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.


Social Marketing for Startups

No not that kind of social. Meat-space social. Office party social.

Too many start-ups are spending too much of their (very limited) budgets on social events that completely and utterly neglect to factor into the equation – or the festivities – that there are actual business goals behind the events in question. Too many events are a waste of money, and squandered opportunity.

The start-up party I attended last night was just one more of a slew of recent examples. It was an office warming for a company I’ve dealt with plenty over the phone and via email, but have never met any employees F2F (though I’ve “known” one of the co-founders from his previous roles). I arrived eager to meet him in person, as well as his partner and members of the marketing staff II’ve been in touch with. The company is, after all, squarely in my coverage area.

The elevator ride upstairs was promising. I made the acquaintance of three friendly people. Upstairs was a healthy crowd of people eating, drinking and socializing – the stuff people do at parties. I had enjoyable conversations. I met new people. But I was unable to meet (literally) or even to identify a single employee of the company in question. There was no one who was able to facilitate an introduction to the four people I knew were in the room who I knew I knew.

Which is crazy. Particularly in light of the fact that they recently requested a meeting, which I declined (it’s hard to get out of my own office in the middle of the day). But I did agree to attend this party, and I made good on my bargain.

Not to single out last night’s host – this happens again and again. An unfacilitated mob scene is one thing at SXSW, but start-ups can’t afford to lose the opportunities and relationship building that they are presumably throwing a party to build in the first place.

Here’s how the start-up in question could have better leveraged what was, in essence, random beer-drinking and snack-eating:

1. RSVP list: Check people in at the door. It’s useful to know who was there (we did respond to an Eventbrite invitation – so the list exists). This aids tremendously in post-party follow-up, too.

2. Crib notes Key employees can indicate who they invited/hope to meet at events so introductions and connections can be made.

3. Greeters To facilitate business, and other introductions, throw PR staff or even some interns on door duty. “Hi, we’re so glad you’re here. Can I introduce you to [sales, marketing, the founder]? Have a great time, and if you need anything my name is X.”

4. Identify employees T-shirts, badges, nametags, whatever. If I could have ID’d someone employed by the company in question last night, I could have made the connections I specifically came to make. No one I talked to in a room of a couple hundred strangers was an employee, or could say with certainty who was.

5. Make a tiny little speech This is where you clink the glass, clear your throat, and thank people very much for coming. Then you say, “I’m the CEO, Susan here heads marketing, Dan’s in charge of sales, etc.” It helps your business, and it helps your guests.

None of this is rocket science. But start-ups, please do remember that there’s a reason potential clients, analysts, media and partners attend your parties. And it’s not all about the free beer.

Image credit: Aristocat


Media Model Threats: The New York Times vs. Grand Central Terminal

4:15:13 4:36 PM

Recycling Bin, Grand Central Terminal

Digital is hardly the only disruption threatening media business models. So too is…reclycling?

Recently I was privileged to take a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal, which this year is celebrating its centenary. In addition to many rare and privileged experiences (Deep in the basement, New York’s oldest computer dating from 1911! Popping open the VI of the famed Tiffany clock and sticking my head out over Park Avenue!), our scarily knowledgeable guide shared an interesting fact about the threat to print publishing posed by the paper recyling bins installed in the terminal in 1990.

On Day One of the recycling program, the new bins collected an astonishing five tons of (mostly) newspapers discarded by commuters, making it America’s largest recycling plant overnight. However the program had done its homework, and knew six tons of paper waste passed through the station daily. So where was the missing ton of newsprint?

Left on the trains? No, they looked. Thrown out with the regular trash? Not there, either. Closer scrutiny was called for, and the case was soon cracked. Commuters (including many affluent ones sporting mink coats and Armani suits, noted our guide) were fishing papers out of the newly installed recycling bins to “recycle” the papers themselves. The terminal, noting a trend, issued a press release. The story was covered on the evening news.

The next morning, the phones at Grand Central Terminal were ringing off the hook. The New York Times was enraged to learn that terminal’s recycling program was undercutting newsstand sales.

The result? Since 2001, the Times has been paying a pretty penny for a contract that reportedly lasts into perpetuity to maintain the on site recycling bins — bins that are taller and deeper than any commuter could ever hope to snag a discarded paper out of.

Problem Solved?

Perhaps the Times has gained newsstand sales as a result of this measure, but it’s one that calls into question the nature of the newspaper and magazine business. Does the Times want to sell news – or papers? The two are no longer intrinsically bound. Digital-only subscriptions are an increasingly important part of the Grey Lady’s revenue model.

But not important enough. So long as publishing – and ad rates – are dictated by outmoded print circulation numbers, publishers will push papers harder than they will content.

Case in point: After acquiring an iPad, I phoned the New Yorker to request my longstanding subscription be switched to digital only. Heck, I travel too much to even collect the snail mail edition from the mailbox.

Condé Nast was more than happy to comply, a rep informed me. All I had to do to secure a digital-only subscription to the magazine was agree to pay double – double – the annual subscription rate for the print/digital bundle.

Recycling indeed.


Real-Time Marketing: Seven Inspiring Examples

Real-time marketing means reacting in real, or near-real time. It’s about relevant messaging, and it’s achieved in social channels by listening to and anticipating customer needs.

Paid media (advertising), earned media (content), and owned media (social and PR) are rapidly converging into just … media. Digital channels have long enabled real time optimization of display advertising, but as social listening and monitoring tools proliferate nearly as quickly as social media channels, real-time matters more to marketers. This is true not just because of social media, but also because social is now what provides the creative impetus for paid and owned media. Based on research my colleague Jeremiah Owyang and I very recently jointly published, the new real-time marketing work cycle looks something like this:

altimiter group real time marketing resized 600

Real-time marketing demonstrably works — not just in social channels, but across the marketing spectrum. A recent GolinHarris study finds real-time not only positively impacts standard marketing goals — word-of-mouth, attention, preference, likelihood to try or buy — but it also turbocharges other marketing initiatives, including paid and owned media effectiveness.

real time marketing resized 600

How Real Companies Are Leveraging the Power of Real-Time Marketing

That’s all well and good, but in the real world, how are marketers working in real time? There are lots of examples from brands you probably recognize, and most break into one of two buckets: event driven, and customer driven. The former category is what this post will focus on. Event driven real-time marketing embraces public events — think a major sporting event, the Oscars, or Fashion Week. Brand events like trade shows or product launches fall into this category, too. You can even count breaking news in this bucket. Let’s review seven examples of real brands going real-time with their marketing to spark your creativity.

For the case examples, please read the rest of this post on HubSport’s blog.


Why Organizations Must Be Faster Than Real Time

Altimeter Group

“I’ll check with my supervisor and get back to you.”

Why doesn’t that remark cut it anymore? More often than not, it’s symptomatic of an organization that isn’t adaptive. One that hasn’t taken advantage of new technologies, or empowered (or trained, or created policies around) the tools and technologies available to their employees. Tools their employees are very likely already versed in and using in their personal lives.

The adaptive organization is one of the themes I’m working on this year as a research analyst. Its ramifications directly target corporate leadership: CEOs, COOs, etc. Next in line is the marketing organization (and who hasn’t heard the refrain that today’s CMO may well be tomorrow’s CTO?).

Marketing organizations are currently siloed. There’s advertising, social, and communications. Digital may be walled off from traditional, content from display and broadcast. All these divisions function as fiefdoms, competing internally for budget and prominence. Within digital alone, there may be display, search, social, email and a long line of sundry et ceteras competing for a piece of the pie

Incentives to work cooperatively are often minimal at best within organizations. Small wonder brands have difficulties getting external agencies, vendors and marketing service providers to work in concert. These constituencies have business and revenue models even less conducive to opening kimonos than do internal staff.

Having just done a deep dive on how paid, earned and owned media are converging (The Converged Media Imperative), it’s become abundantly clear that organizations need to adapt – now – to flow learnings, functions, processes, creative and analytics across all three media channels while eliminating redundancies. Moreover, it’s increasingly necessary to do so with extremely agility; ideally, in real time or something very close to it.

Flowing paid, earned and owned media together is a team effort. Each channel is, on its own, highly specialized. Yet commingling these channels not only results in demonstrably better results for digital marketing initiatives. Converged media is also rapidly flowing out into the “real world” of traditional media as well as offline inevitably becomes more digital. Already we’re seeing examples of converged paid, owned and earned media occur on digital billboards and on television.

Some forward-thinking marketers are already erasing hierarchies between media types. Just weeks ago, Intel’s Nancy Bhagat blended the company’s global and social media teams into a single marketing strategy operation.

“Why does this make sense?,” asks Bhagat on her blog, “ I found we were having similar conversations across teams. The role of communities is not exclusive to the social space. Our paid media partners are looking for ways to drive engagement and conversation in ways previously unheard of. Our social partners are open in an exciting way to new product ideas and testing. The idea of ‘test and learn’ has never been so real.”

So real, or so difficult for enterprise organizations. Take content marketing, for example – or ‘owned’ media. Content is absolutely essential and central to paid, owned and earned initiatives. Without solid content, brands cannot achieve earned media at scale. Earned media amplifies messaging, builds word of mouth and buzz, spreads awareness, and with increasing frequency surfaces those ideas that become the core of creative advertising strategy.

Yet most organizations have yet to develop a plan or an organizational model to create, disseminate, publish, share and govern content. There’s general awareness that content strategy and marketing reside in the marketing org chart, but where? Just today, I spoke with an organization trying to unknot who is creating content where in the enterprise. Are efforts being reduplicated? Resources shared? Best practices and guidelines adhered to?

Their best detective efforts have thus far surfaced over 25 individuals in six distinct divisions who “do” content. It’s assumed very few of these people have met in person, much less collaborated. It’s assumed each group uses its own ad hoc software solutions for managing creation, workflow, resources, etc. Clearly, findings and insights are shared between these disparate content creators, much less their colleagues across the marketing organization.

Real time insights and optimization, and shared learnings that inform other initiatives (not to mention that can inform their own work) are an impossibility in vertically organized, hierarchical organizations. Enterprises must be able to move as quickly as their customers do. This requires bold realignment as well as informed empowerment.


The Converged Media Imperative

In the late 20th century, when the commercial internet was in its infancy, there was  no end to the griping about “silos.” Back then silos referred to That Which Is Digital and That Which Is Not Digital. The gripe (from the digital side of the equation) was that the not-digital team got all the budget, and didn’t even accord the digitals a place at the table.

So ingrained was the silo grudge that no one, but no one, grew to understand silos better than the digitals. In a scant decade, more digital silos emerged than you can shake a stick at: Search. Email. Display. Social. Analytics. Online video. CGM. CRM. Targeting. Retargeting.

The list goes on. Digital is, after all, highly technological and all these areas legitimately require high degrees of specialization. They still do, but now there’s a very compelling reason for digital to stop the Balkanization it so actively criticized just a few short years ago.

The reason? Media are converging. The new research report I publish today, together with co-author Jeremiah Owyang (we were ably assisted by Jessica Groopman and Chris Silva) reveals that consumers, who flit like so many butterflys between devices, screens, windows and channels, are making little distinction between media types.

Paid, owned, and earned media? It’s rapidly becoming all just…media. Ads, blog post, social interactions – either they’re interesting (or entertaining, or engaging, or helpful, etc.), or they’re not.  Brands must integrate paid, owned and earned channels now. It will not only make marketing more effective and efficient, but it will prepare them for the future. As traditional media becomes increasingly digital, this trends is beginning to occur offline, too.

Converged media is tough to wrap your arms around. Paid must inform owned which must inform earned, and vice versa, and sideways, too. It’s complicated, but it can pay off in much-improved optimization, reach, insights and above all, effectiveness. We like to think of it as a stool. Three legs (paid, owned and earned) provide a better foundation than one or two would.

To effectively commingle paid, owned and earned media, brands must get everyone around the table and make them play nice together – easier said than done. Ecosystem players such as software vendors and agencies have areas of specialization – not to mention revenue models – that rarely scope beyond one of these three channels.

Yet effectively converging media brings with it an advantage beyond more effective advertising and marketing.  Integrating teams, both internally and externally, will help smash the multitude of silos that litter the digital landscape.

Converged media is both a reality and an opportunity for better integration and collaboration across a myriad of digital specializations. Imagine the possibilities when we all start really collaborating with each other!

As with our other reports, The Converged Media Imperative is published under the Open Research model. Use it. Share it. And we’ll publish more.


The Necessity of Storytelling

At ad:tech San Francisco last week, I caught up with the team from AllVoices to discuss storytelling as marketing


Paid > Earned > Owned > Earned > Paid > Owned > Paid > Earned

Advertising and in media are experiencing a moment of convergence. The lines are blurring between paid, earned and owned media. Each is bleeding into the other, blurring the lines between where advertising, marketing and consumer-generated media begin…and end.

Examples of earned and owned media that morph into paid:

Facebook: Among their new ad units are pieces of content (owned media) from brand pages that can be converted into an ad unit. “Anything you can do on your page,” Facebook promises  brand advertisers, “you can do in an ad.” Earned gets rolled into the equation as these ads are displayed to friends-of-fans, along with Likes and other forms of CGM.

Bazaarvoice: The company that built its reputation on powering ratings and reviews has moved these forms of owned media into both paid and owned media. Take their new ad units that display user review in standard display formats. Reviews can be targeted on a number of demographic and behavioral factors, e.g. gender, geo-location, or products viewed.

Microsoft: dotJWT created a campaign aimed at the IT community by monitoring conversations in an online discussion network. Comments that were particularly favorable or trenchant were pulled from the private community and plunked into display units. “Geeks don’t respond to advertising, they respond to other geeks,” dotJWT head Jon Baker told me.

This examples are just the tip of a very large iceberg. Paid can take a reverse course and morph into owned. And earned. Or both. Consider the long lives of advertising spokes-characters on the web: The Old Spice Guy. The Most Interesting Man in the World. Seinfeld & Superman. This list seems endless.

So, with the publication of a research report on content marketing behind me, it’s time to take notes, amass material and look into another area of digital disruption: the convergence and confluence of paid, earned and owned. I’ll be working on this project with my colleague Jeremiah Owyang. Stay tuned for more on the topic as our research theme takes shape and the process begins.


The Future of Content Marketing

Four months, 56 senior marketing executives, one topic: content marketing.

My team and I have been conducting some deep research on how organizations are rebalancing in their shift to find equilibrium between “push” (read advertising) and “pull” (read content) marketing initiatives, and the results of this research have just been published. (It’s available to download here.)

We learned a lot about how companies are adjusting culturally, in terms of resources, training, staffing, and how they’re using external service providers. We identified five phases of content marketing maturity organizations achieve on this journey. But one of the most fascinating aspects of the study was talking to marketers from organizations such as Ford Motors, IBM, GE, Coca-Cola, Adobe, Nestlé, ToysRUs, and a host of other household-name brands about the channels they’re currently using for their content initiatives, and the channels they plan to use in the future.

The future of content marketing

Understanding marketers’ content channel needs and priorities is critical to the process of rebalancing. While determining which channels content should be used must always be approached strategically, and with a view toward overall marketing goals, it cannot be ignored that each new digital channel brings with it new technological and budgetary requirements.

We found marketers are increasingly looking toward more technology complex channels, such as video and mobile, for content marketing. At the same time, they’re lessening their dependence on text-based channels including blogging, bylined articles, and online PR. This means they’ll have to up their content marketing budgets. Creating and distributing multimedia and mobile content require greater investment in technical and production expertise, not to mention measurement, than does text-based content.

As marketers become more ambitious technologically and, at the same time, less reliant on advertising, the need to ramp skills, hire and budget effectively, and plan for the future become correspondingly more complex. Consumer preferences and trends put increased pressure on this area. Blogs have receded in significance as more social channels and video have risen to the fore. Visual content is increasing in importance. Marketers aren’t only interested in video, but are looking to images and infographics to tell their stories. So, apparently, are consumers – how else can you account for the meteoric growth of Pinterest?

As interesting as what marketers say they are interested in, channel-wise, is what they don’t say. Gap analysis is essential when looking at this chart. SEO hovering near zero? Email not even on the radar? Yet we know each and every marketer we interview for our study is investing serious resources in both channels.

We came to call this “bright, shiny object syndrome.” Sure, exploring mobile is a great idea, but it’s no excuse for ignoring the fundamentals. In fact, one global CPG digital chief we interviewed was quick to say the primary reason his organization invests in content is SEO.

This sin of omission should be a rallying cry to search practitioner and to email marketers. The former group has its work cut out for it if content moves as quickly and decisively into video, visual, and mobile as the leaders of marketing programs want it to. Optimizing in these channels is harder than working with HTML-based web pages. This means by definition search won’t decrease in importance. Making this new content visible and findable will be exponentially more difficult, challenging and labor intensive.

Content flowing into mobile channels and apps has to be somehow discoverable by users. SEO isn’t the only channel through which this occurs. Digital PR pros and email marketers excel at creating awareness of new initiatives such as these. Their particular digital specialties, however, are losing a bit of luster as glitzier channels push to the fore. This means they’ll have to be a bit pushier– and cleverer — to maintain a seat at the table and make their voices heard.

In the context of content marketing, it’s important to remember that as with other media, changing channels never obliterates what came before. TV didn’t kill cinemas (which didn’t kill the theatre), and home video didn’t wipe out television. We have the internet, yet print persists.

Search, email, blogging, digital PR, and  even (brace yourself) advertising have, and will continue to have a place at the table as content marketing grows in importance. And grow it will. Every single one of the 56 marketers we interviewed is increasing investment in content marketing and content strategy.

Just as organizations must rebalance to add content to the marketing mix, practitioners of specific digital marketing functions must rebalance as well. It’s time to strategize how existing skill sets will be applied to integrating content into the broader marketing equation.

Cross-posted from iMedia Connection