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: 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

Four Digital Media Trends to Follow This Year

Content strategy and content marketing are where a great deal of my time and attention are focused as an analyst. Last month I discussed the trends in that sector that my research indicates will expand in 2015.

But wait — there’s more. Not only around content marketing, but around technology, channels, media and advertising, that bear watching this year, either because they are at the beginning of the disruption curve or about to hit its peak. Here’s what I, as well as many of my colleagues, will be watching this year with interest and curiosity.

Internet of things (IoT)

There’s plenty to be fascinated by in this emerging sector: wearables, smart devices, new equations of interoperability and integration, and of course lots and lots of new types of data. I’m also having many fascinating conversations with my colleague Jessica Groopman about her ongoing (and soon to be published) research on the IoT related to use cases for connected devices, and to a lesser extent, what kinds of content surround and are generated by the IoT. This represents the tip of a very big iceberg that will garner much attention this year — and for the next decade, at least.

The ethics of big data

Again, credit due to a colleague here.  Drawn from her inspirational TED Talk, Susan Etlinger is researching an important and too often overlooked aspect of big data: its ethical implications. From data collection to communications (remember Target telling the father that his daughter was pregnant based on her buying pattern data?), Susan has pinpointed six broad categories, each with a host of specific areas, in which brands will be challenged with unprecedented ethical choices and policy issues. As more data stream in from areas such as the IoT, big questions will continue to swirl around big data.

Native advertising

In late 2013, I published the first research on the topic of native advertising. Native is still new and still disruptive, but this year we’ll see it normalize. Every major and reputable digital publisher and social media platform now offers native advertising products, and more formats are rapidly being developed. At the same time, policies, guidelines, ethics and technologies are not just springing up, but are also maturing. I predict that this year, native takes its place at the table as a critical and permanent component of digital marketing and advertising.

Channel convergence

A couple of years ago, together with then-colleague Jeremiah Owyang, I looked at how paid, owned and earned media are overlapping and combining to create new forms of media that, to consumers, are just…media. Distinctions between advertising, content, and social are blurring, if not dissolving. The same is beginning to happen with media channels. Is it radio? TV? Digital? Print? Is it projected or is it streaming, and do consumers care? (My hypothesis is that they don’t.) When all media can be consumed on all devices (large or small screens, phones, billboards, watches), what are the implications for media? Entertainment? Advertising and marketing? Mobile is TV is digital is audio is news is visual — portable, mutable, large and very, very small.

Those are the four trends I’ve got an eye on this year. What are yours? Let me know in the comments.

This post originally published on iMedia 

A Culture Of Content: The Success Criteria

team-collaborate-ss-1920

Fundamentally, content has become bigger than marketing; it spans across the enterprise, particularly in public-facing divisions such as sales, customer care, recruiting, PR and product groups.

All these constituencies have the capability to create and to distribute content, to contribute to the overall content pool, and to become part of the content circulatory system.

But how does an organization foster a culture of content (CoC)? We identified the following seven success criteria.

1. Customer Obsession Guides Content

An obsession with understanding customer wants, preferences, behaviors, trends, passions, and so on, helps drive a culture of content (CoC) because these data inform how brands use content to serve customers.

Whether listening to customer feedback directly or monitoring customer interactions across various touch points, companies with a well-defined CoC are equipped to optimize rapidly based on customer insights.

This is embodied in the convergence of media, where paid, owned and earned must work together because the consumer sees only one brand, not specific departments. As such, content helps define the human side of a brand – creative, helpful, passionate, contextually sensitive, even vulnerable.

Instead of letting editorial calendars dictate content cadence, try the following:

  • Listen for consumer insights across channels.
  • Design content to unify the customer-brand experience.
  • Assess all content for worthiness.

2. Align Content With Brand

Every company should have its own understanding of purpose, differentiation, philosophy, and vision — and brands must be able to articulate how content serves those elements underlying the very identity of the brand.

How content embodies brand values must be clear to every level, from the C-suite to functional leads to practitioners. This alignment should be a guiding force and benchmark for what constitutes worthy and authentic branded content.

To align the content with the brand:

  • Crystallize how the content supports the brand vision.
  • Incorporate that vision into training and evangelism.
  • Only publish content that supports the brand vision.

3. Drive Content Leadership From The Top Down & The Bottom Up

The content leader must facilitate a top-down and a bottom-up approach to drive a culture of content.

Top-down content leadership helps drive investment in content marketing initiatives and promotes a company-wide mentality of the value of content. Simultaneously, a strong leader or advocate is nearly always required for education, evangelism, training, and testing, which drives buy-in from the bottom up.

Bottom-up content leadership can manifest through greater departmental buy-in, alignment, demand for content, and internal participation down to the practitioner level. As the value of content is translated across other business functions through evangelism and small, inexpensive programs supporting those functions, hard numerical results aligning with business objectives help justify deeper executive support.

To drive content leadership:

  • Evangelize and test department-specific initiatives to drive bottom-up support.
  • Leverage cross-functional results and support to drive top-down support.
  • Both C-level and content leaders must reinforce an ongoing culture of content.

4. Culture Requires Constant Evangelism

While culture is pervasive and powerful, it is not built overnight. It slowly gains acceptance and takes steady reinforcement. Terms such as “constant,” “relentless,” “frequent,” and “reinforcement
” are commonly used to describe the process of creating a culture of content.

Why? Because content leaders must constantly demonstrate business and consumer value across the organization. Securing participation from divisions, groups, and territories is based heavily on WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) and demonstrated by metrics that relate to their goals.

This evangelism must continue over time through results, case study and best (and worst) practice sharing as well as centrally shared tools and resources. To create a CoC:

  • Content leaders must lead the content evangelism.
  • Articulate and demonstrate WIIFM, both bottom-up and top-down.
  • Commit to ongoing cross-functional evangelism, support, communication, and optimization.

5. Test & Learn

Brands must be willing to take risks in the content they produce. This requires a spirit of piloting small, tightly scoped content initiatives with predetermined key performance indicators that align with business objectives.

These initiatives, especially early on, don’t necessarily have to be resource intensive. Testing and learning are less about new channel, device, or content plays and more about creating ostensible business value that can be reported back to leadership in order to drive program and resource expansion.

These tasks are inherent to a CoC because they require taking risks, which may result in failure or in tangible justification to use when evangelizing content across functions and to leadership.

6. Global Must Enable Local

Whether you’re a large multinational corporation with presences across dozens of countries or a company with numerous locations in one country, a CoC must be enabled locally.

Divisional authority and autonomy with strategic oversight is important; large brands must empower local practitioners with local content that reflects local tastes, context, and language.

Perhaps a local division would like to use a case study better suited for a German-speaking audience. Or perhaps they wish to tweak branded content to reflect regional realities, such as weather or news (for example, promoting snow tires in New England and beach umbrellas in Florida).

As brands are forced to become publishers, enabling local authority is critical to standing out. To enable local:

  • Global must provide strategic oversight, support, resources, and direction.
  • Enable local teams with appropriate cultural, linguistic, and contextual resources.
  • Appoint regional and/or local content leaders to scale training and ongoing evangelism.

7. Integrate Across All Cultural Components

In a true culture of content, integration and shared insights should exist across every component of the culture: people, processes, mindsets, and the content itself. A CoC doesn’t work in an environment rife with silos.

Integrated workflows across teams, business units, and internal and external parties help streamline and scale content deployment. Integrated technology systems with shared access, reporting, data, and automation enable agility and meaningful measurement.

Even media itself must be connected through workflow and divisional coordination, designed for optimizing resources, as outlined in Altimeter’s report, “The Converged Media Imperative: How Brands Will Combine Paid, Owned, & Earned.”

Integrate Insights:

  • Integrate across people: workflows, tool access, collaboration, best-practice sharing.
  • Integrate across technology: data sets, systems, third-party tools, and analytics.
  • Integrate across media: paid, owned, earned, local, and so on.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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

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.

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 

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