Not Every Occasion is an Occasion to Advertise

Throughout the course of a year, there are plenty of opportunities for brands to link with current events or noteworthy commemorations, through messaging on social platforms. Anything from Mother’s Day, to the Golden Globe Awards, to mocking this year’s frigid winter can be considered fair game. In fact, no doubt one of the biggest events for brands to participate in is coming up on February 2nd – Super Bowl XLVIII. Eyes will be on you too, Oreo.

Inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements. With proper thought and planning, most notably a smart creative team, such endeavours can work beautifully.

However, marketers and agencies need to realize that certain events or commemorations are so poignant, so important in our history, that they are best left untouched by brands. Or, at the very least, handled in a much different and more dignified manner than they are (for the most part) today.

The latest example occurred earlier this week, with the Martin Luther King Day holiday in the United States. Martin Luther King Junior was one of the most important figures in the history of the country, providing hope and leadership in the advancement of African-American civil rights – in the most dignified manner possible.

Yet what happened this past Monday? Many brands posted MLK Day-related content on their social accounts, with a number of brands tying in promotional messages.

Say what?

I’d like to think that most marketers and agencies have good intentions, but I must admit at times I have my doubts. MLK Day, the anniversary of 9/11, natural disasters and conflicts that we now bare closer witness to through social media – it’s becoming all too common for brands to fumble their way through posting content in relation to them.

In most cases, there is nothing to be gained for a brand in linking to such noteworthy events. In fact, brands place themselves at risk of (justifiable) backlash for their insensitivities.

I repeat: inherently, most attempts by brands to connect with an event are advertisements

Now, that being said, there is another approach worth considering. In fact, it’s actually quite a simple one.

Do something that matters.

Companies could make a donation to a charity that is somehow related to the event or commemoration, or better yet, encourage employees to volunteer in the community. Yes, contributing to a charity can be communicated through social media, but that’s not the point.

Not every occasion is an occasion to advertise.

The Long Run: Thoughts on Effective Social Media Execution and Marathons

IMG_1917As I write this, I am just under one month away from the Chicago Marathon. It will be my second marathon, having completed the Vancouver Marathon in 2007. It’s also a bucket list item for me – one that I am looking forward to putting a checkmark beside!

In thinking about how I approach marathon training, I have come to realize that there are a number of parallels with respect to developing a social media strategy. No, I am not thinking about social media while I run, at least usually as sounds from Songza occupy my head! But I thought I would share a quick comparison here.

Proper Planning is Required

Unless you are a uber-athlete, you don’t just wake up in the morning and decide that you’re going to run a marathon today. Well, you could, but that certainly isn’t advised! At the same time, a brand shouldn’t just execute social media in an ad hoc manner.

Experienced marathon runners will tell you that a planned and disciplined approach is a necessity in preparing for the big race. Ideally, runners set up a training calendar months in advance, encompassing regular runs and workouts leading up to the race – geared towards the objective of completing the race by a specific time.

Brands need to approach social media with similar rigour, first establishing goals and then developing a plan focused on achieving the goals. An ideal framework includes an overview of strategies and supporting tactics, along with a detailed calendar.

Perseverance and Dedication

Most days, I absolutely cannot wait to go for a run. The mere thought of running is enough to energize me. However, I will admit, I do have mornings in which my bed feels a bit too comfortable, and an extra kick is required to get my feet onto the trails or pavement. When these mornings happen, I again think about my end goal of running the marathon, and I find a way – knowing that hard work in the short-term will lead to long-term gains.

Similarly, social media also requires perseverance and dedication. It takes time and resources for brands to develop the right infrastructure for their social activities, and even more time and resources to develop content and cultivate healthy communities of ardent fans and followers. At times it may seem overwhelming as community engagement builds, and brands need to respond to and engage with more and more people. But remember, each awesome experience you provide for individual people through social represents another step towards nurturing longterm brand affinity.

It Takes a Community

Yes, in many respects, preparing for a marathon is a solo pursuit. However, maintaining a focus through the long hours of training is a lot easier when you have a community of family and friends supporting you. It really can be a team effort, leading right up to the cheering as you cross the finish line.

For brands, having an active presence on social media is one thing. Developing a community of ardent fans and supporters, people who will actually advocate for the brand, is quite another. There are many ways through which brands can create community advocacy on social media – common to them all is a genuine, personable approach. One that makes brands likeable.

Tracking and Measurement

In training for a marathon, I benefit immensely by tracking my runs – including measures such as distance and pace. Doing so enables me to monitor my progress, with the end goal of completing the race within a specific timeframe in mind. If my pace doesn’t match what I need to achieve in training to attain my desired goal, then I either need to ramp up my training or recalibrate my race expectations.

At the same time, it’s critical for brands to track social media progress and activity, with end goals always in mind. For example, if a target has been established such as attaining 60% share of voice by year end, and the brand is currently only tracking at 40%, then the plan should be reviewed and perhaps adjusted. Investing in measurement and analysis goes a long way towards ensuring desired outcomes are achieved.

Long-Term Focus

A marathon is 42.195 kilometres. That’s a long distance! Don’t even consider running it as a sprint, or you’ll soon be out of energy.

Similarly, social media should be a long-term investment.

It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Image courtesy of Benjamin Lipsman.

Think Digital: Educating Your (more traditional) Colleagues

Marketing and advertising pros who have cultivated strong depth and breadth of knowledge in digital and social are now, more then ever, playing a lead role in shaping strategy. Whether focusing on web, mobile, or social, or more than likely all three, a diverse skill set is absolutely required to develop thoughtful strategy – working at a company or an agency.

Make no mistake, a career in marketing is not 9 to 5 anymore. Perhaps it never was. The pace of innovation and change is too quick for that, and for a marketing professional to remain relevant it is critical to invest time and effort towards learning – learning about new technology, emerging social platforms, trends, and most importantly, the changing behaviors and media consumption habits of people.

That all being said, it’s easy to forget that there are still many in the industry – friends, peers, and colleagues – who perhaps aren’t in the trenches learning, and perhaps still have more of a traditional marketing and advertising mindset. Perhaps these people are the ones who, while understanding your recommended strategies, are a bit more skeptical. Perhaps they don’t know the true power of digital analytics in uncovering meaningful insights, or why nurturing relationships with social advocates can be so critical to your efforts.

But fear not, the power is in your hands! You have the torch, and the power to educate and inform – to turn your colleagues into digital and social savvy savants.

How can you accomplish that? Several ideas come to mind:

  • Host digital or social-focused marketing workshops. Depending on the needs of your company, you could cover a variety of topics. For example B2B marketers might benefit from LinkedIn 101 – a workshop on setting up a profile, and effective participation in groups (I led a workshop like this at Intuit). Alternatively perhaps an overview could be provided on the latest digital trends – spurring ideas for truly integrated, and interesting, marketing strategies.
  • Occasionally share relevant articles, along with your insights and analysis. Perhaps your colleagues don’t regularly read TechCrunch, Mashable, AdAge, or the latest from industry bloggers. But hopefully you do, and here’s a great chance to provide information on trends and case studies that could feed into your integrated strategy.
  • Thirdly, podcasts and books. Personally, I always have a book on the go and I also subscribe to a number of podcasts. Several that are worth recommending to your colleagues are Six Pixels of Separation, The BeanCast, and Marketing Over Coffee.

I’m certain that your colleagues and peers will appreciate your help in educating them about all things digital and social. The end result, in my experience, is usually improved understanding and collaboration.

Worth the effort? I think so.

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?

Turning Search Insights into Content Gold

Photo: Giorgio Monteforti <http://www.flickr.com/photos/11139043@N00/>Content marketing has become an increasingly important focal point for many brands. However, even if a brand produces interesting, engaging and relevant for it’s core audience – efforts will be wasted if the content can’t easily be found or isn’t timely.

With that in mind, it’s important to consider the interplay between search marketing and content marketing, particularly with respect to social platforms. A key lever for “winning” the content game is providing content in timely manner – when people are looking for it. Having the right infrastructure and processes in place can help a brand do just that.

Here are several recommendations companies should consider:

  • Ensure that the search, social and web content functions are tightly intertwined. Team members should work closely together – or, if based in separate geographical locations, have regular calls. Establishment of strong relationships is key. In my current role at Intuit, I sit right across from our search manager and I speak with him daily.
  • Develop a mechanism through which search insights are regularly provided to those responsible for creating content. Through Google Trends, the search manager can create and share search insights that reveal what people are (and are not) looking for. Insights can, for example, include: most popular search queries, search queries that are rising in popularity, search queries that are declining in popularity
  • Be poised to act quickly based on insights provided. If search trends reveal gaps in your blog content calendar, have a writer available to create the content – perhaps an internal writer or a freelancer. If people are looking for content now that you intend to publish later, make the necessary adjustments to your content calendar.

Finally, and importantly, make sure that you are set up to measure the impact of your efforts!  Having the right content is one thing, to truly provide value it needs to be available when people are actively searching for it.

Social Media Promotions: An Interview with Joeline Hackman from Strutta

Planned and executed effectively, social media contests and promotions have significant potential to help companies expand their breadth and depth of engagement with customers, grow their fan base, and identify their most passionate advocates. Companies have a plethora of options and opportunities with respect to creating promotions that will truly resonate and drive business. The primary challenge, however, lies in gaining people’s time and attention to participate amidst an increasingly fragmented media landscape.

Recently, I had an opportunity to chat about contests and promotions with Joeline Hackman, Director of Marketing at Strutta. Strutta, a Vancouver-based company, provides tools and expertise to power online promotions for companies, and possesses a top tier client list that includes Microsoft, Edelman and Coca-Cola. Joeline shared insights on the evolving social media landscape for promotions, as well as best practices that can help companies achieve success.

Q: How have brand metrics with respect to online promotions and contests evolved?

A: I feel like we’ve gone from a stage where people are counting likes and followers to one in which measurement is focused on engagement through shares, retweets and mentions. It’s also about identifying who those people are that are engaging with your brand, being able to talk with them directly, and identifying top influencers. It sets up this ecosystem where you can identify the most valuable nodes and communicate with them.

Q: How has Facebook’s switch to Timeline impacted social and promotional apps?

A: For us it’s all about engagement. I understand that Timeline has really impacted the experience on Facebook. It’s been mandatory for people to switch over, it was done so that there is more real estate on Facebook where people can engage on a company’s page with photos and other posts, with highlighted relevant content bubbling to the top. Tabs are still at the top and companies can directly link to them on their walls, using an image or any other content. It’s been great because it’s made Facebook a more immersive experience, and more valuable. Rather than just being a constant newsfeed, people have been able to assign a quality score to posts and drive traffic to elements within Facebook that are most relevant. With our clients, they post interesting content from within the contests, which drives more engagement from their fans.

Q: What best practices should companies consider in order to achieve maximum value and ROI from promotions? Are there any common traits you notice in successful promotions?

A: Just be responsive and engage with your audiences. Social is social. I see a lot of companies publish things, and there’s not that interaction. For us, we encourage companies to take us much data as they can – and understand there are individuals behind the data. Someone’s talking to you, then respond, take information and demonstrate you’ve listened.

Also, the prize should be commensurate with the value of what you’re asking someone to do. If you’re just asking someone to enter a basic sweepstakes, then there are guidelines for the value of the prize based on the amount of people you expect to participate. If asking people to enter a video for the contest, the prize has to be a lot more indicative of the effort involved. We recommend prizes are unique to your brand, no one is going to be engaged over period of time to win free iPad. We encourage companies to create unique experiences.

What are your thoughts on online promotions and contests? Do you have any best practices you’d like to share, or perhaps examples of innovative and effective promotions that have truly led to positive business results?

Canadian Marketing Association Summit 2012 in Review (Day #2)

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Canadian Marketing Association Summit. The annual two day event was packed full of insights and information from true visionaries, with content focussed on this year’s theme on connections – how connections with consumers, customers and with each other are made, maintained, and measured.

This post provides a review of the speaker sessions for day #2. Click here to read a review of the sessions for day #1.

Ethan Zuckerman
“Lessons from Revolutionaries – What Activists Can Teach Us About Social Media”

 

Ethan Zuckerman is an activist and scholar whose work focuses on the global blogosphere, free expression and social translation in the developing world. He is a fellow of The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law, founder of Global Voices and the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media. Ethan provided an engaging talk about the role of social media in recent world events, from which business parallels and learnings can be derived.

Some key points from Ethan’s talk:

  • Darfur and the Congo are both mired in ongoing travesties, however the Congo isn’t gaining nearly as much international aid ($300 per capita vs. $11 per capita).
    • Media attention based on celebrity support for international charity plays a role – such as Angelina Jolie in the case of Darfur.
    • However, it’s not clear whether attention generated from someone who has a wider following, such as Kim Kardashian, would necessarily result in a similar difference in aid (side note: see this post Ethan wrote for an overview of a new measurement unit for attention, the “Kardashian”).
  • The attention fallacy: “If all you do is gain more attention, change is going to happen”.
  • Attention is not the same as engagement – social change is a long, difficult process.
  • Tunisia, the first country to force its rulers from power in the Arab Spring, has gone through incredible change.
    • Initially, people did not hear about protests due to media suppression.
    • Distraught Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, lit himself on fire – incident captured on video, and sent to Al Jazeera.
    • Sadly Bouazizi died, but he also became the hero of the movement in Tunisia.
  • Revolutions need multiple channels, including new media and old media.
  • Social media enables amplification but not synchronization.
  • Effective campaigns enable people to watch, share and learn as the campaign spreads.
  • Major error in Kony 2012 campaign – the campaign was spreadable, but could not provide answers for hard questions.
  • People want to be heard – need curators and translators.
  • People want to belong – need authenticity.
  • People need stories – stories should be moving, compelling and real.
  • Revolutions come from people doing what’s right for them in their own best interest – need to help them do that.

Twitter: @EthanZ


Jordan Banks and Marie-Josée Lamothe
“How Canadian Brands are taking advantage of the Digital Transformation through the Power of Friends Influencing Friends”

Jordan Banks is the Managing Director of Facebook Canada, and is responsible for leading and managing all commercial operations at the Facebook Canada office. Marie-Josée Lamothe is Chief Marketing & Corporate Communications Officer at L’Oréal Canada. In their session, they shared thoughts – each from their unique perspective as social platform and brand – on how companies can leverage social media and social influence.

Some key points from Jordan:

  • Facebook is just “1% complete” in its evolution.
  • Facebook doesn’t have all the answers, it changes a lot and often.
  • They do things differently – they’re growing fast, but are still small.
  • Several keys to brand building on Facebook:
    • Make social an organizational priority.
    • Realize that social is 24/7 – need to always be “on”.
    • Test, measure and learn.
    • Develop a strategic media mix – consider using traditional to drive online activity.
    • Create great content – “content is king”.
    • Be social and lightweight.
    • Think about why fans should care and share.

Some key points from Marie-Josée:

  • Avoid becoming “Groupon” on Facebook – don’t primarily focus on discounts/promotions to attract fans.
  • Shift focus from marketing promotion to ongoing engagement.
  • Challenge is to provide great content – while always remaining “on” to interact.
  • Social media provides the means to make consumers into true advocates.
  • The traditional marketing model is dead.
  • Need to become less product-centric, more community-centric
  • Cited example “Canada’s Best Beauty Talent“.
    • TV on demand.
    • Activated by Facebook pages.
  • Organizational structure at L’Oreal – customer care and consumer research report into the same person.
  • If companies continue to focus on the old model, the 4 P’s, they will use the consumer.
  • Need to innovate at the same pace as the consumer – and leverage analytics to ensure you’re reading the consumer correctly.
  • L’Oreal invests heavily in employee education.
    • Digital media course for employees.
    • Code of ethics for social media, educating what’s at risk and what’s at stake.

Twitter: @Jordan_Banks, @MJLamothe


Asif Khan
“Realizing a Multi-Channel Location-Based World”

Asif Khan, a veteran tech start-up, business-development and marketing entrepreneur, is the Founder and President of the Location Based Marketing Association. His talk provided some interesting data on the growth and opportunity for location-based marketing. Asif also shared some case studies.

Some key points from Asif:

  • Location-based marketing is about the integration of media to influence people in specific places.
  • By 2014, smartphone sales will top one billion.
  • Why use location based services:
    • Navigation – 46%.
    • Find restaurants – 26%.
    • Find friends nearby – 22%
    • Search for deal or offer – 13%.
  • Everything has a location – whether at home, on screen or using phone.
  • Offering deals via mobile is important, but must be relevant and of value to recipient
  • Mobile apps and checkins not necessarily best method of delivering offers.
  • Simple but fun wins – gaming (SVNGR, for example), trivia and augment reality can engage.
  • Leverage location-based marketing, brands have opportunity to:
    • Connect.
      • Interact with and engage an audience.
      • Provide rewarding experiences.
    • Collect.
      • Acquire data (including location-based) through permission-based relationships.
    • Convert.
      • Drive to web, store, or location for an experience.
  • Content can be generated, tagged and made addressable to people based on where they are.
  • Innovative example of using Foursquare to drive sampling – the GranataPet SnackCheck (see the YouTube video – very cool!).
  • A place is wherever you are – every person, every place, everything is geo-addressable.
  • Companies in Canada are behind on location-based marketing.
  • Shoppers of the future require platforms that allow them to research, review and shop anywhere and at anytime.
  • Retailers that leverage location-based marketing and embrace technological advances will be better suited to increase profitability and grow their customer base.

Twitter: @AsifRKhan

Listen. Engage. Connect.

This post originally appeared as a comment in response to a post written by Mitch Joel. Mitch asked readers to provide thoughts on what it takes for marketers to listen, engage and connect in today’s world. The two people who submitted the best responses, selected by Mitch, won complimentary tickets to the 2012 Canadian Marketing Association Summit. I was fortunate to be selected (my answer was ranked third but one of the other winners wasn’t able to attend).

Hi Mitch,

Several keys come to mind which should be considered.

Recognize that social media is about people.

Companies need to have the right people in place, whether in marketing, communications or customer service, with appropriate skills and education on social media best practices. These people, on the front lines, are essentially the face of the company – they should be both empowered and trusted when engaging with customers.  Enable people (your customers) to like your people (your employees) and thus your company.

Spend time learning.

Given the nature of the rapidly changing marketing and communications landscape, continuous learning is a necessity for people at all levels – so that a company’s employees are well-poised to listen, engage and connect. Marketers should regularly spend time reading social media and technology blogs and books, as well as occasionally attend conferences (such as The Art of Marketing).

Understand that listening leads to engagement and connection.

Marketers should start by listening to their target audience, in an effort to understand them – their needs, their nuances, their language. Engagement should start once sufficient listening has occurred. However, any marketing outreach can’t just be about the brand. The conversation must be relevant and genuine from the perspective of the customer, and it must somehow add value. Marketers that focus first on listening and have customer-centric mindset, will have a better opportunity to establish true engagement and connection.

Be proactive and build relationships.

Related to the point above, marketers should be proactive in building relationships – both with key influencers and other people in the target market. Relationship-building can occur by commenting on a blog, interacting on a social network, or perhaps meeting in person at an event. Investing in a relationship can truly help at a later point, perhaps when an social initiative/campaign is being launched that could benefit from engagement of key influencers.

Provide great content.

Whether making use of a corporate blog, or sharing information through a social network, marketers need to invest time and effort in cultivating and curating content that is relevant and provides value to existing and potential customers.  Time invested in listening to customers’ needs can truly pay off here, as insights gained can feed into the content developed. By becoming a trusted resource for customers, engagement and connection with customers will be enhanced.

Show that you care.

Simply put, a little recognition can go a long way.  If someone mentions your brand in a positive light, thank them. If someone cites an issue or concern, ask them why and do what you can to help them – in a genuine and, ideally, expedient manner.  You may not always be able to please everyone, but you certainly can earn a lot of respect by showing that you care.  Again this goes back to listening, which provides opportunity for engagement and connection.

(Almost) Everybody’s Here Now

The path to cultivating and building influence on the social web has gotten a lot harder than what it used to be. That’s saying something – because building influence has never been an easy task. Companies, in developing digital marketing and communications strategies, have included influencer outreach and engagement as a key focal point for a number of years now. However, the continued steady growth of information and content on the web, blogs and otherwise, has made it much more challenging for individuals to build a standout, highly trafficked online presence – correspondingly, companies will face increasing difficulties in defining and engaging with influencers, and must rethink their strategies accordingly.

According to Wikipedia, as of February 2011 there were 156 million public blogs in existence. Comparatively speaking, various estimates peg the number of blogs in 2005 at around 25 to 35 million. More notably, however, is the rise in overall content creation and consumption. Think about the time that is now spent on social networks, and the resulting information that is being generated and shared.  If attention were to be considered as a currency, the exchange rate right now is quite high.

When blogging first started to truly grow in popularity a few years ago, those who put forth the effort to provide quality, reliable and interesting content were able to create a strong online presence – attracting readers, establishing themselves as influencers. A couple of such prominent bloggers who come to mind are Raul Pachec0-Vega, who writes at hummingbird604.com and Rebecca Bollwitt, who writes at www.miss604.com. Make no mistake, both Raul and Rebecca put in a lot of hard work into establishing their online presences – and success did not come overnight for either of them. However, I find it hard to believe that the degree of success they have earned can be achieved by anyone today, in the crowded attention economy.

This has ramifications for companies, as they attempt to identify and work with influencers to build relationships and establish genuine word-of-mouth about their products and services.

Here are some questions companies should consider:

  1. Is the message that they would like to spread, and engage influencers with, sticky and relevant?
  2. Do they have the capabilities to scale their influencer outreach?  To achieve a similar breadth of outreach compared to years ago, it is likely that companies now need to engage with more influencers – remember though, the quality of relationships with influencers can’t be replaced by quantity. Building personal relationships is important.
  3. Are accurate metrics and evaluation processes in place to identify relevant influencers?

Can Collaboration Be the New Competition?

I find it interesting that there is such a strong, prevailing mindset that companies within the same industry must always be in competition with each other. Whether the focus is business to business, or business to consumer, it’s true that companies are fiercely fighting to attain and retain customers – customers who, no doubt, are closely watching their expenditures in these challenging economic times. However, what if companies adopted a different mindset?  What if companies became more open to collaborating with each other?

We are already witnessing the possibilities that can arise when companies open the doors for stakeholders to actively participate in various corporate functions and decisions through social media, leveraging online community engagement, crowdsourcing and co-creation. Companies, by tapping into minds outside of their corporate walls, are expanding their knowledge base and becoming more innovative as a result.

Now, imagine what could happen if companies became more open to working with each other?

Last winter, I came across a great example of collaboration in marketing. New to Ontario, I went to the LCBO (Ontario government liquor store) in search of a good microbrew. To my surprise, the LCBO carried a six-pack of beers from different craft brewers. What a delight to see the brewers working together to promote their products. The craft brewers are members of the Ontario Craft Brewers Association – through the association, 25 brewers collaborate on a number of marketing initiatives designed to educate and expand awareness amongst the buying public.

Needless to say, I bought the six-pack; also, since then, I have repeatedly purchased a number of the beers that were in the six-pack.

In another example, a group of coffee roasters have come together to form Coffee Common – with the goal of working together to introduce consumers to the joys of exceptional coffee. Having previously worked in marketing in the specialty coffee industry at Swiss Water Decaffeinated Coffee Company, I am particularly excited about this initiative. Great coffee can be just as complex and nuanced as great wine, and just as delicious too. It’s challenging for one coffee roaster, with limited resources, limited budget, and in all likelihood a very localized geographic area, to make an impact. However, there is opportunity to be had through collaboration, which enables greater access to resources – notably minds and money.

The above examples are relatively small-scale in nature, but what’s to stop larger enterprises from becoming more collaborative? Imagine, for example, that companies became more willing to share intellectual property rights. The fear is, of course, a competitor will innovate, develop a better product or service and gain market share – but it is not possible, that by sharing information and collaborating, companies can work together to grow the overall market?

What are your thoughts?