Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I've Seen the Future of Marketing (and it's all about the Data, the Content and the Influencers...)

I recently attended the MarketingProfs B2B Conference in Boston. This conference is all about what's working and what's next. It brought together 850 fans and customers of all things B2B marketing to worship at the altar of content.

This is my second Mprofs event and this year brought a mix of new ideas, rehashed old ideas and original stuff...So what's the future of content? Funny you should ask...

1. Data, data, everywhere
At last year's conference, big data was the holy grail. We nodded happily and software companies bombarded us with emails. The future was clearly automation and predictive analytics - we could all go to the beach and let the bots do our job. It was refreshing this year to hear a more cautious approach from many of the presenters. Not saying data isn't great (it is!), but more that data's messy. We don't know what we're going to get from a research exercise - and that's OK. Speakers talked to the challenge of getting disparate forms of data into some kind of legible format, the causation / correlation issue and the dangers of reading too much into social media data (especially from teens). Great to hear that the industry's love affair with data has moved from infatuation to pragmatism.

2. Sales funnels aren't going anywhere (for now)
While we've been spending a bunch of time trying to reinvent the sales funnel, it appears the majority of companies (based on this rather biased sample set) are still using the classic funnel. While McKinsey and a raft of others have tried to turn it into moebius strips, dodecahedron and a range of other shapes, the challenge of leaving the beloved funnel behind is that it's simple. While purchases and decisions are complex, mapping a marketing strategy onto another shape is tough. Regardless of the shape, however, the drive continues to map behavior to marketing content or action. 

3. Hackers will take over marketing
The love affair with geek culture has made it into content marketing. Several speakers talked to ways of taking the hacker / coder ethos into marketing. And why not? It lends itself to creative solutions, solving problems in different ways, and is all about the consequence of actions - the mystical cause and effect of marketing that we've desired forever. Understanding technology has shifted from being a 'back end' discussion to being critical in the way we reach and engage with consumers. The rise of the CDO - Chief Digital Officer - with one foot in IT and in marketing is testament to this shift in approach. Have we moved from 'every company is a media company' to 'every company is a software company'? An app company?

4. What do we do with influencers?
At last year's show, influencer relations was the new black. An array of software vendors shared their wares, each claiming to be THE answer to influencer identification and management. One take out from the conference was the need to use multiple influencer ID tools (and the need to talk to your client's SMEs, vendors and customers) in creating your influencer list. It was also interesting in the intervening 12 months was to discover the industry has moved from ID to engagement - and an array of tactics were discussed. One of the most compelling was co-creation, where brands looked for opportunities to collaborate on collateral such as eBooks or conferences. Great to see brands are moving beyond simple Twitter interactions and LinkedIn shares.

5. Making great content 
I've always said, just because you can publish, doesn't mean you should. It's great to see the industry is taking this to heart, with a move to creating better quality content. 
The publish and pray approach we embraced when we discovered that every company was a media company has moved to a more considered approach that focuses on quality and engagement versus simply the output. The rallying cry was 'write content for the audience that will amplify' and this connection between brand content and advocates and influencers is a great step forward. Also critical was the need to mix up your content. After all, B2B isn't boring to boring.

Any thoughts? Fire me a comment, tweet, build me an infographic, show me data to support your case, or have a third party reach out on your behalf...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Troll Therefore I am: A Case for Social in the Age of Trolling

I was recently contacted by Campaign Asia for some thoughts on online crises, social monitoring and how brands should react. The Q&A follows. I'll revert with a link to the story when it runs. Happy reading!

Do brands need to be hypervigilant?
Jeremy Woolf, PR, Social Media, Digital MarketingI feel brands need to be more vigilant than in the past, but I don’t think they need to be hyper-sensitive. A social monitoring program is hopefully now just part of the cost of doing business, and this should certainly be used to identify both negative and positive opportunities for response or proactive commentary.

How can they guard against the worst offenses?
Establish a strong social monitoring program, be clear on who is influential conversation around their brands and topics of interest, establish relationships with brand advocates, and have a comprehensive strategy in place to deal with potential crises or issues.

But do they want to be completely inoffensive? Is this a good comms strategy?
If you mean do brands want to be completely inoffensive, then I think ‘vanilla is a dangerous strategy. They need to have the audacity to have an opinion, a brand ‘voice’ and personality. I’d err away from deliberately offensive, unless you’re aiming to shock (like Burger King in Singapore in 2010) and even then it should be used with a great degree of caution. Don’t be afraid to express a controversial opinion, but do so only in keeping with the established brand personality, otherwise you’ll be at odds with yourself.

What have brands who have offended in the past learnt from their mistakes? (could you references some cases that have been in the public domain? 
The classic example is Dell, who after suffering the well-publicized ‘Dell hell’ blog posts, have created one of the world’s best social customer strategies. More recently, US Airways suffered major embarrassment with a NSFW response to a customer tweet, but has subsequently been very responsive to twitter issues and customer comments.

Sometimes brands have done nothing wrong (Cadbury Malaysia / Jollibee Singapore) and yet they're a target. What can you do when this situation arises?
Hashtags are frequently the source of twitter issues. While campaigns such as McDonald’s #mcdstories or the New York Police Department’s #myNYPD started with the best intentions, brands have to realize they don’t own hashtags – and that internet trolls are quick to pounce. Before running any social media program, best to run it through a filter to ensure any possible mischief is planned for (and communicated internally as a possible outcome). When the situation arises, best to be contrite, reinforce the intentions of the program, hope brand advocates come to your aid, and, if all else fails, fall on your sword and kill the program.

If you can’t guard against everything, what should you do? 

If this is the mindset, then don’t use social channels. Yes, things can go wrong. Certainly, plan for eventualities. But don’t use the fear of problems stop your brand connecting with its most important audiences through social channels. 

15 Lessons from 15 Years with Text100

Today I celebrate 15 years with my employer, Text100 Global Communications. Allow me a little self-indulgence, while I try to analyse what this particular milestone means.
I've spent more than a third of my life with this company, in a career that's taken me to more than 20 countries, moved my family from Sydney, to Hong Kong and now the USA, and given me the chance to work with some incredible people and clients.
Looking back, it's been a wild ride. One I'd like to distill into (somewhat appropriately, but again, forgive my self-indulgence) into 15 lessons.
1. Take recruiters with a pinch of salt.On arriving in Sydney, I was told I was too old, needed to specialize and I'd struggle to find work. Was hired by Text100 two weeks later. And the grass is seldom greener...
2. Don't wait for opportunity. For goodness sake, put your hand up and own something. Regardless of your level or experience, there's always something that you can make your own.
3. Pick your battles. While I certainly think you can change the world, pick your battles carefully - and don't be afraid to walk away with a smile. You'll sleep better and achieve more.
4. Earn good will. Good advice from a former boss. Good will gets banked and some day you'll need to make a withdrawl. Make sure you're saving some for a rainy day...
5. Take the chance to travel. I've been lucky enough to travel extensively with Text100. Take any chance you can to see the world through the eye of people in other countries and cities. It's good for your brain and your perspective.
6. Focus on big and small rocks. While Steven Covey was all about the big rocks, reality is you need to give all rocks attention. Not equal attention, but ignore the small ones at your peril.
7. Do what you say you will. One of Text100's core values, and one that's served me well. See 'earn good will'.
8. Handle each piece of paper once. An old time management / productivity tip that I've tried to bring into email and activity management. Don't always succeed (the zero inbox is a far away goal) but it is one I'm striving for.
9. Have faith in those around you. One for the up-and-coming managers out there. You need to let people demonstrate they can deliver. They won't always do it your way, but if you've hired well, they'll get the job done. And if they don't, they shouldn't be there in the first place.
10. Punch above your weight. PR is a confidence game and success is often a healthy mix of experience and creativity. Don't be afraid to leap before you look - as long as you've got the safety net of good people around you.
11. Good enough is sometimes good enough. A tough one for the perfectionists amongst us, but sometimes good enough gets the job done. While it's important to hold yourself and colleagues to a high standard, getting home to read stories to your kids is more important.
12. Emails don't replace conversation. Get up from your desk and meet a colleague in the kitchen. Walk across the room and have a chat. Pick up the phone once an IM chat goes beyond three exchanges. Reclaim conversation.
13. Recognize and celebrate success. We spend so much time doing, that we sometimes lose sight of our achievements. Especially those of us who've been around awhile. Make sure you're taking the time to acknowledge your big and small wins.
14. Don't dwell. Sometimes it's easier to endlessly debate an issue than take an action. Or talk yourself into inactivity. Don't. Try to deal with something quickly, then move on. A lesson hard learned...
15. Never be too busy for people. Work is work. It's important. It's maddening and there's always pressure. Clients are demanding and email distracts. But don't forget the people around you. Always, always find time for them. For those of us in consulting, clients will come and go. Emails can wait - it's often only your own expectations you're frantically meeting. Your work family are more important than you realize. Look after each other.
This post first appeared in June on my LinkedIn feed here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Whose Community is it Anyway?

Inspired by a LinkedIn Group my team has created for one of our clients, the nature of 
community has been bouncing around my brain. While marketers for years now have jumped into places like Facebook and LinkedIn and build large 'followings' I feel few are really considering these to be communities. For many, they are simply an extension of their spam email list, another 'channel' (apologies for today's inverted comma overload) into which marketing messages can be randomly thrown.
With vultures circling over Twitter and Google+, it's absolutely time to reassess your community investment. I challenge companies to go back to basics, and ask themselves three simple questions:
1. Who is your audience?
2. What do they want from you / their peers?
3. Does this community give it to them?
If you put your existing communities through this lens, how do they rate? Questions worth asking in the never-ending quest to rationalize marketing tactics and encourage our buyers to buy...
This post first appeared in my LinkedIn profile here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Content, Content Everywhere

This week is all about what we're now calling 'content'. It used to be just writing and pictures and had to be great. Then it became 'stuff' that was pumped through social networks. But now it has become 'king'. Which is probably a good thing, but I can't help feeling we've come full circle.
In any case, it's all content now. My client's LinkedIn Group will kick off this week and we came to an interesting conclusion during the prep for this one. Quite simply, 'good enough' content wasn't, well, good enough. We recognized that getting people to join a LinkedIn Group is the easy part. Getting them to stay, read, and engage is going to take great posts.
So we've hired in a journalist and what a difference great writing makes. No disrespect to PR writers (I'm one of them, for goodness sake) but there's nothing like well chosen words put through a journalistic lens.
Next on the content train is content for sharing through Facebook and Twitter. We're pitching a project that has us creating content for a client's 'hub' to share across it's global 'spokes'. This is another tick in the box for me. Recognition that the brand needs to have a unique voice and critically share stuff that means something to the audience. Good to see 'content' growing up.
And finally advertising content. Though I started my career as an advertising copywriter, 20 years in PR has made shivers fire up my spine at the very mention. But I've had an epiphany that I had to share. Social advertising is actually quite good. It's good at helping more people see my great content. And if my content's good, then people will appreciate it by 1. Reading, 2. Sharing and 3. Commenting. So yay social advertising - I now understand your place in the circle of integrated comms life.
This post first appeared in my LinkedIn profile here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Derailing the Training Train

Training is a funny thing. Over the years, I've done a lot of it. I've stood up in front of rooms and lectured. I've stood over shoulders and coached. I've huddled in my pajamas and slippers on early morning conference calls, blindly sharing my thoughts with a mute (but hopefully appreciative) audience. I've managed mock news media interviews and fake social media crisis scenarios. And I've driven executive workshops in far-flung locations.
And I think I've done OK. But therein lies the problem. I think I've done OK. But there's a leap of faith required here that can be frustrating. Connecting the dots between the act of delivery and the act of, well, listening, internalizing, and demonstrating a change in behaviour is much more difficult.
I've come to the conclusion that while mass sessions are fine to get a message out, the actual training is a longer term, more involved process. I'm working on several training decks now that tell a big story - then will be relying on smaller, more intimate sessions, timed to hit when needed.
For example, we're teaching a social media measurement framework, followed up by specific sessions when someone's diving into LinkedIn, for example.
Not sure if this model is perfect, but at least we're not assuming people can somehow internalize a vast amount of information and deliver when promoted. Instead, we're presenting information for discussion in an appropriate context.
The other piece that's helping is not looking at training in isolation, but understanding how it fits into a wider, more complex program. My employer, Text100, has established a needs-based training framework which will help overcome some of these perennial issues.
I've also run client programs around a single, clear, and measurable objective, which have been the most satisfying training experiences of my career. These long-term programs have critically been designed to create a clear change, not simply train for training's sake.
While I don't think we've cracked the code, I think we're certainly getting better at putting training in context, and thinking about the outcome, not just the output.
Let me know if you have thoughts on training and professional development that get closer to cracking the code...
This post first appeared on my LinkedIn Profile here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Part I: 2014 Digital and Social Media Predictions

2013 was the year a twerk was heard ‘round the world. Twitter IPO’d, Oreo news-jacked the Super Bowl, the new Pope tweeted and ‘selfie’ was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. 

Google retired its RSS Reader, and Vine redefined short-form videos, soon to be followed by Facebook’s Instagram. Yahoo! bought Tumblr, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post

Hashtags came to Facebook and Google+, while LinkedIn introduced Showcase Pages and Sponsored Updates. Activist investor Carl Ichan joined Twitter pushing Apple’s shares up five percent with a single tweet, Jamie Dimon joined LinkedIn’s Influencer program.

2013 was the year that social media came of age. With 80 percent of small business owners conducting social media marketing and 60 percent of IT buyers using social media, digital and social aren’t a communications nice-to-have, they’re mandatory.

As 2013 draws to a close, I thought I’d take a look at what 2014 is likely to offer. This is the first of two posts, offering a perspective on the big digital and social media trends for 2014.

1. Data, Data Everywhere
While many in PR separated ways with mathematics as soon as we were able, it appears we’re all data scientists now. Data is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s mandatory with our client’s increasingly demanding stronger rationales for our recommendations and evidence that our programs are making a real difference. Data management and analytics have emerged as two key skills common to every marketing activity.

In 2014, we’ll see this become more pronounced, but data is more than trend analysis. The biggest driver for data will be opportunity. Real-time monitoring will become the norm as we look to create digital engagement opportunities for our clients.

Tools such as BrandwatchSimply Measured and Traackr are making it easier than ever to source and analyze behavior, but we’re not talking about the data-for-data’s-sake days of yore. Today, data alone is only a third of the story. 2014 is the year we’ll consistently drive our programs offering services that combine the communications trinity of real-time monitoring and analysis, content creation and amplification.

2. Content Marketing is the New Black (and red, and green, and blue…)
We’ve evolved from ‘every company is a media company’ to ‘every company is a comedian’ with sometimes frightening results. Instead of filling a perceived gap in media opportunities through useful, considered and shareable content, many marketers have instead added to the morass of poorly conceived noise in their hunt for their own Oreos moment.

You can’t fault the motivation, though. There’s a growing realization that different types of content in new channels drives decision-maker behavior.  We’ve moved from counting likes to desiring online engagement and shares. 2014 will see a continued focus on content – but many will create better processes and filtering, while investing in stronger creatives in an attempt to separate the digital wheat from the chaff.

Data research will be used to drive more relevant strategies and meaningful content creation, ensure placement in appropriate channels and measure the right behaviors people are taking. Success will mean making content choices based on known decision-maker preferences, posting at times they’re more likely to engage and through channels they prefer based on where they are in the buyer’s journey.

3. Changing Channels, Changing Minds
In 2013, we saw a pronounced shift from single channel communications to multi-channel as data is proving our audiences reliance on multiple channels to make their decisions. Where you say it has become as important as what you say.

This has become a challenge for brands as they struggle to build strategies across hydra-like social media channels. The challenge is compounded in companies that continue to manage their communications channels in silos.
A genuine, research based understanding of decision-maker behavior can create a road map for marketers wanting to get their messages to their prospects at the right time. 

In 2014, we’ll see continued integration between digital and traditional channels. Websites, email and paid search are already becoming aligned – next year we’ll see owned and earned social and traditional media joining the integrated ‘family.’

This will ensure we can reach our channel changing customers; however, the rules of content are critical. Even if we get better at understanding consumer behavior, we still need to offer them the right content, through the right channel, at the right time.

4. Chasing Influence
2013 was a good year for broadening our definition of influence. More and more companies recognized how online influencers, in particular, are driving and amplifying topics. LinkedIn rolled out its Influencer content program, anointing several hundred influential people including Richard BransonBarack Obama and Guy Kawasaki as designated influencers. And sites such as Quora and apps such as Klout’s Cinch emerged, creating more opportunities for influential engagement.

In 2014, we’ll see a merging of influence. Distinctions between media and non-media influencers will continue to blur, with thought leaders and subject matter experts increasingly incented on influencer engagement. 

As trial programs come to an end, social media profiles will become the norm for pre-sales teams as they interact with decision-makers during their purchase journeys. Monitoring and content will play an ever-important role, helping set these new corporate influencers up for success.

5. Niche Goes Big
Each day, 500 million (or 15 percent) of Google queries have never been seen before by Google’s search engine. People are looking for something that solves their unique problems. In response, buyers will increasingly search out niche communities, seeking more relevant content and conversations with experts.

In 2014, we’ll continue our drive for smaller, more important conversations. Data analysis will increasingly shape our branded content. We’ll see a shift towards more visual content, especially as mobile form factors dominate.

The challenge for B2B brands, in particular, will be to cut these prospects off at the pass. Our audience’s behaviors tell us what they’re interested in, and where they’re seeking information. The mission for brands will be to add value before they pick up the phone or email. We need to work out the questions our audiences are asking and create content strategies to help solve them.

If you’ve got a perspective or would like to explore the ideas, please join Text100’s LinkedIn Communication Conversation. And watch this space for part two of my look at digital communications in 2014.

A version of this post first appeared on Text100's HyperText blog.