About Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb, digital advertising/media analyst at Altimeter Group, is globally recognized as an expert on digital marketing, advertising, publishing and media. An author, and sought-after speaker, she's the former vice president of Econsultancy's US operations. She was VP and editor-in-chief of The ClickZ Network for over seven years. For a portion of that time, Rebecca also ran Search Engine Watch. She consults on content strategy for a variety of brands and professional trade organizations. Earlier, Rebecca held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services consultancies, including Siegel+Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. She spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Until recently, Rebecca taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Her book, The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, published by FT Press, instantly became a best-seller on Amazon.com. It remains a top-10 title in several Internet marketing categories. Content Marketing publishes in Fall, 2011.

Content marketing in 2015 (Research, Not Predictions)

Predictions? Humbug. Never done ‘em, never will. As a research analyst, predictions are antithetical to my methodology, which is research followed by analysis. My job is to work with data, information, and pattern recognition to draw informed conclusions — not gaze into a crystal ball.

The scene thus set, let’s look ahead to the new year and what it will bring insofar as content marketing is concerned. Based on my research in the field, I’m seeing seven overall trends in the field that will develop and strengthen in the coming year.

Content-Tool-Stack-HierarchyThe content stack

The next big thing in content marketing technology, the content marketing stack, will develop significantly in 2015. Content stacks are necessary to consolidate the eight content marketing use cases identified in research we published on the content software landscape. No use case is an island. As organizations mature and become more strategic in their content marketing initiatives, it becomes imperative to seamlessly link execution to analytics, or optimization, or targeting, for example. We’ll soon see end-to-end offerings from the big enterprise players: Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce.com. All are scrambling to integrate multiple content point solutions into seamless “stacks,” similar to the ad stack. In fact, content stacks will talk to the ad stacks, helping to integrate paid, owned and earned media. A couple years out, these two stacks will comprise what we refer to today as the marketing cloud.

Culture of content

Content is bigger than just the marketing department. It’s rapidly becoming nearly everyone’s job — and with good reason. Not everyone in marketing is a subject matter expert. Or understands customer service or sales concerns. Or is charged with recruiting new employees. Or develops new products or product features. That expertise and knowledge is embedded deep within the enterprise. Organizations that foster a culture of content by educating and training employees to participate in the content ecosystem can better ideate and create useful, meaningful content at scale that addresses numerous goals and serves a wide variety of internal, and well as external, constituencies. Watch for many more organization to follow the lead of companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, and Nestlé. They will train and empower employees, partners, and stakeholders to create, ideate, and leverage content.

real-time marketing use case quadrantReal-time

Time is a luxury, and will only become more so as brands face the challenges of remaining relevant and topical. Moreover, research indicates real-time campaigns can raise literally all desirable marketing metrics. Success in real-time is grounded in content strategy and often isn’t real-time at all in the literal sense. Instead, it’s meticulous preparation and advance creation of relevant content assets that can be deployed at the appropriate time or moment. Starbucks, for example, has content for warming beverages locked and loaded, so when the snow falls in your town, you’re tempted by that pumpkin latte. Training, assets, preparation, workflow — all these and more are elements of “real-time” marketing.

Social media normalizes

Social media will fade into the background. It’s not that social media is going away. But it’s fading into the background, which is a good thing, because it denotes normalization. “Social” will become just another channel, like search or email (the bright, shiny objects of earlier eras). Social media software vendors will reposition as content marketing purveyors. Their offerings will essentially remain the same, but this new positioning is more topical, and more broadly relevant.

Native standardizes

We define native advertising as a form of converged media that’s comprised of content plus a media buy. Native is surging in popularity, much more quickly than best practices are being established to govern it. This growth will fuel more disclosure, transparency, and policies in 2015 as native becomes much more closely scrutinized by regulators, industry associations, consumers, publishers, and brands.

Rise of context

For most of digital marketing’s relatively short history, personalization has been the ne plus ultra of sophisticated marketing. Addressing the customer by name, knowing their age, gender, date of birth, purchase history — all these data points help marketers deliver messages that are more meaningful and more relevant — and that, by extension, result in higher conversations and deeper loyalty.

Personalization is now being supplanted by technologies that can drive even deeper marketing and experiential relevance. Context’s untapped opportunity is to get an extremely granular understanding of customers, then to anticipate their needs, wants, affinities, and expectations, and develop unique insights to power better marketing across all devices, channels, localities, and brand experiences. Context, in other words, takes not only the “who” into account, but also the when, where, why, and how. Simply put — it’s deeper targeting, and more on-point messaging.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Context: The Next Digital Marketing Frontier

Context screenshotFor most of digital marketing’s relatively short history, personalization has been the ne plus ultra of sophisticated marketing. Addressing the customer by name, knowing their age, gender, date of birth, purchase history – all these data points help marketers deliver messages that are more meaningful and more relevant – and that, by extension, result in higher conversations and deeper loyalty.

Personalization is now being supplanted by technologies that can drive even deeper marketing and experiential relevance. Context’s untapped opportunity is to get an extremely granular understanding of customers, then to anticipate their needs, wants, affinities and expectations, and develop unique insights to power better marketing across all devices, channels, localities, and brand experiences.

Context, in other words, takes not only the ‘who’ into account, but also the when, where, why, and how. Simply put, it’s deeper targeting and more on-point messaging.

Under the auspices of our client SDL, I recently authored a white paper, Why Context Is Essential to Digital Marketing (PDF downloadthat looks at marketing beyond the right message, to the right person at the right time. Contextual marketing goes further by considering the platform consumers are using; their physical location (perhaps, using iBeacon technology, down to the store shelf level); even real-time information such as atmospheric conditions (is it raining?) or geo-spatial movement (whether they are in a vehicle stopped at a red light, for instance).

What type of coupon should a customer receive? When, and for what type of offer? MGM Resorts makes these determinations contextually; sending offers to guests’ smartphones based on where they are on the resort property (which restaurant, shop, show, or casino) as well as in the context of their individual loyalty member status and stated interests.

Context in marketing can only be fueled by powerful, integrated technologies. Its components range from semantic technologies to machine learning and predictive analytics, customer data, product/service data, flexible, dynamic content, and journey-mapping.

Without a doubt, context is complex. Moreover it is growing in importance, not only because it’s increasingly technologically feasible and effective, but also because newer technologies (the Internet of Things and Beacons, for example) will enable additional layers of context to meet consumers’ growing expectations for contextually relevant experiences and messaging from the brands they interact with in an increasingly digital world.

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The Three Components of A Culture of Content

Content. It’s not just for the marketing department anymore. These last few months I’ve been researching how organizations are forming, and benefitting from, what my co-author Jessica Groopman and I are terming a “Culture of Content.” Our findings have just been published in this report.

What’s a culture of content? Here’s our definition:

A culture of content exists when the importance of content is evangelized enterprise-wide, content is shared and made accessible, creation and creativity are encouraged, and content flows up and downstream, as well as across various divisions. A formalized yet not immutable content strategy is the framework upon which to base culture.

In other words, content is becoming nearly everyone’s job — and with good reason. Not everyone in marketing is a subject matter expert. Or understanding customer service or sales concerns. Or recruiting new employees. Or developing new product features. That expertise and knowledge is embedded deep within the enterprise. Organizations that foster a culture of content can better ideate and create useful, meaningful content at scale that addresses numerous goals and serves a wide variety of internal, and well as external, constituencies.

Our research covers many aspects of the culture of content, perhaps none more important than its anatomy. We identified four foundational elements upon which content culture is based.

Vision

Establishing a common vision is a critical first step to developing a content strategy and is typically most effective when generated, embodied, and exemplified by senior leadership — this is ideally both the C-suite, as well as a content leader or champion. Disseminating vision from the top down helps employees understand how their day-to-day tasks serve a higher purpose and align with organizational and even social or humanitarian goals.

Creativity

A drive to think beyond content as “just” marketing inspires a Culture of Content. Training across the organization to creatively think about and produce content serves two ends. First, it helps differentiate the organization through its content, an increasingly important tactic in a crowded and noisy media environment. Second, it grants the individuals who create content as part of their jobs (e.g., designers, copywriters, bloggers, videographers) freedom to flex their creative muscles to reach current and new audiences.

Creativity flourishes with multiple perspectives. Customers and employees alike can serve as an inspirational source for creative content. Content marketers (among other business functions) can leverage both earned media and listening analytics across all media to extract insights on how to evolve existing artifacts and justify new approaches.

Risk — and a willingness to fail

Risk coupled with a willingness to fail repeatedly emerged in our research interviews as a critical force for empowering a culture of content. Assurance and permission to fail mitigates fears such as fear of failure, embarrassment, and job termination, all fundamental obstacles to the creative process. Strong content is valuable — it informs, educates, entertains, or solves a problem. To differentiate through any one of these uses, content marketers must be able to, comfortable with, and empowered to take risks, to fail entirely, and to move on, all the while applying learnings from failure.

This post originally published on iMedia 

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Native Advertising Disclosure and Transparency: Who’s Responsible?

display-ads-ss-1920-800x450We can all pretty much universally agree that with native advertising comes the obligation of disclosure and transparency. That means clearly and unambiguously indicating that yes, this is an ad, and it was paid for by Acme Corporation.

Yet how to provide disclosure remains a murky area, hardly surprising given how quickly an extraordinarily wide variety of native advertising products have emerged on all sorts of platforms ranging from traditional publishers, to in-app and in-game ads, recommendation engines, display units and a host of other formats.

As the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) puts it in a newly released white paper on the topic, “the key principle is one of transparency.” Readers and consumers have the right to know (in WOMMA’s language) “when the content was written by or placed by a marketer, or someone acting on behalf of or at the direction of a marketer, rather than the publisher of the editorial content in which the sponsored content appears.”

And, as WOMMA correctly points out, the FTC has been issuing guidelines on disclosure dating back as far as the 1960s (advertorial) and as recently as search engine advertising (in this millennium).

WOMMA is calling for clear and conspicuous native advertising disclosure, as has the IAB. Yet WOMMA’s paper, while correctly flagging that native is clearly an evolving and therefore difficult to define sector, also asks an interesting question: who is disclosure incumbent on? The publisher? The brand? The marketer, agency or the “widget” (which can be interpreted as ad unit or vendor, but appears to refer to recommendation engines, e.g. Outbrain and Taboola)?

WOMMA has a distinguished history of working for ethics and disclosure in innovative forms of digital marketing, but in this case I’m not sure I agree with the question. In my view, the “who” is “everyone above,” but there’s one item on the list that bears the overwhelming burden of responsibility for ensuring disclosure guidelines are clear, transparent, unambiguous, and enforced, and that party are the publishers upon whose properties native ads appear.

Ethical publishers have always had advertising policies, standards and practices (as have broadcasters). This legacy of traditional publishing needn’t change significantly in digital channels. Additionally, these same publishers have long upheld church-and-state guidelines that govern how, when and sometimes, even if the publishing side of the house can interact with editorial (and vice versa).

The problem in native advertising now is that publishers, desperate for native advertising dollars, are too often adopting an “ads first, policies later” approach to the medium. In the process, the baby is at risk of being tossed out with the proverbial bathwater.

While WOMMA is to be commended for calling for more transparency and disclosure in native, it must be noted that the organization counts zero publishers as members. Overwhelmingly, it’s brands that comprise WOMMA’s membership. They’re to be applauded for the effort, but the rubber hits the road elsewhere.

The IAB does count lots of publishers among their members and that body has issued (only) two native advertising disclosure guidelines.

  • Use language that conveys that the advertising has been paid for, thus making it an advertising unit, even if that unit does not contain traditional promotional advertising messages. 

  • Be large and visible enough for a consumer to notice it in the context of a given page and/or relative to the device that the ad is being viewed on.

Research my team and I published on native advertising goes further. We also recommend that disclosure be provided in a link that provides deeper information, as well as access to a channel for consumer inquiry. We also maintain that publishers establish, before (not after) native advertising products are developed and sold, clear church-and-state policies, something many, even the venerable New York Times have – quite shockingly – not yet addressed.

Setting transparency and disclosure guidelines for native advertising isn’t something anyone’s waiting for the FTC to do. The FTC last year called hearings on the topic, routine operating procedure. Just as they’ve done with email, search and word-of-mouth marketing, these hearing are a signal to the industry: “Regulate yourselves, or we’ll do it for you.” With the exception of email (which was already headed to Congress for legislation, the CAN-SPAM Act), this has been a clarion call for trade organizations to rally and set standards.

The IAB’s standards are fine, but inadequate. They simply don’t go far enough, unsurprising for a body devoted principally to advertising, not publishing. WOMMA wants to encourage marketers to lobby for publishers to uphold better standards. Noble, but unrealistic. The OPA has (characteristically) maintained a low profile. The American Press Institute held an excellent native advertising forum (at which I participated), but has issued no publisher guidelines.

As someone who has been deeply and actively involved in researching the topic of native advertising for a year and a half, this lack of response and initiative on the part of publishers is alarming, to say the least. Native advertising has many detractors and finger-pointers. Prominent and influential commentators such as Bob Garfield call it indefensible, duplicitous and unethical.

It needn’t be, and it shouldn’t be. But if publishers don’t get their houses in order, native advertising, which could be a salvation, will instead be their downfall. Publishers, after all, are the ones who create the product, and oftentimes, the content that comprises native advertising.

This column originally published on MarketingLand

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Facebook: The Paid/Organic Distinction

When Facebook announced last week that it will soon become more difficult for brands’ page posts to appear in the news feeds of their friends, fans, and followers, the outcry was predictable. This was the latest move, many brands asserted, in Facebook “forcing” them to buy ads to reach their rightful audiences.

After all, the thinking goes, news feed post appear only the in the feeds of people who hand-raised to follow the brands. So any incidence of Facebook filtering, editing, or otherwise controlling which posts are seen, and by extension, which are not, is pay-to-play statement.

On the one hand, that’s true, in part. Facebook is a business. Its monetization model is ad sales, and that’s the way it works. Of course it wants brands to buy ads.

But what Facebook also wants and needs even more than it needs ad revenues is users. Facebook researched user complaints that their news feeds were ringing too commercial and promotional. Upon probing deeper, the company learned users weren’t complaining about actual ads so much as they were complaining about the brands that they follow on the platform. Posts were too click-here-buy-now, and loaded with promotional calls to action.

So Facebook will now institute a system that requires actual humans to check the quality of brands’ news feed posts for overtly commercial, promotional content. If the human factor deems posts to be to promotional, they’ll plummet like stones in organic results.

Quality score. Organic feeds versus paid placement. If this vocabulary sounds familiar, it should. By checking feeds for quality and determining whether or not they appear prominently (or at all) in users’ feeds, Facebook has just taken a page from Google’s playbook. Google, as you’ll recall, applies this selfsame human evaluation technique not to organic search, but to ads. Actual human beings evaluate search ads based on a number of criteria such as copy, landing page, call-to-action, etc. The ads that Google deems higher in quality are positioned more prominently (i.e., higher) on the search results page.

And of course, Google famously has algorithms to determine the relevance and ranking of organic search results. In no small part, these criteria center around content that is well-crafted and well-written, relevant, useful, shared (i.e., linked to), and credible.

There’s something fascinating about Facebook doing for organic what Google is doing for ads, isn’t there?

There’s also a lesson being reinforced here, namely, there’s a difference between organic content and advertising copy. Between owned and earned media (content and social) and paid media (advertising).

Media are converging, but the medium also determines the message. It’s fallacious to blindly accuse Facebook of trying only to sell more ads because they are trying to up the quality of the news feed. The same accusation was (and continues to be) lobbed at Google when brands’ organic search results suffer: “They’re just trying to make us buy ads.”

Both Facebook and Google aren’t going to turn away your money. But the fundamental reason brands are prepared to pay money to advertise on both these very different platforms is because of the size and breath of the audiences they can deliver to advertisers; audiences they wouldn’t be able to build or maintain without a steady stream of content those audiences are eager to return to consume again and again.

The takeaway from Facebook’s adoption of a quality score (let’s just use Google’s term for it) is that brands must learn to distinguish between advertising content and content marketing content. The latter is never overtly commercial in nature. It’s pull marketing — the marketing of attraction, rather than push, the marketing of interruption. Content requires very different skill sets and strategies than does advertising.

Facebook’s decision in this arena doesn’t just do its users a service. Ultimately, it’s doing a favor for brands, too, by helping them to make this important distinction.

This post originally published on iMedia

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The Components of a Content Engine

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What goes into creating and fostering an organizational culture of content? As an analyst that’s the topic I’m currently researching.

Broadly speaking, organizations that have fostered a culture of content have spread the importance of content beyond the marketing organization. Content education, evangelization, creation and distribution flows upwards and downwards, from the C-suite to the shop floor. Marketing gets content flowing out into the organization, but also fosters a circulatory system in which various divisions across the enterprise: sales, recruiting, customer care, product groups, etc., are creating, inspiring and leveraging content to better fulfill their roles.

We visualize this as an engine, one comprised of gears and cogs, contained in a strategic infrastructure. There are four primary components to the content engine.

Content Engine

  1. People Beyond the content or the marketing staff, people are critical to this machine’s success. Leadership understands the value of content and fosters it. People across the organization are tapped for their ability to create content (this needn’t be complicated – it can be as simple as the occasional tweet, or capturing images with a cameraphone). They understand and can identify stories that can be turned into content by other creators in the company. People can also be outsiders: agency and vendor partners, for example.
  2. Process Process involves many tactical elements – it’s what gets content done. Tools, technology, workflow and governance documents are just part of what creates process. So are editorial calendars, editing guidelines, metrics and analytics, as well as well-defined roles and responsibilities. Process also involves training, education and evangelization.
  3. Inspiration Fostering a culture of content requires inspiration, as without inspiration there can be no creativity. A core requirement for inspiration is vision, which ladders out to goals and benchmarks. Inspiration is also an understanding of both the elements for content success, as well as risks and failures. But (as one of our interview subjects so eloquently puts it), “The biggest risk is not taking a risk at all.”
  4. Content The content engine begets content, but it also ingests and distributes it, creating a circulatory system of content that can be re-used, re-purposed and re-aligned across paid, owned and earned media channels and platforms. This engine helps content to beget content: creating more of what resonates, repurposing strong content into different channels and form factors, and distributing the right content to the right people across the organization.

No two content engines look exactly the same, but we believe this to be the overall schematic model.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know, and help contribute to this research.

This post originally published on iMedia

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The Role Content Plays In B2B Social Selling

Social selling has become a hot topic.

Organizations in every industry are working feverishly to leverage social platforms and social networks for a number of reasons such as to:

  • Promote their products and services
  • Find leads
  • Connect and bond with prospects
  • Provide information
  • Generally push sales through the purchase funnel

All noble goals. Yet, the majority of organizations hoping to leverage social sales leave content strategy out of the equation. A fatal mistake.

Without “content,” all you have left in social sales is “social,” i.e., a platform, a forum or a social network. Devoid of content, all these channels amount to empty containers.

Researching social selling and working with a large global brand on social selling has helped me develop a short list of seven basic social selling content factors that can benefit any B2B (and not a few B2C) organizations.

1. Align Content To The Sales Funnel

Content can address every stage in the sales cycle, from awareness and consideration through purchase (and even post-purchase).

Assign relevant content types to each stage of the cycle and leverage content to help bridge buyer pain points and address their decision-making criteria. This might encompass comparison guides, tools and calculators or case studies and case examples.

2. Empower Staff To Curate & Aggregate

Content curation and aggregation are processes that aid in leveraging extant content in a meaningful way that’s both on-brand and relevant to campaign goals.

This can be particularly valuable if sales staff are empowered to share content with their constituencies of prospects and leads, provided they add value to the content they are sharing, and have access both to appropriate content and the tools with which to share it.

3. Listen & Respond

Social listening is a terrific way to know what kind of content to create. (And, content creation is the biggest B2B content marketing obstacle, according to Content Marketing Institute research).

2014-10-27_11-25-10

Content can be crafted to address common questions, obstacles to conversion, issues and resolutions. It also provides opportunities to jump into conversations about the brand, product or product category.

4. Apply Metrics

And not just sales metrics! Content effectiveness can be measured through each stage of the customer journey and sales funnel.

Examples include decreased cost per lead, shortened sales cycles, increased traffic, engagement (but only if you define “engagement”), or the frequency of inbound inquiries or referrals (just to name a few).

5. Build Social Sales Content Into The Overall Content Strategy

Not all, but most organizations are committing “content marketing” without first having committed to content strategy. Though the Content Marketing Institute’s latest survey found that 83% of B2B marketers claim to have a content marketing strategy, only 35% have actually documented that strategy.

2014-10-27_11-43-13

A documented strategy is what must underpin all content activity. It’s comprised of a thorough content audit, playbooks, assigned roles and responsibilities, an organizational chart, as well as tool and agency/vendor partner selection. Content strategy answers the essential questions: “what are we doing, why and how?” Don’t ignore it!

6. Train

Most employees who “do” content do something else with the bulk of their time. It may be sales, PR, social media, general marketing or something else.

Take the time to train these content producers on their content marketing roles and responsibilities. They are, after all, publicly representing the company, products and brand.

Great content doesn’t just happen, especially not on a consistent basis. Ensure they understand the value and potential of content marketing in general, and social selling in particular.

7. Hire Accordingly

Content is slowly but surely becoming part of company culture as organizations mature and embrace content marketing. More advanced companies are already showing a readiness and willingness to embrace content skills (creation, distribution, listening and responsiveness) as part of all kinds of job descriptions across departments and functions.

As social selling grows in importance, sales staff with content chops will have the edge over their less content-centric colleagues.

B2B organizations that try out these basic social selling tips should discover many benefits once the effects of implementation begin to show.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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