Saturday, April 10, 2010

How Smart Marketers Think Like Media Companies

In case you missed it, something remarkable has happened over the past several years.  Smart marketers using Social Media have been connecting directly with customers in extraordinary ways. 

But, while all the attention has focused on Social Media itself and its darling Superstar offspring like  Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, there's an unassuming but just as important Superstar that hasn't gotten its due attention.

Of course, Social Media is a big part of the story.

But if you look at things with a slightly different lens, you'll see an even more fundamental change has been taking place. You'll see Social Media in a supporting role and discover that the real "leading lady" is the Message, not the Medium.



Smart Marketers Get the Message!


The smartest and successful marketers using social media haven't been finding success by annoying or interrupting people or by talking incessantly about themselves, their brands or even their products.  Rather they're reinventing the way they think of their role as marketers and in doing so are reshaping the very essence of marketing.   They're realizing -- as Digital Media thought leader Brian Solis describes so brilliantly in his recent article -- that The Future of Marketing Begins with Publishing. Indeed these smart marketers are harnessing the social web to grow their businesses but they're doing so in a radically different way - they're marketing, not with traditional sales-like pitches or slick brand slogans.  Rather they're sharing different types of "messages" entirely.  They're marketing with content - content that is valuable, informative and engaging -- in its own right.   They're doing what has become know as Content Marketing - and they're starting to turn conventional media models upside down.


The "Gift" of Content Marketing


Meaningful content is the linchpin of this new type of marketing on the social web.  As digital media expert Chris Brogan in his article How Content Marketing Will Shake the Tree describes content marketing as "the ability to produce useful and entertaining information that is worthwhile on its own, but that might also be useful towards a sale or subsequent action."  Chris makes an important point here - that the information has value and meaning to its intended audience (your potential customers) on its own - independent of its usefulness to you as a marketer in selling your product.  But ironically, it does a better job at selling your products in the end!

Think about it.  Your company knows not only the products and services that you sell but also knows a lot about the topics your customers are interested in that relate to your business.  Take Clorox as an example.  In researching and developing their cleaning products, one wouldn't be surprised if they learned a lot about people's concerns related to germs and cleaning.  By creating content to help parents learn about how to keep their children away from germs as they do here in 5 Fun Ideas for Keeping Kids Clean they take what they know about a topic of importance to their customers and turn it into useful appealing content.  Not all that much different from the type of article a reader might find in magazines like Family Circle or Health.  Which would you rather read?   An article with fun ideas for getting your kids clean or one entitled "How Clorox Cleans Bathrooms Better Than Other Brands"? This new marketing trend is what Bob Gilbreath in his recently released book The Next Evolution of Marketing: Connect with Your Customers by Marketing with Meaning calls "Marketing with Meaning" where the focus is on improving customers' lives  through the marketing itself.  It's also what Seth Godin is talking about in his bestselling book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? when he encourages sharing talents and knowledge freely- by giving gifts.  Godin suggests giving these gifts will make you indispensable. And not surprisingly, content marketing is the very type of marketing that customers actually seek out - and even more importantly in today's social media environment- share and discuss with others.


Whole Foods: Supermarket or Nature Foods Media Company?


I've long been a passionate fan of Whole Foods Supermarket.  In Whole Foods' early days, what I remember most vividly were the attractive, educational brochures they made available for free to customers (this was before the Internet).  On my first visit, I went in to simply buy soy milk and each time I went back I bought more & more new products - inspired by what I learned about natural foods in their informational brochures.  This learning changed my life and today I not only buy many (many!) Whole Foods products - but the presence of a Whole Foods is a criteria for my living in a town. When I told my husband back then that my dream job would be to work in marketing for Whole Foods, he looked at me like I was nuts and said "You work in the media business, they're a grocery store."  But to me, I always saw Whole Foods' potential as much more- as a potential content provider and "media company". And indeed, Whole Foods today - due to its early and enthusiastic adoption of social media- is no longer just a grocery store but a dynamic provider of healthy lifestyle media content.  On its blog, via its Facebook fan page and on its 150 different Twitter accounts, Whole Foods provides a wide range of useful content- from tips on eating healthy while traveling to advice on the health benefits of Adzuki beans to lots of delicious recipes posted on Twitter to how-to videos including How to Carve A Turkey - they are a fantastic resource for healthy eating! Of course, this content is relevant to the products Whole Foods sells.  But the content doesn't just sell products, it also has an independent value to me as natural foods enthusiast.  In Seth Godin's terms, it is the "gift" that Whole Foods offers me.  And by providing me with this valuable information, this "gift",  Whole Foods makes it much more likely that I will buy their products -- and tell my friends to buy from them too.


Every Company is A Media Company


This is a revolutionary change for marketing.  By embracing content marketing and leveraging social media, organizations like Clorox and Whole Foods in essence have become the media - leveraging the power of social networks and applications -- from Facebook to Blogs to Twitter and a multitude of other emerging options -- to connect directly with audiences to share the type of useful and compelling content once the domain of media companies. They have created vertical content niches (think niche magazines and cable networks) by creating their own consumer-facing content.  This content is useful, meaningful and offers real value to potential customers - value that is relevant but often independent of the products and services they are selling.  It is this remarkable content that actually draws in potential customers and sets these companies up as thought leaders and resources in consumers' minds. In doing this, smart marketers move their companies from simply appearing adjacent to content as advertisers (increasingly likely to be ignored by readers in favor of the real content that drove them to the site in the first place) to actually being the content.  Being the content or the media company provides marketers with a unique opportunity to engage and inspire their customers - in ways not possible with a more conventional marketing and advertising. It is what Tom Foremski encourages companies to do on his insightful website Every Company is a Media Company (EC=MC).


8 Ways to Think (And Act) More Like A Media Company

So, where do you start if you want to help transform your company into a media company?  It begins with thinking and acting like a media company.  Here are some suggestions  for how you can think (and act) more like a media company:
  1. Think Audience
  2. Media companies spend time thinking about their audience and what their audience wants. Ask yourself who your potential audience is?  What problems do they have that you can help solve? What are they curious about?  What are their aspirations? What scares them?  What motivates them? What do they want to learn more about?
    Chances are you know this from your consumer insights research. But don't just assess this research from a consumer lens or use the research solely for conventional marketing uses such as product development, positioning and messaging.  Use it also to brainstorm the type of content you can offer to enhance your audience's lives -- even if they never buy from you or become your consumer (but they will if you do this right!).  When thinking about creating content forget about selling- focus on informing, inspiring, entertaining, and helping your audience.
  3. Cherish Your Content
  4. Recognize your content as a valuable asset. Media companies value, nourish and protect their content. As a marketer, you make serious investments in marketing - tag lines, marketing campaigns, branding and visual identity, and other marketing assets, etc.  If you're going to be a successful media company, you need to invest in content and believe that this content has real value.  Acknowledge the value of your content.  Quantify it.  Start thinking of you content, as Social Media strategist Jay Baer suggests, as an information annuity.
    Start by getting a handle on your current content assets by conducting of an audit of the content you already have.  Do you have content you can repackage, update, spruce up?  Do you need to invest $ and money in building new high caliber content.  Remarkable content isn't free or cheap to create -- even though today it sometimes seems that way.  Recognize that building compelling content audiences will respond to requires an investment of energy, time, creative talent and money.  Don't take content for granted.
  5. Put It In Your Marketing Plan
  6. Make your content strategy an official part of your marketing plan.  You wouldn't dream of having a marketing plan without a messaging strategy, pricing strategy or distribution strategy, would you?  To become a media company, you need to expand this to include a content strategy that you can apply across multiple platforms (or channels). Put it in writing and make sure everyone on your marketing team knows it is a key element of your plan.
  7. Commit to Your Content
  8. Once you have an overall content strategy, you need to nurture and maintain it.  One way to do this is to develop an editorial calendar. You can't just put a few terrific articles out there and stop if you want to be a successful media company.  The best media companies plan out their content on a calendar schedule and make reporting or writing assignments based on this schedule.  This is what helps them turn their content strategies into reality.
    You must sustain the creation of remarkable content if you want to sustain traffic and an editorial calendar is your tool to do this.  Add your editorial calendar to your list of key marketing tactics.  Take it as seriously as any media company would.  Maintain it, manage it, and treat it with the same respect you treat any of your other marketing calendars.
    Don't just put content out there and forget about it - monitor how your audience is responding to your content, ask them for feedback and ideas, and adjust your content strategies and editorial plans accordingly.
  9. Rethink  Your Marketing Team
  10. To be a media company, you'll need content creators on your team.  You may need to rethink the who's and how's of your marketing team.  You need people who spend their time (or at least a part of their time) thinking about marketing from a content marketing perspective.  You need people who have the talents and skills to create truly remarkable content. Does anyone on your current team show promise of being a content creator? Do you need a Chief Content Officer - someone who can own your organization's content marketing strategy?
    Do you need to hire new people? Or perhaps bring on some freelance writers (turmoil in the publishing industry has created a tsunami of true independent talent in this area - perhaps you can bring on an embedded journalist)?  Maybe you need a new type of agency beyond your current agency roster - one that can help you plan and manage your content strategy? Junta42 an industry expert in content marketing can also help you find a content marketing vendor through their free matching program.
  11. Make It Easy for Your Content to be Discovered and Shared
  12. Media companies distribute their content via multiple platforms- trying to reach as many potential "eyeballs" as possible.  They make sure their content is easy for people to find.  As a media company, you need a plan to be sure your content "shows up" where your audience is.  Today this means putting your content where audiences are increasingly likely to be - on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in addition to hosting your content on your own hub site or blog.  You should have an editorial calendar (see above) for publishing your content to these different social outposts.
    You need to optimize your content for social media if you want it to be discovered and shared by audiences.  Optimizing your content for traditional search engines like Google is no longer enough- as people become more likely to discover content via their social networks than they are to find it via traditional searches.  You need to be sure your content uses not only the right keywords but also the right headlines, descriptions, tags and other socially relevant metadata. This is where you need to integrate content marketing into your overall marketing strategy very strategically.
  13. Expand Your Calls to Action
  14. You probably work hard on making sure your marketing landing pages includes strong Calls to Action.  You should still focus on Calls to Action, but you may be asking people to take some additional actions. Media companies want to grow and engage their audiences, so they ask people to share their content with others,  to comment on their content, and also sometimes to bookmark their content.
    Remember to explicitly ask for these things in addition to integrating share buttons on your blog or website.  It's remarkable how simply asking someone to Tweet about your article or Share the article on Facebook (given the content is appealing) will boost the number of  people who spread the word.  I'm not suggesting you remove more conventional Calls to Action. But if you're serious about thinking like a media company, you'll focus too on getting people to interact with and share you content.  Here's a great example on one of my favorite blogs MakeUseOf.com of asking directly for people to share your content.
  15. Broaden Your View of Key Metrics
  16. For traditional marketers, conversion, cost-per-click, and purchase performance metrics are paramount.  Through the lens of the content marketer, conversion of course is critical ultimately but other metrics count too.  Focus on engagement metrics too!
    What counts for engagement? Measurements like return visits, time spent on site, shares, likes, comments, and bookmarks to name a few.  Understand how people demonstrate engagement with your content and make sure you measure and track these measures too.  Don't exclusively focus on these metrics for your hub (blog or website) but also measure engagement for your social media outposts (Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube Channels).
So, what do you think?   Are you ready to turn your company into a media company?  Have any other ideas on how to use content for marketing?  Leave your thoughts, ideas, insights here in the comments section. Photo Credits: Photoshopping by Leezie5Magazine Superhigway by Laudu Writing in the Sand by Armin Hanisch, Gift by Robson Talaveiras