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.”

Social media marketing: back to basics

30 03 2011

Everybody from Abercrombie & Fitch to Allstate is trying to make the most of social media, recognizing the profound effect it can have on their relationships with customers.

Companies realize that there is a conversation going on and that it is essential for them to have a voice in it.

But despite the fact that just about every savvy brand has gotten religion on social media marketing, most are still experimenting and have yet to fully harness the power of Web 2.0.

In a recent blog post, the “Zeus of Marketing,” a.k.a. Jesus R. Graña, predicts that in 2011, companies will go back to the basics of marketing and build their social media plans on principles that were established decades ago.

Don’t be fooled by the “Zeus of Marketing” moniker. Graña — a Cornell grad with an MBA from the University of Michigan — is a senior strategy and marketing professional who has worked for Procter & Gamble and IBM, to name a few.

He writes:

“If you’re like me, classically trained in marketing and strategy, I bet you’ve wondered when the focus of social media development will switch from what’s technologically feasible to what’s necessary to execute real marketing objectives.”

Remember A/T/U — awareness, trial, continuity of usage?

My advice for all marketers and media suppliers is to focus on delivering against these strategies, which are the fundamentals of any marketing effort.

Graña warns against experimenting with social media marketing without having a clear objective:

“Creating a Facebook fan page or tweeting 24/7 without an objective will mean no clear metrics are set, and you’ll only be wasting your scarce resources. A whole business is emerging now on metrics as if fire has just been discovered. The main reason why there are no metrics now is because there were no objectives to begin with.”

Come back to the basics. No need to re-invent the wheel!!!

Graña says that if a company wants measurable metrics, it must review its current marketing strategy and confirm its marketing objectives.

If your objective is awareness, identify which vehicle reaches the largest number of people in your target demo. Facebook is the best option on a B2C basis. For B2B, Graña identifies LinkedIn as the best option. There are LinkedIn groups for just about every industry, and if there isn’t one for yours, create one.

If your objective is trial, identify which vehicle is closest to your point of sale and to your customer. Graña suggests keeping tabs on the location-based, mobile space. Vehicles like Groupon and Foursquare are a great way to get consumers to try your product. Send a consumer a high-value coupon, and there’s a good chance he/she will give you a shot.

Most brands are focused on continuity of usage. As Graña points out, “only via continuity of usage will you ensure a sustainable and profitable business.”

He writes:

“Continuity includes not only repeat purchases, but also referrals from satisfied customers motivating others to buy.”

Continuity is the result of loyalty — “the Holy Grail” for marketers. This is why CRM (Customer Relationship Management) has been so important even in pre-Internet years. It’s also THE area where social media can shine (and few, if any, have mastered it). Leveraging social media for loyalty development is the ultimate goal for marketers in this medium.

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The do’s and don’ts of pitching reporters

1 03 2011

I recently sat in on a webinar about how to pitch story ideas to reporters. There were four reporters who shared their views: a staff writer from The Wall Street Journal, one from USA Today, another from AOL News, and a freelancer for Crain’s New York Business.

Because reporters are bombarded with pitches on a daily basis, it’s important to gain every little advantage you can when trying to draw attention to your product, organization or cause.

Here is a summary of what the reporters had to say:

How To Pitch:

All the reporters said they prefer that you pitch via email so they can read what you are proposing when it is convenient for them, they can digest what you’ve written, and they don’t feel like they are being “put on the spot.” Don’t make your initial pitch by phone, and absolutely no faxes.

The reporters agreed that they like short emails that get to the point in the very first sentence. For example: “My name is Alex Mitchell with Acme Health Group, and I’d like to tell you about a new treatment our physicians have devised for pancreatic cancer that we estimate will raise the survival rate from 5 percent to 15 percent.”

You should include a link to your website or a site that gives more details about your proposed topic. You should also use a short, bulleted list to quickly outline your key points. Provide context for what you are publicizing so reporters understand why they ought to pay attention to your news. Is your news part of a broader trend? Does it relate to a “hot” story that people are talking about?

Pitching Via Social Media:

Social media is more useful once you’ve already gotten a reporter or reporters to pick up on your story. All the reporters said that they don’t want to be pitched on Twitter, and all but one (the AOL writer) don’t like to be pitched on Facebook.

Subject Lines:

Reporters receive hundreds of emails a day, so they are more apt to open yours if the subject line of your message is clear about what you are pitching and obviously tailored to them rather than being part of a mass email effort.

Don’t use the phrase “Quick Question” in the subject line. All the reporters said they see that a lot, and it’s an automatic delete.

Follow Up:

The reporters agreed that they don’t mind some initial follow-up after you send them an email. They are very busy, so they realize that it’s possible they missed your initial note.

Top Mistakes:

— Thinking you — your business — is the news. Explain how what you are publicizing relates to something larger. Provide a news peg.

— Not understanding what a reporter covers and who his or her readers are.

— Sending a pitch with spelling errors or not getting a reporter’s name right.

— Exaggerating. Don’t make claims you can’t back up with data. If you make a claim and can’t prove it, you’ll burn your bridge with the reporter.

— Pitching a story that is too similar to one a reporter just wrote or one he/she wrote a few months ago. Get on Google and research what the reporter has written about recently.

A PR pro who pitches the right way becomes a trusted resource for reporters, rather than a nuisance. Once that happens, it’s much easier to get your message “a good ride” in the media.

MTV’s social media success story

22 02 2011

MTV recently put on a social media marketing clinic with its launch of Skins — the American version of the popular British teen drama.

With a core age demographic of 12 to 34, Skins was ripe for social media engagement, and MTV has taken full advantage.

The first good move the network made was beginning its promotional campaign three months prior to the show’s premiere. Networks generally launch shows first, then build a relationship with fans, but why wait? MTV opted to start the conversation and build a community well in advance of the premiere, and based on the numbers (we’ll get to those in a minute), it worked.

Deciding to promote Skins early was only part of the equation for MTV. The network then had to put together a comprehensive social media plan for the show. Let’s take a look at the components: A home site regularly updated with content, including trailers and sneak peeks.

Tumblr blog (“we are skins”): Microblogging site on which MTV posts text, images, videos, links, quotes and audio from/about the show.

Twitter handle (@skinsTV): A great way to interact with fans in real time — chats, Q&A’s, contests, links to other Skins sites, etc.

Facebook fan page: The widely used site gives MTV another space to post content and interact with fans.

-What’s Your Skins Score? (Facebook mobile app): Asks users 10 questions to determine their party personality. Users can share their score with friends on Facebook.

-Where It Went Down (mobile app): Inspired by the wild and crazy experiences the characters have in the show, this app allows users to share where their memorable moments “went down.”

-Fast Society (mobile app): Fans can discuss the show with group texting or an instant conference call.

“Social media has become a full-time customer service job at MTV,” Tom Fishman, MTV’s Social Media Manager, told “We dedicated resources to engaging full-time and understanding the nuances of what was being said across social media.”

The effort has paid off. Prior to the series launch, the Skins trailer drew more than 5 million video streams and 700,000 uniques on the site, 9,000 followers on Twitter, 55,000 “Likes” on Facebook, and 2,500 followers on Tumblr.

Most important, the Skins premiere drew 3.26 million total viewers, easily outperforming the debuts of competitive shows across both cable and network in its core demo, including CW’s Gossip Girl and ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars.

Pretty good ROI for what was once considered a silly little diversion.

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