Catering to the Lowest Common Denominator

A couple of weeks ago, I attended TrackMaven’s Spark conference. There were many discussions on using digital tools to market, backed by several brands showing their best practices. Using data to ensure that a marketing program doesn’t simply mimic its competitors’ efforts or general best practices was a central thread.

I really appreciated the conversation because it addressed a common marketing mistake, doing what others do because its popular or it worked for several others. Digital communicators live in a world of social media best practices with the added pressure of executives seeing success stories unfold in the media, then wondering why they, too, don’t have a successful Instagram strategy.

Communicators scramble to add the same type of marketing and outreach, whether it may be influencer generated content or Snapchat accounts featuring a daily non-wow moment. They ape the best practices espoused by social media blogs, blogs often written by people who have rarely done it for anyone or anything other than their own personal brand.

This is catering to the lowest common denominator, doing what others do. It remains one of the greatest dangers in marketing and PR.

Catering to the lowest common denominator offers a whole series of safe outcomes that make it an oft chosen method of marketing. You can appease internal stakeholders by showing that you are doing what the competition is doing. Evidence from the social media darlings lets you claim that you are indeed following best practices. Unfortunately, it does not account for customer fatigue with the tactics, or market position leadership.

Like a false pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the outcomes fail to meet the illusion. Your audience is non-plussed at another “me, too” campaign. Soon the executives become non-plussed with your second or third or worse place performance. They see no tangible results. Share of voice, in-bound traffic, and other performance metrics tell the tale of a laggard instead of the hoped-for leader.

How Data Helps You Find a Better Path

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The best most strategic marketers go further, and innovate with their communications efforts. Often innovation is disguised as incremental change and experimentation, but that’s how evolution happens. In that vein, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer because there is so much data out there to inform these changes.

Data helps by telling you what your competition is doing, where they are generating share of voice, and why. More importantly, it lets you see why and where your content resonates and how it under or outperforms your competition. Data lets you A/B test little format changes, for example number of words or characters, red versus yellow visuals, etc.

Understanding the lay of the land allows you to apply creative and try to better the situation. And when success occurs you know, it, and can then expand your marketing to meet the community with the right types of communications.

Of course, TrackMaven‘s tool helps marketers do these things, and thus the Spark message fit the. But it’s a good message, and one that should be repeated across the space and in university classrooms across America.

I remember when we strategized at Vocus about our content, we would look at competitors in the space. If our content was the same as theirs, we would challenge ourselves to go further. It was not enough to do the same as other successful brands. The only way to escalate and elevate position was by going beyond “me, too” approaches.

Go beyond the lowest common denominator. Measure to elevate your creativity and your overall marketing game.

How Disney Revved Up the Star Wars Marketing Engine

Co-authored by Jason Mollica.

Do you have kids? Are they pining for new Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys? The new merchandise initiative known as “The Force Friday” brought a brilliant ignition point to what had already been a smoldering word of mouth campaign for the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie this winter.

Until the Force Friday brought Star Wars joy or envy to every child across America, buzz had largely been fueled by trailers, social media posts across diverse networks, and the release of the previous six movies. Now a brand new and perhaps the most powerful group of word of mouth agents have been unleashed, kids under the age of 12.

Youth success with Generation Z could create an unconquerable tidal wave for Disney’s Star Wars franchise. Heretofore, Star Wars had been a smash hit with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, the generations fortunate to have been adults and kids during the original trilogy (1977-1983). Millennials are also familiar with Star Wars, but through the less successful and critically challenged prequels (1999-2005).

Overcoming the Prequels

Star Wars Site

Let’s be fair. Great excitement existed for the new franchise before the Force Friday– in large part because of Disney’s stewardship and the hiring of J.J. Abrams to direct the first movie. Social media buzz was high, and a virtual cheer was felt across the Internet when Harrison Ford made his appearance in the second trailer for The Force Awakens.

But doubt remained. We have been let down before by the prequels. Even though the third movie in that ill-received (though lucrative) trilogy — Revenge of the Sith — was arguably close to the same quality as the original trilogy, the damage had been done.

In fact, when the third trilogy was announced the great excitement was largely inspired by George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney. Successes with both Marvel Studios and Pixar have shown Disney is good steward to other creative visions. Adding J.J. Abrams as director was the coup de grace. Abrams had already successfully rebooted the Star Trek franchise.

Star Wars could be reborn. Indeed, a new hope (pun intended) was felt amongst prior fans, and even millennials who had been burned with their generation’s installment. But doubt remained and soft debates occurred at cafeterias and bars across America.

It doesn’t matter now. Kids across America are demanding the toys. They want to see the old movies. They want comic books and novels. They will want to see the new movie, too. Parents and grandparents are obliging them, and in doing so are reintroducing themselves to the Star Wars Universe.

At this point, the only thing that could ruin the tsunami of Star Wars hype is a bad movie.

The Great Tease

Soleil Skywalker

The lack of knowledge about The Force Awakens and its storyline — a hallmark of J.J. Abrams productions — is fueling speculation. Part of Disney’s strategy to create word of mouth is the great tease. Every new trailer and now the new toys reveals a character or a new look to a familiar subject (including geriatric heroes).

People go crazy about what each new wrinkle means. Heck, even reporters are documenting changes that have occurred in Han Solo’s trusty vessel, the Millenium Falcon.

You have to give Disney credit, they have done a masterful job of inspiring conversations with the general public. Each moment creates incredible amounts of word of mouth marketing for the film, and all of its secondary and ancillary merchandise.

The merchandising move is one straight out of the Lucasfilm bag of tricks. Before selling to Disney, Lucasfilms had garnered $20 billion in sales of official Star Wars merchandise with the company getting a cut of every transaction.

The overall excitement may even exceed the hype that preceded the first prequel, the Phantom Menace, in 1999. People waited in line for day, literally camping out, just to be the first to see the new movie. Unfortunately for them, the faux reggae alien Jar Jar Binks and wooden acting from the rest of the cast foiled the party.

Unlike the prequels, Disney probably won’t get a second, third or fourth chance to get the rebooted Star Wars narrative right. The product had better meet the hype or taxed fans who have been willing to forgive may simply move on.

An Omnipresent Transmedia Experience

Have you visited the graphic novel section of Barnes & Noble recently? If you do, you’ll find Marvel’s new Star Wars series tucked into the stacks right before Superman. It’s just part of the onslaught of toys, costumes, movies and books that you’ll find at the super store.

It’s hard not to go anywhere and not see or hear about Star Wars today. Merchandise, media, Star Wars events at baseball stadiums, and friends alike are abuzz with Star Wars or are trying to push it. Disney’s fans and marketing partners are doing as more to promote the movie than the studio itself.

This combination of word of mouth, partner advertising, and studio PR and social media is amazing. Disney has achieved marketing nirvana, a perfect storm of pre-release hype. Here is a list of several marketing initiative that we have noticed. Please feel free to add your own in the comments section:

  • Trailers (duh).
  • Comic-con appearances by the original series heroes
  • Media coverage.
  • Toys everywhere!
  • Omnipresent social media activation with trivia and content across most major social networks.
  • Kids and adult T-shirts.
  • Halloween costumes.
  • Guerilla marketing in NYC with Stormtrooper mobiles
  • Limited edition Star Wars cereal products in supermarkets
  • TV shows.
  • MLB team-sponsored Star Wars events.

As communicators, we dream of having big budgets to execute massive campaigns. Even with such a budget, we could only dream of the successes that Disney is enjoying this year with Star Wars. Our hats our off to their marketing team.

What do you think about all of the Force Awakens hype?

You Don’t Need an Instagram Strategy

You don’t need an Instagram strategy. Or a Snapchat strategy. Or a Facebook strategy. At least not yet. Instead, figure out what makes you or your brand remarkable to that specific audience group and then make sure you convey your message in a way that will resonate.

Go ahead, answer the question, “What makes you remarkable?”

This is a reoccurring problem in social media. Brands optimize community management and native ad spend network by network. They use data to hit the right audience, the correct time slots, and then drive more traffic.

But the content and conversation is lame, or as Ann Handley says just good enough. The whole initiative suffers for it. More than 90% of the problem cases I examine boil down to bland over-messaged content and social network “conversations”.

A Snapchat Strategy In Play

SnapChat

In some cases content created haphazardly for social networks feels awkward, lacking context and meaning. Just yesterday I was looking at the general Washington, DC feed on SnapChat, and in the midst of the updates Jim Beam ads ran, ten seconds each. The ads featured the new brand’s new apple flavored bourbon spots.

The product is designed for millennials, but the spots were the usual high gloss ads you might see during a football game or on ESPN.com. They seemed so out of place compared to the raw user generated videos of DC hipsters. The Jim Beam ads felt like a complete intrusion. So, there you have it. A SnapChat strategy targeting the right audience in the right place with almost no relevance.

Differentiation Requires More

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Here’s a message to the marketers of the world trying to reach hip social media audiences. If you want to differentiate and stand-out in an increasingly competitive and noisy marketplace, reach deeper than “me, too” social media strategies and ads.

Think I’m off on this? Check out the top approaches CMOs are looking at for growth over the next twelve months, according to the CMO Survey. Market penetration is the only category that’s expected to shrink while diversification is the area targeted for the most growth.

Every marketer and every agency is under great pressure to create strategies that will leverage new media. I’ve been there, too. It’s so important to take the time, pull back, and do it right. Use all of that data to inform and build better content and conversations that people will actually care about.

Social media is a method to reach people, but throwing unremarkable junk out there to meet a data-centric strategy that points to where the right audience is won’t work well. You need to engage (let’s not go too far down this 2008-esque thread). And you need a remarkable story to compel audiences to engage back. The content is just the vessel. If your offering is not remarkable, if you don’t have a conversation, then expect mediocre results.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise. If you have a strategy to leverage a tool instead of a valuable and interesting reason to talk with your customers — regardless of medium — then success will be hard to achieve.

Do You Believe in Mermaids?

This could be titled “4 Random Rants,” but the mermaid one was too good to pass on as the headline. Along the way we will also discuss stalking photographers, social media experts, and the Donald. Here we go.

1) Stalking Photographers

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I often use a tripod when taking landscapes and in studio. It makes for a better picture, reduces shake, and lessens the amount of time necessary to take a great capture. Whenever I am in a public place, busy or not, people inevitably walk by, see the camera on the tripod, and what do they do?

Well, most stare at me, and then look back and forth between what they are doing and me and my camera. If there are multiple folks, they’ll start discussing that there’s a photographer over there. Some of them will come up to me and ask, “What are you shooting?” That’s all fine.

Here’s where it gets bizarre. Some folks walk right up behind me and start looking over my shoulder to figure out what I am shooting. That bugs me out a bit.

Then there are the ones who suddenly think this a good opportunity to hack an Instagram shot. They whip out their smartphones and start shooting over my shoulders, from the side, and in the worst cases they just walk right in front of the tripod and take the shot (yes, it has happened multiple times). Now I am bugged out and annoyed.

Finally, there are the clowns who ask me if I need a model. Some will ask repeatedly, and even give me a card. The above shot of Philadelphia is one example where onlookers kept asking me to be in the shot. The photograph did OK, but it wasn’t worth asking for a hypothetical 15 minutes of fame.

2) Social Media Marketing Conversations Are Dead

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Last week I saw a thread started by a couple of prominent social media experts discussing other social media experts’ blogs, all of which debated whether or not social media marketing is dead. Right away, you should know how bad this was. My desire to throw my laptop against the wall and start screaming increased by the paragraph.

Here’s what’s dead: Conversations about social media marketing. Yes, the whole lot of them, all 762 million of them (many of mine included). It’s a new decade, but a very old and repetitive set of conversations. Build owned content, stop publishing, start talking, and by the way, here are 16 ways to grow your Twitter account with semi-fake followers. Better yet, just talk to other brands (or with other social media marketers) on your Twitter account to fake your engagement rate.

There are so many damn social media marketing conversations out there that they have blurred into white noise. It’s marketing bloggers talking to marketing bloggers… Or worse, marketing bloggers spamming each other with links on Twitter.

The social media marketing is dead discussion is the biggest navel gazing exercise of them all. It’s also the most meaningless one we could have, and the one CMOs care about least. Keep kicking that dead horse.

Come on, get real! Some marketers are just bad at what they do, and they always have been. The medium changes (hello, junk mailers and email spammers!), the problem stays the same. By the way, every profession has winners and losers.

3) Do You Believe in Mermaids?

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Image by Alexandra Moir

I bet you thought the Donald would be next, but no. We need to discuss the mermaid thing first.

A friend told me a story about a 20 something that works with him. This 20 something believes in mermaids because of an article she read on the Internet. She swears by it, and will not be dissuaded. This is a college educated person.

She might be my daughter’s next playmate. I am sure they could have a great conversation about Soleil’s favorite Disney Princess, Ariel.

My friends, this is the state of information thanks to the Internet. People cannot discern truth from fiction. Anyone with a publishing platform can be assertive in their boasts, and back them with faked images and links to other articles, more pictures and even some videos depicting similar fiction.

When you have an ignorant or ill-informed society, dangerous things can happen. At a minimum, the U.S. economy will shed higher earning jobs to better equipped workforces.

The ability to discern quality information remains the greatest challenge facing our children. We must question all sources, even the media as we have seen in recent years. Our educators need to instill the ability to qualify information or we will all be dealing with mermaid debates at work.

Anyone want to buy a unicorn?

4) Dear Huffington Post: Take the Donald Seriously

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Comic by Berkeley Breathed

I admit it, I laughed out loud when the Huffington Post announced that they would only cover the Donald Trump campaign in the entertainment section (full disclosure, I am a Huffington Post blogger). It was even funnier when Berkeley Breathed returned to lampoon the Donald again with Bloom County cartoons.

But in the case of the Huffington Post, the joke may be over. Why? The Donald is still leading the Republican field, no matter how many stupid things he says and how many attacks the rest of the presidential candidates launch at him. That’s not funny, and the story has surpassed any twisted reality show Hollywood could imagine.

There’s an obligation to report this campaign seriously rather than contribute to the circus. This guy might actually be the Republican candidate for the 2016 election. It’s not like he cares when the Kochs and other super rich Republicans try to take him out. He seems impervious to the usual slimy election shenanigans.

Beyond the obligation to take his campaign seriously, there is also the mermaid contingent.

Yes, these poor fools probably believe the Donald Trump campaign
IS
a reality TV show
.

After all, they read it in the entertainment section of a reputable news source. That’s the problem with the Internet these days.

Mark Schaefer Breaks Down the Content Code

Mark Schaefer authored The Content Code to resolve the very real challenges of brands addressing the current digital marketing environment. With a glut of too much content, attention deficit disorder, and murky evolving SEO rules, communicators find their articles, presentations and other information lying fallow. We asked Mark to keynote xPotomac 2015 to shed light on what it takes to resolve these challenges.

The following is an interview conducted with Mark on behalf of xPotomac. Don’t miss his xPotomac keynote on August 27th, which is designed for experienced digital marketers. (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). And you can buy The Content Code on Amazon. Any typos or errors are mine, not his.

GL: I love that The Content Code is BADASS. How did you come up with this cheeky acronym?

MS: As I was developing the six strategies that became the backbone of the book, I wondered if there was some natural acronym that I could come up with to help people remember the ideas. I wrote the six on a whiteboard and stared them down. BADASS emerged. Probably one of the best moments of my life. Afterall, how many people literally write a BADASS book?

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GL:: You mention the importance of sharing or transmission of content as the critical difference between success and failure. Why do most brands struggle to get their content shared?

MS: I don’t think they are aware of the problem. Right now, the marketing conversation is focused on 1) creating content and 2) building an audience. But neither one of those factors matters unless the content MOVES. The content must be seen, be shared. It must connect. The economic value of content that does not move is exactly zero.

The economics of sharing are powerful. Most Americans say their purchase decision is affected by what is shared on the web. The act of sharing content is an intimate experience that creates advocacy for our brands. I am convinced that there is no metric that is more important right now than the sharing of content.

And getting that content to move in an increasingly information-dense world is getting harder and harder to do. This suggests that marketers need to understand how and why content moves. We need to develop an entirely new competency around that factor. And that what The Content Code book is about. I think this is a such a critical topic. We need to change the conversation now.

GL: xPotomac co-founder Shonali Burke is noted as a member of you Alpha Audience. What is “Alpha Audience” and what makes them so important?

MS: So if you’re with me that the sharing of content is both strategically and economically important, the people who actually share your content are truly the bedrock of your business. Those are the people who are actually advocating you through this generous and emotional act of sharing. These are the most important people in your audience — your Alpha Audience.

I used Shonali as an example in the book because she has been an amazing supporter of my content for years. Through her story, I demonstrate the importance of building trust, not traffic, as the cornerstone of a modern marketing strategy.

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Mark is pictured here at SXSW with Tamsen Webster.

GL:: In The Content Code, you mention analytics in several areas and it is clear that brand-specific data informs much of your ethos about where to share content. What tips do you have for brands grappling with data analysis?

MS: I can certainly sympathize with those grappling with analytics. Part of the problem is that many analytics packages are not sufficient to manage our marketing efforts today. We are not going to get any earth-shaking insights from looking at averages, mentions, and sentiment. It’s likely that the real value is going to come from the strong small signals from the people who really love you, from measures that can lead you to better content ignition.

Does your analytics plan include a way to discover and nurture your strongest advocates? Probably not. Does it tell you how effective your content is compared to competitors? No. That is a a big disconnect in the marketplace.

I have been working on a new company that can actually measure a brand’s ability to ignite content. We’ve developed a 50-point statistical analysis that quantifies content marketing effectiveness. I think that will help get us at least part of the way there toward more meaningful metrics!

GL: You close the book by recommending that brands build an ignition competency. What does that look like for a brand with several team members?

MS: First, I must say that I’m impressed that you read the book to the end. Thanks for that!

I think it is this simple. If you identify a resource on your team, hand them The Content Code book, and tell them to “do that,” you will have a competitive advantage. No question. Even if a business does a little every month, there will be results.

A focus on content transmission is the new marketing edge and there will be benefits to those who understand that and respond first.

Why Some Agencies Are Dying

I have experienced a crazy trend in the past six months, the client movement to have multiple and diverse agencies working together. Tenacity5 has already experienced five partnering deals with other agencies this year and it’s only July. I may have partnered five times total in the past five years preceding 2015.

Sharing the revenue pie is not something most agencies do well. However, some agencies are suffering as a result. Others are dying. They cannot adapt to the new collaborative approach clients are demanding.

My friend Patrick Ashamalla sent me this year’s SODA Report (see the below chart), which showed that highly specialized players are taking a larger priority. Pair this with the the whole “agency of record is dying” trend and you have a movement.

digital-shops

CMOs don’t want to hire a generalist firm to execute their entire scope of work. It’s not reasonable to expect a one size fits all agency will do a decent job on all of activities in a significant scope of work. CMOs don’t believe agencies that say they can do it all. In fact, they find such claims suspect.

The Collaboration Economy

Collaborate Well
Image Courtesy of Wild Blue Yonder.

Corroborating this trend was Gary Duke’s excellent Wild Blue Yonder research presented to DC Ad Club last week. Gary dubbed this the Polygamous Client trend, and noted it is spreading like wildfire across the Fortune 1000.

Those agencies who want to remain competitive need to become more agile, collaborative and highly specialized. Those who are not evolving and insist on the mass integrated marcomm agency role are shrinking.

“Agencies must take on a collaborative approach with other agencies because they simply don’t have any other choice today,” said Gary Duke via email. “It’s not only what clients expect — it’s what they demand of their agency partners. If it’s not in your DNA to play well with others in the sandbox, then you just better pick up your toys and go home.”

Of the agency efforts I have participated on this year, some have been super fluid and one in particular was a disaster. And in that case the primary partner clearly wanted all pieces of the biz, was not collaborative or transparent, and ignored other agency/partner recommendations in spite of a clear lack of competency in some project areas. No surprise: The relationship and overall initiative blew up.

The Nimble Agency of Now

Collaboration Scores
Image Courtesy of Wild Blue Yonder.

Jeremiah Owyang likes to talk about Crowd Companies, businesses that share resources on the Internet. Well, the agency business has not quite devolved to that point, though you could argue that companies like crowdSPRING have eroded the bottom side of the market.

CMOs want access to agencies or agency teams with wide spread resources, usually freelancers and other partners. That means an agency must work well with others, share scope, and bring on third party resources as needed.

In essence, they want more nimble partners who have access to diverse capabilities. They want best of breed in every marketing function. Integration is still needed, but instead of it being under one roof, marketing organizations want agencies that can assemble or play with assembled teams that possess superior niche skill sets.

These are shared resources in many ways. That means integration is a result of project management instead of scope or overall billing. Project management across diverse creative assets becomes a necessary skill for the strategy lead. Duke hammered this point home over and over again in his presentation.

Here are some steps I am taking as a result of this trend:

  • Building a diverse agency partner network to refer and garner referrals
  • Doubling down on focus and expertise in digital content and platform creation
  • Avoiding services spread into areas that we are not good at, such as SEO, media buying, branding, media relations, etc.
  • Building stronger project management skillsets
  • Taking an adaptive attitude towards strategy, specifically be willing to drive or psimply fulfill a role as needed.

Are you seeing a similar trend with your business?