Micro Content, Maxi Effect — How Shifts Toward Visual Content Will Impact Marketers

The written word seems to be on the decline, at least in the online space. Articles and white papers have morphed into blog posts and status updates. Hashtags, acronyms and emoticons stand in for sentences. OTP, BRB, LMK, OK?  :-)

How low can you go? In a year or two, 140 characters — a miserly allotment now — will seem a luxury, a vestige of an era marked by logorrheic verbosity.

If you doubted it before, believe it now: a picture really is worth the proverbial thousand words. Maybe more.

Opinion? Sure. But the facts bear this out. Facebook keeps redesigning to feature bigger, bolder images. Oh yeah, and the company bought Instagram for a cool million. Videos now auto-play on the platform. Yahoo, meanwhile, snatched up Tumblr. Twitter continues to make images and videos a more prominent part of the user experience. And don’t forget the increasing popularity of Pinterest, YouTube, and SnapChat — you can easily see where all this is going.

Research, too, bears out the hypothesis that visual (and audio-visual) content is subsuming the written word. As an analyst, when I ask marketers about the types of content and media channels they’re leaning toward in the future, all forms of written content are on the decline, from press releases to blog posts.  Investment is around multimedia and images.

Content types

The chart above highlights the reason behind this shift in the we communicate online: mobile. Simply put, no one’s about to read War and Peace on a smartphone. Mobile means a lot of things, but mostly it means that screens are getting smaller. The smaller the screen, the pithier information must be in order to be comfortably communicated and absorbed by its target audience.

Ease of use is key here as well. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter don’t create content, rather they enable its dissemination — and if no one updates their status, then these platforms don’t stand a chance. Clearly, it’s a lot easier to upload that shot of your Hawaiian vacation (or delicious lunch, or mischievous puppy) than to narrate in detail why such things are interesting — especially while using your thumbs and combating auto-correct.

Content Strategy Implications

That content is becoming shorter, less verbose and more visual obviously has tremendous ramifications for content strategy. Here are three major points to bear in mind.

Please read the rest of this post on MarketingLand, where it originally published. 

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Content Marketing: What’s the Big Idea?

bulbrite-g30-main-white-lgThe beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

What’s the Big Idea?

Take IBM.  IBM is a ginormous, multifaceted, global conglomerate offering a broad palette of products and services. What Big Idea could possibly unify their diverse offering? Simple (but smart): Smarter Planet. If you look at the initiative’s home page, you’ll immediately see the Smarter Planet idea easily encompasses every industry vertical, global territory, channel and capability that IBM offers – or serves.

As diversified and complex as IBM may be, the company seems almost one-track when compared to a conglomerate like GE. From transformers to light bulbs, media to microwaves, commercial lending and power grid infrastructure – how can all this possibly be united under the governing principle of a Big Idea?

It can: Ecomagination.  The concept works for B2B, B2C, home appliances and municipal water supplies. Ecomagination is the concept that GE content ladders up to, and is accountable to. It’s no abstraction.  Ecomagination is clearly defined by the company as, “Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to build innovative solutions for today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth.”

The beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced and disseminated.

Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects (“We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!”) and addresses the essential questions: Why and How?

Yet there’s an additional and very essential element of content strategy that’s much less discussed, albeit no less important that well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a Big Idea.

Arriving at the Big Idea

The Big Idea is way, way too big to belong to the content team alone, or the social media group, or communications. The Big Idea is (yet another) Big Reason – particularly in an era of  converged media – for smashing silos. Every marketing message must incorporate, address and answer to the Big Idea. It’s therefore the responsibility of every marketing division to arrive at what the Big Idea is, and to effectively communicate it to all internal and external stakeholders.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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What to Measure: ROI or KPIs?

Digital marketing is constantly evolving and rapidly changing. It’s full of new technologies, new tactics, and new innovations. Yet there’s one constant: accountability. There’s an expectation that no matter how new, how cutting edge, how experimental or untested, it will all be perfectly measurable.

The reality is all digital marketing is and always will be measurable — but not always along traditional lines. And you can’t always measure what you most want to measure.

Analytics can reveal lots of insight, but there’s a staunch unwillingness to accept (in some quarters) that the exact knowledge desired might well be akin to reading tea leaves rather than spreadsheets and dashboards. This leads to a world of unrealistic expectations and flat-out delusions. As I wrote earlier this year:

“Everything is measurable, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really like to see in 2014, in addition to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably while aligning with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out.”

Otherwise put, and very wisely so by Mashable’s CMO Stacy Martinet in a talk last week, “There’s a right metric for every campaign. But you have to figure out what it is, and you have to explain why to the boss.”

The right metric isn’t always ROI, but too often, ROI is the default, go-to metric to which marketers are being held accountable. Software manufacturers are under the same pressure. “How can we build ROI accountability into our dashboards?” is a question you hear over and over again in product meetings.

ROI is a wonderful thing. But it’s not always possible to track every single effort down to a dollars-and-cents return. Often, it’s not possible — or even the most desirable outcome. It’s also perfectly valid to have a goal of, say, message amplification in terms of social shares. If your YouTube video was shared 1.4 million times, that metric tells the right story.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Is There Really a Content Glut?

credit: "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life"

credit: “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life”

You are just beginning to wrap your mind around the fact that content marketing is the new “it” thing in digital marketing when you hear it’s over. Too much noise, not enough signal. Too much content. Too much bad content. No one will ever find your content due to the glut of other content incessantly pouring into digital channels at an accelerating, unceasing rate.

You may as well hang it up and go home. Better yet, if you haven’t already, don’t even start doing this whole content marketing thing.

This argument, surfacing recently in a spate of blogs and articles, is as pointless as it is predictable. You may as well argue that you shouldn’t market via email because of spam. Or (as was suggested in a recent interview), claim it’s time to trash your website because all websites “look alike” and are “boring.”

These are kneejerk reactions to disruption, more indicative of human nature than they are of the efficacy of new marketing strategies and techniques. Here’s what’s really going on:

  • It’s cool to be the first to the party.
  • It’s even cooler to declare the party’s over before anyone else does.

Only with content, you can’t do that because content is a constant. As I’ve said before in this column, content is the atomic particle of all marketing. No content = no website. No content = no email. No content = no social media, advertising, “creative,” DM, you name it. All those tactics and formats are, in effect, content envelopes.

Has a surge in the popularity of content marketing foisted more bad content upon us? You bet it has. So what else is new? Bad content, boring content, superfluous content — the world’s always been full of it and will continue to be full of it.

Even bastions of impeccably produced content, The New York Times, for example, can be tarred with this brush. For more decades than I’m willing to admit, as a print edition subscriber, my first act of the day was to bend over, pick up the paper, and chuck the sports section. That (to me, at least) is boring, superfluous, irrelevant content (though I can appreciate that you may be of an entirely different opinion). This did not, however, impel me to “turn off” my New York Times subscription.

If there’s a content glut, it’s because we’ve reached that very predictable stage in the disruption curve when a trend becomes a bandwagon. This results in spray and pray tactics, irrational exuberances, content “gurus” emerging from every quarter (most of them were social media gurus yesterday, and search gurus a couple of years back).

I won’t dispute for an instant that bad content is being created at a healthy clip. But I do disagree that all this noise drowns out the genuine signals.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Nine Digital Marketing Trends to Watch in 2014

crystal-ballLongtime readers know not to expect a list of annual “predictions” so prevalent in trade publications this time of year. After all, I’m an industry analyst. Un-endowed with the psychic abilities that would enable me to read crystal balls or entrails, I must instead rely on my innate powers of observation and analysis.

That’s not said casually. Observation and analysis of digital marketing and media is what I do.  Based on industry movement, technology developments, and industry trends, these are the areas I’ll be watching most closely in the new year.

  1. Enterprises Organize for Content  The hue and cry up to a year or so ago from content marketing evangelists was “hire a chief content officer!” The sentiment behind this exhortation was and remains correct: content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. To create, maintain and enforce strategy, guidelines, processes, governance and guardrails are entirely necessary. However not every board is disposed to create a new C-level position. That’s why companies are taking seriously the need to organize for content marketing.  Last spring we identified six real-world models. Expect to see companies begin to adopt these with some alacrity in 2014.
  2. Native Advertising Will Surge Brands, publishers, agencies, technology vendors – virtually the entire digital advertising ecosystem has a stake in the ground when it comes to native advertising. The IAB and the FTC have chimed in with the beginnings of defining the space and the rules of engagement. Virtually all the members of the Online Publishers Association now offer some form of native advertising, and major brands are allocating budget for serious experiments. You’re going to hear a lot more about this form of converged media (paid + owned) in the coming months.
  3. Real-Time Marketing Another form of converged media is real-time marketing,  the strategy and practice of reacting with immediacy in digital channels.  As more channels and media operate in real-time, and as real-time events such as television converge with digital channel on mobile and social media platforms, virtually all marketers will be challenged this year to define a real-time marketing strategy, and indeed to determine what real-time means for their organization and marketing efforts.
  4. Content Marketing ‘Stacks’ Emerge It’s already happening. Adobe has formally announced what we’ve long known they would: their Marketing and Creative Clouds will merge. Oracle bought Compendium and Eloqua (expect Salesforce to do something very, very similar quite soon – ExactTarget isn’t quite in the content bucket).  This trend indicates 2014 will usher in an important new chapter in content marketing maturity: end-to-end, cloud-based technology solutions similar to ad stacks, rather than the boutique array of much more limited solutions that are currently available. This matters not just as a technology play, but as something that will make content a safer and more integrated enterprise investment.
  5. Media Continue to Converge Paid, earned and owned media continue to collapse into blended forms of marketing. This trend is only accelerating with consumer trends such as cord-cutting, that make platforms such as television even more digital than they formerly were. Concurrently, OOH signage and other forms of media are more digital, too, allowing owned content and forms of shared media such as tweets to circulate freely through media ecosystem.
  6. Breaking Down Silos If number 6 comes as a surprise, you clearly haven’t read the first five trends. Media converging, a greater emphasis on content marketing, native advertising, real-time marketing and other blended forms of marketing means teams must collaborate more than every before. Goal alignment, resource sharing, and content portability – none of this happens internally, much less with vendor and agency partners, unless barriers and divisions are smashed.  There’s no more time to wait. Silos must be abolished now.
  7.  Interoperability Much more than a byproduct of convergence, apps, gadgets, devices are becoming interoperable – seamlessly interoperable. AS a for instance, my personal fitness monitor smoothly syncs with my Android phone, laptop computer, iPad, Walgreen’s loyalty card, stand-alone weight and food trackers, and (if I wanted, which I don’t) with all my social media accounts. All this at the flick of preference radio buttons. The days or “either/or” “Mac/Windows” customer experience are over. Customers expect – and demand – seamlessness from their digital life.
  8. More Mobile Yeah, we hear this every year, but mobile really has come to the fore. More smartphones and tablets are flying off the shelves than PCs and laptops, and mobile finally commands more consumer time than the boob-tube.  This means new experiences, media strategies and (looping back to the top of the list) more content, real-time and native in marketing plans.  “Mobile first” is no longer a hollow mantra. It’s really, actually true.
  9. Measuring What’s Undefined  Is this really a genuine trend? I hope it will be. There’s this unrealistic expectation in digital that everything’s measurable. It is, but not necessarily right out of the box. That’s why publisher metrics are applied to native advertising campaigns (though goals are widely divergent), and way too much stuff is measured in terms of “engagement,” which means something different to everyone who utters the term. A trend I’d really LIKE to see in 2014 is, in additional to all kinds of good metrics such as the ability to attribute ROI and measure accountably and aligned with goals, is a readiness to admit that it’s just too early to apply hard-and-fast, unalterable metrics to brand new stuff we’re all still trying to figure out. Square pegs, round holes.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Plan for Real-Time Marketing Execution

Part one of this two-part series examined how organizations plot strategy for real-time marketing (RTM), based on “Real Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now,'” research Altimeter Group recently published on the topic.

Once strategy is in place, it’s time to turn to RTM execution, in particular enabling it to happen in a seamless, scalable way.

Assemble team and tools

Successful RTM requires that the right constituents be available, informed, educated, and empowered. Assemble the proper teams (i.e., social, creative, copywriting, legal, PR, etc.) and tools (i.e., listening, analytics, design, digital assets, publishing tools, etc.) to ensure streamlined execution. Multiple companies we interviewed underscored the importance of having a “war room,” akin to a newsroom, where all team members are literally present and able to collaborate — in real-time.

For unplanned, reactive RTM execution, the existing content hub or social media team takes the lead. Alternately, a pre-identified and trained virtual team leaps into action.

For anticipated events, a war room is often the hub, driving real-time approvals, design, triage, and publication. Even brands without 24/7 RTM teams can assemble trained and prepared teams for special events, as Oreo did for the Super Bowl.

For anticipated or planned events with content created in advance, assemble teams with regularly scheduled meetings to discuss event strategies and guidelines and identify areas of opportunity.

Establish triage

Scenario-based triage is one of the single most effective ways to streamline RTM execution. Certain cues or events trigger repeatable workflows. Community managers should be able to identify what types of language indicate threats or risks for the brand, and how and when to escalate them to legal, PR, or the appropriate team. When developing RTM content, consider how users may respond, then identify what warrants response and build workflows based on positive and negative interactions or needs. The more detail provided, the more teams accounted for, and the more scenarios planned for, the better.

Train and test all parties

A big part of operating in real-time is enabling key employees to feel trusted and empowered to act. This level of confidence is only achieved via education and training across all stakeholders — not only those posting and responding but those creating, approving, distributing, and monitoring, both internally and externally (i.e., agencies and vendors). Training should include both strategic and tactical elements.

Training tools and testing will vary by organization based on resources and stakeholders. The goal of training and testing, however, is universal: to establish confidence for those executing and trust in them by all stakeholders, management, and the brand at large.

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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The Six Business Cases for Real-Time Marketing

As digital channels operate increasingly in the ‘now,’ all marketing organizations must consider to what degree they will function in real-time, and even define what real-time is relative to their operations and marketing organization.

The payoff? That digital marketing ideal: the right message to the right person at the right time. The right instant, even.

Real-time marketing (RTM) can add tremendous value to customer interactions; making brands appear relevant, with-it, informed, dynamic and buzzworthy. The movement toward RTM is also driven by consumer expectations as immediacy, relevance and access increase with technology.

Our new research report, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now,’ identifies six business use cases for real-time marketing that fall into a quadrant of planned/unplanned and reactive vs. proactive interactions. In numerous interviews with agency and brand-side practitioners, we found all successful RTM requires enormous strategic and tactical preparation, beginning with a strong , clear and well-defined content strategy.

real-time marketing use case quadrant

RTM Use Case #1: Brand Events
Brand events include product launches, conferences, media and customer-facing events where content strategy, pre-approvals, media plans, hashtags, creative, editorial calendars, etc. can be prepared in advance. During events, staff are available to push out content and react to posts in social media.

RTM Use Case #2. Anticipated Event
A growing number of organizations are preparing for real-time events that are anticipated in advance. Business goals, strategies, teams, and approvals are ready, content is locked and loaded.

RTM Use Case #3: Location/object-based
A small but promising use case of RTM taps into location and object-based triggers. Hand-crafted examples of this type of RTM include local food trucks publicizing specials and current locations. Increasingly sophisticated technology, such as iBeacon, target a consumer’s location down to the store-shelf level and push a promotion to that person’s phone in the moment. That’s literally targeting the right person at the right time and the right place.

RTM Use Case #4. Predictive Analytics-based
Another relatively small but growing area of triggered RTM is based on predictive analytics. Amazon has long used predictive data to display recommendations to customers based on browsing and purchase history. This trend will gain momentum as data solutions become more accessible and simpler to implement.

RTM Use Case #5. Customer Interaction
Customer interactions take many forms: CRM, customer service, handling complaints, and community interactions being primary examples. While many organizations handle such interactions to customer service, the very public, visible and occasionally even viral nature of these interactions in social channels means they are increasingly becoming a marketing function. This holds particularly true now that customers have come to expect brands to respond to their digital queries and complaints in near-real time.

RTM Use Case #6. Breaking News
The most reactive form of RTM is responding in a legitimate, relevant manner to unanticipated breaking news. This can also be the riskiest, most spontaneous, and difficult type of RTM. Advance preparation is all but impossible. Breaking news isn’t always good news, so an acute degree of sensitivity is called for. Often, this also requires following a story as it unfolds. The opportunity is hitting it over the fence by appropriately leveraging the event in a way that is relevant, both to the event and to the brand.

As with all Altimeter Group research, Real-Time Marketing: The Agility to Leverage ‘Now’ is available at no cost under Creative Commons.  Help yourself!  And please let us know your reactions, as well as how your organization is functioning in real-time.

[slideshare id=29152561&doc=reportreal-timemarketing-theagilitytoleveragenowrebeccaliebjessicagroopman-131212115620-phpapp02&type=d]

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

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