Archive for the 'content strategy' Category

Should Everything be Free Online?

Chances are, you have given away more than you have charged for…

For a lot of people, what they expect and get from their digital experiences isn’t even close to being reality. Want a few easy examples? OK.

  • One of the most prevalent business models in the online world is to build a product or service and then give it away for free.
  • Another prevalent business model in the online world is to build a product or service, give it away for free while trying to make money on people buying “other” things while in your store.
  • Consumers look for alternatives when they realize that they have to pay to access content online.

Could you imagine someone setting up shop in your neighborhood and giving away a product or service in their store for free forever?

Somewhere along the way, someone got the notion that “value” should be given away for free.

I’m not sure how or why it began like this, actually I have an idea, but the truth is, social media has not helped temper the consumer expectation that the majority of all things on the web should be free.  It’s actually been gasoline on an open flame. Does Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Youtube, Tumblr, WordPress, Posterous, Typepad, Flickr and Evernote amongst others, charge to use their platforms at an entry level? No.

Look, I like free just as much as the next person but so much is being given away online that it’s diluting the need for and the value of products and services that consumers actually need and should have to pay for. Thus, consumers have been trained or conditioned to think that they can find an equivalent for free.

Which sadly, is usually the case.

This in turn means that web entities are constantly fighting an uphill battle for proving their legitimacy, their meaning and their value.  But where we as marketers, as media and as consumers come up short, is that we have professed so much about how open the web is and how anything is possible and how you can find anything, anywhere…to an extent that we keep wounding the golden goose and we keep bending and altering our digital expectations.

There’s a simple solution.

We have to level set expectations up front.

Not too long ago there was a book out titled Bounce by Matthew Syed, in it, the author contends that most of us are amazed at and marvel at athletic achievement at the elite level, but what we don’t know or see, is how hard great athletes at that level, work at their craft to become, ”great.” We just think it’s their natural ability coming through and that’s what propelled them to the top.

The same holds true for a lot of people and companies in tech. We want to solve problems, we want to make life easier, we want to show how beautiful and easy something might be to create, or we want to share information that can make our lives easier. But what do we do?  A very poor job of intimating how hard it might take, how long it might have taken, and the money and resources required to just get in a position to be successful online.

And then, at the end of the day we punt, and are conditioned to think that the clearest path to success is to give it away for free. We’ll set up a pricing model later… Look, digital is not free, somewhere somebody is getting paid because of your current web experience.

We need to level set expectations up front not after the fact.  Value what you do.

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The Conundrum of Content-What is your Content Strategy?

I’ve been somewhat neglecting the blog over the last few months but I have a good excuse er… reason.  Others are getting my good content.  Or maybe I should just say they are getting my content, whether it’s good or not, well that’s in the eyes of the reader now isn’t it?

Being a content producer is brutal, it’s hard and it never ends.  And yea,  it sometimes it sucks.  Why?  Because content, in and of itself, is constantly being redefined and producing it is constantly a challenge.   Content for the consumer, is like Crack, the more one gets, the more one wants.  Good content keeps raising the bar for all content producers.  Why?  Because we all have to strive and push out something that will a) trump what was pushed out before, b) be consumed on a large scale and c) in a sense, hopefully will go viral.  Let’s use an Olympic analogy.  Once you score a 10, you’re expected to score another one.  When you don’t, we maybe wait and see if you can repeat and when you don’t, we maybe ask why and then, we look elsewhere.

The flip side? Like Crack, a users expectations are raised.  The tolerance levels rise. The need for more and better increase.  No longer is average content acceptable.  What make’s this further frustrating is that, as the producer of content, you no longer can control the quality.  It’s no longer up to you. You might think it’s good, but it’s really not up to you.  It’s up to them.

Thus,  just like the old adage or statement that “we’re going to create a viral video” is equal parts foolish and unattainable, thinking your next piece of content is going to rock them, well, it’s out of your control.

At the end of every business day on the web, the bottom line is that content churns the machine.  It’s what keeps companies and organizations in the public eye.  Sometimes though,  the content that keeps you in the public eye, isn’t produced by you, and isn’t necessarily how you wanted to be in the public eye.  That’s the dark side. Content is everyone’s friend and everyone’s enemy.  Why? Because  good content isn’t always about the positive.  Content, the good stuff, the reason why we fire up the computer every day, can be all about the bad stuff.

And…content is not abating, it’s not subsiding, and  it’s not morphing into something we can control, not even close and not any time soon. It’s not like there’s this rhythmic beat to the content that’s created and the content that is consumed.  Why? Pretty soon, (in  less than five years) everyone will have a smart phone AND a tablet device.  The desktop as we know it, will be dead soon.  Which means what?

Multiply the ability to consume what is created times two or maybe three.  As device proliferation increases, so does demand for sites, apps, content curators and content creators.  Like rabbits and mice, demand and creation will explode exponentially.

So I’m telling you right now, creating, collecting and curating content is damn hard. Additionally, just because you have resources and access to Google or Bing or Yahoo or whatever, it doesn’t mean that you know what will work for your company or a company when it comes to compelling content that will drive eyeballs and sales.  You can test, but at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, if you sell soap for example-What content are you going to create that is going to increase the sales of soap?

Here are a few questions you need to ask:

  1. Can the intern help you with good content?  Initially, probably not.  But if you can nurture them into the position of “content beast,” that would be great but it takes time.  This of course would mean that you understand what works and what doesn’t.
  2. Can’t we just automate the process? So that means you’re just going to pull in everyone’s RSS feeds? Or does that mean you’re just going to scrape good content from others? Either choice is not a good one.  Though I’m a proponent of supplementing one’s own content with perhaps a national feed, it’s not a good idea to push the content of others.  Why? Well, where’s the value? Where’s the reason to come back every day?
  3. How well do you know what your customers want? Why? It takes knowledge and an understanding of your customers, what your customers search for and why exactly, are they your customers in the first place.  Once you conquer that, then you start to understand the difference between search and intent.
  4. Does it matter if your brick and mortar customers are online? It certainly helps.  Remember, that the first entry point for most people is not through the browser bar but generally through search and invariably through Google-which then heightens three things: one, is the quality of your content, two is the quality of your SEO and three is  your “socialness.”  Invariably though, your customers may start online before they walk in the door.
  5. Does it matter that your customers are social? It helps but what do you think?  If your customers are social that might mean they are digitally savvy and digitally demanding.  Don’t deliver and suffer the consequences.
  6. What will it take to create and curate compelling content? In a nutshell, you have to test what works and what doesn’t.  This is where a solid analytics package comes into play.  You have to know what drives traffic and what get’s clicked on and what doesn’t.
  7. Can we outsource it?  You can but you risk putting what you’ve known and what you’ve built into someone’s hands who doesn’t really know you, your product or your customers.  You may get lucky and find someone who plays in the same space but it takes some vetting to find that company or person.

So what’t the over-arching theme or point here?  As we hurdle towards 2013 and beyond, the proliferation of devices and platforms means that consumers are going to continue to demand content that “fits” them.  As well, that content not only needs to fit their niches and demands but it also needs to be accessed at anytime and anywhere. If it doesn’t, they are gone.  Which means, if you’re not delivering the optimum digital experience, then you lose.  It will start and end with the content you create and curate every day and every night.  If you don’t get it right, chances are that your competition will.

Internal Social Networks Versus Social Networks-Where Should You Spend Your Time?

The tug-o-war for your time when you participate on multiple social networks can be difficult. Who get’s it and who doesn’t?  Who get’s the honor of your participation can also affect your impact because THAT will be where you spend the bulk of your time. Where should you spend your time? On the networks that matter to you or on the networks where you HAVE to participate?

Does it matter if you create content or if you lurk?  It might, though either exercise require an investment of your time. The fact is, the more networks you’re in, the more likely that your content is going to suck in some of them. It’s the law of averages. You’re going to devote more time and effort to the networks that matter. For those that are of less importance, the content you create, should you even bother, will be diluted. So does the internal corporate network win then?

It Depends

You see,time, your precious time, is the primary commodity here regardless of where you spend the bulk of it and what you specifically do with it. The less time you have, the more likely you are to mail in your participation in networks that matter less. Your day is already full and now companies want you to participate in and contribute to these new growing internal networks. But what about your Facebook page, Twitter account and your blog?

If you are part of the 70%  who just read and watch stuff, though your time is still sacrificed, it won’t really move the needle on the quality of your limited contact with others in any network. So who get’s it? The benefit of your quality time that is. For those that are part of  internal corporate networks, it can be an issue. There might be the sense of obligation to participate. Even though the reality might be that you’re just going through the motions of participation, because it’s… work stuff. It really depends on what type of social media consumer or influencer you want to be, how you want to move the needle and who wins in the competition for your attention and time.

It almost seems like in the end, it’s a push and no one’s get the benefit of the best of what you might have to offer.

Can monkey’s tell stories?

How important is content to marketing professionals? Back in October, Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall,   The VP of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence, was speaking at the Guardian Changing Advertising Summit when he stated:

“All advertisers need a lot more content so that they can keep the engagement with consumers fresh and relevant, because of the 24/7 connectivity. If you’re going to be successful around the world, you have to have fat and fertile ideas at the core.”

Fat and fertile ideas.  The company’s Content 2020 advertising strategy is to “move from creative excellence to content excellence”.

About 4 months ago I was talking with a colleague of mine who was told in so many words by a client that, “content and or the creation of content can be done by a monkey”. Ouch.  He essentially was dismissing the value of creating content and saying that it can be done by anyone-even a monkey.

If Coke, one of the great purveyors of creative excellence thinks that content will be the centerpiece of their marketing strategy going forward, where does that put the status of the monkey?

Maybe the better question for that client is, Really? You really think that?

The Soft Metric of Good Content and it’s Impact on the Digital Footprint

Last week I asked via Twitter what the shelf life of a blog post was. I got some interesting answers. The essence was that there is no shelf life-they last forever.

In marketing, digital marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing our success needs to be measured by both hard and soft metrics. Often times we are urged or encouraged to fail fast and fail often because that’s the best way to learn and the secret to digital marketing success. Yet, most marketers might be pressuring themselves in to measuring success by measuring hard metrics when there are plenty of soft metrics to measure success by.

When we create hard and soft metrics, let’s make sure that we are measuring realistically what is possible long term from our initiatives. Let’s make sure that we can add an element of longevity to digital content that extends beyond the lifespan of the campaign. Let’s make sure we can measure what can be measured.

Let’s define the time frame of when we plan on measuring, and then add a soft metric component to that time frame so as to extend out that campaign. One of the great soft metrics of content marketing is that it is tough to measure it’s long term effect on your business or company. Soft metrics could be measured in so many ways beyond the lifespan of a “campaign” if we set them up to be.

Thus, it is really difficult to sit here and say that certain digital campaigns are out and out failures. Don’t get me wrong, out and out digital #Fails do exist and do have long term implications on positive brand perception-it’s why reputation management is now a service offering.

I’m talking about those campaign that look like they just didn’t work. Look, I’m cool with  reading and or writing about how failure is part of the deal and that some people think that in order to succeed you have to embrace failure! I just don’t want to wrap my digital strategies around short term expectations of success or failure. It’s kind of like preparing your teams for losing, or accepting losing and not looking at the bigger picture, when that big picture could be next year or the year after, or saying that because you didn’t score in a basketball game, that you failed.

Marketers want to succeed, and yes some initiatives will not always hit the mark, and yes they will learn from them. But let’s expand the lens and look at the landscape of digital marketing and understand that the digital footprint can last longer than the lifespan of the marketing campaign.

Let’s not revel or bask in digital marketing  failure when we haven’t defined success or failure in both long terms and short terms. The soft metric of good content means that it may be around long after you have left your current company.

Does Good Content Matter Anymore?

We’re content starved. The emergence of tablets and mobile devices has only enhanced our desire to consume digital content. There’s a problem though. When content producers cannot meet the demands of a ravenous public, things can get ugly and the public walks-digitally speaking.

Actually, things already are ugly. Specifically, the dearth of original compelling content in the digital space has caused us to consume subpar content wrapped around good SEO. Don’t you just hate when you click on a compelling search result only to be met with 100 words of link laden dreck? That’s been the case for quite some time now, and only recently has it become clearly evident that what seems to work for most producers of content when they don’t have anything to “share” with others, is to just steal, plagiarize or reproduce someone else’s stuff; and wrap that around good SEO.

Good content is getting lost in the firehose of bad content

But there is a simple reason why they (marketers in general) have this burning desire to push out as much digital content as they can-whether it’s theirs or not. There’s an ulterior motive happening here.  These folks are trying to appease the almighty search engines. Specifically Google, but Bing and Yahoo and all the other 2nd tier engines  figure in as well. Organic search in a nutshell.

Most producers of content are in the business of driving traffic. Traffic equates to advertising which equates to dollars.  You can buy traffic, but short of spending in the 6 figures to create artificial traffic, the only real way you’re going to get organic visits to your sites is to write content and share content that has all of the “right” SEO properties so as to come up high in search. Screw the readers. Forget good content, the goal now is “searchable”, SEO friendly content.

Content producers are unknowingly deferring to search engines instead of people

Does this mean that there are still sites out there pushing fresh, relevant, content that is meant for people to consume, view and share? Perhaps, but it’s a short list. You can look to CNN, USAToday, The New York Times, Techcrunch, Mashable, and MSNBC for examples of purveyors of quality content except that they can be just as guilty of the keyword laden salacious topic and title that is sure to drive readers, shares, comments and traffic.

As the tablet and smart phone markets continue to expand, so will the amount of water downed re-used content. Thus, we need to get back to a time when content mattered, when good content mattered. I’m not so sure we can as long as we’re still trying to figure out who we’re supposed to be creating content for. Is it people or search engines?


The Deets

Marc Meyer is a Digital and Social Media Strategist at DRMG. This is my personal blog where I share observations, thoughts and opinions that are all my own.

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