Brands Use Content as a Marketing Tool

But you already know that brands use content as a marketing tool, because I’ve been talking about it since April 2009.

Kudos to David Carr and the New York Times for finally arriving to the party.

Carr just wrote this excellent article in the Times about luxury brands publishing content and downright getting into the media business. And it’s true, brands are creating content and using it to drive engagement across a variety of vertical markets, both B2C and B2B. They’re shifting dollars of out publishing ad spend to do it, and they’re delivering content in the form of print magazines, digital mags, blogs, content-rich websites, and more. Plus, they get better tangible metrics than publishers offer, because they drive traffic to their own content, URLs and places where they can track and analyze deeper.

Yet Carr’s article comes almost a full two years after I wrote a series of blog posts that described how marketers have a role in the future of content (the other two posts in the series are here and here…the second one even takes a journalist to task for not seeing the shift).

I think the mainstream media are finally starting to notice since, as Carr’s article highlights, some high-level journalists and content experts are making the leap to direct content on the brand side.

Andrea Linett, the former creative director of Lucky, has gone on to become eBay’s fashion creative director, while Melissa Biggs Bradley, the founding editor of Town and Country Travel for Hearst, is now the chief executive at the travel site Indagare. And many journalists who were pushed aside as publishing withered are now finding that brands in search of an audience are still interested in what they do.”

Well now that the Times says it, it must be true, right? So take a good, long look at what kind of content your customers consume, and charge ahead in terms of providing it to them in a way that creates engagement with your brands and products. I’m not saying you have to hire editors and build a media empire under your roof — but hired experts are clearly an effective way to do it. You also have other ways to create and provide content, like social media, whitepapers and even Twitter.

Once you make the leap to content provide and educator, you gain trust and credibility, and you gain an incredible amount of context that you can use to market your products/brands.

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New Acronym, New Urgency to Measure Your Social Media Metrics

It used to be so simple.

At first, social media was easy because the standards of traditional marketing didn’t fit. It was new and different. It was personal and customer-driven and you were just feeling it out. It was Facebook and Twitter and what was to measure? If you knew how many Duggs you got on Digg you were ahead of the game.

But now that you invest time and resources in those customer conversations, it’s time to take a good, long look at what you get out of it in the traditional sense of marketing ROI. Even if you can’t or don’t need to measure down to an actual sales or revenue-driven metric, you should look at some the standard metrics of involvement and engagement in social media — followers, friends, comments, retweets, etc.

That’s where this helpful blog post from MediaPost (courtesy of @B2BOnlineMarketing) comes in. It suggests adding a new choice to the marketer’s toolkit of measurement metric acronyms: CPSA, or Cost Per Social Action.

The main benefit of CPSA is that marketers know they’re paying for something social and relationship-oriented. More importantly, marketers know they’re not specifically paying for exposure, traffic, conversions, or interactions (though those can all provide additional value). It’s an acknowledgement that social media is something else, so it’s deserving of a new model, one that stresses relationships above all else.

I like this logic alot. In social media, engagement and interaction is the holy grail, no matter what your goal. Whether you need to plant a flag as an industry thought-leader, or build followers for a Facebook page so you can reach them for a much lower CPA than other channels, the need to measure CPSA at some level is now an expectation. And it’s different that traditional measurement, because relationships are less tangible yet potentially more valuable in the long term.

The article does post a great question that only you can answer:

What’s a social action worth anyway? The further anyone veers from reach and sales, the harder it’s going to be to tie this into marketers’ traditional metrics.

Depending on your ultimate goals for your social media involvement, the true worth is for you to determine. For some, bigger Authority on Technorati may be the most valuable thing for your blog, while for others it may be Facebook followers, Twitter retweets, overall size of your social network, or something else. Or maybe you have a different way of measuring worth already that’s more complex and gives you a sales-driven ROI.

No matter what the answer to the question is, it’s definitely important to charge ahead and embrace CPSA as a new and valid metric that we look at often.

7 Things To Do in the Next 7 Days — Part One

It’s a crazy time to be a marketer.

So much to do, so much to learn, so much to stay on top of. It’s the most dynamic time in the last 15 years. Technology evolves at a breakneck pace even in the down economy. Social media rewrites the way marketers can engage customers and build relationships. Twitter rises to a frantic level of use — and marketers become frantic overnight trying to embrace it. Expected evolution in traditional tactics like direct mail and email still continues (yes, we’ve arrived at the point where email is now a “traditional” tactic). And you have to keep an eye forward to prepare for next-generation advances in targeting and technology.

How can you do it all, AND do your day job?

Ultimately, the answer lies with you. You have to find a way to balance the skills that keep you employed today…

  • Driving sales
  • Achieving goals
  • Raising ROI
  • Motivating employees
  • Building brands

    …with the skills that will keep you employed tomorrow.

  • Utilizing the latest technology
  • Understanding shifting customer needs/wants
  • Building a strong personal brand
  • Evolving your brand positioning with the changing market
  • Driving sales, raising ROI, building brands, and all the rest — in different times, with different rules, and different strategies

    So, in the interest of helping you find that balance, I offer you a few things to do in the next seven days (if you’re not already doing them). Take a good, long look at this list, and find time to dedicate time to each task — not just this week, but for good. You’ll be better prepared to charge ahead with whatever the economy demands of marketers in the coming months.

    1. Find five blogs to read regularly.
    This is the first thing on the list, because it is a complete MUST. There are so many experts out there who write compelling things every day to help you do your job. And they don’t work for publishers, they’re not all journalists — if you read this blog, you know our future is driven by content, not journalism. They’re marketers with decades of proven experience who blog and offer ideas and insights you need to read, understand and apply.

    Seth Godin and Chris Brogan are two I read always. There’s a buzz-generating new book out called Free by Wired‘s Chris Anderson…do you know about it? You would if you read blogs. There are also people with excellent business acumen, who aren’t necessarily marketers by definition, that can help you. Mark Cuban, for example. Look at the blogroll on my homepage for more. Use Google, search in your vertical market for other experts. Ask colleagues. Whatever you need to do. The point is this — set up a My Yahoo or Google Reader page, and find at least five blogs you must read, minimally, at the start of each day. You will be smarter at the end of the week.

    2. Talk to one customer each day.
    Every day, we’re busy. We have copy to write, projects to manage, bosses to assure, and strategies to present. Yet if part of the day doesn’t involve a conversation with a customer, then all that other stuff may end up being inaccurate. How do you know if the copy you write, projects you manage, and strategies you present — all of which are targeted to your customers — will be effective with your customers if you don’t ask them? How do you know what media to use for your message — not just today, but tomorrow — if you don’t ask them? How can have a breakthrough launch or idea that differentiate you from your competitors, if you don’t ask customers what they need?

    More importantly, you can’t build a strong personal brand without a refined way to understand customer needs.

    So get a customer list and call one each day. Young marketers, especially you. Don’t just be an executer — be someone who can offer insightful input based on conversations you have with people in the market. Ask that customer each day what keeps them up at night, what media they use, what budget challenges they face, and what keeps their customers up at night. And use that feedback to guide all your decisions. You will be smarter at the end of the week.

    3. Rethink your email marketing campaign.
    I almost gagged the other day when I heard about someone in my own company who emails every person on his email list every single week. Everyone gets everything. Here’s a better idea — save the time and money, and just opt-out all your customers right now.

    There are two ways you should rethink your email campaign right now: frequency and relevance. More is not better — more relevant, however, is. So take extra time to understand your customers and your list, and craft well-timed messages that are more relevant to what keeps them up at night (which you’ll found out by talking to a customer each day…#2, see above). Some people on your team may push for more, more, more — I say go for quality over quantity. Email inboxes are full right now, in case you’re the one exception to that reality and didn’t realize it. Stop pushing messages just to be pushing — study your metrics and know what works for a particular list, know what customers need and find relevant, send messages around times/dates that are important in the metrics, and focus the message on key needs and/or pain points. Doing it this way, less will get you more.

    Oh, and if you’ve been doing the same thing, try something different. Find balance between consistency in branding and fresh messaging that generates response. If you have a brand email template, try a text-only message that’s on-brand yet delivers the message in a unique way.

    There you have it. Three things to start on right now. See you in three days for the rest of the list.

  • New Study Tells Same Old News

    I love it when a new press release or article comes out for a new study that tells you the same old things you already knew. I mean, nothing wrong with some good spin and PR, who am I to hate on that?

    But c’mon, I don’t need a new IBM study to tell me about the convergence of direct marketing and branding.

    Return-on-investment direct marketing and traditional brand advertising are converging online, according to “Beyond Advertising: Choosing a Strategic Path to the Digital Consumer,” a report released Monday by IBM Global Business Services.

    Hasn’t direct marketing, and every other form of direct-response, always converged with branding? It has for me. Probably you too. Maybe we’ve always just been on the cutting-edge. Don’t you always ensure brand messaging is consistent across channels? Don’t you have a brand style guide to ensure visuals are consistent across all media? Doesn’t customer experience begin at the moment the customer reaches a touchpoint and extend all the way through post-sale?

    So I was thinking “This is old news.” Not even worth a good, long look. Then a little Google search turns up Fox Business coverage that provides more robust perspective and analysis that came from the study (kinda disappointed in the B2B article cited above…focused on that one little snippet that was old news anyway…why?). Now this tells me something interesting:

    According to the study, today’s suppliers (agencies, content networks and distributors) are not ready to meet the demands of the digital consumer and advertiser. Eighty percent of advertising industry participants interviewed for the study expect the industry to be at least five years away from being able to deliver true cross-platform advertising (including sales, delivery, measurement and analysis).

    Surely our advertising and media delivery systems evolve on a damn-near daily basis now. It’s interesting to know that the “suppliers” recognize the shifting demands of both consumers and how to reach them, and are charging ahead with solutions to make brand messaging and measurement truly seamless.

    If success at that endeavor, according to them, is five years away, I wonder how far away it’ll be in five years? It’s not like evolving demands will cease at present day.

    Takeaways from 2008

    Took a little holiday break, recharged the batteries, and now I am back and ready to blog. Hope you all had a good holidays.

    The thing I thought of the most over the last few weeks was listing the key things I learned from the 12 slow-grinding months of 2008. What things were most impactful, what did I spend time on that was not worth it, what worked and didn’t work, and what things do I need to be aware of for 2009. Here’s a few things on the list, take a good long look:

    Heed the Importance of Integrated Search Strategy
    Everyone needs an ISS. It’s no longer just buy a few keywords and add some meta tags to your site. You need to tie in your paid buys with everything from site content to link text to URL strings. And you need to understand the metrics that provide the ROI you need to refine your strategy.

    Cost Doesn’t Matter — It’s Value
    Even in a disastrous economy like we have now, price-cutting or giving something away for free isn’t necessarily the answer. The answer is ensuring your customers find value in what they get for what they pay. So focus on improving your product, your offer, your knowledge of customer needs, and the way you communicate your value proposition.

    Get Closer to Customers
    No groundbreaking revalation there, yet it always pops up to the top of my lists. Without systematic, frequent and measured analysis of customer needs and perceptions, how can you do important things like deliver value?

    Be Prepared for the Worst
    No marketer plans to fail. Yet we all know that things happen to throw us off track — bad economies, last-minute changes, website crashes, even some knucklehead hijacking your Twitter account (a Twidiot, if you will). So put your time into crafting a solid strategy, yet be aware of what the options are if the bad happens.

    Best of luck in 2009. Charge ahead.

    Small Businesses and Marketing

    How can you be a small business and not take a good, long, close look at your marketing efforts?

    Apparently that’s what 26% of small business owners said in a recent Yellow Pages Association survey about small business marketing efforts. Now, there’s alot about this survey that’s not surprising. Generating and retaining customers is the number one challenge for small businesses — not a shocker. Actually, feel free to replace “small” with “medium,” large,” or “any.” I mean, there aren’t many businesses where finding customers is not one of the most important challenges. 62% of business don’t use outside resources to assist with their marketing efforts — also not a shocker. They’re small businesses, so they’ve got small budgets and hands-on people who lead the search for customers.

    But more than a quarter don’t measure ROI on marketing? Now that is astounding. If you have a small budget, and customers are challenging to find, and it’s a tough economy, and you don’t use any outside resources to help — don’t you want to be sure you’re spending your money in the most effective fashion? Don’t you NEED to know you’re finding the most customers for the most effective cost?

    The survey signals a need for small business owners and marketers to ensure you’re measuring ROI the right way, and that you’re up-to-speed on how to measure ROI in the first place. Perhaps that’s the reason for the 26% who drop the ball on measuring results. Before you charge ahead with a marketing plan, make sure than plan includes looking at your results and putting your resources in the right places. That’s Marketing 101.