Content

Of destinations and feeds

In An Ambient Future, I had written about how Google was potentially poised for something really interesting because technically, it had things in place to harness mobile, social and sensor data and overlay it with machine learning and AI. An early version of how this data could be surfaced contextually and be shown in an interface would be Google Now, as Christian Hernandez had pointed out. And that was why I was quite surprised and dismayed when I read that most of the team that had been working on Google Now had left!

The larger context though is about content discovery and two possible approaches to it – destination (platform?) and feed. I remember reading Neil Perkin’s post on the subject last year (it’s a fascinating rabbit hole of related reads, you’ve been warned!) and it has had me thinking ever since, especially in recent times, with apps increasingly replacing the traditional website as a destination. So far, the feed largely served as a distribution method to destination, but I believe it is no longer that simple on the web, let alone mobile.  More

Brand, Journalism, Marketing

A few months ago, in The Future Of Owned Media and Can media become social enough?, I’d written about a marketplace model that would connect journalists and ‘buyers’. More recently, I saw an article about Contently raising a round of funding to work on its stated objective – connect freelance journalists and writers with nontraditional publishers, such as brands, agencies, nonprofits, and new media companies. These organizations use Contently’s technology to commission projects, such as sponsored articles, infographics, and blog posts.

Like I’ve tweeted before, journalism is definitely in need of a business model. Media (with advertising) is arguably not the best bet now, because of various reasons. Digital has allowed brands to create their own media platforms (blogs, websites) and social has enabled them to (at least) broadcast it themselves, without a dependency on traditional media. Frank Strong, in a post titled ‘Why Content Marketing is the new Branding‘, rightly states that content is currency. It not only builds perception, but enables us to transact with consumers, keep a conversation going, and at some point, achieve a certain business outcome.

However, except for campaigns, marketing collateral etc, brands have never really required/produced ‘content’ on a regular basis, and thus they are not wired for it. But content marketing obviously requires sustainable quality content, and that’s where brand journalism can play a part. I’d come across the term ‘brand journalism’ first on this post in early 2013 – ‘The Role of Brand Journalism in Content Marketing‘ – where it is defined as “research, storytelling and reporting for a non-media company, in that company’s line of business, with the goal of thought leadership.” (Erica Swallow) There’s a media vs non-media debate in the post, but my little tiff with the definition is that ‘thought leadership’ is rather limiting. There might be other business objectives/outcomes. Unless we’re talking of a leadership among the consumer’s thoughts. (share of mind)

Meanwhile, in addition to a structured way like Contently, I can see brands already doing other forms of brand journalism. (used loosely) I’d classify blogger outreach, guest Twitterers, all under this, because the brand is using a content creator’s contextual reputation to enhance its own standing. The latest example I saw was quite fantastic – teen retailer Wet Seal ‘handing over’ its Snapchat account to MissMeghanMakeup (aged 16) who has quite a social following on various platforms. (via) To note that this is not Miss Meghan’s only client!

I can paint a rather utopian win-win-win picture with this – brands with a purpose that has a social-societal perspective, journalists, who have created trust and a reputation of their own, who can identify with the brand’s purpose and who can write honestly (with disclosure) and consumers, who get to know more about the brands they align with through superb narratives created by these journalists. (among other storytellers) But I’d be surprised if it pans out this way anytime soon.

It will have its challenges, but most of it is when we try to fit this method into the ‘containers of the past’. Its potential to succeed is because it offers much for all stakeholders. Journalists will have the option to be authentic in their writing, and give full disclosure because they’re not tied to the (traditional) media aspect. (newspapers/channels with their own business interests) Brands can be transparent about who has been commissioned to produce their content, and can use paid, owned media to promote it. Consumers get an interesting mix of narrators. It is a shift because the players (Brand, PR, journalists, media platforms) and/or their roles (production, distribution) will transform, but I do think brand journalism (a type of content) + marketing stands a chance.

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until next time, to better brand stories

To be a content brand

I had a bit of an epiphany when I read this superbly written post on Snapchat and the nuances of storytelling. In my last post on the utility of a brand, I had pretty much glossed over ‘delivery’ because it was one part of a larger framework. (and a post that kept getting longer after I began writing!) While determining the larger purpose of the brand and its ‘job’ in a consumer’s life is important, it is also equally necessary to ‘deliver’ this to the consumer in relevant contexts, especially because we live in a world which has not fully learnt to combat  ‘filter failure’. I think ‘content’ strategy has a large role to play in this.

The corporate narrative, referred to in the last post, is a constant work in progress and I fully agree that over a period of time, it will deliver all the advantages that the post mentions, but I do have a couple of different perspectives on the ‘narrative vs stories’ points in it. One, I think stories contribute to the larger narrative (either by collectively forming one or adding to an existing one) and probably don’t deserve to be separated from it. Two, I believe that stories are the devices which make the corporate narrative relevant to the consumer by adding context. This is even more pertinent because narratives are rarely linear in the way they are consumed now. Even not advertising is content that would influence perceptions.

The brand narrative

A brand’s narrative is no longer one that is broadcast to a user base that the brand considers its audience. In fact, thanks to the internet and then social, only a few contexts are now dictated by the brand, the rest of the narrative (in the consumer’s mind) is built by his/her ‘experiences and the best a brand can do is aim for cohesion. The consumer seeks/finds a need that the brand fills in his/her life. This need can be anything along Maslow’s hierarchy, and more. This, I think, is where stories play a crucial part, because the more the stories- from brands or other users – the more contexts a consumer finds to fit the brand into his/her life stream.

The narrative of a brand in a consumer’s life is fluid, and it is cohesive stories that will define its evolution. It has probably always been so, but the explosion of self publishing has meant that brands have to not just get heard above competitors, but the user’s stream on various platforms too. The fluid narrative also means that the big idea every quarter (or year) is no longer enough. (or necessary, though that is debatable) It takes a ton of stories to build a perception and get a community to interact with the brand. But when they do, there is potential for magic. (ask Ikea) It also, only takes a whiff of controversy for it to be forgotten. This calls for an adaptive, agile methodology and some solid content structures that the brand can use to frame user contexts.

Surprisingly, there is good news

The good news is that social platforms do offer a better way to customise delivery according to a user need. That we still use these to broadcast and target according to pre determined audience segments is the beginning of bad news. But at some point when the race to mould the day’s popular social platforms to the existing paradigms of marketing segmentation ends courtesy saturation, hopefully ad tech will move more solidly towards delivering content and experiences that are an answer to the user’s needs. IBM’s trait tattoo based on tweets is a start. Further good news is that thanks to Facebook and Twitter, brands are slowly realising the need to create content that goes beyond broadcast. They are being forced to balance business agendas with the user’s needs.

But, wait

The bad news for marketers is that platforms are exploding and each has its own milieu. The content objectives and strategy are essentially different because user contexts change between platforms and even within it according to time. Right now reach trumps relevance thanks to the measurement parameters of an earlier era, but I’m guessing that will change soon as everyone begins to do the same thing on Facebook and Twitter. Further bad news is that marketing is not really structured or resourced for the changed communication scenario.

Probably the worst news is the mindset and I have seen at least a few fundamental challenges to begin with, in addition to a few myths. One, brands still have the communication baggage of an earlier era. This manifests itself in a campaign based approach, the quest for perfection, the endless approval cycles, and a broadcast flavour to every piece of content, among other things. Two, thanks to Red Bull, everyone wants to get wings and start flying on the first day, as if there is a user waiting to hear the banality that is about to be uttered. It takes months to experiment and get a sense of the fitment of the content’s function (business needs with the objective to inform/entertain/inspire/persuade… the user), its form, (blog posts, tweet, FB post, videos, infographic, polls etc) flavour, (tonality) and frequency (timing) that will appeal to various users in various contexts – what is referred to as the ‘voice of the brand’. The last is the application of measurement parameters that were built for an earlier marketing framework.

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However, all of this is part of the evolution, and given that the learning curve gets steeper by the day, brands will have no other choice but to catch up. The flip side is to be irrelevant, and no brand can afford it.

until next time, discontentment

P.S. function, form, flavour, frequency make 4 Fs. One more for F5. (refresh)

Social v2.0.1.3

I really avoid writing “trends for 20xx”, but towards the end of last year, I jotted down a few things for an article. Same thoughts, but I expanded a bit.

Barring a game changing phenomenon that further complicates the already shifting landscape, these are the 3 areas where I see the needle shifting more than others, in 2013.

1. Content is (also) Advertising: Branded content will continue to rise as the worlds of publishing and commerce collide. Brands will invest (talent, money, time) more in content creation and curation. Also, paid media (traditional and social) will be used to promote owned media (blogs/twitter/FB page content etc) and we’ll continue to wonder how much was earned by publishers in supposedly earned media! By ‘advertising’, I don’t just mean the traditional marketing communication kind, but one that brings out more of the character of the brand/organisation itself. Hopefully this will be the first step towards a larger culture of authenticity, values, and transparency. Something like McDonald’s “Our food. Your questions” would fit the bill.

2. Social Orientation: Social is media, social is CRM, social is enterprise collaboration, and many other things which we haven’t even begun to explore. Silo based approaches for social will evolve into socializing business strategy itself – a horizontal approach (and team) that looks at business objectives more clearly, and encompasses everything from CRM to ORM and beyond. These teams will also be equipped to handle everything from new social platforms to how social integrates/manifests on more advanced devices to technologies from AR to Big Data. Not all of this would happen in a jiffy, and there would be challenges aplenty – right from setting objectives to harnessing various skill sets to getting buy-ins from various verticals that social would interact with and affect. Social Business is most likely this year’s gamification in terms of buzz and random usage, but while that sorts itself, businesses would at least need to start seeing social as a strategy, one that can actually provide competitive advantage.

3. Brand Voice: Speaking of competitive advantage, brands will figure out that they need to craft a voice and tonality that can resonate on social platforms as well. Many of the large brands we see now have grown up on media that never talked back, and hence adopt a  traditional media approach to communication on social as well – swinging between being apathetic and being servile. An identity and voice that can withstand the rigours of increasing conversations across platforms needs to start getting built. There might be multiple renditions of the voice as well – adapted to contexts, audiences, intent and so on, and brands will thus need to learn cohesion in narratives. A new approach to storytelling that spans media, understands popular culture and involves consumers better is the brand imperative.

Update: Very heartening when people I respect – Dina, Gautam Ghosh, Prem think all of this makes sense! Mighty pleased and grinning away! :)

until next time, #makeittrend 😉

Create and curate

Yay! Instagram launched web profiles, and mine, as you can see, is dominated by food! Which meant that I was completely blown by what Zomato did with the Instagram API at Zomato.xxx. If you haven’t seen it yet, now would be a good time. Try to have a full meal before you take a look. One of the bugs in this version is that it makes people hungry. I don’t see them fixing that bug soon! 😉

It’s not really an original thought, since I’ve seen at least one fashion brand use hashtags on  Instagram and Twitter to generate photos, but that doesn’t really take away anything, since the execution is extremely good.

I wrote about the reemergence of branded content last week. One way is to create your own content, the scalability of which is debatable, unless that is one of the organisation’s core competency and priority. The other way is curation. Like I have mentioned on the blog before, curation is a great way for brands to engage with content producers and at the same time, provide  great content to those who consume it. It’s not really creation vs curation, but more of their respective share in the strategy.

On the execution front, crowdsourcing works best if you make it as easy as possible for the for the content producer. In Zomato’s case, adding a #zomato to the food snaps I load on Instagram is hardly a task. The simpler the task is, and the more it is an add-on behaviour than a new one, the lesser the need for incentive. The cooler it is, the more people would want to be a part of it. It distributes itself.

In a traditional media dominated era, more money was spent on distribution than creation. Now content is marketing and with owned platforms, and earned and ‘sponsored’ media on social platforms, the costs of distribution have fallen. There’s a lot being written about content strategy for brands from a creation perspective, but the costs of distribution fall even further in curation because content creators would want to show off their work. The hope is that brands will spend at least a part of the money they’re saving, into creating platforms, processes, tools etc that make it easy for the user to create and share ‘branded’ content.

until next time, co-curation is for later :)

Brands and Plus points

Considering that I tweeted this sometime back, and found this a great read, this post is not on the pros-cons/ how to use Google Plus or on the lines of 'why I am getting out of Facebook and hopping into bed with Google Plus'. These are just thoughts based on a query I asked on and about the platform a couple of days back.

The context: I observed that, on my Plus stream ( I have 'circled' about 150 people), a few people were sharing the same content they did on Twitter and LinkedIn, presented the same way as well. I could understand why they would use these as distribution networks because it is difficult to accurately predict who catches what in busy streams. But what did surprise me was this content being shared as 'Public' on Google Plus, when it is very easy to create circles of people with common interest and share accordingly. (using earlier interactions on other networks or even what they share on Plus) And so I asked

Predictably, the most insightful comment came from generic propecia online no prescription 1

twitter.com/#!/misentropy” target=”_blank”>Iqbal, who nailed it with “we are used to the environment defining the limits of who we share with – rather than having the ability to choose and consciously picking one set of people over another, every time we have something to say.” In this context, I remembered an excellent post by JP Rangaswami on the subject of filters, publishers and subscribers. While I agree with his summation that “We can only fix filter failure by providing subscribers with better filters, by providing publishers with tools that allow subscribers to filter better“, I did feel that in the interim, till the environment (/infrastructure) is able to deliver this at least to a certain degree of satisfaction (it's a dynamic scenario, not likely to be completely perfect), publishers (us) should filter our output too.

All of this led me to a comparison of this scenario to that of brands as publishers. Thanks to traditional media platforms, brands had an environment which to a large extent defined the what/who/where/how of marketing communication. Few brands have been able to cope with the explosion of platforms and the freedom, choices and protocols that come with it. As consumers become filters and learn selective broadcast, exploring and navigating the platforms might be a good idea for brands, but it might be a better idea to (also) invest in a content-communication infrastructure which can be customised to meet both the dynamics – the brand's messaging needs and the consumer's sharing habits. (in the brand's context)

until next time, helpless to help+ :)

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Brands and Curation

Content and the need for brands to get into the space of creating it has been a subject discussed here several times. So, when I read about MTV's tumblr voyage, (via) I thought it would serve as a good handle to revisit the subject.

I thought the choice was platform was in itself a great step. Tumblr, for now, seems completely clued in on how networks, sharing and community work and as MTV notes, is focused on web culture, which can be seen in the way they have designed the service. It also explains why there's nothing new about everyone from media companies to fashion brands hopping on to it.

Brands as storytellers is also nothing new though new and interesting stories are hard to come by. That's where a crowd can help. Mostly, when brands say they've tried crowdsourcing, it means asking for a caption or a photo or a video that has something to do with their current campaign. There are exceptions like IdeaStorm, Dewmocracy, My Starbuc

ks Idea etc but that's a small list in the large set of attempts.

What I liked about MTV's approach was that it is not asking for anything specific. It is establishing a culture of conversation around its domain and with its trademark edgy approach (F*ck yeah!) – internally and externally, making it comfortable for a community to develop. Once that happens generating interesting stories (content) will slowly stop being a constraint. Brands can then chose to play curator, aiding discovery, surfacing interesting ideas, starting a line of thought, and streamlining conversations. And when it feels there's sufficient excitement, scale these up to a larger audience via other distribution channels. Right now, the reverse is how it works – a “come one, come all and quickly contribute to our newly launched endeavour” shout out on traditional media, instead of an organic approach.

On a different track, this doesn't mean that if the crowd generates everything the agencies will be defunct. On the contrary, and in addition to the implementation, the agencies are probably best suited to play the role of meta curators, moving beyond one way advertising platforms and processes, and using their understanding of the brand to explore new platforms and communication protocols being developed, so that they can advise the brand on every frontier that comes up.

until next time, tumble along

Update: Just read that Tumblr hosts more blogs than WordPress now. (via)

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New media indeed

When I wrote this in last week’s post – “‘social’ as it relates to friends and followers’ overrules ‘social’ as a relationship between brand and consumer”, in the context of how brands use social media, I also became  more conscious that despite me relating to Facebook and Twitter as a means to connect with friends, the platforms themselves were clearly seen as a media by the world at large. Even LinkedIn now apparently has a news aggregator.

It is true that I consume large amounts of content via (or on) Facebook and Twitter, but I have always seen it as content shared by friends, not as media like a newspapers or TV channels. It is probably because I have always associated media with information and entertainment and never social. But that’s only a personalised view, I realise. The larger picture shows a content delivery platform – media. I guess when social scaled it didn’t know what else to do but become media. Interesting how the new media platforms worked from social connection towards utility and the old media are trying to make the journey from info and entertainment to social.

And thus when I saw a few recent Facebook developments, I viewed it through the prism of FB as media. Facebook launched Sponsored Stories a while back, using friends’ actions as an ‘advertisement’. It updated Pages giving functionalities that helped brands interact more. Now it has completely knocked off the ‘Share’ button and replaced it with an omnipotent ‘Like’ button that will transmit a story blurb complete with thumbnail instead of the earlier single line in ‘Recent Activity’. (details) Publishers won’t complain since content will be more visible now. Facebook’s comment box plugin also got revamped with better moderation, social algorithms to surface the comments that will be most interesting to you (indicated by social signals from friends) and better distribution – now, when a user utilises the “Post to Facebook” button on a site with FB comments enabled, it can be replied to on FB and will automatically be reflected on the original website as well. If the publisher has a Page on FB, it can respond to the comment and include the people who have ‘Liked’ the page into the conversation. (details) That’s a first from FB – allowing conversations to go out. Wonder what they’re after – interest graph, a perpetually signed-in user, sole web identity provider, all of the above? But in essence, a new media platform that connects publishers with users. And in this age, brands are after all content creators too, eh?

I would think the progression is obvious – first build a user base with awesome features, then focus on publishers  (including brands) who will make it a distribution channel, and the next step would be to make the advertisers spend more.

While Google is busy dealing with content farms in search results, I realise that we have very little means to stay away from the Facebook way of throwing content at us. Watch your newsfeed as Facebook uses you and the content publisher to make itself more indispensable as a platform. Like I tweeted, the hope is that in trying to be everything – mailbox, location, photo storage, for everyone, Facebook might lose itself. The effect all this will have on ‘trust’ in networks, I’ll leave for another post.

Media has always been aggregating audiences by providing information..+entertainment..+social connections… and then leasing it to brands. (advertisers) With advances in technology, it’s perhaps time for brands to create their own direct lines to consumers, outside of the new media barons. Otherwise, in their immediate comfort state of using yet another platform as media, the way they’re accustomed to, it is possible that they will continue to be at the mercy of a third party and have to play by their rules, sometimes at the risk of antagonising the end user.

until next time, mediators = media + dictators? 😉

All hands on deck

Since tis still the season of predictions and ‘looking forward to in 2011’, and because I brought up the subject of brand agencies reshaping themselves for the future, I thought I’d share with you three of my favourite decks of insights from the many that I managed to scan in the last few weeks.

We’ll begin with JWT’s ‘100 Things to Watch in 2011’. (via Surekha on Reader) While there are many things in this that you might already think is a trend, what I liked about it is its thinking outside of any specific prisms – brands, technology etc, but still managing to capture the  essence of trends in human behaviour, culture, consumption, the shifts happening therein, and thus, a good reckoner for marketers.

The second one I’d like to share is Edelman’s ‘Digital Trends to Watch in 2011’. Though there are a few commonalities with the JWT deck, this seems more focused. While this is definitely quite a sensible thing to do from a client perspective, I missed the “completely out of the blue, but damn, why didn’t I think of it?” moments that I usually associate with its creators. But that’s just a testament to my high regards for Armano and Rubel, more than anything else. What I liked most about this was the trend + best practice combining, that layering gives excellent perspective.

The last one I’d like to share is Rohit Bhargava’s ’15 Marketing & Social Trends to watch in 2011′ (via Gauravonomics). There might be some overlap with the other two, but again, the idea of examples with each trend makes it a must-read, in addition to the overall quality of insights.

While its easy to see that there are commonalities in these, I also noticed an interesting thread of thought that  resonated most with me.

‘There’s an app for everything everywhere’ is perhaps the underlying theme in #3 (Apps Beyond Mobile), #7 (Ubiquitous Social Computing, more specifically its best practice) and #9 (Appification of the web) in the JWT, Edelman and Rohit presentations. We then move on to ‘production of consumable content and experiences across platforms’  that connects #93 (Transmedia Producers – faint connection), #4 (Transmedia storytelling) in the JWT and Edelman presentations respectively. And at last, we move on to how it can scale which is brought out through #3 (Developer engagement) in Edelman’s presentation and #7 (Crowdsourced innovation) and #11 (Employees as heroes) in Rohit Bhargava’s presentation.

While I may not endorse a brand strategy only basis tools, the ‘appification’ across platforms actually throws open the door for marketers to not just satisfy their ‘short head’ consumers in better ways, but explore the ways to reach the ‘long tail’. It allows them to blend or distribute their ‘story’ across platforms and if done well, raise the interest level of their consumers. And an agency or brand manager cannot do it alone. While the idea of crowdsourcing is looked down upon by many, there are enough examples to show that if targeted well and executed with clarity, it can deliver results. More importantly, here, the ‘crowd’ is not consumers, but developers who can re-create the brand’s experience on multiple platforms, and employees who can create a human story that will resonate with others.

If these possibilities for 2011 don’t excite you, I’ll try again next week, but I really don’t have any more of these awesome presentations to back me up.

until next time, slide rules!

Content, Media, Distribution

I read an interesting post at Social Media Explorer titled ‘Is content marketing the new advertising‘. More than the specific subject itself, which I write about occasionally, it made me wonder about the various entities that seem to be vying for the marketer’s attention. So even if we do limit ourselves to the thought that brands (and businesses) would create their own content, how does the distribution work?

I remember writing about this a few weeks back, and asking whether content is merely a titular king and distribution is the real power. Its ironic because much of the power of the web’s second wave is in the ability to create content and distribute it fast. But over a period of time, the platforms we use for sharing have undergone a consolidation. The presence of traditional media outlets and brands on these platforms validate this.

Now if we zoom out further and consider the various other things that are making their presence felt – social gaming, location based services (check out the Foursquare-Pepsi and SCNGR-Coke deals, and the new contexts of advertising they’re creating), group buying; apps on iPhone/ iPad (Murdoch and Branson are making a newspaper/magazine specifically for iPad) and Android. (do add on) This is in addition to the terrains that the incumbents – Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter will discover and develop at least for some more time, and the technological possibilities that will arise. (eg. Augmented Reality, and the return of QR codes) Each of them are building their own distribution systems, and its difficult to bundle all the ‘content’ that appears on them under one umbrella. And that’s only the digital world.

All of this also makes me think of destination sites. I can count mine on one hand. Every other consumption is via Reader/Twitter/Facebook and occasionally email. When the web (and its consumption) is rebuilt around people and their connections, what value does a destination site (belonging to a brand) add? How does the brand deal with fragmentation? The good news for the brands is that there are many more options than ever before. Not every campaign needs to be a TVC, radio spot, newspaper ad, site banner. There are smaller, more scalable and more flexible options. The challenge is to find them, and develop things that enable them to connect with the consumers. We live in interesting times indeed.

until next time, many kings and many thrones