busy focusing on jabs, then a hook can sneak in unexpectedly and cause significant impact.

The smart boxer knows that the best way to set up a hook is by throwing enough jabs first. In marketing, it isn’t the customer who is treated as an opponent. Instead, it is the customer’s own hesitations, misgivings, and defenses that must be worn down by jabs. For this reason, marketing jabs aren’t designed to hurt; they aim instead to satisfy.

Jabs, indeed, are all about giving. Give your customers valuable content without expecting anything in return, and they will thank you for it. Entertain them, educate them, and talk about what they’re interested in, and they will start to tell their friends about you. The objective of a jab is not to make direct sales, it is to set them up for something even bigger: the right hook.

The right hook is a clear call-to-action for your customer to take. It is the culmination of all your previous efforts – the moment when you go in for the sale. When it’s time to throw one, don’t be shy about it. Your reputation depends on confidence, honesty, and maintaining good relations with your customers, and now is not the time to abandon these virtues.

Instead, be clear about what you are doing, and keep it simple. Don’t try to disguise your right hook as a jab. Instead, own up to it. By now, you have given them so much great content that you’ve earned the right to ask. If you’ve set them up well, then your customers will practically be begging for the right hook.

Jab, jab, jab, right hook can be simplified to: Give, give, give, ask. Earn your credibility and good-will by giving out valuable content, and when it’s time to ask for support, your fans will come through to show their appreciation.

   Adaptation is key

However, all those jabs and right hooks can still go to waste if you ignore the context of the social media platform you’re on. Both jabs and right hooks depend on the unique qualities of each platform, including issues related to context as well as timing.

Instagram is driven by its visuals, while Twitter’s impact comes from clever bits of short text. In boxing, timing and precision are essential to landing every punch. Digital marketing platforms operate in real time, responding to events that are currently unfolding outside. Marketers must therefore be aware of what is currently trending, which cultural ideas people are focusing on, which movies people are talking about, and much more. Social media managers must constantly be asking themselves: How can our content and storytelling relate to the topics that are on people’s minds right now?

   The Perfect Right Hook 

Vaynerchuk’s conception of a well-executed right hook is simple:

  1. It must have a call to action that is easy to perform and simple to understand.
  2. It must be crafted for viewing on mobile phones and other digital devices.
  3. It must respect the wider context and the uniqueness of the platform.

Now that you have the fundamentals down, it’s time to step into the ring and tell your story. But what makes a great story?

Round 2: The Characteristics of Great Content and Compelling Stories
  1. It’s native

Each social media platform has its own language and mannerisms. The content and story you produce must speak the same language as everyone else on the social media platform where your posts can be found. Your content should feel like part of the platform, blending right in with the other posts so that it feels natural and right. As Vaynerchuk put it: “Content is king, but context is God.”

No matter how great your content is, if you ignore the language of the platform, your efforts will fail. If you’re on Instagram, you should be posting photography shot with quality cameras, because this shows authenticity. Avoid posting stock photos of your products or services; people don’t go to Instagram for that.

Native content is all about posting content that a normal human would post. The problem most businesses have is that their marketing teams follow the old tradition of talking to their customers through the persona of a big company. It is far better to take a different tack, and position yourself as being approachable by adding usefully to other people’s conversations.

Most people feel at home responding and reacting to topics people are talking about online, and you should too – even if it doesn’t always relate directly to your brand. Twitter’s trending hashtags are a good way to find what’s on people’s minds in your area. Also, take a look at what your friends are posting on Facebook and other platforms. What you post for your business should look similar to that.

  1. It doesn’t interrupt

People don’t go on social media for the ads; they go to have an experience. News, entertainment, friends and family, memes – these are the lifeblood of digital platforms, and the key is not to interrupt this experience but to instead be part of it.

When people consume your content and story, they should feel that it blends seamlessly with their other experiences. Otherwise your content will feel like an autoplay advertisement at the start of a YouTube video – a forced interruption imposing on other people’s entertainment experience.

  1. It gives people what they want 

Remember that the stories you tell and the content you create is for your customer, not you, so devote yourself to delivering material that they will find valuable. First, you must identify what is important to your audience. For companies marketing to the general public, an easy way to get inside their minds is to consider the average mobile phone. The top three most used applications reveals what they value most. Generally, these applications fall under 3 broad categories.

  1. Social Network: Facebook, Instagram (People are interested in other people)
  2. Entertainment: Netflix, YouTube (People want to escape)
  3. Utility: Calendar, Notes, Kindle (People seek services)

For the majority of businesses, the most impactful content and stories will fall within one of these 3 categories because that’s what their audiences are looking for.

Moreover, if your content uses native storytelling, people will be more likely to share it. They may not even realize it’s coming from a commercial social media account, as long as the story is captivating. As a result, more people will see and follow your brand – and when it comes time to hit them with the big right hook, they will be far more willing to buy because they’ve connected with your message on an emotional level.

  1. It leverages pop culture

Most people love pop culture, so help them relate to you by showing them that you have similar interests. If your audience is excited about the next superhero movie, talk to them about it and create content based around it. They will consume your content alongside the other pop culture posts in their social media streams.

  1. It’s micro

Social media posts can also be micro-content. Your material doesn’t always have to be planned weeks ahead. Jab, jab, jab is about jabbing at anything and everything. Create interesting content (jabs) out of real-time events, current events, and conversations. Follow what people are talking about and create micro-content for it. Keep repeating this process and you’ll generate so much micro-content, setting up your right hook to come later.

Micro-content will also get you noticed, allowing people outside your main target audience to discover your brand.

  1. It’s consistent and self-aware 

The most important thing to remember is who you are. No matter how many stories you tell or how many conversations you get into, your brand identity and personality must remain the same.

Round 3: Showtime

The audience is out there, and the stage is set. Gary Vaynerchuk’s “jab, jab, jab, right hook” is your go-to strategy to knock down your customers’ defenses on any social media platform. Keep jabbing at them with native storytelling and valuable content, all day and every day. Then go in for the sale with your right hook and make it count. Repeat this strategy, leveraging on your past successes, and you’ll always come out victorious.

Now step inside the ring and start to put all that training into practice.

Lexicon is a full-service digital marketing agency in Bangkok, Thailand. We specialize in corporate storytelling and produce all of our content in-house, including branding,  copywritingvideo production and graphic design. We bring all of our services together and use Digital PR and social media marketing storytelling to connect our clients with the ideal target audience.


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