Blogging into the future

When I started this blog, way back in 2005, I began with a hypothesis. I wanted to write 999 articles exploring the collision of consumer culture and business – and my focus was on proving or disproving a topic at a time.

I began by writing anonymously – fearing that my personal explorations here might impact my professional work. Eventually, after prompting from Ann Handley, I changed this approach, started writing for MarketingProfs and began publishing under my own name.

As the world of blogging and social media started to take off, Drew McLellan and I ventured into the world of crowdsourced publishing with The Age of Conversation. We wanted to know whether there was some emergent value in blogging as a new form of consumer engagement – so we asked the people who were at the forefront of the journey – bloggers. We brought together 103 authors from 15 countries and published the first edition within three months of conception. It was amazing.

A couple of years later we published a second and a third edition. Across these three editions we published around 300 authors and sold thousands of copies that raised tens of thousands for charity. And at the same time, it generated a community of marketers that remain connected to this day.

But times have changed.

This article by Andreas Stegmann looks at the role of the personal blog in 2019. He shares his analysis and insight around many of the assumptions that held water a few years ago:

  • Own your home – do you need to write on your own blog or should you simply use LinkedIn or Medium as your publishing platform? My view is that it depends on what you are trying to achieve – but in general I remain convinced that there is power (and simplicity) in “sharing the message, owning the destination” – and that means post and update on social channels, but write and archive on your own site.
  • Content is king – up until recently, blogs were seen as the most important factor in driving digital and social media presence. But as Andreas points out, content is not king. It is table stakes.
  • Play to a niche – write on a single topic or subject area. Even a blog on marketing can spin off in hundreds of directions. Writing to a niche will take you so far – but may not reflect either the needs of your writing nor the needs of your audience.

So where to from here?

Writing a blog takes effort and attention. It’s not a simple thing to do. But writing requires you to think through and articulate concepts in a way that tweeting or sharing content via social media does not. And for those of us who work at the point where people and technology meet – and where the future of work and ways of working continue to evolve, I feel that writing and publishing (yes video and podcasting too) may be the best form of future thinking and future proofing that we can do.

Merit wins out, right?

The idea of meritocracy – that innate talent and hard work are the drivers of success – is often promoted as the reason that we should turn away from diversity quotas. But political philosopher Michael Sandel provides a refreshing critique.

Apple Mac Pro or Cheese Grater

There are some things I like about Apple products. When they “just work” they are great – but over the last few years, the limits of a closed ecosystem have been exposed. These days we are looking further afield for our design-conscious devices, content and computing. Even the once transformative iTunes is closing down.

But when Apple recently launched its new Mac Pro, comparisons were drawn not with high-end design of fashionable devices, but with low tech, everyday living implements.

Marketers, always keen to step into a pop-culture moment saw this as an opportunity. This ad for IKEA Bulgaria is certainly understated, but no doubt, it will grate on the nerves of the Apple designers.

There has been a long period of analysis and graft around media and communication, with particular focus on the role of news, the emergence of “fake news”, orchestrated misinformation and global political upheaval. I am hoping that we will see more of the sense of play on display here. It encourages us to see beyond the shallowness of words and the divisive nature of “positions” towards the humanity and humour that connects us all.

Getting to Know the Twitter Algorithm

Each of the social media platforms continually evolve their platforms, approaches and algorithms. Sometimes these changes are noticeable and require us to reset our expectations and use. Other times, the changes appear invisible – yet impact our ways of working. For marketers this can prove frustrating – and occasionally exciting, with new benefits emerging.

Digital Information World have produced an infographic that captures a history of Twitter’s algorithm but also provides some helpful tips to improve your Twitter activity. Much of this is simple, but worth reinforcing:

  • Treat Twitter as an engagement and conversation channel
  • Respond to messages and updates
  • Set an agenda using hashtags
  • Use media
  • Update your stream regularly.

Perhaps most importantly, remember to use Twitter Analytics to understand what is working and not working within your network.

Generating Leads with Infographics

Visual content attracts people to your site and services. But visual content – and in particular – infographics -have a very specific job to do. They have to help progress your customer’s journey.

Around 60% of customers have already done research and are thinking about buying by the time they find your website. This means:

  • 60% of your visitors need more information from you to help convince them to proceed
  • 40% aren’t even at the “awareness” stage.

This makes for challenging messaging.

How then is it possible to:

  • Make a lasting and memorable first impression?
  • Keep your visitor’s attention long enough to begin a deeper engagement
  • Convince your visitor to provide some kind of contact information (eg email or phone).

The SEMrush folks have some great statistics on capturing attention:

  • 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual
  • Captioned text is read 4x more than body copy
  • 50% of your brain is active in visual processing
  • 70% of your sensory receptors are in your eyes
  • We process images 60,000x faster than text
  • 40% of people respond better to visuals.

But visuals are not a silver bullet. They are part of your engagement and lead generation toolkit.

Spiralytics have put together this handy infographic on creating infographics. It shows how you can use data, design, layout and messaging to create a relevant, shareable, lead generating infographic.

The next thing, of course, is to get your infographic in front of your audience. And that’s where your strategy will need to kick in.

Dear Tech: Let’s Do Better

We all want to believe in something larger than ourselves. We want to believe that our words, deeds and actions can make a difference in the world – what Steve Jobs described as “making a dent in the universe”.

But over the last decade, it feels like we have all been knuckling down, focusing on near term data – the next quarter, the month end numbers, the little things that allow us to scrape by week-by-week.

I’m not suggesting all these things are not important. After all, we do need to make our numbers, pay our rent, keep the wolves from the door.

But when did we give up on our dreams of creating a better place than the one we found ourselves in? When did the BIG picture become the landscape for our fears rather than our aspirations? Isn’t it time we re-evaluate?

If there is something that the last decade has taught us, it’s that complex change requires complex solutions. Sure, we can gravitate towards the simple slogan and an easy promise – but the simple truth is that change is hard. It requires effort. And that this future is already here.

The good thing is, is that we’re not alone in this. We have access to the best and brightest minds of our generation, right now. There are massive global corporations turning their attention to fundamental issues and a future that is full of opportunity not fear. It’s why I love this open letter from IBM.

Technology was the defining innovation of the 20th Century, and it looks to be continuing into the 21st. This open letter represents not just an invitation, but a call for participation. Together we can make a difference in the industries that employ our populations and provide purpose and work – like finance, retail, telecommunications and healthcare. But the same rings true for government, the environment and society. Technology has the potential to impact poverty, wellbeing, education and even champion data rights as human rights.

It’s possible. We’ve just got to expect more from technology and the people who work with and in it.

16 Tips for Your Next Trade Show

I have long been a fan of checklists. I have them for a whole range of marketing and project activities – from events to workshops, website and product launches to employee onboarding.

And while I often remember most of what needs to be done, there are some best practices – or nuances – that make a big difference to the outcome. More importantly, when something goes wrong (and we all know THAT never happens, right?), a checklist helps ensure that you cover all your bases while still dealing with any changes that occur on the fly.

Event driven marketing like trade shows bring a special kind of focus and pressure to your marketing team. There are logistics, design, coordination, briefings, customer experience flow, sign-ups, promo items and activations, construction, data collection, branding, sales process handoff and staffing considerations to balance – and that’s just in the leadup to the event!

This great infographic setups out 16 tips that you can easily follow to make your next trade show event a success. But what is it missing? What works for you that changes a good trade show to a great one? For me, it is cool team t-shirts. There really is something powerful about a t-shirt, logo or tag line that sets you apart (plus you can give some away as merchandise to the best leads).

trade show best practices infographic

When it Comes to Startups, Storytelling Make the Difference

When we build innovation teams, we always ask for skill diversity – we want hackers, hipsters, hustlers AND humanitarians all working together. It’s a magical combination of skills, perspectives and interests.

Often, however, we struggle to find enough marketers and sales people to contribute. 

Interestingly, it’s also something we often find in the makeup of early stage startups. Founders will seek out tech and product team members well before they seek out marketers. In fact, many founders spend a great deal of time and effort trying to find a tech co-founder.

But what of the marketing co-founder? Where are they and where can they be found?

Micah Rosenberg, writing for the Founder Collective, suggests however, that:

There’s no substitute for being a good story-teller. Often the reason one company raises capital more easily than another in the same general category, with the same general metrics, is that the founder is just a more compelling storyteller.

So perhaps the next best strategic hire for your startup is …

wait for it … 

wait for it …

someone who can give you a surprise ending.

Hacking Liveability in a Smart City

When it comes to city life, there are many dimensions to “liveability”. We can look at infrastructure and its impacts – like how long it takes for citizens to commute from home to their workplace. We can look at life expectancy. Or use of communal space. 

We can think about the future and how we’d like to provide alternatives to those long commute times by creating coworking spaces and using technology to empower employees. We can also think about the cultural landscape and what it takes to make a city a great place to live – and by “live” I don’t mean just “work”. Where are the artists? The musicians? What about spaces and opportunities for play and leisure? 

There is so much that goes into “liveability” and our lives are so connected these days, that we sometimes automatically jump to “tech” as a solution to everything. But is tech a solution to life – or is it the opposite?

Recently, Vibewire and the Liverpool City Council hosted a hackathon tackling the question of “liveability” as part of the Spark Festival. Over one weekend, students, business leaders, citizens and artists investigated what it might mean to make a city – like Liverpool – “liveable”. Here is what they discovered.

The Marketing Therapist

It’s interesting when I think back on it.

Years before I became an all-in marketer I worked in publishing. I honed my craft (and it felt very much like a craft), learned about as many aspects of the industry as possible and revelled in the thought that I was part of a profession that reached back centuries. Of course, one of the things that I did was to actively disrupt the very publishing tradition that I loved. But that is another story.

One of the first books that was given to me by my boss was Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. It had been around for years, but I was assured it would play an important role in my professional life. And sure enough, my boss, the eagle-eyed publisher, Eve Ross, was right.

I started learning a different perspective immediately. I could read “influence” into many aspects of my work – from design and layout to the way I worked with authors. It changed small things about my ways of working and it changed my mindset in quite profound ways. And I still encourage my new team members to read it. I just ask them to read it with a creative mindset and thoughts on a future horizon (and how we will get there).

The infographic below captures some key insights that we can use to connect our work in marketing with the customer’s mindset. Some of the tactics are a little clunky, but with some creativity (and some A/B testing) you’ll find a happy medium.

What I have learned over the years is that psychology plays a major role in our lives – but also in our work. And if we think of ourselves as marketing therapists, you’ll go a long way to solving your customers and your clients challenges.

Now, just take a seat and tell me about your mother …