Who Should Handle Content Marketing? (In-House or Outsource)

Is content a DIY project, or is it a job better left to professionals?

Major brands want to create content marketing in-house. A couple of years ago I conducted research and asked major organizations such as Nestlé, GE, Adobe, IBM, and Coca-Cola what their preference was. Do it yourself, or farm it out to an agency? Everyone — 100 percent — of the executives I spoke with said their preference is in-house.

Their own staff know the company, the products, the culture, the brand, and the voice better than any outside handler ever could. But there’s another cold reality: resources. Few brands have the staff, time, and tools to meet all their content marketing demands internally.

There’s no shortage of agencies of all stripes that are eager to land your content business — ad agencies, PR agencies, “storytelling” agencies, PR agencies, content marketing shops, publishers’ in-house “content studios.” Service providers who are more than happy to create content for you are popping up like mushrooms after a strong rainfall.

The trend really picked up momentum a couple of years ago when, in the PR sector alone (just to pick one of these verticals at random) Weber Shandwick launched Mediaco  and Porter Novelli birthed PNConnect  In early 2014, Waggener Edstrom created Content360. The momentum is still going. FleishmanHillard unveiled FH ContentWorks, a global initiative. And at Cannes last week, the unlikely bedfellows of WPP’s Group SJR teamed with Snapchat, the Daily Mail to launch the latest and most questionably-named shop, Truffle Pig.

What should you look for when engaging a content marketing agency? There are many criteria to 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 and 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 iMedia

The TedCruz.com Domain #Fail

You don’t need a lot of content to make a big impact.

Mere hours after Sen. Ted Cruz threw his hat into the ring and announced his candidacy for the highest office in the land, TedCruz.com went live. The site consists of one sober page, white text on a black background:

Unsurprisingly, social media lit up with (deservedly) derisive comments. The same would have been the case 10 years ago. Cruz is hardly the first politician to flop so spectacularly online. I can recall Rudy Giuliani’s MySpace profile during his presidential bid — the page was marked “private” so no one could see the posts.

But that was then. I don’t think that today it’s going too far to say that a candidate that doesn’t have the foresight to secure his own name (not to mention any and all related domains) doesn’t deserve my vote. It’s bad decision-making. It’s bad politics. It’s bad content, image, spin, and PR. What would have been a big “oops” 10 or 15 years ago is now indicative of someone who (politics aside) is not making informed decisions.

Because today, digital is too important to ignore. Barack Obama owes his two terms not just to a platform that resonated with the electorate, but with one of the all-time greatest digital CRM campaigns. The White House has a chief digital officer now.

Contrast that with Cruz, who doesn’t have a top-level domain in his name.

This choice, or oversight, or whatever you care to call it, speaks volumes about Ted Cruz as a leader. What kind of people has he brought on as campaign advisors if this critical element of his messaging has been completely overlooked? A president is only good as his lieutenants. It’s hard to imagine a candidate who can’t buy a web domain becoming the most powerful politician in the world and appointing a qualified cabinet.

My friend Vin Crosbie has pointed out that ICANN’s Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy (UDRP) could, in fact, return TedCruz.com to Ted Cruz, because the current owner is using it in bad faith. To do so, Cruz would have to file a complaint.

“I could get it for him by the end of the week,” an SEO and reputation management expert commented on my Facebook page. “But he isn’t going to ask.”

It’s going to be an interesting election season. Simply from a digital marketing perspective, I don’t think the first candidate in the ring is going to be able to go the distance.

This post originally published on iMedia 

How to Foster a Culture of Content

Screenshot 9:16:14, 5:23 AMA couple of years ago, I researched content marketing maturity in the enterprise. We identified five phases of maturity, the highest one being the very aspirational level of actually monetizing content; organizations from Red Bull to Coke to Kraft have been able to actually sell their content marketing.

That’s clearly not going to happen for every brand practicing content marketing, nor should it. A far more attainable and worthy goal is phase four of our maturity model: fostering a culture of content. That is, evangelizing the importance and impact of content marketing not only across all sectors of the marketing division, but across the enterprise itself. It means getting senior management, sales, customer service, operations, product, HR, IT, and the rest of the company (as well as partners, such as agencies) educated and informed about content.

Many misunderstand this as a “find the bloggers” initiative. And sure, it’s always great to identify, inspire, and encourage the development of content creators who have real domain knowledge and expertise, not to mention channels of communication into relevant sectors and target markets.

But a genuine culture of content goes far beyond enabling and empowering content creators outside of marketing.

It’s about education: what content can achieve and how those achievements might benefit them. This means fewer calls to customer service, for example, if that department can help surface issues and problems that can be addressed with content (with the additional benefit of savings).

It’s about finding more content or topics for content, perhaps from an offsite, conference, or convention where marketing isn’t attending but customers or executives are.

It’s about employee advocacy. Employees can showcase an organization as a great place to work or provide behind-the-scenes expertise where it’s needed around products (or projects).

It’s about executive buy-in. When the C-suite understands content and the role that it plays, it is more willing and able to get behind programs that spread content culturally. (This is why Nestlé’s Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital, arranged a Silicon Valley “field trip” for that company’s senior leadership — to imbue them in the culture and potential of digital communications.)

This week, at Content Marketing World, Kraft Food’s Julie Fleisher discussed company-wide initiatives around content, such as building a software platform that integrates with enterprise functions around data and CRM, and also an educational program spanning hundreds of employees and a few dozen agency partners to boot, to get everyone on the same page around content.

We’re going to see many more enterprises rally around the culture of content, creating training and evangelism programs to spread the word and foster participation. This will result in better marketing and hopefully, more openness and transparency insofar as consumers are concerned.

What has your company done lately to foster a culture of content? I’d love to hear your stories.

This post originally published on iMedia Connection

Image creditCaitlin Yardley Cell Theory: Culture Dish III 2009 

Three Ways to Integrate Content Marketing Tools

No content marketing solution is an island. As we wait for the evolution of true end-to-end content marketing stacks, each individual solution acquired for creating, publishing, targeting, or optimizing content (just to mention a few of the use case scenarios) needs to plug into and play with the other tools in the content marketing toolbox.

And that’s just the beginning of integration needs. We’ve just published research on the content marketing vendor landscape (free download here). We asked marketers questions about their integration needs for content marketing solutions beyond content itself.

Integration considerations are essential when considering content solutions. Obviously, there’s enormous consolidation and convergence of paid, owned, and earned media, as well as the evolution of content stacks. Each of the eight content marketing use cases we identified come with a host of potential integration issues, yet only 10 percent of the marketers we surveyed say their content marketing technologies are “fully integrated across people, processes, and platforms.”

Identifying essential integrations can help refine a final list of prospective content marketing vendors. We found integration is tripartite.

Integration with systems

This includes legacy as well as future platforms, such as data and analytics, CRM, and inbound marketing. Petco’s former chief content officer, Greg Seremetis, emphasized his group’s voice is only one of many at the table when new content tools are discussed and vetted inside the company.

Integration with the organization, such as internal communications, corporate intelligence, and internal networks

“Why shouldn’t our call center agents have access to same information that guests have?” asks Marriott International’s senior director of digital strategy and distribution, Meg Walsh. An agency I’m currently working with would love if someday the content production process were linked to finance so clients could be appropriately (and less manually) invoiced.

Integration with processes, including workflow and organizational structure

This may include taking outside partners and/or agencies into account. “You can’t retrofit activities to the tool; you have to align the tool with your activities,” observes to Kristina Halvorson, CEO and founder of Brain Traffic. Our research found there are common integration points marketers leverage across each use case. While not universal to all marketers’ use case scenarios, these integrations fall into eight primary categories.

The figure below charts how these common points of integration typically map against use cases.

Did we leave anything out? In an ideal world, what would you connect to the content marketing tools suite?


This post originally published on iMedia 

Going Global with Content Marketing

global_health_imageTop-down doesn’t work.

I’ve been working with a slew of enormous multinational companies recently, spanning the spectrum from appliances to CPG, technology, and a major conglomerate. All are looking at content marketing — and looking at it from a global perspective.

Content strategy is difficult enough when brands are confined to one region, country, or territory such North America or the U.K. It becomes exponentially more complex when multiplied by Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and all the component countries, territories, and regions that comprise these areas.

The one thing you’d think would be obvious, but is nonetheless still actually practiced by some surprisingly major U.S. brands, is what you might call content cultural imperialism. With the top-down approach, content is created by mission control (generally, in the U.S.), then pushed out to untrained, undedicated staff in regional offices for “translation.”

You couldn’t ask for an easier recipe for failure.

This type of content doesn’t address local interests, issues, or topicality. Content should not, in fact, be “translated” at all. Instead, it should be localized. And what of these regional offices? Why don’t they get a say — and a hand — in what’s created and shared with their constituencies?

Here are some of the ideas and best practices we’re sharing with our multinational clients, as well as seeing in the marketplace.

Regional content leaders

We recommend that every major global region (Europe, the Middle East, Asia, etc.) have someone who “owns” content marketing and content strategy. There should also be leaders on the country level. These people liaise with HQ and their colleagues and help shape content strategy on the regional and local level, as well as form and hire teams.

Local teams

The teams that execute content locally often aren’t dedicated employees. This is dependent on the size/importance of the individual territories. They are frequently drawn from social media, communications, and other marketing functions (often, inbound marketing), but they are trained in content marketing and understand the organization’s content strategy.

Agencies

Rather than hire at the local level, many companies, particularly those in CPG and automotive, rely on global agencies to do the heavy lifting when it comes to localizing content on a region-by-region and country-by-country basis. It’s still a good idea to maintain brand oversight of the agency relationship on at least a regional level.

Master, regional, and local editorial calendars

Just as one size doesn’t fit all in terms of universal content, editorial calendars must differ across regions and at the country level. Holidays, business events, and product launches are just a few examples of where things will differ and must be accounted for in terms of scheduling and cadence.

Shared access to assets

It’s critical that regional offices have access to content assets and that they are able to share assets that they produce locally (events, launches, speeches, visits, etc.). When building digital asset management or other shred asset systems, taking into account local needs such as language is an important consideration. VMWare, for example, has a central DAM just for the EMEA region.

Vocabulary

It’s surprising, particularly with technology clients, how often vocabulary pops up as a sensitive issue. New technologies and new concepts often aren’t yet directly translatable into local languages — much less topics of local discussion or concern — raising issues far beyond translation, such as initially introducing new concepts into the marketplace before beginning to actually discuss them as if they had always existed.

Topicality

Simply stated, issues that matter here may not be of burning importance there (and vice versa). Current events, news cycles, local tastes and customs, religion, habits, cultural biases — all these and more impact content: how it’s conceived, created, presented, and portrayed. All the more reason to have feet on the ground creating and refining, not merely “translating” messages from HQ.

Real-time marketing concerns

Even brands that are promoting the same content in the same language may elect to do so via different media channels when they need to harness the dynamism and immediacy of real-time marketing and real-time conversations. HP, for example, sparks English-language conversation on its Indian Facebook page, so the conversation can happen in real-time while denizens of other English-speaking countries are sleeping. Time zones play a part here also, not merely languages and cultures.

This post originally published on iMedia Connection 

For The Right Content Marketing Answers, Ask The Right Content Strategy Questions

content-marketing-featuredA big box retailer’s chief content officer of reached out recently with a question. Here’s what he wanted to know:

What is the percentage of content you see utilized comparatively that’s company generated versus user-generated versus contributor generated? I’m trying to see how others are looking at their mix.”

What would you have told him?

The proportional mix of content marketing tactics is a topic I haven’t researched as an analyst. While it would be interesting to explore, I suspect there’s never going to be a “right” answer — as is common in the marketing world, it ultimately depends on your business. In other words, it doesn’t matter what the other guys are doing. What matters is what’s right for you.

In addition to company-, user- and contributor-content, there are other sources of content as well, such as aggregated and curated content. All can contribute significantly to a content mix. Similarly, they can be components of different campaigns and initiatives.

Dell’s Tech Page One, for example, combines company + commissioned + curated content (as does their newly launched native advertising campaign in the NY Times).

Virgin, Blackberry and Intel all support robust content curation/aggregation sites in addition to creating significant content in the other buckets mentioned above. My company encourages individual analysts to create original content on our personal blogs and other social media channels, in addition to the research we publish and make available under Creative Commons.

Many retailers these days (though not the company that reached out to me with this question) are encouraging store associates to create content, often equipping them with mobile devices that allow them to tweet, post, photograph and video from the showroom floor. And of course, another tried-and-true retail content cornerstone is user-generated content — everything from user reviews to unboxing videos.

The right mix of content will always be “it depends.” If you’re selling jeans or computers to shoppers at the mall, it probably doesn’t matter that much what Red Bull or Intel or SAP are doing, content-wise. Their activities may provide ideas and inspiration — but at the end of the day, you’re in a different vertical, selling a different product, and targeting a different audience. Your content strategy needs to be aligned with your own business goals, not with someone else’s.

Content Strategy Is The Foundation Of Content Marketing

At the end of the day, the mix of content channels, media, and tactics loops back to content strategy. Virgin’s strategy is to reach millennials via news, both on their curated site and with native offerings on Buzzfeed. Intel created IQ so its staff could reach out to contacts in the industry, potential clients, etc., with targeted, relevant content. More original content that they themselves produce resides in other channels and serves other strategic goals.

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

Instagram Carefully, Respectfully, Selectively, Bows Native Advertising Offering

IG Levis

Instagram Native Ad Prototype from Levis

As the company recently strongly hinted it would, Instagram today announced it will debut advertising on the platform early next month – native advertising, that is.  Aligned with the definition of the term in the research I recently published, the ad creative will be photos from the advertisers’ own Instagram accounts that appear in the feed, differentiated by a “Sponsored” notice in the upper right corner which users can tap on for deeper disclosure.

Just prior to today’s announcement, I discussed the launch with Instagram’s Emily White, director of business operations and Jeff Kanter, product manager. Their approach to monetizing the platform is so careful you could almost characterize it as curatorial. Ten brands were hand picked as launch advertisers based on the “great things” they’re already doing on Instagram: Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Burberry, GE, Lexus, Macy’s, Michael Kors, PayPal, and Starwood Hotels.

White says Instagrams’ users come to “be inspired,” and these brands maintain a level of quality that’s inspirational. Which is why the initial metrics for the campaigns will be heavily brand centric: recall, brand lift and awareness. “There’s a lot of value in impressions and views that may not be captured in likes or comments. Instagram will guarantee a certain number of impressions initially, which will vary by campaign. This is a premium brand advertising product. Success is brand lift over a longer period of time.”

The ads will initially appear in the feeds of U.S. users who are 18 and older with very minimal targeting by segment. No social data will be used in targeting, instead broader segments (e.g. male vs. female), “Somewhat like a magazine experience,” says White.

“We’re really focused on maintaining a high bar and will publish quality guidelines,” added Kanter, who explained that users can opt out of ads, Facebook style, on a case by case basis (but not opt out of the entire Instagram advertising experience).

While not having seen this in the wild (the ads don’t launch for another week or so), I’m impressed. We’ve mapped eight critical element for success, and Instagram is apparently conforming to each of them right out of the gate, from disclosure and transparency (that “Sponsored” link) to education (published quality guidelines for advertisers).

Next? Let’s hope we hear from the advertisers by the end of the year with a progress report, as well as lessons learned. This is new terrain not just for Instagram, but for the industry as a whole.