Wednesday, January 30, 2008

content: the next killer app

It's difficult to remember how we did research before internet ubiquity. I vaguely recall spending hours at my friendly neighborhood library digging through something called a card catalogue and pouring over microfiche in search of relevant newspaper or magazing articles. [Any youngins reading this post probably think I'm speaking crazy talk at this point.]

These days research on any topic is merely a click or two away. And with the growing database of user generated content at our fingertips--from written to audio and video--the availability of information from experts and everyday folks continues to grow exponentially. This "content" phenonenon is great for marketers who know how to use it to their advantage.

In my last post I wrote that content is king. I kind of took it for granted that everyone knows what I mean by that. In case I was wrong I'm here to clear up any confusion. Content in this context is essentially information; it is the plethora of articles on any topic under the sun--from how to choose the right environmentally friendly automobile for a family of 22 to which hair growth tonic works the best for middle-aged house cats.

Unfortunately, many marketers mistake marketing materials such as collateral, white papers, case studies, and the like for content. I suppose it is, in a way. But the type of content that packs the most powerful punch are articles, Webcasts, podcasts, and other content that provide information on a subject without any sales or product pitch.

Stop freaking out my marketing minions, this is a GOOD thing. For there will be a perfect time to share those marvelously motivating marketing messages. Once you have helped your audience become knowledgeable--experts even--on your topic du jour as it relates to your product or service, he or she will be ready to be spoon fed your tasty messages.

Perhaps this concept is more easily demonstrated than simply described. I once worked for a software company that provided business intelligence and analytic solutions to large corporations and the government. We weren't the biggest, most recognized name in the business so the challenge we faced was reaching potential customers before our big name competitors did. The question we faced was esentially: how do we find folks when first they discover their problem? Answer: you reach them when they're in the research phase.

So we developed a content Website; one that looked like a magazine and provided articles and other content developed by knowledgeable and reputable sources. Few if any of the articles contained language about our products or company. All related to the business challenges our customers faced that would require them to need the solution we provided.

So my point is this: stop spinning your wheels marketing to minds not ready to hear your message. Instead, use your energy to create content that helps your customer better understand his or her problem. Not only will you reach them when they're ready, but you'll position your company as experts in the field, filling the role as a trusted advisor willing to help to help them solve their challenges.

For those curious about the Website, you can find it here:

Another invaluable resource for this approach can be found at this terrific marketing site:

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

are social media strategies considered marketing or pr?

This question is a puzzling one. I know many marketing professionals--eyes wide and tongues wagging with the enthusiasm of a energetic puppydog--anxious to jump on the social media bandwagon to reach new potential customers; the particularly technically savvy youthful types with expendable incomes (otherwise known as the "holy grail" of target markets). Yet I also see social media plans coming down the public relations pipeline. So what gives? Is it the marketing or PR department who is in charge of a company's social media strategy?

A recent IDC report on purchasing behaviors highlights what many of us in marketing already knew: traditional advertising is out, content is king. This means simply that people (aka the market) respond better to messages when these messages are communicated in the context of content, lets say in this case an article or an influential blogger's opinion (present company included? *blush*). Consumers are generally skeptical and can practically smell it when they are spoon fed marketing messages meant to influence their buying behavior.

Given this premise, it would seem that the new social media approach to written content, like reaching journalists or influencing how companies are written about by bloggers, would fall in the PR camp; the undisputed camp of written content creation. And getting bloggers to blog about you is similar to--and just as difficult as--getting the traditional media mavens to include your company/product/service in an article. In this case add the complexity of trying to influence the readers-at-large in hopes that they Digg or Stumble you, and you've got a tough job; a job perhaps best handled by your friendly neighborhood PR professionals.

But what about many of the other content-related social media "tools" (*cringe*)? Aren't Web sites like Flickr, YouTube, and Second Life all about content too? Well, yes. However there is a significant difference between the type of content featured by bloggers and journalists and that included on these other media sites: who posted it. These sites and others like them all feature content created and posted by the public-at-large. This is also known as "user generated content." [I realize the definition of "blogger" continues to morph and that more and more of the general public are beginning to blog. Sigh, another added complexity.]

It is in this space where the question of "who owns it" becomes a little murky. One might say it is the domain of PR to influence how the company/product/service is featured in any external content, written or otherwise. Yet I can also envision a legitimate corporate marketing campaign that asks viewers to create content--like photos, videos, or avatars--and post them to these sites as part of a contest. This gets the users and the public engaged with your campaign and--pay attention, because this is your ultimate goal here--commenting and forwarding the videos to virally spread your message for you. [For example, see Intel's "What Would You Do For A Duo?" contest video.]

Another component of social media that falls a little more squarely in the lap of the marketing department are the social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These sites rely on the formation of groups to get messages out. Also, the observed behaviors of friends in your network by other trusted friends can ignite an idea and help it spread like a brush fire. (For example, my friend joined the group "Confused About Social Media" and I want to join too because I trust her and am likewise befuddled by the big idea.) Certainly companies can post traditional ads on these sites--which is not a terrible idea, by the way--but the most valuable features of these tools, I argue, are the micro-communities that culminate around the interests of its members.

After reading over this post, I realize I have failed to firmly answer your question--well, the question I posed in the beginning. Perhaps that is because the corporate world itself continues to grapple with how to and who should develop a corporate social media strategy. I would hope that any company's marketing and PR teams would work together to develop a cohesive social media plan. And that best practices learned from various teams and business groups would trickle up and down the ladder so that others can learn from your favorite feats and your most frustrating flops.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

my #1 pick for best out-of-box business move

Andy Grove, one of the inspirational founders of chip giant Intel Corporation, was recently interviewed about his thoughts on how big companies can overcome the glass ceiling of growth. He touted the importance for corporations to think way outside-the-box and consider entering entirely different industries to achieve the type of growth Wall Street expects of them. As an example he praised Apple for their innovative move into the music industry and retail giant Walmart for adding health clinics to some of their stores.

This got me thinking; what would I consider the most innovative move in recent memory that exemplifies this right turn approach to driving new business? As I sat on my couch pondering this point my attention mindlessly drifted to my six year old son who was embroiled in an intense battle between good and evil with ubervillian Darth Vader in the Lego Star Wars game for the Wii. And as I watched my son gleefully blow Darth Vader's little Lego head off it occurred to me how unbelievably creative and ground breaking a move it was for Lego to release this version of the game.

By making the animated characters Lego pieces instead of people, the company avoided the blood and guts animations typically prevalent in fighting games. This opened their product to a whole new market: what I call the "post-todds"--six to 9 year olds who are "too old for baby toys" (read in dramatic hands-on-hips whine) but not old enough for the typically violent video fighting games. What's even more genius about this move is that most parents of children this age are in their mid-thirties. This the same generation who, as kids, had their own minds blown by the original Star Wars movie trilogy. [How do I know this? Um, because my husband and I and nearly all our friends encompass this exact demographic.]

If you add the extension of the Lego brand into the Lego amusement park and the Lego science fairs and building contests, you have a darn terrific example of a risky right turn business move that has paid off in exponential dividends. Add the Lego Website which includes the "Lego Network"--a tool that allows kids to build their own Web pages--and you've got a dose of pure marketing and product genius at work.

I pause to bow in honor of the Lego marketing and product departments while chanting "I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy."

All tongue-in-cheek aside, this is exactly what Andy Grove was talking about. When faced with fierce competition and price pressures the best thing for an organization to do is innovate. Step outside your company's comfort zone and embrace a new direction. You never know, you might just be the next BIG thing. Or at least you could be the talk of the playground. And that is an honor EVERY company should covet since those kids are really consumers-in-training.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

are you an armchair marketer?

"I want to work in marketing. That sounds like fun!"

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard that phrase uttered I'd be writing atop my yacht stationed in the crystalline aqua-blue waters of the Caribbean.

Marketing is a funny business. The job itself seems coveted by every liberal arts or literature major in colleges from Alaska to Zurich. It is glorified in Hollywood movies where smartly-dressed account executives work in hip glass and leather adorned offices and toss around creative concepts like NBA basketball stars running down the clock. And it conjures images of jet-setting and hob-knobbing, cosmopolitan in hand and Prada bag on hips.

It's not simply the freshly scrubbed collegiate set who thinks they'd make the next Donny Deutsch. Professionals from nearly every background think they know how to market simply because they are consumers of marketing. These "arm chair marketers" seem to believe that marketing takes little skill and even less experience; all you really need is a good eye for design or catchy tagline or title to make it in the biz.

Ah if it were only that easy. The irony here isn't that it takes both skill and experience to be a good marketeer. I mean it is kind of like me pursuing a career as a brain surgeon or electrical engineer without any relevant training or experience. But I digress. The true irony is that marketeers and the business of marketing is quite the opposite of glamorous most of the time. Not only is it hard work to constantly conjure the next cool creation or concept. Marketing is incessantly vilified by consumers, parents, professionals--just about anyone who receives incoming messages, which is pretty much everyone on the planet.

What most of us don't realize is that every business, commodity, service, product--every single market venture--needs marketing in some way, shape, or form. Nonprofit organizations need to attract donations or volunteers, attractions need visitors, products need customers, even governments need the support of their constituents. And it is the marketing professionals, with their experience and skill, who help connect the right messages to the right recipients to help drive the heartbeat of the global market economy.