A New Blog and Approach for 2016

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You’ll probably notice a new simple blog design on the site. The revised geofflivingston.com reflects a greater focus on photography, and less on books and writing as a whole.

This reflects an anticipated larger strategic shift with my own activities online in 2016. Next year will bring a professional change. With it will come a reduced focus on marketing personal consulting services. I will reveal more when I can.

As a result, at some point during the next year I anticipate letting myself off the hook for a weekly post, and will simply blog when I have something to say. I know people like to interpret these things and go off and write posts about bloggers quitting and riding off into the sunset. This is not that. It is not a resignation, nor the end. Instead, it represents a maturation and an evolution.

There are two drivers behind this change.

Purpose

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The aforementioned personal change will likely push any personal blogging to other venues, a corporate site, my Huffington Post blog, and/or my LinkedIn blog. If I am not marketing, building personal influence, or trying to prove my worth as an individual blogger for some other reason, then weekly blogging is a habit.

There are a variety of reasons for that habit, from maintaining a consistent presence to making sure my writing skills don’t get rusty. The truth is I will be writing, again probably elsewhere. So the only reasons to continue are to build personal influence, which frankly doesn’t interest me very much.

Keep in mind, this is not a new game for me. I don’t see much value from getting free Doritos, conference passes, and movie tickets because I am an “influencer.”

When blogging here does become something I do on my own time, it becomes a time eater, a hobby. My top two concerns will be my child and my professional activities. And I have another hobby which actually produces a dollar now and then, one that I find is less time consuming and more enjoyable, at least right now: Photography.

After regular periodic blogging for so long (see below), it is time for geofflivingston.com to become a true personal blog. That means only publishing when I care enough to write something. Writing when I have something to say effectively right sizes personal blogging to where it belongs.

I’ve Been Around Too Long

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In April, I will celebrate/mourn 10 years of blogging. I have used blogs to weigh in on industry issues, market my services, help causes, and in the latter few years, add my voice to societal matters.

Blogging was unique when I began. Now it is a crazy evolving mess. That probably reflects content shock, and the corresponding impact information glut is having on the interwebs.

In the end, writers write. While I may be a marketer and a photographer, my core skill remains writing.

My experiences blogging and marketing over the past ten years have taught me one thing: A blog is just a means of publishing, nothing more, nothing less. It is an online Gutenberg press that allows people to comment on and share posted media. It’s always been that way. How marketers use or abuse the form is up to them.

My words will still have a venue if I need it. And if I am still active on social channels — and I will be — then my friends and community will still welcome those words, infrequent or not.

So blog I will. When I want to. I guess that’s what happens when you become a cranky old blogger ;)

LinkedIn Is What It Is: Personal, Employer, Business

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I opened the new LinkedIn Android app the other day and saw an unexpected message, “The One Stop Shop to Manage Your Personal Brand.” Because of my own hang-ups about the term “personal brand” I was taken aback. But like it or not, LinkedIn has become the place to manage your professional reputation.

It has also become much more than that. LinkedIn offers brands an ideal platform for employee communications — future (e.g. recruitment), present, and past. The social networks also provides B2B brands a great place to market.

For those that are still stuck in the Twitter and Facebook for brands universe (and maybe, just maybe Instagram, too), please keep in mind how big LinkedIn has become. More than 400,000 million people are using the social network to talk about their professional life. Let’s take a quick look at each of these three forms of communication on LinkedIn; personal, employer and business.

Personal Marketing

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With most people looking for work online today, LinkedIn has become a nexus to build a personal profile and network. There are many ways to stand out on LinkedIn and strengthen your presence.

LinkedIn profiles serve as a place for potential employers to check out your history. In many ways, the profile has become the modern resume. In addition, potential contracts and speaking opportunities can come through LinkedIn.

Attracting people to and making your profile stand out are the primary means of personal marketing on LinkedIn. Here are a few methods:

This latter point may seem obvious, but don’t post your cute dog pic on LinkedIn. If social media made a level of uncouth personality acceptable on the Internet, then LinkedIn became the social media place where the old school mindset of act in a professional manner still reigns. Many people and brands are relieved about that, too. Save the personal posts for Instagram, and button it up on LinkedIn.

Employee Communications

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I remember when LinkedIn launched in the early 2000s. It was hyped as a place to network and find new jobs. After a period of time, employers started using LinkedIn for recruitment purposes.

Then LinkedIn built company profiles. Networking became smarter and you could identify past and present employees through search. The algorithms began sourcing news about company x, particularly when there was a clear tie between an employee and corporate page.

The reality for most brands is that employee communications should begin inside their physical and virtual walls and on their web site. It begins with culture in direct communications up and down the ladder. Another reality exists: Many conversations are occurring about brands out of those domains, and on social media sites like LinkedIn and GlassDoor.

With so many people talking about work and their future on LinkedIn, it can become the central hub of an HR and recruitment social media strategy. Here are some quick tactics to help facilitate that:

Market Your Corporate Brand

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Not only has LinkedIn made itself a great place to engage in employee communications, it has also become a fantastic marketing venue for B2B marketing. Conversations and content galore on professional topics ranging from IT security to digital marketing are everywhere.

Businesses that offer some sort of B2B offering — product or service — need to experiment with LinkedIn as a means to brand and generate initial content leads. Here are some ideas for your efforts:

  • Build an engaging corporate profile page that shows what the company does, and how it helps the industry and your customers). Use Showcase pages to highlight particular product areas and include calls-to-action to drive traffic to your site.
  • Use LinkedIn’s advertising platform (sponsored updates) to communicate with customers. This is a good way to extend the reach of your corporate profile.
  • Pulse Articles are also a great way for a brand to show thought leadership. Find spokespersons who are willing to use their profiles and publish articles, then promote them on your company profile page.
  • Consider LinkedIn sister brand SlideShare as a means to create content that engages prospective customers. You can integrate SlideShare into your page.
  • Manage a group to build subject matter expertise for your company

    . LinkedIn is in the midst of revamping its groups for better functionality and results.

What LinkedIn marketing tips would you add to these lists?

Technology Challenges Facing Today’s Marketing Workforce

My friend Steven Slater recently began working In his new capacity he places senior marketing executives at large companies.

Steven told me about the new position at CommCore‘s 30th Anniversary party (pictured above) last month in Washington, DC. While we chatted he mentioned how technology was providing some of the greatest challenges for companies seeking capable marketers, ad for potential marketing executives trying to find work. I followed up with Steven, and asked him some deeper questions about these difficulties. Here are his insightful answers.

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GL: What is the biggest challenge facing company’s trying to recruit able marketers?

SS: It would be hard for me to identify one challenge when there are multiple, which in every one of my cases, are directly or indirectly related to marketing technology. Senior marketing leaders are facing increasing pressure from leadership to make the most of technology investments – to achieve company-wide objectives that the technology was promised to deliver.

Coupled with this, senior marketers are uncertain of skills needed. And, believe it or not, some hiring managers are finding frustration hiring and retaining junior staff to perform in less technical marketing roles, because new entrants are rushing to acquire technology cred to their resumes.

GL: Why are marketers struggling so much to embrace technology tools?

SS: There are a combination of factors, most of which I believe are intimidation, complexity and cost. Given these, it’s often easier to ignore the issue, or take baby steps, as I’ve heard it said. As an aside, ‘baby steps’ creates difficulty scaling, because hard won added resources yield only incremental capabilities.

For the brave, here’s just a flavor of the issue:

A) The tens of numbers of competing vendors with tools–online applications, bolt-ons, stand-alones, with myriad capabilities for Customer Relationship Management, Marketing Automation, and Content Management Systems, among others, serve to create daunting decisions.

B) There are numerous capabilities within one system, which alone are rarely used to capacity. Then, some companies have multiple, integrated systems, connected to create seamless capabilities from demand generation to lead generation to funnel conversions and to close, and more. These have somewhat complex processes for data owners with hand offs and usage rules. Other companies have get even more sophisticated an integrated system, to systems of systems, often tied in some fashion with Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP platforms, spanning enterprise wide with integrated cross operational capabilities.

C) Marketers are often the front line of managing these systems, putting in place the controls for usage and figuring out ways to avoid corrupting data, so the output is remains of value.

D) Marketers are also responsible for the knowledge and resources that go into norms and best practices for social media. And they must ensure through metrics that resources expended for content generation achieve intended results, and that technology and processes are in place to capture the data, and the entire operation is continually improved.

E) Most often marketers also are responsible for data collection and analysis, including from their own systems collecting any and all data generated from inbound and outbound communications, with additional capabilities to mine market intelligence, competitive intelligence, discover market opportunities, and to test concepts and forecast results, along with other predictive measures leadership can use to reliably deciding how to invest for growth.

GL: How can companies find more capable marketers?

SS: The answer is not so straightforward, and in my opinion, the biggest conundrum. The technology has evolved more rapidly then available documentation (economic-based) that would help inform and advise HR professionals who in turn could advise hiring managers.

A recent statistic cited nearly 50% of marketing hires failing in six months due to mis-alignment of skills to business needs and requirements. This occurs on both sides of the hiring equation between a candidate and hiring managers. The dialogue goes something like this: A candidate says, “Yes, I can do that,” and hiring managers believe a ‘marketer’ is a ‘marketer,’ so he/she should be able to perform. But today, no two marketers are alike.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which defines and categorizes the U.S. workforce by jobs, titles and wages, have yet to tackle today’s marketing roles. Meantime, academia continues to churn out marketing candidates that are the same as yesterday’s marketing candidates.

Based on a 6-month study that I conducted this year, I was able to determine based on hundreds of marketing job requisitions, that hiring marketers truly need candidates who have: sophisticated statistics in order to develop and test scenarios with volumes of collected data; economic understanding to identify internal and external market influences and pressures to anticipate buying patterns, to unwind business models, and to help anticipate market cycles; an analytical ability for ways of gathering and measuring useful data, and overall, develop order to data chaos; strategic thinking to help align capabilities from technology to organizational objectives; and not least, the ability to compile compelling presentations that leadership can easily digest for decision making.

In practicality, though, hiring managers should focus on those who think strategically, are comfortable with process, or learning process to help it evolve for efficiency without sacrificing quality, and who posses a “have-no-fear” approach to experimenting with technology, yet who starts their exploration with a mindset of a desire outcome.

GL: Is there an answer or a solution to the capability gap?

SS: Yes, I believe the solution wrests in the hands of academia. Their entry requirements, curriculums, and graduation requirements must better align with employers’ hiring needs – along the lines of marketing is now a much “harder-skill” discipline then it was taught.

GL: Do you see technology continuing to create this disparity or will the next generation of marketers be better at adapting to new technologies and methods?

SS: I have little doubt the next generation will be superior, primarily because far fewer systems will exist, and skills, therefore, will be better defined, categorized and quantified.

To me, the past is a very clear barometer of the future, and it has proven over time that technology tends to narrow to a few, manageable number of competitors. When that occurs in our case for existing marketing technology, then a near perfect alignment of skills will occur, and the gap will disappear.

Case in point, at the turn of the 20th century, there were dozens of U.S. automobile manufacturers, yet only three survived 100 years. The big three U.S. auto manufacturers compete with few other American companies due to the high barrier to entry.

The same will occur with the technology used by marketers. If anyone remains unsure, I challenge them to find a 2015 resume listing skills in Wordperfect, Dbase, or Lotus.

About Steven Slater

Steven Slater is a marketer and business developer who has staffed, built and run marketing departments for commercial and non-profit organizations ranging in size from $1M to $5 Billion.

As the field of marketing has evolved into a digital environment, he is focused on improving marketing performance by connecting hiring managers with those who have a unique set of skills and capabilities. A perpetual student and practitioner of marketing innovation, he has spent the past year studying the widening gap between skills and organizational needs, using the findings to chart a mix of required skills–the ingredients to marketing success in a digital age.

Steven is part of long-established Employment Enterprises, Inc. and works alongside people and services from Temporary Solutions. This helps him offer marketing people skills as contingent-consultative or permanent staff – or, in other words, the right skilled individuals, at the right time to solve digital challenges.

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

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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

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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?