Wednesday, December 17

A Little Diversification Doesn't Make Anyone A Dullard

Prevailing wisdom dictates that that professionals are best served by being topic centric. There is some truth to the concept for those who are building a career within a specific industry or central idea. It can be considerably more difficult for writers, especially those who find anything and everything of interest — because we understand there are no boring topics (just boring writers).

So while I have experience teaching people how to develop a professional image, I also stopped worrying about being Batman. Sure, I don't always talk about my other interests in this space, but I do have them. They are eclectic as my library and play lists. And sometimes they pop up as guest posts.

In recent months, I'm very grateful for a handful of sites that have asked me to submit guest content and I think the best way to thank the publishers are to list a few of them here. Give them a gander.

Five picks from a short list of stories that weren't published here.

The Future Of Content, Part 3 with Danny Brown. When marketing professionals think about content, they think in terms that have grown all too familiar. Most of them know its easier to follow in the footsteps of best practices rather than look forward, lead ahead, and innovate the industry.

So when Danny Brown asked me to contribute to his mini-series on content marketing, I wanted to move away from practices and focus in on possibilities. The Future Of Content, Part 3 was a sneak peek into a future that is much more reliant on multimedia content, non-linear data, individualized communication, and interactive technology that some people have taken to calling enchanted objects.

Other people know it better as augmented reality. Marketers ought to think about it now or they'll have to play catch up like they did with every communication innovation since the dawn of time.

Guyside: How To Diet And Exercise Like Your Life Depends On It via Flashfree. Every now and again, it's not uncommon for people to ask me "how are you doing?" It used to be they asked because they wanted to know what's new. Nowadays, their interest is linked to being a cancer survivor.

There is nothing wrong with that. Life deals up all sorts of experiences and you can use them as an opportunity to make yourself stronger if you survive them. This was also one the reasons my friend Liz Scherer invited me to write a set of guest posts for her long-standing blog. Fitness seemed like a logical place to start, given my rapid recovery and work to become a certified personal trainer.

Beyond the obvious tips about fitness, the article is mostly a lesson in doing. It applies to almost anything. Success is a by-product of doing the things you are inspired by or have a passion to do as often as possible until you can eventually do them well.

The Art Of Being Gender Ambidextrous via Tue/Night. The concept of being gender ambidextrous hit me shortly after my friend Amy Vernon told me that the publishers of Tue/Night were looking for a few stories about father-daughter relationships. But it wasn't my idea exclusively.

My daughter was the inspiration. She and sometimes her brother are often the inspiration when I write anything about one-off marketing and communication topics like leadership, psychology, or perception. It's easy to find inspiration in their daily activities because I've always taught them both that the only hurdles in life are what they think. And yes, I include gender on the long list of what doesn't matter.

The crux of it is simple enough. As parents, the biggest responsibility we have to our children is to keep their focus on what they can do instead of what anyone says they cannot do. No hurdles needed.

Guyside: Girls Deserve More Than One Way To Wear A Bow via Flashfree. Shortly after the Gender Ambidextrous piece broke, several people suggested I follow up the story with a second piece. The timing was perfect. I had already filed away an experience that seemed to fit the series.

My daughter didn't think twice when she dressed up as Robin Hood for Halloween, which seemed to mildly put some people off because she hadn't elected to pick any number of bow-wielding heroines. On the flip side, she didn't think twice about being Belle the year prior either. I can only hope she remains so free spirited all of her life — embracing her gender (or not) without ever being made a slave to it.

Freedom doesn't come from choosing between "this and that" or "red and blue." True freedom comes from choices that are only limited by your imagination and colors from every spectrum of the wheel.

Spotlight On Stefan Bucher via AIGA Las Vegas. Although the intent of the piece was to promote the AIGA Centennial Celebration in Las Vegas, there is significantly more value to the story than simply introducing speaker Stefan G. Bucher. Think of it as more of a gateway article to the land of inspiration.

Bucher, if you are unfamiliar with name, filmed himself putting a few drops of ink on a piece of paper and then transforming the random blot into a fully realized illustrated monster. He didn't do it once. He did it for 100 days. So if you need any additional validation for the lesson of doing I mentioned earlier, I submit that you'll likely find it on The Daily Monster.

Bucher is an extremely talented graphic designer and illustrator who has created a career out of remaining true to the principles of design and being a little less willing to compromise. Who knows? With a little luck, maybe you too will find some inspiration from a drop of ink.

What's coming in the months and years ahead for this site and elsewhere?

This space — Words. Concepts. Strategies. — turns 10 years old. And while I don't want to say too much at the moment, anticipate a little more diversification. Sure, communication is an excellent framework for anyone who craves diversity, but communication can feel constrictive at times.

I know I might lose a few people in the process of this gradual change and that's all right. If you fit in that category, look for the headlines that pique your interest. For everyone else, you can always subscribe or come by from time to time at your leisure. I do appreciate it, especially when someone tosses out a topic that they want to see covered. Anything goes. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, December 10

Why Picking A Fork In The Road Will Doom PR

Public Relations
Twenty years ago, most professionals agreed that public relations could be segmented into three basic disciplines — public relations, media relations, and publicity. All three saw some overlap, with only practitioners and amateurs confusing the terms outright.

Nowadays, it's shaping up to be considerably different. When public relations decided it wanted to "own" social media, it created yet another schism within the industry, with some hoping to define its practices as traditional public relations, advocacy public relations, and social media PR. And it's this split that could eventually doom public relations because none of them resemble public relations.

According to one Forbes column, traditional public relations can be defined as media relations, with the principal endeavor being the pursuit of media mentions in a world with an ever-shrinking pool of news outlets. Advocacy public relations can be defined as the heavy guns, where strategists fund research to support whatever message points were voted on by special interests a week prior. Social PR covers everything from the 19-year-old intern managing Twitter to more lucrative content creation and social network distribution models. And that's it?

All three forks lead to oblivion. Don't pick any of them.

As author Robert Wynne points out, traditional public relations (as defined by the article) has faced a market contraction. Traditional firms that focused primarily on media relations are seeing their monthly retainers shrink as fast the news outlets they once catered to. Some have even made the mistake of accepting "per placement" rates, which only reinforces the pursuit of publicity at all cost.

While it used to be considered a nobler pursuit than writing pitches and press releases exclusively, many advocacy public relations firms have been sucked down the black hole of propaganda. Wynne cites several political spin campaigns, ranging from health care to global warming, whereby organizations invest millions of dollars to prove their points of view rather than find the truth.

The third fork, social media PR, runs accompanied by the myth that anybody can do content marketing and then attempt to sway the masses direct by creating some sort of viral phenomenon online. It was also the cause of many public relations budget cuts. In their desire to "own" social, many firms missed the memo that it meant more work for less money.

If these are the three forks from which public relations professionals can choose, the field might as well fold today. The first is too narrow, relying too heavily on a single public to be effective. The second isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And the third has already been played out, with the next step in online communication being very different than what we know today.

Public relations desperately needs to get back to the business of outcomes.

The real problem with thinking of public relations as being split into three forks is that it misses the point. Public relations is not a process as much as it is a concept. It's fundamental purpose is to transform "us" and "them" into "we" by evaluating trends, making recommendations, forging relationships, and providing for communication that produces mutually beneficial outcomes. 

It doesn't matter how that communication is exchanged — through a news outlet or direct to public. But what does matter is that any content shared is authentic, accurate, and truthful in order to ensure mutually beneficial outcomes. Anything less isn't public relations as much as it is propaganda. And anything more tends to compound the challenges that the field has yet to adequately address.

Maybe it's time to reconsider the original three disciplines again.

Public Relations. The job is to provide counsel on the exchange of mutually beneficial communication.

Media Relations. The job is to maximize positive media coverage without paying for it directly through advertising.

Publicity. The job is the deliberate attempt to proliferate the public's perception of a subject.

With the original model, all anyone had to remember was that the world view of public relations and publicity was fundamentally different. It otherwise worked fine, even after social media arrived. It also produced more outcomes.

Wednesday, December 3

Social Media Has Grown Up. Maybe Your Marketing Does Too.

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a long list of advice on how to use social media to market an event. Suggestions included arbitrary hashtagslike and comment contests, and keyword bombs.

You get the idea. Someone surfed and scraped up a social media campaign. And who knows? Maybe some of their ideas would have worked a few years ago, given that their punch list read like 2009.

But I had to do something different. The tactics were summarily dismissed for something more strategic, given an impossibly short promotion window of just over two weeks. Along with adding an emphasis to organic offline promotions, the revised campaign delivered approximately 350,000 first round impressions and helped sell out the event. Everyone was happy, especially the sponsors.

None of it was that big of a deal, but it did make me think. Are social media novices that naive? 

Last week, social media fueled protests over Eric Garner, helped kids with with cancer find support from their peers, became a battleground against ISIS extremismcreated a firestorm about free speech, and proved that participants are culpable for what they say online in some countries. None of this is really new, but the cumulative tone marks a lead story maturity that hasn't always existed.

Social media has grown up. And while there will always be a place for silly cat photos and memorable hashtag moments, the balloon popping party your organization has planned for next month doesn't stand much of a chance to win over the top trending news story. To drive attendance, you have to do better than the top ten social gimmicks that most search engine queries will turn up.

Most organizations need to think locally before they ever take aim globally. After all, no one benefits from a global social media campaign that tries to sell out a local balloon pop party. To drive local or regional attendance, the campaign model would have to reach party prospects through various outreach efforts, which may include social but would never be limited to an online environment.

For many events and offerings, social media can be much more powerful as a secondary touch point after introductions are made via mail, email, word of mouth, direct contact, or co-op or partnership solicitations. As such, the campaign objectives can be effectively reverse engineered to worry less about exposure and focus more on reinforcing the value, momentum, and excitement of the event to those individuals who have already been exposed. And then, if the value proposition is proven, they will compound exposure by sharing their intentions to attend and/or all the assets that prove its value.

What kinds of assets help prove a value proposition? 

The trouble with far too many social media campaigns is that companies have been trained to click the boxes or go through the motions to garner results. Grown-up marketing adds value to the event.

• Articles and interviews about the guest speakers who will be present.
• Special demonstrations that highlight the skill sets of the presenters.
• Videos that provide an expose about the event venue or sponsors.
• Event pages where attendees can share their intent to participate.
• Twitter conversations with sponsors, speakers, and other attendees.
• New raffle and giveaway rollouts that add momentum to the offering.
• Sponsor highlights, especially if they can be integrated into the event.
• Event attendance updates that project an expected level of attendance.
• Special pre- and post-event opportunities, such as lunch with the speaker.
• The promise of live event updates and post-event recaps with pictures.

More importantly, all of these ideas provide organizations an opportunity to expand their online assets while creating a lasting legacy of successful event offerings or product launches. After all, nothing builds momentum for the next event like missed event regret — online or offline.

Wednesday, November 26

Thanksgiving Is A Good Day To Be Grateful To Be Alive.

"I did a bad thing and have to confess," read the text. "I snuck one cookie. I just had to have one."

"It's all right," I wrote back. "I made a double batch."

"So how is it possible that they're better and better every time you make them?"

It would take too long to answer that question in a text so I joked about not giving up any secrets. In reality, there are no secrets. My recipe has remained unchanged. It's everything else that is different.

I might mix up my Thanksgiving dessert list a little every year, but chocolate chip cookies have become a first string favorite. The same goes for other holidays and gatherings too. People like them.

As a first string favorite, I make them often enough that I've stopped tinkering with the recipe and started tinkering with everything around the recipe — the consistency of the batter before adding flour, the right size of the cookie ball before it is baked, the best temperature of my particular oven and the right rack to put the pan on, and a dozen other details that would bore most people. All of it matters if you want to make a great cookie. And the only way to do it is to practice making it perfect.

This isn't all that different from what I tell my daughter's softball team as one of the coaches. Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. So every time they step up to the plate or set their feet to throw a ball, they strive for perfection  — at warmups, practices, and ball games.

You can't expect to throw someone out at first or pick up a base hit if you slack in practice or goof around during warmups. In fact, it's improper practices that create bad habits and cause poor game performances. And this is so true, it seems, that no practice is better than a bad practice for many players.

The same thing goes for baking cookies too. If you're not willing to strive for a perfect practice, then there isn't any reason to expect better cookies. It's those simple things that make all the difference.

We tend to overlook simple things. But it's the simple things that make for perfect practice. 

In softball, the difference between a hard hit and soft hit can be attributed to something as simple as turning the back foot. With chocolate chip cookies, the difference between good cookies and great ones can be something as subtle as how cold the dough is before you put it in the oven. As a writer, the difference between informing or inspiring is often tied to sentence structure or even word choice.

It applies to anything and everything else too. You can't expect an organized pantry if you fill spaces as opposed to putting things away in their proper places. You can't expect to feel great more days than not if you aren't willing to make physical fitness one of your priorities in life. And you can never truly appreciate anything in life until you learn to be grateful for being alive.

At least that was my takeaway when my family and I celebrated my birthday last week. A friend of mine asked what my big plans might be for my birthday and I told him that I was cleaning out a closet and then cooking dinner — filets, bacon wrapped shrimp, double stuffed potatoes, and peas. He laughed and said that all sounded like a lot of work. Maybe everyone ought to do that for me, he said.

I laughed and joked that I would have to waste a wish when I blew out my candles to make that happen. But no, I don't think so. Birthdays aren't be about being spoiled. That's just icing on the cake.

Sure, five years ago or so I used to think that birthdays were about people spoiling me. Nowadays, I think about birthdays as a day to be grateful to even have a life. And for me, I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate having a life than by making a non-functional closet functional again and cooking an indulgent dinner to share with my family. I consider it a perfect practice for a better life.

Sure, there was a cake to enjoy after dinner. Yes, there were some gifts I really appreciated. But the real lesson learned can boiled down into appreciating that everything about a birthday is pretty amazing if you're grateful to even have one. The rest of it is a bonus, kind of like homemade cookies.

So if you really want to know why my cookies are better every time I make them, the reason is pretty simple. I've stopped chasing outcomes and started working toward perfecting practices. And that, more than anything else, has made me more grateful than ever — for my friends, for my family, for the few people who read this post, and for my very life.

Thank you for that and happy Thanksgiving. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, November 19

Word Of Mouth Doesn't Distinguish Between Online And Off

The decade-long era of marketers attempting to distinguish between online and offline word of mouth is over. As consumers have adopted small screen mobile technology and social networking tools, few people make the distinction. Most don't even remember when or where the conversation occurred.

All they remember is that the recommendation came from a friend or family member. The details of its delivery (text or network, phone call or in person) is largely lost to them. All they remember is someone close to them (not an "influencer" based on popularity but an "influencer" based on proximity) had something to say about a particular product, service or solution.

Word of mouth directly accounts for about $6 trillion in consumer spending, online and off.

And it is these conversations, which are personal and person to person, that account for as much as 13 percent of all consumer sales and as much as 20 percent among higher price-point categories. And the division between online and offline conversations just isn't there. It's no longer relevant.

This finding and others were recently published in a study organized by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) in partnership with AT&T, Discovery Communications, Intuit, PepsiCo, and Weight Watchers. The study is based on the econometric modeling of sales and marketing data provided by participating brands (on a confidential basis) and conducted by Analytic Partners.

The results of the study may change the way some marketers think about paid and earned exposure, with about one-third of sales attributable to word-of-mouth conversations acting as an "amplifier" to paid media such as television. In sum, consumers spread advertised messages one-third of the time.

The rest of the impact is independent of advertising and tied to other influencers such as product or customer service experiences, public relations, owned and earned digital content, referral marketing, and related activities. These influencers work in tandem to shape overarching brand perceptions.

Other key findings from the study underpin the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

• Word-of-mouth impressions drive at least 5 times more sales than a paid advertising impression.

• Word-of-mouth impressions for higher price-point items are as much as 100 times more impactful.

• Word of mouth impacts tend to influence consumers closer to the time of purchase over media.

• Word of mouth amplifies the effect of paid media by as much as 15 percent.

"Intuitively, we know that a consumer recommendation is going to be a powerful contributor to brand sales, but this is the first time a rigorous study has quantified that impact across a range of product and service categories," said Suzanne Fanning, president of WOMMA. "We hope this research will lead marketers to elevate the role of word of mouth, both online and offline, in their marketing plans."

This study also reinforces the idea that marketers who are more inclined to communicate a clear contrast between their products and services will be more likely to have a message that consumers are not only able to remember, but can also readily share with friends and family members. And considering that the average consumer can only recall one to three messages about any paticular product or service (not all of which are written by marketers), it had better be something clear and compelling.

Wednesday, November 12

Did Millennials Change Advertising Or Just Roll It Back?

By some estimates, millennials now include about 74.3 million people in the U.S., which accounts for almost 25 percent of the population. They have between $125 and $200 million in purchasing power.

Advertisers are just now beginning to understand that millennials prefer friendly and funny brands over serious and stodgy. Two in three like smart and witty humor and about 72 percent consider being smart as one of their greatest assets. They still self-identify with some brands, but in slightly different ways. 


And if there is any irony to be found in that lineup of four advertising tips for millennials, it's that nothing has changed. Targeting the same age demos in the 1960s and 1970s called for the same four tips.

The shift everyone is talking about in advertising is circular. 

Advertisers of that era made them laugh, made it personal, made it social, and engaged them. And it wasn't until the 1980s that things began to change and brands suddenly became bigger than buyers with product glamour shots outweighing golden era advertisements at about 4 to 1.

The trend continued well into the 1990s and 2000s as advertisements became bigger, freakier, and more increasingly Photoshopped or loaded with special effects that were meant to wow every audience. Most of them got plenty of attention, which is what advertisers want to do, but it came at a cost. 

Some might even say they broke from the old Ogilvy tenet that advertisements ought not attract more attention than a product. He also commissioned research that found images can turn off interest.

The truth is that while most clients want great campaigns that ignite sales and the have the staying power to build a brand, most consumers want honest advertisements that tell them exactly why they might care to even consider the purchase. And if you can make them laugh a little too, even better.

The lesson advertisers must continue to learn here is pretty simple. Much like public relations professionals need to transform "us" and "them" into "we," advertisers need to push beyond attention-grabbing entertainment and create opportunities for millennials and others to participate and be part of whatever the marketer is hoping to achieve. Ergo, it's not about you or your product as much as them. But then again, maybe it never really was about you or your product. Don't be the star. Make some.
 

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