5 Ways You Will Market Better in 2013

5 Ways You Will Market Better in 2013

Now that were well into 2013, I thought it might be useful to review some ways (5 to be precise) you can commit to improving your marketing this year. New year’s resolutions are so “last month”.

1.) You will improve search performance

Google has made changes. You are very likely aware of both Pandaand Penguin but what have you done to leverage them. Don’t try to outsmart Google– it’s just not worth it. Time is better spent understanding the rules and adapting to them.

2.) You will narrow your focus and broaden your appeal

The recent economic troubles have caused us to be too busy and too inclined to do work strictly for the sake of revenue. Focus is the key to winning the a position in the mind of your customer. in 2013 you will narrow your focus and broaden your appeal. Doing so will make your unique selling proposition easier to articulate and remember.

3.) You will automate and optimize your lead generation

You are fully aware that your email newsletter isn’t enough anymore. Playing with social media is not likely to deliver any results, either. You will get serious this year. Your communications efforts need to be better coordinated and you will. By building content to support every phase of your sales funnel, you’ll optimize your sales resources so that your sales cycles will be tighter and more cost effective.

4.) You will document your Customers’ experience more frequently

Everyone is talking about content marketing. The best content marketing is credible documentation of your customers’ learnings. Best practices are important but they erase distinctions fairly rapidly. The key challenge is to make your best practices readily available so that you can continue to improve on them. Today’s “Best Practices” are tomorrow’s “Standard Operating Procedures”. Insight into how to continually improve that part of the enterprise your offering can best enhance is your key to developing the kind of content that reduces risk of purchase.

5.) You will improve reporting and reduce reports

Most of your competitors and customers are awash in data. Too much data is pretty much as useful as no data. You can improve your marketing by actually putting the data you have to use. This year resolve to review your key metrics and identify the important ones you actually use to make more rational decisions. Further commit to measuring the results of your marketing efforts even when costs are sunk. You can continually improve your efforts if you are willing to accept that failure provides useful metrics from which to refine your efforts going forward. The dissonance around reviewing efforts made in the past is very strong. Resist blaming yourself or others. Make your next marketing initiative better by finding out what went wrong and how to fix it.

Trends I’m Watching 2014

Trends I’m Watching 2014

Note: Every year we use this space to look at what is happening now that gives us insight into where things are going. I hope you’ll check out the great work at the other ends of these hyper-links.

Evolving Skeuomorphism

UI matters.

How do you like the look of iOS7? where are the buttons? where are the design analogs that tell me what your app does?  Those conventions are for old people. Everything is a button? Except for that text that isn’t?

Skeuomorphism is dead , except where it isn’t. Opinion abounds. UI is so important-so I’ll say boundaries help. A lot.

Mark Twain tried honorably to change the spelling of many common English words to something more elegant and logical. He failed.  Convention is often inefficient but almost always stands in the way of innovation until ease-of-use overruns it. Steve Jobs made people stop using discs and cables. We went along because is was less cluttered,  nicer to look at and easier.  But ease needs to be exponentially greater not simply incremental. I think Twain would be shocked and delighted by leet , and maybe disappointed that he didn’t take it far enough. For now -mostly because of the geometric onslaught of system complexity-UI conventions (if not Skeuomorphs)  need to be acknowledged- if not followed. I’m watching iconography and the shape of things in 2014.

New sprouts

I’m optimistic too. I’m watching for an improved economy in 2014.  It appears tapering can be managed slowly, and the stock markets will adapt. One could argue it already has. The real-estate market mess is getting cleaned up (slowly) as that paper work gets done and as bankers realize that the Volcker rule isn’t all that brutal. Will businesses see their competitors coning out of the trench and respond? If they do it could lead to unemployment in the mid 6’s by the end of the year, and maybe even a little inflation by the time I write my trends forecast for 2015. I’m looking for growth from 5-7 years of pent-up demand . Then, again, there’s always this.

Segmentation and Agility: The Niche is Back

Small is the new big.” “Local is the new global.” This is the agility trend. Analytics can help deliver agility. This  trend isn’t new.  We’ve been watching for years. It’s always worth observing because we keep learning. The efficiencies of the long tail (lower expenses associated with smaller niches and segments) will drive communication message innovation further. Niche segmentation is not new, but I’m watching for it to get very aggressive as big data becomes more adoptable. Niche marketing is affordable and useful in ways it wasn’t 10 or even 5 years ago. It allows for aggressive experimentation so essential for success going forward this year. Watching your competitors segment your market is following. Leveraging business insight by evolving and refining your segments is leading . Signs for the trend are an increase in message volume and greater precision to smaller and smaller groups .

Social proof

So many marketers (and their managers) ask a very relevant question: what is social for? We know social ads struggle to sell in last-click attribution. But social media is still relatively inexpensive (it’s not cheap and it certainly isn’t free).  There is no question that social impacts sales . Interest in social proof is growing. Watch for enterprises to validate their value using social efforts. Watch for  more specific context in different market segments. Social media engagement comes in different forms for different customers in different phases of category involvement. Customers with low involvement are probably not going to participate in a community, but they might play a sweepstakes.

In contrast, customers with high involvement want to go deep on product feedback. I’m watching for higher conversion rates driven by improved customer messaging built from segmentation insight.

Branding is what you do to reduce purchase risk .   This year I’m watching for more social media efforts that demonstrate reduced purchase risk for customers. By being on social media, people can hear your voice. Knowing your voice makes you more relevant and-by extension-less risky. Next, social allows for the expression of brand values through content-either by creating it or by curating it. Additionally, social allows you to prove you know your customer’s voice. Proof-of-listening reduces risk because the business has demonstrated someone will respond and help when needed.  In 2014, watch for more risk-reducing proof-of-performance demonstrated in public . Branding will leverage CRM to generate social proof and return on investment.

The campaigning mindset

To get the most of out the new marketing tools, marketing efforts must be parsed in the forms of campaigns.  Branding is often seen as an ongoing, accretive effort. It is. But in an effort to manage costs and measure ROI more effectively, many marketers are aggressively managing discreet campaigns- as opposed to linear and ongoing messaging evolution. Campaigning leads to a number of related changes to watch for. Among them are more contracting, more freelancing and more turnover in marketing services. In other words, people and resources will be associated with campaigns as measurement becomes more common in form and execution. Involved in a successful campaign? Congrats. Unsuccessful? Watch your back .

In 2014 I’m looking for smart marketers to run as many campaigns in parallel as possible. Failures will become data points and contribute to valuable benchmarking efforts. Those benchmarks will inform future campaigns. Greater revenue generation comes from perspective that is only achieved through multiple points of view and aggressive, effective testing. Easy to say—tougher to do. I’m watching for managers who understand the value of benchmarking and iteration.

Attack of the 1099’s

Quantity means researching and trying new methods and vendors. Graphics work is being outsourced to India.  Voiceovers are available for 50 dollars. This price compression trend is about following fast nickels instead of slow dimes. It helps you to test and experiment more. If you don’t know what works, don’t worry. Try something new. Every graphic and copy change is a new variable to test. There are a huge number of providers and just as many versions for them to realize. The trend I see is finding what works and then improving on it.

Creative in quantity and The Data Vs. Meaning debate

Indeed data itself has no meaning. Data requires interpretation to be truly meaningful. This year I’m watching for broad consensus that more ideas are better than one good one. This trend is driven from the ability to measure the performance of specific creative attributes.  This year expectation-setting skills come into play as next-generation marketing measurement gets tested. Those people who believe they “know” how consumers and prospects will react are in trouble. To quote Twain: “Figures don’t lie but liars do figure” so be careful.  Obviously you want to test good ideas. This year I’m watching for marketers who create an environment where people aren’t afraid to be wrong.

Testing rules! I’m watching for winners who create a supportive environment for large quantities of creative iterations and fast evolutions that exploit novel content channels and forms. In 2014 I’m watching for marketing intelligence to include some form of highly specialized (and extremely valuable) performance benchmarking.

This is hard too. Especially in the context of what I’ve written above about entertaining and informing.  I love great creative. Most everyone in marketing has followed this career path because of that love. It is distressing when that love isn’t returned in the form of revenue or customer engagement. But as tracking becomes more sophisticated we learn that some audiences are more interested in nuance and subtlety than others. Surprise and frequency wins. Testing and creativity becomes as much about quantity (number of ideas to test) as it does about quality (efficiency and clarity of conceptual communication). Creative elements and media channels are under scrutiny in the cold harsh light of analytics. Of course nothing will replace taste and design- it will just need to support itself with engagement.

Content- Paid Placement

This is the new advertising .  Your marketing communications must entertain or inform. It must do one of those things really well. I’m watching for a wave of new nomenclature to distract marketers from what is essentially a very old media sponsorship model.  I expect to see creative communication that informs the purchase decision and gains credibility with your prospective buyers.  This is true in both B2B marketing and B2C. Measurability and risk reductions continue to be a theme this year.

The End of Net Neutrality?

Though I’m really expecting it to be a solid year, all is not lollypops and roses in 2014.

No one can blame the big telcos for working in the best interest of their shareholders and driving as much revenue from subscribers as possible. But we can blame the FCC and our do-nothing congressional representatives for not checking these guys before they became oligarchs. Lawless capitalism becomes corporatocracy-or something. *fists shaking*

Sadly in 2014 I’m watching for the Terminating Access Monopoliesto charge premium web content providers. For many, this spells the end of neutrality. It must be said, however, that the end of net neutrality is a lot like Iranians and The Bomb. The threat has been there for a very long time, but somehow, it never quite happens. Hopefully consumers will respond with their checkbooks, with their voices, and votes to their congressmen. In 2014 FCC and Federal Court rulings will have an impact on innovation and access to information.

Comcast has NBC. Presumably the other TAMs could find content partners or properties of their own to give special access to. Can you imagine AT&T($186B) buying Time Warner ($17B)? Or Verizon ($141B) buying Viacom ($39B)? I’m not crazy about how that looks, especially for consumers and small business, but it’s very easy to imagine it happening. Those who would argue about overlap and FTC deterrence may want to consider historic promises of divestiture in past media consolidations. . Ranks speculations? Of course. I’m still looking for it, though.

In the interest of fair play, here’s Verizon’s own take on permissionless innovation .

Pay walls and the End of Free-

Content sellsHulu is selling commercials and charging subscribers. At the same time. NYTimes and WSJ are pay-walling and selling advertisements. Netflix was one of the best performing stocks of 2013 . In 2014 i’m watching for this trend to continue.

Charging people was too hard or expensive at the turn of the new century.  In the past, many of us had heated arguments about the validity of micro-payments. That battle is over. Payment is easy. Micro-payments (and subscriptions) win.  eCommerce is effecting every business category . The Lesson: charge something for everything- even if it’s in micro payments, get the money. People value what they pay for. I’m watching platforms and tools like Bitcoin Coinbase, and Google Helpouts to see online transactions get easier and applied to more goods and, more relevantly, services.

It bears repeating: Data=money.  Sometimes it’s more valuable to get an email address a name and a phone number than cash.  Data.com says each new contact set is worth 5 bucks. What is the lifetime value of your customer? How much are you paying to get one? If your competition knows and you don’t, they win. If you both know and they pay less, they win. Don’t let them. Capture value in each phase of your sales cycle.

Have a great 2014! Here’s a look back at the things that we’ll remember about 2013

Trends We’re Watching 2013

Trends We’re Watching 2013

Our Year Preview was a little delayed this year. Hope it still counts.

Death Widely Exaggerated

People like to talk about the death of media channels. Heck, I’ve done it. Death makes for great link bait, so there is bound to be a lot of that kind of talk as digital channels mature. And while different digital media channels are always at risk, (because: Facebook), legacy media still matters because its prestige creates familiarity and lowers purchase risk. Seeing a brand on a broadcast scale demonstrates investment and commitment. Broadcast media investment and commitment gives prospects and consumers more confidence in the strength and success of the offering. Nothing provides that confidence like traditional media. 30 second spots may not ever deliver the quantifiable ROI that SEO does, but they do deliver familiarity and when it comes to purchase risk, familiarity is a soothing balm that is hard to beat. Still spots must be seen to be remembered and there is a lot less opportunity for that- Even in broadcast.

Content marketing is not just for B2B anymore.

Like any new trend, Content Marketing is sometimes derided for being a buzz word– A marketing fad that gets the kids all hot and bothered but rarely delivers sales or revenue bumps to justify the hype. Like any other marketing technique or tactic, content marketing won’t solve a product problem or lousy strategy. That said, I’m a strong advocate of content marketing to drive leads and build prospect confidence. B2B marketers have learned that Case Studies with genuine insight and credible client endorsements build report with remote prospects early in the sales cycle who have little else to go on.

Consumers need stories too. They always have. Now the web gives them access to the stories of their friends, co-workers, and peers. They want to know the experiences of those similar to them to help manage the risk that prevents them from buying your product. This is a case where B2C marketers might learn a bit from B2B marketers- how to tell the story of “challenge, solution and result” to consumers nervous about spending money in a very difficult economy.

Paid Media 
Content marketing is tough in paid media–particularly broadcast. 2013 will see it get easier though. I’m looking for more opportunities for long form programming arising out of a glut of channels. I’m also wondering when we’ll see Pandora, Slacker, or Rdio find a way to use long form programming to help labels and other music marketers expose their new artists to audiences with a propensity to be interested in them. I’m expecting to see auto dealerships use long form television to do more than yell deals at channel flippers on Saturday mornings. I expect to see some interesting experimentationthis year.

Owned Media
Want a better deal from your vendor? Negotiate a case study. Need to close a deal with a prospect and just can’t come to terms? Negotiate a case study. The Case Study is the magic gap-closer. I expect to see it being used this year to improve net income from both sides of the ledger-revenue and expenses. 2013 is the year to formalize case study agreement from both your vendors AND your prospects. Need help figuring out how to do it? 
Ping me.
 (ok, no more shameless plugs. Sorry.)

Earned Media
If your PR agency isn’t discussing how to place your content into critical traditional media channels, 2013 is the year to find a new PR agency. Your brand story is an essential part of your value proposition. With shrinking staffs, it’s hard to get writers and editors to pay attention. You need to be aware of the pain your offering relieves and the novelty of your approach. Framed broadly and without the hard sell, in 2013, PR efforts will get more traction narrowing the narrative and finding the real value in the learnings of their customers.

Multitasking Effects Communication

How do you get anyone to listen to you if everyone is talking? This is the essence of the communication challenge in 2013. The ill-effects of multitasking are well known. Nowhere are they more apparent than in the communication exchange. Customers are talking more than ever and that is changing the way messaging gets interpreted.

In 2013 I’m looking for both shorter and longer messaging as marketing communication formats continue to propagate. Shorter messaging will particularly effect pre-roll online video advertising. Skip data is more useful than many people realize. And while studies suggest that skippable preroll is not as effective as standard preroll,when you factor in the ability to use skip numbers to measure creative (yea, I went there) you can begin to find messaging and communication methods that resonate more powerfully with customers and prospects. 2013 is the year we stop guessing about what kind of online video ads really work and which ones don’t.

Context Wins

While Content marketing may be on everyone’s lips in 2013, knowing how to do content marketing is a lot easier than knowing what content to actually build and deliver. In 2013, i”m watching for marketing thought-leaders to have more content that matches their prospect’s specific pain points and sales cycle orientation. Prospects need to see themselves in the stories of actual customers and learn something valuable from their experiences. That’s context. It was remarkably lacking even in the best content marketing in 2012. I expect to see much more of it in the coming year.

Big Data For Everybody

The Big Data hype has been around for years. It was largely spoken of in abstractions, though. People who really knew about it didn’t really share too much. Honestly, it got pretty boring quickly if you didn’t get all frothy about clusters and regression analysis.

Many people know that data is more valuable than money, because data can be used over and over, and money spent only once. If, for some reason, you don’t believe this, seek help immediately. Or don’t, because you will believe it this year. If you have data (a lot of it) and you are unclear how to monetize it, there is no shortage of services to help. Behavioral data from your CRM can be more valuable than traditional opinion research, too. Knowing what people have actually done in the past is often more predictive than knowing what people think they will do in the future. People are, of course, creatures of habit and not as self-aware as they think.

Of course behavioral data really doesn’t tell us why people do what they do. Knowing that is certainly important in figuring out when people might change their behavior.

Battle for the CRM feed

This really is an outgrowth of big data. Your company’s CRM database is the head of the data-well for many businesses. Until recently, in larger enterprises customer service and marketing have had a friendly, if somewhat distant relationship. I’m looking for that to end in 2013. Gloves will come off in the largest enterprises as marketing realizes The big data it needs is coming from the call center. Customer service executives will have a choice to make about how they share in a way that’s bound to frustrate C.O.O.’s. Big Data needs to serve both operations and marketing, but how those constituencies get serviced and how the data turns into meaningful stories is very much up for grabs. Grab it we all will in 2013.

Mobile First

Usability work has to focus on the lowest common denominator– now that is the mobile device. Make sure your stuff works on all three platforms-iOS, Android, and yes even Windows 8. (See platform parity.) The best way for you to think about development for new media is thinking “mobile first”. No the the desktop and lap top are going nowhere, but the growth is all mobile. Remember this when you are reviewing your email and website design changes this year. It matters more than you can imagine. So many missed opportunities when your stuff doesn’t work on the mobile device.

Platform Parity

Remember the old platform (Windows vs. Mac) wars? Well, they’re back– only this time they are on the mobile device. And instead of two platforms there are three and none of them are open (I’m waiting until next year to worry about whether Tizen will mater). In 2013, I’m watching for real passions to begin to flare as the platforms become more similar, usability improves (especially on Windows and Android phones) and device competition heats up. The truth is the platforms are becoming more similar and the devices are too. What really matters though is that the device and the platform get used. One of the most fascinating things about the platform wars in 2012 was that more Android devices were activated than any other, but way more iOS web traffic was observed. To me those findings meant that more people had Android devices, but iOS users were more adept at using their mobile device. Remember “follow the money” in the 70’s? no? well, “follow the traffic” is the same thing. While content may be king, the king is naked without usability. Usability is essential to traffic, and traffic is money. Search is money; data is money; traffic is money. There’s a lot of money disguised as other things out there. It gets confusing, but competition helps. Here’s to less confusion in 2013.

Streaming Entertainment

With Netflix, Boxee, Amazon, and iTunes all in serious adoption mode, the cable box abandonment trend is nascent. And much like traditional television, cable boxes will not die (remember, we will not fall victim to “death-hype” this year), the cable box will simply have a competitor sitting right next to it. Cable pricing models will begin to change. Customers who are not sports fans will start to figure out a way to end their forced subsidy of football (both professional and college) and baseball. I’m optimistically hoping that in 2013 carriers will need to figure out how to bundle entertainment packages that defend from the dreaded (and highly unlikely) a-la-carte pricing that would ruin their bottom line.

Branding First on Facebook

As a client recently -and quite brilliantly- pointed out to me (hi, Ellen) Facebook is the new “cigarette break”. Brands can get attention on Facebook but its very hard to get real engagement there.

Nobody likes this. Blame EdgeRank. Recent analysis we’ve completed makes it very clear that any attempts you make to send people to sites other than Facebook seem to get handicapped by Facebook’s algorithm. What to do? Create unique, sharable content that keeps people on Facebook. Treated it as the walled-garden it seems to insist on being. By all means, move people to your site with content and offers, but try harder to created a branded experience that can exist on Facebook discreetly. Use email, and Twitter to drive website engagement. You still need to organize your customers and prospects on your website. I look forward to being corrected on this observation in 2013 because Facebook doesn’t immediately strike people as the branding platform it seems to want to be.

Google+ Mattering to business and Instagram Mattering To Your Kids

There’s really no way around it, so I’ll say it: Google+ is a pain in the ass. Just admit it and get on with it, because search=money. It matters because Google (the almighty) needs corroboration to make its search results better. It doesn’t seem to trust its old simple spidery self. Google+ is the way that Google can improve search relevancy by having peerage into conversations about web content. That’s fine and perfectly understandable. Google faces serious threats. In order to improve search results businesses will need to get into Google+ and that probably means you.

As painful as it is to manage yet another social media platform, Google+ is still pretty good. It’s rather painfully complex because it allows you a lot of control and personalization that Facebook and Twitter really don’t (and aren’t meant to). I’m looking for the Google+ UI to get better and for the API to open up so it can merge into my other social media feeds more simply. If I follow my own Barnes Law of web apps (that states for every app you can think of, at least three have been built already), this app exists too. I just have to set it up… That 2013 punch-list is getting longer by the minute.

Instagram is huge with the kids. It’s Twitter with pictures and it’s Facebook without the emotional baggage. It is the perfect tool for the youngs to define themselves though sharing visual symbols. Can you speak in pictures? I bet you can. If you aren’t already, I watching for you to start in 2013.

Have a great year!

Content Engineering Is The New Marketing

Content Engineering Is The New Marketing

Sick of it yet? The endless repetitive recurring death of marketing meme. Marketing is always changing so we’re always going to hear “marketing is dead–long live marketing”. It’s a dramatic way of confirming how fickle and well-informed buyers are- whether they are b2b or b2c.

Search has clearly become the primary driver of purchase decisions. Additionally, the advent of social media has increased demand for content. People like to share content to learn something new and surprising or maybe just laugh.

Content you create or curate tells customers who your brand is, what you value, and how you relieve customers’ pain. To think of content as king or queen (or duke or prince) doesn’t provide much insight much anymore. Think of content as money –or at least a kind of currency–a digital cultural currency.

If you aren’t already, you will use content to get people to make an exchange. Prospects exchange their attention and patience to hear or see your message. How much patience or attention you receive is based on the quality of your content. Simple as that. You must make sure the exchange is fair to build trust.

Years ago advertising leveraged the mountains of currency delivered by scarce media programming to gain the attention of prospects. Advertise on a big TV show in the old days and if you were responsible, you could communicate a unique selling proposition very effectively. So don’t get me wrong. I come not to curse advertising, but to praise it. Advertising still does a very good job building awareness. Paid search is advertising, and should be part of any serious marketer’s tool set. I can’t imagine not coming up via paid search when a prospect searches for a competitor. Media programming and content, no longer scarce, requires genuine insight or entertainment in order to persuade.

But advertising isn’t enough anymore. If you want customers to respond to your message you must respond to theirs too. That’s what social media is for. Content value in social media is measured by its ability to facilitate customer engagement. When customers engage by sharing attitudes, interests, and opinions, they’ve invested their time in your offering and have become invested in its success. Create and share things that drive discussion. Learn what your customers need and how to best service them to gain top of mind.

You can borrow content–by syndicating or curating- or you can create it. The best content marketers do both. Borrow content (curate) to get frequency and build (develop your own content) to get focus and attention.

Who decides what content to build or curate and then where and when to post it is the content engineer. The content engineer determines how to use digital platforms to communicate the benefits of the brand by informing the purchase decision.

Take a minute with that phrase “informing the purchase decision”. Of course you want to persuade people to purchase your product or offering. You won’t do that without trust. Your offering is likely targeted to a market segment and not ideally suited to everyone. Embrace that. Develop content with an eye toward helping people self-identify and self-serve because they will anyway. Use your content to inform them of the options and compromises they face in their purchase decision. An educated prospect leads to a shortened sales cycle and thus lower sales costs. Informing builds trust.

Content does more than help your customers– it helps you too. By providing varied content (lightly or deeply informative, humorous, etc) in different forms (video, audio, text) you can understand better where a prospect is in their purchase cycle. People who spend a lot of time researching are generally ready to buy. Prospects who spend only a little time may just be starting their purchase decision or reaffirming a purchase made recently. Watching and tracking who is using your long-form deep content and comparing them to who is using your lighter shallower content will help you deploy sales resources better.

Often the toughest aspect of content engineering is goal-setting. Performance isn’t really about quantity. Content excellence is about enabling and providing incentive for your customer community to build content for you. You want the customer to sell the product through recommendation, endorsement and involvement. Online, consensus matters. Enabling and demonstrating customer consensus lowers purchase risk and grows brand equity.

Use content to build loyalty to the extent that your customers will like your product so much that they will actively assist in its sale. Not only is customer assisted sales conceivable, we are not long from a time when customer to customer communications will be essential to market share leadership.

Celebrity endorsements have been a reliable method of marketing communication for over 100 years. Now the criteria for celebrity has been forever altered. Certainly in your customer base you have “celebrities” or experts who are widely recognized in their field for having game-changing knowledge of issues that drive your customers’ businesses or preferences. Power users need to be identified and tapped as content sources to improve the credibility of your content and the claims you want to make about your offering.

For your content to be persuasive, prospects need to see their pain in the stories your customers tell them. Those stories/content can come in the form of testimonials, endorsements, case studies, or survey research. The more forms you cover, the more likely your content will be right-sized for your prospects’ need when you have the opportunity to get their attention

Stuck for content ideas? Here are few ways to get started:
Almost every competitive space has what we call the “elephant in the room”- that ugly reality that keeps people from seeing all the value they expect from a given purchase. This is true in both B2B marketing and B2C marketing. An example might be the trouble with LAN capacity for VoIP deployments or issues arriving from trying to entertain a lot of people who will invariably have widely divergent tastes. Finding customer pain and exploiting it as content inspiration is one of the secrets of a great content engineer.

When reviewing ideas for content stop thinking viral and just think sharable.

Search optimize all your content -make sure your search terms are well represented. But don’t make search optimization the enemy of compelling content. Do your best to balance terms with content that is easy to understand and easy to share.

To start the content merchandizing process, encourage your employees and vendors to start sharing content that they find valuable. Then inspire them to add yours to their mix. It takes a lot of work and focus to find the winning thread of content themes and an appealing tone. Once you begin to leverage your customers’ sensibilities effectively, however, you’ll bring more people into your community. That community, in turn builds the credibility you need to generate a new level of confidence in your brand.

Death And Authenticity Revisited

Death And Authenticity Revisited

What does Amy Winehouse have to do with the Norway terror besides sad timing?

Authenticity. Extreme authenticity.

When people read my book they go right to this section and blast me: “those deaths are in no way connected” they claim. It’s a random meaningless coincidence–sad, but unrelated.

Sad, yes. Unrelated no. The Norway massacre is infinitely sadder and more tragic that the death of an over-privileged singer, but they are two sides of the same misunderstood coin.

Both people responsible for the tragedies were motivated–indeed obsessed– with authenticity.

For Winehouse, it couldn’t be simpler than the confusion that one associates with a God-given gift: Why me? Am I a freak? How do I deserve it? Is It real? How can I test it? Sadly, drugs provided the insight at predatory pricing.

For Mass murderer Anders Breivik it is the his sense of an inauthentic Europe.

Authenticity gives things value, Value can be perverted into a proxy for meaning, and meaning matters. We are all–each of us– seeking meaning. But when acting as a proxy, authenticity becomes an illusory shortcut to meaning.

It is always dangerous and often deadly when authenticity becomes the end itself.

You can read the rants of Breivik and understand immediately that he is off the deep-end. It just happens to be the same deep-end that Amy Winehouse jumped into, confused by the meaning of her talent, I think Amy’s obsession with authenticity is identical to Brevik’s. She expressed it in a lifestyle driven slow suicide. He expressed his obsession with unimaginable horror.

Authenticity is at the root of radical Islam too. That’s why the papers got the Oslo tragedy so wrong in the beginning. In the West we immediately associate death for authenticity most with radical Islamists, even though that is a prejudice that doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny.

Like Charles Manson, Breivik thought his insanity would spark a revolution. My suspicion is that he surrendered so that he could further work to express is mad interpretations of his faith and political ideals. We’ll also likely learn that he left the Norwegian right-wing Progress Party, because he felt it wasn’t authentic enough–not true enough to its principals.

On a twitter page associated with Breivik the following quote was found:
“One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”

The irony, too, is tragic: The quote is paraphrase of John Stuart Millthe 19th Century utilitarian Libertarian. Strange bedfellows indeed.

John Lennon died from the gunshot of an insane person obsessed with authenticity: Mark David Chapman. Chapman had just finished “Catcher In The Rye” whose protagonist is driven insane trying to reconcile the authenticity of the inner life with the utility of social compromise.

Interestingly even the recent banal budget entanglements are stalled by the same problem. Signed pledges to ideology, purity tests, and blind allegiances lock negotiations and keep our political representatives from finding utilitarian solutions to very real problems.

I sometimes get criticized for connecting trivial entertainment news with serious tragic historic events but they help us understand the simple conflicts that drive power and attention. We seek meaning and reliability, continuity and trust.

Attributes so rare they can lead to obsession and tragedy.

The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back

There is a fundamental debate about processing and UI with the arrival of Windows 8. I’m an unapologetic APPL Fan Boy from way back, and I’ll never forgive MSFT for losing Ray Ozzie.

Never the less, I’m willing to give MSFT the benefit of the doubt on W8. Why? Because as both Gruber and Newman point out in their opposing viewpoints, W8’s success or failure is all about what is doing the heavy data lifting. Neither tablet will be doing that “heavy lifting” in OS5 or W8.

Here’s the thing: I think MSFT has a better sense of the cloud than APPL–particularly in the Enterprise environment-(music and entertainment media files aside). If W8 manages data and “heavy lifting” via the cloud in a more elegant way than APPL does via the desktop box or via iCloud, it could well be a winner. That is certainly a possibility (the Ozzy snub not withstanding). Ozzy brought the cloud to MSFT, and he understood its power better that St. Jobs did during those critical years between 2006 and 2009 when all this stuff was getting mapped out.

I will not count MSFT out. Ever. As APPL gets more powerful and the cloud more essential, everyone is now pretty much equally evil. Google can’t keep things screwed down from a security standpoint and Amazon can’t seem to make hardware (sorry the Kindle is just sad now). APPL’s announcement about iCloud will certainly be important– game-changing even, but here’s the thing: APPL’s failed in the cloud over and over. Even if they get it right this time (as it appears), they are only going to get it right for consumers. Sadly, it’s difficult for me to imagine them getting it right for the Enterprise. They don’t even sell their enterprise-grade servers anymore.

Honestly W8 could be a big deal for MSFT and its followers. I still think the UI is ugly, but that doesn’t really matter– elegance and beauty have never mattered to the Enterprise. MSFT’s base is huge and people desperately want a tablet for work. While Keynote is ok, Numbers is a joke (really? no pane freezing?). Office still rules. Does anyone seriously predict “Office for iCloud”? APPL can’t seem to write applications worth a hoot, and I have always been compelled by the haters arguement that Apple’s OS is just Unix in a nice UI wrapper. APPL is an amazing hardware company. Always has been. The genius of the APPL strategy was its ability to master hardware AND distribution (iTunes). MSFT is a software company as is GOOG. AMZN is a distribution company. We will continue to watch power cycle from software to hardware to distribution. Look at the power that T NFLX and CMCSA have now. This may well be the the resurgence of MSFT if GOOG doesn’t get in the way. Android is a huge disappointment from the functionality and security side, it’s market share, however is enviable.

It pains me a little to say it, but this might be MSFT’s comeback if they aren’t too big to fix.

Regardless, I won’t be buying any W8 devices anytime soon.

Trends I’m Watching 2011

Trends I’m Watching 2011

1. Facebook’s Temporary Web Dominance

This is the Big Trend next year as the new-new Facebook rolls out. The Olds will protest, while the kids couldn’t care less. In the middle though, a notable number of regular people will love having all their communication content in one place. This will create an enormous opportunity for marketers and hackers alike. More than half of whom will completely screw it up. That’s OK. We all learn from our mistakes. You can avoid a few by working extra hard to narrow your focus and segment your audience so that you don’t get stuck in the bottom bin. Relevancy and immediacy are your best shots at earning attention on Facebook.

Facebook will not meet disruptive competition in 2011. Ubiquity is not going to serve them in the long run, however.

2. Communication Fatigue

Facebook, Twitter, and all the other new ways of receiving communications has driven many to overload. Last year I mentioned going off-the-grid as a major trend, and it continues in earnest during 2011. We see it manifesting in a number of other trends that are worth paying attention to.

Empathy erosion
Much like our indifference to other drivers when we are wrapped in gleaming steel and chrome, our digital indifference to “the other” grows. This seems ironic in light of our own growing number of machine-mediated personal contacts and social-graph. On-line bullyingwill continue to shock us in 2011 as more and more people distance themselves from each other with technology. This creates a specific problem for customer service managers as human-to-human contact becomes potentially more confrontational. This is important to marketers as social customer services (SCRM) becomes more integral to the marketing process.

Location Shift
Location Services were all the rage in 2010, but now as the mobile device gets more sophisticated, location services will go into the background. Despite their best efforts, Foursquare and Gowalla and their kin will slow their uptake. Location services will work in the background as more people check in with out “checking-in”. The key to success with check-in services is meaningful reward. Until that arrives in the form of more sophisticated couponing, there is too much risk in announcing yourself.

2. A Social Media Dip ?

The global uptake of social media will continue to mask the real story in 2011.

Managing information flows and trying to teach machines what is and isn’t relevant really is fatiguing. Maintaining attention is getting tougher. The loss of efficiency is enormous but just as attention wanes from friends, it gets more and more commercialized. Social media becomes a highly effective collaborative tool (with it’s own social codes and cues) inside the enterprise as collaborative software hits mainstream adoption this year. Yes. If you want to make someone hate what they love, pay them to do it. In 2011, social media grows up and becomes work – just like in real life.

We watched this trend closely last year and see it only heating up further. In 2011 enterprise communication tools get simpler to use, more focused in their application, and more easily integrated into Business Intelligence reporting.

3. IPTV and On-Demand Programming

If you have kids, you already see this trend emerging. For those who don’t run a cable company’s head-end– or have kids– the impact of NetFlix has yet to be felt. It is very real though– even if you don’t watch TV on a PC, iPad, or other device. Heavy users of IPTV are hogging your bandwidth, ISP’s claim, and scaring the crap out of everyone in the content business. Now, there is real competition for the set top box. If you have fallen in love with all-you-can-watch programming for 7 dollars a month (plus broadband) be prepared to be frustrated as the war for on-demand TV programming heats up to uncomfortable levels for everyone.

In my eyes the most important story for 2011– that came in 2010 –was the peering dispute between Level 3 and Comcast and its implications for net neutrality. When you couple that debate with FCC and FTC approval of the Comcast’s merger with Universal, it’s clear that consumer content and marketing communication strategies must adapt in 2011. Key to adaption is finding programs that integrate content and brand. With attention at an all time premium, segregating content from advertising is more risky than ever.

4. Improved Legacy Media Advertising Revenue

The economy is turning around and advertising revenue is a great indicator that the world is not ending. While election and issue advertising over-stated revenue growth in the 3rd quarter, year-over-year things should look much better. The Recession is over and inflation is just around the corner. Meanwhile for many re-emerging businesses, investment in marketing communications will look smart again. With all the digital distractions, simple advertising will feel right– even with unmeasurable results. Still it will be hard to find an ad that isn’t somehow tied back to a digital element. That is where the value will be claimed.

5. Crowd sourced programming for radio

Jelli and Listener Driven Radio are only the beginning of this trend. Technology gives radio stations new abilities to turn programming over to the listeners in a way that makes the once-derogatory term “jukebox” an antique. These services- and those that follow- are destined to grow in popularity at a very rapid pace. Now if radio can only figure out how to monetize it, it could be a very big deal for the once-beleaguered legacy media channel

6. Print’s Migration to Digital

As tablets grow in popularity, print has an opportunity to recast itself. Corroboration is an essential part of the new media landscape and truly effective content strategies from trusted content brands will help people will find their way out of an ever more sticky echo chamber.

I think the most important thing to remember is something Fred Wilson said at the end of 2010 “Restricting access to content doesn’t work. Someone else’s content will get filtered and curated instead of yours”.

Here’s proof

It’s all about a better ad model for legacy media. Accountability is essential if print can find pricing models that help advertisers justify costs revenue will return, even if margins take a little longer.

7. Curation
With the debate over the long tail all but over the new debate centers around curation or the collection of meaningful relevant content ordered in a creative way that brings value to each element collected. Facebook will become a center of curation in 2011. Measuring that curation will have marketers awash in data that could provide astounding customer insight. Will we get that? Will we be able to afford it? Those are essential questions for 2011.

For businesses and individuals just becoming social, Curation is a useful short-cut content strategy almost anyone can use to increase attention. the keys: get good at sourcing and get narrow. “Narrow your focus and broaden your appeal” was never truer than it is in effective content curation.

8. Authority
Good curation seeks authority. Authority has become the ultimate attention economy status symbol. in 2011 people go beyond seeking just an answer or a point of view but the correct answer and the best-informed (or most similar) point of view. Authority becomes the holy grail for the search engines and content providers. Trouble is, machines still can’t understand the words and content as well as they can scan it. Not even close. This metric will improve as we roll through 2011, but it is hard to know how useful it will really be; as issues like sentiment and context elude machine-driven analysis.

Authority is the win for legacy media in 2011. It is at the center of its value proposition. To leverage, legacy media needs to crank out more content–open up the firehose all the way. Get it branded and get it out there– but avoid the temptation to seize the browser . If you can’t void using stumbleupon or ow.ly take great pains to find a new method of measurement and avoid caging your audience with frames.

9. Corroboration

With so many sources of information how do you know who to trust–particularly when all the sources you read are biased at best and partisan at worst?

A few years ago I worked on a study at the CDC to understand public perceptions of “Public Health”. Part of that research was understanding how people internalized information as true. One thing we learned was that most people need to corroborate information. They need to see the information repeated in multiple places–not just a single source–regardless of the expertise or credibility associated with first source. That’s one reason curation matters.

News– Content is tough. Speed and accuracy win. News organizations need to learn how to sell speed and authority to their sponsors. these things matter. People like to be believe they are the first to know things. but even more importantly they want to fell right about what they have learned.

Shopping– Purchase dissonance hurts everybody’s business. There is always risk associated with converting cash to goods or services. For the past 100 years branding helped reduce that risk by giving the buyer the sense that they knew the good or service though recognition of the brand. Now, in addition to branding buyers have the ability to corroborate pricing and performance to reduce purchase dissonance even further with collaborative buying.

10. Database.com

Announced at Salesforce’s dreamforce this year, this tool is going to drive small and mid-sized businesses to the cloud in ways no one could have predicted.

This is one of the more elegant and profitable use of the cloud. Salesforce stock shot up in 2010 for good reason. Getting data in a universal and easily accessed state is the goal for technology over the next 5 years at least (if not forever). That’s why Database.com was- IMO- the single biggest product launch announcement in 2010. In 2011 I think we’ll see lots of examples why.

11. Apps: The inevitable return of the fat client.

Adobe air and its spawn have been way underrated in their importance. As Facebook becomes more important to most people’s everyday lives, ways of navigating through the noise of pointless status updates and marketing incompetence become essential.

Further, enterprise IT has to recognize the threat and value of Facebook to the business. Apps to the rescue. With irreversible trend of a mobile workforce and the work / personal digital identity conflicts in full reveal the only solution in the near term is a fat (local) client. Developers rejoice: you really can commit to building for the box again. Just make sure the box can move.

If this sounds more like a 2009 forecast to you, you’re caught up in the hype. Apps have yet to really penetrate the enterprise. Legacy software is a big reason for the slow uptake. That roadblock will start to come down this year.

12 Outlawing Anonymity

What good is looking into the future without a scary part?

While the debate about wikileaks continues into 2011 the lesson for our dear leaders is clear: End Anonymity Now . In return for the ability to keep ourselves insulated and entertained we seem to gladly trust huge amounts of personal data to the providers that be (regardless of their political affiliation). This is disturbing to a few of us, but not disturbing enough to most of us.  Those with nothing to hide may have a lot to lose.

Of course we know anonymity is a thing of the past . It’s also different from privacy. But there is an important difference between anonymity being difficult and being illegal. Everyone will begin to understand that difference in 2011.

There will be clamoring for a clearer definition of journalist. For the last decade bloggers have been able to get press credentials with relative ease, that won’t be the case going forward. Consider that Universal/Comcast merger mentioned earlier, and the threat of investigative blogging and leaking to the legacy media. Conspiracy is hard, but shared interest is easy. In 2011 we’ll be asking “who benefits” a bit more often.

Fortunately, leaks will be impossible to contain and secrets tougher to keep. New sites will emerge and old ones become more well-known. My bet is that in 2011 the government will continue to embarrass itself with Assange and others who would take his place. Transparency wins. Let’s hope that’s more than rhetoric in 2011.

13. What’s Next–
If you were in early-in to social media you are a winner– if you weren’t, you’ll find the value of your social media efforts dubious at best.

Novelty wins the digital marketing ROI war– plain and simple.

Here’s the secret to burn on your frontal lobe: If you are early to adopt a communications method or channel, you win because there is less noise and less expense– even though the perceived risk is higher. Remember that when you are reviewing mobile marketing strategies or thinking about QR code promotions this year.

Trends I’m not watching in 2011: 3DTV (gamers only– bigger next year), “augmented reality”(not till 2015 at least), and the ever-escalating mobile device feature/benefit claims war (yawn).

Read more social media predictions here

3 Reasons Why You Might Think The New Gap Logo Sucks, and 7 Ways It Can Help You Communicate With Designers

3 Reasons Why You Might Think The New Gap Logo Sucks, and 7 Ways It Can Help You Communicate With Designers

I’m not a designer. So there’s that.

I work with them a lot, though– most of them for longer than 10 years. We still like each other too. I know this because after all these years I still don’t have to pay the a-hole rate.

The Gap logo controversy presents a good learning opportunity for designers and those who manage them.

New logos are change. Everybody hates change. Despite the rhetorical power of “new” there will always be those who will cry “FAIL” every time convention is changed. Pepsi’s re-branding was met with the same derision as Gap’s. Every time Facebook changes UI, people freak. Everyone thinks they could do it better. Here’s why they probably couldn’t:

1) There is a reason there are no monuments to committees. People dilute each other’s vision–they need to in order to have a sense of ownership in it. Brands are important,. People who work on them want to own a piece– to be able to say “I was a part of that”.

2) The Gap is very big. Size makes any change proportionately riskier. As revisions cycles pass, there is a tendency to make things safer– to not change things too much.

3) Helvetica is safe and ubiquitous. So much so, they made a movie about it. Helvetica is socialist democracy in typeface. We all know this subconsciously–so we see the new logo in its Helvetica commonness and a small part of us recoils. Gigantic Gap assimilates us in to it. If we like Gap we’re certainly suspicious of the fact that many others like it too. The use of Helvetica in corporate identity just confirms the “you are like everyone else” problem. Nobody wants to think they are just like everyone else–even when they really do. We were all teenagers once.

I don’t know if these are legitimate reasons to actually reject Gap’s new identity outright– but, I know they are at the root of the outrage. Personally, I think there are enough Helvetica logos. Who cares? That is precisely the rationale that is likely used to justify it: Helvetica is proven, easy to read and highly conventional– just like the Gap

Beyond getting what you pay for, what to learn from this?:

1) Designs don’t get better after the 3rd revision they just get different. Most designers listen to your feedback with the intent of pleasing you. If they haven’t after the third time either you don’t know what you want or you have the wrong designer.

2). Write an awesomely thorough creative brief. Justify your strategy. Make sure you articulate with great clarity what you want your customer to understand.

3.) Trust the people you hired to do their best. You hired them because of their ability. Don’t place the risk of change on the shoulder of your designer. They didn’t make the strategic decision to change. You (or your boss) did.

4) That said, insist your designers justify their choices. Why Blue? Why a bold typeface? How do their creative decisions support the strategic goals articulated in the creative brief? These are reasonable questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them.

5) Find two things you like for every one thing you don’t. Opposition creates meaning for designers (and everyone else) so both positive and negative feedback is important. Negative feedback is helpful but can sap creative energy. Boost it with positive feedback. Be specific about what you like and don’t and why. Vague criticism is very expensive.

6) If you believe “you’ll know it when you see it” you are fooling yourself. Design is not porn and you are not Justice Potter Stewart. Love at first sight is romantic but rare. Eureka moments are more scarce than people realize. Suspicious? Think about your three favorite, most enduring songs. Did you love ANY of them the first time you heard them? It takes time to internalize changes that you believe will be permanent. Let things sit a bit before you decide that third revision won’t work.

7) Since instinct is unlikely to cut it all by itself, set objective criteria for approval. testing customer reaction is fine- just understand customers don’t like change anymore than anyone else. It is highly unlikely that any customer said “Gap needs a new logo” in any research. Still you can use aesthetic criteria: simple, clean, contemporary, classic, etc. If your criteria seem at odds, identify attributes that the seemingly opposing criteria share and focus on them.

You can get a better result closer to your vision if you can articulate it. If you can’t, researchers and planners are here to help. Whatever you think of the Gap logo, you can use the shared experience of its launch to improve communications between talent and management.

Tonight, AdAge had an update Gap to Scrap New Logo Design

Trends I’m Watching in 2010

Trends I’m Watching in 2010

Small is the new big– The Artisan Movement
In an attempt to get “authentic” Starbucks is “de-branding“. consumers want artisanal zeal from their brands. Wall mart has the price position– every other brand position up for grabs next year. The recession kicked the chessboard.

People talk about “authentic” but words matter, and authentic is the wrong word. “Authentic” is defined by what it isn’t. In a culture full of pre-fab formula, finding something made with passion more than margin becomes more valuable as we value care over quantity. In all things I’m looking for consumers to look for “signs of the hand” to communicate value.

Social Media in the Enterprise
“e-mail is the new snail mail”. It’s really not about Twitter and Facebook in the office. It’s about MindTouchYammer and OpenfireIn 2010 your employees will do whatever it takes to work faster and smarter. If you don’t provide the tools, your employees will find their own. This creates all kinds of problems, not the least of which is Sarbanes-Oxley compliance. I’m looking at you IT department.

Social Media in Marketing Communications
That’s not to say the marketing department won’t continue to be obsessed with consumers in the social media space. Listening is the new speaking. This is the most radical mindset whipsaw ever. Quit worrying about what to say in social media and start learning to listen and share. Consumers expect you to be as accessible as their friends, but not as chatty. Say something useful, or don’t say anything at all. Advertising better have a call to action or it will be skipped faster than a pizza delivery scene.

Search, groups and filters are critical for listening. Computers still won’t be able to get sentiment. You have to do that work yourself. Saddle up.

Customer collaboration– Everything is beta.
Related to social CRM, ya gotta give to get. The responsibility of prototyping still rests on the enterprise. Customers don’t invent–they react. Test test test. Know that failure is the price of innovation. To get the profit from Innovation as a noun you need to realize the expense of innovation as a verb. You can’t have one without the other. This is a lesson for many wining companies next year

The Cloud –and the Backlash
“The Cloud” is big and with the advent of netbooks and smarter smart phones the cloud is where people are released from the confines of the desk. Cloud apps fail occasionally though, and users REALLY hate that. Business disruption is a cost of entry. The cloud is cheap and smart–it’s not going away despite inevitable setbacks.

SAAS and all it permutations will be all over the news– they have been for years. The difference in 2010 is that small and mid-sized companies will be reliant on them and some robust cloud services will fail for short excruciating bursts of inactivity.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water though. Many of us remember email failure in years past. The cloud is here to stay and it will make many knowledge workers more liberated than ever.

The Beginning of Going off the Grid
Just as corporations embrace the social web people will begin to disconnect because it will feel less like fun and more like work. This disconnection will happen slowly and it will be costly and thus an air of snobbery will come with this uncoupling. The exodus will be slow and mostly unnoticed, but it will be happening. MarComm with people that you have no relationship will get even tougher, and metrics even more unreliable as people block behavioral analytics scripts and begin to spend less time on Facebook

This is good news for big/legacy media. Cheap entertainment continues to be useful even as people pay for more content. There will be stimulus for small biz but hiring won’t start until Q4. We’ve had record increases in productivity. It’s easier to invest in productivity technology than people. Count on it.

Location-based gaming will be the exception to this nascent disintegration as people begin to enjoy going out again and sharing their experiences with their peers and friends.