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.”


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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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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