What About the Brand?

I recently read a Forbes article about branding, and it essentially solidified what I believe to be so important about marketing.  The author reminds marketers to ask two important questions when thinking about their brands: Who are we? And why do we matter?

Cynics may answer these questions with “money makers” and “to make money,” respectively.  Yes, there are millions upon millions of brands in the world, but there are those brands that have gone beyond simply answering these questions correctly.  They have gotten customers to agree with them and be on their side.  Such brands are called “lovemarks” because of the strong relationships that they’ve cultivated by knowing who they are and their place in the world.  You know them: Apple, Starbucks, Tide. The list goes on from there.

“Pause,” you’re thinking. “Isn’t this an emerging media blog? Why is she writing about branding?”

I’m writing about branding because, at the end of the day, the brand matters.  Media will continue to emerge until the apocalypse, and marketers will want to be the first ones to use them all.  But they have to determine if the emerging channels will help them answer those two questions more effectively. If the medium does not contribute to brand’s identity or its place in the world, then what’s the point?

It’s all about discretion. It’s very tempting to be ubiquitous, but that can be annoying. So to the marketers of the world: Choose your emerging media channels wisely. Your brand identity will thank you, and your customers will salute you.

Is Native Advertising a Trick?

Online advertising is a difficult field to navigate.  People don’t like pop-ups very much and web banners are a dime a dozen. So what do marketers do now? They invest in native advertising.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau defines native advertising, or sponsored content, as a tactic that “delivers paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer simply feels that they belong.” In short: They’re ads disguised as content.  But this isn’t to be confused with content marketing.  This article notes the differences between native advertising and content marketing.  Whereas content marketing serves to build credibility and give consumers long-term value, native ads exist only to sell.

An ad that is designed so well that consumers might not even realize that it’s there? Too good to be true, right? Of course it is.  So it’s no surprise that the F.T.C has gotten involved to warn marketers not to be deceptive with their native ads.  But is that necessary? Are native ads really designed to trick consumers into thinking that they’re not being persuaded to buy something?

I think it’s fair that native advertising is mandated to have some sort of label on it, but I also don’t think there is anything wrong with advertising that resembles its environment.  Whether an ad graces a TV screen or fall seamlessly into a Facebook News Feed, if the content is good, then people will embrace it.

Customer Service 3.0

Every interaction that a customer has with a company can make or break a brand.  One wrong move and a customer will ban a brand for life.  If a customer gets angry enough, s/he will blast the company online and spread the word about a horrible experience.  On Web 3.0, this rapid-fire word-of-mouth can cause irreparable damage.  So why haven’t companies realized the power of social media as a customer service tool?

A Mashable article published last year stated that 80% of companies planned to incorporate social media more heavily into its service process.  However, this article presents some very interesting statistics illustrating that companies apparently forgot about their promise.  These are the two that stood out to me:

– 56% of companies ignored complaints posted on Facebook

– 71% of complaints made on Twitter went completely ignored

Here’s one more statistic for good measure: Only 23% companies have dedicated customer service handles on Twitter.

I find it interesting that companies are quick to embrace emerging media but fail to use them to their full potential.  I would argue that customer service is a much larger component of a brand than advertising, public relations, or any other form of media ever could be. Think of Zappos.  Zappos is what I call a “case study brand”: one that is highlighted time and time again for simply being outstanding in the marketing world.  The Zappos brand is founded on customer service, and this is present on its social media sites.  Zappos is not only quick to respond to positive and negative comments, but it also personalizes responses so that customers feel valued.

 Image

It might be a tall order to request that every company be like Zappos, but all companies should remember that social media needs to be a tool for customer service – unless, of course, their customers aren’t too important to them.

Hashtags: The Miley Cyrus of Marketing

I’ll give you one more chance to read this post title. 

Ready? Okay. Hear me out.

Hashtags and Miley Cyrus are now polarizing cultural forces.  They elicit undying loyalty from some and extended eye rolls from others.  You can’t avoid them. They are everywhere  – and no one is really sure why.  While Miley Cyrus simply wants to bestow the gift of twerking upon the American public, hashtags seems to be the go-to method for companies to spark conversation about their products.  Lately, however, I’ve been seeing hashtags in nearly every TV commercial, some of which follow a news story about Miley Cyrus’ antics.  Observe:

 Image

Image

Image

See? I highly doubt that anyone has caught on to these hashtags.  If they have, it might not be as much as the companies hoped. I acknowledge that one of the few exceptions to this is hashtags in Super Bowl commercials  – but that’s because it’s the Super Bowl.

This isn’t to say that hashtags are completely useless (and neither is Miley – because you know that “Wrecking Ball” is your new favorite song).  After all, hashtags are useful for tracking Twitter conversation and seeing how consumers are reacting to marketing efforts.  But this article quite artfully sums up the problem in the omnipresence of hashtags: “[It] isn’t only an eyesore, it’s remarkably lazy. The problem with hashtags lie in their relative ambiguity: there’s no standard for hashtags and no long-running conversation.”  Thus, marketers who want to use hashtags need to do so within a larger context.  Throwing it like a dart into commercials accomplishes little.  It has to be part of a larger marketing effort that will actually get people’s attention.

I haven’t yet determined the larger context in which Miley Cyrus belongs. Some pop culture analyst will do that for me.

Are you sick of hashtags yet?

The Psychic Power of Automated Marketing

Imagine—if only for a few glorious moments—that you’ve just booked a Disney cruise vacation to the Bahamas.  You celebrate for thirty seconds, and then you keep going about your daily life.  In the weeks approaching the vacation, you’ve been so busy with work that you’ve nearly forgotten that your boarding date is approaching.  Then, out of nowhere, you get a personalized email from Disney Cruise Line two days before your departure date.   Not only does it get you excited for your trip, but it even gives you a helpful packing list so that you have everything you need to enjoy the Bahamas to the fullest.

Are Disney’s psychic powers at work here? Yes – in the form of marketing automation.

Here is a great Forbes article that discusses the benefits of automated marketing.  I’ll focus on my favorite benefit: It helps build customer relationships.  By sending the right marketing touchpoint at exactly the right time, companies convey that their consumers are highly valued and worth every penny.  Let’s go back to the example of your Disney cruise vacation.  You were too busy to even think about packing for your vacation.  But at a moment that you couldn’t have planned any better, Disney Cruise Line swoops down like Batman to save your life.  That’s the goal of marketing automation.  When the right person gets the right message at the right time, the message becomes more personal.  It is this relevance that is a strong contributor to the strength of marketer-consumer relationships.

So the next time you get that “Happy Birthday!” postcard from your favorite retailer, don’t think of it as simply another way to get your money. Instead, think of it as the company honoring your value to its business. Isn’t that what marketing is all about?

Content Marketing: Selling without Selling

Let’s face it: Consumers know when marketers are trying to sell them something.  If the selling tactics are too obvious, consumers will reject the message.  This rejection becomes even more likely when the messages have no relevance to the listeners.  Who wants marketers to talk at them about irrelevant topics? No one.  We all want them to talk to us about things that matter to us.  So is this possible? Is there really a way for marketers to give us information that might have a place in our lives?

Yes. Yes, there is. It’s called content marketing.

“Okay, so ‘content marketing’ sounds obvious,” you say.  “But what qualifies as ‘content’?” I’m glad you asked.

The content can be a number of things: articles, white papers, webinars, case studies, blogs – the list is endless.  But what makes these content marketing tactics (as opposed to waiting room reading material) is that they present valuable information to consumers with the intent on changing their behavior.  The content also allows marketers to establish their expertise and credibility with consumers.  It is imperative, then, that marketers choose their content wisely.  Would a white paper on nutritional information written by Dunkin’ Donuts make sense? Definitely not.  In fact, I will admit that was an extreme example.  But the point is that marketers not only need to know their own strengths, but also what their audience wants to hear.

The statistics in this article illustrate that content marketing will be a force to be reckoned with in 2014.  The video below does a great job in explaining the proper way to develop a content marketing strategy that will captivate consumers and, ultimately, transform business.

Social Media Trends for 2014

As we rapidly approach the end of 2013, it’s time to predict what will emerge for different media tactics in the coming year.  Ad Age – among many publications – just released its guide to social media strategy for 2014.  Here are the best practices outlined in the guide – and my commentary on each:

1)  Have the internal digital marketing and brand marketing teams collaborate on social media.

The point of this best practice is to foster collaboration between two teams that are critical for social media success.  The digital marketing team knows exactly how to navigate the social sphere and the best tactics for doing so.  While the brand marketing team may not have that expertise, it will certainly know how to weave the brand story into social media.  When these two teams collaborate, the result will be the very definition of integrated marketing communication: telling a consistent brand story across multiple platforms.

2) Consider hiring outside help to support the internal social media team.

There is definitely merit to this best practice.  Just because a company is active (or desires to be active) on social media does not mean it has the resources to do so.  Training internal team members on managing social media can cost more time and money than an organization is prepared to spend.  However, social media is an incredible opportunity for companies to be transparent, and this transparency is best handled by employees who know the company the best.  Thus, external support should be used, but only for supplementary purposes.

3) Create brand-specific social media strategies.

The idea behind this is that consumers often interact more with some of a company’s products than they do with the company itself, so brand-specific strategies will honor that interaction.  As a marketer, I would like to think this is a given.  Consumers probably don’t connect with Procter & Gamble very much, but there is no question that P&G brands like Tide, Crest, and Olay garner far more engagement.  So what would a P&G social media strategy accomplish? Not much.

4) Use a social media management system (SMMS) to keep track of metrics and progress.

Social media management systems (SMMS) are a great way to centralize all of a company’s social media activity.  Having all of this information in one centralized hub makes monitoring and analysis much easier.  Here is an article that gives a great overview and list of SMMS.

5) Send messages across multiple networks to take advantage of each network’s unique properties and consumer behavior.

This is also a given for those who are mildly versed in social media.  Although it may be easier to post the same content to Facebook and Twitter, marketers have to know that, for example, a 140-character limit on Twitter requires different content.  Furthermore, if there are consumers following one brand across multiple networks, they would certainly get bored if they were to see the same thing more than once.

6) Develop a measurement-specific strategy with clear brand benefits.

The guide advises that marketers move past simply measuring engagement and focusing on how social media impacts the bottom line.  And why shouldn’t they? Every marketing investment must deliver a return, and this return might be beyond how engaged people are with the brand.  This is not to say that engagement is not important.  However, 2014 might be the year in which marketers scrutinize how engagement affects sales.

Here is a more tactic-centered list of 2014 social media predictions. 

What are yours?