Organizations becoming media outlets

16 08 2011

More and more, organizations and brands are becoming media companies in their own right.

Many organizations have blogs where they publish original, useful content on a regular basis, but these days, it goes far beyond a company blog.

Allstate has a teen-drama web series called “The Lines.” Starbucks hosts My Starbucks Idea, a hub where brand representatives and the coffee-drinking public can interact and collaborate. Text. Video. Audio. Imagery. Social media updates. The list goes on and on.

The goal of these media campaigns is to create good will, influence, and ultimately, sales.

In a piece titled “Why Brands are Becoming Media,” Brian Solis, principal at new media agency FutureWorks, writes at length about content creation and the role it plays in social media strategy.

He writes:

“In media, there are three channels that populate and shape perception — owned media, paid media, and earned media.”

Owned media refers to channels the brand controls: its website, blog, Twitter account, etc.

Paid media comes in the form of display ads, sponsorships, etc.

The third channel — earned media — occurs when customers and the public pick up on a brand’s messages and spread the word, and it’s the most effective. Whether in the form of a blog post, a Retweet, or a link to a video, earned media increases visibility and influences consumer behavior.

According to Solis, earned media is the result of well-executed and well-coordinated owned and paid media. Because it comes from a third party and was not paid for, it carries the most weight with the public and plays a key role in building brand and boosting sales.

Solis writes:

“As media, brands earn prominence and hopefully influence as rewards for contributing meaningful content.

“On Twitter, brands can earn legions of loyal and responsive followers, who in turn become brand advocates and ambassadors, extending the messages, mission and purpose of the brand to their followers as well.

“On Facebook, brands can cultivate vibrant and dedicated communities where interaction inspires increased responses — each reverberating across new social graphs.

“On Ustream and YouTube, we can earn global audiences of viewers who tune in to watch our programming and interact with brand representatives in a live community that spills over other social networks.

“And of course, our blog is more important than we may realize. Through our posts, we can establish a strong alliance of subscribers who hope to learn new things and participate in the discussion of a brand’s future.”

Solis’ point about providing meaningful content is an important one. I talked about this in a recent post about Thought Leadership Marketing, and it’s critical to remember. When an organization creates original content, it must be useful to consumers, or they will tune out. Straight self-promotion won’t keep them coming back for more, and it certainly won’t create earned media.

Solis concludes:

“We have the ability to earn noteworthy, equal, and in some cases, greater influence than those authorities whom we’ve relied on over the years to help us reach greater audiences and communities.

“People align with movements they can believe in, and it is the human, intellectual, and financial investment in genuine content that defines experiences, and hopefully one day earns the significance your brand deserves.”


Cognitive fluency and the bottom line

27 07 2011

“Simplicity works wonders. It’s satisfying, motivating and seductive.”

So says Ken Segall, the advertising whiz who is responsible for many of the campaigns that have played a huge role in transforming Apple into one of the most successful and influential companies on the planet.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a piece on Segall and the power of simplicity in marketing and business in general.

Since then, the term “cognitive fluency” — which goes hand-in-hand with the power of simplicity — has been popping up more and more in the media and business circles.

Cognitive fluency became a hot topic among psychologists in 2009. In its simplest form, cognitive fluency means this: people prefer to think about things that are easy, rather than things that are hard.

Seems like an obvious idea.

But where it gets interesting — for psychologists and for business — is the extent to which cognitive fluency influences people’s behavior.

A recent study compared the stock returns of public companies with easy-to-pronounce names with those of companies with hard-to-pronounce names. Tellingly, the companies with easy names significantly outperformed those with difficult names.

The study’s authors concluded that just the complexity of a company’s name influenced people’s willingness to invest in the organization. Simple names attracted investors. Cryptic names turned investors off. And it’s not even a conscious decision; it’s just the way the human mind works.

Another widely cited example involves 401(k) offerings. Conventional thinking among companies used to be that the more investment options they included in their retirement plans, the more likely it would be that employees would enroll. Not so.

The data shows that when consumers are faced with an overwhelming array of investment options, they’re basically paralyzed by the sheer number of choices, and many end up not enrolling at all. By simplifying their offerings and making their plans easier to digest, companies have seen increased participation in 401(k).

The power of cognitive fluency applies to all facets of business: your products, your services and your communications. When you are trying to influence the behavior of consumers, employees, shareholders, or any of your other publics, substance and simplicity are key.

Your website should be simple, clean-looking, and easy to navigate. Your sales proposals should get right to the point, making clear your value proposition. Your employee communications should be focused and free of complexity.

Human beings crave simplicity, and they recoil from complexity. By applying cognitive fluency to all facets of your business, you’ll do a better job of connecting with your audiences, you’ll avoid sabotaging your ideas, and you’ll reap the benefits in profitability.

Thought leaders getting ahead

20 07 2011

Thought leadership marketing is not a new concept, but the importance of it in the B2B sector continues to grow at a rapid pace.

More and more, suppliers are getting ahead of the sales process by making themselves known in the marketplace and facilitating conversation, which in turn leads to customers contacting them — rather than the other way around.

Effective thought leadership marketing (TLM) provides potential customers with information or advice that is useful to them, which:

— Makes customers aware of who you are, what you do, and how you add value
— Demonstrates (rather than simply states) that your company is an expert and leader in your industry
— Illustrates that your company understands and can address the specific needs of the potential customer

TLM can come in the form of a blog post, a newsletter, a speaking engagement, or a webcast, to name a few. Again, the key is to provide information or advice that’s useful to potential customers and, when possible, breaks new ground in the industry. Straight self-promotion that doesn’t provide the customer any value or insight is not thought leadership marketing.

The ultimate goal is to reach the point where customers view your company as a trusted adviser. The term “trusted adviser” is talked about a lot these days in business circles, but don’t mistake it for simple jargon. The data shows that “trusted adviser” is an enviable position for a business to be in.

A recent study published in the MIT Sloan Management Review reveals that customers that gain insight from an organization through thought leadership content exhibit higher loyalty scores, place greater value on the organization’s complete suite of services, and ultimately value the shared wisdom of the supplier as part of the overall value equation.

Thought leaders and trusted advisors begin to benefit from “pull marketing,” which means they increasingly are sought out by companies who want to do business with them because of their ideas, willingness to share, and transparency. In the publication, How To Become A Thought Leader, several interviewees attest to having seen their recognition in the industry increase, their “push marketing” expenses drop, and their revenue grow as a result of thought leadership.

Even when there is some direct selling to be done, companies that have earned trusted advisor status are at a huge advantage. In his 2006 book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, Brian Carroll discusses a research report that revealed that salespeople who had reached the status of “trusted adviser” were 70 percent more likely to come away with a sale.

Add it all up, and it’s clear that thought leadership marketing is a wise move for just about any B2B supplier.

To borrow a quote from former presidential speechwriter James Humes: “The art of communication is the language of leadership.”

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Let your brand’s best advocates sing

26 05 2011

Don’t silence your best ambassadors.

That’s the message Text 100 — a global PR consultancy that has worked with dozens of leading brands, including Facebook, IBM and Cisco — sent in a recent post on its company blog.

In the post, Text 100’s Lance Concannon explains that many organizations are missing out on a huge opportunity when it comes to social media. Namely, they are not allowing some of their best advocates — creatives, IT professionals, research and development specialists, etc. — to tell the brand’s story.

Traditionally, companies have communicated with their audiences strictly through their PR, marketing or comms departments.

Even as many have “embraced” social media, they still funnel the flow of communication through their words people.

Concannon writes:

“Profiles are set up on channels like Twitter and Facebook for the PR and marketing teams to push out their messaging, and social media guidelines are drawn up to discourage employees from talking about the company online.”

Concannon acknowledges that, of course, social media should be used for PR and marketing purposes, but he says that businesses need to understand that it shouldn’t stop there.

He continues:

“At Text 100, we’re currently working with a global tech brand to identify superstars from all across the business and enabling them to actively talk about their jobs in social media channels. None of these employees are comms professionals, but they are passionate about the work they do and are excellent ambassadors for the brand.”

Rather than insisting that only the comms team talk about the business in social media, the tech company recognizes that the best stories about the brand come from the people who work on the front lines. A company can talk all day about what its brand represents, but real-life, first-person examples carry so much more weight.

To help these ambassadors tell their stories, Text 100 has developed a training program that gives them the skills to engage audiences online and to talk authoritatively on behalf of the company on industry blogs, forums and other social channels.

According to Concannon, the benefit to the company is clear:

“With these advocates taking the organization’s stories out to hundreds of different touchpoints across the Web, the opportunity for potential clients and other stakeholders to witness the brand’s expertise firsthand is far, far higher than if social media was left entirely in the hands of the marketing people.”

5 ways a skilled writer can impact your company’s bottom line

7 01 2011

Good communication is essential to any successful endeavor, and none more so than business.

How a company communicates both internally and externally can make or break it, and at the core of good communication is skillful, polished writing.

Here are five ways a top-notch writer or team of writers can impact your organization:

1. Corporate branding: Besides advertising, corporate communications is your only means of communicating with the public. What is your message? What are your values? What sets you apart from the competition? You might have a fantastic product or offer the greatest service in the world, but if you can’t make that clear to the public and inspire people to act, you miss out. It takes creative, skillful writing to tell your company’s story and keep the public interested.

2. Social responsibility/crisis communication: This one is closely related to corporate branding, but it’s become so important in recent years that it deserves its own entry. The Internet and social media have enabled consumers to connect across town and national borders, and search tools have enabled people to identify common experiences. Being viewed as a socially responsible company is good business, and it’s crucial to choose your words carefully when making your case. In the same vein, dealing with a crisis requires careful consideration and top-notch writing to convey the message.

3. Senior executive presentation: Businessmen and women who have reached the c-suite level are obviously intelligent and dynamic, but the majority of them aren’t great writers. They might be adequate, but their writing usually doesn’t do justice to their intelligence and expertise. This is nothing to be ashamed of; most professional writers are terrible at math and wouldn’t know the first thing about running a sales team. It’s important for high-level executives to know their limitations when it comes to writing, because there’s nothing worse than a letter, speech or presentation by a senior exec that is mediocre — it reflects badly on the entire company. Trust a pro, and he/she will make you sound as smart as you are.

4. Internal communication: Sharing information with employees, building employee pride and managing employee issues are essential to a healthy corporate culture. Skilled writers are able to write polished speeches for CEOs as well as material that informs and resonates with employees. Being able to write in various voices and for varied audiences is a skill that professional writers develop over time.

5. Press management: An effective corporate communications writer grasps many of the same principles that those in the press do. They both understand the importance of clarity, accuracy and identifying the key point or points in a story. In media writing, the paragraph that explains the news value of the story is called the “nut graph,” which is a reference to “in a nutshell.” Ideally, a corporate communications writer has experience on the media side, and thus knows how journalists think and what they are looking for. Press management is critical to shaping a company’s image.

Smart business leaders know that a company that doesn’t communicate well is like a sales professional who doesn’t speak well — it just isn’t going to work. And the cornerstone of effective corporate communications is great writing.

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Ad whiz: Keep it simple

24 09 2010

My last post was about how brilliant advertising brought Apple from the brink of bankruptcy to the head of the tech industry.

What I didn’t mention is that maybe the single most important figure in the creative effort that saved the company is a guy by the name of Ken Segall. Segall worked for Apple’s ad agency, TBWA/Chiat/Day. He came up with the “i” in iMac and iPhone. He also wrote the “Think Different” campaign, which won just about every honor in the business, including the first Emmy ever awarded to a commercial.

Given his track record, Segall clearly knows how to reach an audience. And in his view, the key is simplicity.

From his website:

“Simplicity works wonders. It’s satisfying, motivating and seductive. Every company talks about it, but few achieve it. Most failed branding projects actually don’t miss the mark — they shoot way beyond the mark. The farther a project strays from simplicity, the more risky it gets.”

An audience — be they readers or TV viewers — shouldn’t have to work to get your drift. Your job as a writer is to hook them (as Segall says, seductive), keep them interested (satisfying), and inspire them to act (motivating).

Segall’s philosophy applies to many areas: whether you are crafting a company’s core message or simply writing a headline on your website, less is more.

Segall continues:

“We get used to names like Mac, MacBook, iPod and iPhone. But for the sake of comparison, I refer you to Time Magazine’s Top 10 Gadgets of the Year 2009. Forgetting iPhone for the moment (#4), other products on this list include the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, the FinePix Real 3D W1 and the charmingly named Casio G-Shock GW7900B-1. One can only scratch his/her head and ask “Why?” Logic says that naming has to be this way because manufacturers and retailers have to deal with product pipelines, warehousing, retailing and related real-world issues. Silly model numbers are a necessary evil. (Never mind that Apple encounters the same issues and somehow manages to get around them.) We may be simple-minded, but most of us would prefer talking about an iPod than a ZipMaster XLZ-500CSS MP3 Player.”

It’s a comforting idea that you don’t have to conjure a miracle to create compelling, impactful content. Just remember that your audience is people, and people respond to simple, clever ideas.

While “keeping it simple” doesn’t guarantee you an Emmy, it is a powerful lesson that just about any communications professional can learn from.

How advertising saved Apple

17 09 2010

There’s no denying that Apple is the brand in the tech world.

A company that in 1997 was on the brink of bankruptcy is now at the forefront of the industry. Innovative. Hip. Iconic. Apple inspires loyalty in customers that is often downright fanatical (see people camping out to be first in line for the new iPad).

As amazing as Apple’s turnaround is, what’s even more amazing is how they did it.

Their engineers make great products, but it’s not as if they are light years ahead of the competition. Many would even argue that competitors such as Google outdo Apple in some instances.

Where Apple separates itself is advertising. The company, or in most cases, the creative talent it hires, has done a brilliant job of connecting with consumers, and they’ve done it primarily through a series of memorable and inspired commercials.

The majority of these commercials have two major characteristics:

1.Rather than talk about gigabytes and CPU cycles, they show you how technology can make your life better. They focus on people. The human element.

In an ad for a feature called FaceTime, which allows you to see the person you are talking to on the phone, a soldier sits on the edge of his bunk, holding out his iPhone, video-chatting with his wife/girlfriend at the hospital back home as she’s getting an ultrasound. His eyes well up as he sees his son for the first time.

I learned in the newspaper business that the story is always about people. That also holds true in marketing and advertising.

2. The ads also capture what is cool and current. Many of Apple’s best-known spots feature music by of-the-moment, cutting-edge artists, or what is known today as “indie” artists. Guess what type of music Apple’s target market overwhelmingly listens to? Indie music. Combine that with fresh, artful imagery, and these ads have made the iPod and iPhone symbols of good taste in many people’s eyes.

Apple’s story is a testament to the power and importance of communication. The writers and other creative professionals who have “framed” Apple’s products so beautifully literally saved the company and have completely turned around its fortunes. Kudos to Steve Jobs for hiring the best.

By being better at communicating with consumers than its competitors are, Apple has passed them up.

Now if I could just get better reception on this iPhone…

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