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If your industry contacts and friends have a keen interest in next-gen digital plays, they are most likely in Austin right now for the annual pilgrimage to the SXSW Interactive Festival, keeping you abreast with a constant stream of #SXSW photos and posts of all sorts.

SXSW is exciting stuff for sure, with a particular focus on our digital future. For the rest of us who are stuck in Sydney however, there is exciting stuff happening too – less future-facing and, say, more focused on the “here and now”.

I give you Content Marketing World Sydney, now in its third year and in full swing as of tomorrow for the next 3 days.

CMY Sydney seeks to inspire and guide Australian marketers, agencies and publishers alike, as well as address some of their immediate questions and hurdles with their content marketing approach.

IMO, it is also a great opportunity to reflect on what we aren’t still getting quite right, and how we compare with other parts of the world.

Finally, it’s worth clarifying that for the purpose of this piece, our focus is owned content.

How I came to learn about some disturbing facts

CMY Sydney first came to my attention as I was attending Joe Pullizi’s webinar on Epic Content Marketing: The 5 Essentials Marketers Need to Follow in 2015.

Pullizi is the founder of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) – the producer of CMW Sydney –, a subject-matter expert and one of the speakers at CMW this year.

The insights gained from his webinar at the time, combined with the latest research from the CMI and ADMA, had helped me steer the strategic conversations I was having with a client in the right direction.

Specifically, as I was listening to Pullizi’s own experiences working with marketers and going through the research in detail, I discovered some unsettling facts about questionable yet widespread content marketing practices.

First, we learn that 9 out of 10 Australian marketers are using content tactics. Great. However, less than 3 out of 10 are having some kind of success with it. Disappointing.

Then, we discover that 46% of marketers are using a verbal-only strategy – just imagine how effective this approach would be in a large organization with a CMO, Corporate Affairs and Social Media teams etc. all meant to work hand in hand to the same strategic roadmap… enough said. In others words, nearly half of Australian marketers are winging it and hoping for the best their content tactics stick and deliver tangible business outcomes.

Not surprisingly, the research goes on to say that those marketers (only 37%), who do invest time and resource on developing and documenting their content marketing strategy are more effective in nearly all aspects.

Having a documented strategy *and* adhering to it is even better one might say. Yet only 4 out of 10 follow their content marketing strategy very closely i.e. share it with the right teams, review it and optimize it regularly etc. I guess this would largely depend on who owns it and champions it in the organization: only 39% admits to having a dedicated content marketing group – a key part of the problem in my view.

How Australian marketers compare with their British counterparts

Following these discoveries, I was curious to know: are content marketers in other parts of the world behaving any differently?

For this exercise, I thought I would pick the UK – one of the leading and most advanced markets when it comes to digital marketing, with content marketing a fast-growing component of it. So surely they know better, right?

8 of out 10 British marketers use content marketing and 4 out of 10 say they are effective. So marginally more effective.

When it comes to documenting their strategy and following it, alas you will be pleased (or sorry) to hear they aren’t faring much better: 51% are using a verbal only strategy (vs 46% in Australia) and only 44% of those who have it documented follow it very closely (vs 40%).

So all in all, a sorry state of affair on the strategic front on either side of the world. Yet a great opportunity for independent experts and agency types to offer to help and lead!

There are of course a number of underlying issues that explain the situation client-side. The lack of in-house specialist talent or dedicated champion are two that come to mind, and these are instances where external content experts can supplement marketers effectively. They can help in a number of valuable ways – at strategic level or across the full plan-create-test-learn cycle, for short or long periods of time.

For more on these and other fascinating insights, check out the Content Marketing in Australia 2015: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends report.

A lot has been written about the benefits of using game mechanics and game design as marketing techniques – or gamification as it is also known – in particular when marketing to the young hyper-connected audiences (Gen-Zs and Millennials).

There is plenty of research available that shows how immune these age groups are to traditional advertising techniques. To get their attention, instead we are advised to listen and invite their feedback, play the transparency and authenticity cards at all times and most importantly provide them with top entertainment. In Edelman’s 8095® 2.0 Global Study, we learn that 80% of Millennials simply want brands to entertain them, making games one of the obvious ways to their young consumers’ hearts.

Having said this, the latest research for the IGEA has dispelled many myths about the age and gender of the typical gamer, as we learn that the average Australian gamer is 32 year-old and 47% likely to be a female. Other revelations include the fact that 81% of mums and 83% of dads play video games nowadays, with 71% of Australian households counting 2 or more gamers.

But I am digressing here.

The reason why I set out to write this post in the first place was to show that gaming as a marketing device is as effective for raising awareness about a social cause and getting people to act as it is for entertaining.

I recently stumbled upon a couple of such ‘serious’ games – and to my surprise, as I started playing one of them, it had the desired effect on me i.e. it made me too acutely aware of the complexity of the issue at hand.

If you haven’t come across it yet, I strongly encourage you to play the below game, SPENT, and see for yourself what I mean. You can play it here. This is one of these instances where actions speak louder than words.

Another game in the same vein, currently in the making and that caught my attention, is the crowd-funded game Choice: Texas. It bravely addresses the highly sensitive and divisive topic of abortion access in Texas.

The funds have now been raised and the game will soon be made available online. I invite you to regularly check its dedicated Tumblr site and experience the game as soon as it becomes available.

The fundraising campaign video gives you the background to the project and its intent:

Instagram photos make unsexy brands and content look sexy. Fact.

And more often than not with the help of a professional photographer (forget those built-in filters).

For this reason, I love Instagram as much as I love Vine.

And to prove my point, here are some of my favourite finds and Instagrammers.

#1 FAVOURITE:

Reuters has mastered the art of making news (even bad or mundane news) look sexy through the use of stunning photography.

Simply, the photo catches your eye first, and then 9 times out of 10 makes you want to read the accompanying story. See for yourself with this small selection of some of their posts:

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Their newsfeed is highly addictive I must admit, so much so that I find myself grabbing my phone first thing every morning to check it out – sad but true. On the plus side, the snackable format keeps me informed of and interested in what’s going on in the world at large (outside of the world of advertising that is), with minimum impact on my time.

This is an ingenious way from Reuters to make itself relevant, top of mind and build a direct relationship with end consumers like me, without relying on news organisations to broadcast its up-to-the minute content.

By feeding beautifully packaged news bites to the time-poor and easily distracted amongst us, it brings critical information to our attention in a pleasing way. In other words, it delivers utility content and entertainment into one post.

The downside of their eye-candy photo teaser approach is that sometimes the photo is more interesting than the news it portrays – this is however a minor inconvenience compared to the delight the photography gives you. One other issue I can foresee is that it may spark controversy by making the ugly look beautiful (e.g. the aftermaths of a natural disaster, violent protests etc). However, I would argue the latter is a good thing if it raises awareness of said problem and mobilises people to get behind a cause.

#2 FAVOURITE: 

For those of you who read me regularly, you will know by now how much I worship General Electric’s social media and content marketing efforts.

As well as mastering the art of Vine-making, the giant conglomerate has become an Instagram expert.

As a B2B company, it is not the type of business or brand that naturally excites the masses i.e. clearly not in the same vein as Burberry or Nike. Indeed, for the latter, the nature of their industries (mainstream and aspirational) combined with a ready access to shots of glamorous models and athletes make the photo-sharing social network a natural playground.

Yet, GE has against all odds managed to make its day to day business look sexy to the wider public, so much so that I actually find myself liking its photos on a regular basis – and in the process, I am learning lots about how the company crucially powers and supports a myriad of industries.

So yet again a great example of an unsexy brand that makes itself relevant in a simple and enjoyable way.

Cases in point:

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#3 FAVOURITE:

I thought of Burberry and its ongoing #THISISBRIT Instagram campaign, peppered with beautiful B&W shots of the gigs the brand is sponsoring in different countries.

But that would be too easy!

So watch this space for more *unexpected* Instagram goodness – and don’t hesitate to let me know of any little gems you may have uncovered yourself.

Vine has been gaining momentum ever since its launch in January, piggybacking on Twitter’s considerable user base and fast becoming the new social media darling amongst younger users.

To this day, and despite the recent launch of arch-rival Facebook’s Instagram video sharing feature, it is showing no sign of abating. On the contrary, if anything Twitter promises us that with Vine ‘2.0’ soon in market this could well be the beginning of greater and bigger things to come.

In terms of reach, the latest publicly available figures stand at 40M Viners worldwide (up from 13M in June), with an estimated 50K in Australia (source:@SMN_Australia, thanks David!).

Now some of you may argue that’s a drop in the (South Pacific) ocean, hence not even worth considering as part of your marketing mix.

I beg you to reconsider and here is why.

Vine offers a unique, playful way to connect with your audience that drives differentiation for your brand.

Vining has been described as a new ‘art form’ by Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and rightly so. Simply, the 6-second videos (or Vines as they are known) are ‘little windows’ into your consumers and fans’ creative minds.

Unlike Instagram’s ‘generous’ 15 seconds and various props (e.g. 13 filters, cinema mode etc.), Vine’s time constraints and ‘raw’ approach to video creation truly put the power of your imagination to the test. The art of Vine-making is tricky to master as it requires you to be creative not only in the story you are telling but in its execution also – with only 6 secs to get your message across artfully.

And so not surprisingly, the 6-second short-form video is particularly popular with the creative community, with some art directors specialising in Vine-making and advertising agencies using it as a tool for hiring creative staff. It actually takes skills to create something meaningful and beautiful at the same time, in such a limited amount of time – just have a go and see for yourself.

The first Vines I saw were rather painful to watch, jerky and hard to comprehend at the best of times. However, as advertisers and Viners at large got the hang of it, the micro-video blogging network grew on me as did the quality of the content.

9 months later, it has turned out to be a great way for brands to seek participation from their fans. Successful examples of this abound in the US, where the adoption of Vine is the most prevalent amongst consumers and marketers.

Famously, GE with its successful ongoing #6SecondScience projects; one of which can be seen here. And its #GravityDay campaign – the longest Vine chain ever to my knowledge – as sampled here.

Other early adopters include Virgin Mobile USA with its #happyaccidents campaign and Airbnb which took Vine-making to a new level by inviting the audience to co-create the first short film entirely made of Vines.

Vine may never reach the same scale as Instagram (with 10 times as many monthly users today); however I can foresee its community and loyal following building steadily over time. Vine-making is hard to master for a start and so when you do, you tend to stick to it. Simply, as a brand it gives you an edge (or USP) hard to compete with in your category. As a fan, teenager or aspiring creative, it makes you stand out amongst your friends or peers; it makes you feel good.

In my opinion, it is the creativity at the core of its proposition that gives Vine longevity and makes it appealing to the hyper-connected 15-to-30 years old and creative at heart the world over. Twitter made that clear on the day it announced its launch and so did Dom Hofmann, Vine co-founder, when he said “constraint inspires creativity”:

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The arrival of Vine on the market was timely for a number of reasons.

Not only does it tap into our growing appetite for consuming and sharing visual content on social networks and on the go, it also gives advertisers a new tool to achieve cut-through on social media amongst the ever-increasing noise.

As recently outlined by Ipsos, competition for ‘image attention’ has indeed never been greater as we hop from one screen to the next and back, and our senses get solicited all day long by hundreds of messages in different media formats.

Vine is simply a great tool for creating attention-grabbing rich visual content and generating earned media amongst social media users.

How critical is Vine to your social media marketing mix?

GE’s CMO Beth Comstock admitted recently that social media had played a critical part in helping turn around the company’s fortunes. In her view, social media had helped make GE “relevant in a lot of new ways”.

I agree.

I recently became a fan of GE’s social media initiatives, and in particular of their marketing efforts on Vine, which I follow with great interest and amusement. For a company whom I never felt connected to in any way, and whose purpose and business were obscure to me to the say the least, through its own but also fans’ Vine videos,  this once faceless corporation has managed to make itself likeable and its purpose tangible – in other words relevant to me.

The performance metrics speak for themselves.

Here are some recent stats on the effectiveness of the various social video formats in market:

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At a glance, during that one-month period, we can see that Vine outperformed Instagram on both engagement rate and number of retweets. Further, according to Unruly’s research in May, 5 Vines get shared every second on Twitter.

Together, these metrics clearly demonstrate how complementary Twitter and Vine are as engagement channels.

If that’s not enough, what else does Vine have in its favour?

Unless Facebook whose usage and appeal amongst millennials is declining, Twitter and by association Vine are still happily used by teens and 20-somethings (source: eMarketer May 2013).

So if you have a substantial Twitter following and Gen Y’s are a key target audience, then it is worth trying Vine in a complimentary way to Twitter.

Oh, and unlike Instagram, Vine will remain ad-free for the foreseeable future – which makes the user experience all the more immersive and attractive to social media users who are seeking to escape advertising-heavy networks (such as Facebook).

So all considered, Vine makes for a brilliant opportunity to build a 1:1 relationship with your audience, in a space free of competitive noise.

So come on, be brave, start SMALL but start experimenting NOW. Down Under or wherever you are.

Back in March, I published my first post on crowd-sourced advertising. My focus then was on Ford and Coca Cola’s novel efforts in co-creating advertising campaigns and branded content with their respective target audience.

I am pleased to say that since a few more advertisers have come out of their shell, gone the extra mile to successfully evolve (if not reinvent) the crowd-sourcing game with their consumers. Here are those that have stuck with me specifically.

In July 2013, Lexus released its LexusInstafilm.

In a nutshell, the advertiser invited 212 instagrammers to collaborate on the shoot of a promotional film for its 2014 Lexus IS model. The film was to consist of instagram shots only (all individual shots can be seen here). The shoot was planned like a military operation, with nothing left to chance, as the video below shows.

This was a one of a kind opportunity for the Lexus car lovers, creative types and Instagrammers who were lucky enough to be able to participate into the making of an ad for a brand they admire and aspire to.

Incidentally, the making of the film and final output are brilliant pieces of advertising for Instagram also – which makes me wonder what their contribution to this project might have been in $ or otherwise…

In August, Nissan’s #JukeRide project took crowdsourcing to a new level by inviting motorsport enthusiasts and social media fans to help co create a new car focused on improving the performance of Nissan’s Nismo team of drivers.

Ideas for new car features were captured via social media and also in person via brainstorms with ex-Formula 1 driver & brand ambassador Johnny Herbert and his team of engineers. In the end, more than 3,000 individual ideas were contributed to the #Jukeride product by over 1,000 fans. A social experiment that ladders up wonderfully to Nissan’s tagline: Innovation that excites.

Harley Davidson is notorious for pioneering crowd-sourced advertising. A few years ago, with the help of a crowd-sourcing specialist agency, it launched its Fan Machine – a Facebook app that crowd-sources campaign ideas from the brand’s fans. Its 2012 ‘Stereotypical Harley” campaign was one of the successful outcomes. Recently, they revealed they had extended their crowdsourcing strategy to product development with Project Rushmore. Their latest range of bikes is the result of a collaboration with riders and fans of the brand, as reinforced by the “Built by all of us. For all of us” tagline.

Lastly – my 2 favourites:

The award-winning “Perfect Lager Project” – a product launch campaign for winemaker Casella Wines that kicked off without the product per se. The campaign idea was indeed to use crowdsourcing to identify what made the perfect beer from Aussie beer lovers, which Casella would then brew for them. This was a clever way of standing out from the fierce local competition and overcoming the winemaker’s late entry to a very crowded market.

And –

As part of its Hollywood & Vines campaign, Airbnb has just released a short film made entirely of crowd-sourced vines – a first in the art of film-making. 750 viners participated by submitting their selected shot via Vine and Twitter (nice corporate tie-up here); 100 vines made it to the final cut that screened online and on Sundance channel.

This is how it all started:

The end result is truly magic, beautifully stitched together and a real prowess considering how challenging the app’s time constraints can be.

Given the diversity of crowdsourcing initiatives (from co-creating a car or a bike through co-brewing a beer to co-making an ad, a film or a song), it makes me wonder:

Is there anything that can’t be crowd-sourced these days?

Let us take a look at Target and General Electric… What could they possibly have in common?

I have been a fan of Target’s innovative marketing techniques for some time; whilst GE has just made it to my Top 10 all-time favourite marketers.

Neither brand is what one would say sexy or aspirational i.e. not in the same vein as a Nike or a Red Bull. Yet their content marketing efforts are in my view amongst the best, if not the most hyped.

Simply, both companies’ content plays are great examples of how to build relationships with consumers through meaningful content – relationships that eventually drive sales. The last point is not to be underestimated as mentioned in an earlier post.

What is it Target and GE are doing well then in the content space? What can we learn from them?

First, they aren’t afraid of experimenting with new technologies and getting out of their comfort zone.

The first time Target piqued my interest was in October 2012, when I came across their ‘Falling For You’ shoppable web series.

They had then hired an Emmy award-winning TV director and Hollywood talent to film 3 episodes of an online rom-com, which was to be a promotional vehicle for their Fall collection. Products (from women fashion wear to homewares) were cleverly placed in each episode and could be shopped effortlessly throughout the online viewing experience. The technology that allowed you to buy as you watched without pausing the film was claimed to be a first and certainly caught my attention at the time. You can find out more about Falling For You in their (promotional) behind-the-scenes video:

Meanwhile, GE have been experimenting with real-time marketing and campaign hashtags on Twitter amongst other social platforms; with its #IWantToInvent and #PiDay campaigns in particular attracting a lot of attention.

It is also (surprisingly) one of the early adopters of Vine and so far it is doing well with it: its #6SecondScience Fair campaign launched only a few days ago has already generated 20K+ social interactions on the young network as it invites users to submit Vines of their DYI-style science experiments alongside its own, like this one on how to create your own lava lamp. Entertaining and captivating at the same time.

The brand’s bold marketing approach was recently acknowledged on Creativity-online.com.

Both brands have invested in content hubs to tell their stories.

Target’s online magazine A Bullseye View launched over a year ago and deliberately stays clear of hard-sell messages; instead it focuses on the company’s behind-the-scenes stories (e.g. designer partnerships). The site is heavily branded and as such, unequivocally positions the brand as the publisher.

GE has opted for the more discreet position of ‘Sponsor’ with its online magazine Txchnologist, one of 2 blogs the company operates and that focuses on non-corporate news. The site is a Tumblr blog about technology, science and innovation across the various industries the giant corporation is involved with (e.g. energy, transportation, heath care etc.).

Both have complemented their content strategy with an influencer program to boost their credibility and relevance.

Target has more than a dozen Fashion bloggers on its books, who write ‘Target-inspired’ posts on their blogs and also contribute to A Bullseye View. Likewise, GE’s Txchnologist features guest contributors and writers.

Lastly, they are outsourcing the bulk of the content creation to agency partners.

Whilst Target’s A Bullseye View is run by Target’s PR team, GE’s content marketing and social media team is responsible for operating Txchnologist. Both teams are understood to be on the small side, primarily focused on the site development strategy and operations, with the creative execution (content creation) sitting with agency partners. Brands and agencies meet weekly to discuss and plan the editorial content.

Interestingly, the 2 brands are ticking a few of the pre-requisites outlined in my earlier post on best practice content marketing.

I will continue keeping an eye out on their progress in that space and will keep you posted on their next (bold) moves.

A couple of weeks ago, I touched on Coca Cola’s latest foray into social TV with its 2013 Super Bowl’s Mirage Big Game ad campaign. Although it did experience a few glitches on D Day, there is no doubt Mirage is one of the most sophisticated and successful social TV campaigns to date, having generated over 11 million fan engagements according to Coca Cola.

In a nutshell, the campaign starts with a TV ad that kicks off a story (the story of 3 teams competing for an iced Coke bottle in the middle of the desert). That story is in fact a game that unfolds over 3 stages (pre, during and post Super Bowl game), and plays out simultaneously across the small screen and the social Web, as TV viewers get to choose how the story ends by voting for their favourite team on the campaign site and the brand’s social media channels.

Before Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz used Twitter in a similar fashion in its UK #YOUDRIVE TV advertising campaign at the end of last year. The campaign let viewers choose the ending of a 3-part story on the new A Class model that played during commercial breaks in the “X Factor” show. According to research conducted by Twitter UK, Mercedes Benz and ITV, the integration of Twitter into the TV ads had a positive impact on the brand’s metrics and 71% of the tweets generated contained the campaign hashtags with 1 in 4 wanting to find out more about the car.

By combining dynamic story telling, gamification and social media interaction, both campaigns are great examples of TV ads linking to a social conversation – and back. Traditionally a passive consumption experience, they reinvent TV advertising by letting the audience take control of the content and viewing experience.

These campaigns are just two examples of how social TV works. There are plenty more as social TV tends to vary in complexity of the execution and may extend out beyond Twitter and Facebook to include advertiser-owned platforms.

At its most basic – the broadcast of tweets in real time during a TV programme is one of the most prevalent forms of social TV e.g. when the ABC’s TV programme Q&A takes questions and reactions live from TV viewers via Twitter back onto the small screen – a simple yet effective way of maximizing audience participation.

At the other end of the spectrum – we have companion apps such as Zeebox or Yahoo7! Fango that go a step further by centralizing all social conversations about one or multiple shows in one place, serving up related content in real time, and rewarding users for their loyalty with exclusive content or prizes.

Whichever way you go about social TV, the one common denominator and pre-requisite to its success is the brand’s ability to tell a compelling story that everyone wants to talk about. In other words, without cut-through content there is no social buzz, no social TV.

Why is social TV so much on the rise? (and here to stay.)

It leverages what has become second nature to most of us: our second screen behaviour. Or put simply, the fact that most TV viewers are using a second screen (tablet, mobile or desktop) whilst watching TV.

Which begs the question: what do they do on that second screen?

According to a recent Yahoo!7 survey into the viewing habits of Australians, 43% use social media whilst watching TV, with a large number of them posting on Facebook about what they are watching.

Twitter is the other big favourite destination for our TV-related banter to take place – so much so that it fully embraces TV as an integral part of its corporate future – why buy Bluefin Labs, a social TV analytics start up that tracks conversations about brands and TV shows, if for no other reason?

In other words, Facebook and Twitter have become the perfect companions to TV shows and ads. By enabling a shared viewing experience with friends, likeminded fans and viewers as well as 1:1 conversations with our favourite brands and shows, they have in essence redefined the home entertainment experience for most of us.

But are all brands equal in front of social TV?

At first, it appears not. A recent report reveals that Television shows are amongst the most liked Facebook pages, closely followed by Retail fashion and Food brands. This makes social TV an opportunity not to be missed for brands in these categories given their target audiences’ propensity to congregate in social forums.
However, thinking about it some more, it is not so much the category that is a driver in my opinion, but I would argue the brand’s ability to effectively use social media in the first place.
If the brand does a great job out of it i.e it has a clear, single-minded social media strategy and purpose (e.g. promote the overall business – ref. Shell, provide customer service – ref. US retailers, promote a lifestyle – ref. Red Bull etc.) and the resource behind it (talent and $$), then any brand can have a shot at social TV.

And how about measurement I hear you say?

As the TV viewing experience evolves to integrate social media platforms, measurement metrics for TV programmes and ads have to evolve too.

Audience reach can no longer be judged on traditional TV ratings only; new measurement metrics need to be introduced to capture user engagement across social media platforms and devices as the story plays out on the small screen and triggers conversations on the second screen (Nielsen US is ahead of the pack in that respect as it makes it its mission to devise new metrics for TV consumption).

All in all, I think social TV is brilliant news for advertisers, creative and media agencies alike.

Not only does it give TV as a medium greater accountability and further proof that the (costly) investment is worthwile, it also gives TV advertising and the TV viewing experience as a whole a new lease of life.

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