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

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).

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

A Culture Of Content: The Success Criteria

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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

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 

The Components of a Content Engine

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

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

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

Content Engine

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

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

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

This post originally published on iMedia