Brandtainment

Brands that invest in creating content that entertains and delights are poised to stand out, through genuine fan engagement and sharing of the content. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Create a video, or a picture, or a blog post that in some way makes people glad they spent the time watching the video, viewing the picture, or reading the blog post, and they’re more apt to like what you created, comment on it, and perhaps even share it with their friends.

My question is very straightforward. Why are so many brands still creating boring content?

Here are a couple of examples of the kinds of videos brands should be producing more of. NBC Sports will be airing English Premier League games this year, and they created a very funny promotional video – “An American Football Coach in London”. The video could easel be a Saturday Night Live sketch, and in fact it stars SNL alumni Jason Sudeikis. One week after launching, the video has generated over 3.5 million views. Golden!

At Intuit, we were brainstorming triggers that would entice people to file their taxes using TurboTax in advance of the April 30th tax deadline. With a week left to go, I saw an ad on CBC mentioning that the NHL playoffs were starting on April 30th. Bingo! With the Maple Leafs returning to the play-offs for the first time in nine years, and the Canucks and Habs also participating, we found our trigger. Within 72 hours we assembled a team, authored a script and produced a video using iPhones – “The Great Canadian Face-off: Taxes vs. Playoffs”. No, we didn’t have SNL talent, but we did poke fun at the situation and managed to garner over 12,000 views.

(Guess who’s wearing the Canucks jersey!)

Brands don’t need to invest a lot of money to create an awesome video. However innovative thinking and creativity are definite musts. I foresee a lot more brands going this route in the future.

Thoughts on Rebooting

Thoughts on RebootingI recently finished reading Mitch Joel’s latest book, CTRL Alt Delete. In his book, Mitch shares thoughts on how businesses and professionals essentially need to do a reboot – transforming both processes and ways of thinking in order to survive and thrive in today’s rapidly evolving business environment.

Personally, over the last few years I have initiated a number of significant changes in my own career – shifting my focus to digital and social strategy after having gotten my start in traditional marketing, with a strong desire to play in the intersection of culture, technology and media. I can definitely relate to much of what Mitch articulated. What I have really come to realize however, is that the process of “rebooting” isn’t a one time deal – far from it. The truth is that businesses and professionals, from a career lens, must now constantly examine and adjust things as technology and people’s behaviours evolve.

Here are a few things that I am now thinking about:

1. Creating Utility Through Content

It almost goes without saying that any content a brand produces, whether for social, web or email, should somehow provide a tangible benefit and level of utility for readers. However, the stark reality is that people are getting absolutely inundated with content from all directions – and many brands are still not putting enough thought into what they produce. The end result? One big, giant mess of content.

It’s true that most content has value when it comes to search optimization and the long-tail. However, I think brands need to think much harder about what content they’re producing – perhaps with a “less is more” mindset. I am definitely keeping this in mind for a content strategy I am currently developing. I am also looking for ways to extend the overall experience people have when engaging with content – creating a richer experience through multimedia and deep-linking to my company’s website.

2. Escaping the Box

Over the last few years, I have invested a significant amount of time in digital and social strategy education – including reading an endless stream of articles online, maintaining a healthy diet of books through Amazon, and attending a number of events and conferences. I’ve certainly had my fill of digital and social. What’s missing, however, is exposure to new learning – perhaps not directly related to the discipline of marketing.

Gaining insights from a variety of subject areas can fuel inspiration and enhance creativity, potentially leading to unique and compelling solutions to customer pain points. Understanding digital technologies, including underlying architectures and opportunities for evolution, represent one such notable opportunity for strategists. Another might be learning a new language? Why? Because language is a gateway to culture, and a preliminary step in leads to better understanding – an asset given Canada’s diverse population.

To add further context, my friend (and digital strategist) Rachel Lane shared some thoughts on how she learns in her post “The Education of a Social Media / Digital Strategist“.

So, I am now looking at ways to branch out and broaden my exposure to new ways of thinking. In the immediate future, I am endeavoring to learn more about Design Thinking. Down the road, I intend to learn another language – this goal has now been added to my five year plan. There will be more added, but I think this is a good start.

3. Finding the Right Mix

This topic could entail an entire blog post … or even a series of blog posts. Lately I have read a lot of articles related to personal needs to “disconnect” more. I have felt the need myself. While I enjoy connecting with people online, much of the interaction is very “surface” in nature. At the same time, from a career perspective, it’s clear that 9 to 5 does not cut it anymore. At least not for those of us who work in marketing. The continual need to learn, combined with increased business demands and competition, necessitates that people spend more time focusing on their jobs and their careers.

It’s a reality, and one that I don’t mind because I love what I do. It’s not work. Case-in-point, I wrote the majority of this blog post on a Sunday afternoon.

However, I am still adjusting, and I realize that I need to find the mix that’s right for me. Increased career and job demands don’t necessarily mean that I need to be online all the time. So, I’m striving to manage my time better. I’m seeking (and planning) opportunities for quiet – for deeper thought, learning and reflection.

I’m also going to drink more coffee. No, not just for the sake of it!  I want to spend more time with people, reconnecting with people I’ve met before while also making new acquaintances – hearing their stories and learning from them. Hat tip to Elena Yunosov in part for inspiring me to do this.

These are a few things on my mind. What are some things that you’re thinking about?

Six Keys to Effective Blogger Outreach

Companies that properly invest in blogger outreach have a significant opportunity to engage audiences with well-targeted messages, potentially leading to business growth. Given that the online space has become cluttered by brands vying for customer attention, essentially evolving into an ever-rising ocean of display ads, video ads, Facebook “Likes” and other promotional efforts, blogger outreach stands to become an important focal point for companies in their digital marketing efforts.

Blogger outreach requires commitment, resources, and a well thought out process. Often times companies don’t make the investment required, resulting in failed initiatives. Here are several key steps you can take in building an effective blogger outreach program.

Target Relevant Blogs

Conducting research to determine which blogs are most relevant to your product product or service offering is absolutely integral. Unfortunately many marketing and communications professionals bombard bloggers with pitches that are not relevant – with the consequence of making it more difficult for your offering to get noticed. Realize that bloggers are busy people, for many blogging is not their full-time profession, so focus your efforts accordingly.

Invest in Building Relationships

This point is so important I’m going to repeat it:  invest in building relationships. Think of a relationship with a blogger like a bank account – you first need to invest some savings before making a withdrawal. Once you’ve found some blogs that are relevant to your target, take some simple steps like, for example, commenting on the blogs in a manner that contributes to the dialogue and conversation. You might also consider sharing relevant posts with your audience and network. A food and beverage brand could share a blogger’s recipe by posting it on the brand’s Facebook Page.

DO NOT wait until you are set to run a campaign before engaging with a blogger, you will most likely be ignored.

Engage Advocates

Don’t just target bloggers who have large audiences. You should also focus on bloggers that have a passionate following – regardless of size. This will help immensely in building a groundswell of advocacy for your offering. Realize also that bloggers with smaller audiences may not yet receive as many pitches as those with larger audiences, making it more likely that yours will get noticed. When evaluating a blog, consider it’s reach and relevance, as well as the level of engagement amongst the blog’s followers.

Focus on Value

When pitching bloggers, adopt a mindset that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” and consider how you can provide value to both bloggers and their audiences. Study each blog and make note of any offers provided to the audience, before making the pitch. If you take the time to tailor an unique, interesting and relevant offer your pitch is more likely get noticed. For example, a company operating a local tourist attraction might offer a blogger a behind the scenes tour or access to a special event with exclusive privileges. The same company could provide tickets for the tourist attraction, for the blogger to give away in a contest for audience members.

Say Thank You and Follow Up

If a blogger does choose to cover you, be sure to send a personalized note of thanks. You can also use the opportunity to request feedback from the blogger, both on your pitch and the offering for the blogger’s audience. If relevant, be sure to keep investing in the relationship and continue the engagement – do not wait until you have another campaign you’d like to pitch.

Be Genuine

Above all, remember that you’re dealing with other humans. Be nice, and be respectful.

Additional resources:

Raul Pacheco-Vega, creator of hummingbird604.com, developed a guide on he prefers to be pitched. It is geared towards his blog, but serves as a great example.

Dave Fleet’s Blogger Relations – Getting the Insiders Onside presentation provides excellent insights on communicating with bloggers and influencers.

Building Relationships and Winning Business Through Content Marketing

It’s well-known that the nature of sales and marketing, specifically effective strategies that fuel sales and drive business, has changed dramatically over the last several years. Digital technologies and social media have truly given customers a voice – an opportunity to engage with companies they do business with and share feedback, whether positive or negative. Further, the customer buying cycle has evolved with the firm establishment of online research as a critically important component. Customers are seeking information that informs and adds value to their decision making process, and they now have access to copious information from a variety of resources – including your competitors.

This shift has resulted in the need for companies develop a strategic focus on nurturing longer term relationships prospects and customers, as well as invest in content marketing.

Defining Content Marketing

According to Wikipedia, content marketing is “an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation and sharing of content in order to engage current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty.”

Executed effectively, content marketing can significantly help you nurture relationships with prospects and customers – leading to a high level of customer loyalty and increased demand generation for your company’s products and services.

Becoming a Thought Leader

The motivation behind content marketing is the belief that educating the customer results in your recognition as a thought leader and industry expert. The focus is on informing customers and prospects about key industry issues and topics, sometimes mentioning the products and services you offer – but not overtly spouting their virtues. For example, you may chose to write a blog post that educates customers and prospects on data storage compliance regulations in industries such as financial services and healthcare. Or, alternatively, you could execute an email marketing campaign to provide customers and prospects with access to a white paper that provides detailed insights and information on a relevant topic.

A variety of tools can be used for content marketing, including:

  • E-newsletters
  • Blogs
  • Social media
  • Videos
  • Webinars
  • White papers
  • Company website

Companies need to consider which tools are most appropriate based on their specific target customer.

Getting Started

Leveraging content marketing to cultivate thought leadership and build sales over the longterm requires a well thought out plan, hard work, perseverance, and devoted resources. It isn’t easy, but given the right focus, it is very achievable.

Consider the following questions when developing a content marketing strategy:

  • What information do prospects often ask you for, when evaluating your products and services?
  • What information can you provide, that would truly provide them with value and make their decision easier?
  • How can you best provide information to prospects? Via a blog? Emails? Videos? Webinars?
  • Do you have the in-house resources to create the content?
  • What other online resources, such as industry blogs, trade media, or association websites can you pull content from?
  • Are you prepared to share content on a regular basis?

If you would like to learn more, and you have some time to spare, please listen to this interview with content marketing expert Marcus Sheridan (aka The Sales Lion).

The One Question That Truly Defines Someone’s Level of Social Media Expertise

It’s been awhile since I’ve had a chance to blog. Now that my life is a bit more settled, I hope to be able to write and share my thoughts on a more frequent basis.

Over the last number of months, there’s been a fair bit of discussion in the social media world about how people describe their level of social media “expertise”. Terms like social media “expert”, “evangelist”, “guru” and, surprisingly, even “ninja” are used so frequently, it’s almost like there’s a fire sale on them.

Now, I am all for the progression of social media – I feel that it’s important for companies to leverage available tools and technologies in becoming more social and more human in the way they act, communicate and conduct business.  Having people who are enthusiastic about social media, as well trained in and knowledgeable about social media tools and emerging technologies, is key to this progression.

However, unfortunately there is a significant credibility issue when it comes to people and their often self-proclaimed level of social media expertise. Social is evolving at such a breakneck speed, can anyone really claim to be an expert? In my opinion, no. Further, and more notably, many who claim to be experts actually lack formal marketing or communications experience – social media doesn’t exist by itself in a vacuum, it needs to be integrated with marketing, communications, customer service and other business functions!

This leads me to a key point I would like to make. There is one great way to judge someone’s knowledge of social media. Ask them this question:

What tangible business results have you created through your social media efforts?

The proof should be in the pudding. Even Bruce Lee can’t fake an answer to this question.

A Social Welcome to Your New City

I recently co-authored a blog post with my friend Debbie Horovitch, posted on the blog for her new community management talent agency sparkle & shine. The post provides tips on how immigrants to a new country can leverage social media to ease the transition and become better acquainted with their new surroundings.

Please read the post and let us know what you think!

Crowdsourcing for Small Business and Start-Ups

The following is a blog post that I originally wrote for www.365daysofstartups.com

 

Crowdsourcing is a practice through which organizations can tap into the collective intelligence and skills of their crowds – employees, customers, or the public –  for product or service innovation, problem solving and performing specific tasks and achieving specific goals, leveraging online communities. Crowdsourcing is becoming widespread as companies, both large and small, non-profits and government become more familiar with the practice and how it can enhance their own internal resources and knowledge base.

How does crowdsourcing work?  First, it should always start with a sound business strategy and objectives. Typically, an organization either recruits its own online community of participants (the crowd), or gains access to a community that already exists. The organization then invites the crowd to contribute ideas and solutions related to the tasks it needs accomplished. The crowd is encouraged to collaborate and provide constructive comments on ideas that are posted, and vote on their favorites – enabling crowd-preferred ideas to be identified for the organization. Often times, incentives and rewards are provided to the crowd to entice participation.

Large corporations, such as Dell, Starbucks and Pepsi have been using crowdsourcing for a number of years, however it is now entering a place of maturity – related companies and services geared towards small business and start-ups are arising. Although small businesses may not have the following required to recruit their own crowds, they now have access to a wide range of opportunities to leverage crowds created by crowdsourcing service providers.

Efforts that a small business might consider crowdsourcing include:

  • Graphic and logo design
  • Product innovation and development
  • Marketing and communications
  • Computer programming

Small businesses and start-ups can benefit from crowdsourcing in several ways. Crowdsourcing enables companies to gain access to a large talent pool and resources that complement and build on their own internal expertise.  For time-starved business owners and entrepreneurs, crowdsourcing can help ease the burden of a heavy workload. Also, depending on the task at hand, crowdsourcing can be a very cost-effective solution.

Despite the name, a “crowd” doesn’t have to be that large.  Crowdsourcing projects can result in excellent output with as little as a few hundred participants, so small businesses and startups shouldn’t be turned away from considering crowdsourcing for fear of having to recruit thousands of participants.

For an example of crowdsourcing in action, check out Genius Crowds – www.geniuscrowds.com.  Genius Crowds is a new crowdsourcing initiative through which participants have an opportunity to submit ideas for new products, as well as vote or comment on ideas that others have submitted. Ideas that turn out to be Genius Products, as selected by the crowd and reviewed by a panel of experts, could actually be brought to market  – with the participants who submitted the ideas earning royalties.  Not only that, but their logo happens to be crowdsourced too!

Lots of Genius Ideas!

As you can see, I haven’t had an opportunity to update my blog since early September. I intend to rectify that, and will be more active with my blog again soon.  Lots has happened over the last couple of months. Most notably, I moved from Vancouver to Calgary for a new job.

I am now a Community Outreach Manager for Chaordix, a leading crowdsourcing platform and services provider.  Amongst other things, in my role I am responsible for recruiting for and moderating crowdsourcing communities for our clients.  One such client is Genius Crowds, a fantastic initiative through which participants have an opportunity to help create products that actually make it to store shelves – and earn  royalties!

You can actually participate too! Here is a short one minute video on Genius Crowds that I wanted to share:


Off and Running!

I have been active in social media for quite awhile now. I use social networking sites such as Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter quite regularly. I also co-founded a social group with a friend, Sip, which leveraged several social media platforms, including a blog, Twitter, Ning and Meetup. Sip actually grew to over 1,000 participants, it was a lot of fun running the group.

Yet, for one reason or another, I hadn’t started my own personal blog. I suppose I didn’t blog because I wasn’t yet sure what I wanted my blog to be about . I didn’t want to write for the sake of writing, I would much rather create a blog with content that will be of value to those who read it.

Which leads me to this, “Running with Scissors”.

I’m a marketer, branding is very near and dear to me. Given the significant changes the profession is enduring, with the evolution of social media and the shift in spending to new media and non-traditional platforms,  it is a very exciting time. I would like to use this blog to to share my thoughts and opinions, and hopefully hear yours, as I develop and advance my career in the field.

I am also very interested in topics related to personal development, innovation and leadership. I am an avid reader of publications such as Fast Company and Success, and I regularly read books from authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Stephen Covey. From time to time, I will provide some insights on what I’ve learned, as well as book reviews.

Regarding the title of this blog, well … I really enjoy running! I have completed several marathons and half marathons.  I also have a somewhat whimsical nature, and in life I believe it’s important to take risks and experiment. Thus, “Running with Scissors”.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I look forward to the journey I am now embarking on.

Eric