Listen To This Mini-Podcast On Content Co-Marketing

To bring a recent piece of research on content co-marketing to life, I created a mini-podcast (8 minutes) that includes excerpts from my interviews with marketing leaders. Give it a listen (if the Soundcloud player below doesn't show up or doesn't work for you, you can go straight to the Soundcloud page where it lives, here). Below I've included notes to the podcast, and a full transcript.

Podcast notes:

The full Target & Volkswagen branded video: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/vw-teams-funny-die-target-shopping-trip/295082/

The full Forrester report on branded content partnerships, or content co-marketing: https://www.forrester.com/Lift+Content+Marketing+Spending+Power+Through+Brand+Partnerships/quickscan/-/E-RES117539

Interviewees:
Nick Edouard - http://ca.linkedin.com/in/nickedouard
Claudia Hoeffner - http://www.linkedin.com/in/claudiahoeffner
Amanda Sibley - http://www.linkedin.com/in/asibley
Amanda Batista - http://www.linkedin.com/in/amandafbatista

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The Rise Of Dial-Up, Dial-Down Advertising

Advertising as we’ve always known it, online or off, worked a bit like this:

Produce advertising content />> Place advertising content

Here, advertising content had no life independent of its placement. Print ads, TV ads and radio ads lived only on the servers of the ad companies who created them, and then the media who carried them, for however long they carried them.

Now, a new kind of advertising has emerged:

Promote earned or owned content />> Promote more if it works (or less if not)

Here it’s a question of identifying content for promotion that’s already in the wild, on a blog, in a discussion forum, uploaded to YouTube, and then paying to drive more eyeballs to it, because it supports your brand, or it converts interested communities into customers.

It’s particularly attractive for two very good reasons:

  1. It’s already published, and has often already shown potential to create results for the business (in the form of awareness, leads or even sales), and
  2. You can often dial up the eyeballs that go to it, or dial them down, as you see fit, based on performance.
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Content Distribution Is A Hot Mess Right Now

[UPDATE 4 Sept: I have updated this post to the original draft, which includes specific and strong recommendations to publishers and marketers. They had been redacted, but a colleague asked "What would you DO about this?" so I saw fit to reinclude them. These are my answers; there are no easy solutions, but these are a step towards guidelines. Updates at the end of the piece, in bold.]

Publishers Are Engaged In Self-Harm, With Marketers As An Accessory

You remember when the email spam problem maxed out almost a decade ago? Or when content farms threatened to turn Google search results into useless piles of keyword-slurry? Or peak belly fat?

There should be a word for the moments when the mechanisms that aim to keep our electronic information corridors running well fail.

It’s shaping up to be one of those moments for the content distribution space (and particularly its subdiscipline native advertising, or sponsored content).

You can pity the reader who arrives at an article on many publishers’ websites today; I’m talking about you, Guardian and Forbes, but also you, New York Times and Washington Post. How is the reader to know if the article they’ve come to read is the product of a straightforward pay-to-publish play, an informal “link exchange” relationship, an “influencer” play, an independent opinion piece, or a piece of pure editorial? They can’t.

For the record: The “clear labeling” commandment is a fig leaf. By the time a reader has gotten so far through the article that they’re wondering why it keeps promoting a particular mindset, product, or opinion and started searching for cruft around the article, the trust in the information, the source, and the medium is lost.

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A European Market For Social Media? Does Not Exist

An agency head told me how he was on a call between the European head of marketing for a US brand and that brand’s board of directors. The chairman asked the marketing honcho, “How is the European market?” The marketer answered, “There isn’t one.” Awkward silence. “That is, there is no European market. There is a French market. A German market. A British one. And so on. I can tell you about those.”

In no other sphere of marketing are these national differences magnified more than in social media. Social media is, by its nature, participatory and thus takes on the form, tone, and color of its users. Social media in Germany is German social media. In France, French social media.

Then brands enter the picture. That social media strategy hatched in Dallas or Dublin, with a sum earmarked for translations, will not cut it.

Three reasons cookie-cutter strategies will fail in Europe:

  • Europeans as a broad group are less likely to engage with brands on social media than, say, in the United States or metro Hong Kong.
  • Europeans’ usage differ significantly country to country; Italians usage is not comparable to German usage.
  • Each market boasts strong local players that excel at the intricacies of their market’s social media usage.
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What Lies Behind That Result From Facebook

Pundits’ take that Facebook has “solved” mobile advertising after its home run last week hid a bigger, behind-the-scenes story:

We’re finally seeing branding and direct response marketing merge in a meaningful and measurable way; Facebook is just one place where it’s happening most demonstrably.

Here’s important context: Facebook’s quarterly earnings beat projections last Thursday, driven by the 62% of its ad revenue that comes from mobile. Also note that Facebook’s only ad revenue from mobile is its in-feed ads (or native ads, or whatever you want to call them).

The in-feed ad is Facebook’s holy grail. If they can manage to position ads in users’ mobile feeds so that these ads: a) perform well, and b) don’t kill engagement with Facebook, then they can print money against their 1 billion-plus monthly active users.

Facebook knows they’ll need advertisers’ and their agencies’ help to achieve this. That’s why I want to draw your attention to a slightly less publicized study that came out of Facebook and two partners the week prior to its quarterly earnings announcement.

Working with the social ad platform Adaptly and Refinery29 (one of a new set of savvy content-driven eCommerce outlets), Facebook showed that social advertising that merges branding and direct response outperforms direct response ads alone, by a margin of about 70%.

Facebook Valuable Content Uplift

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Something Like Democratic Marketing

Set against marketing messages, I would rather listen to my neighbor’s opinion of a product. A critic’s opinion. An expert’s. Any idiot with an Internet connection, in fact (according to our research, review content from complete strangers is more trustworthy than messages from brands).

The payload of this realization – that marketers’ messages are overinvested in by a million percent and underdeliver by an equal value – strikes our marketing foundations, oh so softly. Thud. Pop. Distant thunder.

Simultaneously it’s never been easier for other people to write about our brands, to create breathtaking personal tributes to our products, to call out our worst policies, and even to slander us. The crowds have snatched the megaphone and they won’t give it back.

These are two factors in a big equation that we’re still only beginning to calculate.

So far, we’ve dealt with these changes pragmatically and conservatively.

Community management is a perfect example of the pragmatic response. Community management is just a series of tribal agreements about playing rules. The brand will not allow threads that include the word “shit”. The brand will retweet only tweets from registered users. The brand answers requests within one hour between 9 AM and 9 PM EST. The brand will blog politely about its topic.

The marketing fortress has collapsed, the mobs are baying for blood, and the sop you throw this change is to play nice? This is what I’d call the Marie Antoinette response.

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FT Digital Media: Anguish Over Products

Two ways media’s changing now, and two ways it’s going to change:

The FT Digital event in London last week pulled together some of the cream of the European media world. The big conclusion they were made privy to?

The media world will soon discover exactly how many ways you can skin a cat.

The old-fashioned way for media brands to skin a cat – make the content and license rights to distribute it, or advertise next to it – doesn’t work anymore as a standalone product. As a result, the business model experimentation we’ve seen so far in the media world is turning into business model explosion. Evidence: Half of the speakers and attendees at this media event wouldn’t have been at a media event at all only three or four years ago. Facebook. Shazam. BuzzFeed. And tech VCs, for example.

Two pieces of news exemplified changes taking place right now:
One, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus (a virtual reality gaming device) forced discussion toward the value of a platform – the device is only as valuable as the community of developers creating remarkable content for it; tech and media companies alike need to take a platform approach to their assets.

Second, The New York Times’ launching of NYT Now – a premium version of the Times exclusively for smartphones – showed how media companies are bending themselves backward to divorce (call it “conscious uncoupling” if you will) resources from revenue. The mobile app will take a Facebook-like approach to making money by allowing advertisers to publish sponsored content in-feed.

And two discussions painted a picture of media’s future:

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The Native Advertising Answer Is Publishers’ Problem

[Recently, I wrote that overly optimistic or pessimistic predictions of native advertising’s future were the result of vast (and naïve) assumptions. I concluded that a more accurate prediction would not hinge upon grand theories about how great native advertising is or isn’t, but rather a wily assessment of many factors – the foxlike approach of Isaiah Berlin’s Hedgehog and the Fox. I said I’d offer such a foxy assessment. Here’s that assessment.]

First, let’s consider the two grand theories of native advertising – the hedgehog positions:

1) Native advertising is the best thing that could have happened.
According to this theory, native advertising at last frees the world from interruptive or parasitic advertisements and allows both the publisher site and advertiser to work toward a shared goal: the best possible experience for the user or reader. Success will be measured directly by readers actually choosing to consume stuff from brands, which means it’ll all be worth more and publishers will earn a bigger cut.

2) Native advertising is the worst thing that could have happened.
According to this theory, native advertising depends fundamentally on confusing the reader into clicking on an advertisement by disguising it as unpaid site editorial. As a result, readers will lose their trust in the sites’ editorial integrity and abandon the site. This loss of integrity will destroy the halo effect, whereby a site’s editorial integrity reflects positively on the advertisers associated with it.

True hedgehogs could expound on these arguments at length (they have a tendency to do that), but I’ve represented the basic positions.

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Content Marketing Fortnight VII: The Pains And Joys Of Going Mainstream

What’s happening (that’s important) in the world of content marketing? This is your fortnightly round-up of the best of the best stuff online for marketers who think about content; for the previous “Fortnights”, go to the bottom of the post. (And for more information about what the Content Marketing Fortnight is, see my intro from the first one. Get this curated newsletter in your inbox every other week – send me a mail.)

NewsCred scores $25 million. Tech news: “What’s content marketing?”
It’s no $16 billion, but the $25 million Newscred raised to expand its content marketing cloud offering is no insignificant sum. The company is moving fast to help brands win relevance with content, boasting a unique weapon (licensing for premium content with thousands of top-shelf sites). Re-code – previously the Wall Street Journal’s tech team – was taken aback, asking, “What’s content marketing?” Percolate’s Noah Brier answered them.

Federated Media, a content marketing pioneer, backs out of content marketing

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Does Native Advertising Face A $3 Billion Question?

Predictions about native advertising’s medium-term impact are both short-sighted and simplistic.

Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin

In 1973, the Wall Street Journal quoted a professor: “Academic politics is the most vicious…because the stakes are so low.” Thereafter, the idea (that the intensity of a dispute is inversely proportional to its stakes) was named after the professor: Sayre’s Law.

Sayre’s law applies very well to native advertising. According to Forrester data, digital advertising dollars are today some 20% of traditional advertising dollars. Of those scarce digital ad dollars, something far less than 10% goes to anything that could be characterized as native advertising.

Perhaps that’s why the dispute has been so vitriolic (at least, by advertising’s standards).

The day after the New York Times launched a redesign to facilitate more native advertising, Tom Foremski, a media commentator, said: “Native advertising is the world’s worst idea and I can’t believe the New York Times management is so gullible and clueless in agreeing to its publication.”

He joins an authoritative cast of native advertising skeptics. Another, Bob Garfield, described native advertising to the Federal Trade Commission as something akin to bat poo. Even Barclays Capital believes the practice peaked in 2012 and will shrink to a less than $500 million market by 2017.

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