Two very good articles on emerging SEO strategy recently ran on iMedia Connection by Nathan Joynt (@nathanjoynt). Check them out here and here. The bottom line is that context and content are the key to search and inbound success. Today, it is less about keyword density and other tricks and more about creating high quality content that can’t be found anywhere else. Cheap, shallow content full of repeating keywords will not get it done. While some of the details are a little technical, it’s important to understand how content strategy and the consumer decision process/journey effects search ranking.
A smart content strategy can take advantage of long tail search terms and semantic/natural language search. Creating useful content that builds trust and affinity by attracting your target customer is always the right strategy. And the content needs to be engaging enough that people want to share it with other like-minded customers.
Here is an excerpt from one of the articles and sums it up well.
“If you take a step back and look at the picture Google is painting here, one thing is clear: The value of an SEO strategy set on tactics involving direct manipulation of search results is becoming less effective. At the rate Google is churning out updates, a year from now these practices may be completely ineffective and obsolete. This is exactly what Google wants. They want inbound marketers and business owners to shift their primary focus away from Google and manipulative link and content schemes and concentrate this energy on each business' target market and to create the best products, services, and content possible.
These websites will eventually rise to the top of Google organic search results while poorer quality websites and brands will become less competitive. The primary reason is because people naturally will link to and share socially useful content and products they truly love. The average web user is not going to link to, buy from, and/or promote a brand they don't trust or don't use.
This shows Google's commitment to the semantic web and their desire to truly understand content and conversations in the same way people understand one another, communicate with one another, and share things online naturally.”
Companies are ramping up their thought leadership efforts to rise to the top of consumer awareness. Here are some of the most successful content marketing brands out there today.
As recently as five or six years ago, it was still common practice for companies -- especially those in the professional services sector -- to keep their expertise locked behind closed doors. And who could blame them? After all, knowledge is their bread and butter; it's not something they just put out into the world for prospects and -- gasp -- competition to read freely. Lately, however, companies have begun significantly ramping up their content marketing and thought leadership efforts.
While there are still companies that haven't adopted content marketing tactics, those that have are able to rise to the top of consumer and prospect awareness by using once-proprietary knowledge to establish themselves as thought leaders in their field. They don't give away the house, but they share enough valuable insights to pique audiences' interest and prove they're worth their salt. This really isn't much different than what car companies have been doing for decades: throwing customers the keys, letting them drive around the block to get a taste of what life would be like, and then swooping in for the sale.
Whether B2B or consumer, companies with expensive offerings or complex sales cycles are at a disadvantage if they're not giving prospects a test drive before asking them to commit. Content not only gives them a glimpse into how you would approach their problem, but it can also speed up the sales cycle and keep you top of mind, among other things.
It is commonly accepted that one of the major goals of content marketing can be to establish your company or brand as a "thought leader" in your chosen area of expertise. This helps establish the affinity, authenticity, and trust marketers desire for their brands' relationship with customers, but your audience won't react with your content if it isn't compelling. Content needs to be fluid and sharable across every conceivable platform and channel. And the conversation with customers should be interactive, acknowledging that they may become your best advocates, and a source of thought leadership in their own rite.
Here's a look at how five very different companies -- in both the B2B and B2C arenas -- are using content to appeal to customers and prospects.
Vanguard (financial services)
The financial services company created this blog so it could talk about what is happening in the industry, the economy, and to provide a platform to interact directly with investors. This is a well-designed and engaging showcase of its internal thought leaders. The articles are clearly labeled and segmented by customers' key areas of interest, i.e., "college," "taxes," "retirement," and so forth, which makes the content easily digestible for users.
Vanguard additionally solicits comments from clients and leverages those as user-generated content to add more content to the site and hear what is on the minds of customers. The content is smartly distributed via Twitter and other social networks to amplify the reach.
Whole Foods (grocery retail)
Whole Foods calls itself "America's healthiest grocery store" and has created an entire content platform to back up that claim. Whole Foods has established itself as more than a place to get food; it is officially an important part of customers' lifestyles and a part of their image. It has done this, in part, by introducing an entire educational platform where it offers custom content on topics such as sustainability, animal welfare, and GMOs in food. This positioning is in sync with its packaging (shopping bags, for example), in-store signage, and other communications. It also has a popular blog where the CEO contributes posts.
What is especially notable is its aggressive use of all social media platforms as an engagement and distribution tool for its content and its deep understanding of the visual web that permeates its digital assets via beautiful photography, graphics, and design.
Ford Social (automotive)
The automaker is already a leader in social media, and it aggregates its efforts across its many brands with a fun and interactive site. Recently, Ford has launched a comprehensive effort to get customers to think about it as more than just a carmaker. It produces thought leadership content around sustainability, safety, and innovation. Customers are also encouraged to interact by posting their own stories and ideas. To date, more than 1,000 people have submitted stories and it shows no signs of slowing down.
The example above is an excellent use of the power and emotional connection that can be delivered with storytelling by tapping into the way our brains are wired to learn and delivering a favorable impression of the brand through various mediums.
Cisco "The Internet of Everything" (tech)
The tech giant has created an effort around "The Internet of Everything" to "bring together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before." Cisco's "The Internet of Everything" is an impressive initiative to claim a thought leadership position for Cisco in the area of innovation and how the concept of interconnectivity drives economic growth and freedom. The campaign includes a CEO and leaders blog, videos, white papers, slide shares, interactive research, and a strong Twitter campaign with dedicated hashtags. "The Internet of Everything" is a great example of using the individual strength of each media channel to tell a cohesive and compelling story.
SAP The Business of Innovation (tech)
SAP is a business software powerhouse that wants to show how your business can leverage the latest innovative technologies to solve problems. The site is a prime outlet for SAP to associate itself with innovation and products that provide real business solutions. As with many of the examples noted above, the content provided by SAP is about leading and helping, not selling. SAP is thinking of its brand as a media outlet producing content that is relevant to its target audience in a way that is not yelling, "Buy this!" Rather, it establishes the company as a bright mind that can help your business solve problems. It also provides a great showcase for its internal leaders to positions themselves as experts in their field.
Many of these leaders are active on Twitter, where they engage customers and prospects in conversation about innovation and business solutions. Many thought leaders, such as Michael Brenner http://blogs.sap.com/innovation/author/michaelbrenner, use these platforms to brand themselves as thought leaders in the industry, which only furthers the goals of the company at large.
So what can we learn from all the companies doing content marketing and engagement right?
Lesson 1: Establish an engaging content hub and venue for your thought leaders to publish regular content while maintaining a tone and voice consistent with your brand personality and your customer's personas.
Lesson 2: Design matters for today's visual web interface. User experience is a critical component as is presenting content in many forms. The days of long blocks of text are over. Use pictures, video, infographics, and multiple entry points to make your content more shareable and interactive.
Lesson 3: Broadcast your content. It does you no good if no one reads it. Make aggressive use of relevant social networks to engage customers and leverage PR for earned media opportunities and paid media to drive prospects to your content hub.
Lesson 4: Leverage user-generated content. Consumers want to be part of the conversation and have their voices heard. Give them a forum to make comments or post their own stories. Engage on social media by following those who follow you on Twitter, respond to comments on Facebook, and share pins on Pinterest. Remember: Brands are shared online, so you much ensure you are part of the conversation.
Lesson 5: Build trust. According to the recently released "Trust in Advertising" study from Nielsen, branded content websites are the second most trusted source of information after recommendations from friends and family -- a 9 percent increase in a year and up from fourth place in 2007. Today's consumers trust quality original content from brands more than almost any source.
There are many different paths to being a thought leader for your industry and your customers. The time is right to make sure you have the right strategy for your brand before your competitors take the mantle as the go-to industry resource.
This article by King Fish CMO Gordon Plutsky originally appeared on iMedia Connection on Jan 9, 2014.
This morning, King Fish President Cam Brown was a guest on the FOX Boston local news to talk about Target’s recent troubles with the credit/debit card security breach and a small amount of gift cards that were not activated correctly. This type of issue can get out of hand quickly in the social era as customers have access to numerous channels to vent frustration or register support. Target did many things correctly from a communications standpoint and will likely survive the incident in the long term. Companies need to face that first onslaught of social media backlash with transparency and clear communications to help rebuild trust.
Offering a 10% discount and other positive gestures were well received by customers based on the social media listening analyses we conducted. Having nutrured strong loyalists over the years served Target well during this situation as they posted positive and supportive comments on Facebook and Twitter to counteract some of the anger from customers who had been effected.
Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston
Cam’s interview below
I spend a lot of time talking about storytelling and why it is a superior form of marketing to the traditional sales focused ads. You know the kind, ads from car companies and retailers telling you to buy often and buy now. Storytelling goes hand in hand with content marketing as an approach to change perception, build trust and drive customers to action. It does this by creating an emotional connection with the customer.
Storytelling works because it is how we are hard wired to learn – our earliest memories are of hearing stories, fables and myths from parents and teachers. Storytelling is effective because when we hear the story we instinctually put ourselves into the narrative. How we would react? How is this like my experiences? Is this something I aspire to?
All of these elements are present in this holiday ad from Apple. There has been some online debate over its effectiveness and the usual groans from Apple haters, no doubt tweeting it on their giant Samsung phone. My point is to illustrate the power of a narrative with a beginning, middle and twist at the end. The key to the impact of this story is that everyone can see themselves in the ad from their point of view – the grandmother, the parents, the older sister and of course the seemingly sullen teen. If smartphones and the web existed in 1980, I would have been that kid, my head down lost in my world. Of course he surprises us at the end, evoking emotion from everyone. The choice of music is perfect, as it stirs something in just about everyone. Another strength is that it is on brand for Apple. Their brand promise is about enhancing people’s lives through technology - mission accomplished.
Final ThinkTank post of 2013, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. See you in 2014.
This article by Gordon Plutsky orginally appeared on imediaconnection.com
Click here to read more marketing predictions for 2014
Marketing, by its very nature, is in a constant state of change. As much as we try to control the unknown and plan ahead, the fact is that marketing is inherently a reactive practice. Being in front of the right audiences on the right channels with the right message is completely dependent on the current trends in consumer behavior, technology and even cultural movements. These variables keep the job interesting to say the least, and while nothing is certain in this world, I want to discuss five major trends that marketers should keep their eyes on over the next year.
Content, content, content
Content marketing certainly isn't a new concept. By now most companies know they need to create content to engage customers and prospects. Now that everyone is executing on this tactic, the question for 2014 is how to do it effectively. Just writing up some keyword rich blog posts and articles don't cut it anymore. You have to say something meaningful and insightful to your customer while hopefully entertaining them at the same time.
Brands must have a unique and relevant message that is different than what everyone else is saying. Simply curating or repackaging from other competitors and media outlets is not enough. On top of being compelling your content needs to do two things. One, create an emotional connection with your brand, and two, drive customers to an action. This could manifest into something as small as a tweet or Facebook post and eventually lead directly to revenue. Content on your site or social channels that does not move people to action or create a bond is, at best, an inefficient use of valuable brand real estate. By understanding the motivations of your customers and utilizing storytelling techniques while getting away from the transactional relationship will help create that emotional bond.
We don't need the research to tell us that just about everyone from eight to eighty will soon have a smartphone and/or a tablet in their hands. The era for consuming content primarily on a desktop is quickly coming to a close. Half of all social interaction, email opens, and YouTube views now happen on a mobile platform. What this means for brands and marketers is that all of your communication -- email, web assets, and social content -- must be created with a mobile-first perspective.
Of course, websites are still very important as the main brand hub or as an e-commerce/conversion tool. But mobile is quickly becoming the first line of engagement at the big end of the sales funnel. Responsive design is no longer a luxury, but rather a basic requirement, and it's important to tailor each piece of content to the device or channel where it will most likely be viewed by the consumer. Mobile technology has already, and most likely will replace radios/stereos, TVs/movie theaters, GPS hardware/software, credit and debit cards, game consoles, newspapers, magazines, cameras, photo editing software, music creation equipment, watches, landline phones, calculators, cash registers and surely more that I'm forgetting. If your company hasn't realized the importance of this technology it's time to catch up.
Streaming, cord cutting and real time marketing
As traditional media -- CDs, newspapers, TV networks, magazines, etc. -- further declines, it's becoming clear that these tangible, analog manifestations of content are no longer needed in a world where everything is streaming and on demand. It is rewiring the way consumers think and process information. We are getting used to having everything customized and delivered instantly, when and where we want it. It's now all about us, the ubiquitous consumer WiFi and 4G communications has revolutionized content delivery and consumption. This new world has to be top of mind when planning customer communications.
Brands can also take advantage of real-time engagement platforms like never before -- especially with Twitter. Ironically, live tweeting has turned the once solitary act of watching television into a community-based and shared activity. Smart marketers will take advantage of customer's desires to be heard during shows they love. ABC's Shark Tank, for example, has become a hit in part due to the participatory nature of Twitter. Several brands have begun promoting tweets during the show, engaging and influencing the captive audience.
Data is everything
The other overused term from 2013 is big data, however, with the entire world of marketing and media during digital, it is a critical piece of the future of marketing and understanding consumer behavior. Your analytics teams should have a seat at the table for every decision and planning session your business has in 2014. The key is not merely measuring what happened, but trying to predict future outcomes. Anyone can look at a stack of sales reports and tell you what happened. The real talent understands why and how it will play out in the future. Your analytics has to go from passive to active.
The rise of the digital CMO
In our new tech-heavy industry having a digitally savvy CMO becomes the most important person in the executive suite after the CEO/COO. Everything that touches customers is now digitally enabled, from supply chain logistics to customer service. The first waves of CMOs were drawn from the ranks of people who came from the world of branding, advertising, or creative teams. Those skills still apply, but brands can't sell or spin digital success that is now determined by the end user. The CMO of the future has to be an expert in digital channels, customer service, marketing automation platforms, content marketing/storytelling, and analytics -- no one trick ponies. And, they have to really understand technology, from web development platforms to the cloud and even data management systems. It all falls under the purview of today's CMO.
There you have it, 2014 promises to be another exciting year for marketers with many possibilities and unknowns. And the most important thing to remember is it's all about the customer, they are in charge.
Part I: Predictions
Part II Larger trends for marketers
Everything is connected: 2014 will see a lot of buzz and progress in the connection of non-computer devices to the Internet. Sometimes called the Internet of Things
, driving this are improvements in underlying technologies (such as wireless networking, communications protocols, shrinking silicon chips, etc.) and falling costs, which allows more objects to become easily embedded with sensors, gaining the ability to communicate over the same IP as the internet. Apple’s iBeacon
and new products such as wearable tech (watches, glasses), appliances and cars will take advantage of these improvements. Addionally, there will be an uptick in mobile payments and m-commerce. Mobile is becoming the dominant platform for customer interaction and content consumption.
Native advertising is advertising posing as relevant content. The hottest trend in advertising
is really an old idea going back decades to the advertorial. Seeing it in a digital platform blurs the lines between ads and editorial even more than it did in days of magazine special sections. More brands will move traditional ad dollars to this tactic in a big way resulting in possible ad clutter. Just what they were trying to avoid in the first place.
We have just seen the beginning of provocative headlines promising a life changing emotional moment though a viral video that you just have to click on right now. The battle for clicks and referrals from social networks will rage through 2014. More here on how it works
The Twitter/TV connection will get stronger as broadcasters have found a way to make watching on their schedule relevant once again in the age of on-demand content. It works best when it happens organically among viewers allowing brands to message to them in context. It does not work well when forced or when TV hosts read selected tweets on live TV, which can be painful to watch. The mighty, yet humble #Hashtag will grow in cultural significance.
The buzz around content marketing will continue to grow as brands (big and small) build content engagement strategies. They will need to decide how they are going to the fill the tremendous need for brand content for their web sites and social channels. There will be vendors to fill the void offering inexpensive and automated content solutions. This may not be the best way to engage customers in meaningful conversation by adding insight and driving customers to action. The key to successful content marketing will be the ability to get customers to share it with friends and family. Brand content of low quality or duplicative with other ubiquitous web content will fail. Changes in the way Google treats keywords puts even more demand on the need to have quality content.
Distribution strategies will become more important to content marketers. Creating content that no one sees is not helpful. Smart strategies to amplify owned media with paid, earned and share will be a major theme in 2014.
In the first ever cold weather Super Bowl, there will be plenty of empty seats in cold MetLife Stadium by the 4th quarter as either the Seattle Seahawks or SF 49ers will put a serious beat down on the AFC participant –likely the Broncos, Colts or Patriots. Several brands will try their hand at real time social media marketing during the Super Bowl and one will fail big and be mocked.
A big political year – the GOP will easily hold the House, but will only come close to taking the Senate, keeping control in Democratic hands. President Obama will stay below 50% approval all year as the conversation shifts to the 2016 election. The end of 2014 will see Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie seen as clear frontrunners. The Dow Jones Index will end 2014 above 18,000 and unemployment will only slightly scrape under 7% due to Boomers leaving the labor force.
The subscription/on demand model for media will grow even faster as Netflix, Pandora, Amazon and iTunes become the dominant sources for content when and how you want it. The long-term trend will continue away from network TV viewing, while cable subscriptions and music sales will continue to decline. PC sales downturns will accelerate in a tablet-first world. Mobile shakeout will begin, as there is not enough room for the Windows or BlackBerry platforms among developers and customers.
Facebook matures in two ways – young people continue to turn away to other alternatives and have no interest hanging out with their parents and grandparents. Facebook also goes “all in” with pay to play – don’t count on anyone seeing your brand’s content post if you don’t run an ad campaign. Free ride is over.
Part II tomorrow on big trends for marketers.
A new book, Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems, has been published with a variety of leading authors contributing chapters including King Fish’s CEO Cam Brown. Cam’s piece is about using the tried and true technique of storytelling and content marketing to drive sales for your brand.
Click here to read Cam's contribution.
Below is a description of the book. Click here to buy it on Amazon.
Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems examines a fundamental game changer for the entire marketing industry - the seismic shift from a single TV-centric path to a multichannel interactive ecosystem, which puts digital technology at the heart of every campaign. With separate chapters on the remaking of marketing, the rise of the digital brand, conversion optimization, m-commerce, searchability in a multichannel world and predictive marketing, this book shows how marketers and brand managers can react positively to changes in consumer behavior, building customer responses and loyalty via the full spectrum of digital media. This book features 32 contributors from leading marketing companies across the globe and published by Kogan Page.
More and more retailers are opening on Thanksgiving with some notable exceptions like Nordstrom and BJs. This has wide ranging implication for brands and their perceived image and relationship with customers. In the social era you share your brand with customers and people have become media; they can be your biggest advocates or detractors. On Nov. 26, King Fish CEO Cam Brown went on FOX 25 in Boston to discuss the implications for both retailers and consumers.
Boston News, Weather, Sports | FOX 25 | MyFoxBoston
A collection of articles from around the web to help content strategies and digital marketers
Be a Content Powerhouse: 4 Steps to Ensuring Content Is a Strategic Asset
With search holding steady as one of the largest traffic drivers, developing search engine-optimized content that will drive audience and social engagement is critical for success. But beyond keyword targeting and on-page optimization, a strong content strategy goes deep into understanding users, their brand maturity level, and devices, transforming content from a production task to a marketing differentiator.
19 Content Tools to Boost Your Search Performance
While this list is not comprehensive by any means, since there are literally hundreds of SEO-focused content tools, plug-ins, bookmarklets, software solutions, and services on the market, it is simply meant to serve as a starting point for your efforts to improve your content’s search potential.
Mobile Users Losing Patience With Un-Optimized Email
Get with the program, users are telling marketers and publishers. We are reading these emails on devices now -- or at least we are trying to. The price paid by the un-optimized provider may be higher than expected, while the benefit to the mobile-ready could come in surprising ways.
The most obvious trend in digital marketing, that the all-important email channel is migrating quickly to device, just keeps, well, trending. According to provider Email Outbound Networks and its annual survey of over 2,000 U.S. consumers, 43% now say they read their email most often on mobile device -- a number up 8% since last year.
How Brands Use Facebook Content: Hashtags, Content Types, and User Engagement
Key findings from a study, which examined how the Interbrand Top 100 Brands used Facebook from May 1 to June 30, 2013.
The Most (and Least) Effective Keywords in Email Subject Lines
Email subject line keyword performance broken out by B2B, B2C and commerce. For complete results and analysis check out the full study, The 2013 Adestra Subject Line Analysis Report, which was based on a review of over 2 billion global emails.
3 Ways to Boost Video Shares Online
It's one of the most important rules of digital marketing: content can't thrive online unless it's shared. Regardless of how excellent and culturally relevant your visual or informational content might be, it's dead in the water unless it manages to get some traction through social shares.
The good news is that consumers are predisposed to share. Better still - particularly in this age of Vine and Instagram Video - is the knowledge that they're particularly willing to share content that comes in video form.
Why video creators need to think mobile
As of late, the greatest untapped potential -- and greatest missed opportunities for creative -- in mobile. Consider how much time you spend on your mobile devices, whether tablet or smartphone. You're not the exception, but rather the new rule. Mobile use is exploding at 14 times the rate of desktop. More than half of U.S. consumers own a smartphone.
A major threshold has been reached in the evolution of U.S. media. Adults now spend more time with digital media than TV according to eMarketer’s latest estimate of media consumption. Stats and tables are here and here.
Not surprisingly, mobile devices – smartphones and tablets, drive this upsurge. The average time spent with digital has increased by two hours per day since 2010, while TV and Radio has remained flat to down. Print usage continues to decline to a combined 30 minutes per day. Overall, US adults are spending nearly 12 hours a day connected or consuming some sort of media, a good portion of waking hours. Keep in mind, there is overlap in the numbers. If someone spends an hour on Twitter during a one-hour TV show, it counts as two hours.
It stands to reason that younger American’s who have a completely different relationship with media and marketing than the Boomer generation is driving much of this change. The vast majority of them will never subscribe to a print newspaper or magazine. They are much more likely to stream their music and watch video on demand via digital channels.
Clearly, the implications for marketers are immense as they try to deal with a world where are consumers are in control. A recent WSJ article highlights how P&G, a classic and huge TV advertiser is quickly moving budget to digital away from TV. Once word gets out others will quickly follow suit.
The big advantage of digital marketing is obviously the specific targeting and the ability to measure a direct ROI. For a brand to be successful in digital platforms they need to engage customers and prospects in a conversation and excel in two-way communication. The move from TV to digital is not just one of a platform, but also a change in mode of communication. Older media – TV, Radio, Newspapers, and Magazines – are passive, lean back, one-way mediums.
One of the reasons consumers are moving to digital and mobile platforms is for the interactivity, engagement and conversation. Social media and video are driving mobile usage. People want to be able to do something and interact with their content, not just sit back and watch, listen and read. They clearly enjoy being part of the conversation; in fact people have become the media as sharing becomes a bigger part of the marketing mix.
This sea change is directly responsible for the rise and importance of content marketing and engagement marketing. The days of consumers as passive recipients of ad messages is ending. In a digital dominant world, if you don’t engage a prospect, you are out of the conversation. Next year Mad Men ends its run and so does television as the primary way Americans consume media.
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Content Marketing for Customer Engagement:
Four Steps to Success
King Fish Media has developed a unique framework designed to help marketers add more structure to their content marketing efforts. As marketers shift more of their budgets to content marketing, these four steps will help to ensure a better return on those investments.
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