Category: Content

A focus for marketing in 2017

I notice that I last posted in June last year and that this wasn’t even a proper post, just a reference to a speech I had given in Istanbul that was conveniently YouTubed. In my defence, I have been busy doing other things such as building a house and involved in an interesting experiment in online education. Interestingly, my blog views haven’t decreased dramatically over that time, which I think says something instuctive about the whole content thing. It suggests that content is not a volume game, where frequency or even timing of posting is key, rather it suggests that content is a relevance game that is not driven by the act of publication, but driven by the act of search. This is why content socialisation is far more important that content publication. As I have said before, spend only 10 per cent (or less) of your content budget actually producing content and the remaining 90 per cent on socialising that content. Socialised content is the gift that carries on giving. Once it is out there it will carry on working for you without you having to do anything else. And this socialisation has to start with an understanding of what content (information) people actually want from you – identifying the questions for which your brand is the answer. Remember, the social digital space is not a distribution space where reach and frequency are the objectives, it is a connection space where the objectives are defined by behaviour identification and response.

Here endeth the predictable critique of content strategies.

Given that it is still January I believe I have permission to resume posting with a 2017 prediction piece. I was prompted to do this by reading Ashley Freidlin’s extremely comprehensive post on marketing and digital trends for 2017. This is essentially a review of the landscape and it its sheer scale is almost guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of every marketing director. Perhaps because of this, Ashley’s starts with saying that the guiding star for 2017 should be focus, so in that spirit I shall attempt to provide some basis for focus. Continue reading

The content delusion: why almost all content marketing strategies are a waste of time and money

This excellent piece by Mark Higginson has galvanised me to write this post. I have done many posts previously on this, but they have tended to be too long, too short or just dealing with a specific aspect. So here it is – my shot at the definitive post that punctures the content delusion.

1. Consumers don’t want it

Find me the consumer who is saying “what I really want right now is another piece of content from my favourite brand”. That consumer does not exist. Ask consumers what they want from brands and they will certainly give you a list – but content will not be on that list. Don’t believe me here, believe the global PR agency, Edelman. They asked consumers what they wanted from brands and they came up with a list of 8 things. In essence what consumers were saying is “we want information (not content), we want responses, we want answers to questions, we want you to listen to us and give us an opportunity to be heard, we want you to demonstrate to us that you actually strand for something other than marketing b*** s**t.

2. The value creation model is fundamentally flawed

Let’s look the theory first. We have an industry that has been around in excess of 500 years that specialises in turning content into cash. This is the publishing and media industry. The model this industry has developed for doing this most efficiently involves creating revenue in two ways: subscription/purchase or advertising. Neither of these options are available to brand ‘publishers’ and in any case, this model is dying on its feet. So, as a toothpaste brand, if you think you can do a better job at creating value from content than the guys who have been doing it for 500 years, without recourse to the two most effective tools these guys have developed and in the face of an economic environment within which the ability to create value from content is collapsing – go ahead: make my day (and clean my teeth).

Now for the practice: it just doesn’t scale. Continue reading

Why YouTube Red is the same as the 1559 Index of Banned Books

It may be difficult to see a connection between the launch of YouTube Red (a subscription paywall behind which its ‘content stars’ have now been imprisoned), the Council of Trent in 1545-63 and the Index of Banned Books (or indeed between the social media ‘Reformation’ and the Protestant Reformation). But there is a connection and it is to do with institutional reactions to new forms of disruptive technology and a desire to shore up established vested interests.

Looking first at the Council of Trent. This was one of a series of crisis meetings convened by the Catholic Church to try and deal with the pesky Protestant Reformation which was threatening its authority in large parts of Europe. An aspect of this that was especially irksome was the new-fangled technology of printing, which had allowed Martin Luther et al, as well as some other awkward geeks such as Galileo, to spread their ideas far more extensively that would have been possible in the good-old days of the Inquisition. In fact one of the most significant aspects behind the success of the Protestant Reformation was its adoption of this new communications technology and a recognition of its power to disrupt established institutionalised interests (i.e. the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church).

The Roman Catholic Church could not deny or seek to eradicate this new technology, but it could try to appropriate its power and control its output – hence the Index of Banned Books. This Index was an attempt to define and promote only content that supported institutionalised political vested interests (the Roman Catholic Church). YouTube Red, on the other hand, is an attempt to define and promote only content that supports institutionalised commercial vested interests (Google and the advertising industry). Continue reading

Podcasting: what goes around comes around

I am intrigued at the extent to which podcasts are enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity because it was podcasts that first got me interested in social media all those years ago.  In the time before Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, podcasts were the first vaguely commercial looking manifestation of the thing we now call social media.  Before podcasts there were only blogs – which at the time were simply (and incorrectly) seen as online personal diaries and personal diaries are not serious or sensible things.  Podcasts, however, looked a lot like radio shows – and radio shows are (sometimes) serious and sensible things.  The claim behind podcasts was that now everyone could make a radio show – which seemed highly intriguing, and potentially highly disruptive (at least to radio shows).

But two things happened which stopped podcasts delivering on their potential.  First was the assumption that now everyone could produce a radio show – because it very soon became apparent that the people who had always produced radio shows could do a much better job of it than couples in their kitchens.  This was a classic confusion of information and distribution.  A radio show is basically a form of distribution not a form of content.  The means (and expense) of radio distribution dictate and constrain what the content of a radio show can be – as with all forms of traditional media.  What the social media revolution has done is liberate information from restrictive means of distribution.  Content doesn’t have to conform to the rules of mass media.  Radio (form of distribution) becomes audio (form of content/information).

Audio producers (podcasters) therefore didn’t need to constrain themselves with the distribution restrictions associated with being radio producres – but no-one really realised this.  Instead everyone tried to replicate (and unsuccessfuly compete with) ‘old-fashioned’ radio shows.  Continue reading

Social media: the three (wise) tools

I am often asked about which social media tools to use. My stock answer is to say “the answer is never a tool, social media is not a tool-based challenge.” I then invoke the analogy of the carpenter and the chisel, i.e. a carpenter will probably use a chisel, but having a chisel won’t make you a carpenter – carpentry, like social media, is a process-based challenge, not a tool-based challenge.

3 toolsHowever, I am prepared to make an exception in three cases. The tools I recommend are linked to the three pillars of any successful social media strategy: conversation, content (information management) and community. The reason I recommend them is that none can be misunderstood as a channel (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram et al can) and all involve construction of a process in order to use them effectively.

Netvibes as a path to Sprinklr

The first addresses conversation (i.e. listening and responding to the things people are saying about your brand which is the only conversation brands have permission to join). The tool I initially point people to is Netvibes. Netvibes is still the only decent free tool that you can use to establish a comprehensive monitoring dashboard. When I show people a Netvibes dashboard their response is almost always “wow – I want one of those”. Hootsuite does this a bit, but Hootsuite is more set up to publish outgoing than it is to monitor incoming. However, if you are looking for an ‘enterprise solution’ – and if your organisation is of any sort of size you will need to do this – the solution is Sprinklr. Sprinklr has now swallowed so many platforms and technologies you cannot really call it a tool, but the reason I recommend it (them) is that of all the major platforms players they are the only one that fundamentally ‘gets’ the fact that social media is a process management challenge rooted in behaviour identification and response. I note they have just announced another new service, the ‘Customer Experience Cloud’. Now I am a bit sceptical about the concept of customer experiences, but this is when a generic (sometimes called consistent) customer experience is broadcast down this thing called an omni-channel. However, the Sprinklr approach seems to be more about how you manage your response to individual consumers – i.e. giving your customers the individual experience they want, rather than forcing onto them an experience the brand wants them all to have. It could also help in the important business of identifying and recruiting superfans (see point 4 in this post).

WordPress (social hub)

The second tool is WordPress. Now I know WordPress has finally become all conquering (although I can remember the days when you had to torture digital agencies to get them to use it), but the more specific usage of WordPress I recommend is the creation of a content / social hub. Without something like this a brand cannot have a real-time voice: it cannot provide answers to questions or link together its usage of any of the other tools such as YouTube or Twitter. A website can explain what you do. But a social hub can demonstrate how you are doing it. It will also help you target Google spaces (i.e. the places where people are asking the question for which your brand provides the answer).

Get Satisfaction

I really enjoy recommending the third tool  – because no-one has heard of it. This tool is Get Satisfaction. Get Satisfaction is an out-of-the-box customer service community. I believe that within a few years every single organisation will have to have one of these in place in the same way that it became expected that every organisation needed a website. In fact I think websites will basically morph into one of these anyway. Why? Well, as I highlighted in this post on Edelman’s recent Brandshare report – consumers are telling brands they want them to do eight things – and the four most important of these can easily be addressed with an online customer service community.

I have looked back over my presentations and noticed that I first started talking about Get Satisfaction at a conference in Budapest in 2008. I keep waiting for it to become ‘big’ and remain disappointed, in fact appalled, at the extent to which so few ‘social media experts’ have latched onto it – but I think this just reflects the extent to which we all still see social media as a distribution challenge, not a connection challenge. Community is all about connection, in fact I think community will become the new media. Wherever we look we see relationships between brands and consumers being disrupted by the intervention of communities (Trip Advisor, Airbnb, Wikipedia – even Google itself). Brands need to understand how to operate within these new community spaces, but also how to create a community space for their brand. People would much rather talk to a brand within its own community space, rather than have a brand invade their own spaces in networks such as Facebook. Facebook (as it is spending advertising dollars saying) is for friendship – and you will never be friends with a brand.

We are starting to see what communities such as Yammer, Jive or Lithium can do in creating more efficient relationships between people within your business. Get Satisfaction can do the same for creating more efficient relationships with your consumers or customers. Better still, if you create an online customer service community, the process you will have to build around it will force you to become more effective in the way in which you operate the rest of your social media strategy. This community will become the hub which defines the rest of your activity.

So – let us kill of the age of brandfill (content) and bring on the age of community.

Organic social media is dead: but was it ever alive?

It appears to have become an article of faith that organic social media reach is dead. The reason for this, so the idea goes, is that the social space has become so cluttered that achieving cut-through is now too difficult. From this it proceeds that the way forward is to look at paid for solutions, or at least to ensure that any organic activity has paid for boosters attached.

My question though is this. Was organic social media reach ever alive? OK there may have been some examples where brands have managed to get themselves in front of a large number of people in the social digital space, but I would contend that these were, and will remain, the exception. I don’t think the social media space has ever delivered reach on a consistent basis and all that has changed is that we are waking up to that fact. For example engagement levels, on average, with brand Facebook pages have always been abysmally low. This is not a recent phenomenon, it is simply that we haven’t wished to believe this.

It has nothing to do with the fact that the space has now filled up, or, as has been suggested, we are arriving at an impending content shock. The trouble with this type of thinking is this leads to the conclusion that we simply have to make our content more engaging / competitive in order to achieve sufficient reach when, in fact, what we should be doing is abandoning the idea of reach altogether. Continue reading

What next after content marketing?

(Way) back in 2008 I wrote a rather lengthy paper on the theory of social media.  Interestingly, it has become the blogging equivalent of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon in that it has hung around in my list of current popular posts ever since.  Within this I suggested that the key assets for operating in the social media space were content, conversation and community.  I also proposed that we were likely to move through these in sequence: content being the easiest thing to deal with, followed by conversation and ending up with community.

Well – we certainly have embraced the content thing.  So, if my theory holds – could the next big thing be conversation marketing?

Presentation1So I turned to Google Trends.  What this showed (see blue line in the diagram above) is the extent to which content marketing has exploded over the last two years (albeit four years after I proposed it in my paper).   Interestingly, this is plotted against Facebook marketing (green), which we can see peaked as a subject of interest in late 2011 and Facebook engagement (purple) which peaked a little later.  We now talk more about content marketing than we do about Facebook engagement (at last).

As an aside, the content marketing that brands are doing, doesn’t really correspond to the type of content marketing I envisaged.  I was proposing an approach to content that was about creating a network of information threads within a brand’s relevant digital space, not simply ramming the channels with stuff.  However, I think we will come around to my way of thinking in time – possibly as brands become more conversational, and thus more in tune with what content (information) consumers want, as distinct from the content brands want them to have.

However, Google Trends didn’t really turn up any evidence to suggest that conversation or community might be the next things.  In its (or my) defence, this is probably because we haven’t yet created ‘the word’ for what conversation or community based marketing might be.  Key to the birth of any new thing is christening it with a name.  So I guess we have to look elsewhere for evidence.  Here I would return to the post I wrote a few week ago about Edleman’s Brandshare Report.  Here we see very clear evidence that consumers want to have conversations with brands, albeit conversations that start with the issues consumers want a response to, rather than the issues brands might want to have conversations about.

Content marketing, even when you do it right, is actually very easy.  It doesn’t involve changing the model of marketing or actually involving the consumer too much.  That is why I suggested content would be the first big thing to arrive (once brands had got over their initial obsession with Facebook and Twitter).  Conversation marketing is harder because it involves seeding an element of control, if only in terms of letting the consumer decide what conversations they want to have.  It involves changing the configuration of marketing resources with a shift towards investment in people and processes, rather than agencies and media.  It also involves recognising that you can’t have a conversation with everyone all at once – and thus you only create positive ROI by extracting much higher value from a much more limited ‘reach’ (subject of the e-book I wrote last year).  In fact it involves abandoning the idea of reach as a sensible metric altogether. It also corresponds to what I am calling the concept of ‘Hot Marketing’ – the creation of genuinely valuable (hot) relationships, albeit much fewer of them at any one moment in time than when were creating (cold) relationships with entire audiences.

This additional level of difficulty is the reason I think it is going to be a couple of years before brands really get to the place where they understand how to create value from conversation.  I also think brands will need to get over the current obsession with ‘brandfill’ content strategies before they will have the operational space to move onwards.  I guess this puts the concept of community marketing back to at least five years’ out.  This is a shame, especially since I have spent most of this year banging on about forms of community!  However, effective communities involve creating a much greater level of shared interest and collaboration between brands and consumers than most marketing folk are prepared to countenance.  In fact, we will probably only get to the community phase by reinventing the concept of marketing as we know it.

Looking back at my 2008 piece, I am still pretty happy with its core conclusions.  I would stand by everything I said within it and I think what I predicted is basically panning out – although perhaps not as quickly as I thought it might.  But there again, I am aware that one of the features of any revolution is that one tends to overestimate its impact in the short term, but underestimate its impact in the long term.

 

 

Content marketing: reaching for the stars (but reach is yesterday’s game)

16245948997364302024I am content marketing’s biggest fan.  I am content marketing’s biggest sceptic.

As a fan …

In May 2011 I gave a presentation to finance directors from major communications agency groups for the EACA.  It was about how agencies could survive in the world of social media.  I concluded the presentation with six (slightly tongue in cheek) recommendations, one of which was “hire a bunch of journalists and get them to do outsourced content creation and editorial management”.*

Before that, my mantra was (and remains) that conversation, content and community are the three platforms of any social media strategy.

Looking back at my presentations from seven years ago I see I was encouraging brands to drive a network of content threads into their relevant digital space with the exhortation to “get it a link, get it out there, get it working for you”.

One would therefore have thought that on reading this cover story about the rise of content marketing from the Columbia Journalism Review, I would therefore feel vindicated.  (Incidentally, I was sent this piece by Stan Magniant, fellow social media traveller from way back, who now heads up Coca Cola’s digital and content operation for Northern Europe).  But I don’t feel vindicated, I feel disappointed. This isn’t the sort of content I was talking about.

But as a sceptic…

First there is the whole issue of ‘independent’ journalism being replaced by ‘sponsored’ journalism.  But I am not too worried about this because journalism was always sponsored and all that is happening is that the sponsor is becoming more apparent.

My main issue is with the concept (and value) of reaching consumers in comparison with the value of being reached by consumers.

The justification, and measurement, for most of these mega brand content operations is primarily reach.  As the CJR article highlights, some of the content that brands are producing is matching (sometimes exceeding) the reach achieved by traditional media channels.  But there are two issues here.  One is consistency.  A traditional media channel, generally speaking, guaranties a particular level of reach, whereas brand content is much more hit and miss.  But the bigger issue is that reaching someone is the lesser part of the game.  What really matters is what happens when you reach someone (or what happens when they reach you).

In ‘the old days’ we tended not to think about this too much because we knew we were putting messages in the channel that had been specifically designed to trigger a valuable response (i.e. advertising).  If we were reaching people, we were therefore creating value: reach was therefore a proxy for value creation.  Or alternatively, our PR messages had the benefit of carrying with them third-party endorsement conferred on them by the channels which adopted them.  But brand channels don’t carry this endorsement and their availability means brands can easily fill them up with huge amounts of stuff, in the quest to ratchet-up the reach score.  When it is easy and cheap to pour vast amounts of content into a space, it is not difficult to accumulate high aggregated levels of reach.  But should that not indicate to us that reach is becoming a devalued currency?  Reach is a function of distribution, and the social media revolution is all about the separation of information (content) from distribution.  Being a channel, being the distributor, creating reach, carries less and less value (as the traditional media is discovering).   Reach, in and of itself, is yesterday’s game.

Chasing reach is simply a new variant of the (now belatedly discredited) exercise of manufacturing Facebook likes and Twitter followers.  You may have reached a whole lot of people, but so what?  What does this actually mean for what these people think about your brand and how does this translate into improved sales or reputation scores?  How much credit is the brand actually getting for being seen as the supplier of this content?  Is supplying this sort of content what your consumers are saying they want you to do?

I keep coming back to the recent Edelman Brandshare report, which is a crystal clear manifesto for brands, presented to them by consumers.  There is no ambiguity here about what it is consumers want from brands.  In terms of content, they want answers to their questions.  And they also want brands to demonstrate that they stand for something in addition to the generation of profit.

It seems to me that brands are at a crossroads.  They can decide to jump on the content bandwagon and pour huge amounts of stuff into the ever-expanding content universe, collecting their ‘reach points’ as they go in the belief that they can redeem these for something worth having.  Or they can decide to give consumers what consumers are telling them they want – which is a content strategy which matches brand answers to consumers’ questions in real-time.  And a marketing strategy that is designed to convince consumers that they are a brand worth reaching.

 

* The other five were: fire all creatives over 30 and put a £45k salary cap on the creative department, fire all your planners and hire social data analysts (and sell social data analysis as a product), sell your independently branded digital and media businesses (while you can still get a premium price) but pull the function in-house so it becomes a facilitation function not a client facing specialism, buy a change management / innovation agency and get it to develop a brand socialisation product, recruit some “Baby Bells” (i.e. people like Tim (Lord) Bell who can act as CEO counsellors).  So, a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I would still stand by them.

 

US Mid-terms: the role of social media in the Republican’s success

I would not consider myself to be a fan of the Republican Party, but I am a fan of this comment by Lori Brownlee, social media director for the Republican National Committee (RNC).  Commenting on the success of their recent campaign she said “rather than simply using Twitter and Facebook as a broadcast tool,  we centered our plan around using social as a strategic listening and data collection tool.”

Check out this article just published in AdAge for more details.  There is so much that brands could learn from this approach – especially the ability to understand, in real-time, what people are talking about or asking.  Social media is a real-time game and it requires that a brand design real-time processes to play it.  This is not a game where you sit down and plan your content in advance – you plan your process in advance and this will then tell you what content you need to have out there right now.  A content strategy needs to be seen as a process that matches brand answers to consumers’ questions in real-time.

Neither do you plan your influencers in advance, people become influential because what it is they are doing or saying right now, and you therefore need to identify them in real-time.  Someone who is influential today, is not necessarily going to be influential tomorrow.

And key to this process are tools and people.  Listening and analysis tools (such as Sprinklr, mentioned in the article), but then places (such as newsrooms or command centres) where the tools can be plugged into people who can then process and share the information and make decisions about what to do.  Rather than spending time and money simply filling up channels with ‘brandfill’, brand should spend time and money creating (and then staffing and managing) command centres.

What is local news? Can it exist as a form of media?

Two weeks ago I had just returned home from football training with one of my sons. As I got out of the car I heard some distant thunder-like rumbling. But the rumble kept repeating itself in a very regular way. It was therefore clearly not a natural phenomenon. It was something that was very big or explosive (a bit worrying) but also very distance and not seeming to get closer (more reassuring).

So I wanted to find out what was going on. Did I listen to the local radio station? Did I look at the website of the local newspaper? Of course not. I simply punched #Norfolk #Suffolk #boom into a Twitter search. Hey presto – I found someone else with the same question and shortly we were joined by another with the answer – which was some uncommonly noisy military exercises taking place at the army’s Stanford Training Area (Stanta), some 20 miles way in Thetford Forest.

Now the issue here is not whether the local radio station or newspaper could or should have been giving me this information. Or that their inability to do so therefore represented a unfulfilled need or opportunity for a more (hyper) local variant of their kind to fill this supposed ‘gap in the market’. Radio and newspapers are constrained, and defined by, (and named after) the medium within which they have to operate (radio, newsprint). The expense of using this medium sets a floor, in terms of required audience, below which they cannot go. But this constraint also applies to the type of content these forms of media produce – which is something we tend to forget. We have lived in a world where information is married to distribution (content to media) and where distribution wears the trousers (i.e. defines what content can live within it).

The social digital revolution is all about the separation of information from distribution – the removal of the constraint upon content which expensive distribution channels once imposed. But the removal of this distribution constraint has not, as many assume, made it possible for the content form (as distinct from distribution form) that is local media to break through the glass floor and now operate at the hyper local level. At this level (or within the social digital space) the concept of content ceases to have any meaning – because content is a creation of the world of channel (distribution). It requires containment in order to be content.

What happens at the hyper local level (or in the hyper-relevant social digital space more generally) is that the form of content we call news stops being a finished product (i.e. content) and becomes a raw material. It becomes a component within a process that will allow individuals to define their own news. In the example I have highlighted it has become a conversation – which is a form of process. And when you aggregate conversations, what you end up with is a community.  And the question you also have to ask is that, when you remove the glass floor, do you find you have also removed a glass ceiling – such that process and community based ‘news’ migrates upwards and eats even more of the space currently occupied by traditional news content.  Yes is probably the answer.

The future is therefore pretty bleak for what we currently see understand as local news.  It cannot make itself more local because hyper-local news can never exist, or be aggregated within, the distribution form we associate with media.  And the hyper-local, or hyper-relevant, processes associated with information sharing in the social digital space (the world of the individual, rather than the world of the audience) are likely to migrate upwards and eat even more of its, already relatively impoverished, lunch.