Wednesday, December 31

The Top Five Posts Of 2014 Mostly Focused On Writing

If there was any central topic that seemed to attract more people to Words, Concepts, and Strategies that any other this year, it would be writing. Much like many professionals see social media as being flattened — moving away from being seen as a profession and more toward being seen as a skill set employed equally by marketers, public relations professionals, and communicators — more and more of them want writing to be something that everyone can express as a proficiency.

It's possible, perhaps, as long as organizations don't under value those who have dedicated their careers to the craft. You see, it's one thing to write as proficiently as 25 percent of the population but it's another to write as impassioned as only 3 percent of the population. Still, there is something that everyone can do to improve their writing. Dozens of tips are in the top posts of 2014.

The top five posts of 2014, based on readership.

Writing Is A Process
5. Writing Is A Process That Starts Long Before The First Word. Despite recent trends in an attempt to commoditize it, writing requires hard work. In addition to knowing how to string words together so they have a maximum impact with minimal means, writers must master research techniques, organize for structure, edit for clarity, proofread for accuracy, and package the content for better retention.

In addition to highlighting a few of the challenges young writers face today, the piece includes a presentation deck that was created for a private education session about the subject. Everyone wants to become a better writer, but most aren't prepared to put in the work to make it happen.

Ten Questions For Better Writing4. Your Writing Is Almost Never As Good As You Think. Several studies have shown that there is a disparity between how well people think they can write and how well they can write. Despite what students think, only about one in four are proficient writers and less than three precent are great writers.

This article was accompanied by the top ten questions people can ask to assess their own writing abilities. Highlights include some of the most common problems encountered in various professions, especially communication and marketing, on a daily basis. The piece is interlinked with several other articles that provide additional insight and examples.

Social Media Marketing Is Wrong
3. Why Is Marketing Still Wrong About Social Sharing? On the surface, this story is about marketing and social media, but it bridges into other subjects like psychology and written communication. The short version is that the article explains why the over emphasis on measurement, search, and social platforms isn't necessarily a good investment if it is made at the expense of worthwhile content.

The article goes on to highlight five popular drivers behind the psychology of sharing, which seems to have very little to with how most marketers spend their budgets. The piece cuts both ways in showing how value is better than viral and how much content can become a slave to other factors.

Banned Books And What It Means
2. The Elephant In The Room Of Banned Books Is Gray. Rather than submitting a top ten books list for banned books week, the post highlights eight articles that tell stories about why books are being challenged in America today. The real purpose of the piece was to help people see that not all books are being challenged for the reasons one might think or that it is exclusive to one group.

Nowadays, books are challenged and "banned" for all sorts of reasons, many of which read like a snapshot of social issues Americans struggled with that this year. For my part, I don't share my own take on the topic but rather present a few questions that may help people see beyond the obvious.

What Not To Do As A Writer
1. Five Popular Content Writing Tips That Are Dead Wrong. The most popular post of the year pinpoints and dismantles five writing tips that are still being promoted around the web. They include the call for short content, spicing up word choices, rushing the deadline, fluffing facts, and transitioning to more pictures and less written content for the next trend in online marketing.

All of those tips are dead wrong. In fact, most of them can be tied to some of the reasons not everyone is excited to take a chance on content. Nobody really wants to click on an eye-catching visual that tricks them into reading a quickly written paragraph that boasts about some unsubstantiated claim being made by a product or service they don't need or want. Do they?

Happy new year and thanks for helping this space be the exception.

It seems to me that they do not. As part of a two-year experiment (and personal reasons), I opted to write significantly fewer posts (about one a week) that frequently sported higher word counts. The result is that while daily traffic dropped, the average number of readers per article is up (as well as overall readership) compared to the days when this space was a short-format daily.

While there are some other trade-offs (such as weaker reader loyalty on throwaway posts), I've found it to be more fulfilling to pick timeless topics as opposed to a couple of graphs on the topic du jour. And I'm happy to know that some folks have found some value in the topics I've taken up this year.

Thanks for reading and happy new year. And if you want to keep up weekly, subscribe here.

Wednesday, December 24

Yes, You Are Loved. Happy Holidays.

My favorite holiday story has always been the Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. It's the story about a young, impoverished girl attempting to sell matches in the street. She is cold and alone, fearful of going home without a single sale as her father would likely beat her.

She eventually shelters herself in a small alley and lights a match to warm herself. In the glow of it and each match struck after, she sees visions of a feast, a Christmas tree, and eventually her grandmother. And it's with this last vision that the girl begins to light match after match — until all the boxes are ablaze — in a desperate attempt to keep her grandmother with her.

As the blaze dies, so does the girl. And her grandmother, no longer a vision, carries her to heaven. 

The story touched me then, as it does today, not in the beauty of a dying child clinging to hopes and dreams or only in the promise of a life ever after. Much of it had to do with living in a household with a grandmother who was dying of cancer. The story became her promise to me that she would always be there and that one day we would be reunited no matter what might happen in this life. 

A Little Match Girl, Revisited

Barefoot in the snow with blue and frozen toes, 
A match girl strikes a fire to ward away the cold. 
And in the sputter of the flame she seems to see
A stove to warm her hands; the comfort of a tree; 
A roast to heal her hunger; and arms of empathy. 

I wrote the untitled poem a few years ago for a Christmas card. And this year, I revisited my copy of the story to illustrate a scene from it. And on the back of the card, a few might notice the 13:7 verse reference. 

Any book will fit the meaning, but especially Corinthians with its gentle reminder that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things ... love really is all there is and will be.

That is why my grandmother had always impressed this story upon me. She wanted me to know that even after she was gone, her love would carry on with me until the end. There is no greater gift than that.

And yes, you are loved. Happy holidays. Good night and good luck. 

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.

Wednesday, November 5

Yes Virgina, There Are Impassioned Objectivists

Anytime I mention "objective journalism," someone contests the concept. They consider it an idealistic pipe dream. They claim that all journalists are biased. And they say it lacks the passion of advocacy journalism. But more than all that, they say objective journalism is dead. Get over it.

Sure, there is some truth to the statement that objective journalism is dead, but we mustn't mistake its current condition as evidence that the idea is boorish, flawed, or impossible. As defined, objective is an individual or individual judgment that is not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. And it's a quality that communicators ought not run from.

Objectivity comes with honesty and maturity. Grow up already.

The real problem it seems is that objective journalism allowed itself to be saddled with ideas that have nothing to do with objectivity — traits like fairness, indifference, and perfectness. Specifically, people expect that journalists (especially those who strive to be objective) must listen to both sides, transcend human frailty in hearing them, and then deadpan the facts for the public. But that's not it.

A working definition of objective journalism is more akin to how Iowa State journalism professor Michael Bugeja defined it: “Objectivity is seeing the world as it is, not how you wish it were.” The idea is that the communicator is willing to commit to the pursuit of truth, not what they hope is true.

People strive to be objective every day. A manager might like one employee better than another but promote the one with stronger skill sets. A coach might play the more talented player over their own child for the good of the team. A scientist might prove his theory wrong after reviewing empirical evidence. A judge might make a ruling that is right but weighs heavily on his or her heart.

So why would journalists somehow be incapable of striving to be objective (unless they don't want to be) where others have demonstrated the ability to succeed? It seems to me that all it would take is someone becoming impassioned to find the truth rather than promoting their own agenda or whatever agenda they have subscribed to believe. And it's in this passion for truth, rather than propping up fragile brands or frail ideologies, that deserves our respected admiration.

Forget balanced. A journalist might glean insight from different perspectives but truth doesn't take sides. Forget deadpan deliveries. Objectivity doesn't require anyone to feign disinterest in the face of outrage. Forget unconscious bias. The goal was never to transcend being human but merely to develop a consistent method of testing information, considering the evidence, and being self-aware of any personal and cultural bias. And all of these ideas were born out of a need for objectivity.

As as much as I have a fondness for Hunter S. Thompson, who had plenty to say about the objective journalism of his day, the lack of it enslaves us as the only "truth" that prevails is the one uttered with more frequency, more volume, and a more passionate will. And eventually, when the truth is no longer valued in favor of that "truth," it seems to me that we will finally find affirmation media to be an insult to our intellect and own sense of evidence.

Objective communication isn't limited to journalism. Stop saying yes. 

The Pew Research Journalism Project identified nine core principles of journalism, but I've always been partial to the idea that objectivity adheres to empirical standards, coherence standards, and rational debate. Empirical standards consider the evidence. Coherence standards consider how it fits within the greater context. Rational debate includes a diversity of views, but only gives merit to those views capable of meeting empirical and coherence standards.

In much the same way objective journalists strive to look out for the public interest, professional communications — marketers and public relations practitioners — better serve organizations (and the public) by applying objectivity to their situational analysis and measurements of outcomes. The stronger communicator is always the one who is objective as opposed to those who only aim to validate their actions or affirm a client/executive/decision maker's perceptions by saying yes.

Can we ever be certain? The answer is mostly no. While we can tear apart a baby's rattle and see what makes noise inside, we cannot see into the hearts of men and women to guess at their intent before there is any evidence of action. The best we can hope for is that those who have no intention of being objective wear the proclamation on their sleeves while others are given the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. Let the truth lead for a while and see what happens.

Wednesday, October 29

The PR Call To 'Be The Media' Is A Misnomer

There's no question that social media has become an important part of the media/public relations landscape. Given that the media have completely integrated social media into journalism, it makes sense. And social, after all, has been integrated into every facet of communication and beyond.

It has become such a big part of public relations that there is even some ground swell over the notion that public relations could eventually "be the media" with equal footing. And why not?

Some firms even say that it's essential if businesses want to "reassume direct control over their reputations and news flow." Others say that it's a surefire solution "to become a producer as opposed to a facilitator" and earn a larger piece of the MarComm budget. And yet others think that in doing so, they can "skip the media middle man all together." It might even be vital to do so in some cases.

Being the media is not an evolutionary step for public relations. 

You don't have to subscribe to the notion of content shock to see a real problem with companies attempting to circumvent the media. The real problem is that it moves public relations away from its core tenet to strengthen the relationships between the organization and various publics in favor of a top-down communication — the same one that social was once purported to solve once and for all.

It also changes the perspectives, objectives, and outcomes of the communication. As quasi media, companies are incentivized to measure the reach, engagement, and conversion outcomes over programs designed to ensure mutually beneficial and measurable outcomes for the organization and its publics. And while it's true both efforts can work in tandem, the thinking is light years apart.

Reputable public relations teams would never view the media as a 'middle man' but rather as one of its very important publics — a reasonably objective (hopefully) voice that assists in bringing clarity to important issues, even those that are relatively niche. They also also understand that the increasingly diminished role of the media leaves an organization front and center as a direct source that must compete for attention against anyone who is looking for link clicks.

In other words, skipping the so-called media middle man further fragments communication, with each organization vying for its share of spotlight. It also opens up cause for corporations to supplant independent news, justified by the mistaken belief that the concept of objective journalism is a myth.

It seems nowadays that many public relations professsionals (and journalists) fail to understand that objective journalism works because the method is objective, not necessarily the journalist. And when objective journalism is allowed to work, it serves organizations and the public by vetting any claims, setting the agenda, and supporting the truth when the facts are paramount to the public good.

The evolutionary next step of public relations is collaboration.

Don't misunderstand the message here. Content marketing, social media, and corporate journalism have become vital components for any communication plan. But all of these tactics work best when they are employed in tandem with media relations, public relations, and other collaborations — something that even marketers see as having tangible value across multiple media venues.

Sure, I've always been an advocate for integrated communication, direct-to-public public relations, and teaching public relations professionals to think like a journalist. And at the same time, when it comes to public relations specifically, I also remind students that the simplest definition of the field is to transform "us and them" into "we," which would include a shrinking pool of pure journalists.

Wednesday, October 22

What If The Only Hurdle Is What You Think?

A few nights ago at her practice, my daughter (age 8) and her softball team (8U, ages 8 and under) were challenged to a base-running relay race by their sister team (10U, ages 10 and under) in an older division. They readily accepted despite the odds.

Two years makes a big difference. Most of the girls on the 10U team had a 12- to 18-inch height advantage and the stride to go along with it. Even with a few 'accidental obstructions' by coaches to even out mismatched segments of the rely, it was pretty clear which girls would come out on top as victors.

Or maybe not. The race was relatively close in the end, with the team effort being only part of the story. While several 8U girls held their own, one of them gained ground during her segment without any coaching assistance or any easing off by the older girls. She was determined to win her heat.

And then she won it. The size difference didn't matter. The age difference didn't matter. The difference in life circumstances — having been born three months early and enduring juvenile rheumatoid arthritis for going on 6 years — didn't matter either. She won her heat from the inside out.

About 10,000 people a month Google the phrase "am I ugly."

Meaghan Ramsey of the Dove Self-Esteem Project wasn't the first to bring this disturbing trend to light, but she has been one of several voices who has helped raised awareness about self-esteem. Specifically, Ramsey has found a correlation between low body/image confidence and lower grade point averages/at-risk behaviors (drugs, alcohol, sex) and these correlations are heightened through the baked-in pressure of social networks to earn friends, likes and opinions via frequent feedback.


Ramsey contends that our increasingly obsessed culture is training our kids to spend more time and mental effort on their appearance at the expense of other values that make up one's self-concept. It's a good point, especially when you consider the depth and damage of crowd-sourced confidence beyond physical appearances.

Just as low body confidence is undermining academic achievement among students, low social confidence is undermining people well into adulthood. It's increasingly problematic because our society is adding layers of subjective superficial qualifiers that are determined by crowd-sourced opinions and visible connections. Specifically, superficial counts like "followers, likes, retweets, and shares" that have nothing to do with our value as human beings are being used as a means to validate their perception of others as well as their own concept of self.

The key to more meaningful outcomes transcends image. 

The overemphasis of imagepopularity and crowdsourcing in social media has a long history of undermining good ideas, worthwhile efforts, and individual actions. And the reason it undermines our potential as human beings is related to how we inexplicably convince ourselves that we are not pretty enough or smart enough or popular enough to be valued or liked or loved.

If appearances and opinions held true, then my daughter would be the least likely girl on the 8U team to become the fastest runner. But fortunately, no one ever told her that superficial appearances or history should somehow hold her back. So when I think about her, I always want her to be able to apply this same limitless attitude to her potential aptitude whether it is academics, athletics, or attractiveness (to the one and only partner who will ever really matter).

Wouldn't you if it were your daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, or mother? Wouldn't you if it were your son, brother, boyfriend, husband, or father? Then maybe it's time we all took the effort to let potential not perception prove our realities, online or off. Good night and good luck.

Wednesday, October 15

Are Conscientious Consumers Catered To Or Created?

Consumers
According to Havas PR North America, the rise of the conscientious consumer isn't around the corner. It's happening right now. More people favor responsible brands all over the world.

Globally, 34 percent of consumers say that they always or often purchase one brand over another for reasons of conscience. Sixty-seven percent said they would like to do so in the future.

The United States lags slightly behind with 23 percent of American consumers saying they always or often buy one brand over another because it's more responsible. Fifty-four percent said they would like to be more conscientious and buy from brands that support well-being and sustainability.

"In part, this phenomenon is about people everywhere questioning the assumptions of the financial crisis that started in 2007," said Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America. "And in part it's about using 21st-century tools to get more information in order to be consumers who are proactive about ethical, responsible, sustainable brands. Plus, the transparency trend and many others are converging to bring us to a heightened mindfulness in both consumption habits and social and environmental impact."

This thinking is based upon BeCause It Matters, a white paper that analyzes the thoughts and habits of 23,510 consumers from 14 countries related to issues of conscience. According to Havas PR, the trend in being more conscientious is growing, especially among women and in efforts that require little or no additional effort from them. In short, they want companies to do the real work.

The concepts behind the conscientious consumer. 

The idea of a more conscientious consumer isn't new. It's largely based on the evolution of ethical consumerism whereby people favor ethical products through "positive buying" and avoid companies that don't meet minimum standards through "negative buying" or a moral boycott. The term was first popularized by Ethical Consumer, a magazine published in the United Kingdom in 1989.

Since then, the concept has resurfaced with several other monikers. Several years ago, for example, The Futures Company published a white paper that predicted a dramatic shift in consumer conscience and confidence that would take hold around 2010.

Brand SampleIt anticipated that more consumers would be responsible, vigilant, resourceful, prioritized, and network oriented. And then, a few months later, Euro RSCG Worldwide highlighted the characteristics of an emerging group of prosumers — people who value experiences over ownership, the natural world over the fabricated world, and good corporate citizens over disconnected product promoters.

Euro RSCG Worldwide and Havas PR, incidentally, are one in the same. But regardless of names and monikers, the principles are the same. There are halos associated with topics such as workers' rights, going green, global sustainability, animal welfare, and altruistic efforts. Most of us like the idea that people are somehow, slowly, becoming more conscientious than before.

Of course, that is not to say that the concept doesn't have critics. George Monbiot once wrote that progressive insertion has a tendency to transform itself into self-interest or expectant disinterest by nurturing the mindset that "we've done enough" simply by voting with dollars. Some critical studies support his hypothesis, but most suggest implementation is problematic much earlier. Specifically, the socially conscious consumer might exist but is considerably more elusive or taking the slow road.

What companies really need to know. 

There is a hard core group of conscientious consumer that exists, but it is relatively small despite a
25-year incubation period. In the United States, for example, about 6 percent of those surveyed in BeCause It Matters could be considered hard core. Beyond this 6 percent, 15 percent said they often avoid brands with poor ethics and another 32 percent avoided them sometimes.

Where the emerging conscientious consumer does better is in recommending responsible brands. More than 40 percent of American consumers actively recommend responsible brands (13 percent strongly and 28 percent somewhat). At the other end of the spectrum, about 15 percent said it would make no difference in whether or not they would recommend a brand.

What companies always need to keep in mind is that the emerging conscientious consumer tends to look more ahead than take action. Specifically, in benchmarking studies over the last two decades, what consumers say they will do versus what they actually do is different. We all want to be the  conscientious consumer, but have a much harder time putting it into practice when making choices based on price, product quality, or brand loyalty.

In knowing this, companies wanting to shift toward a conscientious framework must approach the market differently. They need to bake social responsibility into the brand (rather than dilute any potential impact with green washing or marketing-centric donation promotions). They have to produce superior products (because socially conscious sentiment is not enough for most consumers to justify higher prices). And most importantly, they need to realize that conscientious companies don't really cater to the conscientious consumer as much as they are actively working to make them.

Is it worth it? It depends. To succeed, the company needs to establish clear values and a culture that supports them. Marketing efforts need to bake the conscientious contrast point into the brand rather than a campaign. The economic climate needs to be stable enough to support socio-economic mobility, which drives consumer confidence by focusing consumer attention on the future and thereby moving the mindset away from more the immediate cost savings. At least that is what seems to be. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 8

Content Agility Is The Next Step In Content Strategy

Content Agility
Some marketers have earmarked content agility at five years out. It will happen much faster than that in a multi-channel, multimedia world. It's happening now to offset the content creation explosion.

Specifically, content agility addresses the increasing need for horizontal and vertical structures that can organize content not only by search (placing the burden on the consumer), but also by logical pathways (publishers providing opportunities for expansive content). The general idea of content agility is to save consumers time (not demand more of it) by providing clear pathways to their goals.

What does content agility really look like in the future? 

One early example of content agility was featured in a commercial for the Google Nexus 7. Although the commercial focuses primarily on consumer-generated searches (given that it is a Google commercial), content agility takes the concept further by providing consumers touch points that provide opportunities to follow nonlinear pathways toward specific topics and deeper research.


Specific to this commercial, content agility would not wait for the consumer to define a search term, it would be designed to open pathways in nonlinear directions (e.g., to learn more about a president or to learn more about speeches or to learn more about self-confidence, etc.) simply by touching the president or his speech or his hand gesture. Such an interface would feel impossibly intuitive.

What can content agility really look like today?

Right now, most content marketers create content and flood every social channel where they have an outpost with the new content, screaming "hey look, new content." They load it up with hooks and baits too because the entire objective (as stupid as this sounds) is to make us feel an emotional tug to click on a link and learn more (only to be disappointed about 98 percent of the time).

Content agility doesn't operate in this manner. It creates a content hub with increasingly deeper content that is also interlinked with all other content assets when appropriate. For lack of an inactive example, think of Wikipedia cross linking but with a greater emphasis on visual presentation (over text), inactive media, and scroll over interfaces.

Social network marketing can be handled in much the same way. As mentioned, most marketers burp out the same content leads across all channels. But what if they didn't? What if each social network featured very specific content, giving participants different reasons to each network rather than seeing the same content on all of them? It makes more sense and creates much more dynamic engagement.

A few recent articles that are exploring content agility. 

5 Tips To Liven Up Long Stories by Geoff Livingston


Wednesday, October 1

Is The NFL The World's Most Dangerous Brand?

While most of the conversation has revolved around Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after knocking his fiancee (now wife) unconscious in a casino, some people have taken to actively banning the $9.5 billion industry in general. Their decision includes a litany of reasons, ranging from the uproar over the team name Washington Redskins to the high risk of concussions and brain trauma.

There is more, and the list seems to grow longer by the day. Football, which Malcolm Gladwell once likened to the popularization of dog fighting in the 19th century, is clearly in the crosshairs with the NFL seen by some as public enemy number one. Everything done is being questioned. And more than some wonder if it can survive despite record-setting viewership.

How many black eyes can the NFL take and survive?

There is some truth to the notion that troubles inside the NFL are not a public relations nightmare, no matter how many people seem to think so. So let's be clear.  Domestic abuse is not a public relations problem. Child abuse is not a public relations problem. And while all sports carry risk, unnecessary risk is not a public relations problem. These issues aren't black eyes. They're actual punches.

If anything, the problem isn't public relations but this notion that a public relations problem can be weighed, balanced, and counterbalanced by public perception. The real problem is a mitigation issue, which requires a much more proactive focus on long-term measures that reduce or eliminate risk.

Sure, some might argue that everyone has a different threshold in regard to these issues, especially those associated with individual players and their private lives. But highly visible brands can rarely afford the luxury of ignorance. They have to draw a line. For the NFL, the line could be its organizational values as well as a clear code of conduct for players on or off the field.

How a disaster planning model could bolster the NFL brand.

1. Mitigation. Mitigation focuses on long-term measures to reduce or eliminate risk. In this case, it would include a review of the organizational values, policies, and code of conduct that the organization, teams, and players agree to adhere to.

2. Preparedness. Planning, organizing, training, evaluating, and improving activities will ensure the proper coordination of action any time there is a violation of policies. All too often, people see the NFL as being inconsistent in its actions when it would outline something consistent such as treatment as warranted, suspension during investigation, or/and termination on conviction.

3. Response. While response means something different in a natural disaster, the NFL could still benefit from an organized response. The NFL already has a method for issuing certain rulings, but it seems to lack the structure (leadership) and agility (creativeness) to adapt. A clear response to individual, team, or organizational issues would be welcomed.

4. Recovery. Just as recovery aims to restore the affected areas to their previous state before an issue, the NFL could certainly be more proactive in the issues that have been thrust upon it. It is almost unconscionable that no one has thought to allow individual players speak out against domestic violence and child abuse given that the majority of players can live up to their role model images.

Where strategic communicators and public relations practitioners can make a difference is facilitating the communication necessary to help make organizational changes and in providing insight into how other publics (and the public) are reacting or responding to the issue. They can then clearly communicate any organizational decisions and/or work with various publics to reach a consensus.

Naturally, not everyone will agree with whatever decisions are made. But history has shown, more often than not, that people are more accepting of organizational decisions (even those they don't agree with) that are thoughtfully considered, relatively consistent, and within the scope of established values. In fact, this is why so many other sports don't fall under the same scrutiny. They didn't build their brands on representing American values like football has tried to do for the past several decades.

Wednesday, September 24

The Elephant In The Room Of Banned Books Is Gray

banned books
The most common commercialized celebration of Banned Books Week is to create a display of the top ten banned book titles or top ten banned book classics (for sale), thereby making this week sometimes feel more promotional than purposeful. And while this celebration can prove useful in raising awareness or discussing ignorance, it's easy to forget these top ten lists come from a pool of more than 300 titles targeted for much bigger, broader and diverse reasons than we like to think.

This is one of the reasons I appreciated the article penned by Donald Parker that addressed some of the myths and realities of censorship. He cut to the heart of a bigger matter, reminding readers that not all banned books are challenged by conservatives, nor are they confined to school libraries and classrooms, nor are they classified as young adult fiction in an increasingly less tolerant world.

The truth is that censorship is a national problem without any real geographical, demographical, or socio-polictial preferences. People who seek to ban books are young and old, rich and poor, left and right, and live from one coast to the other. When you take a closer look at them, it's exactly as Ray Bradbury once called it in Fahrenheit 451 — whereby "minorities, each ripping a page or paragraph from a book, until one say the books were empty and the minds were shut and the libraries closed."

Eight Articles That Cut Past The Top Ten Lists And Aim At The Elephant.

1. Too Graphic? 2014 Banned Books Week Celebrates Challenged Comics by Lynn Neary. Neary catches up with Jeff Smith, author and illustrator of the popular series Bone, who was shocked to find out his series was named one of the top ten most frequently challenged books in America. Censors typically cite violence, racism, and a political viewpoint.

2. Costco Denies Political Motive For Pulling D'Souza's Book by Jerome R. Corsi. Corsi recaps the recent attempt by Costco to pull a book critical about Barack Obama from its stores. The big box store claimed the decision was made because of poor sales despite showing up on the New York Times bestseller list. Costco is a supporter of Obama and the Priorities USA super PAC.

3. Riverside: "Fault In Our Stars" Banned From Middle Schools by Suzanne Hurt. Hurt covers the best intentions of parent Karen Krueger to remove the book or only make it available for checkout with parental consent in a middle school library because it includes references to two teens having sex. When several members of the school committee agreed that the teen love story was inappropriate for that age group, it pulled the book and would not allow other schools to purchase it.

4. Confronting My Temptation To Ban Books by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush. Raushenbush raises an interesting point in asking people to skip past the top ten mot banned books in America, which he says pose no discernible threat, and challenge any anti-ban convictions by stocking library shelves with "recruitment propaganda from ISIS, or books and essays that perpetuate systemic racism, or sexist literature that denigrates women..."

5. America's First Banned Book And The Battle For The Soul Of The Country by Jim Miller. Miller takes a fresh look at banned book week not by being current but by looking backward. His article touches on the sensitive content of the New English Canaan by Thomas Morton, published in 1637. The book itself was put in the midst of two colonies clashing over ideas — specifically between Puritans and those "other" untamed colonists.

6. School Accused Of 'Purging' Christian Books by Todd Starnes. Starnes runs down the true account of a public charter school in Temecula, California, that stripped its libraries of any book with a Christian theme or by a Christian author. This included The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, which is a survivor story about a Christian family that helped Jews escape the Holocaust.

7. How Does Banning A Book Work? by Cristen Conger. Conger takes deep dive into the process of banning a book, including the legal precedence that dates back to the furthest reaches of literary history, which includes the work of Socrates in 399 B.C. Today, despite the U.S. Supreme Court already ruling that a book or periodical must be "pervasively vulgar" to constitute adequate ground for banning, people continue to challenge books for one reason or another.

8. America's Most Surprising Banned Books by Theunis Bates and Lauren Hansen. Bates and Hansen put together a list last year unlike most of the lists you will see this week. They told the story of thirteen titles and why someone sought to ban them. One of the more dubious mentions includes Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See because someone mistook author Bill Martin Jr. for an obscure Marxist theorist who had the same name.

Why The Elephant Is Gray And Books Will Continued To Challenged. 

It's mostly easy for readers and authors and libraries and booksellers to point at the most commonly challenged books in America last year and laugh at the reasons. But when you look beyond the list and consider the bigger picture, you can pinpoint a portrait of what Americans are wrestling with today. Look even deeper and find bigger questions being asked every time books are challenged.

Should books with religious viewpoints be allowed in schools (and is it a religious viewpoint not to have them)? Do parents have the right of oversight by minimizing the accessibility of some books? Is there an appropriate age limit for certain content (and if so, then who decides)? Are depictions of racism part of the problem or part of the solution?

Does expressing sexuality breed tolerance or temptation? Should booksellers be forced to sell all books or only those they agree with and support? Are history books beginning to exploit the power of complaint and using emotional bribery to invent ever increasing levels of social guilt? And what about those other books — the ones specifically written to incite, recruit, or defame?

These questions aren't always as easy for everyone as people tend to rally to protect their own beliefs and convictions but generally struggle to protect those they consider in opposition to their own. How about you? Is there a line you won't cross in defense against censorship? Maybe there are many lines.

Wednesday, September 17

Does Your Content Marketing Consider Customer Complexity?

As much as marketers are working to understand their customers as data points, many of them still need to understand their customers as real people. That is the fundamental challenge with big data — retaining the ability to see the unique individual within the throng of the crowd that it tends to track.

When you separate out one individual from the crowd, even as a thought exercise, it's easier to ask relevant questions. Who is this person? What do they want or need to know? How will they make their decision? What content would they be most interested in receiving? How will they use it? 

With the exception of this space (which is driven by a different purpose), I ask myself these questions every day. And when the opportunity presents itself, I spend time with the people we want to reach. 

People are infinitely complex and you're fooling yourself to think otherwise. 

If I have learned anything in advertising and marketing over the last 25 years, it's that consumer profiling just isn't good enough. While it can be helpful in capturing a snapshot of behavior and communicating it to other marketers or executives, it tends to dismiss the complexity of people.

Understanding people with any sense of depth requires a culmination of layered analysis that considers a dozen different aspects at once. For the purposes of illustration, pretend there are three.

Personality (Core). When you work with so many diverse marketers, you become familiar with all sorts of profiling tools that are designed to better understand people. One of the most useful was considering the four personality types (or nine if you prefer) that identify common foundations people operate from. 

For content creators, knowing that controllers needs to know the bottom line, analyzers want all the details, promoters are looking one step ahead, and supporters want to know how it benefits everyone else, can have a profound impact on content structure.

Learning (Input). As recently included in a guest post published by long-time friend and marketer Danny Brown, people consume information differently. In education, for example, learning styles include: visual (see), auditory (told), kinesthetic (touch), and language (read/write). 

Marketers who know it are much more likely to consider a multimedia approach to their digital marketing efforts. Multimodal communication tends to resonate better and benefit from longer recall.

Behavior (Output). While not everyone appreciates it today as they did when the content was fresh, Forrester Research did an excellent job in mapping out a Social Technographics model (or what many people have come know as the social media ladder). The ladder largely breaks down participants by the activities they are most likely to engage in online. 

These would include content creators, conversationalists, critics, jointers, spectators, and inactives (or passive consumers). How these different groups stack up in the data is interesting, but what is more interesting (from my perspective) is how these communication pools choose to consume, adapt, share, and build upon the content they are exposed to (if at all). 

Considering such dynamic individualities makes marketing invaluable. 

Creating content is one thing, but creating it (and embedding it within a content of diverse communication) so that it appeals to various personalities who consume information differently and respond to it differently is something else all together. If you want maximum attraction, retention, and action then the real challenge becomes one of content agility (covered in an upcoming post) delivered at the right time. 

Naturally, this isn't exclusive to online marketing and content. Real communication is much more immersive and seeks to reach people at the right time in the right environment. And considering how challenging that can be, it only makes sense to make sure the content sent makes sense for everyone.

How about you? Do you have any layers or filters that you have found useful over the years? If you do, I would love to know. The comments are yours.

Wednesday, September 10

Form Follows Function In Everything. Why Not Marketing?

by Louis Sullivan
You can see it anywhere. In microbiology, the genomic organization of cellular differentiation demonstrates it (Steven Kosak/Mark Groundine). In anatomy, bones grow and remodel in response to forces placed upon it (Julius Wolff). In modern architecture, functionalism means the elimination of ornament so the building plainly expresses its purpose (Louis Sullivan). Form follows function.

The underlying emanation behind this philosophy is straightforward, whether designed by nature of mankind. Wolff noted that when loading on bones decrease, they become weaker because they are less metabolically costly to maintain. And Sullivan, who adapted this construct for architecture, looked for efficiency in material, space planning, and ornamentation as a core component of smart architecture.

Form follows function out of an inherent desire for efficiency. 

But that doesn't mean we always get it. Applications, social networks, and websites are largely designed in reverse. Developers, programmers, and marketers construct a form and then ask participants to function within it. And while some have their reasons, few consider efficiency.

Ergo, Facebook didn't launch sponsored posts to help improve the efficiency of receiving status updates of friends and family or organizations, but rather to stimulate ad revenue by creating an artificial model of supply and demand. Twitter doesn't limit tweets to 140 characters as an optimal communication model, but because it believes constraint inspires creativity. Google doesn't organize search to deliver the best information, but rather the fastest information based on 200 unique signals that range from your region to the freshness of your content.

Marketing TodayMarketing has adopted a similar approach. Rather than providing the right content on one network, they explode the same content across every network. Rather than producing valued content, they produce large quantities of low quality content to create pitch sheets. Rather than developing proactive public outreach, more campaigns are built on distraction, disruption, and slacktivism.

As a result, the continued explosion of digital marketing has led to unmanageable change with more marketers leaning on automation as a means to increase their production efficiency with little regard to function — such as organizational purpose or public need. Yes, the budgets are bigger but marketers will eventually have to consider efficiency to maximize budgets and protect themselves from consumer aversion. As they do, most will find pre-social media strategies put function first.

What does function-first marketing and communication look like?

There will always be novel exceptions, but function-first marketing reconsiders the intent of the organization and interests of its audience. Much like Sullivan in architecture, function first means optimizing a balance between aesthetics, economics, experience, and usability. It breaks away from ornamentation design for the sake of cleverness and more toward prioritizing fewer but more cohesive messages where they will have the most impact as opposed to the most reach.

Aesthetics. Creating a memorable brand goes well beyond good design and a recognizable identity. Brand aesthetics bring organizational purpose into the design, creating a second layer of communication that reinforces the organization mission, vision, and values.

• Economics. While everyone loves a big budget, they tend to be the most prone to misallocation. For example, a marketing director can all too easily invest in increasing production content from inferior sources, thereby wasting money on the presumption that it's cheap. Fewer well-proposed pieces from quality sources are likely to have a greater impact and be perceived as more valuable over time.

• Experience. As content marketing is treated more and more like a marketable product in and of itself, organizations looking for maximum impact with minimal means will consider the customer experience at every point of contact. Ergo, link bait headlines would never lead to disappointment.

• Usability. The era of non-functional marketing is nearing its end. Just as social media initially begged organizations to create valuable content, the next generation of communication solutions will be baked into many products in an effort to assist consumers as opposed to distract them.

The real question that marketers ought to be asking themselves is what is the purpose of their organization and the intent of their communication (aside from sales generation). And if those two questions cannot be addressed without any semblance of efficiency for both the organization and the consumer (such as unwieldy sales funnels, capture and call telemarketing, database spam), then it might be time to re-evaluate the budget for something better. Why? Form follows function.

The more often organizations waste their communication efforts, the more likely those actions will eventually have an impact on the form of the company. Always make sure the marketing and communication reflect where the organization is going because form will eventually follow function, for better or worse.

What some additional insights into the future content. See my guest writer contribution to The Future of Content series from Danny Brown. We're right on the edge of something fantastic. And while we didn't see it with the launch of the new Apple Watch today, I fully expect we will in the near future.
 

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