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The Morality Clause in Digital Marketing

If you very honestly, in your heart of hearts, don’t want a digital marketing initiative to succeed, should you take on the project?

The issue is a constant one, of course, and hardly limited to digital, but nothing brings it into sharp relief quite like an election year. Perhaps that’s why discussions about the ethical dilemmas inherent in digital marketing assignments and clients have been cropping up with increasing frequency over drinks and lunches, at conferences and in my private meetings between digital executives.

The topic? That job (or project, or client) you walked away from — or didn’t — when it becomes a question of ethics, beliefs or political opinion.

Just last week, a friend and colleague told me about walking away from what, by any standards, was a crazy sum of money offered by the Koch brothers for a digital marketing project. Like, really crazy money.

“I could have remodeled my mother’s house for only one day of work, but I talked to my husband about it and finally had to say no,” she confided over a cocktail.

When marketers set aside their personal beliefs

Digital marketers don’t always say no to the causes and to the candidates they don’t believe in.

Back in 2004 — which seems like recent history but was when digital was only beginning to go really mainstream — I knew a San Francisco-based digital executive giving his all to George W. Bush’s second campaign. This was someone whose personal politics perfectly matched his demographic (that of a San Francisco-based digital marketing executive).

Over lunch at the city’s Embarcadero Center one day, he confided that he took on the assignment “because digital needs this push.”

That’s not dissimilar to the left-leaning NYC executive who, eight years ago, managed a substantial portion of Sarah Palin’s digital campaign. Personal beliefs and personal politics were conveniently set aside.

It’s been a fraught year, politically speaking. The most recent stand-taking has been against North Carolina’s HB2 “bathroom bill.” In additional to celebrities like Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, dozens of companies, many in tech, have registered their disapproval, and most have enacted or threatened sanctions against the state.

More recently, Microsoft has stated it will not this year, as in years past, donate money to the Republican convention.

These aren’t easy decisions for companies large or small. I’ve seen smaller agencies and individual marketers alike struggle over the past couple of years, deciding whether or not to join forces with a national fast-food giant (Will this set a good example for my kids and the values we have as a family?); a multinational agrochemical giant; and a national franchise that also happens to be a major donor to religious groups opposing same-sex marriage.

It’s also been a year of stunning corporate advocacy and stand-taking, such as Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff’s high-profile tweet that the company would suspend travel to Indiana following the passage of anti-gay legislation in that state, followed up days later by offering employees in that state a relocation package.

Marketers need to take a stand

Tech companies are clearly taking a stand — but are the marketers their technology enables? This election cycle is the first in years in which I don’t personally know any agencies or marketers who have taken on clients despite the fact that they espouse agendas diametrically in opposition to their own personal ethics and values.

The strength to say “no” and stand up for your convictions — whatever it is you believe — is a sign of maturity. Twelve years ago, my acquaintance hoped to demonstrate the maturity of digital by setting aside his views and saying  “yes” to George W. Bush. Now, digital has evolved to the point that such a thing isn’t necessary.

When enterprises like PayPal, Apple, Google, HP, Salesforce, IBM, Microsoft, Yahoo and a host of others choose to walk away from, rather than engage with, states and politicians that don’t reflect their, or their employees’, values, they’re demonstrating integrity, but something more as well.

They’re exhibiting independence and self-determination.

Personally, I’ve walked away from perfectly good money from what to me were unjustifiable sources: the pro-gun lobby and a group dedicated to dismantling Planned Parenthood. (Given my own solidly blue state and female demographic, it remains a point of wonder that I was even approached by these organizations.)

Because at the end of the day, it’s not just about the money if you’re a marketer. You have to ask yourself, “What if the marketing actually works?”

This post originally published in MarketingLand

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Reasons for Online Advertising's Eclipse

Digital advertising effectiveness is on the decline and marketers are turning to other forms of marketing to better engage customers during their digital journey.

Content marketing has emerged as something of a savior in the new marketing hierarchy as brands seek alternatives to display advertising that no longer produces tangible business results.  

These are the top findings in new research I recently published under the auspices of ScribbleLive and Visually (free download).

The research explores how marketers can build customer-centric marketing strategies that rely more on valuable content and less on paid media buys.

Consumer Attitudes, Data Privacy, and New Digital Channels Drive Change

Though rampant advertising fraud and a lack of online engagement contribute to the shift from advertising to more content-based marketing, they aren’t the sole driving forces.  Additional factors spurring the shift from advertising to content include:

Attitudinal: Consumers dislike and mistrust online ads, with 30% reporting online advertising is not effective, and 54% believe web banner ads don’t work. Adding adjectives to injury, more than half of consumers apply the terms “annoying,” “distracting,” and “invasive” to desktop and mobile web ads, according to an Adobe study.

Privacy and Safety: TrustE reports that one in four consumers worry about the security or privacy of the data collected on smart devices, and only 20% believe the benefits of smart devices outweigh these concerns. They are also concerned about malware attacks and location-specific surveillance.

Channel and Platform Proliferation: New social platforms and converged media formats, like hybrid native advertising, challenge marketers to create not only more content than ever before, but also content that can be easily adapted. It’s more challenging (and, complex) to manufacture content that fits paid, owned, earned, and converged media channels than it is to focus solely on advertising. Marketers today find it increasingly necessary to invest in multiple channels to avoid risk, as efficacy typically waxes and wanes between channels and platforms. Experimenting with new channels can pay off though, as Unilever found that buzz derived from its social content was significantly driving sales. This resulted in the company investing “tens of millions” more into its social presence.

Mobile: As mobile overtakes not only desktop computing but also television in media consumption hours spent, marketers are increasingly challenged by the decrease of advertising “real estate” on devices’ smaller screens. Mobile’s intrinsically personal nature also makes interruptive forms of advertising seem all the more invasive. Additionally, there’s an escalating cost to consumers, as mobile advertising becomes bandwidth intensive, eating into data plans more than opt-in content counterparts.

Omni-channel: There's a growing realization among even those brands that remain satisfied with digital advertising that the ability to buy, target, and optimize banners is now "table stakes," as Yext CMO Jeffrey Rohrs puts it, in an “increasingly complex landscape.” This complexity of multiple channels with complementary content needs raises challenges for brands as they transition from a paid, push-media mindset to creating a thriving content ecosystem. Retailers and CPG brands are expanding content outward from phones and desktop computers and into in-store kiosks and other retail experiences.  

Intel has partnered with Turner and Mark Burnett to produce a reality show spawning a cosmos of content, offline and off. "A consumer seeing 10 sequential pieces of content is more valuable to us than seeing the same banner ad 10 times," said Becky Brown, Intel's vice president, global marketing and communications and director, Digital Marketing and Media Group.

Marriott's David Beebee also shared (at a recent conference) that the company has repurposed content that resonates on its owned digital media channels for out-of-home billboard executions, quipping, “a multi-tiered paid model for digital content is as juicy an opportunity as a brand could hope for.”

It's not all gloom and doom – the research contains pragmatic recommendations for shifting investment from paid to owned and earned media. Give the report a read and let me know your reactions.

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New Research: Content Methodology: A New Model for Content Marketing

Content Methodology: A New Model for Content Marketing

Just published is a new report I co-authored with Joe Lazauskas for client Contently, Content Methodology: A New Model for Content Marketing.

It looks at:

  • Why a content methodology has become critical to modern enterprises.

  • How leading organizations are developing a culture that facilitates the creation of great content.

  • A step-by-step guide to developing a content methodology.

  • A framework for continuously improving a brand’s content over time.

Thanks for giving it a read, and for sharing your thoughts.

 

Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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