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The masters of value-added content are CPG brands

content, value, variety

We’ve all heard the adage: Content Is King. With social media the discussions/ tips abound about creating content people want to engage with and using it to create a community of interest around your brand.

While the tips are correct, it isn’t actually anything revolutionary, Consumer Packaged Goods brands have been doing this for decades now, and have continued to expand their approach using digital channels. Looking at just two brands provides a stellar example of the right way to add value by creating useful and relevant content, build a community of interest and maintain top-of-mind awareness: Pampers & Kraft.

What sets these brands apart is how they’ve taken what their products DO and created content that doesn’t just list benefits or seek to sell the products, but encompasses real life and the needs that perhaps the products can provide.

For example, the Pampers site provides tips, tricks, expert advice, etc. surrounding each stage of having a baby – preparing during pregnancy, allergies, developmental milestones, sleep problems, baby names, etc. etc. They also provide a way for parents to communicate with each other and share experiences. Wrapped around all of that excellent content is a reward program for the products, but not much else in terms of a “sell”. The sell is the value they add as a trusted brand.

With Kraft it’s all about the experience of food – entertaining, recipes, feeding your kids, and time management to list a few. Their brilliant tool to help time-strapped families serve a meal in a crunch (list 3 ingredients you have on hand and Kraft will recommend a recipe) speaks to how much thought they’ve given to understanding their customers and providing value. Wrapped into what they’re providing is of course their plethora of products, but it’s not focused on “buy this now”, but on “how can we help”.

These brands have taken what they offer and provided solutions to help with free value-added content and no guarantee you’ll buy from them. But since it’s useful and relevant, you probably will.

There are tons of CPG examples out there – what are your favourites?

[photo credit: Martino! via Flickr]

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Should internal brand advocates truly be themselves online?

Recently there’s been a heated exchange between RichardatDell and Amanda Chapel on Twitter regarding the lines between personal and professional when representing a company in the social media space. Without getting into the, ahem, personality conflicts between them and taking sides, I do think it’s an interesting and relevant subject to explore.

Where is the line between a “community evangelist’s” personal opinions and the company they represent? Does it matter in our new digitally connected world? I’d like to say no, but I tend to land on the Amanda Chapel side of the fence that it does.

Every interaction a corporate employee has reflects on the company while they’re “on the clock”. That’s standard thinking and it goes from the person in the call centre to the CEO. Why has social media changed that reality? Do brand advocates or community managers need to be “the brand” 24/7? Can they really do justice to what the company stakeholders want (profits & positive awareness) by being “real” and airing their own personal thoughts and opinions (and prejudices and biases) whenever the mood strikes?

When I’m interacting with someone who is clearly online in their capacity with the company (i.e. X@DELL), everything I read and every interaction I have with them reflects back on the company brand. Not to say that I don’t want to interact with a real person and that I begrudge them having a personality and a life, but when they are acting as agents of their brand, whatever they do reflects back on the brand/ company itself. That’s part of how human beings see things and it is something that we, as business people, need to recognize as we navigate this brave new frontier of constant connectedness.

We’re all human and we all have bad days of course, but they are paid employees, not organic consumer advocates and they, by necessity, have an agenda to promote a positive image of the brand, otherwise they would just be a regular Jane and post as themselves without the brand standing behind them. In reality, I could really despise company X’s evangelist because of their personal politics, or ego, or what have you, and that would reflect back on the company itself for no good reason other than they’re out there on the intertubes.

(And to clarify again, this isn’t meant to pass judgement on RichardatDell, but his interactions with Amanda Chapel, a fictional character, have spurred my thinking)

My thoughts on how to mitigate this are still evolving, but I think it does no one a service to ignore human nature and the pitfalls of being a high profile company representative who is “always on” and mixes the truly personal with their professional capacity.

What do you think?

[photo credit: dadawan via Flickr]

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SMPRs: Who’s paying attention? Who should be?

As the Social Media Press Release reaches its second anniversary an interesting study was released recently by PR Week that gauges where, and how, bloggers and journalists like to receive company information. It’s a topic that’s picked up steam recently as the major news release companies and PR firms have gotten on-board with the notion of making their news “sharable” and “findable”.

Which brings me to the most recent report and then some thoughts on what “findable” really means on the interwebs as they stand today, and as they will organically move forward with Universal Search and the semantic web (aka Web 3.0). But first, the findings in the report:

Across the board, both traditional journalists and bloggers (approx. 85% respectively) received pitches from public relations folks.

No surprise there, but this is where things get interesting…

Traditional journalists rely primarily on a companies website (89%) for information when researching a story, followed by Google search (73.8%) and personal contact by a PR person (70.9) or press release. On the flip side, bloggers rely on a Google search and the company website almost equally (86.1% and 87.3% respectively) and are just tipping over 50% in the personal contact or press release department (54.4% and 57% respectively).

And then of course the question relating to the title of this post, how about the SMPR?

“What would the ideal pitch look like?” — A personal, concise email – 63.1% across the board, with the highest percentage being bloggers at 70.9%.

When asked about the social media release bloggers were slightly more receptive than the average at 17.7% vs. 7.1% in aggregate including traditional TV, radio and print journalists.

Now of course, no one wants to receive a traditional release with the abysmal stats of 2.5% for bloggers and 19.9% in aggregate.

Finally, video isn’t swaying many editors it seems with 70.1% aggregated journalists and bloggers (60.8%) stating that including video in a pitch doesn’t sway them.

So there are some stats here that make it pretty clear we have a long way to go in wide-spread adoption of the SMPR, although with the echo chamber noise about it, it seems the bubble effect keeps going and SMPRs are becoming major parts of a brand social media strategy but without any thought to the fundamentals about who is paying attention, and perhaps more importantly, how they are doing so.

No offense, but the way SMPRs are being presented range from a blog post format to a traditional ad-agency microsite format to a press release on the wire with some video and “share it” buttons. There is no consistency, and frankly, no context or long-term planning for the most part. It’s a bit ironic, but what I’m seeing happen with SMPRs is akin to the rampant use of microsites in the late 90s/ early 00s… lots of content thrown at the users, no contextual relevancy, no personalization, and an expiry date.

Let’s go back to web principles 101 here for a minute:

Everything you do should be intuitive, findable, and relevant (both in the immediate and in the archive). This is what drives the semantic web, what will drive the future of our online experience, and why tagging etc. has become a standard categorization method across all social media applications and tools.

So about the SMPR…

First off, and I cannot stress this enough, what ever you do online MUST be hosted on your own servers, with your own domain strategy in place, not exclusively on a newswires or an agency’s. Otherwise you are giving away your brand SEO juice and contextual content to a third-party and it provides absolutely no value to you unless that third-party has the built-in organic relevancy for your brand that you do (I cannot even imagine an example). Leaving aside the obvious SEO elements, from a conversational, and a web usage standpoint, search is where people go first to find information they’re looking for unless they are triggered by a friend’s recommendation or conversation. That’s where, if they’re searching, they want to find your information – in one of the top organic results. Why would you want to compete with anyone when you’re building an SMPR (especially yourself)? Your site has the brand equity of, for most corporations, a decade; build on it, don’t dilute it.

Secondly, using a newswire that’s enabled social sharing is a great idea as a supplement to sharing your content or news, but nothing beats one-to-one interaction, as the study further reinforces. There is no substitute for getting to know the community you are a part of. In addition, as multiple studies over the years have shown, when it comes to domain and branding strategy, simple and contextual is key to recall. Making sure your social content is part of your overall website and marketing strategy is crucial to maximizing visibility and interaction.

In the end, it ultimately comes back to being “findable” and “relevant” on a topic in the long term. Let’s also keep in mind that as much as an SMPR is a valuable tactic within social media, there is nothing inherently “social” about a “share this” button. The sociability comes in the interaction and the conversation over multiple channels and platforms.

And part of interaction, conversations, and what drives it all, context, is being accessible. Which leads us into universal search.

Universal search is a hot topic, and with it the reality that content is findable across a wide spectrum of properties using a single search term (a search for “Hyatt” could yield video, images, podcasts, as well as the corporate website and blog, etc.). Google, for example, is all about building a relevant experience for their users. If they know (because their algorithms look for patterns and context) that not only is the Hyatt video on YouTube hot, but it’s also embedded and linked to from the Hyatt Press Room that has historical and brand credibility, that contextually confirmed video will appear in the top results in most cases.

And that’s where the SMPR plays a valuable role: in your Media Centre/ Press Room, properly optimized for search.

The whole report really has some meaty stats and questions in terms of journalists views on the state of their industry, and how they work & bloggers take on their place in the eco-sphere – it’s worth a thorough read.

h/t on PRWeek report @dannysullivan via Twitter

[photo credit: monicutza80 via Flickr]

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WOM vs Advertising, or, it’s always been about integration

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As was only a matter of time, a debunker has arisen from the marketing world to take on the "Influencer" theory, which was brought to mainstream consciousness with Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and is a foundation of current word of mouth marketing. Not surprisingly, there are immediate (and invested) detractors and a lively debate will most likely ensue. I’ve been away from the blog for a bit and had a post started and saved entitled "Apple’s billion dollar WOM success story" in response to a lot of the assertions following MacWorld as to the truly organic nature of the Apple brand story. Needless to say, it seems it’s appropriate to now merge it into this one!

In Sean’s post in response to Watt’s Fast Company article, he says:

Well I’ll be darned. Watts believe that companies can’t will a trend that grows small and spreads large into existence. If Watts then, can explain to be the growth of Facebook, MySpace, Wii, Prius, Starbucks, eBay, Apple, Burton, Jones Soda, Maker’s Mark, Innocent Drinks, Harley Davidson, lululemon and a host of other products that have eschewed mass media and have galvanized a brand community through grassroots experiences and targeting fans, ambassadors and influencers, then I guess I’ll reject most of what I’ve written about in my last 400 posts.

I hate to be a wet blanket on the theories that all the ‘cool, hip’ brands eschewed mass media and are the pure products of influencer word-of-mouth, but, for most of these brands, traditional marketing and advertising was the way they reached critical mass, established their brand identity, and the blended approach they are currently using, in the case of Apple specifically, continues to drive their growth.

In other words:

Influencer cultivation and communication builds long-term and sustainable product loyalty and evangelism.

Brand marketing brings out the over-arching brand essence, reaches a large and diverse audience, and helps discover new influencers.

And the cycle continues.

Let’s take Apple as the classic example of the viral success story… I absolutely agree that a lot of their early success was driven by their niche customer base and that these graphic designers, etc. were evangelists. Absolutely true. But Apple did a lot of TV, print, online, and radio advertising to support their product, because, as a niche product without a wider reaching customer base, it was in trouble. In 1997, Apple, struggling with 3% of the market, received a cash infusion from Microsoft. In a landmark moment Steve Jobs stood on stage at MacWorld, with Bill Gates on the video screen behind him, and said the following:

The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over, as far as I’m concerned. This is about getting Apple healthy, and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry to get healthy and prosper again.

What a difference 10 years make and a carefully re-crafted brand image and massive amounts of dollars spent in traditional advertising to support the product launches.

When I was in Los Angeles in 1997 – 2001 I distinctly remember the Think Different campaign… it was omnipresent: billboards, posters, TV, Internet… everywhere. And that type of ad spend was replicated in cities across the US and the world. Apple hasn’t stopped using traditional channels since… Mac vs. PC commercials are the latest incarnation and they aren’t only available on YouTube. EarthLink, while I was working there, played off of the edginess of Think Different with their own campaign… they wanted to be the Apple to AOL’s Microsoft. Unfortunately, then Microsoft got in the ISP game and the rest is history.

But I digress…

Even the pure internet (and now name brand) companies advertised through mass channels when they launched, throughout the 90’s and ’00’s – Yahoo! was all over TV and radio with the annoying cowboy spots; eTrade on the SuperBowl, OOH, DM, print; Google out of home ads everywhere; MySpace 100M blast email campaign; eBay was launched with print and radio and added in TV in 2000… and the list goes on. And in so far as Prius goes, sure the celebrities riding around in them gives the campaign cachet, but the classic automaker TV, print, web, OOH, and event marketing certainly helps build the awareness over the long term. I also think I may have seen a few Wii TV spots before the holidays?

Now, all of this being said, word-of-mouth cultivation and, more recently, social media strategies, are hugely important, and are needed to elevate the brand into a true dialogue and value exchange with customers, but it’s not the messiah. It’s about integration and understanding who your brand speaks to, builds products for, and respectfully letting them know about you and finding out how you can help them in their daily lives. It’s about telling a story that is meaningful, making people stand up and take notice, and providing a solid reason for them to do so.

Sometimes that means convincing the high school design geek that Mac’s are cool 20 years ago, only to see him grow up to be Tim Burton and become an influencer to a mass audience.

In the end: Branding still matters. Brand promises still matter. Products always matter. And the influencers and evangelists matter. The lifecycle matters and the integration matters. To do anything in a vacuum, and without understanding the symbiotic relationship between brand and consumer, is a recipe for disaster.

[Photo credit: Paranoid Black Jack via Flickr]

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Simple steps to optimize your corporate tagline online

 maximize corporate taglines online

Taglines have always played an important role in distilling a brand’s essence into a short and memorable phrase that hopefully resonates with consumers. The tagline is utilized across all mediums – print, TV, radio, OOH, website, etc. to provide cross-channel reinforcement. As search engines become the norm for distilling information online and social media use becomes more widely adopted, brands would do well to revisit how effectively they are maximizing the reach of their ‘essence’ on the web.

The following tactics will help consumers find your content in ways that are intuitive to them (i.e. not all people remember the brand; many will only remember the tagline or key phrase and conduct a search using that terminology), as well as continuing to reinforce your brand message across a wider platform.

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1. Your website

When looking at your website keep in mind the potential ways you can ensure that all the offline advertising dollars spent on establishing the tag in the consumers mind aren’t wasted by neglecting to continue that reinforcement, not just for the front-end user of your site (the consumer), but with the back-end user as well (the search engine crawler).

A few easy ways to ensure your tagline is integrated:

- Ensure your tagline is readable by the search engines: don’t embed it in a graphic or header without using an image alt tag and description.

- If your tag is an important part of your brand ID (ala: Just Do ItTM) use it within your title tags – this is both front-end branding and back-end context for the engines.

- Don’t stray in your copy from your brand essence. If you are claiming to be extraordinary, make sure your website reads like it. When possible, and when contextually relevant, integrate your tagline within your website copy.

- Incorporate it into your footer information in text format (e.g. © Widget Co.: Make it happen).

2. Social media tagging and optimization

- If you have a blogging, forum, photo-sharing, video-sharing, podcasting, social tagging, or similar social media strategy incorporated into your communications mix, it’s a good idea to decide on a list of terms you’re going to be using regularly as tags for consistency and add your tagline to the folksonomy as appropriate.

- Use it in your RSS feed title if relevant to the content.

3. Search engine marketing

- If search engine marketing is part of your advertising mix, you may want to consider bidding on your own tagline if it is too generic to optimize fully organically. Oftentimes the ROI on this type of bidding can be well worth it. A non-profit client of Wildfire’s used this tactic to successfully drive long-tail conversions for a campaign where the cost to optimize would far out-weigh the benefits.

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Companies who neglect to incorporate their tagline into their search engine optimization, social media optimization and search engine marketing efforts are potentially wasting valuable market equity and failing to maximize the full spectrum of their marketing communications budget, when with a well-developed strategy the tagline can build further resonance and extensibility in the digital space.

Do you have any additional tips for keeping a tagline top-of-mind online? Leave a comment!

[photo credit: dontaylor on Flickr]

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