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Date: Monday, 14 Apr 2014 10:55

We are constantly designing new ideas: content marketing programs, ways to practically educate customers, brand ideas, tools that help people get stuff done and more. It’s all highly creative and requires a back and forth between those designing the solution, those who will actually use the solution and the executive stakeholders who fund or otherwise support the initiative.  

So much noise is made about getting end-users into the design process and making sure that we are all building something with the user in mind. That is super-critical. Far less noise is made about getting business leaders who may be funding a project involved. Too often creative and designers think in terms of “selling” great ideas to business executives vs. actually involving them to make the final output stronger. “Selling” means you have formed something you feel is the solution and now you want to convince executives to buy your vision. I am a big fan of proactively bringing executives into the process. Just be careful.

Taking this process too casually can be fatal. Asking a senior executive halfway through a project, “What do you think?,” with no context is just begging for an onslaught of critique that may be hard to recover from no matter how off-base the comments are.

A great POV

Katie Dill, AirBNB’s Head of Experience Design has a great POV on critique. First Round Capital has a very worthwhile video of Katie laying out her process. Definitely worth the watch. She caused me to think about the experiences I had had developing creative, innovative ideas within different organizations over the years. I was once in the “sell-the-idea-camp” which is not surprising since I worked in a global agency. I have broader view of collaboration today and enjoy getting non-designers into a room to workshop thinking at the front of a process to capture divergent views (and give people ownership of the solution).

Inspired by Katie, I thought through the key steps I try to keep in mind as I engage executives – colleagues with great POVs and senior execs who may “own” the budget for the solution. Their respective feedback is hugely valuable to making ideas stronger. At the same time, it is all too easy to muck up the process of getting that feedback over the lifespan of a project.


1. Remind us of the problem statement

I may be involving executives at several stages along the process. This can take some time – weeks, months, even. While our team is immersed in the evolution and progress, executives are all time and attention-challenged individuals. By restating the problem statement up front at every checkpoint, I help remind us all what we are trying to solve. A problem statement is not the same as a business objective. A problem statement is an easily understood challenge like how can we equip our sales force to have a business discussion earlier in the “buyer journey” that isn’t all sales talk but genuinely delivers value to the prospect while demonstrating our subject matter expertise in their business?  



2. Show where we are in the process

I love Katie Dill’s simple slide of three phases: exploration, conception and refinement. What you need from folks at even these three stages can be vastly different. Nothing is more frustrating than getting broad re-thinks on the problem you are trying to solve or even the idea that may solve it when you think you are well past that and into the refinement stage.

3. Tell the reviewers their role

What do you want from executives? What do you want with them early in the exploratory phase? How about two weeks prior to launch? Too often we fall back into the behaviors around “getting approval.” We certainly need buy-in and approval and clearly acknowledge that executives can torpedo an idea at any time. Still, clearly requesting they play a specific role can help you and also help the busy executive.

  • “We need your feedback on our research of the buyer journey. What are we missing?”
  • “We have explored 2 strong creative platforms. There are merits to each. We need to hear what you feel are the strengths and any challenges with each direction to move forward.”
  • “As you know we launch next Tuesday, can you take a look at our plan one last time and give us your gut feeling about anything we might have missed?”

4. Demonstrate a story or journey

The creative idea or solution is never a simple comp. One could get away with that in the old days of disjointed advertising. Show them the ad mock-up. That doesn’t work anymore. Say we are planning a content marketing program to raise relevant awareness of a new B2B product, deepen engagement with prospects and customers to stimulate both advocacy and preference and maybe even drive measureable demand. It’s not enough to show the 3-part video series at the center of the program. Show the LinkedIn posts that will drive people to the videos, the Tweets that wrap around :06 Vine video-promotions, the summary infographic posted on the blog. Describe the earned media outreach. Illustrate the native ad units that will scale the reach. Point out the user journey to discover and engage with the content leading them to prefer your product or even seek out a salesperson.

Katie sums it up:

“When you show your work, don’t just show one screen or one sketch of a product sitting on a shelf,” says Dill. “If you’re designing with your user in mind, then you’re thinking about how they’re going to experience your product over time and space — it’s a journey. To help your critics understand your product like a user would, share that journey.”


Secret tip: Ask two questions

Sometimes you need executive buy-in at a critical part of the process. That doesn’t mean you don’t want their feedback and constructive criticism. It just means you are close to releasing something and you want to avoid the wild electron executive (who may have missed the last two meetings).

Walk into the meeting with two, very specific questions for the executives. Hopefully you can come up with something you genuinely need help with. By posing those questions either at the outset of the meeting or at the end, you can focus their attention to those matters and away from whether someone is having a spontaneous reaction to your color scheme or video titles.

This strategy doesn’t always work but it often does. And most executives know exactly what you are doing and appreciate the effort to keep a project moving.  


Katie's Give and Take list from her presentation on giving good critique:


Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Interact..."
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Date: Monday, 07 Apr 2014 10:41

There are many flavors of content marketing. Most of us are using content to build a direct relationship with our customers and sales channel. We divert resources from what we would have tried to accomplish via advertising towards creating valuable content and then extending the reach via paid and earned media.

Chipotle does all of that and is going further. Look at their Cultivate Festival that creates events with music, local food providers and educational food bars for Chipotle. Look at their CAA-fueled work with the Scarecrow video (12M+ views) and the mobile games of the same name/theme. Look at the interview from their Co-CEO Steve Ellis and the subsequent tweetable fast facts on their Web site.

Chipotle has adopted a clear and consistent story platform about the heritage of their brand in the midst of modern food factory production and farming trends. The festival, the slick video stories, the deep information on their Web site and their engagement with their customers online are all grown from a consistent seed. By aligning all of their efforts, they always stay on-message, they reap the benefits of an accumulated understanding of who they are (what I call ‘relevant awareness’), they use their marketing dollars wisely.

I don’t have the inside information about how well this marketing approach is paying off for them in terms of sales. I am guessing they have business goals (sales) and they have brand goals (do people believe that Chipotle walks the walk of a strong community and health commitment). As far as brand goals, I have to believe they are well on the way towards establishing themselves as a responsible choice for millennials and more.


Branded entertainment not a poor man’s entertainment

Check out Michael Weiss’ article in Content Marketing Institute on their brand storytelling. Watch the Scarecrow video and the Back to the Start video that came before. Chipotle works with CAA to create these rich videos and the derivative games that go along with them. I remember when Coca-Cola turned to CAA in the eighties shocking the ad agency world. That was about getting Hollywood talents to develop TV commercials. Now CAA is about sourcing the right storytelling talent to create all sorts of formats not bound by the traditional formulas of television advertising.

The production value of of the Scarecrow video is way up there. The Chipotle branding is way down there. The video is meant to trigger those who are outraged or at least disappointed by the factory farming techniques supporting our fast food nation to view and share. Created by the guys at Moonbot Studios (the Numberlys), the animation is wonderful. The video features a spooky Fiona Apple track just as the previous video featured Willie Nelson (remember Farm Aid?). There is even a "making of" video featuring Chipotle CMO Mark Crumpacker. These are stories designed to be shared and at 12m and 8m+ views respectively, its working. 



Events as stimulants for online content and sharing

The Cultivate Festival for “food, ideas and music” gears up in early June in San Francisco with at least 2 other events planned in the US. While bands like Neon Trees draw people in, local food purveyors set up stands and the host, Chipotle, draws people to their own stands unlocking their recipe for guacamole. Celebrity hosts like Amanda Frietag hold the main stage for the responsibly-sourced food crowd. This is not just post-hippy stuff. Chipotle knows their customer.

These events will not only build local and regional excitement about their farm to table story, people attending will be tweeting and posting and extending the reach of these live events. 



Telling the heritage story and making it shareable

The video from co-CEO Steve Ellis is good. He doesn’t read so much as relate. That means his message comes across genuine (I am guessing it is genuine). Of course, the video is published on their YouTube channel and then embedded on their owned and shared channels. The YouTube channel is neat and tidy and makes sense of the entertainment videos like Scarecrow, the Making of Scarecrow as well as their “On the Farm” videos visiting real farmers.  The company time line on the Website gives us the history in a simple, bite-sized way.

But my favorite part of their heritage story is the “Food With Integrity” Facts (FWI). Seven pages of 12 facts about food, company history, animal feed and more. Each one of these little factoids are ready for tweeting and posting on Facebook including this myth-busting gem,

“There is a popular misconception that Chipotle restaurants are owned by McDonalds. While they were once an investor in our company, they divested in 2006 and our company went public on the New York Stock Exchange that year.”

They make their story genuine, personal and wonderfully shareable. A quick glance at their Facebook wall and the Twitter landscape shows modest dissension amongst the vocal public. The complaints range from too small portions to orders gone a bit wrong but these are normal and the community managers quickly engage. There are some detractor twitter handles but, again, it’s tough to find a brand that doesn’t spark some dissent.

Chipotle has created a consistent story platform and then expressed it consistently and creatively across their digital channels.

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Events, ..."
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Date: Monday, 31 Mar 2014 11:00


We must turn the corner from merely collecting and repackaging social and digital data to actually analyzing "big data" and learning from it. We Are Social have it right in their Future Factors 2014 Report

3 Phases of Listening

I often describe brand marketers moving into a 3rd phase of social listening and digital data mining. The first phase was the "just do it" phase. Brands realized that they could learn and gain experience simply by monitoring what people were saying about their products and services across social media. Listening to brand mentions in blogs and later Twitter and Facebook was revealing. At the same time that novel information helped build belief internally that customer use of digital and social media might be important. 

The second phase was the "operationalize it" phase. Technology companies like Salesforce, Sysomos and others raced to sign contracts to get their listening software into brands. They took advantage of those graduating from the "just do it" phase who wanted a more sensible way to monitor. There were plenty of other brands now interested in adding social signals to their customer care functions. They just needed an efficient way to do so since their customer care centers were still measured on efficiency not advocacy. 

The third phase is a back-to-basics departure. It is not typified by more technology or the latest algorithm. It is not the magically accurate sentiment engine that we seemed to crave for too long. 

The third phase is the "learn, apply, repeat" phase. If we do this right, we should see significant positive impact to business metrics and make as big a splash as the first phase when we began the listening journey. 

"Learn, Apply, Repeat"

I was inspired by We Are Social's Future Factors 2014 report. In their list of "10 Provocations" number 3 is "From Listening to Learning" and in it's abbreviated form captures the essence of the third phase of lsitening. (You can access the report on Digital Buzz blog here).

Two of their points bear repeating:

  • "Use data to understand the future not just report the past"
  • "Invest as much in the interpretation of data as you do in collecting it"

We need to spend more time and brain power on interpreting what these digital and social signals may mean. Then we need to build the procedures internally to take timely action based upon those learnings. We need to repeat this cycle everyday. There aren't too many shortcuts here. This is about having experienced analysts who know your business forming hypothesis, testing via data and pulling meaning from the results. This phase will be less about the listening technology companies than the internal research functions or consultants like Networked Insights and MotiveQuest

Marketing Leaders have a responsibility to telegraph the importance of this activity. We cannot settle for those silly reports filled with bar charts and pie wedges that get emailed around and never talked about. 

Sometimes the proper analysis starts by comparing what we learn in digital and social with what we hear from the field, customer care or primary research. Social data collection did not render all of those valuable research sources inert. 

Four Suggestions 


  • Invest in the analysis of data for insights and actionable observation
  • Build an intentional process of reviewing those insights regularly with the relevant business disciplines 
  • Always be pulling out actions ('stay the course' can be an action) and actually taking them
  • Make this all a repeatable ritual


Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Data & Insights, Interac..."
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Date: Monday, 24 Mar 2014 11:01


We could have seen it coming. Build a million brand fans on Facebook and then watch as Facebook turns off your access to those very fans. That’s what people are talking about when they mention Facebook Zero. As Marshall Manson from social@Ogilvy summarized in a recent post,

“Organic reach of the content brands publish in Facebook is destined to hit zero. It’s only a matter of time. In 2012, Facebook famously restricted organic reach of content published from brand pages to about 16 percent. In December 2013, another round of changes reduced it even more.”


Where brands once flocked to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and more to establish a direct relationship with their customers, a kind of hip and casual CRM system for the social set, now these same brands are finding the platforms themselves are becoming mediators between them and their fans.

Increasingly brands must buy Facebook advertising to get their content seen even by their subscribing fans. While Twitter and LinkedIn still support a meritocracy where good content is rewarded with earned engagement, paid media remains key to extending the reach of even the best content. Is it just a matter of time before those platforms throttle down access to a brand’s subscribing followers?

No brand expects to use Facebook at scale for free. On the other hand, those folks who have liked Coca-Cola, REI, or Ford expect access to the brand. And no one understands the black box algorithm that determines what we actually see in our newsfeeds.

Building brands and business via digital marketing is no longer in its infancy. Still, the discipline is young and certainly the impact of social networks on buyer habits remains contentious. It is too early for platforms to hold a brands fanbase hostage. But it’s all about degrees. Facebook seems to be pushing pretty hard. The other platforms seem much more reasonable for now.


It’s Only CRM, But I like It
There is no reason why strategic ad buys across social networks cannot be a part of smart digital marketing. We just need to keep brands motivated to put resources into social networks to prove out the viability of driving actually sales and not just brand metrics. That means not making it too expensive or undoing all of the earned benefits of these platforms.  Brands who really want a direct, dis-intermediated relationship with customers may have to get back to CRM basics. Still, to reach customers via their preferred social channels - even those customers  whose data sits in a core CRM database -will require brands to play ball with social networks. 

As James McQuiveysays in AdAge,

“Recognition that it's time to build a direct digital relationship will land on most marketers at about the same time that they realize that the aforementioned digital platforms -- Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft -- are in a much better position to have a deeper, more persistent relationship with the customer. And these marketers won't know what to do about it. Because these digital giants, while enablers of digital disruption for even the smallest developers, are also the replacement for the old media model.”


(thanks to Skyscrapers Forum for image)

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Social N..."
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Date: Monday, 10 Mar 2014 11:05

Many businesses will make moves to put content marketing at the heart of their marketing and communications.  It may look simple but just as the Tim Robbins character in Robert Altman's The Player underestimated the power of the writer, it's easy to underestimate what it takes to actually do it well. 

I define content marketing as follows:

When brands organize themselves to deliver a regular stream of valuable content to customers and stakeholders meant to strengthen their relationship with those audiences, they are practicing content marketing. The “value” must be mutual and measurable. For customers/stakeholders, they must feel that the content solves some need or desire and that a certain portion of it is “share-worthy” – worth them passing along to relevant social connections (who, by the way, will judge them by the quality fo that content). For the business, the content marketing effort must deliver a meaningful impact on the customer journey all the way down to sales, customer satisfaction (and delight) scores, and Net Promoter Scores.

In short, content marketing is the practice of using mutually valuable content to earn people’s attention, their advocacy and their business.

Sounds simple and attractive.

But, it’s worth noting what content marketing is not. It is not sending marketing messages down through Facebook or any other channel. Why not? Usually your customers and stakeholders don’t find that valuable. Industry standards of .05% clickthroughs would be a ridiculous measure of success for valuable content marketing. Why that’s become the accepted standard in digital advertising is a mystery.

So, content marketing is hard and for most businesses, it’s a journey. Here are 3 harsh realities of what I have learned it takes to deliver great content marketing:


1. Content marketing takes a lot more quality content than you have right now

How many times have you heard, “We have tons of great content already, we just need to find it and use it?” Except when you try to get your hands on it, you realize the ratio of bad stuff to good stuff is shockingly high. Executives often overestimate how much ‘good stuff’ they have. And it’s a harsh lesson to learn filled with many meetings-worth of denial.

When you decide to create content of authentic value to your audiences, it requires you to create different content. Rarely do you have great stuff sitting on a shelf. That content you used in a sell-sheet? It was written to support a sales process not help your customer understand and solve a business or professional problem.

When you launch a relevant content channel via LinkedIn or across a few social networks driving back to a dotcom, you acquire an audience with expectations of regular, high-quality content. This is not “one-and-done.” It’s a series of posts on a relevant business problem supported by a useful (and shareable) infographic, 2:00 videos, promotional posts on social networks and more. Now fill up the whole year. Then multiply by your business lines.

You will need more stuff than you have.


2. We really need to understand our customers’ journey requiring new research behaviors

If you are trying to be of-use to your audiences, you have to know what they are trying to accomplish within the context of the moment. An understanding of the broad business problem your product/service delivers against isn’t good enough. If a functional manager stands on a trade show floor and searches for an expert on a topic via smart phone, they need a quick answer and a quick connection. If they are in the middle of a planning cycle for next year, they need solution-oriented content to help them plan including quotes and stats to pull into their management presentation.  The context of the customer need has huge bearing on the content you create and the channel you deliver it through.

We need more insights along a journey not a messages for a linear and progressive funnel.


3. Writing editorially (interesting and of-use to audiences) needs training, cultivation and practice

You can imagine the conversation, “How hard can writing an interesting article on factory safety? I mean we know all about it and we already have the tech documents written…”

Experienced journalists and writers cringe whenever these words are spoken. It reminds me of the scene in The Player where Tim Robbins (studio exec) tells his management team that they don’t need scriptwriters, they just need to flip through the newspaper to find the right stories.

Writing to capture people’s attention and interest is an art and science. Ingesting brand journalism into the organization is never that easy but it is necessary. We need the skills to recognize a story, hunt it down and extract it from the brilliant but potentially communication-challenged subject matter experts. And we need the skills to tell the story across creative and media types from animations, videos, infographics, illustrated articles and more.

We need more than a new style of writing, we need an editorial culture that is always hunting for the interesting and useful story and then knows how to tell it so people care.


Relevant articles:

18 Content Marketing Myths

How to Become A Great Brand Journalist To Augment Your Content Marketing Strategy

Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Digital ..."
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Date: Monday, 24 Feb 2014 11:54


Loads of analysts are taking a look at the $19 billion ($16b in cash & stock; $3bn in restricted stock) acquisition of the 55-person messaging company, What’s App. It’s a lot of money. And despite the stories of a deal brokered over chocolate-covered strawberries at Mark Zuckerberg’s kitchen table, no one expects such a purchase decision was made lightly. 

Some of the most valuable analysis I have found are here:

Knowledge@Wharton - Quick Take: What’s Up with Facebook’s WhatsApp Deal

“Knowledge@Wharton asked two Wharton experts — Kartik Hosanagar, professor of operations and information management, and Lawrence G. Hrebiniak, emeritus professor of management — whether they believe the move ultimately will pay off.”

HBR Blogs, Jeff Stibel -  The Logic Behind Facebook’s Recent Moves

“Similarly, the size of a virtual network is dictated by its carrying capacity, only that capacity is measured by utility instead of physical resources. An online social network can only grow as big as it remains useful, and the usefulness of a social network can be measured as the ease with which users can connect and share with friends and (sometimes) potential friends.”

NYTimes, David Gelles - For Facebook, It’s Users First and Profits Later

“When Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, it, too, was assailed for a supposedly bad investment. But today, with Instagram thriving and beginning to sell advertising, that deal looks like a bargain.”


Some key points most are touching on:

  • What’s App is growing faster than Facebook and doing so internationally. Fast growth is always good for public companies. Also, Facebook may face increasing competition from services anchored elsewhere. The explosive growth of China’s WeChat being a great example.
  • Daily use of monthly actives is higher on What’s App (70%) than on Facebook (61%). Messaging services are that much more essential to their users than even Facebook with a greater frequency of use.
  • Facebook seems to have learned that their future may be as a “house of brands” vs. a single monolithic service provider under the Facebook “app.” Their launch of Paper, their cultivation of Instagram and now their purchase of What’s App seem to indicate that they do not expect every service they own to be rolled up under the Facebook name and interface. This clearly is a “hedge” against phenomena like the 11 million young users who have allegedly moved off Facebook since 2011.
  • At $1 a year in fee, What’s App has a different business model and source of revenue. As Knowledge@Wharton reported: “Despite the strong revenue numbers, Saikat Chaudhuri, executive director of the Mack Institute for Innovation Management at Wharton, warns that Facebook has to be careful that its growing ad load doesn’t alienate customers. “Ultimately, Facebook will need to find more subtle ways of engaging beyond News Feed ads,” he says.”
  • Between What’s App, South Korea’s Line, China’s WeChat, the trending growth of messaging services is clear. Facebook simply would not want such a service to become Google’s (the other recent suitor for What’s App).

There’s another factor to consider that supports What’s App as a good hedge or investment in the future and it has to do with the importance of trust in advertising.


What it may mean to advertisers: leveraging trust

Remember the research around close ties and weak ties? This explains the dynamic happening between users in social networks and how it maps to some enduring characteristics of what we all get from our closely held relationships (the 5 or so people closest to us) and those that are more casual and extended (think 300+ friends on Facebook.)

All friends are not created equal. We trust our close ties and the recommendations they make more than our weak ties. That makes sense. Our family and closest friends know us better. When they tell us we might like the Ford Fusion or the service experience at Lowe’s or the quality of the independent insurance agent in our town, it means more than a comment by our 290th friend on Facebook. Conversely, weak ties are great for exposing us to more new things. That’s how many of us break out of the rut of homophily (only being exposed to the narrow set of similar things that our closest friends will provide)

Facebook is a lot more about weak ties. What’s App is more about close ties.  

The marketing world continues to try and learn how to drive authentic customer advocacy. How do you get customers sharing meaningfully about their positive experience with a brand? How do you get more people to share valuable content via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more? How do you trigger people to share about a brand via their trusted social graph?

Meanwhile, brands are often abusing the same social network channels by publishing un-engaging content (clutter & spam) or reducing everything to a promotional offer (cultivating deal-hungry, here-today-gone-tomorrow customers). There are limits to how much advertising can be pumped into social networks before we poison the well as what happened early on with email marketing (spam). And even then, our, on average, 300+ friends are not the most trusted network. Our close ties hold stronger trust. 

The challenge for a network like Facebook is farmed up by Jeff Stibel, Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., in HBR Blogs,

“The most important element is clutter in the form of a sloppy interface, advertisements, and unwanted connections. The site’s utility goes down every time a user gets annoyed, and that annoyance is the biggest threat to Facebook’s survival. Too many users equals too much clutter. Think of the ant colony: if you threw some Candy Crush invites into the nest, or subjected the ants to the chatter of members of other colonies, they’d probably go postal… right before the colony completely collapsed.”

What’s App connects a smaller group of people who know each other more closely. When a brand delivers a relevant offer to one user and she passes it along to her messaging address book, it will perform better. It will be more instantly relevant. It is more trusted coming through a close tie. It will drive action at a higher rate.  

I spent some time with the folks from LINE, a What’s App competitor late last year when I was in Asia. They were very bullish about their advertising prospects in comparison to Facebook. They owned the bottom of the funnel and can measurably drive people to retail or ecommerce in ways that Facebook could only dream of (this is them talking). Brands connecting with users via LINE send out a relevant offer to a customer/follower and that person goes into store at a much higher rate.  I am sure Facebook sees the value of close ties and the possibility to drive real commerce not just engagement via What’s App.

As Jeff Stibel summarized when discussing the premature reports of Facebook’s demise,

“Determining what users find most relevant, and providing that and only that, is both Facebook’s greatest challenge and its greatest opportunity for making it through the breakpoint. If it succeeds, Facebook’s network curve won’t look like what happened to MySpace or polio, rather it will stabilize like other successful networks.”

(thanks to Mobile Brain Bank for the terrific image from their study)

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Advocacy, Best Practices, Brand Strategy..."
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Date: Monday, 10 Feb 2014 12:00


The broad promise of brands building direct relationships with stakeholders via genuinely valuable content seems right enough. Coca-Cola seems to be living its Content 2020 mission (see this original manifesto). GE continues to innovate with content that captures the grandeur of great, big machines. (see their Instagram channel). Even the investment firm, Blackrock, has committed to a steady flow of POVs meant to help customers with their investment strategies (see the Blackrock Blog and how they publish in LinkedIn).

We all want content marketing programs that are creatively relevant, operationally successful, and measurably effective. These seem to be the three key activities we must continually master to make these content marketing efforts pay off. They all have to be done. It’s likely that one of these, however is more of a lynch-pin. I would guess for Coca-Cola, creative relevance comes first and without that, nothing else matters. For many more, effectiveness is key to building belief internally that content marketing is serious business.


7 Ways to Design to Effectiveness

Have you ever designed and even deployed a content program only to define the measurement criteria after-the-fact? I have, and I don’t want to do it ever again. Even an experiment or pilot deserves a crisp, hypothetical measurement model.  

Having the measurement discussion during the ‘marketing brief’ phase is the only way to go. Here are 7 ways to design highly measurable programs. I know there are more and that different businesses demand their own. These are simply the ones that I can apply today.


Conversion, Relevance and Retargeting

Content marketing is not just middle-of-the-funnel stuff. If Lowe’s Home Improvement delivers valuable ‘how-to’ content promoted out via Facebook and other platforms (see this article on creating home gyms), They can easily re-target ads to those who have engaged with the content. These ads can be customized messages that drive people considering a home-gym project to buy online.  

Metric: conversion and/or sales


Building Relevant Awareness

Unless you have a new product or brand, simple awareness isn’t the name of the game. We want the right people to understand what a brand stands for – what it could mean to them. That’s making a brand more relevant, thus, relevant awareness. Ford wants people to believe in Ford as a technology brand, as well as 2-3 other qualities. Sure it’s top-of-the-funnel but that’s how we begin to attract the right people with the right intent for deeper engagement and, ultimately, sales. 

Metric: reach + positioning (via survey)


Engagement to Preference

“Engagement” usually is an amalgam of likes, shares, comments and time-spent with brand content. Many of these are indicative of people ‘leaning into’ your content and more consciously thinking about you. Today it's more than just spending more time with a brand or even more interactions. In social, "engagement" covers all of those actions which actually spread advocacy (like when I "share" via Facebook which forces the story out to my friends). Great content can do more than engage. It can strengthen and, even, create preference for a brand.

Metric: reach + positioning (via survey); engagement + positioning (via survey)


Attracting New Recruits

Content marketing can serve recruitment. Many of the big consultancies like Ernst & Young are designing social + content programs to identify quality candidates earlier and earlier (and beating out their competitors at the job fair table). Brands that were once mysterious or “boring” launch content programs to reveal the inner greatness of the company.

Metric: new candidates + quality scores (to confirm they are the “right” candidates)


Strengthening Trust, Brand and Reputation

Many companies put a value on the strength of their brand. Sometimes framed as ‘brand health,’ content (and social engagement) can have a measurable impact. Many brands establish content and social channels to build reputation now and grow channels and positive communities now for activation should an issue or crisis arise.

Metric: sentiment, trust, competitive benchmarking


Increasing Marketing Efficiency

A full content marketing program where you are targeting important audience segments, consciously strengthening search engine results and improving operational efficiency can make for a more efficient marketing mix. Advertising in proximity to owned and earned content works harder (gets better results without additional cost).

Metric: ROI studies against measured values (e.g. sales)


Improving Discoverability and SEM Efficiency

Maybe this is a bit tactical. Still, many brands put a value on their ranking in the first two search results pages for hundreds of terms. Organic placement can be combined with paid search engine marketing(SEM) to efficiently drive traffic to a valuable storefront or thought-leadership platform. You need great content for that.

Metric: search visibility/ranking for relevant terms/intent


Author: "John Bell" Tags: "B2B, Best Practices, Consumer Marketing,..."
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Date: Sunday, 02 Feb 2014 20:10

A lot of Super Bowl marketing talk is about command centers – teams of social media analysts and content creators ready to make content and engage with followers in-sync with the live broadcast.  This is more than ‘me-too’ strategy from last year’s experience where many brands including Oreo made hay when the lights went out. With millions of ad dollars at play, clear willingness by people to participate on multiple screens and the growing effectiveness of content marketing, the biggest consumer brands ought to suit up for the game. (You can see AdAge's rundown of who bought what here)

Meanwhile, a few technology companies are putting their big data-crunching capabilities on display. Here are three examples:



Networked Insights Big Game Brand Showdown

These guys have created a clever brand “dashboard” that displays the volume of mentions in 3 views: ordered list, trend over course of the game and share of conversation. Pretty simple. You can see the 2013 version here and when the game starts it will revert to live data (every 5 minutes). Not a lot of insight but still a neat barometer.



SAP Super Bowl Stats Zone

I am not sure what to make of this microsite which seems to advertise data-driven insights but delivers little more than a few videos so far and a hard to crack fan visualization. Perhaps it will all come alive during the game. It is a bit odd that the video promoting how they will use social media analytics for fans keeps framing everything as “buzz” or “buzz scores.” I feel we discredited the term “buzz” about 4 years ago.



Adobe  Digital Index

Adobe is running a series of reports that will likely be published at the end of the game (you can get them on their CMO.com site). Meanwhile, they will make use of their Twitter handle to dole out data nuggets throughout the day. It’s not clear what to expect from their coverage. So far, the graphs and charts look static. The conclusions they are drawing from the data are not all that surprising either (e.g. big viewership for the Super Bowl!)

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Data & Insights, Digital Content"
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Date: Monday, 20 Jan 2014 12:03

Back when it snowed above my head and I walked to school three miles barefoot everyday, Web sites were Web sites. They were a special breed of communications. We even capitalized the word Web site. As Creative Director at Discovery.com, we had our content sites, our corporate sites and our store – all separate experiences. Does that still fly? Can Web sites be designed as destinations or are they a part of a more complex customer journey? 

The biggest names in ecommerce are Amazon, Zappos, Nordstroms, you know, stores. Meanwhile some of the most interesting brands are embracing stories as part of the value they deliver to their customers and advocates. Just compare Patagonia with Amazon. One weaves lifestyle content around the product and store experience. The other is seen as the ultimate in transaction design. Amazon does have content. It’s product reviews, book samples, and machine-generated utilities like “people who looked at this, bought this.”

Patagonia has actual stories. All are relevant to sport and the outdoors. Many feature people. Yet you could argue they divert people from transaction. Does that make for a better ecommerce experience or a diluted one? If the storefront is judged as an isolated destination one might argue that the content distracts. If you consider it as part of a journey, having expert content is a plus. 


Content Can Strengthen Commerce

No doubt, Amazon is the pinnacle of storefronts. They are held up as the gold standard for ecommerce. Still, they are like the final stop along the journey. When you know what you want, you go to Amazon. After we “showroom” (visit anyone’s terrestrial store), we go to Amazon to select the best rated, get a more transparent price and have the product delivered.

Amazon’s brand is all about easy selection and transaction. Patagonia is all about a rich, sports experience with mother nature. As more and more brands sell direct (even if they are also carried in the Amazon or Walmart superstores), blending content and story with commerce will be key to sustaining profitable, high-value relationships with their customers.



Patagonia’s front page sells stories as much as product.




Navigation takes you to content and product.




Experts recruited by Patagonia share their outdoor sport experience.




You are never far from the well-organized “racks” of actual product.


Other sites combining content and commerce:

Mr. Porter

Lauren Indvik from Mashable sums up, “Arriving at Mr Porter, a high-end men's retail site connected to online luxury retailer Net-a-Porter, feels more like opening a magazine spread than entering an online shopping destination. That's no accident. The site is edited by former British Esquire editor Jeremy Langmead, who works alongside other veterans in the magazine and retail industries.”


One Kings Lane, one of my new favorites as I try to outfit a new house, injects some magazine style into its flash sales.

Lauren again, “One Kings Lane launched in 2009 as a flash sales site for upscale home furnishings. At the beginning of the year, the company acquired design firm Helicopter, best known for launching Domino magazine.”


Adobe’s CMO.com delivers content outside their store. They want to deliver value earlier in the customer journey (marketing executives). As Shopify points out in its blog, “Adobe’s CMO.com curates content from all around the web – things that have been especially selected to help Chief Marketing Officers navigate the changing advertising world. Adobe selects content from over 150 top news sites and organizations, as well as creating their own. It also doesn’t pitch its software programs or web-based solutions to the audience.”


Birchbox became trendy as the source for monthly boxes of goodies, and now features a series of magazines for men and women to share lifestyle content. Here’s how they describe themselves, “Each month, you'll receive a selection of samples that we’ve tried (and retried) ourselves. We source our samples from both well-known brands and emerging gems. The women’s subscription includes everything from skincare to makeup, as well as fun non-beauty extras. The men’s subscription delivers top-tier grooming products in addition to lifestyle accessories ranging from hip socks to tech accessories.”


Related articles

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Design and Experience, D..."
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Date: Sunday, 05 Jan 2014 17:00


Update: Sadly due to serial plane cancellations (at least 4), I will not be attending CES2014. While disappointing, I know I can follow along #CES2014. Just don't bother trying to connect with me at the show. And don't rub in what a good time you had there. 


I am excited to attend CES this year. I sent folks last year but was not able to go myself. And now, with my new gig, my head is in a different place. I am hoping to see glimmers of how different businesses from the consumer electronics giants to the startups in Eureka Park believe we will all live in the future. What are new consumer behaviors implicit in new hardware and software? What will be the unmistakable trends (e.g. 3D Printing) versus those that may be more tangential but still prophetic.

Here are seven trends, technologies, ideas that I will be on the lookout for. Each has been informed by some of the smart minds looking ahead and writing about the event.  I will still be open to serendipity and am particularly grateful for my new friends at DigitasLBi and Vivaki for what looks like a great curatorial effort. (If you are there and want to connect, ping me via Twitter @jbell99)


The Internet of Everything...Applied

I worked on consumer device for moms last year that just happened to connect to the Internet. It was partly thought-out. It allowed the device to potentially trigger re-order’s when the dispensed product ran low. But part of the reason the device was connected remained to be defined. I am looking forward to seeing more examples where smart folks have thought about how connectivity can enhance or change our experience with products. I still love my Ford Fusion which even in its dated form (2011) sports some terrific connectivity. Now other technologies are coming online that help your older car connect like Mojio. It snaps into your diagnostic port and promises benefits like connecting to your friends. 

Inspred by @obrien Los Angeles Times (Chris O'Brien)  "CES2014: Consumer electronics show to feature 'Internet of Things'"

Inspired by Josh Ong and Natt Garun, The Next Web “What To Expect at CES 2014”



Wearables Get Real…Sort Of

The Samsung Galaxy Gear “watch” seems like a solution in search of a problem. It was cool when Dick Tracy had a watch device, it’s just not clear that we have really uncovered the use-cases and innovation that will change our lives. (that being said, I love the look of the Pebble Watch and pay attention to their announcements.) Clearly the Nike Fuelband, and other devices in that category have “stuck” a bit. GoogleGlass remains a prototype for some future device/application that we haven’t yet discovered. That doesn’t mean that ‘heads-anywhere’ displays aren’t an important trend. If anything they have great promise in professional circles – repair techs on big machinery, field service reps in insurance following a big storm, physicians. I want to see more than tech for tech’s sake but how smart folks have thought about the application of wearables.

Inspired by @petepachal Mashable “CES 2014: Five Tech Trends to Watch”




The Connected Home Gets Weirder

I love the idea behind an Opower project which aims to use aggregated home energy use data to drive us all to adjust the temperature of our homes meaningfully up or down in response to the view of what our community is doing. I love the idea of Nest which is now trying to build a business with connected and controllable home systems. And I grew up with a science fiction view of the future like what The Veldt. So, I am keen to see how connectivity will change our homes. I fully expect it to get strange before it becomes a standard.

Claire Cane Miller at NYTimes Bits shared her own experiences this holiday season with the state of the connected home now,

“My mother received Hue lightbulbs, for instance, made by Philips and controllable with her iPhone. She can set custom lighting for ambience in the dining room, turn lights on or off remotely, and set lights to slowly brighten in the morning.

My father received a Nest Protect smoke alarm, which sends his phone messages if it senses smoke or has low batteries. He planned to install it near the kitchen, because if it senses smoke from cooking, it speaks with a human voice before sounding a loud alarm and can be silenced with a wave. He can connect it to his Nest Thermostat, which will automatically turn off the gas furnace if there is a carbon monoxide leak.

The devices join my parents’ Withings scale and Bose music system, controllable with a smartphone.”

Inspired by @clairecm NYTimes (Claire Cane Miller) “Is 2014 the Year of the Connected Home?”

Inspired by @ @JW_Ten14 (Jonathon Weinberg Mirror “CES 2014: Top 10 Trends…”

  • See Canary, a smart and connected home security and safety system
  • See Doorbot, the smartphone enabled doorbell (yes, see who’s at your door via video)
  • See Petzila, app-controlled treat dispensing for your pets
  • See Smart Diet Scale, evaluates food prep data and displays via mobile device




More Confusion in the Living Room

I don’t think I care about 4G televisions or the opportunity to own a 110” TV. I set aside my gameboxes when Halo was just emerging. But I like to watch movies and my “stories” (e.g. over “The Killing”) the question is now that I am moving into a new house, do I need cable or can I subscribe to Netflix, Hulu, or Aero? Should I just get the next Xbox and connect with that? Is there really any there-there to Smart TVs?  Anyhow, it’s a mess. Loads of choices but since I only care so much about watching video I am not likely to configure my own solution. So far we have had new technologies and delivery platforms. New program “packagers” who bundle Hollywood and more exotic programming to deliver via satellite, the Internet and cable but no one really thinking through my experience and needs in a multi-screen living room. I will be keen to see how CES participants view the living room experience. .

Inspired by @b_fung (Brian Fung) Washington Post “CES 2014 Starts Tuesday: Here are Five Tech Trends to Expect…”



The Robots Are Among Us

Remember Roomba. What could be more benign than a robotic vacuum cleaner? Well since then more investment dollars have been pouring into developing technologies that add up to a range of next generation robots. Look at some of the start-ups like Hands Company with Adam, “the first personal robot.” And RoboThespian which looks an awful lot like yesterday's vision of robots-as-humans. We are years away from pratical roll-outs beyond industrial robots but, still, it will be neat to see some of teh visions of this future. 


Luci Light_2

Technology Solving Real World Problems

Sustainable clean water. Lighting in the face of disaster (or lack of infrastructure). Cheap, mobile connectivity. It will be interesting to see how start-ups and more established companies go beyond the entertainment space to deliver promising solutions to real world problems. Look at MPowerd’s Luci Light. Simple elegant source of lighting when no power sources are available. Think about its application following a debilitating earthquake, hurricane or other natural disaster.

And look at Xiaomi’s Mi phone – well designed, in the hands of 20million (double that in 2014), so far and about $330 per handset in China vs. double that for Apple iPhones. Not just a cheap smartphone but a well-designed, half-the-cost smartphone. Innovations like this could easily accelerate the evolution away from feature phones and open up new mobile solutions for folks whose main connectivity is via mobile device.


The Continued Consumerization of Business Tech

Jason Hiner at ZDNET called out this trend of BYOD and, I would argue, BYOS (Bring Your Own Service), where employees are helping (forcing?) corporate tech to change. Everything from building infrastructure that allows for employees to use their preferred smart phone but also apps and utilities that tap into business data (e.g. phone directories) without any significant risks to data and systems security. I see many big businesses committing to become more social businesses. Supporting a more open approach to device and platforms is a big step in that direction.  

Inspired by @jasonhiner ZDNET “Four Mega Trends for the Professionals”


Get this handy map and guide from CES

(thanks to all for the images used respectfully and to Gagitech for the CES hashtag image)

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Events, Social Enterprise"
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Date: Monday, 30 Dec 2013 11:37


Recently, Burger King Norway purged its Facebook fanbase. They reduced it from 38,000 fans to 8,000...on purpose. Their stated goal was to encourage fickle deal-hunters to exit their addressable fanbase leaving those who really cared and preferred Burger King (over McDonalds).

For a quick service restaurant (QSR) or a fast moving consumer goods company (FMCG) this is a radical move. Brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be and many of us are happy enough to ask for Pepsi as Coke. Can a Burger King fan also be a McDonald’s fan? Chances are there is quite a bit of overlap.  Still, the move to be more intentional about who is in your Facebook fanbase and your Twitter follower-base is right minded.

The Pendulum Swings

In 2012 and 2013, many brands chased large fan and follower counts in social media. After all, a big addressable audience is good, right? More possibilities for people to share content via their social graph. Brands who made fan acquisition their number one key performance indicator (KPI) were likely not all that discriminate about who was there. They used paid media to augment organic growth. Some energy was applied to refining their “buys’ to drive down fan acquisition costs because that just made common sense.

Now many marketers are letting go of sheer numbers of fans or followers in favor of achieving high engagement numbers – shares, comments, retweets, @replies and yes, even, content “likes”.

If we value engagement as a barometer not just for how relevant our content is but also an indicator of actual preference for our brand, then catering to those who will be most involved with our content and brand makes sense. Would you rather have 1m fans who rarely engage or 100K who comment, share or retweet a few times a week?

MediaBistro tracks this engagement focus

“Media Bistro reported that 60 percent of marketing agencies feel engagement is “the deepest level at which they could track return on investment from their social campaign,” according to a 2012 study. But as social marketers are realizing more and more, not all engagement is created equal. Spam and cheap like-baiting tactics (Like this post if you enjoy sunshine!) don’t actually move the needle. In that light, trolls can absolutely destroy a brand’s ability to generate meaningful engagement. What do you think?”

So, as the pendulum swings, we need to find that productive spot in between the arc. We do want sizable addressable audiences. Big fanbases of the right fans are valuable as they are the pool of folks who have the potential to be engaged in the first place. Defining who the “right fans” are rather than just seeing who shows up as you publish out coupons or Happy New Years’ messages is the next ‘job-to-be-done.’

For a mass brand like Coke, there probably aren’t too many wrong fans to have. But for other brands like financial services brands, automobile manufacturers, and airlines, who is in that addressable audience matters.

Nate Smitha from Simplymeasured reminds us to build relevant personas,

“Confirm that social age and gender demographics match your target audience. If you’re a B2C brand, use sales data to investigate which products your social audience is likely to be interested in.

Once you have established a baseline, go beyond fan demographics by establishing buyer personas that map to certain products or content topics. Measure engagement performance with content that maps back to personas, as part of your regular audience analysis.”


For a service brand selling to consumers, it would make sense to build personas for the customer base, for the dealer community (if you sell through dealers or some other intermediary), for influencers (these can be folks who influence the purchase decision in some way or another), and employees. How big should your fanbase be? Facebook would have you think about your market share in a particular market and aspire to a fanbase that matches. That clearly leads to a big base and one that inevitably requires Facebook advertising to achieve.  Another way is to benchmark yourself against three competitors and one “ideal brand” (this could be a brand outside your category whom you think is doing a particularly good job). You then establish goals that are ambitious yet attainable at some reasonable level of investment.


Next Steps

Defining who you want to intentionally build a sustained and profitable relationship with isn’t as easy as it sounds. Keeping an eye on the complexion of that fan/follower base takes extra effort.

Companies like Fanbridge, FollowerWonk and Xeerpa are developing practical ways to segment or group fan bases to make it easy to send specific messages to meaningful groups. This is the next logical step towards the ultimate destination of social CRM where we can address all of our customers and prospects individually.

By deciding who we want to follow us, how we can deliver the most valuable content and experience to them, we can head down the path towards building highly engaged fanbases of the right fans not just those who liked us for a free burger.  

(Thanks to Chrysalis for the image)




Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Communit..."
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Date: Monday, 16 Dec 2013 13:55

Wind blowing

Which way will the wind blow in 2014? Here are three marketing trends that I expect will take hold as we roll into next year. As usual, timing is everything and it will be interesting if these actually "take off" as I expect they will and whether it happens by June or by October. Either way, we have turned a bit of a corner in terms of developing an approach to "new marketing" where content and social play an increasing role and planning and creative are less about the single 'big idea' than the sustainable, direct customer relationship. 


Customer journey intelligence: All of this fascination with content marketing will wear off as marketers insist on knowing how it impacts sales. Simple Web metrics won’t do. This is not about looking for ‘last click.’ This will be about using all the research resources at our disposal including new ways to analyze digital and social data and understand what our customers actually do over time on their way to purchase, repurchase and brand advocacy. Brands will map out real, and hopefully typical, paths to purchase and  design their content marketing programs to complement and often disrupt that journey. (this appeared in a column online at the Guardian - see more here

“New marketing” ROI studies: We have successfully delayed the absolute need for crisp ROI proof for data-driven insights + content + community or what I will call ‘new marketing.’ Major brands have invested millions in their Facebook-centric programs, in new content marketing initiatives that promise to augment or even displace advertising at the center of the marcom mix. And they did it largely without rock-solid ROI studies. This year, we will see some advanced brands investing in some brand-specific ROI studies. These will help them justify changes in budget allocation in 2015. And while these will be proprietary to the brands, expect them to leak out at conferences to the benefit of the many.

Behavior change “Briefs:” More and more brands will shift their marcom goals away from messaging distribution, attitudinal changes (e.g. favorability) and brand positioning goals. They will embrace more behavior specific goals – getting people to buy, to try, to tell a friend, to call their insurance agent twice a year, to test drive the new version of their car whenever it comes out, to use their charge card more often. The strategic and creative briefs they develop and use to direct their teams – internal and agency-side – will all zero-in on driving actual behaviors.  This may just be the continuing move away from brand-only briefs. It may also be a new, industry-wide embrace of the discipline of driving actual behaviors that can be measured versus more ethereal mind-states. 

(thanks to KAKALive for the image)


Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Engageme..."
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Date: Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 14:25

Native advertising landscape

Native advertising is a good idea and a better name for an old idea. With the past few years attention on social media marketing and Facebook's defining approach to social advertising, media companies of all types are ecstatic to bring us something completely new, sort of,....native advertising.

We all need ways to scale content programs and align advertising to changing tastes. Native advertising makes it easier for brands to deliver actual content via an ad channel. And, no, it's not new. It is the same premise as advertorial...yet different. We all know those extra pages in the Sunday magazines with "advertising supplement" stamped at the top. The bite-sized nature of digital content and the personalization or 'targeting' capabilities of ad and content serving has made the advertorial an attractive model again.

But we can screw it up. WARC covered a story about the UK's Committee of Advertising Practice suddenly paying attention to the potential abuses of native advertising, ""Marketers seeking to innovate should be wary of integrating content to an extent that it is no longer identifiable as an ad," the CAP warned."

The Ethics Are Clear
We will win with native advertising when brands work hard to deliver authentically valuable content to their readers/customers. Success will be evaluated in part by engagement and sharing metrics that ratify the content  is valuable. We will win when all native advertising is labeled clearly for the reader such that they can make the judgement as to whether to trust the source.

Sound familiar? For some of us it ought to. These are the same criteria defined by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) in their ethics policy and disclosure guidelines. As the practice in the US of reaching out to pro-am bloggers and Twitter-based influencers to try product or have a brand experience expanded several years ago, the  Federal Trade Commission spoke up and issued guidelines around testimonials including this type of "stimulated content" in social media. The principles are the same. Let people know where the content comes from and let them "vote" with their fingers, so-to-speak.

Let's Do It Right
Full disclosure is the ethical way to deliver native advertising. Google has been doing it for years with paid search results. Facebook has tried to do it but remains in the early days of really matching content to a user's interests. In some ways, publishers and media companies are better suited to delivering native advertising as they are content destinations. People are looking for valuable content. They care if it comes from a Forbes journalist and editor versus an advertiser like IBM but if both are equally valuable, they are very likely to read on.

Check out WOMMA's Ethical Guidelines. They will help you stay on the right side of native advertising, hold your publishing partners responsible and preserve the value of native advertising.

See the UK's CAP guidance here


See the FTC's December 4th Workshop on Native Advertising


 (thanks to Imedia Connection for the graphic)

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Consumer Marketing, Digi..."
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Date: Monday, 25 Nov 2013 12:30


Listening is getting more useful. Many brands are well past the first phase of social data mining (the fancy term for ‘listening’) where they bought a license for Radian6 or Sysomos and then dusted their hands saying “done.” They learned that tools were a small part of the answer. Next, they needed people who could prime these tech pumps with the right queries and then pull actionable meaning out of the backend.

Now we want to look forward with predictive data not just sort through what happened yesterday. We want something that can help predict content marketing success. That is a lot harder than it sounds. It’s not just hard from the technology side. It is hard for teams just honing their content marketing skills and workflows to identify relevant trends, create content and distribute with the speed of a quickly spiking Internet meme.

There are some interesting companies focused on mining emerging data for predictive trends. This will clearly be a big growth area for social data.  



Bottlenose wants to become the more useful listening platform. Their focus is on predictive analytics with all of the normal listening and benchmarking capabilities thrown in. The Nerve Center, Trend Dashboard and Sonar utilities all reflect their desire to be a brand’s single listening tool.  One of my pet peeves in technology partners is a lack of focus on the simplicity of the displays. Most are too complex forcing tool jockeys to tune and interpret the many variables to come up with useful data.  Bottlenose (like Percolate) seem to understand that and have a fair respect for design. Their displays are nicely trim and spare leaving me hope that they can more easily be converted into action.


When to use them:

If your organization has committed to one of the big providers (e.g. SalesForce, Marketwired) and are committed to content marketing, I would add Bottlenose to the evaluation spreadsheet.

Their distinctive strength appears to be in delivering useful trend and predictive analytics that a nimble content marketer can then apply to their current marketing and their visual simplification of the data.

To become the one listening resource for a brand, Bottlenose needs parity with Radian6 or a similar partner. That may be tougher than it sounds. That means being transparent about the source content they are searching. Most tools fall short here. Also, the well-known pitfalls of machine-scored sentiment needs to be addressed.

As most brands don’t yet fully understand how to evaluate the ROI of listening, it may be tough for most to acquire Bottlenose as the ‘second tool.’


From Bottlenose Labs<

Take a look:

The product page scrolls through the main tools or utilities including the Trend Dashboard. You can also drive the generic version of Sonar here by just inserting terms to get one of their spiral displays.



I have been interested in Trendspottr for a while. The service is wonderfully simple. It mines Twitter and public Facebook data, applies some secret-sauce algorithm to reveal trends and topics that will likely gain in popularity over the next few hours or days.

Here’s how they describe themselves,

“TrendSpottr is a predictive analytics service that identifies the most timely and trending information from any big data stream. Our core technology analyzes real-time data streams such as Twitter and Facebook and spots emerging trends at their earliest acceleration point – hours or days before they have become "popular" and reached mainstream awareness.”

They smartly make it easy to apply this data to advertising, email alerts and even an embeddable widget on top of the main dashboard interface.


When to use them:

Trendspottr is a simple add-on service to any community + content-driven marketer who is committed to proactive publishing. If you already manage content calendars and Twitter and/or Facebook are a significant part of your social ecosystem, then Trendspottr can help you increase your engagement and reach numbers by revealing what trends you can ride on.

The danger is that a brand community director will try too hard to align their brand with the latest Miley/Cats-stealing-dog’s-beds/Batkid meme. Used in moderation, it will help brands be more contemporary and relevant.

Take a look:

The Dashboard page allows you to register for a free 30-day trial. That is a great deal. It would be strengthened if they offered a bit of a tutorial on setting up the dashboard effectively. Imagine that you sell home cleaning products. How would you set up a dashboard of trending topics (popular enough to be trending) that intersect with your category and even your brand? That’s the wizard we need.

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Best Practices, Digital Content"
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Date: Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 13:00



There are 1.5 billion smartphones in the world.  According to Business Insider,

“The annual smartphone growth rate in 2013 is projected to be 44 percent, which is just ever-so-slightly down from 2012′s 45 percent but is still a torrid pace.”

With cameras built-in to most of these phones, that’s a lot of photographers. And with over 16 billion photos published via 3 year-old Instagram, a ton of people are getting better all the time at ‘pretty good’ photography.

We are all adopting new behaviors about capturing, publishing and sharing pictures. Brands can take advantage of this change (and should).

Empower your crowd of could-be photographers

Percolate has done quit a few smart things. I particularly like them because they are committed to design. Not ‘make-it-pretty-design’ but putting design at the heart of their products where they really listen to users and solve problems via design first, technology second. This includes their approach to image capture.


Photographer 2.0 is one of the great features in their platform for sourcing content. Simply put, it’s an app that allows a distributed group of photographers –like your employees in your marcom department – to grab images and send them to the Percolate content workflow. These images pop into a database ready for publishing via your content + community team via Facebook, Instagram, dotcom and more.

Imagine giving select people within your marcom team, the enthusiastic designer in the product design lab, the event-team, even the sales team, the simple instructions to be on the lookout for interesting visual moments. It could be behind-the-scenes at the brand film shoot, on the floor of the trade show, even a spontaneous customer testimonial. The IOS and Android app acknowledges that ‘pretty good’ and authentic photos are valuable.

You don’t need 1000 employees shooting images to make this worthwhile. 

Empower a crowd of photographers

This same idea can be broadened outside an organization to engage a world’s worth of photographers. Imagine yourself a home furnishings brand like Ikea or a property insurance company. What if you could enlist 500 photographers from 35 countries to capture images of what they consider “home?”  As part of a focused program (aka “campaign”), you could get unique content that really brought the idea of home to life via the visual images. These come from experienced photographers working in more of a journalism mode (nimble assignments).

Scoopshot is doing what Visual.ly is doing for infographics – providing a simple to access marketplace of photographers.

Here’s how they explain it:

“Scoopshot currently offers the media and brands unrivalled access to more than 280,000 photographers, and counting, in over 170 countries worldwide. Scoopshot's service is used by more than 60 publications globally including Metro International, WAZ Media Group, the Daily Star, De Persgroep, Ebyline, MTV3 Finland, Expressen and Hürriyet.

Scoopshot has recently launched a new web-based platform, Scoopshot Labs. The new service, published May 2013, aims to make crowdsourcing and authentic mobile photography accessible to everyone, individuals and companies alike.”

As brands adjust their ideas about where content comes from, crowdsourcing visual imagery either through a field-force of friendlies (people who know your brand like employees or agency partners) or through a world-wide, efficient marketplace deserves a section of the New Marketing playbook.

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "B2B, Best Practices, Co-Creation, Consum..."
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Date: Monday, 04 Nov 2013 11:30

Nate Elliot, Forrester analyst in the social media track, published a report with the headline and subhead, “Why Facebook Is Failing Marketers: The Leading Social Network Has Abandoned Social Marketing.”

His position is that Facebook has devolved into a “push” media company and thus abandoned its early claims to be a new kind of “social media marketer.” Essentially, Nate says that the smart advertiser money is leaving Facebook. The report synthesizes interviews with 395 US, Canadian and UK business executives.

In short, Nate’s argument doesn’t hold water. He may be hearing some cooling of enthusiasm from marketers in favor of spreading their investments across digital and social. But the headline prematurely signals the demise of Facebook, which remains a strong platform for many brands.

What the study really says

POINT 1: Two charts make it clear that 395 business executives are unsure of the measured value of all digital and social media from Facebook to LinkedIn to even banner advertising. When asked of all the options out there whether they were very dissatisfied to very satisfied, all responses averaged between 3.54 to 3.84. All of the choices are in the middle. This is hardly the wholesale critique of Facebook that Nate makes it out to be.  This simply restates what we all know – industry-standard measurement isn’t there yet.

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POINT 2: Facebook can be hard to work with. If you are not spending significantly in annual ad spend and if you have not cultivated a good relationship with a Facebook “rep”, brands have a hard time getting the attention of those at Facebook capable of doing interesting things.  They have a small staff (4600+) compared with Google’s 45,000. They simply cannot service marketers (clients) as brands would like. This sometimes breeds “dissatisfaction.


Connecting and activating fans with affinity for the brand

POINT 3: Facebook isn’t for every brand. It certainly isn’t the only play in social media for most brands. Still it remains a very valuable platform for many as it allows brands to establish addressable relationships with customers and people who have an affinity for a brand. Many brands have not had an efficient way to connect directly with customers. The relationships are held by retailers, brokers or some other sales channel. Facebook can help change that.


Helping small business have an “addressable” relationship with their customers and prospects

POINT 4: Facebook can work well for small to medium business. That means it can become a valuable platform for brands who maintain a sales channel or agent-based model. Brands can help their agents master digital and social media, including Facebook, to build their business.  


Continuous innovation and better targeting (including mobile)

POINT 5: Facebook continues to innovate and invent new advertising opportunities. Some feel more “push” than “pull.” We should expect that they will continue to release improvements on targeting. We should not judge yesterday’s ad choices too harshly as more is on the way.  Look-a-likes, email list targeting, friends-of-fans are all strong innovations. And Facebook has made great improvements in their mobile ad solution such that only last week they announced, “the company noted that mobile ads accounted for 49 percent of its advertising revenue, up from 41 percent in the second quarter”

POINT 6: At the same time, they are operationalizing their ad sales operation to make it more efficient. This makes them feel like a traditional media company where every question is met with a stock ad sales answer. All one has to do is work in China with Sina Weibo and experience their exuberant “let’s try stuff” approach to advertisers to see how institutionalized Facebook is becoming.  If you want more bespoke solutions, brands must invest money on the platform. That’s what many major brands have done.


The “smart money” isn’t leaving Facebook

Point 7: Brands continue to invest in Facebook believing in the value while also spending in other platforms. Big FMCG’s have been operationalizing their use of the platform and the way they measure value. Facebook provides a strong global platform for many of these brands. It helps the global center at a FMCG stimulate change by having a world’s worth of their brand marketers mastering a single platform.

As reported in the NY Times, Q3 financials for Facebook stated that the marketplace of brands continues investing in the platform, “The company’s revenue rose 60 percent, to $2.02 billion, compared with last year’s third quarter. Most of that, about $1.8 billion, came from advertising”

Of course, other platforms matter as much or more. For B2B, LinkedIn can be a tremendous platform. Twitter is hungrily releasing new features that appeal to advertisers. Pinterest will have formal ad offerings any day.


No brand should put all of their eggs in one basket yet some of those eggs belong on Facebook.

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "B2B, Best Practices, Brand Strategy, Con..."
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Date: Monday, 28 Oct 2013 10:33

Digital and social sales enablement is going to have a grand year in 2014. That’s because more B2B and B2C brands will implement (not just plan or “do PowerPoint”) actual programs that help customers value and connect with  salespeople earlier in the buyer journey. These connections will happen before buyers have even figured out what they might buy to solve a problem, possibly before they even know which problem they have. Conversely, we will equip salespeople with the content and data they need to be of greater service throughout the journey.

If you are a Caterpillar dealer (client) servicing the general contracting and construction trades or if you are an insurance agent selling property and casualty to small business or if you sell cloud services to large enterprise, you want to be first in-the-door when a customer is contemplating a purchase.  And just as diaper manufacturers kill each other to romance moms even before they have a baby, you essentially want to be close to a customer before they actually have the need for your service or product. In many cases, you want to help them decide they need your type of solution when all they know is they have some business problem.

Sales people suck at that.

Historically, their idea of qualified leads is someone who knows they need a backhoe or new property insurance or are shopping for cost effective, reliable cloud services. They haven’t really had the bandwidth or the means to know who is contemplating what at the mouth of the funnel. And that's no slam on sales people. They just haven't had teh means t do much better. Meanwhile buyers are self-educating well before they come in contact with a sales rep.


Matchmaking Through Content & Data

This year, we will all be distilling data to equip sales people with more information about customers – even identifying them as potential customers earlier in the journey. We will also get serious about content marketing and sales support. That means connecting all content used in the customer experience from marketing to sales enablers to what our Twitter handle spends its time publishing.

If I had to start afresh in developing a strong social and digital solution for sales people, I would focus on three things to start:


1. Create a single story platform for everyone

I am a huge fan of what I choose to call the “story platform.” Imagine if all of your marketing and PR and your sales interactions were rooted in the same 3-4 narratives about your company. All of those impressions and touchpoints would accumulate in your prospects minds. You would become know for those 3-4 qualities. All of your communications and customer experiences would be reinforcing each other. That means that all of the content you publish for customers to discover on Google and that you equip the sales force with all reinforce each other.

Walla! This is how we build brand in a content marketing model.


2. Fuel salespeople with on-demand content

Salespeople need content their customers will find valuable. That usually means content that helps them with a business problem that may lead to buying a product or service but may just be helpful. Giving a contractor ways to forecast housing starts in their market over the next 5 years is helpful. It can also inform their Caterpillar equipment purchases.

Brendan Cournoyer put it this way on Content Marketing Institute,

“… According to the CMO Council, salespeople spend 40 percent of their time looking for or preparing content for customer communications. That’s a lot of wasted time, wouldn’t you say? It can also lead to problems like inconsistent messaging, inaccurate information, and even legal or compliance issues in some highly regulated industries.”

Creating the right content for a sales-focused relationship is harder that it looks. Making that content available and usable with no friction for the sales person is half of that challenge. We need Flipboard meets KaPost meets ShareThis. It’ll happen.


3. Convert data into sales intelligence

There are at least three great sources of data to add to your customer intelligence today: search, social and content data.

We mine Google search to understand what customers and prospects are most concerned about. We even created a live dashboard that told us in real time what questions customers were trying to find answers for based upon search data. We then turnaround content to deliver those answers (and return great in those queries).

Everyone talks about mining social data for insights. Its simply a lot harder than hooking up Radian6 and plopping a bunch of keywords. For the insurance agent serving small business, they are not just looking for people explicitly talking “insurance.” They need to know what those business moments are that trigger concerns around risk or that ought to. Buying new storefronts, stocking up on inventory for a selling season, making it through natural disasters, expanding into a new state – to name just a few. Give me a good social analyst any day and I can come up with new selling opportunities.

We cannot forget the data that streams back from the very content we use in marketing and sales. Simple things like which LinkedIn post earned the most engagement and an understanding or hypothesis about ‘why,’ or more complex analysis about when and where your prospects read and share your content can inform how you sell better.

Brendan Cournoyer offered an example from what his company does (video marketing),

“For example, when integrated with your marketing automation system of choice, text-based content will tell you that an individual clicked on your link… and that’s basically it. In contrast, the right video analytics tools can tell you how long they watched for, how many times they watched, and even if there were parts of your video they viewed more than once.”


How is your social sales enablement?

What data are you converting into usable sales information and insights? How have you aligned all of the content used in your customer touchpoints? How have you made relevant content available for your sales team to share with customers at all the right times?

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "B2B, Best Practices, Digital Content, In..."
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Date: Monday, 21 Oct 2013 04:54

We are constantly looking at software and services that add real value in any part of our content activation model. There are new startups everyday. People will ask you, “have you heard of XYZ…” Half of the time you’ve not only heard of them but 5 people in your organization have already met them and scratched their heads about why or how to apply them to the business. The other half of the time, no matter how good you are, you just haven’t heard of them.

I shared about three interesting content partners with different sources of content in a previous post.  Three more caught my eye as very interesting. Rather than  content sources, these providers either offer good workflow or some distinctive publishing capability.  



Businesses that sincerely want to tune-up their content marketing capabilities while keeping it simple should look at Kapost.  They provide a cloud based content workflow that a business person can easily understand. From soliciting content ideas from across a group to the actual publishing, distribution and analysis, Kapost looks pretty good.  

When to use them:

If your organization has committed to a content marketing program featuring owned content sourced from multiple people and distributed across owned and shared (e.g. blogs, Web sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc…) and have been managing workflow via email and Excel spreadsheets, it may be time to check out KaPost.

While not a B2B resource per se, their platform does make sense for B2B players who use content marketing explicitly towards driving demand and leads.

Take a look:

My favorite little interactive on their site is the ROI calculator. It’s built into the ‘business case’ page. Fill in your revenue target and 3-4 other estimates and the widget calculates how the “Content Marketing Machine” can enhance your goals. Not sure this is more than sales-y fairy dust but I appreciate that at least one technology company is thinking about how to communicate the business value of what they do.



These guys also promise a ‘soup-to-nuts’ approach the defining content, publishing and tracking. They have an analytics front end that crunches a ton of data (insert big, abstract number here) to reveal story opportunities. It reminds me a bit of the promise behind Percolate’s ability to help identify the stories brands ought to be creating content about. We have our own version of that in a platform that analyzes search data in real time to make recommendations on story ideas.

The heart of Kontera for me is about creating and publishing native advertising. Presumably, their platform converts content into advertising formats and delivers them across networks that allow for native advertising (content rich and relevant advertising).


When to use them:

If your organization 'gets' paid, owned, earned media or is even more confident in paid media, Kontera or a system like theirs might be a good way to go. Here’s how they describe that part of their service:

 “Kontera’s Content Marketing platform has pervasive reach across Mobile, Social, and Display.  With activation on more than 15,000 exclusive publishers, the majority of the comScore top 1,000 sites, and the top social destinations, with all content analyzed and correlated down to the specific page and conversation level.”

If you are the media guy or gal or you believe in POEM in a big way a system like Kontera’s that can deliver content as advertising might be useful.

Take a look:

Their marketers' page features a good summary. It highlights the emphasis on the front-end analytics and the publishing via paid, owned, earned.



Refreshingly, these guys are focused on sales relationships. How can a salesperson maintain a valuable, content-centered relationships with customers and prospects. They promise useful analytics on content and prospects. Here’s how they put it:

“The heart of idio is the decision engine that analyses content (content analytics) and customer interactions to expose meaning. For example, semantically analysing an article so that the correct descriptors are stored as metadata, so that the article is understood with multiple topics rather than just a title.”

A little geeky but sensible. Ultimately, they offer a way to publish highly personalized content for a sales interaction fueled by this relevance engine.


When to use them:

If you use content marketing to enable sales or, specifically, sales teams of any kind and those folks are ready for a more sophisticated approach to managing relationships, idio might be worth trying.

The challenge with many sales enablement systems is how well they cater to the novice or non-techie and to the advanced ninja at the same time. Most sales forces have that type of range. I recently judged internal online marketing awards for a major global brand from their dealers. This is a big-iron kind of product. I did not expect really sophisticated digital marketing examples and I was really impressed. From beginner all the way to the most advanced use of digital sales enablement.

Take a look:

Check out their case studies page to download some industry generic white papers and a small collection of cases from eConsultancy, SlimFast, and Guiness.

Check out their infrastructure partners from Eloqua to ExactTarget. They are making a big case around how ell they integrate into existing platforms and investments.

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Digital Content, Social Enterprise"
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Date: Monday, 14 Oct 2013 09:25

New methods of crunching "Vast Data Sources" (bigger than “Big”) to reveal meaning will give us the ability to understand our customers and prospects as individuals. Then if we can just figure out how to deliver individually relevant content and service to 50 million customers, let’s say, on a daily or on-demand basis, we will have arrived at that nirvana of brand/customer relationship.

I have heard IBM and others call it “the connected customer.” The concept is easy to grasp and near impossible to pull off…so far. If we could analyze all of a person’s publicly available data and conversations like what they are saying everyday on Twitter, we could learn practical information about what they care about and need. Marketing then becomes a welcome answer to the questions people are implicitly or explicitly revealing everyday. You would understand if I were about to relocate to another city and therefore be in the market for a new house, a mortgage and property insurance. If you were an insurance company, you woudl find that valuable. Combine that with customer data and you now may have a way to understand and optimize lifetime customer value.

Big Data Helps Us Be Of-Service to Customers

It’s all very geeky. Often described in direct marketing language, this social customer relationship management approach tends to reduce us humans to single cell organisms just waiting to be “stimulated” by the direct marketers finely tuned cattle prod. But I think that is just the narrow laungage-set of a particular marketing discipline. This is about finding out what people may need from us and giving us more opportunities to be of-service as marketers.

IBM is exploring what it really takes to convert social data into usable ‘signal.’ Check out the IBM Accelerated Discovery Lab. I was inspired (disc: IBM is an Ogilvy client and I do not work directly for them but remain an authentic ‘fan.’).  This outfit is committed to applying big data to real business problems like helping pharmaceutical companies discover new drugs, how to improve medical imaging analytics and converting customer social data into a valuable marketing system.


Understand and Connecting with the Individual is the New Marketing System

This video from the Accelerated Discovery Lab gives us a glimpse of how this can actually work. It is a view of the future of marketing.


Problem: A financial services company wants to connect with customers in the market for houses, cars and travel. The quality of their leads is rubbish.

Solution: Crunch billions of data ‘bits’ from Twitter to understand intent and psychology and build individual profiles of hundred of thousands of valuable leads. If you are a bank, insurance company, credit card company, this ability to connect individually based upon reliable ‘data-qualification’ will be how youy do things in the future. 

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "B2B, Best Practices, Interactive Marketi..."
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Date: Monday, 07 Oct 2013 09:02


As usual, the media has begun its see-sawing articles about the IPO intentions of Twitter. Either it is an ascending giant or a floundering service whose potential is as stalled as its user growth.

I realize this type of coverage just is to be expected but, still, its kind of tiresome. Investors will bet on the leadership or just plain bet. As for marketers, it’s time to operationalize your Facebook investment (we know how it works now “scale”) and go into a hefty ‘try and learn’ phase with Twitter.


A Response to the Challenges

Challenge: Ironically, Twitter is well-designed for mobile yet suffers from a dearth of mobile advertising options and inventory

Response: Really? Praise and condemn Twitter simultaneously for being too ‘mobile?’ No marketing platform can be too mobile in 2013. Twitter’s mobile-friendly format is a huge plus. Just look at the mad growth of WeChat and LINE in Asia (and now Europe). Both are platforms specifically designed for mobile.

Certainly, Twitter needs better mobile advertising formats. That is true of the entire mobile space. Just look at Mary Meeker’s comments on the stage that mobile advertising finds itself. She remains confident that we are in early days and that mobile ad monetization will happen. Betting against mobile advertising seems unwise to me.


Challenge: It’s just a PR platform

Response: More irony that on the day of the day of the IPO announcement, the New York Times ran an article about world leaders relying on Twitter to connect with constituents and to deliver more transparency and access to government via the United Nations. World leaders on Twitter. That’s powerful.

But critics would say that substantiates Twitter’s role as a PR platform. That’s kind of like saying PR is just PR. The communications disciplines are all meshing together. None work separately anymore. Advertising works with PR, direct marketing needs mid-funnel marketing, ecommerce flourishes because of social and so on. PR, itself ,is valuable as the earned voice for brands. Combined with other marketing, it drives business and should not be undervalued.

Sure, Twitter needs a rich set of advertising options to run a viable business. Those will come. These advertising options will be richer still because of who is on Twitter (influencers) and the interconnectedness of Twitter to other marketing functions like …customer care, for example.


Challenge: Twitter will need to massively grow beyond its 218+million users to become relevant to advertisers

Response: I doubt Twitter will reach 1 billion users anytime soon. They could reach 500M. Their growth has measurably slowed. Still assuming that Twitter, or any platform, must reach massive scale to be a strong marketing platform is overly simplistic.

Twitter has a lot of influencers: government leaders, celebrities, business leaders, sports figures, journalists. It’s a pretty good crowd. They tweet to their thousands of followers and often sending these updates automatically into Facebook. Followers retweet and also funnel messages into the broader reaching Facebook.  Journalists routinely trawl for story ideas through their follower feed.

Twitter should and will grow. At the same time, they should embrace their influencer-rich nature and put more energy into researching the role that Twitter plays in the customer journey. Brands need evidence that Twitter can “sell” in the broadest sense.


Challenge: With its limited 140 characters, Twitter cannot compete with image-rich services that are all the rage.

Response: Twitter’ simplicity is it beauty. In many ways, the limited feature set of Twitter has driven adoption by marketers who can easily “get” what Twitter can basically do. Compare that to the mysterious feature set and purpose of Google+. I guarantee most brands are stumbling through their use of G+ based upon a rather blind belief that it will help their search rankings…in Google.

I tweet pics all of the time. It may not be as elegant as the Instagram app but it could be. And Twitter Cards are a great innovation and one that will build their advertising base. These information panels allow us to use visuals to advertise and even sell direct.


Twitter plays a valuable role in the marcom mix. I cannot speak to valuations - most are a bit frothy - but we shouldn't simply evaluate Twitter's value based upon today's stories. 


(image from: http://www.pillowfightsj.blogspot.com/ )

Author: "John Bell" Tags: "Brand Strategy, Social Networks"
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