A Contrarian View on Innovation in Advertising & PR

Lifecycle of a Technological Revolution_today

With the revolution of media and technology disrupting the marketing industry, and business models altogether, marketers are trying to navigate through the storm. On the communications side, TV dollars are shifting to digital. But, digital ads aren’t nearly as effective nor transparent as we want them to be. The traditionally distinct and siloed roles of marketing communications (once upon at time, just known as ‘advertising’) and PR are converging.

Because of the advent of social media, and the frustration with traditional and digital advertising, marcomm is moving into earned media with influencer marketing, native advertising and more responsive campaigns and editorial content teams. Because of the rise of the new influencer – everyday people and celebrities using blogs, YouTube, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, SnapChat, Periscope and other platforms to create personal media companies – PR is expanding beyond traditional media relations and ‘the pitch’, and into influencer marketing, sponsored content and responsive editorial content teams as well. It’s a race to the middle where the lines are blurred. That’s why agencies and publishers are partnering to create wholly new content companies that service brands.

If we take a step back from the race, though, things haven’t changed much since 2009. The big three: Facebook, YouTube and Twitter had launched and matured as three distinct and valuable social communications platforms for users. Since then, other social platforms have launched – Foursquare (and Swarm), Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, SnapChat, Meerkat and Periscope being the most touted. But, each of these just feels like an iterative evolution of the discontinuous leaps that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube made. Platforms, and the content they enable, shifted to become more visual, shorter and ephemeral. When Meerkat and Periscope launched, didn’t it feel like they already existed? And, the fundamental rules for how to engage audiences on those platforms is the same; we must adhere to the Reciprocity Theory.

So, I actually take a contrarian point of view: innovation has slowed in media technology. We’re at the tail end of our current technological revolution’s lifecycle, moving past the discontinuous revolution and into the iterative evolution. While folks in the industry are making claims that: “Advertising is dead.” Or that, “Data will tell us what content to make, so we don’t need creatives anymore.” I’m claiming that we need creative more than ever. The discipline just needs to evolve too. As the roles of advertising and PR converge, storytelling becomes an even more critical discipline for marketing.

Just pushing the message through TV and radio and print and display ads is lazy creative and lazy advertising. Great creative has always been about great storytelling. Now we just tell that story across new media platforms/channels in partnership with the new social influencers and in partnership with our customers. Sometimes those influencers and customers are the same. Great creative (‘the story’) is the glue that holds the story together, wherever we’re telling it. It’s what inspires people to participate.

In the late 2000s in the entertainment industry, we began exploring transmedia storytelling. This is where we would develop a core story – characters and the world in which they lived. And, then we’d plan out those stories across media (books, graphic novels, movies, TV, web series). It was a shift away from the linear model of: writer publishes book –> studio buys book and makes movie –> network turns movie into TV series. Instead, we developed it all at the same time. They lived together as extensions, or chapters, of the same story instead of separately as different and distinct adaptations of the story. This style of storytelling became particularly popular in the fantasy/gaming/comics genres, as we could delve deep into the story of a world we were creating.

Now, in marketing, we have the opportunity to take the same approach. How do we create a core story – the story of our brand, which reflects the story of our customers and employees – and tell that story through new (and traditional) media platforms and people? Like a vision, the story we tell requires an intuitive leap of faith. It must inspire. It must create new possibilities. Is that so different from great advertising fifty years ago? Maybe. Maybe not. But, in an increasingly ephemeral world, wouldn’t it be nice to have some moments that impact and last?

The Purpose Economy, Part 1: The Reciprocity Theory

Charlie Bit My Finger

Back in 2010, I left the movie business to work in digital and social media. I was fascinated by the accelerated growth of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and how they were disrupting the content industry. In the movie business, reliable A-list talent weren’t driving people to the box office anymore. But, Charlie Bit My Finger was getting millions of views on YouTube. Seemingly overnight, what was once our audience had become the talent. They’d become the celebrities themselves. And so, as I made a career move into social media marketing, working with bloggers and vloggers and other content producers and startups like BuzzFeed – and working with brands like General Motors and Colgate Palmolive to make sense of it all – I became fascinated by human behavior online. And, I thought deeply about the core motivators that drive participation and action in social media and online.

Newton's Third Law_Ice Skaters

As I thought about these core motivators, I kept thinking back to Newton’s Third Law of of Physics, reflected here with two ice skaters. So long as the force that each skater is acting upon the other is equal, they maintain a balanced relationship. But, as soon as the force of one exceeds the other, the relationship is thrown off balance. In other words, the relationship is mutually dependent, or, reciprocal. Similarly, reciprocity in social psychology refers to responding to a positive action with another positive action, or a hostile action with another hostile action.

This notion led me to a model I call The Reciprocity Theory. At its core, The Reciprocity Theory believes that social motivation is based on each person’s desire to (1) be recognized as an individual, and (2) belong to a community.

Reciprocity Theory_Individual, Community

And, this is what makes social media so sticky: you get to define yourself and showcase yourself as an individual, while belonging to a bigger community. And, so long as you are contributing some definition of value to the community, you will earn an equal value in return. Like the ice skaters, the relationship is reciprocal.

Now, when I took a step back and looked at this model, a few things occurred to me. At the intersection of the individual and the community lies the individual’s purpose. It asks the question, what unique value can I, as an individual, contribute to the community – to the world?

Reciprocity Theory_Individual, Community, Purpose

It is also the basis for influence.

Reciprocity Theory_Individual, Community, Purpose, Influence

If you are truly contributing value to the community, you develop some level of influence on them. In marketing, we talk a lot about influencers. Not just how to engage them with your brand, but also how the brand itself can become one.

And, so I asked: where does a brand fit into this? How does a brand reach the individual – or the community of people?

If the brand interjects itself with traditional, antiquated advertising, then it will throw off the balance and the individual and community will retract. The individual and the community will continue their relationship, but the brand won’t be a part of it.

So, how can a brand earn a seat at the table in a new world where the individual wields more power than the brand? By becoming a valued member of the community as well. By being purpose-driven and enrolling customers into their community.

In this series on what I’m calling The Purpose Economy, we’re going to discuss why The Reciprocity Theory and being a purpose-driven brand is so essential. What are the fundamental shifts in our economy that make this community, purpose-driven approach so critical? And, how a brand can do it. How does a brand operationalize this – institutionalize this? We’ll do this in the following posts on Foundational Human Behavior, Technological Revolutions, Socio-Economic Evolutions, and Business Transformation.

Click here for the next post, where I discuss foundational human behavior.

The Purpose Economy, Part 2: Foundational Human Behavior.

Products I Can’t Live Without (Or At Least Don’t Want To)

20120103-111818.jpg

Over the holidays, I finally had a few days to clean out, reorganize and play with new features on some of my favorite products. This gave me some more clarity on how I can, and want, to use these products moving forward to best fit my needs, and I’m already seeing the benefits.

This has inspired me to write a series on products I can’t live without and how I use them.

Here is an initial list of the products, which I’ll likely be tweaking as we go.

One thing is becoming clear to me: there are just too many great social networks for one person to manage alone (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Instagram… the list goes on). While enthusiasm for social media, mobile and apps is still growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if fatigue starts to set in trying to keep up. Soon, there will be a need for a platform that aggregates your feeds and communications. Some might argue that need already exists. After all, there are plenty of SMMS (social media management system) products out there (e.g. Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Spredfast). But, these were really built for the professional and enterprise in mind. The UX of these products clearly reflects that. I think that there is now a need for a product that aggregates your feeds and communications in a more consumer-friendly experience. I’ll touch on this in more depth in the individual posts.

If you have any thoughts the above listed products or think there are some I should add, please share.

Calculating the ROI of Content and Engagement Strategy

Satisfaction Guaranteed Sticker (Vector)


I often get asked, particularly by clients, what the ROI of content and engagement is. What is it going to cost, and what are they going to get out of it? This is always a tricky question to answer, but I’ll attempt to do so at the end of this post. First, some context.

Nothing in life is guaranteed…unless you’ve been working in advertising.

Content in old advertising was pretty simple: shoot a nice, glossy ad, pushing your product/service and then pay CPMs to distribute that content. Advertisers knew exactly how much that ad was going to cost to produce, how much it would cost to distribute and how many people the ad would (potentially) reach (“potentially” because impressions are not synonymous with engagements).

The Wild Web

cowboys.1

Today’s content is a different beast. A good content strategy incorporates paid media, owned media, relationship media and SEO to generate earned media. None are mutually exclusive. And, the emphasis is on the engagement, not the impression.

Social Media

Notice I didn’t even mention social media in there? That’s because social media is ubiquitous across the aforementioned forms of media. Social media is a channel for paid media (e.g. Facebook Ads and Stories, Twitter’s Promoted Trends and Tweets, to name a few of the biggies). It’s a channel for owned media (e.g. Facebook Pages, Google+ Brand Pages, YouTube Channels, Tumblr accounts, Twitter accounts – these are all places to build an owned community). Social media is a channel for relationship media – my term for modern day PR (you can now identify who the top influencers for your brand are; many, if not all, will have a social media presence). Leverage these three media well, coordinated with a strong content strategy, and social media helps facilitate scaled earned media. But, please do not mistake social media as a siloed form of media.

The Brand’s Predicament

confuse

Now coordinating these media and solidifying one unified content and engagement strategy is difficult – particularly for Fortune 500 brands with large marketing budgets. That’s because each medium is often handled by a different agency or group. Paid media is handled by media agencies. The content for paid media is produced by the creative agencies. Relationship media is handled by PR agencies. You have a new breed of social media agencies doing some pieces of each (paid, owned and relationship media), while the PR, creative and media agencies are all fighting each other and the social media agencies for a piece of the social media pie. No wonder brands are confused.

Building A Newsroom

Newsroom von RIA Novosti in Moskau

To help solve this issue, I’d like to see brands build something akin to a newsroom. This would be a cross-divisional/agency team focused on content and engagement strategy. They would work together to

  • Identify the key existing and target audiences (i.e. consumers) for the brand;
  • Identify what content is valuable to each of those audiences at different stages of the purchase funnel;
  • Identify where (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, TV, news outlets, etc.) and how (video, pictures, text, slides, etc.) audiences like to consume that content;
  • Identify who the brands’ top influencers are; and,
  • Then, assign team members and agencies to produce the appropriate content and distribute it through the appropriate channels (i.e. execute on the plan)

For more detail on the above bullets, see my posts “Content As A Platform” and “Building A Content Platform”.

Calculating the ROI of Content and Engagement Strategy

Money!

Now, I believe that social media and mobile technologies have empowered brands (large and small) to

  • Access more specific data about their audiences;
  • Produce and distribute a higher volume of content that is more valuable to their audiences, and do so more efficiently; and,
  • Build deeper, longer lasting relationships with their audiences

With this in mind, I’d like to see brands and agencies use the following as a benchmark for calculating ROI

  1. calculate the average Customer Lifetime Value (= revenue x time [per month/per year])
  2. calculate Allowable Cost Per Sale (i.e. the amount your willing to spend to acquire a sale – e.g. 10% x CLV)

(Note: Jamie Turner does a great job describing Customer Lifetime Value and Allowable Cost Per Sale in this post)

With a successful content and engagement strategy, average Customer Lifetime Value should increase over time, while average Cost Per Sale should decrease over time.

I’d like to place emphasis on the words “over time”. While you can certainly run one-off social media campaigns, content and engagement are long-term initiatives that involve constantly listening, learning and iterating. You won’t see ROI tomorrow, or maybe even six months from now. Anyone that has ever started a blog and tried to build an audience/community around it will confirm that. But, I think a year in, you should probably start to see these effects starting to take place.

Are any of you building a newsroom in your organization? How are you calculating ROI for your content and engagement efforts? Would love to know.

Building a Content Platform

Blogging

Yesterday, I discussed content as a platform. Today, I’m going to provide tips for building your content platform.

The 90-9-1 Rule

The 90-9-1 Rule is more of a benchmark, but it states that 1% of the online population is highly participatory (producing original content), 9% participates some of the time (usually curating content – taking an action with the content from the 1% such as commenting, sharing, reposting etc.) and 90% “lurk and learn” or do not participate (they consume the content, but they don’t take an action with it).

It stands to reason then that the 1% are the most influential people on the web, followed by the 9%. But, what about those that produce original content AND curate? They reach influence at scale.

Some brand publishers are already doing this; I touched briefly on the subject in my post, “The Valuation of Content”. The Huffington Post sets the bar with a mix of original content from its editorial staff, curated content where they write two paragraphs and link to another publisher’s content and content from third party bloggers. But, this alone, isn’t enough. They have treated content as a platform, using a social layer to encourage their audience to participate.

Optimization for Participation

One quick look at The Huffington Post homepage, and you can see they’re serving up, not just the latest content, but the most popular, the most discussed, “Hot on Facebook” and “Hot on Twitter”. Dive into an article, and you’ll find it’s easy to comment on posts and share the content through social media.

What does this mean? The Huffington Post are experts at getting their audience to participate, and effectively making content go viral. Their content gets engaged with, curated and broadly syndicated by its own audience because The Huffington Post makes it easy for their audience to find great content and engage/curate/syndicate.

How Can Brands Build a Content Platform?

Ten Tips for Building a Content Platform

  1. Don’t be a used car salesman (i.e. a good content strategy focuses on building a relationship and trust with the audience)
  2. Identify what kind of content your target audience finds valuable
    • Is there a reoccurring complaint about your product/service? Offer up a piece of content that helps them troubleshoot the problem.
    • Are they looking for guidance regarding a topic in which you’re company has domain expertise? Offer up content that can help them (e.g. tips for managing personal finances, a guide to eco-friendly living, considerations when selecting a safe car for your teenager, etc.).
  3. In what format do they like to consume that content (e.g. video, text, photos, slide presentations)?
  4. Where do they like to consume that content (e.g. YouTube, blogs, Instagram, Slideshare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.)?
  5. Select a product/platform on which to build your hub (WordPress, Facebook, Google)
  6. Add a social layer (commenting and sharing functionality), if it doesn’t already exist. A great tool to incorporate here is Disqus, which is a comments community, serving as the comments engine for over 1MM sites and has almost 60MM users.
  7. Produce original content that meets your audience’s needs.
  8. Curate content that adds value to your original content and to your audience
  9. Engage with your audience, as they comment and share on your content
  10. Listen and improve

The image below represents the type and amount of content you should produce against the 90-9-1 rule. In the end, you want to product content that instigates your audience to take an action, including creating more content for you. As a brand, you likely won’t be able to produce enough good content yourself, in-house. And, it’s not your job to either. But, if you use content as a platform for your advocates to create more content about your brand, then you’re reaching scale both in volume of content and syndication of your content.

Content As A Platform

Platform One

Most advertisers see content as a product – something they can produce and release to an audience without third party iteration. Advertisers often pay six to seven figures to produce that content. And, in traditional media, that’s OK because you can pay for X number of impressions (i.e. X number of people that might have seen your content) to validate the high cost of production.

But, if you want to capture earned media through social media (there’s a distinction between the two, which I explain here), then you must think of content as a platform. A platform is a technology platform upon which additional technology (such as applications) can be built. Your iPhone or iPad or Android are built on platformed OS (operating systems), upon which third parties can build applications (or “apps”). Both Apple and Android have robust app ecosystems that are much of the draw for buying their products in the first place.

Any social media technology company worth its salt is platformed. Facebook is a platform, which enabled the unprecedented growth of a little gaming company called Zynga. Twitter is a platform. Companies like TwitPic and TweetDeck (now acquired by Twitter) were built on Twitter’s platform. YouTube is a platform – quite literally for content.

Why build a platform? Because Steve Jobs only comes once in a lifetime, if that often. Steve Jobs had an uncanny ability to predict what the consumer would want in the future and be the first to offer it to them. He built products people didn’t know they wanted. But, most people aren’t Steve Jobs.

The companies that build platforms understand that there is power in the crowd. Opening up your platform through APIs, enables the company to harness the passion and power of third parties to build upon and improve your technology. Steve Yegge explains this brilliantly here.

Content shares the same DNA. There are few people/companies/teams that can produce create content. Even in Hollywood, content created by the most premium content producers and powerful distributors doesn’t always make it. We see it every weekend at the box office and every fall and spring when TV networks release new shows. This is even more apparent with the top print and digital publishers that are competing for pageviews, video views and engagement. And, these are all content producers that produce with the audience in mind. Advertisers, on the other hand, produce with the brand in mind.  With content, as with platforms, the power is in the crowd.

The ease content creation and distribution on the social web has empowered individuals to rival even the most respected premium publishers. The mid-long tail of content publishers is vast as well. And, even the just the socially active individual has a network (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) through which to create, engage with and syndicate content.

Treating content as a platform through which you can instigate participation, conversation, engagement, curation (i.e. the creation and syndication of more content) will enable publishers to reach scale

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the 90-9-1 rule and offer up 10 tips for building a content platform.