Tagged: social media

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.

Focus on value

First, I would suggest that the best way of achieving focus is to focus on value. I sincerely hope that 2017 is the year marketing people wake up to the fact that much of what they have been doing in the social digital space is not creating sufficient value to justify doing it – no matter how many likes, shares, re-tweets it might have been garnering. Drop the reach and frequency metrics: value in the social digital space is created by behaviour identification and response, not reach and frequency.

With this in mind I hope 2017 will see the death of content marketing as we know it. Ashley suggests that content marketing is approaching its ‘plateau of productivity’ as per the Gartner Hype Cycle. I think it is approaching its ‘peak of inflated expectation’ and is about the slide into the ‘trough of disillusionment’ (for reasons I have set out many times before).

AI, Big Data, Internet of things, marketing automation, conversational interfaces, identity management, segmentation, augmented reality.  These are all the same thing

There is one thing that links all this stuff together and that is the algorithm. Understand algorithms and how they change the way we understand identity and all of this seemingly diverse stuff will fall into place. Critically, algorithms shift the way we understand  identity from seeking to understand who or where people are (old-fashioned segmentation and targeting), to understanding what they are doing (algorithmic segmentation). It is about behaviour identification and response again. That is why mobile is becoming so important because a mobile (and a wearable) is not as channel – as most people think – it is a behaviour detection device and also a data gathering device.

If I were to call out any of the above it would be augmented reality. This is vastly more important than virtual reality. Augmented reality allows you to place an algorithm between a person and the real world (not a fantasy world), the real world where transactions happen. Imagine a retail environment where an augmented reality app allows a brand or the retailer to create an individually customised offer to any shopper. Pokemon Buy, rather than Pokemon Go. And that is only the start. Augmented reality and the heads-up screen is the gateway to the world of the algorithm and real-time, real world customised and personalised experiences. It can be used, quite literally, to control how we see, experience and relate to the world around us.

The race for data

Linked to the above is the race for data. Organisations need to build what I call their data geology: layers of data sets they can then stitch together with algorithmic needles in order to understand and predict consumer behaviour. As a more general rule, the more data layers you have, the better. Volume of data trumps accuracy or precision of data in the world of the algorithm. The NSA and GCHQ have shown us how to do this and it is why these organisations are potentially the most powerful marketing agencies (indeed most powerful anything agencies) in the world: it is just that they have chosen to use this power only to identify terrorists and criminals at this point (at least as far as we know). Identifying, adding to and locking down your data is a critical task for any organisation, even if you haven’t yet hired the data scientists to help you work out what to do with it.  Which brings us to…

Talent

Data scientists. Get some. That’s it. The most important hire any marketer could make this year.

Blockchain

Getting my head around Blockchain is at the top of my 2017 to do list. Blockchain has the potential to do to the distribution and sharing of value, what the internet did to the distribution and sharing of information. It could usher-in the end of the trading era where information about money is more valuable than actual money. I don’t yet now how it is going to do this, but the place I would recommend starting is Jeremy Epstein’s blog. Jeremy is now focusing on Blockchain and he has always been a guy who is one-step-ahead. I was sort of interested in Blockchain, but when I heard Jeremy was focusing on it full-time, I became very interested.

And finally, advertising (it is not dead or dying)

Or more precisely the good old-fashioned world of audience-based marketing. This world hasn’t gone away. If a brand still wishes to be ‘a brand’ it has to put on a show for the audience, as well as becoming a fragmented ‘personalised experience’. Indeed the more personalised brands become, the more important it is to have a collective experience at the centre. Of course, brands as we know them might disappear and the whole brand landscape may become commoditised. In fact this could become one of the effects of Blockchain, but this isn’t gong to happen any time soon and there is nothing to be gained (for current brands) in hastening its advance.

However I do think audience-based marketing has to evolve if it is to survive and this will involve breaking the dependency on channel. Currently most marketing activity is defined by the channels it sits within, rather than defining the channels it sits within. As these channels have proliferated and as consumers have gained greater control over channel use selection the response has been to develop ‘multi-channel marketing’ and we have conjured into existence this mythical beast called ‘the omnichannel’. This is the wrong approach. Rather than focus on the channel, marketers need to focus on the ideas than can boss (and sit on top of) the channels.

Last year I ran a workshop for a TV company. I pointed out to them that in the past Red Bull used to pay them large amounts of money for the privilege of renting a 30 second window in their channel (i.e an ad) to get their message out to their consumers. Today, the TV company pays Red Bull money to allow Red Bull to have a 60 minute window in their channel in which they can get their message in front of consumers. Who is the boss here? Red Bull as a brand has become a series of events which define and ‘boss’ the channels they sit within. Its approach to F1 is the same, rather than sponsor an F1 team (traditional channel-based sponsorship idea), it became an F1 team. Brands need to look at Red Bull and learn.

Creating ideas that define the channels they sit within should be the principal creative challenge for brands and their agencies in 2017. I also did a workshop for a large agency group in Milan last year. The creative people here were spending their time pulling their hair out desperately pumping out vast amounts of content for their clients: feeding the multi-headed channel beast that is Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and… What a waste of time, energy, creativity and money when they should have been focusing on creating and bringing to life channel-bossing ideas.

 

 

 

 

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. The ability to create cash from content is dependent on the ability to build an audience for that content. But audiences are not native features of the social digital space, it is very hard to build an audience in social media. This means that you may be able to ‘reach’ people with your content, you may even be able to reach enough people to say you are achieving ‘cost effective reach’, but no matter how cost effective it might be, it will almost certainly struggle to move the needle against any sensible business metric, such as increasing sales or improving brand affinity metrics. This is for two reasons: first, you are probably reaching only a tiny fraction of your audience (even if you are reaching them cost effectively); second you are not reaching them with a piece of content specifically designed to build sales or brand affinity metrics. Instead you are reaching them with stuff that tells them how to make cups out of coloured pencils (sorry Coke, I always use this one, but cups from crayons? Why?)

3. It is yesterday’s response to today’s problem

The media environment within which marketing developed is a distribution environment. The medium itself is expensive, which is why we need to reach audiences, rather than individuals. The marketing challenge has therefore been all about channel and message (content), measured by reach and frequency. The social digital environment is different. It is a connection environment, not a distribution environment. If you care to take a look at how people (consumers) are using the social digital space, it is all about connections. It is not a world of the audience, it is a world of the individual. Facebook was not designed as a platform to distribute messages to a billion people, it was designed to help geeks get girlfriends.

In a connection environment, you create value through behaviour identification and response, not channel and message. You are never going to reach that many people at any one moment in time and even if you could, you are not going to be able to create relationships with them of any significant value. In a connection environment you create value by having a very small number of relationships (at any one moment in time), but by making those relationships hugely more valuable than anything you could create by pushing bits of content at people. No matter how ‘engaging’ a piece of content is, it is no-where nearly as engaging as an organisation that listens and responds to you when you decide you want to be listened and responded to (see earlier points re Edelman’s findings).

Channel and message, reach and frequency – those are the old challenges and content evolved as a way of meeting those challenges. The new challenge is behaviour identification and response – and content just can’t rise to this challenge.

4. It is not the right answer, but it is the answer we all want

If you are facing a new problem and you don’t know what to do about it, you will do one of three things: you will either do what everyone else is doing, what some expert tells you to do or whatever looks the easiest and cheapest thing to do. Usually these all work out to be the same thing. Content is that thing. Rather than face up to the difficult challenges inherent in being the sort of brand Edleman has shown us you need to be, it is much easier to sign a cheque for the agency and get them to produce a whole load of content, while chucking a load of money at Facebook or Twitter to then promote that content so that it stands a half decent chance of reaching enough people to be worthwhile. Your agency is happy, Facebook is happy, you are happy because you have solved the difficult ‘social media’ problem. Everyone is happy (except your consumers) who are either bored or totally indifferent.

You just don’t need a content strategy, you need an information management process that ensures your consumers are getting answers to questions in real-time (i.e. consumers time, not brand publication time). Marketing is fast becoming a real time management process. The new consumer touchpoint strategy is not about who people are and where they are (channels they are in), but what they are doing (right now). The consumers you need to ‘reach’ will identify themselves by their behaviour – hence why the challenge is behaviour identification and response. In this situation content is almost never going to be the right response. It is also why mobile is important – because a mobile is the device most closely aligned to real-time behaviour and, through things such as augmented reality and algorithmic insertion, can be made even more so. Mobile is not a channel, that is simply an old-fashioned media planner’s way of looking at it, a mobile is actually a behaviour detection device. Channels are dead along with the CONTent they once CONTained.

I can Get (now) Satisfaction

GSIn view of my previous post about the three key tools of social media (Sprinklr, WordPress and Get Satisfaction), you can only imagine my own sense of satisfaction – indeed smugness – to see that Sprinklr has just announced it has bought Get Satisfaction.

Clearly there are sensible people, with money, out there who think as I do – which is always a reassuring thought.

The interesting thing about Get Satisfaction is that when it first launched it was a customer, rather than a corporate, tool. It was designed to allow customers or consumers to create their own community around the brands they wanted to talk to, or report upon. It was a bit like Trip Advisor – but for any organisation. It was a community owned by the customer to which brands were then invited to join. Indeed for those brands that didn’t join there was a wonderful one-liner “No-one from company X has sponsored, endorsed or joined the conversation yet” which I thought was a great metaphor for the state of social media at the time (notice the usage of the word ‘yet’). I used this in all of my presentations  (see pictures) and I was convinced that this marked the dawn of a new era where control of corporate reputation would shift to individual customers operating within structured or semi-structured online communities.tomb

Things haven’t worked out quite like that (yet). Get Satisfaction itself shifted to become a corporate-based product, probably because it’s management decided (sensibly as it turned out) to commercialise first and then build a corporate user base rather than build a big consumer user base and then try to work-out how to commercialise it. However, I think the fact that it started out as a tool for the customer has given it an edge as a customer service tool for brands. It has a recognition that all things start with the customer (rather than the brand) coded into its DNA.

As a brand, if you use a tool like Get Satisfaction you cannot fail but become more connected, in real-time, with your customers. It’s four imperatives – ask a question, report a problem, share an idea, give praise – represent all the things that customers want to base their relationships with brands upon. Creating a customer service community may not be easy because doing it effectively means building a new process which will have tentacles that reach out much further into your business that the traditional marketing, sales and communication processes ever did. It will certainly be harder than simply pumping industrial volumes of content out into the social void. However, it is worth remembering that the easy things to do are not usually the best things to do.

I hope that this acquisition marks an end of the phoney-war of social media – and also an acquisition that cements Sprinklr’s position as the leader in ‘enterpise social media solutions’ (I hate that phrase but you know what I mean). I hope it marks at least the begining of the end of the phase where brands thought they could simply put a ‘social patch’ onto their traditional, audience and content based approaches and then carry on as normal. I hope this marks a growing realisation that brands have to adopt a fundamentally different approach to creating relationships with customers in the social digital space, the world of the individual rather than the world of the audience. A world where brands understand how to harness the power of connection rather than distribution. A world where (as I have said in my ebook) you are successful by not speaking to 97 per cent of your audience – just the three per cent (frequently much less) who, at any given time, want to talk to you.

Or, as I have also said, there are only ten customers critical to your business and social media can help you find them. The only catch being these are the people critical to your business right now, and in 10 minutes time it could be another ten people. I.e. these are the people who, right now, want to ask a question, report a problem, share an idea or give praise.

 

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.

Swimmers ‘failing’ at mountain climbing says Brandwatch study

FireShot Screen Capture #217 - 'Retailers 'failing' on Facebook and Twitter, says Brandwatch study I PR Week' - www_prweek_com_article_1333814_retailers-failing-facebook-twitter-says-brandwatch-studyHere is a report on research from Brandwatch that I think neatly encapsulates where many brands have got to in terms of understanding and using social media.  OK, so it doesn’t actually say that swimmers are failing at mountain climbing, it says are that retailers are ‘failing’ on Facebook and Twitter because they are failing to listen and respond to their audiences.  But it may as well talk about swimmers and mountains because while it has identified the failure bit, it has reached the wrong conclusion about why the failure is occuring or what to do about it.

The failure is one of defining the challenge, it is not a failure of insufficient activity.  The challenge in the social media space is defined by behaviour identifiction and response (i.e. it is all about swimming).  The challenge in the traditional media / marketing space was all about channel and message, reach and frequency (i.e. mountain climbing).  So while Brandwatch correctly identified the problem i.e. failure to listen and respond it didn’t realise this was happening because it was positioned against the wrong challenge.  In effect the article is saying “you are failing to swim up this mountain, but if you flayed your arms about more frequently and thrashed your legs more vigourously you would be more successful .”  True enough, but you wouldn’t be that much more successful.  What the article should really say is “you are failing at swimming, but that is because you are trying to climb a mountain rather than cross a lake”.  Right activity, wrong context.  If swimming is what it is all about, look for a lake, don’t look for a mountain.

In reality, the reason most brands are not responding effectively is because this is not what they got into social media to do.  Listening and response is seen as the rather awkward consequence of being in the social media space.  It is seen as a cost that needs to be paid in order to fulfill the ambition of spreading their content far and wide and maximising  ‘engagement’ with their audience.  And like all costs, it should therefore be kept to a minimum.

Social media is entirely a behaviour identification and response challenge.  It is not a channel and message / reach and frequency challenge.  Listening and response is not a cost, it is the source of value creation.  Most brands haven’t really grasped this yet – but at least they are starting to realise that what they are doing has a problem (sort of).

 

 

 

Seamless omni-channel customer experiences. Did the customer order one of these?

omnichannelYesterday I received an email invitation for a Social Media Today webinar which posed the question “are you providing an omni-channel customer experience?”  Now I have a suspicion that in 10 or 15 years time when marketing has finally moved-on, we are all going to look back at this sort of stuff and shake our heads.  How was it that we ever got ourselves caught up in such tangled nonesense, we will ask.

A ridiculous term like omni-channel customer experience is only born when we need to use language to disguise a fundamental gap in understanding.  Terms like this are a sure sign that we don’t really know what we are talking about.  We are just making things up that sound good and have the reassurance of seeming vaguely familiar.

According to Caitlin McCulloch, Director of Community Marketing at Social Media Today “Omni-channel marketing focuses on a seamless approach to the consumer experience through all available channels, including mobile Internet devices, computers, brick-and-mortar, television, radio, direct mail, catalog, and so on. When brands think customer experience, they need to think omni.”  A seamless omni-channel customer experience in fact – even better.

The problem here is that the social digital space is not about channels and messages (reach and frequency) and generic customer experiences.  It is about behaviour identification and response:  it works in a completely different way.  It is well nigh impossible to have a conversation with the same person in multiple channels.  You can only have a conversation with an audience in multiple channels – but the social digital space is the world of the individual, not the world of the audience.  A concept like a seamless omni-channel customer experience can only ever work in the world of the audience: the world of traditional marketing.  It just has no relevance in the social digital space, where people need to be treated as individuals.

Brands may want to bombard their customers with omni-channel experiences, but customers cannot, and will not, reciprocate.  They just want to talk to brands through whatever channel is most appropriate to them at any given moment in time.  The customer selects the channel and they never select an omni-channel.  The only part of this that needs to be omni is the ability for a brand to be available on all the channels, thus have to ability to listen and respond at the time and in the place that its’ customers want.

Customers don’t want ‘customer experiences’.  When has a customer ever asked for a ‘customer experience’?  They want brands to listen to them give them answers to questions in as close to their time (i.e. real time) as possible.  In fact, the closest thing to an omni-channel, from a customers’ perspective, is Google.

But hey, providing a seamless omni-channel customer experience sounds really great. It fits into the statement “we at x brand are totally committed to providing a …”  It then opens the way for agencies who can then sell seamless omni-channel customer experience marketing solutions.  Ker-ching and everyone is happy (except the customer of course).

 

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.

 

 

2015: The Year of Hot Marketing (you heard it hear first)

Marketing has always been a cold business.  We may not have realised this in the same way that our ancestors in the Ice Age didn’t think it was especially chilly.  As they were huddled round their fires, drapped in layers of woolly mamoth skin, they were not dreaming of laying out on a sunny beach in their fur-lined swimwear.  We only call it the Ice Age because we are looking back at it from the perspective of a warmer world.  We can now see that pretty much eveything our ancestors were doing in the Ice Age revolved around the fact that keeping warm was difficult, but to the folks at the time, this was just business-as-usual.

Marketing is the same.  The rules of marketing were established to deal with a ‘cold’ environment where distributing information (like staying warm) was expensive and difficult.  But because these rules applied to everyone, we didn’t notice them.  Instead, we simply focused on playing the game better.

But marketing (especially consumer brand marketing) is now in trouble.  In fact, I think 2015 is shaping up to be a very tough year for marketing.  The reason for this is that the brand climate is warming up, and brand marketers haven’t got themselves a hat and some sun-screen.  Instead, to continue to stretch an already rather mixed analogy, they are trying (unsuccesfully) to make a fur parasol.

The social digital revolution is melting the problem that marketing was based around.  It is now not a problem defined by the difficulty of distribution, it is a problem defined by the opportunity for connection.  It is not a world defined by relationships with audiences, it is defined by relationships with indivuduals – and relationships between individuals are always going to be ‘warmer’ than relationships with audiences. We may have believed that we could create a warm relationship with a ‘target audience’ but that was only relative.  The best audience-type of relationship can only ever be at the warmer end of a fundamentally cold scale.  It may have seemed like a warm relationship to us at the time, but only in the same way that 1 degree above freezing might have seemed a pretty balmy day to the folks in the Ice Age.

Any strategy or set of tactics designed for a cold world will become increasingly less effective as the world warms up.  This is the problem we see with marketing.  Everything we know about how to ‘do’ marketing still works, it just works less and less effectively as every year passes.  And this is why marketing directors are tearing their hair out and coming under pressure from finance directors and CEOs – pressure which is then translated to their agencies.  It makes no business sense to keep pouring progressively more and more money into something to compensate for the fact that it is delivering less and less.

But – there was a Great Hope.  We could all see that the problem seemed to be coming out of the digital space, so we therefore assumed that the digital space would offer up to us a solution.  The tools, the things, the channels that came out of this space would deliver for us the results that the old tools and channels were failing to do.  Or so we believed.

The reason I think 2015 is going to be the year of reckoning is a dawning recognition that the Great Digital Hope (in all its iterations) – is failing to live up to the promise.  It might be delivering a bit, but it is not delivering enough.  Indeed, in many instances it is turning out to be an even more unproductive environment in which to spend traditional marketing dollars.  For example, we have now realised that ‘organic reach’ in social media is no sort of reach at all.  We can bolt advertising solutions onto this, but this advertising works less effectively than it did when we were doing it in traditional media.  We can become more targeted in our approach, but the more targeted we become, the less receptive people are to being targeted (or less responsive to what we have to target them with).  The metrics we have all been chasing: engagement, followings, ‘likes’ are turning out to be both hard to achieve at any sort of scale, and also pretty worthless if you achieve them.

Of course it is not the digital environment that is failing to deliver, it is simply that the old approaches don’t deliver in this new environment.

In the new world, you don’t deal with audiences, you deal with individuals.  But, you can’t deal with individuals all at once (or else they become an audience again).  So if you can only deal with a small number of people at any one time, the value you have to extract (the heat if you wish) has to be dramatically greater.  And generating sufficient heat will inevitably involve ceding elements of control back to the consumer, because productive relationships have to be balanced.  Brands have not been giving consumers what they really want, they have been giving them what it is economically efficient for them to provide.  But while brands are all playing to the same rules, it can appear as though we are responding to our consumers – when all we are doing is being a tiny bit less-responsive than the next guy.

The logic behind ‘hot marketing’ is pretty compelling, in much the same way that the logic behind global warming is pretty compelling.  It is also relatively easy to start to identify how to create value through the power of connection (rather than distribution).  But, as with global warming, recognition of the problem doesn’t make the solution easy – because it involves surrendering the old certainties and doing things differently.  This isn’t going to happen overnight.  However, the first step is for brands to understand the rules of ‘hot marketing’ as well as recognising how fundamentally cold the previous rules were.

My mission for 2015 is therefore to be an evangelist for Hot Marketing.

 

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.