People question the ethics of advertisers creating content and putting it alongside editorially-driven content (see AdAge article). Journalists turn their noses up at native articles produced by writers in their own media company (see this thoughtful article from David Weinberger). Talk show hosts lampoon the concept (see John Oliver's bit here). Advertisers question the efficacy of ads that aren’t hard-sell conversion machines (good Copyblogger POV).
With so much head-shaking and head-scratching, how could I possibly consider native advertising a force for good?
First off, not all native ad formats/style are good. Any tool can be mis-used. And not all native advertising is the same. There are three types of native advertising in my book:
Publisher-hosted content, e.g. native articles
Forbes, USA Today, Businessweek, Atlantic are all offering some type of content creation and/or publishing service that puts brand content near editorial content (see the IBM example from Forbes).
As with so many things, the devil is in the details. The quality of these solutions has everything to do with the value the content provides to readers, how well aligned the content is to the audience of the publication and the final, most contested issue, how the content is labeled to distinguish it from editorial content.
The NYTimes recently got criticized for "toning down" some of the labeling rules they had developed. Much ado about nothing, IMHO. Advertiser-controlled content needs to be labeled simply and clearly. “Sponsored content” seems like a perfectly good label as is the notion of "BrandVoice" that Forbes uses. Then it needs to be delivered adjacent to editorial headlines. Not in some special box off to the side that just screams “ignore me.” Readers are smart. They see sponsored search links in Google, sponsored tweets in Twitter, sponsored posts in the newsfeed of Facebook and LinkedIn.
Context-driven ad networks
Technically this is not native advertising by most people’s definition. When an advertiser puts excerpts of the white paper in a banner or rich media ad unit presumably driving click-throughs to a deeper dive on the content, they are delivering content via the ad channel. With contextual and audience targeting, the net result is similar to the promise of native advertising – useful, relevant content delivered to people who value it (and know it comes from company x).
Why is this Good?
Done well, native advertising delivers useful, relevant and valuable content to the right people. For advertisers to succeed, they must work hard to develop the strongest content that quite literally competes for the attention of readers eager to consume great content. Self-serving ‘articles as ads’ won’t measure up.
Advertisers must invest in knowing the needs and interests of their customers and prospects – outside of the actual buying moment. This drives content that helps solve a business or personal problem but may not be geared to trigger a sale.
Sure, plenty are doing it badly – weak points of view, thinly veiled sales messages, poor writing. But brands are getting better at providing valuable content that support customer’s needs along the entire journey, not simply the purchase-decision moment.
Well-done native advertising is one more positive influence on advertisers to create more customer value to earn attention and action. It can be a force for good.
I have always been a fan of collaborating with emerging or non-traditional subject matter experts who may have influence on buying customers or other recommenders. Often these are people who have earned an audience over time because they consistently delivered valuable content on a subject that mattered to someone.
- Mom bloggers like those at BlogHer shared about the true stories of mommyhood
- Dad bloggers like OneDad3Girls shared content that distinguished them from moms and was ‘of-use’ to other dads
- Home stylists like my sister, CBellfurnishings, delivered a POV on designing an interior worth living in
- Writers like those at Copyblogger, shred useful ideas on creating compelling content and just being a writer in the age of digital
They are not attached to the usual institutions – big media companies or consultancies. They earned their audience by working social and creating worthwhile and share-worthy content.
CB2 Taps Influencers to Collaborate with Communities
I am a fan of Crate and Barrel. My still, relatively new living room would attest to that. The alternate brand CB2 “is affordable modern for apartment, loft, home.” They recently ran a great program - CB2 Apt - featured in Google Think! that invited influencers and celebrities to design a 5-room apartment via Pinterest and social media, in general.
Dubbed “The first apartment that Pinterest built”, the actual activity ran for a week in May. Five stylist/designers/Pinterest ‘pros’ were assigned a room. They researched looks they felt appropriate and pinned them in Pinterest boards. Followers voted. Ultimately, the stylists constructed their rooms in one 12 hour burst each, an activity that is entertainingly captured in time lapse on the site.
The Value of Influencers
Athena Calderone, a stylist who publishes at Eye Swoon tackled the bedroom. You can see the Pinterest board here. She, like the other influencers, recorded and shared the experience on their own blogs and social platforms. This is one of the three key benefits to CB2:
- Access to a specific and relevant audience (the followers of our 5 stylists)
- The third party credibility that CB2 furnishings meet a certain mark
- The content created before, during and after the actual “styling” event
Applying an ‘Event Activation’ Model
We do a lot of events and are getting better about extending those experiences before, during and after the event via online content marketing. CB2 Apt made the exercise a live event by scheduling the room ‘builds’ all in one week on a compressed schedule. This happens in ‘design house’ events across the country where local stylist/designers are invited to design one room in a house or apartment that will then open to the public as a showcase for a period of time.
- Before: the stylist amassed Pinterest pins of different directions, the crowd contributed, voted
- During: the rooms were built using winning pins as the inspiration. The build was recorded in time-lapse.
- After: the stylists posted about their experience on their own blogs and social platforms and extended the reach of the original content while also personalizing it
Three or four years ago, there was a lot of talk about whether mommybloggers had jumped the shark or more likely that they had become so in-demand that their inevitable professionalization might spoil the earned trust with their followers.
Smart subject matter experts won’t sell out. That doesn’t mean they won’t get paid. It simply means they are mindful of the trust they have built, the value of their reputation and the need to retain their independent POV. While it is not explicitly called out in an obvious way, I am certain that the CB2 Apt stylists were paid for their professional services. Athena Calderone does frame it in her post as being ‘commissioned.’
The CB2 Apt content experience is terrific. Their use of ‘subject matter experts w/audience’ demonstrates their appreciation for a new type of industry influencer.
Here's the trailer that kicked it all off:
I learn a lot by watching and experiencing what everyday content marketers do to innovate the experience. Sometimes I lose site of the fact that those publisher/marketers who are learning and adjusting by making the donuts everyday have a leg-up on the competition. Success in content marketing is really contingent on setting up an iterative publishing culture that encourages fast learning and adjusting.
As annoying as it is to hear, allowing (and counting on) little failures along the way is key. That’s how we all learn.
I have learned some small lessons from two publishers and a technology platform.
Forbes Made It Easier to Tweet
Tweeting a headline that links to an interesting story is pretty easy. The Twitter icon at the head of almost every major published article will launch a pre-populated tweet ready for publishing. Sometimes you have to edit the given message because they added a bunch of hashtags that aren’t relevant. But it’s pretty easy.
Forbes introduced inline tweets. So simple. So, “why didn’t we do that.” The Twitter icon follows a particularly pithy 140 character or less sentence in an article. One click and you are now sending out the quote that links back to the article. Place 2-3 of these in a typical 500-word post and now more people like me are tweeting out an idea we find compelling, not just the same headline.
Medium Made It Easy to Recommend
Medium is the fresh long-form blogging platform. I almost moved my blog there and may someday do so. But, it’s more than a blog platform. It’s like Tumblr for the wordy set. Essentially, Medium caters to affinity-based communities and 9 times out of 10, the affinity is the particular writing in the site. Like and article and you can “Recommend” it. This is like ‘favoriting’ except the word ‘recommend’ is so much smarter and clearer.
Other folks who have recommended the article appear at the top of the article with the heart symbol. This makes it easy for you to find people who like the same things and you can follow them. If you are really motivated, you can leave comments up and down the article and read those written by others.
That the button is called “recommend” is important. Because the dynamic of Medium is like forming affinity follower networks – essentially people who share your tastes or interests, the act of actually recommending something means so much more than in the wild and woolly world of Facebook or Twitter.
There used to be a social network, Trusted Opinion, that was trying to tap into a similar dynamic although from another angle. They were trying to get ‘close ties’ – people who actually knew each other well – to shared opinions on mass media (e.g. movies and books). Medium is not concerned with whether you know each other but rather that both of you recommended the article, We Are All in the Ramones.
Bloomberg Businessweek Gives Us Most Shared, Read, Discussed
I am a long time reader of Businessweek – even before the Bloomberg acquisition. And while I expected the publication (what else can we call these things?) to degrade with new ownership, the opposite is true. BBW has gotten stronger and stronger. I am a particular fan of their tablet app. That is truly a great reading experience. Easy to browse, easy to navigate, easy to read.
The “detail devil” from their work that I particularly like is the consistent sort functions in category pages or within story lists, that allow you to sort content by most recent, most shared, most read, and most discussed. I tend to want to scan most shared. I value seeing what others thought was literally “remarkable” to pass along.
The enhancement I would like to see is the ability to assemble a page, feed or email of category lists the way I like to see them. E.g. “Send me an email with top, shared headlines in Technology & Innovation/Design.”
There is lots to learn from those publishing everyday and sweating bullets over the details.
For a short time following the Cannes Lions Awards, the organization makes the winning videos available for viewing. Then they get locked up behind the pay-wall. You can often still find them strewn across YouTube or more likely Vimeo by the agencies who made them, but that's a pain.
Now, a subscription to the Cannes Lions archive is definitely a valuable investment but for a limited time you can browse through some of the world’s most interesting advertising/marketing creative.
Actually, there are a number of resources that will help you get caught up on what happened and was shown at Cannes. This may be as valuable a resource to those who attended and were distracted by the Kanye’s and Bono’s of the world (and agency and media company parties).
See the video case studies of the Grand Prix, Gold, Silver, and Bronze winners along with the credits as to who did what.
Cannes Lions has done a great job of excerpting the presentations. This is a great way to hear notables in their own words. Hear folks like Sir John Hegarty Marc Pritchard from P&G; WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell, Twitter's Dick Costolo and Viacom's Philippe Dauman among many others (yes, including Courtney Love).
Reduced to bite-sized form, these simple and visual decks sum up the noteworthy events, speeches, work, celeb sightings. They are refreshingly opinionated.
Video Recaps from Cannes Lions/YouTube
The organizers published daily recaps including the presentations from Sarah Jessica Parker, Keith Weed, Sheryl Sandberg, Jared Leto, Joe Pytka and more. Good “in-their-own-voices” sound bites.
This Pinterest board is from Dom Heinrich that features work he felt might win. It’s a great way to browse and discover great work that may or may not have won but remains interesting.
Ads of the World have assembled a Pinterest-like gallery of the winning work including all of the beautiful print ads from the competition.
The Awards are over. The agencies have all packed up their bags and tallied their wins against the millions of dollars of effort. Brand marketers are heading home with trophies or not. Hangovers and trucker sunburns are tended to.
And a lot of inspiration is floating through the air. No matter the pomp and circumstance of a global festival on advertising, there are great ideas that get shared. Many win awards. There were three creative ideas that caught my eye as I browsed through the tons of creative from the comfort of my new Connecticut home.
A Way to Change Deadly Behaviors
Last year, one of the big award winners was Dumb Ways To Die. Put together for Melbourne Metro Trains to promote rail safety, the campaign captured people’s attention as a clever, delightful way to spark people to think about safety around trains.
This year, VW created a theater experience that made the myriad of messages we all hear on distracted driving to life. Having spent time with a bunch of social marketing (behavior change) folks, I cannot swear that this is scientifically effective but I am guessing it is.
Thanks to Dom Heinrich and his Pinterest board of predictions (the place I discovered this gem)
Creating a Virtuous Cycle of Sharing and Giving
STIFTUNG ARTENSCHUTZ, a German conservation group, wanted to raise awareness and drive people to take action to help save the Cat-Ba Langur from extinction. Part of the job was to acknowledge and overcome the usual placebo effect of social causes in social media (they don’t often drive change).
Now this being Cannes, some type of trendy solution has to wheedle its way into the work. This time it’s 3D Printing. But before your eyes make it all the way around the “roll”, take a look at the video and think about what they have done.
They created a mobile-enabled experience that actually led to the creation of objects that could be auctioned off to raise funds and grow awareness.
Mindboggling Technology to Create an Interactive Marketing Moment
More and more we look to use data in creative ways to build relationships with customers or earn people’s attention and their advocacy. OgilvyOne and British Airways took amazing pains to create a seemingly simple and delightful interaction between outdoor billboards and the BA flights that zoomed overhead.
Here was the brief: “The objective was to raise awareness of the breadth of destinations offered by British Airways, their new routes and frequency of flights.” I am pretty sure they delivered.
The 2014 Cannes Lions is coming up. Bono will speak as will a host of others (happier to have seen Lou Reed last year, personally). Beyond the frenzy of awards, late night parties and an unhealthy dose of "fomo", there are tremendous innovations in marketing revealed each year. I attended last year and was surprised at how much terrific work was shown there. Unlike most of the folks in attendance, I spent hours browsing through the case studies on display in the basement of the Palais.
This year will be no different. While advertising awards shows can be criticized as overly self-involved events where agency motives sit squarely on winning at any cost, they can still be terrific showcases.
What to expect at Cannes Lions 2014
Digitas LBI France has put together a terrific look forward - what to watch for at Cannes 2014. Not only have they collected some of the most interesting case studies of likely award winners, organized them in their view of trending categories, they have also created an awesome slideshow with built-in videos.
Browse through this show to view some of the most interesting innovations in marketing this year.
Make sure you check out:
- The Digital Newspaper Holder - how to innovate and add value to newspapers
- The Social Swipe - how to make giving a public, easy and creative act
- Wren, The Kiss - I got teary during this terrific video
- NAR Mobile's Life Saving Cable - I didn't think the wrist band had another life and I was wrong
- Melbourne Remote Control Tourist - see through the cams of someone else before flying halfway around the world
- Droga5's Thunderclap - an awesome way to jumpstart a social good campaign
And so much more...
And if that isnt enough, you can always refer back to the next big thing from our colleagues down under:
A journalist, marketer and a senior vice president walk into a bar
Most “3 guys walk into a bar”-jokes are about a clash of cultures or POVs. As brands explore what it means to shift marketing to content marketing and even bring in journalists trained in story-mining and storytelling, they will suffer culture clash. Every business is different, but there are three constructive ways to connect these cultures such that they strengthen each other. That may work for you. You may have your own suggestions – please share.
First there is journalism culture and marketing culture. One spawned by high-mindedness and a social responsibility, the other born to sell.
Here’s how Kevin Maney, journalist, separates advertising and journalism:
“Advertising is something a company wants to say, regardless of whether it’s useful, informative or relevant to the audience. Journalism is useful, informative and relevant to the audience, regardless of whether it’s something a company wants to say.
By definition then, advertising is usually content a company has to push at the audience — often by paying for placement. Journalism is content that people seek out and pull to them.”
This is pretty typical of a journalist’s POV on what marketers are trying to do. The best marketers out there are sweating bullets trying to understand customer needs and emotions and then connect with them in some authentic way. That being said, Kevin’s points about push and pull make sense.
Natalie Burg at Contently describes some of this tension a bit differently,
“And that’s just the first point of tension. Journalists focus on storytelling, fact checking and style; marketers care far less about Oxford commas than reaching their business goals. Journalists tend to be realists; marketers tend to be aspirational.
“They come from different worlds,” says Brendan Cournoyer, former journalist and director of content marketing at Brainshark. “No matter what, it’s an adjustment, and there can be some tension.”
You can quickly see the tension between these two cultures. One is about attracting people through relevance and story, the other gets the job done.
The third culture is whatever company culture you have. Very few companies have a dominant marketing culture. Fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies like Unilever and Nestle do. Google and Microsoft have engineering cultures. Banks have banking cultures. Even brands like Nike have a performance culture above their marketing culture. Usually companies with strong cultures that are not marketing-centric have a distrust of marketing as a discipline. Journalism also seems too tangential to how companies make money to care.
So, three cultures often with some tension between them. How do you convert non-healthy tension into a new, powerful way of marketing?
Put the editorial calendar at the heart of marketing and communications
Imagine if you could document all of the product and service initiatives and persistent marketing commitments – new product releases, new service enhancements, conferences, research initiatives – all in one place. Then you got your entire marketing and communications force to coordinate efforts around the calendar? And what if the marketing ‘moments’ on that calendar were handled as interesting stories – some big, some small? Now you are adopting a habit of editorial organizations. Actually, you would likely go beyond what most editorial organizations have achieved and built an editorial “map” visible to all inside the organization and with the express purpose of getting disparate players to sync up their efforts.
If the calendar becomes everyone’s “heads-up display”, it makes it easier to inject spontaneous and opportunistic stories as well. Let’s say a big global storm inhibits shipping from China, if you were a supply chain management company, you could more easily align marketing and communications to generate and publish useful stories about your POV on successful supply chain tactics during a disruption. Ann Handley offers a great example of “newsjacking” when Kapost jumped on a story essentially about a competitor in a rather nimble way.
The editorial calendar is a powerful organizing principal and one borrowed from a journalistic culture.
Align everyone to a common measurement model
Marketing is all about effectiveness. At Ogilvy, we always referred to the David Ogilvy quote, “we sell or else.” One of marketing culture’s gifts to this new land of content marketing is a business-relevant way of measuring performance.
By establishing a common and relatively simple model for evaluating marketing and communications efforts, suddenly all the stories in the editorial calendar and all the tactics deployed become more strategic. That means blending measurement for most marketing with most communications (i.e. public relations). It also means connecting the KPIs (key performance indicators) to sales-related results.
The common performance measurement model aligns all disciplines and is one of marketing culture’s key strengths.
Build belief in a new connected-customer journey
Executives in an engineering culture, a banking culture, a health care culture need to understand the impact and contribution to the business from marketing – especially this ‘new marketing’ where valuable content plays a much bigger role.
How you build belief is really up to what works and what communicates best on that culture. Engineers may favor quantified problems and well-designed solutions. Bankers may favor the numbers. However you need to present your case, you need to be doing it all the time. Belief rarely happens with one event (crisis can do that, look at Dell, BP, GM). Belief is built over time and it is prone to erode or give way to competing beliefs.
Three things that appear critical to building belief in what the journalism and marketing cultures are trying to do: the new customer journey, the numbers and the work.
The sales funnel isn’t dead. It just doesn’t explain how buyers behave anymore. Whether a consumer or a business decision-maker, how we buy is changing. With immediate access to all the information in the universe via Google, peer recommendations via social and more, how we move through to make a buying decision – never mind choices around sticking with a company – has changed. Gaining agreement internally around this new customer journey will help build support for marketing going forward.
Do you have an executive marketing dashboard…that you believe in? Getting that weekly or monthly one-pager that really captures how you are doing helps (especially if it’s based upon the common measurement model above.
Executives are people, too and great, beautiful work helps rally support. Always be sharing the great work. It inspires and helps people want to be a part of something inspiring.
Now I just need to come up with a great joke to pay off on “A journalist, marketer and an SVP walk into a bar…”
There is content marketing that sells and there is content marketing that strengthens the brand. B2B marketers use content to drive demand and lead generation. IBM does this with their various Smarter Planet content efforts or their C-Suite reports.
A few brands are expanding how they use content to communicate about the brand or the business behind the brand. More than glorified media rooms, these new sites-plus-social reflect a more sophisticated approach to storytelling and multimedia production.
For the longest time, Cisco Newsroom was held up as a ‘best practice’ examples of what a corporate media site could be. That site remains strong today.
Three other brands are doing some interesting work and worth checking out: Coca-Cola, Wells Fargo and Basecamp.
Ashley Brown and his team at Coca-Cola have created a storytelling platform for the corporate brand called Coca-Cola Journeys. Written with a more sophisticated editorial voice, you will find stories rolling through their ‘big picture carousel’ on:
- How to Host an Easy Mother’s Day Brunch – a simple ‘how-to’ for those of us who need to honor mom but don’t know what we are doing in the kitchen.
- May 8, 1886: The Birth of a Refreshing Idea – a doorway into the heritage of Coca-Cola from the simple beginnings at Jacob’s Pharmacy to the present.
- Pitch Perfect Photo-opp: Coke’s Happiness Flag – a profile of an ambitious art project that combined the images of thousands (millions?) of profile pictures to form the poster art designed by Brazilian and Argentinian artists.
The ‘beats’ at Journeys are clear: Company news, Empowering women, Water issues and their signature sponsorship which right now is all about 2014 FIFA World Cup. They are also covering Food and Music. These reflect a move to more lifestyle content – a focus they learned by doing. Their brand pages simply aggregate what you can find on the social channels for that brand like Fanta.
There is a ton of content. Not only that but you can get to know the communications team behind it through the Unbotteled Blog as well as the “staff picks” for articles within the site.
Contently, a partner with Coke, published a useful look inside their strategy
“In 2013, Journey published 1,200 articles and attracted 13.1 million visitors who averaged an impressive 4:40 time spent per article, according to Journey Co-Managing Editor Jay Moye. With JourneyOn (conference of communication folks), Coke’s global team tried to spread its secret formula to the eight countries that had launched their own Journey sites, as well as a few others that would be up-and-running in the coming months, including Great Britain, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Nigeria and Kenya.”
On the team:
“The Coca-Cola Journey team is helmed by Ashley Brown, the company’s 35-year-old Director of Digital Communications and Social Media whom AdAge credits for thrusting Coca-Cola into the digital age. Journey is co-managed by Moye and Ashley Callahan, a former TV journalist. The staff also sports a social media editor, graphic designer, analyst, and a third editor. An Atlanta-based video crew produces Journey’s videos, and the team leans on freelance writers and photographers for its non-Coke focused content (which — full disclosure — Coca-Cola hires and manages via Contently).”
A simple favorite
While they are creating and curating a ton of content, I only have to look at how they handled the recent shareholder meeting. Instead of publishing out financial reports or boring minutes or nothing at all, their article was simplified into: “10 Takeaways from Coke’s Annual Shareowners Meeting”. Brilliant.
Wells Fargo Stories
Simpler than Coca-Cola Journeys, the Wells Fargo stories delivers three types of stories into a clean, tile-based design:
- Helping our customers succeed
- Helping our communities thrive
- Living our values everyday
Essentially the site is a well-designed blog. This is over and above the official Wells Fargo news blog which continues to churn out business news about the company and the long-running Wells Fargo blogs which are collection of special blogs. In “Stories,” Wells Fargo covers customer success stories like their work with Urban Outfitters. They share about their community commitments including their telethon volunteering in Phoenix. Values come to life in stories like the one covering their contributions to a St. Louis food bank.
A not-so-simple challenge
The different blogs are confusing. Wells Fargo Stories is strong content. No doubt there is strength in the ‘Guided by History’ blog which connect us with the enduring legacy of a great brand just as there is in the “Beyond Today Blog” which offers useful content on retirement. But it’s a confusing landscape of content. At the heart of all of this lie two types of content – useful content meant to of-service to stakeholders (e.g. retirement ‘how-to’s’) and brand content meant to demonstrate the character of the company (e.g. their employee volunteerism). All of this great content can help customers and investors answer the question “Why Wells Fargo?” when selecting a financial partner.
I expect that Wells Fargo will connect these great storytelling resources going forward and that Wells Fargo Stories will serve as the more contemporary way to serve that content up. I also suspect they will profile and promote this content from their core customer site. Even though that site is commerce and service-first, their great stories are more reasons a prospect might choose the brand. These stories ought to be highly visible on their main web site.
Basecamp, The Distance
Basecamp makes for an odd comparison and that’s why it’s worth taking a look at. 37Signals, now Basecamp, has been making software for 15 years. They are proud of their connection to their users and customers. Founder Jason Fried contributes to Inc magazine generally sharing his own first-hand experiences at the company.
While they have had a blog for some time, they recently launched a new editorial site called The Distance. Unlike Coca-Cola, this is no barrage of stories nor is it the typical aggregation of social media nuggets. They do one story a month. The Distance is long-form storytelling focused on businesses that have been around for 25 years or more. Clocking in at 2500+ words, this ain’t your average 300 word blog post. Their first story profiles the Horween Leather Company, Chicago’s last remaining tannery and maker of some beautiful leather goods (including Wilson footballs).
“Everyone talks about how hard it is to start a business. It is hard, but it’s not as hard as staying in business. Every business is new at least once, but very few actually survive to old age (or even adolescence). We want to celebrate those who’ve figured out the hardest thing to do in business: how not to go out of business.”
A simple connection
The story is well told, illustrated by images and a simple video of Nick Horween talking up the distinction in their leather. Basecamp doesn’t get all that much credit for The Distance. There is no link to The Distance from their Web site. If you didn’t follow their blog, you would never know it’s from them. But that is kind of what we expect from Basecamp/37Signals. Their users will talk. Word will get around. And they will get credit as a 15 year-old company who takes the time to profile even older companies and shine a light on what it takes to stay in business.
Three different brands committed to storytelling and content marketing to support the promise behind their brands. Three brands who believe the character of the company matters to their business and the customers who buy their product.
Reading books can be a chore. Don’t get me wrong, I love books. I have a ton of them and have actually read most of them. Still, they tend to be long (Compared to, say, a tweet) and I tend to take quite a bit longer to read them. My non-fiction book consumption has suffered the most, especially business books. I just don’t have the time.
Which brings me to a brief roundup of three interesting short-form content examples. With Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, Instagram and the whole lexicon of infographics, we have so many formats and platforms available today that can deliver some interesting and short content experiences.
Vox – Everything You Need To Know
I am a big fan of Vox as an editorial source. The page design is a more sophisticated approach to tile-based design. Scrolling and browsing is a pleasure. Founder Ezra Klein and the Vox Media team have created a resource that is just plain easy to consume in short bursts while still walking away with meaning.
Their “Everything You Need to Know…” features are not your usual short-form in that they can actually be a lot of words. But they are organized in brief “cards” that you can easily scroll through. What makes them short is that you can learn a topic pretty comprehensively in a short session. They serve to get you up to speed on a trending idea or story like Charter Schools, Cliven Bundy or student debt in one gulp. They are well-written.
Vox also has truly short-form content with their “Explained in 2 Minutes” videos. The video that explains Bitcoin is a great example and also a part of a sponsored content play by GE. The video uses a well-written (and opinionated) voice over graphics approach and really helps frame a way of thinking about Bitcoin (a new kind of payment network but a “crappy” currency).
The GE sponsorship is under the rubric of #Pressing, “Unique views on policy from the best in news” and continues the brands exploration of content marketing, this time from the paid side.
Lowe’s Fix in Six
Can a :06 Vine video actually be useful or is the format destined to be the distraction not the substance? Just watch Lowe’s Fix in Six video on making staining a fence easier than a Tom Sawyer crowdsourcing gag. Then watch the cupcake pan flower-growing video. You get the idea. These guys/gals have really created something wonderfully useful in an impossibly short format. I would subscribe to Lowe’s Twitter feed just for these videos alone.
They have republished the Vine videos on a Tumblr page but, surprisingly, not kept that page up to date. The Tumblr gives them more visual control of the page and also puts them in that network. It does mean that the page is a duplicate of their Vine account. That doesn’t seem like such a problem because most people consumer Vines from within Twitter – one video at a time – and the Tumblr feels like a better aggregator than the Vine page.
More like Vox’s “Explained in 2 Minutes," NowThis News features go even shorter to give us the gist of a topic trending in the news now. Here’s their snapshot, “The company was founded by Huffington Post co-founder and former Chairman Kenneth Lerer, and former Huffington Post CEO Eric Hippeau. From studios in New York and Washington DC, NowThis News produces over 50 daily video updates for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, YouTube, Android and Apple apps and the mobile web.”
Take a look at their video on eCigarettes. The :18-long video compiles provocative video and images with text overlays that tell the story and a driving beat hat keeps it all moving. Jump into a section like “US” and the latest videos will simply play one after the other to give you a digest of the news…probably faster than even scanning the newspaper story on the same subject.
This is all a little unnerving if you think of this as a sole source for your news. But that just isn’t most people’s behavior. We graze for news on TV, in our newspapers, on Twitter, in our RSS readers. Why not rely on a digest format for those stories bubbling up in the zeitgeist that just aren’t your passion but you need to know about? And most importantly perhaps, it is all designed for mobile consumption.
I will still read books, but I also love short-form that strives to go beyond the distraction and deliver content that is valuable.
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:
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.
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.
- 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
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.
“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)
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.
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 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.”
“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.”
“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)
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
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:
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.
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 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!)
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:
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.”
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”
- See Fitbark, tracks your dog’s activity via a wearable
- See SensibleBaby, monitors your baby’s ‘vitals’ through the night
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.
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”
(thanks to all for the images used respectfully and to Gagitech for the CES hashtag image)
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?
“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.
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)