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The Three Types of Content Marketing

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Content marketing is more than just storytelling.

Don't get me wrong. Stories are wonderful. Everyone loves them, and stories can be an enormous component of a content marketing strategy. Yet increasingly the word "story" is used in some quarters to supplant the term "content marketing," and that's just wrong. Of course, to the man with a hammer, i.e., the person with "storyteller" in their title, everything looks like that proverbial nail.

There are three types of content marketing and, as a general rule, only one of them classically "tells a story." The other two content marketing modes are equally important, and often follow the rules of a story arc while not adhering to other rules of narrative.

Here are the three types of content marketing.

Content that entertains

Content that entertains is the most likely of the three types of content marketing to "tell a story." Think viral video, comic strip, or webisode. Whole Foods' Do Something Reel film series is a prime example, and so was last year's viral hit from SquattyPotty, This Unicorn Changed the Way I Poop. Chipotle's The Scarecrow is another standout in the genre, prompting every agency with a fast-food account to receive a "build me one of these" phone call. Purina's Dear Kitten is a recent standout in this genre, so is The Lego Movie (also an example of my highest level of content maturity, monetizable marketing, with a $550M box-office take). Entertaining, storytelling content needn't always be video, there are certainly other forms. But increasingly storytelling is going visual, and audio visual, given those formats are easiest to consume on the small screen, and are more frequently shared in social channels.

Content that informs and/or educates

Overwhelmingly the choice of B2B companies, as well as B2C products and services with a high need for information/education or longer consideration and sales cycles, content that informs helps prospects evaluate options, the product or service, and make decisions. It can also, post-purchase, enhance the customer experience and lead to cross- or upselling. Marketing software maker Hubspot, for example, publishes enormous volumes of extraordinarily useful content for digital marketers and advertisers, rivaling that of trade publications in the space. American Express' OPEN Forum has been a content marketing poster child for years, but isn't a storyteller. Instead, the brand publishes information helpful to small business owners and entrepreneurs. 

Utility content

Zenni Optical doesn't tell stories to its buyers. Instead, it offers them tools to help make buying decisions. How do you measure the bridge of your nose for optimal fit? The distance between pupils? Utility content helps users accomplish tasks; think mortgage calculator from a bank. Calorie counter from a health or fitness product or service. Realtors offer tools that help homebuyers find properties and assess neighborhoods for amenities such as schools or crime rate. Unsurprisingly, utility content tends to be embodied in apps, and is idea for mobile content plays. And while arguably they may be a "story" in every mortgage or home sale or calorie, that's not the purpose of utility content. Instead, more akin to informational and educational content, it helps nudge a buyer toward a decision, as does this table from Crutchfield to calculate how big a flat screen TV to buy, based on room size.

So which of these three types of content should you invest in? (I'm asked this a lot.) The answer, I'm afraid, is "it depends." That's why content strategy is so essential. You may be able to accomplish your goals with storytelling. You may require other types of content in addition to, or instead of storytelling.

Without strategy, it's impossible to tell.

This post originally published on iMedia
 

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Content Marketing Targeting Fallacies

When I conducted a substantive survey of marketers and asked them what their biggest content marketing needs were, two responses tied for first place. The first was measurement, which I’ve written about extensively, both here and in subsequent research.

The other pain point is somewhat less discussed: audience and targeting.

This phase of content strategy is threefold: first, identifying the right audience of products and influencers that are appropriate to the product or service produced by your business. Second and third, creating and publishing the right content in the right channels to reach those defined targets.

Small wonder, then, that audience targeting is one of marketers’ top needs, given it’s a three-part process. If work I’m conducting with clients is any indicator (not to mention the conversations conducted with marketers at conferences worldwide), a primary reason why audience targeting is so difficult is a widespread refusal to take the time to develop personas.

Instead, far too many organizations are targeting not only content, but also advertising and social media messaging, to a single monolithic über-persona who by definition is not a persona (or a person, for that matter) at all.

Just as a for instance, what’s endemic in the marketing technology sector is to take the supposed shortcut of addressing all messaging to “The CMO.” The CMO is not a persona; it is a job title, and not necessarily a relevant one at that, given the CMO is by no means necessarily the buyer any more than is some vague notion of “the customer” in the CPG world.

As one of my savvier clients put it recently in a discussion of this persistent issue, “The CMO doesn’t want to talk to anyone. They want to set direction and have their VPs and staff take care of the details. They don’t come to my meetings or my roundtables. They sign IOs [insertion orders].”

Moving Beyond “The CMO”

Thinking beyond the monolithic CMO (or “our customer”) is the first and most pressing task in targeting the right audience for content or advertising initiatives by creating personas. Yet it never ceases to amaze me how many marketing organizations believe it’s possible to skip this essential strategic step.

Yes, persona creation is time-consuming. It involves parsing out the many “whos” that comprise a target audience, identifying their job titles, pain points, needs and wants.

The paths toward achieving this are many, but all involve labor, thought and methodology. Sure, speak to sales staff, but it’s more critical that clients and customers be regularly interviewed to learn why they elected to purchase your product or service over the competition’s.

Where do you provide value — price, design, ease of use, value-adds? — and how does each factor into the buyers’ differing roles? Are these people influencers in the buying decision? Approvers? Decision makers? Each has varying needs, wants and roles to play at different stages in the purchase cycle.

Tap Into Influencers

Audience targeting, however, doesn’t stop with a constellation of buyer personas. Just as critical isadding influencers to the persona mix, which broadens it considerably.

Who are influencers? The media. Industry analysts. Bloggers. Academics. Subject matter experts.

These are the voices buyers listen to. They not only can create awareness, but they reverberate up and down the purchase funnel, swaying opinion, sentiment and affirming (or dissenting) when buying decisions are made.

Everything about audience targeting is subtle, nuanced and highly calibrated. It’s hard work even before “what kind of content” and “for what channels” can begin to be addressed.

Yet for some reason, perhaps because of its very complexity, marketers shortcut defining the target audience to a hypothetical endgame (“We need to reach CMOs, and they’re on Facebook, or LinkedIn, or reading our company blog.”)

And the culmination of that endgame, the distribution piece that is channel and media selection, can’t succeed if they don’t ladder back to the essential process of carefully crafting personas.

Neither will investment in audience targeting software solutions. If they’re only used to hunt hypothetical or illogical targets, you may as well use them to seek out Bigfoot.

Sometimes there just aren’t any shortcuts. Audience targeting will always be a challenge, though it needn’t be the biggest one. You can make this task manageable with some time, effort and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Please Don’t! Five Content Marketing Don’ts For 2016

Despite content marketing‘s meteoric rise over the past couple of years — in terms of awareness, as well as adoption by brands and marketers — many misunderstandings still surround the discipline and practice. While content marketing is hardly new (it’s been around pretty much as long as there’s been media), many a misstep and misconception exist around content in digital channels.

As someone who helps dozens of brands get a handle on content marketing and how it relates to other marketing disciplines, I see the same mistakes around content committed over and over. So herewith, I give you a list of the five top content marketing missteps I see organizations commit. Let’s please all resolve to eradicate them in the New Year, shall we?

1. Executing Content Marketing Without First Developing And Documenting A Content Strategy

This occupies the first place on the list of content marketing don’ts for a reason. Incredibly, according to my own survey data and that of other researchers and analysts, a full 70 percent of organizations undertaking content marketing are still doing so without a documented strategy.

That means they’re investing time, money, resources and staff in a tactic that doesn’t have measurable goals attached.

It also means a lack of governance; they haven’t reviewed what tools, people and processes need to be attached to content initiatives to make them effective and achievable. They lack KPIs, so they don’t know if they’re getting to where they want to be.

It’s high time brands stopped doing content for content’s sake. Planning, benchmarking and attaching content initiatives to a strategy are necessary steps to take for content marketing to work effectively and efficiently.

In fact, the following four don’ts are really just subsets of this overarching need for strategy.

2. Confine Content To A Single Unit Or Vertical

Content marketing is much bigger than just content marketing. Or social media. Or PR/communications. Or advertising, search or email. Content is bigger than marketing, even.

In order to create effective content, input and output are required from across the organization, particularly from the public-facing divisions such as sales, customer service, recruiting and human resources, as well as research, product and, of course, senior management.

The organizations that really succeed in content create cultures of content, in which content functions as a well-oiled, enterprise-wide machine. Don’t fence content in; let it grow and expand.

Content works best when it’s informed by as many sources as possible.

3. Invest In Tools And Software Without A Proper Needs Assessment

There’s likely a great big gap between what you think you need to get content done and what you really need to invest in terms of content marketing tools and technology.

When I surveyed the market, the vast majority of marketers last year said their planned content marketing software investment would be in tools to help them create more content. But when asked what they need (as opposed to what they want), they have a ready response: measurement tools and audience targeting tools top their list.

This disconnect between wants and needs is directly attributable to a lack of content strategy (see #1). Assess your needs before investing in tools and software. Investments shouldn’t be a stab in the dark.

4. Avoid Content Audits

Even organizations that are willing to take the time and effort to develop and document a content strategy must resist the temptation to shortcut this very essential step. It’s easy to understand why.

Content audits, the process of carefully evaluating all digital and offline content across a multi-point scorecard (mine has more than 50 criteria) is a long and tedious process. But you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.

Audits uncover needs, gaps, weaknesses and inconsistencies you’d otherwise never find. They reveal much-needed gaps in process, style, maintenance and other aspects of content governance and process.

Moreover, stopping at that one baseline audit isn’t an option. It’s the benchmark from which future audits will be conducted.

Please, don’t skimp. Audit, at the very least, twice per year.

5. Measure Only Sales

Measurement is so powerful. Why stop at only sales? Yet sales are the only thing the majority of content marketers measure. That, or volume metrics such as likes and shares, which are interesting (and ego boosting) but don’t impart much business value.

In 2016, don’t neglect to blow out your content metrics with dollars-and-cents, ROI measurements you can take straight to the bank (or to the CFO).

Create the right strategy and content, and implement the right tools and measurement, and you can demonstrate results in areas such as product development, retention and recruiting, customer service and workplace efficiencies — all via content. Don’t think narrowly about the power and efficacy of content marketing!

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Six Content Marketing Predictions for 2016

t's that time of year again. Columnists, bloggers, prognosticators all publish their digital marketing "predictions" for the New Year.

Personally, no can do. I'm an analyst, not a clairvoyant. And I don't possess a crystal ball. But as someone who continually keeps a finger on the pulse of content marketing and content strategy, and who conducts multiple research projects on the topics (as well as updates earlier reports), I'm trained in pattern recognition. That's what analysts do, and while not infallible, research-based analysis is a better predictor of what's to come than crystal-ball gazing, tea leaves, or reading entrails.

That qualifier out of the way, here are the content trends I'll be watching in 2016:

The content stack (again)

The content stack will continue to evolve. Rather than hundreds of point solutions, marketers will soon be able to look to one-stop solutions for their content marketing needs that incorporate most (if not all) of the eight content workflow scenarios. This will simplify processes and enable tighter integration with earned and paid media.

Senior roles focused on content

Enterprises will begin to hire more senior executives to oversee content initiatives. If 2015 was the year of the content manager or director, 2016 will usher in VP and higher roles. Content is not a channel; it's related to every aspect of advertising, marketing, and communications initiatives. As such, it requires senior, strategic oversight -- something companies are coming to recognize.

A continued need for strategy

Content strategy will accelerate, but not enough. My research findings correlate with other studies. Overall, we're finding that some 75 percent of enterprises regularly commit to content marketing while paying no heed whatsoever to developing and documenting a governing content strategy. Objectives, goals, systems of measurement, processes, and people -- all are secondary to the burning "we need more content, and we need it now" issue. I've been speaking with my peers who, like me, help enterprises develop content strategies. More and more often, they complain that prospective clients try to engage them to keep the blog bursting with content, but not to solve the "why" or "how" of that (and similar) initiatives. Mark my words, content marketers: without the strategy in place, you'll soon be spinning your wheels, not to mention creating excess costs in money, resources, and efficiencies.

Content measurement becomes more robust and meaningful

For too long, sales has been the alpha and omega of content measurement. Don't get me wrong, sales is the lifeblood of any organization. But it's not the only measure of success, not in content nor in any other marketing initiative. I've been researching how forward-thinking companies are measuring other crucial aspects of content initiatives. These aren't meaningless volume metrics such as "likes" and "follows," but ROI-related analysis you can take to the bank (or to the CFO). Companies wise enough to build content strategies have a huge advantage here -- they'll know what they can measure, as well as how to measure it.

Global content becomes a thing

My clients are working to figure out how to manage content on a global level. What should teams look like? What tools work for international cooperation? How much central authority should exist versus local and/or regional input? What channels, audiences, creative, and messaging can be the same, and what needs differentiation on different continents, or in different countries? As content rises in importance (and display advertising correspondingly diminishes), global content strategy will be a growing concern.

Content around new things

This is 2016's most emerging and nascent trend, but one that will be huge in subsequent years. As we move from mobile content into the Internet of Things, and into a world full of beacons and sensors, content will decouple from screens in many cases, yet be associated with a growing universe of objects and things. Content will permeate the customer experience -- the "who," "what," "when," and "where" of all interactions. Your car, printer, TV, refrigerator, fitness tracker, phone -- all these devices and more will interface, talk to each other, and share content. I'm fascinated by what kinds of content will develop in the next wave of technology, and will be keeping a close eye on the horizon of content disruption next year, and in the years to follow.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Marketing and the Gravitas Issue

Is it ageism, or is it human nature? Whatever it is, it seems to have morphed 180 degrees from the dot-com boom era.

Back in the late '90s, when digital anything meant giddy valuations, and one of life’s biggest mysteries was how was Google going to monetize, there was a prevailing and oft-stated bias in both Silicon Alley and Silicon Valley.

Anyone over 40 didn’t “get it” (though “it” was never explained or defined). I personally heard boardroom suggestions that over-40 staff be jettisoned like so much expired produce.

Twenty-somethings were EVPs, the parties were insane, and the jargon around companies, their products and services, and even job titles was impenetrable.

Blue-haired founders were getting the full-on “New Yorker” profile treatment (“No one at the company appears to be over 25”), and all was go-go with the world… Until it all burst, and many of those 20-somethings took big salary cuts as they sought gigs at Starbucks and The Gap.

Fast-forward all these years later and the ageism issue in digital and marketing has turned a full 180 degrees.

I encountered this recently when I told a client one of their go-to-market issues is that the startup isn’t perceived in the market as “grown up” enough, an opinion that isn’t just my own, but something I’ve heard elsewhere in the market. Interestingly, the company’s young founders have heard it, too.

So Long, Hoodies?

“Grown up” isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. However, it’s emerging more and more frequently as a necessary qualification for getting a seat at the table.

I’ve seen this “however” played out across a spectrum of startup technologies, from email to search to social, over the past 15 years.

“Grown up” is about executive/boardroom/C-suite credibility. Most startups, regardless of how impressive, get only so far with the startup-in-hoodies approach these days. Naturally, I’m generalizing.

I’m thinking of Google when they hired Eric Schmidt, Facebook with Sheryl Sandburg and Carolyn Everson, or closer to Earth, Fredrick Marckini, who founded iProspect and sold it to Isobar. “Grown up” is a little-discussed but highly visible sign of growth and maturity.

Back in the day, Marckini was the only guy wearing a suit and tie at search events. He stuck out like a sore thumb for years.

When I finally asked him why he dressed the way he did, he replied that his mission was to get search discussed in the C-suite, and he wasn’t going to get those meetings in jeans and a polo shirt.

I’m dwelling a lot on clothing here, but you get my drift. It’s why startups like NewsCred hire Fortune 500 executives like Michael Brenner, for example.

It’s not just because Brenner (who is a great marketing strategist) can pull off the suit thing, but also because he has Fortune 500 marketing credentials and a degree of projected gravitas that younger founders and executives tend to lack.

There are many, many more such examples at every level of the spectrum. Look at Spotify’s recent hire of Seth Farbman away from Gap to fill the CMO seat.

Growing Up

“Grown up” shouldn’t be a value judgment, but it is human nature. The more extensive (ergo, expensive) SaaS solutions become, the higher the echelon of sales, procurement and marketing.

I keep hearing the very senior Fortune 100 executives I interview for research reports refer to vendors and agencies in the space as “too trendy” and “too boutique” — all code for “No one was ever fired for buying IBM.”

Taken to the extreme, the “grown up” question is analogous to why bank buildings mimic classical architecture: “We’re here today, and we’ll be here tomorrow.” That’s an important, if tacit, message to buyers and investors.

Awards and trophies have always been an important mark of distinction in marketing circles. Yet one wonders if characterizations such as “Wunderkind” or “30 Under 30” distinctions don’t now do more harm than they do good.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Three Types of Executive Influencer

50 Most Influential CMOs 2015

Perhaps more than any other C-suite role, influence is the purview of the CMO. It's the CMO, after all, who oversees brand, customer experience, communications, advertising, social media, and content marketing -- in short, the lion's share of their organization's external voice, messaging, and share of voice in the marketplace.

Small wonder then that CMOs themselves would be regarded through the lens of influence, which is exactly what, for the fourth consecutive year, Forbes and ScribbleLive have done in The World's 50 Most Influential CMOs Study released this week in cooperation with LinkedIn, which supplied additional, publicly-available data for this year's report.

As the analyst who crunched the data for this most recent report (on behalf of my client, ScribbleLive), I've drawn new insights about executive influence. The top-level findings are interesting to be sure. For example, 11 of this year's most influential CMOs have been in their role for a year or less; influence is dominated by men (as is the C-suite); and no industry dominates influence. Automotive CMOs dominate this year, while apparel, No. 3 last year, has slipped out of the top five industries. Tech CMOs are still influential, but lost ground this year as the vertical slipped into second place.

Given content marketing is my core focus as an analyst, it's gratifying to see it is the undisputed No. 1 topic influential CMOs talked about this year.

Yet the biggest takeaway, for me at least, is that executive influence comes in three distinct flavors. These should cause all executives active in social media, as well as other forms of content creation and dissemination, to ask themselves, "What kind of influencer am I, and what kind of influencer do I want to be?"

Herewith, the three types of influencer.

The news-cycle influencer

Characteristics: The news cycle influencer less wields influence than is controlled by it, via circumstances that run the gamut from positive to negative. It may be that their company has made a splashy new product announcement or has been involved in a scandal. Whether positive or negative, influence is visited upon the executive in question, and is not so much controlled as in control of their reputation, as well as sphere of influence.

The best, and really only, strategy for news-cycle-induced influence is to understand real-time marketing business cases. Most desirably, news-cycle influence would be in the planned, proactive sector of the real-time marketing quadrant, but as will always be the case, this type of influence is often unplanned and unanticipated. As the saying goes, "nobody expected the French Revolution," or "United breaks guitars," or any manner of public faux pas, but plotting decision tree triage charts go far in mitigating news-cycle influence, particularly when crises or negativity are involved.

Influence wielder

Characteristics: Most of the CMOs who made the Forbes/ScribbleLive study this year are influence wielders. They are frequent contributors to social media and to publications. They're on message, have something substantive to say, and are well-respected leaders who are well regarded by their peers. Certainly there's a halo effect. They represent powerful brands that owe no small portion of that power to the stewardship of the influences. Their influence is influenced by the companies, products, and services they represent and vice versa, creating a sort of virtuous circle of influence. Wielding substantial influence among one's peers and target audience is the goal of the vast majority of social sharers and online publishers.

Super influencer

Characteristics: The super influencer shares the traits of the above two groups. They're both newsworthy and in the news, therefore owning above-average currency in shared media. At the same time, they wield influence. They create content that's widely consumed and shared across digital channels. Super influencers possess one additional trait that sets them above their peers on the influence scale, whether those peers are other CMOs or, outside of that rarefied sphere, whomever they share common ground with as influencers.

Super influencers influence not just the crowd, but also their own peers, people on their level, as well as higher-ups. Needless to say, super influencers are a rare breed. Of the top 50 influenctial CMOs, only one, GE's Beth Comstock, qualifies as a super influencer.

Does this status have anything to do with Comstock's promotion earlier this year to vice chair of the company? It would be hard to argue otherwise.

This post originally published on iMedia.

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Content: It’s Not Another Channel

Content this, content that. Content marketing, content strategy. Everyone’s talking all content, all the time these days.

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently (as recently as lunchtime today, in fact), is who’s responsible for all the content. Is it communications? PR? Social media? Marketing in general?

Briefly stated, the answer is yes. All these divisions (and more) play a role in content marketing and content strategy.

Here’s what should be coming into focus for marketers (but sadly isn’t): Too many marketers, and the organizations they work for, mistakenly view content as a channel.

Like social media, email, search, media, or direct marketing, they want content to be departmentalized, siloed, circumscribed and cleanly defined.

Content does indeed require an enormous amount of domain expertise. A content strategy is required to set goals for content marketing initiatives and to define how those goals will be measured.

Editors and project managers work to build governance around those goals and define how content will be created, approved, distributed, find an audience, be measured, optimized, conformed to checks and guidelines (legal and brand, for starters).

Within this paradigm, areas of hyper-specialization might exist: Web and app developers, writers, graphic designers, photographers, videographers, editors, legal — the list can go on nearly ad infinitum.

And that’s not to mention the involvement of the aforementioned channels: search, email, media, social. All of these require content to function. Email is a container for content. Search optimizes content.

Content Is At The Heart Of Digital Channels

In advertising, content is called “creative” (because it’s more expensive), but at the end of the day, that’s just a fancy word for content. Social platforms and websites would be dismal destinations indeed were they not continually refreshed with content.

Otherwise put, content is the lifeblood of digital channels (and offline channels, as well). Content is not itself a channel.

Yet marketers have difficulties seeing past channels, which is why content struggles to gain a foothold in the enterprise. Like converged media, content requires players from across the marketing department, and indeed, across the organization, to collaborate and to align.

Precious few content initiatives these days happen without paid media, for example. Whether social promotion or ads that drive audiences to content executions, media — and by extension, advertising — are integral to content campaigns.

Yet content and advertising are still viewed by the overwhelming number of companies (with notable exceptions, such as Intel) as very different divisions, the Mars and Venus of marketing.

Search teams, email teams, these look to disparate sources for content, leading to inconsistencies in voice, tone, look and feel.

If content (and brand) aren’t aligned across a panoply of paid, owned and earned media channels (that become more numerous each month), they risk consumers not recognizing the brand, voice, message or product as they flit across media, channels, screens and devices.

An Apple Watch, and email message and a banner ad have little in common, other than the fact that all are content delivery systems.

So here’s where organizations will be challenged in the coming months and year. They will build content teams.

In fact, they already are. I’m seeing hiring move up gradually from manager/director level roles to VP-and-higher job descriptions with “content” or “editor” in the title.

But those roles can’t be siloed off. They can and must be defined as being on par with, equal to and collaborative with all the channel-centric marketing initiatives the enterprise undertakes.

That can only happen with this one big step forward, more of a mindset challenge than I’d realized earlier, in all the years I’ve been studying and researching content marketing and content strategy.

Content is not a channel.

Spread the word.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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Social Media's Content Eclipse

Whither social media?

Five years ago, it was all social, all the time. Social networks were the rage -- social shares and likes were the metrics du jour. Never mind that volume metrics impart little, if any business value. Social mattered for its own sake, just as "clicks" and "hits" were currency back in the Web 1.0 bubble days.

Today, social is seriously simmering down of all fronts as a focal point of attention in and of itself. Consider these trends:

  • Forthcoming research I'm currently conducting using ScribbleLive's influence analytics platform [disclosure, a client] indicate that content marketing is the topic on top of CMOs' Attention Index this year. Content marketing scored 23,937 mentions, versus social media marketing as a topic with only 7,485 citations.
  •  
  • Resent research published by my former colleagues at Altimeter Group underscore this finding. C-suite involvement in social media has plunged. Only 27 percent of companies report executive engagement, close to a 20 percent drop since social media's peak back in 2012.
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  • At the same time, organizations are moving to integrate social media as a discipline back into overall marketing operations. There's been a 164 percent increase in integration initiatives these past two years.
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  • Increasingly, social is more about advertising than pure "social." Several recent reports indicate social ad spending has doubled over the past two years. J&J's Gail Horwood mentioned last week in a panel discussion her company's social ad spending doubled just over the past year.
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  • Yet (see above) ad and media teams still aren't integrated into social media operations.
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  • The social media software solutions (SMMS) technology sector is shrinking. Based on research I conducted last year, SMMS is expected to be absorbed by either the ad stack and/or the emerging content marketing software stack by the end of next year.
  •  

Other channel-related M&A activity bear this last point out. Just last week, for example, StrongView, a legacy email marketing vendor (originally called StrongMail), merged with Selligent, a marketing automation platform. Email can no longer exist as a stand-alone channel, unintegrated with other digital initiatives. Social media is finally arriving at that party.

Content, meanwhile, is thriving. It's not just what CMOs are talking about, it's also where they're placing their bets. Content marketing positions are increasing across all verticals and industry, B2B, and B2C. Just scan the job listings. This year positions with "content" and/or "editor" in the title went from nearly zero to a frequent occurrence on job listing sites. Currently these tend to be lower-tier executive roles, manager, or director. Next year expect more of these positions to be VP or higher in rank.

If you've ready this far and think I'm dissing social media, you're wrong. Social is a channel -- just as email and search are channels. This is why we're seeing email marketing service providers and SEO agencies rebrand as content marketing platforms, and social media following suit.

Channels are niche. Content is forever.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Content Strategy for Retail & CPG Brands: Risks & Rewards

 

Over 90 percent of purchases are still made in bricks-and-mortar stores, yet few retailers and CPG brands make driving foot traffic part of their digital strategies, much less work to create unified, omni-channel customer experiences. Instead, they still rely on outmoded and increasingly ineffectual means such as print circulars.

Recently I published deep research on how a unified content strategy can drive foot traffic, spur purchase, and increase customer loyalty. The entire report can be downloaded here, but following, a summary of the risks, and the rewards, of content strategy for retailers and CPG brands.

Risks of not investing in a unified content strategy

In a world where the rate of innovation is moving at breakneck speed, brands and retailers can't afford to be stagnant. Here are the major risks outlined:

Not fulfilling local customers' wants
When customers demand to be treated as unique, recognizable individuals across all company touchpoints, it becomes risky to not deliver that experience to them. This becomes a ripe opportunity for competitors to capture those customers.

Frustrating loyal customers
Most successful companies are built on the support of their existing customers, not the addition of new ones. By not delivering content to customers that makes them feel recognized, or that they have a personal relationship with#a brand, it could alienate longtime supporters, who only need one bad experience to take their business elsewhere. Imagine a grocery store continuously sending discount coupons for meat to a longtime shopper who is#a vegetarian, or a department store sends an in-store promotion for children to a childless couple. Customers no longer want to be part of a faceless mass. They demand to be recognized as individuals and are very aware of brands' ability to do this.

Less foot traffic
While print and other traditional marketing methods are not going to completely disappear, their influence and reach is diminishing each year as customers add other channels to their daily content consumption mix. Continuing to invest in these traditional channels at the expense of digital will result in diminishing relevance, and correspondingly, less people coming in to stores.

Inability to track, measure and report on local marketing 
By far, the biggest advantage digital has been able to offer is the ability to track and measure the advertising efforts put in place.

This leads to more efficient budgetary allocation, more knowledge of the customer and more concrete decision-making, when it comes to serving the right content to the right audience. These capabilities simply don't exist in a non-digital realm, which still relies mostly on second hand, sample sized knowledge provided by publications and networks.

Opportunities

Despite the many challenges, and risks involved, the rewards in digital advertising are exponential once the many cogs start clicking into place.

Here are the major opportunities I identified:

Advertising becomes one-to-one, instead of one-to-many 
Retailers and brands have an opportunity to connect with their customers on a far more meaningful level than simply advertising at them. Through targeting, they can create solutions for a customer to solve problems that are specific to those individuals and their lifestyles. Knowing a customer's likes and dislikes, what time of the month they are most likely to buy, or what type of promotion they are most likely to take advantage of is crucial information for personalizing content.

Once a customer realizes they are being treated as an individual rather than a demographic segment, there's a greater chance of them remaining loyal to that brand, and even advocating on their behalf. In essence, digital advertising now allows B2C marketers to bring the intimacy, and long term engagement of a B2B customer relationship to its audiences.

Engage customers wherever they are 
Until a customer walked into a store and bought an item, it was difficult to know who they were, not just in terms of demographics, but in terms of their interests, habits, and responsiveness to content. All of that can now be measured by reaching customers at all the digital locations they visit before coming to the store. This includes the company website, search results, mobile, social media, and email. Instead of building the store and waiting for them to come, marketers can engage customers where they already are.

"It's critically clear that digital advertising drives in-store traffic, whether we do it through retargeting, paid search for services, or mobile advertising," says Alison Corcoran, senior vice president, marketing of North American stores and online at Staples. "Display does a good job for in-store and online, Search does drive some in-store, but more online. Retargeting depends on audience. Social drives in-store but not too much online and affiliate marketing drives more to our site."

Mobile is an especially potent addition to this mix, since it is a gateway to the customer at all times. There is a delicate balance to be implemented, which avoids bombarding a customer with constant messaging, and instead sending them a meaningful message at the moment when they are most likely to take action.

Digital also solves a scalability problem traditional messaging#can't. Erik Rosenstrauch, president and CEO of marketing agency Fuel Partnerships recently found success with this omni-channel approach when launching the new Sbyke scooter at Walmart during#the holiday season. "How do you market to 500 stores across the country? You can't use any traditional methods because they'll be#highly inefficient," says Rosenstrauch. "We came up with a digital campaign that was both mobile, and web, and highly targeted, advertising only to people within a five-mile radius of each store." By leveraging a variety of databases to get to the correct IP addresses# and mobile numbers, Fuel was able to track the people who responded#to the ads, and service them with additional content, such as video demos and visual information. These efforts resulted in a 700 percent lift in sales.

Know what's working 
Attribution has always been a problem when it comes to traditional advertising. Most companies lacked the concrete evidence that proved their messages in print, TV and radio were actually what was driving customers into stores. With basic digital display advertising, much of the same problem remains. It's difficult to link an ad impression, or even a click to a person showing up in store. However, if there is strategy in place that links online customer activities with offline behavior, this attribution becomes far easier to see, and leverage.

To achieve this, it's necessary for both the offline teams and online teams to be able to see the same customer information, in real-time. More important, digital messages must function beyond brand awareness. Messaging might include information about product availability, specific promotions that can only be availed in-store, or knowledge of local events/conditions that make the message more compelling, and relevant to each customer. Different combinations of messages, content and delivery times can be tracked to see what's working, leading to even more optimization of the advertising efforts.

Strength in local
Local is the secret weapon for retailers/brands to push competitors (and Amazon) off their turf and bring shoppers back into their storefronts. Specific knowledge of local events, conditions, culture and people can be powerful in the hands of a skilled digital marketing team that can program ads to serve up dynamic content based on who will view them.

For example, REI found success by leveraging local knowledge of weather and generating dynamic content around the topic.

Local targeting doesn't even have to be very complex to work. Through a partnership with the Waze app, Target was able to get customers into its store simply by messaging them when they were in close proximity to a store location.

This post originally published on iMedia

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Discussing Ad Blockers on NPR's On Point

I was on NPR/WBUR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook radio this morning discussing ad blocking, ad fraud, and other nefarious goings-on in the digital area.

Here's a link to the interview.

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Rebecca Lieb

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

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