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New Book Available for Pre-Order

Content: The Atomic Particle of Marketing by Rebecca Lieb

My advance copies arrived yesterday, so I know my most recent book, Content: The Atomic Particle of Marketing, finally exists in the physical world.

Release dates are June 3 in Europe, June 28 in the USA. I'm as surprised as I am pleased that the title already climbing the rankings in several Amzon business categories.

Thanks for your support if you purchase a copy, and thanks even more for sharing your thoughts and reactions to these last few years of research.

 

 

 

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No Content Strategy Is an Island

As we’re (hopefully) all aware by now, content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. But content strategy requires its own foundational elements, too. Without them, that strategy is very, very difficult to architect.

Creating a content strategy obviously must precede content marketing, but your brand must have some marketing fundamentals in place to enable that process to occur. Time and time again I’ve run up against this obstacle with my clients. They’re often smart enough to know not to go ahead and just “do” content without that all-essential strategy, but they’re nevertheless lacking some of the foundational strategic elements a content strategy must hook into.

I’ve identified four essential marketing elements that must precede a content strategy. Am I leaving anything out?

1. Brand

What is a brand? There are various elements in the concept of “brand.” One is what a prospect thinks of when they consider your products or services. Another is the promise your organization makes.

Brand has to do with perception, and companies work long and hard to decide what they want that perception to be, and how to achieve it. Without brand strategy, content strategy becomes unmoored.

I’m currently working on a content strategy engagement for a divisional group of one of the world’s leading financial conglomerates. The overarching business has an established brand and brand strategy, but the brand of the division in question is still in development. Without knowing what the organization wants to be, or how it will represent itself in the marketplace, it’s difficult to come up with strategies that support this utterly central marketing pillar.

2. Messaging

Like brand, messaging is another core element of an organization that underpins content strategy (and most of the rest of marketing). What does the business want to say and convey? What does it not want to address? How will it approach its delivery of messages? Obviously this applies to content, as well as many other forms of communication.

3. Positioning

Has the organization defined where it stands in its competitive landscape? What sets it apart from other banks (or stores, or insurance companies or pharmaceutical manufacturers)? What are its unique strengths? What are its shortcomings? If you asked its staff or clients what was great about the organization, as well as what it could be doing better, how would they reply?

No company stands alone. Everything is relative. So knowing the pros, cons, ins and outs of an organization’s position is an essential content strategy framework.

4. Values

What are the company’s core values? What does it want to promote? Some organizations highlight their innovative side, others corporate responsibility and giving back to the community. Some highlight their people. Values can, of course, be a combination of a number of assets and attributes, but without firmly rooting values to practices, content strategy becomes difficult.

“Innovation” is a value one company I’ve worked with wants to promote. That’s great. But in order to do that, the company can’t just aspire to be innovative; it must be able to point to products, people, processes — something that will provide ongoing fodder for content around the topic of innovation.

It’s hard to push back and ask clients to show you how they walk the walk (rather than just talk the talk). But that’s exactly what a good content strategist will do.

Good content isn’t created out of hopes and dreams. It must be grounded in reality and in fundamental marketing principles.

Just as content strategy is the starting point for content marketing, the basics of branding, messaging, positioning and values must first be in place so content can flourish. The same applies to advertising, communications, social media and every other marketing practice.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Rise of Dubious Content Marketing Advice

For over a decade now, I’ve had a Google News alert for the term “content marketing.” I set it up around the time I delivered my first keynote on the topic and started to write my first book on the subject.

For years, it was a lonely little feed, updated mostly when a small handful of early content marketing-obsessed colleagues (Ann Handley, Lee Odden, Ardath Albee, Kristina Halvorson, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose come to mind) blogged or posted on the topic. The feed was informative, illuminating, thought-provoking and just downright useful for my research and advisory work on the topic.

No more.

Now I’m seriously considering deleting the feed, which has become a sterling example of spoiling-the-commons junk advice on content marketing from self-anointed experts, gurus, divas, mavens, swamis and supreme potentates.

My feed is now filled with link-bait. Nearly every headline contains a number or promises a list, because common wisdom dictates that particular tactic encourages click-through (4 Reasons Why; 6 Reasons Why; 5 Ways to Make; 10 Make-or-Break Skills; and 7 Questions to Ask are all headlines on page one of this morning’s feed).

The writing is often appalling, editing and proofreading non-existent.

Ignoring the ‘why’ of content

But writing and click-bait aside, there’s a commonality in the bottomless pit of content marketing advice and “thought leadership” my feed has become. These articles, columns and blog posts are overwhelmingly prescriptive and highly tactical. They almost without exception start with “content marketing” and disregard the much more fundamental question of content strategy.

Their point of departure is often about how to reach a specific audience, or how to create content for a specific channel. What they almost universally disregard is the “why” of content: actual business goals.

One recent article I randomly clicked on assured readers that the first and foremost audience to target with content is to “existing customers.” That’s certainly a valid audience for many businesses, but it most definitely isn’t a recommendation that’s universally valid.

What if the company’s priority is attracting new clients or customers? More qualified leads? Shortening the time that those leads take to convert? Creating content for different stages in the customer journey?

What if goals aren’t even sales-oriented? For example, perhaps the need is to demonstrate thought leadership in the industry, to create brand favorability.

Then there are all those “content marketing” how-tos that are channel-, rather than strategy-oriented. Lately, these have been Snapchat-heavy, due to the company’s recent IPO. But just because Snapchat is attracting attention this week doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. (Moreover, Snapchat is more of a channel and a tactic than a strategy.)

These types of prescriptive, formulaic, devoid-of-strategic-oversight articles are what give content marketing a bad name. We’ve entered the eye-rolling phase of content, when noise overwhelms signal.

And we’ve seen it all before. Ten years ago, this happened to social media. The carpetbaggers moved in, and suddenly marketers branding themselves as social media experts were crawling out of the woodwork.

I wrote about one of these social media wannabes in August 2009. Here’s an excerpt:

This social media “expert” launched a blog in July 2008. She managed three entries last calendar year, and an equal number so far this year. Six entries in 13 months on a blog with no comments, no categories, and no keywords? No thank you. Over to Twitter, then. Our social media workshop leader has been on Twitter for a scant five months! She’s following 19 people, and has 22 followers. She’s posted 26 times since joining (yes, counting tweets like “testing from my blackberry”). Some of those are references to articles she’s published online, but without links that would help you to actually find and read them.

This species of social media fraudster is perfectly representative of the type of “expert” who is quick to migrate to the next shiny new object. We had them in email, we had them in search, then social, now content.

I can’t yet say where they’ll turn up next, but I will end this little rant with a resounding caveat emptor.

Brands seeking service providers need to conduct due diligence. And put strategy ahead of tactics.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

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Watching the Future of TV

Watching the Future of TV Outcomes Eyeview Rebecca Lieb

As a recovering television executive,* I've been keeping an eye on my former industry.

Even more so now, as digital catches up and begins to overtake the broadcast model.

So I was delighted when my friends at Eyeview asked me to conduct some research on Addressable TV for the first issue of their new magazine, Outcomes (PDF magazine download). I got an opportunity to interview many trailblazers in the space including Mitch Oscar, Bill Harvey, and Tracey Sheppach.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts if you care to read the piece.

 

*I formerly headed global marketing for USA Networks International, which morphed into Universal Television Networks and before that, RTL Television in Germany, the largest non-US private network.

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Trump's Disparagement of Mainstream Media

I recently discussed Trump's unprecedented hostility toward the mainstream media with TRT World.

Here's the video.

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How Digital Advertising Will Change Under the New Administration

I just sent the following email to an Austin, Texas-based colleague:

Hey ______,  Are you aware that an ad for your company, with your name on it, appears on Breitbart’s home page? Screen shot attached. Best, Rebecca

I also tweeted out the alert, copying Sleeping Giants, a coalition “trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars.”

This issue — programmatic ads that appear on racist, sexist and otherwise extreme websites — is going to be an enormous one in the coming year. As is ad fraud.

We’ve already seen the trend developing. One of the most high-profile examples occurred late last year, when Kellogg’s learned its ads were appearing on Breitbart.com, in violation of the company’s corporate values and unbeknownst to the brand itself. Kellogg’s announced it would no longer advertise on the site, which prompted Breitbart to call for a boycott of the brand (a probable first in not just digital, but the entire history of advertising. When has a spurned media outlet ever enacted such a scorched-earth revenge against an erstwhile client?).

The issue isn’t just one of extreme political views and the even deeper polarization between Red and Blue, left and right that currently divide the nation.

Online advertising is already under siege. There’s ad fraud, ad blocking and ad skipping. Click-through rates hover around an abysmal 0.1 percent. Major advertisers, such as Kraft Foods, are rejecting up to 85 percent of marketplace ad impressions. The Association of National Advertisers engaged the help of investigative firms to probe fraudulent agency practices.

And now this.

We have a problem: Fake news and adjacency

“This” is not meant to imply a political argument. Instead, two other issues, (certainly related to the current political climate) are at play. The first is the much newer and highly publicized issue of fake news. The second is an issue as old as advertising itself: adjacency.

No advertiser wants their ads to appear next to news that’s detrimental to their product or that damages their brand. That’s why so many standard advertising contracts have adjacency clauses. Plane crash, no survivors? That page (online or off) is not where Delta, United or American Airlines wants to lure you into the happy skies.

New York Times readers remember this well. Following the events of 9/11, the paper instituted a separate section that ran ad-free to cover news of the disaster and subsequent recovery. If there’s an advertiser that wishes to promote its products directly adjacent to a seemingly never-ending stream of news about death, destruction and terror, I have yet to make that company’s acquaintance.

Fake news is a new wrinkle in the mix, one could call it adjacent to the adjacency issue. Again, no advertiser wishes to be party (or appear to endorse) lies, misinformation and propaganda. Like buying, tuning into or subscribing to a news source, advertising on that same source is an implicit endorsement of the outlet.

Vogue is a fashion authority. The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post convey a certain gravitas to their advertisers. Brands whose ads appear — however inadvertently — on fake news sites may as well be peddling X-Ray Specs in the back pages of a comic book. Or worse.

Another dimension of this newly burgeoning problem is the recent eruption of a bumper crop of hate: xenophobia, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, the list goes on. In fact, the inspiration for this column came from a recent headline on a legitimate news source, DailyBeast.com: “Alt-Right Leaders: We Aren’t Racist, We Just Hate Jews.” As of this writing, my browser is showing a Best Buy and Verizon ad next to the piece. Good luck, guys. I’ve just lost my appetite for faster DSL or a new flat-screen TV.

Again, this loops back to adjacency, even if the authority of the news source isn’t in question.

How the new climate will affect digital advertising

The new climate of fake or offensively virulent news will affect digital advertising and online media in the following ways in the short term.

  1. Already, more than 500 advertisers have pledged to block Breitbart.com from their media plans. This list will only grow. And as advertisers bow to pressure from consumers, expect ad tech players and agency trading desks to follow suit, shedding fake and offensive sites.

  2. Platforms like Facebook are under pressure to assess news stories for veracity before promoting them. Advertisers too will be called to task in the same way. Both human and machine vetting and intervention will be worked on feverishly this year.

  3. Programmatic advertising, already suffering, will descend another peg or two until these issues are at least partially resolved. Abysmal click-through rates don’t cause consumers to rise in insurrection, but supporting (or appearing to support) hate and divisiveness is another matter indeed.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Discussing Native Advertising Trends

I sat down to discuss trends in native advertising with my friends at the Native Advertising Institute during their recent conference in Berlin.

Overall, I'm seeing enormous movement away from classic advertising, a push strategy, and more adoption of 'pull' marketing techniques. Native advertising, of course, is one strong indicator of this trend. 

The NAI wrote a short piece on our talk.

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Content & Converged Media Predictions for 2017

crystal ball

It’s that time of year again, in which columnists dust off their crystal balls and peer into the next year to discern the trends, directions, and probabilities of the coming year.

I’ve got five trends on my list, explained below.

1. Contextual Content: Context will be the foundation of the next phase of content marketing. Content is moving beyond screens, and also far beyond mere personalization. Beacons, sensors and IoT enabled devices mean content is more contextual, and hyper-relevant messaging can be delivered in the "phygital" (physical + digital) world at places, times and under circumstances that are meaningful, valuable and helpful to individuals (I recently published research around this topic). Enterprises are beginning to investigate with contextual campaigns and content. They will develop methods for making highly personalized and relevant real-time messages based on triggers such as purchase history, the weather, physical location, and myriad more factors. Such campaigns are highly complex and technically demanding, but as one Disney executive once told me, “The more context there is, the higher the ROI.” Next year will be an experimental year, when trials are floated in this very new and potentially very lucrative arena.

2. Global Campaigns Enterprises are investing heavily in creating global content strategies. Content in diverse countries and regions must both ladder up to central messaging and goals while at the same time containing enough local relevance to resonate with audiences. People, processes, and technologies must be coordinated and synced - easier said than done. Moreover, doing so creates efficiencies and cost-savings, as well as just plain better content. I’ve got research on this topic publishing in early 2017 that was largely generated from work I’ve been doing for clients recently. Over the past year I’ve seen a spike in this type of planning among my clients. I’ve worked on global content strategy for both a major technology firm and helped a global non-profit shape a content strategy that encompasses 93 countries. This trend is already gaining serious momentum.

3. Content Grains Traction in the Enterprise Organizations are looking more seriously at issues surrounding content marketing, whether it be creating a global content strategy as mentioned above, or assessing needs and investments in tools, people, and other resources to ‘get content done.’ Then there’s the importance of gathering stories and assessing content needs beyond marketing into functions and lines of business ranging from sales, research and development, human resources, and other areas. To this end, content is becoming more deeply institutionalized. A fixture of the Fortune 100 list recently hired (but has not yet announced) a global content lead. Expect more formalized content positions and departments in the enterprise in the coming year.

4. Native Advertising Growth Native advertising, a form of converged media that marries content marketing with paid advertising, will continue to burgeon in 2017, providing desperately needed revenue to publishers who are investing in this more premium and customized service to advertisers. The New York Times’ content group T Brand Studio now employs 110 people. In 2015, revenues increased from $14 million to $35 million in 2015, and it now represents 18% of the company’s total digital advertising revenue. Time Inc. employs 125 people at its content group, the Foundry, and the Washington Post’s BrandStudio branded content unit also is growing quickly, as is The Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Custom Studios. This trend will be driven by the continued eclipse of more traditional forms of digital advertising (see below), as well as brands’ growing sophistication with and confidence in content marketing. It’s a win-win for everyone but ad and media agencies, as brands partner directly with publishers on native advertising campaigns.

5. “Traditional” Digital Advertising Continues Its Decline Ad blockers. Ad fraud. Set-it-and-forget it programmatic campaigns that push horrible ads to unwilling consumers. Missing frequency aps that run the same ad again, and again, and again. Long load times that eat up consumers’ data plans. Adjacency issues, now particularly with the recent explosion of fake news. Platforms like iOS that block ads completely. Falling rate cards. It seems that display advertising an’t catch a break, and video advertising isn’t far behind (most consumers don’t make it to the 5 second mark. Advertising on the web isn’t going away any time soon (if ever), but it has certainly been regulated to ugly stepchild status, both by consumers and now increasingly by brands, too. In fact, it’s this decline in the efficacy of online advertising that in large part is spurring the shift to content and to other forms of marketing in owned and earned (rather than paid) channels. While it sometimes hardly seems possible, “traditional” forms of digital advertising will get worse before they get better. That, at least, is in my crystal ball for 2017.

Happy holidays and happy new year to all.

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Global Content Strategy: It’s Gonna Be Big!

 

For the past few months, I’ve been interviewing content marketing executives at global enterprises about the challenges and opportunities they face when trying to scale up single-country or regional content marketing efforts to take them worldwide. (I’ve also been helping some brands build the strategies to make this happen.)

Here’s an advance look at some of my research findings. The full report publishes soon.

Five top global content strategy goals

When I asked global content strategy leaders what their top goals and responsibilities are, five clear themes emerged.

1. Creating a global content strategy While about half the organizations I interviewed said they have a global content strategy, the rest admit they don’t yet have that aspect of content marketing formalized. Some have domestic strategies or have worked out strategy on a country-by-country basis, but tying it all together is complex — from strategic and logistical standpoints, as well as from the perspective of convincing diverse stakeholders, groups and regions to get on the same page. If 70 percent of organizations in the US don’t yet have a documented content strategy domestically (according to numerous research studies, including my own), looping in over 93 nations is geometrically more complicated.

2. Evangelizing and socializing content strategy (and content, period) As one executive I interviewed put it, “A content strategy is just a piece of paper. The really difficult part is implementation.” “Evangelism” is a term I heard over and over. Convincing senior management to allocate budget. Determining who spearheads initiatives. Making certain numerous voices are heard, but that overarching rules and guidelines are enforced. Developing training programs, perhaps establishing a Center of Excellence. Small wonder that when asked what their principal duties as global content leaders are, “change management” was the most-cited term.

3. People Content can’t happen without people, one of the three lynchpins of enabling a strategy (the other two, process and technology, follow). A global content strategy requires buy-in from senior leadership. It also requires content leaders, often in central command roles, as well as regional leaders who can help oversee efforts on the ground in, say, Europe, Asia or Latin America. People in lines of business other than marketing have to be involved in content initiatives, too. IT is one obvious area; so, too, is legal. But the really good content leaders know looping in divisions where stories and customer-facing issues lie is also critical. This means establishing relationships with customer service, product groups and internal thought leaders, not to mention sales divisions and often even HR and recruiting. Content strategy relies on strong relationships, consensus building and the ability to tap into diverse skill sets.

4. Process The components that enable and streamline a global content strategy are, by definition, more complex than what keeps a single-country content strategy chugging along. As a content leader in Scandinavia puts it, “Process and governance are where it gets complicated and expensive. But leave these out and quality is the first casualty.” Overwhelmingly, I’m finding process is driven top-down. Most organizations have a central, overarching content strategy or, failing a formal strategy, governance on levels such as brand and/or legal. But at the same time, process must also be driven bottom up, with countries and regions given enough leeway to develop their own initiatives, and also granted sufficient resources to allow that to happen. Establishing process also means developing training. Nearly every organization I interviewed has initiated formal training, ranging from mandatory courses in topics such as Digital 101 to highly specialized modules on discrete disciplines. Finally, process encompasses metrics and KPIs, broken out for global, as well as regional and local initiatives.

5. Technology Clearly, no digital marketing initiative occurs without technology, global content marketing being no exception. Technology’s role is to enable, centralize, streamline and optimize. The number one need I heard in my interviews (as well as from companies I’ve worked with in this capacity) is centralized assets — a digital asset repository where creative elements can be easily stored, accessed and retrieved. Not only does this require the usual tool assessments, but also carefully designed taxonomies and tagging that will work across languages and cultures. Shared assets are just part of the call from collaboration tools. Unilever has saved millions of dollars worldwide by enabling shared assets and collaboration, so multiple agencies and internal stakeholders can drink from the same well, so to speak. Knowledge sharing is another important role of technology, as well as the ability to share work and results. Nestlé has built out an extensive internal social network for content creators for exactly that reason. Finally, while it’s important to assess tools for global accessibility and fluency in multiple languages and alphabets, it’s essential to understand there will be exceptions in regions like China, where firewalls create a need for separate systems.

Final thoughts

As I finalize this research, I look forward to sharing more findings.

In the meantime, if you’re conducting content marketing on a global scale, please share your successes and challenges with me.

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Eight Best Practices for Contextual Campaigns

Content moving beyond screens into the “phygital” world of beacons, sensors and the Internet of Things has been a focus of my most recent research.

Together we’ve looked at some of the benefits brands such as Nestlé, GE, Marantz, and Disney are reaping from campaigns that go well beyond “the right message to the right person at the right time.” They’re adding additional contextual elements such as purchase history, weather conditions, location and demonstrated consumer interests to create messaging and campaigns that are personalized to a degree never before possible.

Yet doing so is an immense challenge to the enterprise. Context requires getting plenty of ducks in a row (even ducks in departments other than marketing).

I asked major brands already active in the field for their best-practice recommendations for gettingcontextual marketing off the ground. Here, in aggregate, are their recommendations.

Assemble the right teams

For pilot projects, initiatives often start with just one line of business (e.g., email, customer service, social or mobile), then spread more broadly through the organization.

Education, knowledge-sharing, agility and empowerment are essential to spark thought and experimentation.

Content strategy

As with every other form of marketing, content is foundational to context. For contextual campaigns, content strategies must be significantly expanded to address different contextual elements. This must encompass not only goals and KPIs, which can be myriad, but also the many additional situations, conditions, offers, customer profiles conditions, locations, device interfaces and other specifics that go into communication and messaging.

Content strategy must also be linked to product strategy for many contextual initiatives, and it must address design and user experience to a higher degree than in other marketing scenarios.

Anticipate and script responses

The real-time nature of contextual campaigns requires outbound and inbound scenario mapping, then scripting content to address numerous potential situations and reactions, both to offers and the campaigns themselves.

Here’s an example of a social media triage process:

triage

When D+M (Marantz’s parent company) is called out for being slightly creepy with proactive customer service push messaging in response to consumer behaviors with their devices, the scripted response is, “You would expect this level of support from BMW. Why not from us?,” which the company has found to be a successful way to allay customers’ feelings of surveillance. This applies equally to potential consumer cross-domain sensitivities.

Real-time ability

Real-time and context go hand-in-hand. Location data, for example, cannot suggest a customer visit a venue when it’s closed at 11 p.m. Iced tea is an inappropriate offer for a snow day. My earlier research outlines 12 steps to prepare for real-time readiness.

Many brands already have what I’ve referred to before as “always-on war rooms” in which well-trained analytics and social media teams continually monitor digital sentiment and react and optimize their messaging in real time. The sentient world will rapidly become part of this intense, pressurized marketing function.

Permission and opt-in

Even more than with email and social channels, contextual communications cannot be pushed on unwilling or unreceptive consumers. In addition to offering value to make messaging welcome, permission is a critical component of the brand/consumer dialogue, as is an opt-out mechanism, especially for brands leveraging data across domains (e.g. in-home, in-car, in-store and so on).

The four components of permission communications every brand must consider include:

  • education
  • brand accountability
  • consent and agency
  • value/WIIFM (What’s in it for me?)

Ecosystem of internal & external partners

Consider new partnerships, both internally and externally. Contextual campaigns touch areas beyond marketing, and the data inputs and outputs can be of value for a broad variety of stakeholders.

This value can and should be used as a justification for spend, not just from marketing budgets but also from budgets of other lines of business.

Technology vendors

Understand what tech vendors bring to the table, as well as their limitations. A large player can act as a backstop but might limit experimentation.

A small, nimble startup might be better for a pilot than a national implementation. Determine who will be responsible for the chain of technology — for example, a chain of 1,000 retail locations, each with 10 beacons.

Continuous education and training

In a quickly evolving sector, it’s essential to keep abreast of tools, technologies, use cases, data and best practices.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

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Rebecca Lieb

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

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