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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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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The Four Pillars of Recombinant Content

rainbow-test-tubesNow more than ever, content must be recombinant. This means a critical component of content strategy is the ability to rapidly dissemble, reassemble, reuse, repurpose, and remodel discrete elements of digital content.

Consumers live in a multiscreen world that’s becoming more complex and multifaceted daily. Laptops. PCs. Tablets. Smart phones. Phablets. Smart watches. Google Goggles and other forms of wearables. Digital signage and digital television.

Like hummingbirds, they flit from message to message, channel to channel, screen to screen. Sixty-seven percent touch two devices daily, while 30 percent touch four devices. Regardless of how many screens, touch points and channels, 60 percent of consumers expect a consistent experience when interacting with brands.

Got that? The bottom line isn’t channel, device, or media strategy. It’s experience.

This grazing, snacking, multimedia, and multiscreen behavior is in hypergrowth mode — digital screens are now in taxis, stadiums, and retail outlets. As digital becomes less coupled with the concept of “online,” consistency of experience, of voice, tone, look, and feel are essential.

Otherwise, how are customers to recognize a brand as they (and it) travel across all these devices and media?

Advances in advertising push the envelope further still. Facebook’s revamp of Atlas, announced last week, means advertisers can achieve hitherto impossible targeting and frequency capping, regardless of the device or channels in which an ad appears. Whether an in-app in-game message on a phone, or a display ad on the web, the messages — and the creative — can be kept in sync, appropriate for the device, channel, media, as well as the consumer receiving the message.

The technological ability to connect messaging across devices and channels is a clarion call for recombinant content. Marketers require both the tools and the strategies to create content that works in multiple media and channels, that can be displayed across the ecosystem.

There are four fundamental pillars of recombinant content in this brave and fast moving new world:

Content strategy

Content strategies must be devised with a view toward the reuse, repurposing and redeployment of content. Every message must be viewed as a bundle of component parts that can be broken down and rebuilt in myriad ways. Think Lego set. Can you change the headline? The copy? Turn it into a video, a podcast, an infographic, a display ad, or a PowerPoint? You’re on the right track.

Content agility

This is part of strategy, but agility needs its own call-out. Content must be modular enough to be quickly broken down and reassembled to respond to a real-time (or near real-time) marketplace. Creation, too, is often rapid and reactive. This requires training and empowerment of stakeholders, as well as cross-functional and departmental coordination.

Content tools

All these content assets and content demands cannot be wrangled by hand. Recombinant content requires publishing tools, a digital asset management system, and a myriad of other content marketing software. Content marketing, you’ll remember, is nothing new. It’s technology that makes it accessible.

Connected technology

Content tools must work in a connected fashion to create and deploy assets across channels and media. This doesn’t just apply to owned and earned marketing channels, but also to paid media (advertising). We’re not quite there yet, but when the content technology stack starts talking to the ad stack (this will happen in about two years), it will be the real dawn of the era of recombinant content.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Orchestrating Content Marketing On A Global Scale

Content Marketing: How do we do it globally?

Enterprises are only just beginning to integrate content marketing into their mix — and they are quickly realizing that content must permeate the organization. This applies globally just as much as it does regionally.

The need for content is universal, yet each region, country and locality in which a brand operates has diverse and specific needs unique to language and culture. Fundamentally, these needs can be divided into three buckets: Teams, Tools and Channels.

Creating a global content strategy is exponentially challenging, but absolutely essential, as so many of my clients are realizing.

Without orchestration, time and money are wasted, employees become frustrated, efforts are duplicative, and customer experience suffers, as do consistencies in brand and messaging.

Teams

Creating content marketing teams and governance is essential. Last week, I discussed the topic with a team of real experts: Michael Brenner, formerly of SAP, now with Newscred; 3Ms content lead Carlos Abler and Kyle Lacey, ExactTarget’s Director, Global Content Marketing & Research.

We unanimously agreed that content marketing requires centralized leadership, but also local authorities. Michael aptly likened this to the editorial model of a news organization’s Brazil desk, London desk, etc.

Tools

The content marketing software landscape is rapidly evolving and shifting. Selecting tools comes with additional concerns when they must serve global teams.

Do they support multiple languages? Diverse alphabets? Can they handle country specific barriers, such as firewalls or local privacy regulations? Will licenses differ on a country-by-country basis?

Research on the content tool landscape I recently conducted found 40 percent of marketers cite a lack of inter-departmental coordination as leading to investment in disparate, incompatible toolsets. And that’s just on a domestic level.

Channels

What content should be created? Where should it be published, and in what form, and for which audience? Publishing on Facebook isn’t the same as engaging with audiences on VK.com, Line,  Mixi or Weibo.

Then there are regional holidays, local sporting events and festivals, superstitions, news events – ignore these differences and you’re an outsider, not a credible source of information or a potential partner.

Local input, local knowledge and an injection of local culture are all essential. It’s not nearly enough to translate content into a local language, or to push content created at headquarters out into regional divisions.

In fact, often the content surfaced in far-flung markets can bubble up into fodder for HQ, or for other markets.

Content is a team sport, and running content on a global scale is a bit like running the Olympic games.

Each regional must have teams, those teams must have captains, and they must be equipped with training, an understanding of the universal rules of the game and be equipped with the necessary equipment to play the game.

Yet at the same time, each team flies its own flag, and continues to wear its own colors.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Beware Parochial Content Marketing

Content marketing is hot — finally! It’s the term du jour in digital marketing and advertising, getting its figurative place at the table and its own literal track at every marketing conference of note. Content is even getting its own dedicated conferences now — several of them.

With great power comes great responsibility, as well as a not-insignificant number of “me too” arrivals at the party.

Enter the age of parochial content marketing.

What’s parochial content marketing? It’s a trend we’ve seen in the past when new marketing channels suddenly erupt into prominence, most recently social media.

Five years ago, every email marketing solution was suddenly a social media company. Every search engine marketing vendor was suddenly a social media solution. If digital video was the offering, it was a digital video for social media providers. I think you get the drift.

Now all those email companies, search vendors, video providers, and so on down the line are — you guessed it — content marketing solutions. Even one of the largest social media platforms has begun a major marketing initiative for its content marketing product.

There’s a good side to this. It means content marketing is maturing, mainstreaming, and that its importance is finally recognized. But there’s a not-so-great darker side too.

The dark side is a parochial approach to content marketing, the view that “content marketing” means screwing search, or email, or video, or blogging into a container labeled “content marketing” and ticking that box off the list of “must-do marketing tactics.”

Yes, vendors struggle to remain relevant — often a tough job in a landscape in which tactics such as email and search and site design couldn’t be more relevant, but have also been relegated to wallpaper status by virtue of the fact that they have aged out at a ripe old decade of service mark. A couple of years ago, I interviewed more than 50 Fortune 500 marketers on the content marketing channels they were using. One cited search. Zero cited email. (Ha! As if!)

Email is a container for content. Search has nothing to find if there isn’t any content. Ads are filled with content — it’s just called “creative” in that channel. There simply is no marketing without content.

Smart marketers know that, and they know that the best content begins with a strategy. Not with a channel.

This post originally published on iMedia Connection.

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No, Social Advertising Isn’t “Over”

Murky research collided with lazy journalism last week to create a torrent of #socialmedia + #advertising = #fail link bait. Headlines in publications generally deemed respectable, and journalistically responsible, heralded the end of social media marketing.

“Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype” trumpeted The Wall Street Journal. “This Is the New Stat Facebook Should Be Worrying About,” tsk-tsked Time. “Tweets, Likes, and Shares Don’t Make Us Buy Stuff, Americans Say,” echoed Bloomberg Businessweek. “Advertising On Facebook And Twitter Barely Even Works” came from Business Insider, and most pithily, Valleywag added, “Social Media Ads Don’t Do Shit.”

The root of this social-media-don’t-work brouhaha was a Gallup report entitled “The State of the American Consumer.” It professed that 62 percent of U.S. consumers do not believe the major social networking platforms: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+, affect their purchase decisions. Additionally, Gallup claims 48 percent of Millennial shoppers are uninfluenced by social media when it comes to buying stuff.

So much for the $5.1 billion advertisers spent on social advertising last year (not to mention billions more on social media marketing programs).

The lone voice of sanity in the media was a well-reported piece in Adweek, pointing out that not only is Gallup using data from late 2012 to make this dubious point, but worse, the data are self reported. No brand or agency would ever in a million years rely on self-reported data to assess or measure ad effectiveness. Self-reported data are near-worthless.

Google the term, in fact, and you’ll come up with results such as: “Self-reported studies have validity problems” and “notoriously unreliable.”

Moreover, as Adweek pointed out in a long voice-of-reason article on the topic (disclosure: I’m quoted), Gallup’s data were collected close to two years ago — a near eternity in internet time, and to top that, some respondents were polled by snail mail, a strange channel indeed to select for research on digital influence.

Looking beyond the dubious self-reported data, the digital equivalent of saying, “Sure, I saw a commercial on TV but didn’t buy the product so advertising doesn’t work,” some of the questions Gallup posed are strong indicators that social channels are indeed powerful platforms for persuasion and influence. The questions below indicate, aside from the obvious social connections, consumers spend time on social sites to share knowledge, research companies (and by extension, products), find and/or create reviews and product info, etc.

Even Gallup admits as much:

“However, companies can use social media to engage and boost their customer base. Consumers appreciate the highly personal and conversational nature of social media sites, and they prefer interacting in an open dialogue as opposed to receiving a hard sell. And companies’ use of social media to provide timely responses to questions and complaints accelerates brand loyalty and, eventually, sales. When it comes to social media efforts, businesses stand to benefit when they utilize a more service-focused approach rather than one dedicated to simply pushing their products.”

Yet this statement from Gallup seems not to be tied to any specific data from the survey.

Murky research conclusions and methodologies aside, Gallup’s deeply flawed research, and the editorial properties that piled on with link bait headlines, really did do a disservice.

We know that social platforms influence consumer buying decisions. The problem is, headlines in The Wall Street Journal, even erroneous ones, influence CEO decisions, too.

This post originally published on iMedia.

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The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions

Our new research report, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions, published today to help marketers navigate the tangled and complex content marketing software landscape.

It used to be so easy. You wrote content and posted it to your web site or blog.   Perhaps you did a little keyword research, or looked at web analytics for inspiration or refinement.

The content marketing vendor landscape may not be quite as vast as your programing choices, but it’s pretty darn big with well over 100 vendors offering a variety of solutions, and it’s growing exponentially as investment and M&A activity reach a crescendo in the sector. This leaves content marketers at a loss.

Content marketing has grown exponentially in complexity, and that’s before the fact that it’s beginning to also converge with paid and earned media. We’re far beyond the sign up for a WordPress account and hire a blogger phase of content marketing. In fact, Altimeter Group has identified three overarching scenarios and eight broad content marketing use cases.

To add to this complexity, each individual use case comes with a host of more granular sub-categories that must each be addressed with technology.

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Yet selecting content marketing tools doesn’t end with content marketing needs.  Integration and interoperability are major factors that cannot be omitted from any technology consideration.

Fig6b

Marketers’ questions are manifold:

  •  What content marketing tools and technologies are right for my enterprise?
  • What vendors should we consider?
  • Will our choice scale with future needs?
  • Are integration concerns being addressed?
  • What tools can help us achieve strategic goals, such as measurement and targeting?
  • How can technology help integrated owned media with paid and earned initiatives?

These are the concerns our research hopes to address.  Our new research report, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions, isn’t a scorecard  of vendor capabilities. Rather, it provides a framework, as well as a pragmatic checklist, to help marketers determine their actual needs, then to pinpoint those vendors offering the solutions that match their requirements. It won’t tell you which vendor to pick (obviously, that would be presumptuous without a much deeper, more personalized dive). But it will help narrow and define a highly mutable and complex marketplace.

As with all Altimeter Group research, The Content Marketing Software Landscape: Marketer Needs & Vendor Solutions is available at no charge under our Open Research model. Please use it, share it, and let us know what you think of it.

Crossed-posted with the Altimeter Group blog.

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