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.

Analyst Briefings: Getting, and Providing Value

analyst kittehAs a research analyst covering digital technology, companies routinely (to the tune of up to a dozen per day) reach out to request briefings — even if that’s not the terminology they use. It might be an “informational meeting,” “our CEO would like to meet you,” or “an advance look at the new product-or-feature we’re launching.”

You can call them what you want to. In the analyst community, they’re briefings. The best ones provide value on both sides: to both the analysts and researchers, as well as to the tech firm (or in my case, agency or publisher, too, as I cover advertising and media).

We analysts conduct briefings to further our research agendas. We constantly monitor developments and companies that operate in our sphere of coverage. We’re looking for trends and patterns, for case studies, and often, to make introductions or connections between businesses or people operating in the same sphere who really ought to know one another. (This has more than once led to investments, acquisitions and partnerships.) Analysts are influencers and a form of media; we might write about your clients or business model, or highlight one of your case studies in a speech or webinar.

The big tech players have analyst relations departments to keep the briefing machine well-oiled. Yet a surprising number of start-ups and even well-established firms are unfamiliar with the briefing process. So herewith, some insider tips to get the most out of this very important component of a communications strategy process.

In the three and a half years since I joined the Altimeter Group, I’ve conducted hundreds of briefings with companies large and small, all active in digital marketing, advertising, and media. My Fridays are pretty much reserved for briefings. Briefing calls are scheduled from morning to night, generally starting in Europe and ending somewhere in Silicon Valley. We all limit briefings to 30 minutes to keep them on-topic, and almost never conduct them in person. Most companies requesting briefings ask to do them on site, but travel time is a luxury. It would radically curtail the number of companies with whom we’re able to talk.

At Altimeter, we have a system for sharing tagged, cloud-based briefing notes that puts all briefing information at the fingertips of all the company’s analysts and researchers. That makes our jobs easier when we’re trying to find information on specific types of companies or business, and benefits the companies we speak with, too. They’re made more visible to more people.

The above illustrates the value exchange of a briefing. Yet compared with the hundreds, if not thousands, of briefings I’ve conducted as both a journalist and editor, I’m too often disappointed at how many companies that brief me now that I’m an analyst fail to take full advantage of an opportunity that could benefit us both.

Some suggestions for getting the most out of an analyst briefing.

  • Half an hour goes quickly. I begin every call by telling callers at exactly what time I have a hard stop. Please don’t be late. Don’t focus on the information available on your website. I’ve already read it. Too many briefings end with revealing the really new and compelling idea two minutes before our call ends and the next call must begin. Don’t bury the lede.
  • Five executives on a call are at least three too many. Again, those 30 minutes elapse quickly. Everyone wants the opportunity to talk. This results in too much noise and very little signal.
  • Provide names, titles, and email addresses of who will be on the call — in advance. We can look up their bios and LinkedIn profiles. This saves a ton of time on intros, and allows me to prepare better, more focused questions. PR people, take particular note. If your name is on the call invitation, but not your client’s, I won’t dial in.
  • Provide any deck, presentation materials, or online meeting URL at least one day in advance. The sheer number of companies that send presentation materials literally seconds before (sometimes, during) a briefing is Pet Peeve No. 1. A company did this last Friday via a service that required me to establish, then verify, a new user account in order to download their materials. It’s unfair (not to mention impossible) to ask an analyst to do this in what’s often literally a 45-second window between two briefings. Let’s both agree to be locked, loaded, and ready to go when our briefing is scheduled to begin.
  • Don’t assume we’re online for the presentation. Probably we are. But it’s not unheard of to conduct a briefing from an airport gate or at a conference with subpar wifi. So really do send those show-and-tell materials in advance.
  • Please talk clearly and into the phone. Please talk directly into the phone (not the speakerphone), particularly if one of us is speaking a non-native language. We’re trying to understand one another. The analyst is also taking notes.
  • A briefing is not a speech, it’s a conversation. In briefings I far too often can’t get a word in edgewise, and I’m a person not known to be shy about piping up. Some executives get on a roll and cannot — will not — be stopped until they’ve delivered a message from beginning to end. (Most often, they’re working from a deck and a bit nervous, which they try to cover by being overly verbose.) A briefing is a presentation, but it’s also a conversation. The analyst has questions, as well as a research agenda. So pause. Make an effort to throw in questions such as: Any questions? Is that clear? Does this relate to any research projects you’re working on now? Try to make the briefing even more relevant to the analyst than they hoped it would be when they set it up with you.
  • Listen to us, too. We analysts make our living as strategic, research-based advisors. We’re very well connected and ahead-of-the-curve informed about the industry sectors we microscopically cover. A briefing is hardly an advisory session, but we may well make an observation, comparison, or remark that could serve you well. Listen for those nuggets.
  • Go through the proper channels. Every day I send over a dozen canned responses to the briefing requests I receive personally from companies and PRs alike. I won’t accept an emailed request for very good reasons. Like most analyst firms, we have a briefing request form that is designed to capture the information we need to determine if we’ll accept a briefing. Moreover, the form alerts all my analyst and researcher colleagues to the opportunity, so one briefing (if accepted) potentially goes much further inside the company. It also greatly streamlines the scheduling process on our side.

That’s it from me. What about companies out there that are veterans of analyst briefings? How can we make briefings easier, better and more valuable for you?

This post originally published on iMedia

How To Conduct A Content Audit

writing-content-ss-1920A content audit is the cornerstone of content strategy, which governs content marketing. The aim is to perform a qualitative analysis of all the content on a website (or in some cases, a network of sites and/or social media presences — any content for which your organization is responsible).

Why perform a content audit, which admittedly is a painstaking and exacting exercise? Lots of reasons.

First and foremost, an audit helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to the goals of the organization. It can help answer important questions: Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the organization? Is it optimized for search? Are tools and software, such as the content management system (CMS) up to the task of handling it?

Essentially, an audit helps assess needs, shape content governance, and help determine the feasibility of future projects.

Create A Content Inventory First

Start by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a text document by page title or by URL. Organize this information in outline form, i.e. section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages.

If it’s an e-commerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like: Shoes > Womens Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Dr. Scholl’s. An informational company website’s headings might look more like: X Corporation > About Us > Management > John Doe.

Content strategist Kristina Halvorson recommends assigning a unique number to each section, sub-section and page (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1, etc.). This can help tremendously in assigning particular pieces of content to the appropriate site section. Some content strategists also color-code different sections on spreadsheets. It gets down to a matter of personal preference, as well as the size and scale of the audit in question.

It’s also highly recommended that each section, sub-section or page contain an annotation regarding who owns each piece of content, as well as the type of content: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Is it created in-house? If so, by whom? Is it outsourced (third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who’s responsible for creating, approving and publishing each piece?

The resulting document is a content inventory.

Conducting The Content Audit

Once you’ve created a content inventory, it’s time to perform the content audit. This will essentially involve digging into the quality of the content.

As you go through the audit, it’s helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page – e.g., a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “pretty crappy” and 5 being “rockstar fantastic.”

Following are the questions you should be asking about each piece of content:

1. What’s It About?

What subjects and topics does content address? Are page and section titles, headlines and sub-heads promising what’s actually delivered in the on-page copy? Is there are good balance of content addressing products, services, customer service, and “about us” information?

2. Is It Accurate & Up-To-Date?

In other words, is the content topical? Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated and/or inaccurate information lurking in nooks and crannies of the site? As mentioned above, localities, employees, pricing, industry data and statistics and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as “update/revise” or “remove.”

3. Does It Support Both User And Business Goals?

Many stakeholders feed into a company’s digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing, PR and customer service (to name but a few).

Different divisions may be trying to achieve varying goals in “their” section of a site or blog, but fundamentally all content must very gracefully serve two masters: the needs of the business and the needs of the customer.

This means, for example, that calls-to-action must be clear, but not so overwhelming that they get in the way of the user experience. The content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while staying in balance.

4. Are People Finding And Using The Content?

This is where web analytics comes into play. What types of content — and what pages in particular — are the most and least popular on the site in question? Where do users spend time, and where do they go when they leave? Are they taking desired actions on a page? What search keywords and phrases bring them to the site?

It’s not enough that content is simply there. The data can reveal what’s working (and what’s not) and help inform a strategy that supports more of the types of content users prefer.

5. Is It Clean And Professional?

Is page copy consistent in tone? Are spelling, punctuation and grammar consistent and correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it being followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner, and properly placed/oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any predesignated rules (e.g., open a new page in a separate browser window)?

6. Is Content Logically Organized?

Does the site contain tacked-on pages that don’t follow navigational structure? Does the overall navigation make sense? Are there redundancies, such as a site that includes a “Personal Finance” section in the top-level navigation, then again lists that section in a sub-menu under the heading “Money & Careers”?

7. Does The Content Have A Consistent Voice?

Every brand or business has a distinct voice that expresses its personality. Serious, irreverent, scholarly, authoritative – all are valid, but the tone, language and mode of expression must be a fit and must be consistent with the brand. This step evaluates the content’s tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder.

8. Are Basic SEO Elements In Place? 

Review the page’s title, keywords, metadata, headings and image tags.

Are target keywords and phrases used on the page? Are page descriptions and metadata employed appropriately? Are images and multimedia files captioned, and is metadata employed to make them search-engine friendly? Are headlines optimized for search?

Search engine optimization begins and ends with content, so evaluating to what extent content conforms to best practices in search is an essential part of an audit.

9. What Content Is Missing?

Conducting a content audit focuses so much attention on what’s there that it’s often too easy to overlook what’s not there. An essential step in any audit is therefore to identify weaknesses, gaps and content needs.

A site may be rich in information on how to order, for example; but, are issues surrounding shipping and order fulfillment adequately addressed? Is the press/media section strong on press releases, but weak on photos and video offerings? Does the company blog address company issues heavily, but general industry trends not at all?

What’s missing speaks volumes about the forward direction of a content strategy.

Use Your Findings To Identify Needed Changes/Actions

This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s not enough to produce a giant spreadsheet. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

When All Media Are Just Media, What Happens to Advertising?

Fast-forward: not only did I finally get cable, I worked in cable. I held senior marketing positions at a handful of networks before leaving television — both the profession and the connection — behind for the brave new world of digital.

Or so I thought. Suddenly, there’s ever less discernable difference between television and online programming. The options are as dizzying as the satellite multiverse: Netflix, Hulu, Netflix, Hulu, Roku, Amazon, Chromecast, and Apple TV. Last week, NBC streamed the Super Bowl (free) for the first time to all comers.

CBS launched All Access, a standalone streaming service delivers hit shows and the back catalogue for $5.99 a month, and HBO is poised to go well beyond its cable-bundled HBO GO streaming service by delivering a standalone service this April.

“It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO,” said Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler in a statement, “All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”

Television isn’t going away any time soon, but its delivery method is changing at warp speed. According to one study cord-cutting exploded from 25,000 unsubscribers in a 3-month period in 2013 to 150,000 in that same period last year. U.S. broadband-only homes are currently at roughly 10 million.

Sony, DISH, and other providers are racing to bring broadband-based television platforms to market. Their goal is not only to attract cord-cutters, but the legions of households that will never have had cable or satellite to begin with.

Bottom line: the screens that television are delivered to in the very near-term future will be no different from the ones used now for the web. Screens are screens, and programming is programming. It was mildly amusing to hear reports last week of filmmakers at Sundance holding out for “real” studio deals rather than sign with Netflix or Amazon.

Because really, what’s the diff?

Television won’t go away, nor will feature films. But when we experience them on digital screens, small or large — the same ones connected to our computers, gaming systems, smartphones, tablets, and even the Internet of Things, things will change — rapidly.

All advertising will be digital, therefore addressable. Brand experience will fragment across a multiplicity of devices, necessitating tight content strategies and unity of voice and tone, look and feel, in order not to deliver fragmented, discordant messaging. Media choices will become harder because there will be ever more channels and form factors. Personas will multiply — this week, Lexus is launching more than 1,000 videos on Facebook, each tuned to a different target.

Very soon, almost before you know it, advertising to television audiences will differ only very slightly from advertising on the web. Audiences won’t recognize the difference between the channels, nor will they care.

This post originally published on iMedia.

My Path From Film Critic to Digital Media Analyst – An Interview

Pivot_RebecaLieb-01Todd Wheatland just published a very in-depth audio interview with me that he conducted for the Content Marketing Institute late last year.

It’s not like me to post an interview with myself on my blog, but this one’s unusual in that I open up quite a bit personally, and discuss my path from film critic to digital media analyst.

You can give it a listen here (since I can’t figure out how to embed it).

Seven Takeaways From This Year’s #BrandBowl

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.35.15 AMAnother year, another line up of very, vey expensive ad spots on very, very expensive TV inventory.
As staggering as the numbers are: $4.5M for a 30-second media buy (most spots are 60 seconds), creative, production and A-list celebrities (did Carnival have to pay JFK’s estate or is that speech in the public domain one wonders?), there are layers upon additional layers of digital marketing investment associated with Super Bowl advertising. Web sites, app development, war rooms, social media investments, “making of” and other additional video assets.

The mind boggles.

Herewith, some takeaways from this year’s #BrandBowl.

RTM Goes Dark: The Super Bowl and real-time marketing have been synonymous since the game two  years ago, when the lights went out and Oreo’s infamous tweet went viral. This year afforded brands no such opportunity, but consumer real-time reactions were overwhelming dark and directed at Nationwide. According to Amobee, there were close to a quarter of a million social mentions – the overwhelming majority negative – about the spot featuring a dead little boy reflecting on all that he would never grow up to do. So negative was the sentiment that the company issued a statement the following morning defending the spot, saying it wanted to “start a conversation” about safety.

The Art of the Tease: $4.5M is a lot of money to pay to air an ad that, effectively, has a broadcast life equivalent of a fruit fly. One obvious strategy that has become de rigeur in recent years is to accord the spot perpetual life – and views – on YouTube. Budweiser went one better this year by sharing its hyper-adorable “Lost Dog” spot before the big game, scoring close to 30M views on Facebook and YouTube before Sunday.

Far from losing by giving it away, the earned media buzz was palpable. You could almost hear America collectively shhh-ing one another Sunday night, “Quiet, you guys – you have to see this one!” #Win. Thanks, social media.

What calls-to-action? Superficially, it looked like the #HashtagBowl, but Salesforce.com’s Jeff Rohrs published some excellent comparative statistics on the decreasing calls-to-action in Super Bowl spots. Fifteen years ago we were shaking out heads when Super Bowl advertisers didn’t bother to insert an URL. This year, as Jeff points out, when there was a call-to-action such as a hashtag in a spot, it tended to appear on the screen for a mere second. That advertisers can be so nonchalant and fiscally irresponsible when it comes to engagement, amplification, and moving consumers down the funnel into other brand touches boggles the mind.

The Short Purse-strings Approach Rather than advertise, many brands chose to be there to maintain relevance and relationships with their audience during the big game. M&Ms knows it can’t top two years ago for a while, at least, but still engages via Twitter. AT&T responded to users mentioning rivals (and advertisers) Verizon and T-Mobile during the game.  The most notable brand exploiting the Super Bowl with zero media buy may have been PETA, with an animal rights Twitter comment on every spot and game moment. The organization compiled these into a blog post Monday morning.

Here’s some intel I’m still waiting for from this year’s game:

Cord-cutter stats: NBC allowed PC and tablet users to stream the game this year, but that meant not seeing the ads, or at least seeing them on a separate page just after their aired on broadcast. The Super Bowl is a pretty social event, but it would be illuminating to see how many viewers stream, and how that stream swells, in coming years. Streaming will change the game. It’s hard to multitask on a tablet, cumbersome to watch and tweet and Facebook even on a computer (my personal viewing experience last Sunday – some of us are deeply grateful for the football-free experience). It should be noted that NBC did not allow phones to stream the game.

Squarespace’s Dreaming with Jeff campaign: The year’s most baffling spot, and one of the few that sent viewers to a web site (rather than encouraged social media resonance). Wonder how many people visited, and bought the album?

What you could get elsewhere for $4.5M? The WSJ has a sobering take.

This post also published on the Altimeter Group blog

The Inevitable Shift to Mobile-First and Mobile-Only

When it comes to mobile, businesses are at a tipping point very similar to the one they found themselves in 12-13 years ago with the internet. It was here, a healthy majority of consumers used it, yet businesses found themselves challenged by any and all aspects of the digital revolution: getting online, shifting strategies and business models, designing digital experiences, and generally, with meeting the expectations of digital consumers.

It’s déja vu all over again. As a new report from my colleagues at Altimeter Group, “The Inevitability of a Mobile-Only Customer Experience,” points out, mobile is no longer delegated to second screen status by many consumers, a trend that will only accelerate. According to comScore, which uses “time spent” to gauge online consumer retail activity, 56 percent of all time spent on U.S. online retail occurs on a mobile device. Yet a mere 16 percent of companies strongly agree they are completely prepared to meet customers’ mobile expectations, according to a 2014 study by the CMO Council and SAS. Additionally, some 90 percent of consumers move between devices to accomplish a goal, using an average of three different screen combinations daily.

Consumer needs and expectations have changed, and brands have no choice but to change correspondingly. No longer can they be asked to return to desktop computers to complete tasks there, in a fully functional environment. Mobile experiences must be seamless and stand-alone.

Yet overwhelmingly brands regard mobile as a separate channel, often at a far remove from the customer experience, metrics, brand, and commerce goals or requirements that apply to the rest of digital.

The report (available for download at no cost) provides recommendations for organizations working to overcome the often formidable budgetary, organizational, and most of all, strategic obstacles to becoming not just mobile-first, but eventually mobile-only businesses.

As business shifts digital strategy to mobile strategy, so too will content strategy and content marketing have to realign.

Of the three types of content marketing, utility content, or content that helps consumers achieve a task, is a mobile natural. Sure, we see it on the web (e.g., mortgage calculators, calorie counters), but mobile applications can be stunningly on-brand and creative. From Charmin’s on-brand trusty Sit or Squat for finding a nearby and accessible public restroom (with user reviews) to robust real estate apps that not only deliver available inventory but also neighborhood data from pricing to schools to crime rates, mobile is useful, hyper-relevant and contextually meaningful.

The other two content marketing buckets: entertaining content and content that’s educational and/or informative, also translate naturally to mobile — but with major shifts from the desktop environment.

Mobile means providing content in form factors native to mobile devices and intuitive to users; swiping, for example, rather than keyboard inputs.

It also means reimagining brand content for mobile platforms. It’s no accident that services like Instagram and Tumblr have been ascendant in the wake of mobile’s rise — they’re image-based, and on small screens pictures are worth the proverbial thousand words. It’s a real estate issue. Content will continue to become more visual — and audio-visual — as screens shrink in size.

Mobile is also a determining factor in converged media; the collapsing of paid, owned, and earned channels into just “media.” With mobile real estate at a premium, mobile-first means ad, content and social teams will operate seamlessly and in lock step.

Consumers’ shift to mobile necessitates a shift in business, and correspondingly in digital, strategy. Content permeates this entire system.

This post originally published on iMedia

 

 

 

Read more at http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/38106.asp#wc8tLW43D6KMFBlk.99

Content Marketing: What To Consider Before You Outsource

How many major brands want to create their content marketing in-house?

One hundred percent.

That isn’t a made-up statistic. This was an actual finding a couple of years ago when I was conducting content marketing research, interviewing senior executives from over 50 brands such as Nestlé, GE, Adobe, IBM and Coca-Cola.

The next finding was even more interesting. We asked these brands what type of agency they were likely to select for content creation: an ad agency, PR agency, social media agency, or one of the much smaller breed of storytelling agency (e.g., Story Worldwide) when they did outsource.

Once again, a result was universal. While responses were divided more or less equally among the shops they would consider, some 95 percent of these executives said social media shops would notbe considered candidates. “Too boutique-y” “too trendy” were the top reasons provided.

There’s no shortage of agencies of all stripes that are eager to get your content business. In addition to the aforementioned flavors, there are also the custom content divisions at established publishing brands, as well as more channel-specific tactical expertise from any number of companies that formerly branded themselves as email or search engine marketing providers, but are now in the content marketing business. Finally, of course, there’s no shortage of smaller, more local content marketing agencies.

The trend really picked up momentum around 2013 when, in the PR sector alone (just to pick one of these verticals at random) Weber Shandwick launched Mediaco, Porter Novelli birthed PNConnect. In early 2014, Waggener Edstrom created Content360. The momentum is still going strong – at CES just this month, FleishmanHillard unveiled FH ContentWorks, a global initiative. (As an analyst covering content marketing, I’ve worked with Edelman, Ketchum and their clients on content marketing training and initiatives).

So what should you look for when engaging a content agency? There are many criteria you should consider – here are the primary ones.

Why Do You Want An Outside Agency?

Content creation? Technical expertise you lack in-house (e.g. video production or mobile app development). Strategy development? There are myriad reasons – nailing yours down will help to limit and focus the range of candidates.

Industry/Vertical Expertise

Don’t expect them to be peers in the knowledge sector, but they should possess a fundamental understanding of your vertical and/or industry, audience, region, or other individual criteria that are essential to your strategy.

At the very least, they should be great listeners who are genuinely interested in you, not just the job.

Strategy Before Tactics

If a documented content strategy doesn’t already exist, you need one in hand (or to commission one) before diving into tactics with an outside provider. If you need to create one, make sure you choose an agency with a proven capability for developing strategic frameworks.

Reminder: “You need a Facebook page” is not a strategy. It’s a tactic.

Are The Cobbler’s Children Wearing Shoes?

Does the company practice what it preaches? Look at its own content marketing: the quality, quantity, channels and responses to it.

Its dedication to both strategy and practice will be demonstrated if it is as dedicated to content marketing as it likely claims to be.

Relevant Case Studies

Request them and evaluate them. Discuss them with the firm. Even if they don’t reflect your industry or vertical, the shop should help you to understand how they relate to your issues.

Talk With Current & Former Clients

References matter. A reluctance to put you in touch with former (or current) clients also speaks volumes.

What Are The Success Criteria?

Any plan or proposal should be accompanied by success criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs).

How will the plan be measured? What indicates success? Look for metrics that impact business results (e.g. increased leads, revenue, shorter sales cycle), not mere volume metrics (30,000 likes!).

This post originally published on MarketingLand