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:

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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?

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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?  

TV, Digital, and Mobile: A Three-Way Tie

It’s no secret that marketing budgets have to be spent wisely.  This leaves marketers sometimes placing greater priority on one medium than on another.  When it comes to the three screens – mobile, computer, and TV – marketers tend to think that this is the order of priority, mainly because of the rapid growth of smartphones.  But who says that they must be mutually exclusive?  Is that really how consumers operate?

It’s time marketers realize that this idea of “mobile first” is not true to life — a point made very well in this article.  Consumers often experience two or all three media at the same time.  Case in point: As I’m writing this blog on one screen, I have my mobile phone next to me while watching (and reciting lines to) the great masterpiece Hocus Pocus.  This is a perfect moment for a company to provide me with a cross-screen marketing experience.  Not only would I get to engage with the brand in different ways, but it would also show that the company thoroughly understands how each screen complements the other two.  This is a hallmark of integrated marketing.

The following video highlights ways in which more brands and agencies are taking advantage of cross-screen marketing opportunities.

As more and more companies recognize that all of these media are consumed at the same time, there will be much richer brand experiences across multiple platforms that will ultimately lead to greater engagement.