Friday, December 14

Syndicating Content: Why TripAdvisor Doesn't Need Visitors

Bloggers have known it for some time, but it works for big business too. The goal of effective branding doesn't always begin and end with attracting visitors to an organizational site but creating content other people want.

For some time, TripAdvisor has been putting this idea into practice. The number of people who view TripAdvisor content on sites other than TripAdvisor has doubled since last year. Now, more than 300 million visitors per month see TripAdvisor content on sites like Best Western International and Thomas Cook instead. They aren't the only ones. More than 500 companies carry TripAdvisor content.

Site visits shouldn't trump sales. 

The program, which originally started as means for businesses (and TripAdvisor) to encourage more traveler reviews, has since grown into an array of services for travel brands to syndicate TripAdvisor content,  integrate site technologies, engage customers, and increase bookings.

"We recognize that a growing number of guests turn to social communities and online reviews for research before they book a hotel stay," said Dorothy Dowling, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Best Western. "Now our guests read TripAdvisor traveler reviews without leaving our site, which not only saves time but also helps each guest choose the right Best Western hotel for their needs."

There is another reason for companies to consider the option, according to TripAdvisor. According to the September 2012 PhoCusWright survey, 53 percent of travelers won't book a hotel if it doesn't have TripAdvisor reviews, which includes 75 million reviews and opinions. The volume of user-generated content attracts about 60 million unique visitors (75 million if all 19 media brands owned by the company are included).

In other words, TripAdvisor content offsite is read by five times as many people as it is onsite. And interestingly enough, TripAdvisor doesn't care. As many as 60,000 unique domains carry TripAdvisor content, shifting the company away from attracting site visitors and reaching out to them instead.

The concept brings new meaning to the old concept that winning companies look for innovations, ideas, and spaces where their competition isn't. In this case, it turns out that the places where TripAdvisor competition isn't is everywhere they could have been — on the places they review.

Wednesday, December 12

Marketing Challenge: Big Data Casts Big Shadows

A new study sponsored by EMC Corporation found that despite the unprecedented expansion of the digital universe due to the massive amounts of data being generated daily by people and machines (an average of 5,247 GB of data for every person on earth by 2020), only about 0.5 percent of the world's data is being analyzed.

This provides both opportunities and challenges as only about 3 percent of potentially useful data is even tagged. (Ironically, only about 20 percent of all data being generated is adequately protected.)

The two-fold challenge for marketers in the next decade. 

If marketing firms and IT departments capture, organize, and analyze too little data, they are more likely  to capture big shadows with distorted information. If marketing firms and IT departments capture too much data, most of them will succumb to information overload paralysis.

This is doubly true because the amount of information stored in the digital universe about individual users exceeds the amount of data that they themselves create. Every day, algorithms are generating data about everyone who is active on the Internet that is only as good as the proposed algorithm.

The effectiveness of these algorithms can be appreciated simply reviewing the advertising content being served up on various social networks and ad revenue websites. If the advertising doesn't match your needs or interests, it is very likely caused by an ineffective algorithm that is attached to your data (and then attracts more erroneous data). The potential for advertising dollar waste is tremendous.

Author Geoff Livingston scratched the surface in his recent article Does a Social Score Make a CMO? Forbes attempted to determine the top 20 Fortune CMOs baed on social scoring as opposed to outcome measurements tied to their work. Social scoring is largely useless data, casting shadows that may or may not be true especially because people who work for big brands tend to attract more followers regardless of their contributions or real influence (even within the field).

Ergo, in some cases, it is the brand and not the person attracting attention. Likewise, other people work hard to game the system, either trolling for follow-back propositions or purchasing followers to inflate perception. Big data doesn't know the difference, despite claims to the contrary.

These are only small examples of the bigger problem. The point is that as data seemingly becomes increasing accessible that doesn't mean that its value increases with the volume. Even if Western Europe is currently investing $2.49 (USD) per GB, the U.S. $1.77 per GB, China $1.31 per GB, and India $.87 per GB to manage the digital universe, there are no guarantees that big data can capture more than distorted reflections of the people marketing wants to persuade.

Big data can be useful, but only when it is continually vetted by traditional research. 

Even as data measurements improve for anyone hoping to track, research, and predict consumer sentiment, marketers ought not become lazy researchers relying on slivers of data or online surveys. If social networks are an opportunity for organizations to be more human, then big data collection ought to work toward understanding behavior as opposed to dehumanizing population groups.

Some marketers today might be surprised to find that their best efforts to automate and insert keywords (as an example) might produce a measured response in the short term but fail in vetting sessions that involve live customer interviews, face-to-face interactions, or even focus groups. While the challenges are not insurmountable and provide additional opportunities beyond the digital universe, it goes a long way in demonstrating the need to think beyond the obvious, especially when what is "obvious" only accounts for a fraction of a percent, less than traditional methods used to capture.

While the study raised many of the questions above, there is additional information that can be gleaned from it for marketers and IT professionals. For more highlights from the study, visit the EMC multimedia overview page. It presents eye-opening information about how much we don't know vs. what we think we know as well as an even analysis of challenges and opportunities for big data.

Monday, December 10

Ending The Daily: Don't Blame The Tablets

There is plenty of speculation as to why Rupert Murdoch's The Daily folded, but don't fooled by some of it. Any contention that the tablet is to blame is a mistake. The medium wasn't the problem. It was the message. It was the business model. It was misunderstanding what consumers want from digital news.

For every failed newspaper-turned-news tablet, there are dozens of successes. And none of these successes are crippled by issues experienced by the News Corp. experiment, despite Felix Salmon outlining all the tablet troubles some news outlets are experiencing with tablet delivery.

Here are few of them. But most are fixable.

The most prominent issues with tablet native news, according to Columbia Journalism Review. 

• News applications are clunky, with most requiring a long download for every issue.
• Navigation is difficult and unintuitive, with pages less than dynamic and without a search.
• Archival issues abound, with most tablet editions being limited to single issue reads and no history.

But anyone who understands the native apps and the web a little more than the bold digital experiment by Murdoch won't be fooled into thinking that the tablet is at fault. All you have to do is flip over to Flipboard to get an idea of what can be done without the deep pockets News Corp. once had.

• News applications need to drip stories in a steady stream, not make standalone issues.
• Navigation is easy when the content is arranged by topic, letting readers prioritize content.
• Every great native app can built with archival content in mind, including related links.

While I haven't had an opportunity to fully review the free application process for Liquid [Hip], an alternative reviews site, I do know the benefits outweighed any issues. Thanks to the innovative partnering opportunity and programing ability of UppSite, converting web-based content to a native app isn't perfect but closing in on perfect.

The biggest advantage is that stories are delivered as they are published, making it faster to retrieve reviews than a browser. And while navigation still needs to be improved by allowing publishers to set major categories and listing the rest of any index as alphabetical (suggestions made by our firm), the potential already exists. Once it is complete, including a search, archived content isn't an issue.

While some people might note that web content ported to a native app lacks some media-rich dynamics that publishers want to take advantage of, it seems to me that it still makes the best blueprint. Content delivered one story at a time is better than trying to build editions. Dynamic content, ranging from videos to interactive features, can still be built in easy enough. And, if publishers are paying attention, then they might appreciate another trapping that The Daily exhibited. Weak content.

It wasn't that the content was weak per se, but the depth of reporting didn't justify the price. Native apps (or web news sites) need to do a better job balancing short-content appeal while still delivering the depth of reporting that used to set magazines and newspapers apart from the spoonful-sized stories that electronic (television and radio) provided. How do you do it?

Building a better news experience for people with mobile phones and tablets.

It's relatively painless, really. All publishers need to do is write an executive brief-like lead story (around 350 words) that opens up three to 10 in-depth stories or point-of-view pieces or dynamics (graphs, videos, etc.) that paint a complete picture (along with archival capabilities). Doing so creates the reader choice that most people crave — which is why they search for more content after spending 15 minutes or so with a post online.

So no, it wasn't the tablet that doomed The Daily, which was filled with surface content that couldn't justify a high subscription price. Like most failed digital products, it was the development team behind it focusing too much on developing something for a medium as opposed to people who use that medium. If they had done that, then The Daily would have been the best practice and not the pitfall to avoid. But no matter. Sooner or later somebody else will spend their time in the right place and finally get it right.

Friday, December 7

Marketing Content: Small Business Tips

Pamela Muldoon at Next Stage Media has put together a decent list of four simple questions to ask for small businesses that want to explore content marketing. By using a jewelry store as an example, Muldoon was able to flesh up a content marketing primer that every business ought to think about.

The first four questions proposed by Next Stage Media.

1. What are the seasonal conversations and events for your business or industry? 

Muldoon suggests that first step of any content marketing begins with the easiest step first. Know when your customers think about your products. In this case, a jeweler ought to be planning for content on or around Christmas, New Year's and Valentine's Day.

Advice enhancement: While the advice is spot on, there are plenty of other prompts content marketers ought to consider. St. Patrick's Day, for example, screams emeralds. Many other gems have seasonal appeal too. And any jewelry can create dates by advocating community service and nonprofit connections.

2. What does your target audience need to know about your product(s) based on time of year?

It's ideal that Muldoon offers up some in-depth understanding about the customer's purchasing experience. In this example, she suggests knowing the purchasing cycle of the customer — knowing when they are about to propose and how far out they need to plan for the engagement ring.

Advice enhancement: This is all smart stuff. If you can raise the right questions and answers at the right time, people will be more likely to turn to you for advice. While that may seem hard to map out, many jewelers can look for proposal trends and then calculate how many months in advance people start thinking about it and shopping for rings.

3. What questions do the customers of your industry have that will improve their current situation?

One of the best prospects of social media is to move beyond the product. The point here is simple enough. For the most part, people can buy a 'diamond' anywhere. In order to be more successful, small businesses need to differentiate themselves in different ways. It could be the cuts, stones, designers, personal touch, customer service, or any number of differences.

Advice enhancement: Demonstrating a clear contrast between one business and another is critical regardless of the industry. This almost always goes beyond a unique selling proposition (USP) because most USPs are created based on what clients think is the best in their field as opposed to the differences that exist between them and another.

4. What else does your target audience spend money on throughout the year?

By far, this was one of my favorite bits of advice. Muldoon correctly establishes that people are 3-dimensional and cannot be afraid to provide content beyond their product offerings.

Advice enhancement: While Muldoon suggests offering a larger product portfolio to prospects, companies don't always have to move beyond their product or service offerings. Sometimes advice is enough, especially as it relates directly or indirectly back to the product. Ergo, depending on the jeweler, people (especially existing customers) might like to learn a few fashion tips or closely related topical advice, ranging from etiquette to experiences.

The best content marketing strategies consider marketing, public relations and editorial. 

While I'm not a fan of the pressures to increase the quantity of content marketing, I am very much in favor of improving content quality. All four questions are a solid first step for small businesses to appreciate that they might have something to contribute. Consider it a starter set because once a base is established there are dozens of unique aspects to every business, ranging from new products being introduced to caring for products long after the customer purchases them.

It's also a good idea to remember that text isn't the only form of content available. Video, images and interactive experiences can all play a role in developing context. And, above all, never forget to listen to walk-in customers, the questions they ask, and the stories about designers that they want to hear.

If you consider all the possibilities after launching base content, new paths will present themselves — areas that are underserved or co-op opportunities that never existed before. As they do, it will also become more clear that content marketing is shaping up to be one of the better integrated communication concepts that any company can effectively deploy next year as long as they think it through first.

Wednesday, December 5

Making Messages: Negative Means Negative Results

When you think of the most memorable anti-drug commercials of all times, the analogy that likened our brains to eggs usually comes out on top (or at least in the top five). It was straightforward and powerful.

This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.

Unfortunately, for as memorable as this classic campaign is, it doesn't do the job. According to researchers at Indiana University and Wayne University, negatively framed messages are not the most effective way to reach the people in need of persuasion.

The following advertisement or even the entire "just say no" campaign has very little impact on people who are substance-dependent. In fact, the study found that the substance-dependent group showed little brain activity in response to negatively framed messages.

In some cases, the negative messaging led to worse or riskier behaviors. It makes sense that they would. Most substance-dependent people have already accepted the risks. Intellect doesn't rule addiction.

The real takeaway here is how negative messaging doesn't work on intended audiences. As the researchers have shown using neuroimaging, the negatively charged messages didn't stimulate the brain in substance-dependent people.

One possible explanation might be that substance-dependent people have not only accepted the risks but also developed a resistance to risk-aversion based messages. (The phenomenon might even be likened to how stuntmen, soldiers and others can perform in life-threatening situations.)

Being clever isn't enough. Being positive might not be either.

In lieu of negative messages, one suggestion was to promote the benefits of staying clean as opposed to telling people what not to do or why something might be bad for them. While this might be on the right track, it still neglects the dynamic relationship between substance and abuse.

In order to work, the long-term benefits of staying clean would have to outweigh the perceived and immediate benefits of the drug (from the perspective of the substance-dependent people). Unfortunately, there is a point when substance-dependent people cannot comprehend the possibility. Many of them elevate the immediate rewards that the substance provides until it eclipses everything, including their lives.

From a broader advertising perspective, risk-aversion messaging and negative messaging rarely have as much impact on the intended audience as creatives think. Instead, such messages tend to bolster a deeper reaction in people who see such ads as a clever or emotional affirmation of their own beliefs. In this case, people who would never do drugs. So you have to ask yourself. What's the objective?

Monday, December 3

Thinking Social: How Automation Hurts Awareness

Although many social media practitioners are quick to equate exposure to awareness, they aren't the same. Quantity does not always replace quality. Too much exposure can diminish awareness.

This might explain why some social media practitioners who have tried to make social media more scalable with auto-sharing tools might be missing out in the long term. As they continually send out a steady stream from the same sources or send out similar broadcasts throughout the day, their followers slowly begin to tune out.

Although many of them will try to adjust by changing out their sources, the problem might not be the content. The problem is over exposure. Too much exposure can actually diminish awareness long term.

A psychology study that hints at the over-exposure phenomenon.

The over-exposure phenomenon isn't too far off from a new study being conducted at the University of California. It shows that people do not always recollect things they may have seen (or at least walked by) hundreds of times.

In the first experiment to consider the validity of the theory, researchers asked people where they could find the nearest fire extinguishers in their office. Despite walking by them every day, only 24 percent could recall where they were located (and not always the nearest ones).

Think about this for a minute. Fire extinguishers are designed to stand out. They are often painted bright red and set against neutral or beige backgrounds. They are also important. In the event of a fire, they could help prevent catastrophic damage and save people's lives. And yet, our brains tune them out.

Sometimes social media tries to hard to be a fire extinguisher. 

The brain does more than tune out fire extinguishers. When faced with over stimulation on networks like Twitter or even Facebook, it automatically tries to tune out everything irrelevant. The brain only wants to see relevant content.

One illusion that illustrates this exceptionally well is a red dot placed in a blue circle. As people try to focus on the red dot, the circle will eventually fade away and possibly disappear as the brain decides that the circle is as irrelevant as white noise. It doesn't even matter if there is more blue than red.

The same thing happens with sharing. People tend to scan streams for relevant content — things they want to find — and everything else eventually falls into the background (e.g., someone using hashtags for a Twitter chat, a steady stream of auto links, a restaurant reminding them it's lunch time).

Worse, over exposure can lead to negative impressions too. Bad commercials, overwritten billboards, political advertisements, and other aggressive marketing tactics are often cited as bothersome, eliciting as many negative impressions as positive impressions. And no, it doesn't matter if the message is important or, as in the case of fire extinguishers, painted bright red.

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