A Personal Transition & Career Change

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I’m in the bittersweet process of transitioning out of my role as industry analyst at Altimeter Group. I plan to remain with the company until early summer, finishing obligations and projects for some wonderful clients, including research and strategy work, as well as public speaking.

Then I’ll strike out and do something new. What, exactly, is still TBD.

I’m sharing this news for two reasons. First, transparency. At Adobe Summit last week, it was awkward to meet old friends and new acquaintances and answer the “what do you do?” question. Yes, I’m still at Altimeter, but one foot is inching toward the door.

I also want to signal my availability. I’m pleased to be in talks with a diverse list of organizations: brands, analyst firms, and agencies. I’m considering a variety of options, from remaining an analyst to putting my practitioner hat back on in a senior marketing role. I am also taking on client projects (advisory and thought leadership), as well as booking speaking engagements.

I’ve also been asked to join a number of advisory boards, an exciting prospect (unless I remain an analyst, in which case that’s a non-starter). I’m energized, daunted, nostalgic and sometimes wake up in the middle of the night, my head swimming with possibilities. It’s all good, and still very open-ended. I’m figuring this out while juggling a full workload and all the while maintaining my elite level frequent flyer status.

Working at Altimeter is one of the best jobs I ever had. I’m very proud of having produced a significant body of research on content marketing – more than any other researcher or analyst in the field – as well as my work in converged media. I’ve shared that knowledge in literally hundreds of keynotes and speeches on three continents, from major conferences to private events.

I’m also proud of my advisory and thought-leadership work with clients ranging from major banks, healthcare organizations, big-box retailers, and government agencies, to start-ups and non-profits. Recent clients include Home Depot, Adobe, Nestlé, Facebook, Gannett, Honeywell, The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Fidelity, Wells Fargo, Anthem, American Express, IAB, as well as major ad and PR agencies.

I’m also honored to be frequently tapped for commentary by media outlets such as National Public Radio, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the BBC when there’s breaking news about digital marketing or media.

And it will be my privilege to continue to contribute to the dialogue, the development, and the definitions of the disruptive technologies in marketing and media.

I’m also grateful. Charlene Li believed in me and took my career in an exciting new direction. Jeremiah Owyang supported me wholeheartedly and unconditionally as a fledgling analyst, and was an early co-author of a major piece of research. Brian Solis invited me to serve as editor of several of his reports, and to speak at his Pivot conference.  The brilliant and talented Susan Etlinger is another co-author and collaborator. We published new research together just last week.

I couldn’t ask you to name a smarter, more supportive or inspirational group of colleagues. The research team has also been exceptional. If I look good at Altimeter, so much of that credit is due to crack researchers Christine Tran, Jessica Groopman and Jaimy Syzmanski (so many names I’m omitting….)

What’s next? I’ll keep you posted. Rest assured I’ll continue to research, write and speak under my own banner in the long term.

A Business-Oriented Content Measurement Framework

The foundation of content strategy is goals. Without knowing why content will be created and published — to what end, for whom, where, and how — content marketing is at best a spurious, ad hoc activity.

Yet when my colleague and partner-in-research Susan Etlinger and I sat down around a year ago to discuss the state of content measurement, we quickly realized growth in that sector is nowhere near commensurate with the overall growth of content marketing. This lead to research into what KPIs marketers should be working toward and measuring for in content, the subject of our latest research report titled Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact (free PDF download).

Content can indeed lift sales, but it can achieve so many more measurable, revenue-linked goals associated not only with marketing, but with other business areas, from product development to customer service.  Our research outlines some of these KPIs, but goes further in that it helps marketers determine not just what to measure, but how to measure it.

Following, the key recommendations that resulted from our research:

Measurement must be the foundational principle of content strategy

In fact, there is no content strategy without measurement strategy. Before embarking on a content initiative, irrespective of medium or platform, it’s important to know what you want to achieve. Is it to drive more awareness? Build an audience? Encourage people to convert? Reduce call center expense by deflecting appropriate queries to a digital channel? Each requires different metrics — for content, yes, but also to calculate whether you have achieved your goal. Set and prioritize goals and desired outcomes, develop KPIs to track these, and measure and iterate constantly.

Every measurement strategy must focus on business outcome

Content metrics can be notoriously volume- or vanity-based, rather than outcome-based. This means that counting likes, shares, or organic reach in and of itself likely doesn’t demonstrate business value. To do that, you need to show a business outcome, using the compass in Figure 1. For example:

  1. An increase in reach can show audience growth.
  2. An increase in shares (preferably combined with other measures of engagement) can show engagement.
  3. To understand whether a content strategy has affected brand reputation, you must have a benchmark, measure sentiment, and look at the before and after. It’s critical to have an analyst who can perform this correlation with an eye to other confounding factors. For example, a “viral” video may be immensely popular, but if there is a product recall, pricing change, or other factors, it may be difficult or even impossible to assess the impact on the business overall.
    A business-oriented content measurement framework

Know your metrics and your data

Some signals, like click-through rate, are clear and relatively easy to assess. Measuring sharing behavior requires that an analyst assess multiple platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. — to define what “sharing” actually means. Compounding this issue is the fact that some of the most valuable data — for example, private Facebook data, or Snapchat data — are not available for privacy reasons. So analysts must take that into account as they assess impact and create defensible benchmarks as part of their process.

Be realistic about organizational capabilities and tools

Because content performance data comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from various platforms, it often requires a great deal of manual intervention to analyze properly. This is simply a reality of the market today; content vendors often supply their own analytics dashboards, while social media tools also serve to measure content reach, resonance, and other (content-specific) outcomes.

It is not uncommon to require a mixture of web analytics, content measurement, marketing technology, and social media tools to assess the impact of content. As a result, content strategists should work with their analysts to develop a realistic (short-term) and aspirational (long-term) measurement strategy. Otherwise, content strategists and business leaders will inevitably become frustrated, while analysts will burn out from all the manual work needed to deliver reports.

This post originally published on iMedia

A Meaningful Framework For Content Measurement

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Content has become pervasive. It fills websites, social media, advertising and collateral. It comprises words, images, audio-visual material, infographics and a host of other form factors. As media and channels proliferate, so too does content.

Yet, according to recent research I conducted, measuring content effectiveness remains the single most daunting task facing (content) marketers.

On my content marketing maturity model, applying measurement and strategy to content initiatives is the third of five levels of maturity.

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But measuring only for sales and leads – or simply relying on volume or vanity metrics such as “likes” and “views” that contain little innate business value or meaning – undermines investments in time, media, employees, technology, and vendor relationships.

Content Metrics That Matter (Beyond Sales)

Together with my colleague Susan Etlinger, whose area of expertise is data, measurement and analytics, I’ve been researching content metrics that matter beyond those applied solely (and rather bluntly) to sales.

Clearly, sales matter. But as participation in content initiatives increases and permeates outward-facing and non-marketing divisions such as human resources, customer service and support, product groups, research and development, etc., which we call the Culture of Content, the metrics and KPIs that are applied to content correspondingly shift.

Non-marketing divisions don’t directly support sales but instead have their own success criteria. To encourage participation in content initiatives company-wide, content marketing must support these other departments’ goals that clearly, while not always in a manner that ties directly to sales, are of high value to the organization. Demonstrating this value only occurs through measurement.

In the course of our research we repeatedly found most organizations are at a loss for how to create and deliver useful, insightful and business-building content, and they’re equally puzzled about what KPIs to put in place to measure content benefits.

Content Strategy Is Fundamental

Content strategy would solve for this as strategy is, after all, founded on establishing goals and benchmarks for content marketing, then selecting the tools, processes and governance that will best achieve these goals. But since most companies still lack a documented content strategy, they also fall short in knowing what they want to  (or can) measure. Additionally, they lack the tools and expertise to understand how to measure it.

Our recently-published research (free with registration) is a portfolio of case studies and examples of metrics applied in ways that illustrate the less-obvious benefits of content across a variety of scenarios: e.g. improved customer service, operational efficiencies, marketing optimization, etc. The reality is that content can support these goals, and all these goals can, in turn, correspond to monetary value.

It surprised both of us how much we had to struggle to find these case studies and examples, which underscores the underdeveloped state of content metrics.

Content Marketing Is Becoming As Integral To Business As Is Social

In 2011, Susan developed  “A Framework for Social Analytics,” in which she introduced “The Social Media Measurement Compass.” We updated that graphic in our current report to apply to content. The intent then was to demonstrate the many ways in which social media could deliver value for the business.

Now, the market has evolved to a point where content — which resides not only in earned media channels, but also in owned and paid media — has become a separate entity that is integral to organizations’ ability to scale their communication efforts.

Beyond marketing and sales, content can play a critical role in improving brand health, augmenting the customer experience, reducing cost and risk, and many other goals of the business.

Here is the updated compass, illustrating the key value propositions of a well-crafted content strategy.

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Each point represents an opportunity for business-centric measurement; that is, measurement that directly ties to business objectives and strategies. For example, operational efficiency metrics may refer to cost savings, risk, crisis management, or even productivity improvements.

These six points are by no means exhaustive, but provide a starting point for organizations eager to derive deeper insights from their content performance.

In many cases, the same “raw” metrics can be used as ingredients to answer many types of questions. In other cases, there are business or strategy-specific metrics that require data from other tools or sources, such as web analytics, business intelligence, market research, email marketing or CRM systems.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

New Research: Content Marketing Performance

16162748854_0b283dbcae_oMy latest research, Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact is hot off the presses (virtually speaking, of course). Please feel free to download a copy from the link above.

Here’s how my esteemed colleague Susan Etlinger introduced our project today, cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog:

About a year ago, Rebecca Lieb and I had a series of conversations about the emerging need for analytics that would allow content and marketing professionals to evaluate the success of their content strategies.  We discussed the predominance of “volume metrics” in content performance analysis, and the focus on linking content to conversion.

As we’ve both written before, that can be a significant challenge, for reasons having to do with attribution, browser complexity, and the complexity of human behavior in the buying cycle. So we wanted to take a look at some other ways that content marketers can gauge the success of their efforts.

The resulting report, “Content Marketing Performance: A Framework to Measure Real Business Impact,” is a look at six ways that content marketers can measure value. If that sounds familiar, it is: the social media measurement compass—which looks at brand health, marketing optimization, revenue generation, operational efficiency, customer experience and innovation—is relevant to content’s value as well.

You’ll notice that some of these case studies only include a few metrics; that is partly because some companies are reluctant to share their “secret sauce,” and because we are still in a very nascent state for content measurement. For that reason, we enriched the case studies with other metrics we’d recommend, so you can see how we might approach a measurement strategy to support specific business objectives.

 We hope this report starts a conversation on content measurement, and will be happy to link to substantive posts that discuss the issues in detail. As always, thanks for reading, and we hope you find value in this document.

– Rebecca Lieb and Susan Etlinger

I’d also like to take a moment to extend deep thanks to Senior Researcher Jessica Groopman and Research and Marketing Manager Christine Tran for their unflagging support on this project.

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

How To Conduct A Content Audit

writing-content-ss-1920A content audit is the cornerstone of content strategy, which governs content marketing. The aim is to perform a qualitative analysis of all the content on a website (or in some cases, a network of sites and/or social media presences — any content for which your organization is responsible).

Why perform a content audit, which admittedly is a painstaking and exacting exercise? Lots of reasons.

First and foremost, an audit helps determine if digital content is relevant, both to customer needs and to the goals of the organization. It can help answer important questions: Is content accurate and consistent? Does it speak in the voice of the organization? Is it optimized for search? Are tools and software, such as the content management system (CMS) up to the task of handling it?

Essentially, an audit helps assess needs, shape content governance, and help determine the feasibility of future projects.

Create A Content Inventory First

Start by recording all the content on the site into a spreadsheet or a text document by page title or by URL. Organize this information in outline form, i.e. section heading, followed by sub-sections and pages.

If it’s an e-commerce site, these headings and sub-headings might be something like: Shoes > Womens Shoes > Casual Shoes > Sandals > Dr. Scholl’s. An informational company website’s headings might look more like: X Corporation > About Us > Management > John Doe.

Content strategist Kristina Halvorson recommends assigning a unique number to each section, sub-section and page (e.g., 1.0, 1.1, 1.1.1, etc.). This can help tremendously in assigning particular pieces of content to the appropriate site section. Some content strategists also color-code different sections on spreadsheets. It gets down to a matter of personal preference, as well as the size and scale of the audit in question.

It’s also highly recommended that each section, sub-section or page contain an annotation regarding who owns each piece of content, as well as the type of content: text, image, video, PDF, press release, product page, etc. Is it created in-house? If so, by whom? Is it outsourced (third-party content, RSS feeds, blog entries, articles from periodicals)? Who’s responsible for creating, approving and publishing each piece?

The resulting document is a content inventory.

Conducting The Content Audit

Once you’ve created a content inventory, it’s time to perform the content audit. This will essentially involve digging into the quality of the content.

As you go through the audit, it’s helpful to assign a grade or ranking to every page – e.g., a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “pretty crappy” and 5 being “rockstar fantastic.”

Following are the questions you should be asking about each piece of content:

1. What’s It About?

What subjects and topics does content address? Are page and section titles, headlines and sub-heads promising what’s actually delivered in the on-page copy? Is there are good balance of content addressing products, services, customer service, and “about us” information?

2. Is It Accurate & Up-To-Date?

In other words, is the content topical? Are there outdated products, hyperlinks, or outdated and/or inaccurate information lurking in nooks and crannies of the site? As mentioned above, localities, employees, pricing, industry data and statistics and other information change over time. In addition to checking for factual accuracy, content that is outdated should be identified as “update/revise” or “remove.”

3. Does It Support Both User And Business Goals?

Many stakeholders feed into a company’s digital presence: senior management, sales, marketing, PR and customer service (to name but a few).

Different divisions may be trying to achieve varying goals in “their” section of a site or blog, but fundamentally all content must very gracefully serve two masters: the needs of the business and the needs of the customer.

This means, for example, that calls-to-action must be clear, but not so overwhelming that they get in the way of the user experience. The content audit grades content on its ability to achieve both of these goals while staying in balance.

4. Are People Finding And Using The Content?

This is where web analytics comes into play. What types of content — and what pages in particular — are the most and least popular on the site in question? Where do users spend time, and where do they go when they leave? Are they taking desired actions on a page? What search keywords and phrases bring them to the site?

It’s not enough that content is simply there. The data can reveal what’s working (and what’s not) and help inform a strategy that supports more of the types of content users prefer.

5. Is It Clean And Professional?

Is page copy consistent in tone? Are spelling, punctuation and grammar consistent and correct? Are abbreviations and acronyms standard? If the site has a style guide, is it being followed? Are images captioned in a consistent manner, and properly placed/oriented on the page? Do hyperlinks follow any predesignated rules (e.g., open a new page in a separate browser window)?

6. Is Content Logically Organized?

Does the site contain tacked-on pages that don’t follow navigational structure? Does the overall navigation make sense? Are there redundancies, such as a site that includes a “Personal Finance” section in the top-level navigation, then again lists that section in a sub-menu under the heading “Money & Careers”?

7. Does The Content Have A Consistent Voice?

Every brand or business has a distinct voice that expresses its personality. Serious, irreverent, scholarly, authoritative – all are valid, but the tone, language and mode of expression must be a fit and must be consistent with the brand. This step evaluates the content’s tendency to spill into multiple personality disorder.

8. Are Basic SEO Elements In Place? 

Review the page’s title, keywords, metadata, headings and image tags.

Are target keywords and phrases used on the page? Are page descriptions and metadata employed appropriately? Are images and multimedia files captioned, and is metadata employed to make them search-engine friendly? Are headlines optimized for search?

Search engine optimization begins and ends with content, so evaluating to what extent content conforms to best practices in search is an essential part of an audit.

9. What Content Is Missing?

Conducting a content audit focuses so much attention on what’s there that it’s often too easy to overlook what’s not there. An essential step in any audit is therefore to identify weaknesses, gaps and content needs.

A site may be rich in information on how to order, for example; but, are issues surrounding shipping and order fulfillment adequately addressed? Is the press/media section strong on press releases, but weak on photos and video offerings? Does the company blog address company issues heavily, but general industry trends not at all?

What’s missing speaks volumes about the forward direction of a content strategy.

Use Your Findings To Identify Needed Changes/Actions

This is where the rubber hits the road. It’s not enough to produce a giant spreadsheet. The goal is to define gaps and problems, as well as to identify strengths, and develop specific recommendations for improvement.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

When All Media Are Just Media, What Happens to Advertising?

Fast-forward: not only did I finally get cable, I worked in cable. I held senior marketing positions at a handful of networks before leaving television — both the profession and the connection — behind for the brave new world of digital.

Or so I thought. Suddenly, there’s ever less discernable difference between television and online programming. The options are as dizzying as the satellite multiverse: Netflix, Hulu, Netflix, Hulu, Roku, Amazon, Chromecast, and Apple TV. Last week, NBC streamed the Super Bowl (free) for the first time to all comers.

CBS launched All Access, a standalone streaming service delivers hit shows and the back catalogue for $5.99 a month, and HBO is poised to go well beyond its cable-bundled HBO GO streaming service by delivering a standalone service this April.

“It is time to remove all barriers to those who want HBO,” said Chairman and CEO Richard Plepler in a statement, “All in, there are 80 million homes that do not have HBO and we will use all means at our disposal to go after them.”

Television isn’t going away any time soon, but its delivery method is changing at warp speed. According to one study cord-cutting exploded from 25,000 unsubscribers in a 3-month period in 2013 to 150,000 in that same period last year. U.S. broadband-only homes are currently at roughly 10 million.

Sony, DISH, and other providers are racing to bring broadband-based television platforms to market. Their goal is not only to attract cord-cutters, but the legions of households that will never have had cable or satellite to begin with.

Bottom line: the screens that television are delivered to in the very near-term future will be no different from the ones used now for the web. Screens are screens, and programming is programming. It was mildly amusing to hear reports last week of filmmakers at Sundance holding out for “real” studio deals rather than sign with Netflix or Amazon.

Because really, what’s the diff?

Television won’t go away, nor will feature films. But when we experience them on digital screens, small or large — the same ones connected to our computers, gaming systems, smartphones, tablets, and even the Internet of Things, things will change — rapidly.

All advertising will be digital, therefore addressable. Brand experience will fragment across a multiplicity of devices, necessitating tight content strategies and unity of voice and tone, look and feel, in order not to deliver fragmented, discordant messaging. Media choices will become harder because there will be ever more channels and form factors. Personas will multiply — this week, Lexus is launching more than 1,000 videos on Facebook, each tuned to a different target.

Very soon, almost before you know it, advertising to television audiences will differ only very slightly from advertising on the web. Audiences won’t recognize the difference between the channels, nor will they care.

This post originally published on iMedia.