Hopes for 2016…….

Reflecting on my ‘Hopes for 2014’ post, it’s abundantly clear that I was in a particularly optimistic frame of mind back then. I’m not sure that any of my then hopes have been realised, and the industry has probably gone backwards in some respects.

So for 2016 I’m going to keep it simple.

I love digital marketing and the possibilities it presents. I believe marketing automation is one of the genuine marketing advancements made over recent times, and that an effective website presence can be used to make a real difference to bottom line revenue, as can social media.

But there are now so many tactical options available to implement a marketing strategy, let’s not just concentrate on the ‘trending’ methods. Let’s write effective press releases and use the media to the full; have an effective presence at events, with measurable ROI; brand and position products and organisations with flair and professionalism.

Let’s remember that marketing is indeed a mix of disciplines, and that ‘digital’ doesn’t replace the ‘old’ skills and methods, it adds to them.

 

Happy New Year, oops…….

As I wrote over 2 years ago, a brand’s approach to social media should be handled with care. This was once again demonstrated last night when many brands tweeted New Year greetings a day early, no doubt confusing 12am with 12pm when scheduling posts.

Although this is embarrassing for the brands concerned – which included Highland Spring, Papa John’s, Tower Bridge and Nottingham Castle – embarrassment was probably the only real pain inflicted.

However,  once again it highlights that organisations need to take the risks involved in social media seriously when deciding who has the authority to press the button, and not treat the medium lightly.

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The lion, the switch to digital…….

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Late in 1988 I was invited for an interview for a job at The Architects’ Journal. Independently owned, and with offices in Queen Anne’s Gate, the ‘AJ’ was an extremely well respected publication, whose staff at that time included historian Dan Cruickshank.

Once inside the building I was led down a set of stairs and ushered into one of the most fantastic pubs I have ever experienced. A stuffed lion’s head in a glass cabinet looked over me as I negotiated the interview’s questions, trying not to put off by the rather unusual interview setting of a cellar bar. Gavin Stamp does a much better job that I could describing the uniqueness of ‘The Bride of Denmark’ in his Spectator article of 1990, shortly after Robert Maxwell’s group took over the AJ.

I was offered the job, accepted, and spent a couple of years working in that fantastic building until Maxwell added us to his portfolio and the AJ began its journey into the world of big corporate business to business publishing houses, where content comes second to advertising revenue, and editors and journalists have a responsibility to generate money as well as words.

27 years later, and 119 years after the AJ was first published, the decision has been made to close the print version, and move it to a digital-only format. No more will the fantastic photography and wonderful descriptive and opinionated editorial be held in the hands of the country’s grand, and not so grand, designers.

While this is a tremendous shame, it was an inevitable move, and one that the current owners, EMAP, not known for their intelligence when monetising digital platforms, should have probably made many years earlier. (Incidentally, the EMAP brand is also being killed off, hopefully along with the associated arrogance of the past 35 years).

I have always supported the move from print to digital B2B publishing wherever possible and relevant, but can’t help feeling regret that the real Architect’s Journal will die.

Even as an advocate of all things digital, my memories of the look and feel of the 1980’s AJ, and of an atmospheric cellar bar in a Georgian London street, make me slightly sad that yet another tiny piece of character has being taken from my past.

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Wot, no video?

Interesting new research from Spear Marketing Group, as reported by webstrategies, around where B2B marketing budgets are allocated for maximum effectiveness. There’s no surprise that content marketing comes in first, with SEO second, and it’s good to see that CRM with marketing automation complete the top three.

What did surprise me was the lack of reference to video in the analysis. Whitepapers, blogs and webinars are great digital tactics and certainly serve the purpose of demand generation, but to ignore the power of video is to miss an engagement trick.

A simple ‘how to’ video, or a short interview with a business expert can be just as effective as a longer flashy corporate presentation, and maybe offer more viral potential than other written content. With the availability of fairly low-cost editing software, and YouTube providing a ready made distribution platform, videos can actually prove more cost effective than webinars or paid SEO.

It’s good to see content marketing given budget priority, but there are many reasons why video should be just as much a part of the content mix as whitepapers or blogs.

Free Facebook for all…….

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The current controversy around Facebook’s recent study is the latest in a long line of protection of privacy issues which ignore one of the myths of living in the digital age. That the internet, is completely free.

No, it’s not. Facebook is a business, and while you may not obviously part with your hard-earned as you would on Amazon or eBay, arguably you pay for access to these sites with something far more valuable. Your personal data. What’s more, you hand it over cheaply, often almost unconsciously, whenever you click a link that says ‘I accept’.

In the great scheme of things, the Facebook study is fairly innocent – OK, some users have been slightly manipulated, but the demographic used as a sample was more than likely to have been the ‘Can’t believe he said that’ and ‘Wow, TOWIE’s back’ brigade, for who unknowing manipulation must be a way of life. The fear ‘but what about if they wanted to manipulate an election?’ is an interesting issue, but again, if a few subliminal messages and actions by  a glorified gossip board can make you change where you put your tick, you should immediately sign yourself up for a frontal lobotomy.

We need to be careful what we wish for – if we deny internet giants such as Facebook access to the valuable commodity of data they may start asking for something else to access their services, such as cash. Not many would ‘like’ that.

On a slightly different, but related, note, the BBC’s Robert Peston is complaining of Google censorship after they removed one of his posts from SERPs as a consequence of a ‘right to be forgotten’ request. Robert, Google lists links to your articles for free, and you do not have the right to be included in any results. They haven’t censored you, your article is still on the website where it was originally published. Given that Google’s main criteria is to return the most relevant and informative results to a search, I would argue that unless someone uses the keywords ‘inflated buffoon’, you should probably appear on fewer results pages than you currently do.

Peston has arrogantly appealed to Google, no doubt a slightly easier and higher publicity generating target than the real villains, the European Court of Justice, who issued the ill thought-out ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling in the first place.

Native advertising, why not…….?

While much of the publishing industry still has a problem with the concept of native advertising, it remains an excellent opportunity for B2B organisations to take advantage and make it part of their content marketing strategy, in order to gain profile and reinforce ‘thought-leader’ status.

There’s nothing much new about native advertising, it’s another tag for what used to be known as ‘advertorial’ – the media industry constantly feel the need to prove that digital publishing is a total revolution, not just the harnessing of new technology to do exactly the same thing, and the invention of new buzzwords and phrases is typical.

There’s various definitions of native advertising, put simply it is commercially-generated paid content in the style, and sometimes the guise, of editorial. The controversy is really around how content paid for by a commercial business is, or isn’t, distinguishable from independent editorial. The main concern is around transparency, and in North America the Federal Trade Commission are making noises around how to police this ‘new’ form of promotion. At the moment, however, publishers are left to self-regulate, and I don’t see that changing. Some publishers insist on the content being labelled ‘Sponsored Content’ (here’s an example from IBM), some are less obvious and only ask for final editorial sign-off, while others will have no restrictions at all.

B2B trade media is more conducive to native advertising than B2C for several reasons. For a start, our target markets are more intelligent, generally they understand when content is independent and when there’s a commercial interest. If you keep content informative, this is a positive, not a negative. Also, business to business publishing has in many cases always been ahead of consumer in terms of introducing and accepting new revenue streams, mainly due to commercial pressures. Actually, in most specialist B2B media there’s always been a sort of bias – publishers, with a few saintly exceptions, tend to give editorial preference to the companies who advertise with them, so to make a fuss over native advertising would be slightly hypocritical.

As marketers our main concern is, of course, effectiveness. A study by IPG Media Lab concluded that branded content outperformed display advertising on every metric assessed, including lifts in awareness, brand favourability and purchase intent. Although I don’t always take this type of research at face value, it makes sense – B2B publications are not read for the advertisements.

So, factors to consider when producing native advertising:

  • Where: Select your media with care, just because a publication is accepting native advertising, doesn’t mean that it has the right target market or audience penetration. Usual media buying analysis rules apply.
  • Cost and contract: Negotiate hard. OK, you’re buying exposure, but to a certain extent you are filling space the publisher would have to fill anyway. Establish, in writing, exactly what you are getting for your buck. Are there constraints on the information you can put across, and the way you are allowed to present it? How clear will it be that it is not independently produced content? This will guide the tone of your content.
  • Content:  As previously mentioned, publishers will have varied approaches dependant on their guidelines. Some will want a degree of control, others will prostitute themselves completely. To my mind, one of the most effective native advertisements is one appearing in the form of an interview, or a company study, where the title is claiming authorship of the article, but it’s actually written by the company – ‘Widget Weekly look at the success of The Cambridge Widget Company and talk to their MD, Mr G Getwidget”. When writing the content, think of the audience. By all means talk about products, business wins, market share gains (after all, this is not a whitepaper), but balance your corporate message with market information useful to the audience – industry statistics, trends and viewpoints. Quality is key. Your audience may understand that your company had a hand in producing the content, but if it’s informative, and the reader gains from the reading experience, this will not be a big issue. One alternative is to produce a more generic industry article, informative, but at the same time pushing your strategic message. The skill is in the writing.
  • Optimisation and profile: Once published, the content should be linked to via social media, relevant website pages and even used through email marketing. The piece should have been written taking into account keywords, so should be naturally optimised for search.

Publishing purists will shake their heads and talk about editorial independence and the death of true journalism, and given my publishing background I have some sympathy. But actually the term ‘publishing purist’, with a very few exceptions in B2B media, is a bit of an oxymoron. (As examined in Advertising Age’s article on the Wall Street Journal’s native advertising plans). Most specialist B2B publishers are fairly quick to turn to bend to commercial pressures. As a B2B marketer, the important element is that you are getting your message across to your target market within the context of a respectable industry vehicle.

Native advertising is out there, the publishing industry may still have issues with it, but it’s a legitimate, perfectly acceptable and effective route to market for B2B organisations – use it.

Businesses blogs, an update…….

According to those who know, 95% of all blogs that are started are abandoned, a figure which apparently equates globally to well over 100 million. I imagine that this is due to a variety of reasons, but time restraints will be up the top. I haven’t posted my inane musings for over 5 weeks – I have a full time job, and producing a blog takes thought and research – yes, believe it or not, even mine.

However, while for personal bloggers like myself –  tapping away in the vague hope that someone will find our self-indulgent ramblings slightly interesting or challenging – a pause of a few weeks, or complete abandonment of a blog isn’t all that threatening, businesses need to take the issue of updating their online presence more seriously.

There are various reasons why businesses should publish non product based content such as blogs and whitepapers, among them:

  • To position themselves as experts – ‘thought-leadership’
  • Increase website traffic – SEO
  • Push strategic messages
  • Encourage customer engagement
  • Product content for social media campaigns

I wrote last year about how social media needs to be resourced and approached professionally, and the publishing of online content is no different .Websites, if you really need reminding, are the most public platform a business has. OK, senior staff and salespeople are out there conducting face to face meetings, networking at events etc., but they’re not in front of an inquisitive client on a Sunday afternoon, or an insomniac potential partner at 3.00am. Retail outlets have a High Street and Retail Park presence but, again, when the store doors aren’t open there’s only one place where customers go to compare products and expertise.

So new content needs adding on a regular basis, and existing content refreshed and updated to take full advantage of the medium, and avoid the risk of giving a negative impression of a business.

As I write:

Large organisations, who can afford to put resources into their content marketing, but seemingly don’t place a high value on this method of customer engagement.

Strange indeed, and probably further evidence that while multi-nationals certainly invest heavily in their digital presence, many are yet to have the strategic intelligence to maximise its potential.