Southern Rail UK Breathes Life Back into Social Media

Topics of conversation have become depressingly heavy across most social media channels. What with Brexit, Trumpmania, Climate Change and a general sense of dystopia pervading Twitter and Facebook, not even the #inspiration hashtag of Instagram can compete.

Years ago, when I worked on digital and promotional strategy for McDonald’s, we’d constantly return to the simple premise – what would it take to “surprise and delight” our customers? We would put this at the heart of each and every promotion.

From the surprise and delight, we’d then move onto “play”. We’d ask more simple questions:

  • How do we create or generate a sense of playfulness?
  • What does it mean to “play” with digital?
  • And how do we make this happen?

While exploring these topics, I developed a content marketing framework – PLAY. There are four main elements:

P — for power
L — for learning and curiosity
A — for adventure
Y — the yelp of surprise and delight.

Notice, we still have surprise and delight – but to make this work, you need more. You need to understand that great brands have and can wield power – to influence, engage and stimulate. But our customers have this agency too. We need to build adventure into our brand narratives and promote a sense of curiosity.

And all this comes down to great copy. Fabulous storytelling can change lives.

And a great example is “Eddie on Work Experience” with Southern Rail UK. Single handedly he is breathing life and energy into the @SouthernRailUK Twitter account. And it’s thrilling. And fun.

Imagine if you could do this with your brand.

Marketing Dividends – Is it Time to Re-evaluate Digital?

The promise of digital targeting has had marketers salivating for years. We would be able to identify, reach, engage and convert consumers one-to-one at scale thanks to technology. Better yet, with mobile devices, we could bring an offer to a consumer who was physically close to our retail outlet thanks to big data, mapping and location services.

Accordingly, substantial investments have been made in a wide variety of technologies from CRM and data mining, to automation, analysis and beyond. In fact, Scott Brinker’s infographic on the landscape of marketing technology (2016) suggests that there were almost 4000 marketing technology solutions vying for your attention and purchase. With so many choices, it’s hardly surprising that marketers wonder where to start with the MarTech stack.

But Byron Sharp, Professor of Marketing Science at the University of South Australia says that the promise of digital marketing is unfulfilled. Or perhaps, we have over stated the role of digital at the expense of brand. This video segment by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) touches on these topics, raising interesting challenges for us all.

Now, there is plenty that I could argue with. There is a huge assumption that analogue marketing metrics are/were valid, and also that marketers are not following through on data, analytics and measurement of business value. But these are quibbles – because the most interesting aspect of this interview is the refocusing of marketing towards strategy.

In many ways, the pursuit of digital marketing and technology has seen us become reliant on tactics masquerading as strategy. We put some technology in place and think that the strategy will magically be enabled.

But this is never the case. As Byron reminds us, “We are in a battle for attention – for physical and mental availability … people [consumers] just don’t think of you enough”. Segmentation, data and technology alone won’t solve that problem – only a tightly threaded strategy and approach to execution will. And that means doubling down on your marketing skills. So don’t just re-evaluate digital – re-evaluate your team and yourself.

Digital rule #1: Don’t host where you register

One of the challenges of digital strategy is that you are – in most instances – wedded to a history of previous technology decisions. So while you may come in to an organisation to overhaul the strategy, you might find yourself constrained by some bad search engine optimisation, platform and publishing choices or hosting restrictions.

Generally these kind of problems can be undone with time. With money. With resources.

But there is one particular challenge that can be terribly difficult to unlock. And it happens at the very beginning of your digital journey – with your domain name registration.

Domain names are like your business name on the internet. They tell everyone where to find us. We all know that to order a book online, we visit Amazon.com. To search, we visit Google.com or Bing.com. These are domain names.

To get one of these domain names, we need to register that name with a Domain Name Registrar. These are companies that are authorised to sell and manage domain names. Popular registrars include GoDaddy.com, NetRegistry.com.au in Australia – and many others.

But registering your domain name is like registering your business name. You may register with the relevant authorities, but you don’t setup your business in the same office. You do so elsewhere.

And you should do the same with your domain name and your online business.

When you register your domain name, you will usually be offered hosting. That means that you will be provided space online to upload your website. While this may be convenient – and perhaps even cheap (or free) – I tend to avoid this situation.

Like any business, domain name registrars go through ups and downs. And should the registrar’s business fail, it can take your registration details with it.

If you have your website hosted with the registrar, you can lose both the website and the domain name.

I had a client recently who purchased a small business package with one of the country’s largest and most reputable brands. This included domain name AND hosting AND email and more. It sounded like a no-brainer and the package was purchased.

A couple of years down the track this package was discontinued. As it turned out, the domain names were registered through a European registrar (not locally as we expected), and the email, domain name registration and hosting were all outsourced and rebranded locally.

My client had expected that the emails that were being sent were just marketing spam, so ignored them until the website was offline. What followed was literally months of follow-up, documentation and phone calls until the domain name could be transferred.

Even the largest and most powerful brands can change their strategy mid-stream. So even if you are registering your domain name with a brand you know and trust, my advice is to host your website elsewhere. At least if something changes you won’t lose both the name and the business/technology.

Interaction: GroupM’s Take on Digital

I am always interested to see how different lenses on the same subject reveal insights. For example, B2B marketers have a particular skew when it comes to digital and social media – it is hard edged, data driven and technology enabled. This is particularly true for large scale tech companies – but is an approach that has been resonating across industries for some time. B2C marketing, on the other hand, operates in a high velocity world that can turn on a tweet – responsiveness is no longer just a customer service issue but one that impacts the entire value chain.

We are, after all, ever closer to our customers than ever before.

Social and digital media, however, often feels like it operates in a bubble. An ever-increasing bubble it seems, but a bubble nonetheless. When I watch Gruen, for example, I struggle to recall even the most popular or widely discussed TV commercials shown – my habits have now been so deeply skewed by on-demand viewing and timeshifting that TV by timetable seems so last century.

But this is merely the bubble that we choose. The lens that we select.

And there are movements and trends that continue in their own parallel universe that operate at different speeds.

The GroupM Interaction 2017 report is interesting particularly because it applies a media lens across everything from ecommerce to fake news, television to bandwidth. I particularly like the section on privacy and the impacts that widespread security breaches are having on consumers’ sense of trust.

The report identifies four creative challenges facing both brands and agencies:

  1. Getting the attention of the consumer in a low attention world. As the buyer pushes the seller towards viewability, the consumer is pushing the brand to greater ‘watchability.’
  2. Meeting the costs and measurement implications of the constant iterations of formats and functionality.
  3. Finding the balance of enough variation to meet the needs of ever finer segments without undermining the overall brand proposition. (The Marriott Hotel Bogota has 57 images on Expedia.com. Marriott / Starwood operates over 7000 properties. That’s a lot of images.)
  4. The creation of new classes of content for e commerce environments.

While I can agree on the surface with these challenges, I wonder really whether our attention spans truly are shrinking – do we really have the attention span of a goldfish? And if this is not true, what does this mean for the remaining three challenges?

I have a sense that we are consuming ever-larger volumes of media each and every day – but it’s not necessarily in the format and channel that lends itself to the kind of tracking and measurement that business clients have come to expect.

A recent article from BBC Health questions the notion of the shrinking attention span by unearthing the starting point for this theory – a Microsoft report referencing the Statistic Brain website. Apparently there is no evidence pointing towards a shrinking attention span, nor support for the widely held view that goldfish have attention spans. In fact, Dr Gemma Briggs from Open University suggests that attention is entirely contextual – ”How we apply our attention to different tasks depends very much about what the individual brings to that situation”.

And that brings us back to the question of lenses and touches on the topic of Fake News – a subject also covered in the GroupM report. One of the suggestions in the report points towards the emergence of a “purpose driven media” and an incentive structure created to drive this:

The most shared and most monetized stories come from authentic news sources. A way of decreasing the incentives to the bad guys is to increase the incentives to the good guys. A simple adjustment in the revenue sharing model would go a long way.

And that’s where the future of media becomes extremely interesting. Given the emergence of organisations like Sleeping Giants, a purpose driven media may be a necessary development to help restore trust, authenticity and – dare I say it – respect in the media and advertising industry.

Download the Interaction 2017 report here.

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Sleeping Giants Take on Fake News and Brands – Is Your Brand Ready?

We have all heard about the vast network of fake news sites that spread disinformation during the recent US Presidential Campaign. These sites use the same clickbait strategies that propelled sites like Upworthy to the top of the digital media scrapheap – inflammatory headlines, sensationalist stories and catchy hooks that tempt you to click just once more.
What Upworthy’s content strategy revealed was a unique combination of skilled teams, data and insights would help the organisation create content that was “viral ready”. As Joseph Lichterman explained in this Nieman Lab article:

Using the user data it’s collected, Upworthy found that elements like humor and a story structure that built in suspense would draw in readers and keep them on the page and better engaged.

This meant that even to tell a story with real information and verifiable facts, the goal for Upworthy was to grab and own the attention of readers as a priority, delivering news and information as a lower priority. As Amy O’Leary, Upworthy’s Editorial Director explained, “If I were to tell you, ‘Hey, I’ve got a 5,000-word piece on fast-food workers’ wages,’ very few people would be excited about that”. Instead the story would focus on building rapport with the audience, engaging through an imaginative framework of shared experience and emotionally engaging writing and opening up into the ethical challenges that come with enjoying something you eat while knowing the background and facts of its production. As O’Leary suggests, “I think we’re reaching deeper into people, because the approach is one of openness and not judgment”.

It’s worth reading more of the article to learn how Upworthy used data to drive its curation process – but what is fascinating (and concerning) is the way that this model has been co-opted by the fake news movement. By ignoring facts as the basis of news, these fake news sites have effectively defined a whole new genre of content catering to our own sense of digital isolation and disconnectedness. If we have learned anything from the last decade in this Age of Conversation, it is that when we (as consumers) come face-to-face with the vast anonymity of the internet, we rapidly seek our tribe – and we do so through the media at our fingertips – visuals, text, keywords. We seek the connection via keyword and conversation – and naturally enough find ourselves in an echo chamber.

Those of us who work with digital technology and audience strategy have – to be honest – been taking advantage of this approach for years. I often say that both love and hate Facebook and its targeting for I know how useful and powerful it is as a marketer, but equally how invasive and manipulative it is as a consumer. So much so that I consciously manage my engagement and sharing on Facebook and limit what I click on etc. But I also know that even my limited engagement there – and on every other digital channel – leaves enough breadcrumbs to be valuable to the brands and businesses seeking my attention. These days my choice to click comes down to context and location.

Because I know that every click rewards not only the brand but the advertiser too.

With the massive rise in programmatic advertising over the last two or three years, most advertisers and planners are unlikely to even know where their branded advertising will appear. It could appear on alt-right websites (the term used to mask white supremicist oriented websites), pornographic websites or even across the dark web. The powerful retargeting tools now in the hands of marketers and their trained algorithms means that ads that you first see on a mainstream website will follow you wherever you may go online. And while the web has some amazing resources, it also has some deep and nasty crevices.

So what do you do when your brand starts advertising in this murky digital world?
Imagine, for example, that you visited a fake news site with outrageous headlines and you did so out of curiosity. What kind of advertiser, you wonder, would support a platform that knowingly creates fake news and information that demonises your own audiences (the people who are your customers and supporters). This NY Times article explains such a situation:

One day in late November, an earth and environmental science professor named Nathan Phillips visited Breitbart News for the first time. Mr. Phillips had heard about the hateful headlines on the site — like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” — and wondered what kind of companies would support such messages with their ad dollars. When he clicked on the site, he was shocked to discover ads for universities, including one for the graduate school where he’d received his own degree — Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “That was a punch in the stomach,” he said.

Rather than to let this slide, the professor sent a tweet to his Duke questioning its affiliation with a “sexist and racist” site. Eventually this was sorted, as the NY Times revealed.
But in the background, a movement known as “Sleeping Giants” was arising to combat this kind of fake news. This shared Twitter account and network of followers are using a similar approach – naming and shaming the brands that support these fake news networks. The Sleeping Giants publish a list of brands who have discontinued their support for fake news sites – starting with the Breitbart network. But we can expect more of this kind of activity in the coming months and years. The question for brands in all this – do you know where and who your ad dollars go to? And how will you respond when you find your brand in places you don’t expect or want?

The best marketing investment you’ll make all year

In conversation after conversation with marketing directors and CMOs I keep reaching the same conclusion: our efforts at skill building are woefully inadequate to keep up with the pace of customer change.

There are two factors at play here:

  1. Senior marketers remain risk averse so pursue conservative strategies
  2. Junior marketers willing to work with and adapt new approaches are hobbled by the strategic frameworks and their skills degrade.

Unfortunately for marketers, our customers are more agile than ever, readily adopting and consuming new models of engagement, interaction and purchase. Just think about retail disruption and the way new entrants like Zara have been able to swan into our landmark locations and capture new and existing markets while the dinosaurs of Australian retail cut costs, flounder online and bark about GST and an unfair playing field.

The same can be said of media. Platforms like Junkee and the Guardian have flown in the face of a struggling media sector, out performing traditional mastheads right at the time that it seemed that the Media market was imploding.

When you take your eye off the customer ball, you open the door of opportunity to those with a more nimble business model.

In many ways, customers are like water – they follow the path of least resistance, and the simple fact is, our outmoded channel, contact and conversion paths are resolutely locked in a bygone era circa 2005.

On the positive side, there’s never been a better time to invest in both marketing and marketing skills – for both are the engines of innovation and growth in a customer-centric world.

Let’s see what this might mean.

Marketing is digitally determined but strategy is still king
If budget (and privacy) was no option, we could conceivably track, measure and optimise every customer interaction. But would this quantifiable improve our marketing? Would it make our customers more likely to buy, buy more often, or recommend us?

One of my favourite sayings is “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should”. And this applies now more than ever. While digital has transformed the work, methods and metrics of marketers, choosing what to do and when should not always be ceded to algorithms. Strategy is a vital part of your brand and its experience and marketers should be make use of the digital domain to inform decisions, not make them.

Use social signals and analytics to inform strategy
While the term “big data” is often heralded as the answer to every marketer’s dream, it’s often surprising how well we can use “small data” to radically transform our customers experience. At various stages of the buying journey, our customers will often consciously or inadvertently reveal their intentions. They may tweet about an issue or interest in a new product. They may share interesting new offers that appear in their Facebook timeline. Or they may even photograph and geotag a product they see in a shop or online using Instagram.

Moreover, they may also tag – and by tag, I mean recommend, a product to a friend. This could be a simple tag where a friend is notified by name or ID. Or it could vine with a warm recommendation, like “you’ll love this, Gavin”.

These social signals may be too inconsequential to warrant direct engagement, but at scale, could denote the first stages of a trend or an opportunity to “go viral”. The only way to know this is happening is to incorporate social analytics into your marketing business process. In doing so, it will bring you one step closer to your customer.

Automating for frictionless brand experience
Social analytics also provide vital insight into your customers’ journey. With even a small amount of journey mapping and data analysis, you’ll soon learn of the various friction points across various touch points. And where those friction points exist, marketing automation can be used to overcome or avoid that friction.

It could be as simple as sending an in-app message, email or text message to pre-empt a problem or offer a workaround. It could be that an abandoned online shopping cart triggers a follow up from your call centre. There are many scenarios, but all should be designed to provide a value add to your customer.

The common thread linking your brand and your customer is bound up in experience. Our increasing use of technology takes us part of the way, but the foundation of strategy, creativity and tech know-how that must be in the DNA of the modern marketer is what allows it to flourish. And that means investing, nurturing and growing your team and their capabilities. In fact, skills may be the best marketing investment you’ll make all year.

B2B Marketing Leader Interviews: Andrew Cornell, Managing Editor, ANZ BlueNotes

In the leadup to the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC 2016, I took the opportunity to speak with the Andrew Cornell, Managing Editor of BlueNotes, the ANZ newsroom about brand publishing, strategy and content.

Gavin Heaton: Earlier this year, eConsultancy published an article saying that the trend of brands becoming publishers is a nonsense. But BlueNotes has found success. What are the top three things that you are doing differently?

Andrew Cornell: Having worked in the traditional media for 30 years, I’d describe Fairfax and News as brand publishers too – a minority of their actual revenue comes from either subscriptions or direct purchase of articles. Audiences too, particularly when not familiar with the mastheads, have no pre-conceptions. The critical elements are audience understanding and quality content. So for BlueNotes, the three things are:

  • Truly understand your audience and what they value (and how they want to get their content)
  • Provide actually compelling content – which can’t be marketing or direct promotion. It needs to be thought leadership (as it has long been with Economic and business research the traditional media has always used)
  • Ensuring BlueNotes looks interesting in its own right, not as a “brand” site, although we’re clear our “publisher” is ANZ.

 

Gavin Heaton: At the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum there is a theme of linking marketing with the bottom line. What does that mean for BlueNotes – and perhaps as importantly – what does that mean for ANZ?

Andrew Cornell: For ANZ BlueNotes is a kind of online weekly magazine version of the thought leadership the bank has always done with economic research report, industry insights and major analyses like Greener Pastures and Caged Tiger, our long studies of the agricultural opportunity and the transformation of the Asian financial system. The “marketing” advantage for ANZ is reputational, not direct sell. This is a bank that is innovative with content, authoritative and able to provide genuine insights

 

Gavin Heaton: Where would a CMO start with a program like BlueNotes? Is it strategy? Is it vision? And what would you recommend?

Andrew Cornell: Start where any good journalism needs to start: who is the audience? How do they get their information? What do they want? Each is necessary. The content especially has to be authentic, genuinely insightful and valuable in its own right – audiences increasingly source information from multiple sites and mastheads so there needs to be a reason to come back – and that’s quality.

The B2B Marketing Leaders Forum 2016 runs 25-27 May in Sydney, Australia. It equips B2B marketers with the skills to cut through the technology hype and keep up with the many changes in digital disruption, industry and societal change and learn strategies for turning their departments into revenue generating machines.

The Industrial Internet, Accelerator in a Box and Retail Disruption on #DisrupTV

Each week, Vala Afshar and R “Ray” Wang host a web series DisrupTV. It’s a 30 minute deep dive into the world of digital transformation featuring the people and organizations that are leading that change.

This week’s episode featured GE’s Chief Digital Officer, Ganesh Bell, Constellation Research Principal Analyst, Guy Courtin and myself.

Setting a cracking pace, GE have become the poster child for the world of digital transformation, coining the term “industrial internet”, establishing startups in Silicon Valley and setting a vision to be a top 10 software company by 2020. In the episode, Ganesh talks about the challenges of transformation – of moving from an industrial company to a digital company and what it takes. It’s well worth watching the replay to learn more about the tangible impact of digital transformation that GE is making not just within their business but well beyond it.

Joining Ray and Vala, about 25 minutes in, I shared some insight into the world of enterprise innovation in Australia:

Guy Courtin joined around 45 minutes in and brought amazing insight into the changing world of retail. From showrooming to the internet of things, he covered a vast terrain of disruption and opportunity, suggesting that bricks and mortar stores still have plenty of advantages over their digital only counterparts, and explaining that to be truly transformative, we need to stop thinking about “e” commerce and connect the dots around the customer’s commercial experience.

While the show ran for just over an hour, it’s jam packed with insight and energy. And DisrupTV is fast becoming an authoritative, must watch series for all those who are serious about the business of disruption and transformation in business. Check out recordings of past episodes here. And watch this week’s episode replay from Blab below.

Cyber Security is Now an Important Part of Your Brand

In workshops, presentations and executive briefings, I continue to push one clear message. Experience is the Currency of Your Brand. This new consumerverse that we have found ourselves in goes beyond the simple notion of being “customer centric” – to the heart of what it means to be invited into the lives of our customers. For no matter whether we are engaging prospects in a buyer’s journey and nurturing their engagement through to a purchase, or we are working with a community of passionate brand advocates (and yes, they do exist), it’s important to remember that the brand – our brand – never really sits at the centre of our customer’s lives. They sit at the centre of ours.

Increasingly, the experience of engaging with a brand occurs online. When you map out a customer or buyer’s journey, it soon becomes clear that the majority of brand touchpoints are digital. It could be a banner or Facebook ad that kicks off the process for a buyer. It could be an Instagram photo or associated hashtag. It is estimated that around 60% (or more) of the purchase decision is made before customers engage a brand – so that is a significant percentage of non-owned brand experience that is taking place.

Moving your customer from unknown to known

One of the simplest ways of moving your potential customer from unknown to known, is for them to share some information with you. It could be their name, an email address or a Twitter handle. They may leave a comment via Facebook or Instagram. Or they may even call your call centre. But as soon as they do, it means you have an opportunity to engage them more directly. It’s a great opportunity for personalisation or targeted content/engagement.

BUT there are also risks.

Cyber security is about brand trust

When storing customer’s details, you have a duty to do so securely. Not just because of privacy policies or even local laws. Your duty is to protect the TRUST that has been bestowed upon you. And we will hear more about this through 2016. As I write, books are being printed on the subject of “trust” by thought leaders, analysts and marketers around the world. It’s a hot topic because it has a direct impact on our ability to deliver our brand promise. This flows on to brand reputation and even market capitalisation.

Trust is also a hot topic because we are now seeing far more sophisticated digital attacks that are difficult to detect and fix. Take, for example, the strain of malware that impacted the Melbourne Health computer networks in early January 2016. Malware is a type of malicious software that is used to gain access to computer networks to gather information, show unwanted information/advertising and to generally disrupt computer operation. In more extreme examples, we are seeing a type of malware called ransomware encrypting whole networks and hard drives and demanding a ransom to unlock the system.

As IT News reported:

The malware downed the hospital’s pathology systems and forced staff into manual workarounds.

It made its way into the health department through an unnamed zero-day exploit in Windows XP computers, past the agency’s full enterprise antivirus suite.

cyber-security

The Melbourne Health attack has been programmed to “self mutate” which means that it is constantly changing its own internal software structure, writing and re-writing itself as a way of escaping detection. Three weeks after the infestation, it seems that the Melbourne Health IT Team is starting to come to grips with the challenge.

But ask yourself – could your business cope with three weeks of business disruption? How would your new “autonomous vehicle” product team deal with the kind of challenge that Fiat Chrysler encountered last year? Would your new “internet of things” startup cope with a security breach due to something like the Heartbleed bug?

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from the Ashley Madison hack is about the importance of trust and fidelity. To paraphrase Ashley Madison’s tag line – “Customer attention is short. Have good security”.

11 Types of Content to Make Your B2B Marketing Sing

Be under no illusions – content marketing is hard work. It takes planning, resources and focus. But it is also one of the most rewarding forms of marketing that you can do professionally and individually. Not only does content marketing challenge you to clearly communicate – it often brings you up close and personal with customers as well as your sales teams.

These meetings give you the chance to listen, absorb and understand the challenges that people have in their work. And if you are lucky – and creative enough – you can design content that will help them solve that problem. Or understand a solution better. Or simply just bring a smile to their face.

Content marketing is a performance

When I studied theatre I was fascinated by the way that text on a page could be brought to life by an actor. I loved listening to the way that words could be rolled around the mouth and thrown into an audience. A good text in the hands of a great performer can take your breath away. Brilliant writing when coupled with an electrifying performance can change lives.

Now, I am not saying that your content marketing needs to profoundly change lives. Done right, it can. But you do want your content marketing to stand out from the crowd. You want it to become indispensible to your audience. And for that it needs to perform.

This infographic from Feldman Creative is a great reference on the 11 types of content that can help your marketing perform better. It includes handy information on benefits, costs to outsource and even a couple of power tips.

What are you waiting for? Get planning and then producing. There’s an audience waiting.

Infographic-content-types