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Crazy, Sexy, Cool: Attributes Of The Most Clickable Ads

How entertaining is your brand?

On the surface, this may seen like a simple question to answer. If you produce movies, energy drinks or running shoes, you probably have something that is highly entertaining. Most of us don’t work for brands like that. We sell valves, insurance policies, accounting services and the like. Not the kind of stuff that evokes deep emotions like laughter and tears. Still, we live in a day and age when most brands are forced to be out there. Not just with television commercials, flyers and ads on the radio, but actively engaged online. We need to get people to like our brand on Facebook, pin our images on Pinterest, subscribe to our YouTube channels, retweet our 140-characters of goodness on Twitter and more for attention. In fact, when it comes to the modern marketing mix, you will often find many companies struggle so desperately, that they are willing to buy media to promote their content posts or spend money on fan acquisition (there’s an oxymoron in there, if you think about it). There are countless strategies that marketing pundits will put forward in order to help brands understand where and how to create value in a world that has never been so cluttered with advertising.

Screaming louder than everyone else.

If you go back a mere fifteen years, marketing experienced a new dawn. Social media brought with it the ability for brands to have real interactions with real human beings. As powerful and profound as that was (and still is), the waters have become quite murky. The current arms race for likes, friends, followers, subscribers, retweets, pins and more has brought with it an over-simplification of what a brand should be pursuing. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like are no longer encouraging brands to figure out a way to create a depth of meaning and connection with their consumers. If you scratch slightly beneath the surface, everything that they offer is sold much in the same way that traditional media outlets have sold their traditional advertising. It has become just another type of marketplace, where the brand who screams the loudest gets the most attention. So, is the promise of social media dead? Do we really need to care about depth of interactions, building true relationships, nurturing people towards engagement, or are we looking for just another quick fix in a long history of advertising’s version of the one night stand?  

Tell me what you want… what you really, really want.

You would think that as your business adds digital marketing into a more prominent position within a marketing mix, that the true value will come from time spent digging deep into what adds value to the consumers life. How can your brand – in a world where anyone can publish anything in text, images, audio and video – create something so compelling that it becomes an integral part of a consumer’s digital experience. Well, it turns out that the pace with which consumers are ignoring advertising messages has not dissipated in a world where we have an incredible ability to target, customize, personalize and build a true relationship. According to a Research Brief news item published earlier this week titled, Four of Five American Consumers Ignore Online Ads Most Frequently, the digital world is having just as much trouble capturing a consumer’s attention. “82% of Americans ignore online ads, ahead of television ads at 37%. 92% of Americans ignore at least one type of ad seen every day across six different types of media,” according to the article about the first annual Goo Online Advertising Survey. “The online ads Americans are most likely to ignore included: online banner ads (73%), followed by social media ads (62%), and search engine ads (59%). The highest wage earners, those with a household income of $100k+ per year, were statistically more likely than those households making less than $50k per year (86% vs. 78%, respectively) to say they ignore online ads. Overall, the 65+ age group ignored the most, while the 35-44 age group ignored the least.”

Advertising revenue would beg to differ.

If that one study is reflective of the industry at large, the fire alarms should be clanging from Madison Avenue to Silicon Valley. We continue to see a sharp increase of ad spend shift from traditional channels to digital ones in hopes that customization, analytics and targeting will create a more effective form of advertising. So, what do consumers really want? The Goo Technologies went on to report that consumers would like advertising to:

  • Look more interesting.
  • Not feel like an ad (whatever that means).
  • Be funny.
  • Be entertaining.
  • Have stunning graphics.
  • Have a sexy man or woman in the ad (I can’t make this stuff up).
  • Be more interactive.

Nothing new in new media.

If you’re wondering why all of that technology, analytics, retargeting and more is not moving the needle in your advertising, or why that last YouTube video didn’t find the viral success that you were hoping for, it turns out that consumers – no matter how evolved they are in their technological prowess around media channels, content creation and devices – are overwhelmed. There is a sheer brunt force of advertising everywhere. They are either completely ignoring advertising or simply want it to give them a chuckle or raise an eyebrow and move on. As simple as that sounds, not many brands are in the business of entertainment, and that’s the true rub. Consumers are online, connected, creating, curating, sharing and more. As intellectual and powerful as that is, nothing will get them to act on your message unless you can really entertain them. Smart advertising is good entertainment. Surprise! Nothing much has really changed in the game of advertising no matter how sophisticated and evolved the platforms and opportunities have become.

So, how entertaining is your brand?

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for Inc. Magazine called Reboot: Marketing. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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(Almost) No One Is Seeing Your Content

Certainly, this is not the most optimistic headline you are going to read on January 1st, 2014.

We used to tell ourselves a very powerful narrative about how the cream always rises to the top, and the struggle that most brands face when it comes to content marketing and social media is that they struggle to find a true sense of human-ness in the content that they are creating. How many brands can produce stories that people would want to (no, have to!) share? We seem to believe that the brands that are finding any type of success with this stuff are going big (skydiving from outer space, delivering gifts via baggage claim to unsuspecting airline passengers, etc…) and delivering on the production of great stories (one after the other). That bubble was (somewhat) popped by the issue of content distribution strategies. No matter how great the content is, it needs a meaningful distribution strategy behind it to convert into something truly valuable (more on that here: The Failing State Of Content Marketing). So many brands actually have great content, but have a sub-par content distribution strategy where the vast majority of the work resides behind their own walled garden.

Now, even if you have a great story to tell, it could be that no one even knows that you exist. 

Do you find that hard to believe? Before moving forward, please read these two (short) articles:

  1. (Almost) No One Is Reading Your Tweets.
  2. While Everyone Else Whines, This Guy Makes His Whole Living Off Facebook Traffic.

We need Twitter and we need Facebook.

Twitter and Facebook (and there are many others) are no-longer “like to haves” for brands. If a brand is not present on these social media channels, there is a commonly held sentiment that they are simply uncaring or non-present in their consumers’ lives. While that is an arguable statement, it is undeniable that consumers now take to social media for resolution, information and more from brands. Some brands can harness these communications channels with ease and others grapple with it on a constant basis. Regardless, anybody in the marketing world would agree that these two channels alone reach a vast audience of customers and potential customers. So yes, they are important. Still, Twitter and Facebook are both faced with a similar business predicament that has yet to be resolved. On the one hand, they must protect the sanctity of their consumers by ensuring that their respective feeds don’t become overly polluted with marketing and advertising messages. On the other hand, they are a business and must generate significant revenue to please investors and the public.

This is where we wind up.

No, Twitter and Facebook don’t have the same business or consumer challenges, but these two instances point to one massive problem for brands: if these (and other) media channels continually tweak and throttle the content or misrepresent what gets seen by who, this instability will not play well with brands, media companies and advertising agencies. On the Facebook front, if brands have invested significant dollars to acquire and build relationships, but Facebook decides to pick and choose what gets shown to these individuals, marketers will have an issue. On the Twitter front, if almost all of the tweets are all but ignored, what is the exact business proposition to the brand?

Next steps.

If we wind up trying to “trick the system” by using off-channel techniques (like paying people to like and retweet or having some kind of agreement with a handful of other groups to always like or retweet their content in exchange for the same action), we’re missing the bigger point to everything. Social media enables brands to have real interactions with real human beings. I struggle to understand why the media, the advertisers and the media companies try to over-complicate this. Facebook would not have to throttle content if consumers weren’t complaining about the vast majority of it being sucky. It’s not Twitter’s fault that it became a massive (and noisy) place to post 140 characters. The issue here is not what Facebook or Twitter have become. The issue is that Facebook and Twitter (and others) have not bended to the way in which advertisers would prefer. If people using social media were getting tremendous value from all of this content marketing, we would not be faced with either of these issues. What we’re actually seeing is something that we’ve known about media for a very long time (but always want to forget): consumers aren’t consuming media for brands. They want moments of connectivity, delight and communication. Sure, that may include a brand at some point along the way, but it’s not their raison d’être.

Fair is fair.

If I were Facebook, I would open up the pipe. I would let users see and feel all of the content that everyone is posting and let them make their own choices about who they want to friend and like. If I were Twitter, I would do the same thing, but I would also allow consumers to time-shift the content. One of the biggest issues with Twitter is the real-time component of it. I may love following someone in the UK, but I’m usually asleep when they’re tweeting away. If I got their tweets adjusted to my own time zone, I may have a chance of getting more of these message through. Some of the brands having the most success on Twitter will schedule one tweet to repeat itself multiple times throughout the day to adjust, but that just seems like too much work and annoying for those who are actively paying attention. Consumers are smart. They will stay connected to those brands that are adding value. It’s pretty simple. The reason we have so much disconnect, trust issues and this ongoing throttling is that the companies like Twitter and Facebook don’t want to have people abandoning the channel because the content isn’t working for the users. We can wax poetic about this forever, but the facts remain the facts: brands are spending a ton of money, time and energy with social media and someone else is deciding what stuff gets seen by those who have already agreed to be connected.

If that doesn’t tell you something about the state of content marketing and social media, I don’t know what does.

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This Blog Is Dead

Let’s admit it. Blogging (as we knew it) is dead.

Is your blood boiling? Are you priming your fingers to lambast this thought in the comment section of this post? Go back in time. Not even all that ago and think about the early days of blogging. What we had was place for online journaling. Posts were seen in chronological order and could be commented on and shared. It was a technological and publishing breakthrough. Suddenly, the cost of publishing plummeted to zero and publishing to the world was almost as easy as it was to print up a document from your word processor. Suddenly, anyone with connectivity could have a thought and publish it in text for the world to see. It’s obvious why the popularity of blogs took hold. It’s equally obvious why the traditional mass media also took a liking to the platform. Newspapers could use blogging as a farm team for their printed publications. They could allow journalists not getting enough ink on paper to explore their ideas on a blog. They could test different types of stories and writers to see if there was a market for their writing, and more. For a person like me, publishing a regular blog enabled me to build an audience, to have a direct relationship with people who liked the same sorts of things that were turning my crank. If an editor didn’t like a story pitch, I could just copy and paste that same text into WordPress, hit “publish” and see if the story had legs. Blogging provided me with a powerful platform that has created awareness for Twist Image, got me on the radar of speaking bureaus, major publishers, a literary agent, book publisher and so much more.

What happened?

Yesterday, Nieman Journalism Lab published an article titled, The blog is dead, long live the blog, by Jason Kottke (who publishes one of the longest continuously running blogs on the Web). Let’s forgo the irony that this piece was published on a blog and read this: “Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids. Instead of launching blogs, companies are building mobile apps, Newsstand magazines on iOS, and things like The Verge. The Verge or Gawker or Talking Points Memo or BuzzFeed or The Huffington Post are no more blogs than The New York Times or Fox News, and they are increasingly not referring to themselves as such.”

The comfort of publishing and sharing.

Blogs aren’t dead, there are just many more ways to take an idea, to publish it and to share it. Blogs were as popular as they were over the past fifteen years not because everybody wanted to write and publish, but because that’s primarily the only way they could share things. Once better, faster and more technologically advance ways came about, consumers navigated to whatever areas were easiest or more congruous to their styles and preferences. The death of blogging is – as they say – greatly exaggerated. With more choices (shall I publish text? Images? Audio? Video?), places to publish (Pinterest? Tumblr? Snapchat? Facebook? YouTube?) and styles (short-like Twitter? Middle of the road for Medium? Long-like a piece for HuffPo? ), we simply have people who are finally able to match their publishing capabilities with their actual areas of interest. This doesn’t mean that blogs are dying, it simply means that people who like more personal/in-depth pieces would trend to a blog while others might like the rapid and real-time fire of Twitter.

It’s less about blogging.

What we’re seeing is an evolution of something I called, Instant Personal Publishing (almost a decade ago). Blogging is a legacy system within that framework. Instagram is as much of a blog post as this is. Consumers interest in sharing and creating content continues to evolve and grow. Blogging is starting to leave the “everyone” stream and finding it’s place in the “blogging” stream. It’s for those interested in more depth, more insight, with a personal slant/opinion, and a regular text-based publishing pace from those who have something to write. Writing isn’t easy. Blogging is a lot harder. Less people are starting blogs because not everyone is going to have the desire or aptitude to write. People are going to read less blogs, simply because they have more options. Bloggers have to do more within other social media and traditional media channels to get their voices heard. No, blogging isn’t dead. Blogging is just starting to find its more relevant audience with people who have a true passion for writing. That’s a good thing, but we can’t be fooled into thinking that blog-type writing will somehow become more popular than creating and sharing pictures and videos and tweets. When given the choice, humans tend to like the speed of looking and snacking.

That’s nothing new.

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A New Golden Age For Television

Brands are all hot over the Internet and digital marketing, but is television entering into a new golden age?

From a purely content and technology perspective, there is no doubt that television has evolved at a rapid pace in the past decade. Some migh…

Growth Hacker Marketing And The Rise Of Engineers In Marketing

If you’re a brand and you don’t believe in advertising, what do you do?

The default position is to use social media. Create real interactions with real human beings. To be useful. To create content that makes a brand more likeable. Let’s face it, there are so many brands on social media, that’s it somewhat hard and ambiguous to say which ones are truly being effective. There isn’t (nor should there be) a common or unified metric to define success in these channels, and most brands may be investing heavily (in terms of money) but haven’t done the long, hard work of defining what the end-game should be. In the Marketing Charts news item, Too Many Companies On Social Media? Almost Half Say Yes, they state: “Within the US, almost half – 47.1% – of respondents who had been active on any type of social media in the previous 6 months indicated some level of agreement,” that they had “negative attitudes to social media marketing.”

Do you know what that means?

Marketers are being annoying (once again). And yet, brands like Uber, AirBnB, Dropbox, Instagram and many more Silicon Valley startup darlings have built magnificent and defendable brands without any of the traditional advertising fare and relying only on word of mouth within the social media channels as a form of awareness and validation. It would lead some traditional marketing practitioners to wonder if these brands have uncovered the true secret to viral marketing, or if there is something much more substantive underneath the hood? There has been a lot of attention on the idea of Growth Hacking. Some call it Growth Hacker Marketing (and it’s the title of Ryan Holiday‘s latest business book, Growth Hacker Marketing, as well). These Growth Hackers are engineers, coders and entrepreneurs who don’t know (or follow) the traditional marketing path (because it’s not something they have studied or practiced). They don’t sit in the marketing department or have optics into the CMO’s office. Instead, these people spend their entire day testing acquisition strategies and leveraging technologies like split A/B testing, web analytics and social listening tools to get people to try, share and loyally use their products and services. There is the infamous story of how Hotmail gained fame and fortune with their free email service by dropping the line, “P.S.: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail,” into every note that went through their digital mail system.

Will data trump gut?

In a marketing world of real-time bidding, programmatic buying and more automation tools than you can shake a TV ad at, it would be clever to state that engineers and data are can easily overthrow an advertising system that is archaic, in a world where we understand human nature and what humans are doing online in ways most of us could never have imagined. Brands enter into the social media fray as a way to build community, conversation and connect with influencers with this military-like mentality that every media channels must be conquered and infiltrated with their marketing message or brand dilution will set in. In the same breath, it’s hard to argue that the 22-year-old engineers who are Growth Hacking aren’t the next generation of where the marketing industry is headed.

Pushing the envelope.

Technology has a way of turning professionals into quibbling toddlers. Human beings resist and fear change, and yet we push technology to unimaginable lengths. The truth is that there has never been a more profound time in the history of marketing to be a professional in this industry. In the next half-decade we are going to see a dazzling amount of new technology, channels, data and opportunities for brands to make themselves truly relevant to consumers. We have moved from advertising as an engine of attention, to content as an engine to engage, to context as an engine to personalize and optimize. With this, we’re already seeing a more sophisticated consumer that understands both their role as a consumer and what technology does to make them more connected, informed and empowered. Growth Hacker Marketing is a new name for an old marketing strategy: customer acquisition. The true innovation in this field comes from the low-cost, no-barrier-to-entry to try, iterate, optimize and maximize the outcome. That’s the scary part, if you’re an advertising agency that really just sells ads (even if they are digital ads). The ante has been upped for marketers. This is a good thing. A brand new opportunity.

The better question is this: will these Growth Hackers even have an interest in working for the advertising agencies?

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The Depressing State Of Social Media Marketing

How do you think brands are doing when it comes to social media marketing?

My friend, Chris Brogan (co-author with Julien Smith of Trust Agents and The Impact Equation), laments the state of social media marketing in one of his latest blog posts, The Bare Truth About Social Media Marketing. While Brogan paints the landscape with a wide brush and lacks any quantitative of qualitative data to back it up (beyond his own review of what some brands are doing in spaces like blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), it’s easy to understand and relate to his frustrations.

Social media is not living up to its promise.

You don’t have to go that far back in time. A little over ten years since the publishing of the momentous business book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, painted a picture of how brands could now conduct themselves. Everything was so bright and hopeful back then. Suddenly, all of this inter-connectivity and untethered consumers would lead us to a path where markets truly would become conversations and the promise of Don Peppers and Martha Rogersone to one marketing world would and could come true. In a way, social media has over-delivered on certain aspects of the equation. No one could have imagined just how transformative these technologies and innovations have become. Nobody could have imagined how willfully consumers would want to connect and publicly share so much personal and contextual information. Nobody could have imagined a world where each and every one of us would become our own media channels, publishing our thoughts in text, images, audio and video to the Web… and to the world in real time. Nobody could have imagined the volume of data sets and information that now paint a very different consumer profile, which transcends the world of demographics and psychographics. Just look at what is happening today on Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine and more. The opportunity for businesses to connect in a much deeper, richer and more profound way could not be easier. Brands truly can have real interactions between real human beings.

So, what is so wrong?

For my dollar, people like Brogan (and I count myself in the same camp as him) simply wants brands to become more personal and more personable. In short, brands have passed the social media marketing test because they are using it as an added way to communicate. I would argue that communications is not the point… creating true connections is the point. This is not a debate of semantics, but a much larger corporate conversation that brands are simply not eager to have. If you surveyed the vast majority of these brands, they will not understand the gripes of Brogan, Seth Godin, Gary Vaynerchuk, Nilofer Merchant, Avinash Kaushik, Joseph Jaffe or me. They will point to the amount of people who are following them on Twitter or how many likes they have on Facebook and push it further by showing the level of engagement they have with consumers in terms of speed-to-response or resolution in regards to a customer service issue as the barometer for success. They will demonstrate how often their messages are shared, liked, promoted and retweeted. They will highlight individual consumer feedback as a metaphor for the direct relationship that they now have with consumers, but they are still missing the point.

So, what could be so right?

Using social media to communicate a message is the obvious stuff. To this day, we have all-too-many brands who don’t even know how to nail down that very elementary component. What brands are missing, when it comes to social media is the true connection. The trust that is built out of real interactions between real human beings. And, quite frankly, they’re missing this point because social media marketing is simply seen as any other form of corporate marketing and communications. It may even be agency-led or outsourced to a company that specializes in community management. Brands aren’t internalizing the power of how to be social, so the act of social media is simply an extension of the communications and not a true connection between brand and consumer.

Getting social media right. 

It’s not easy. It’s not perfect. It’s not fast. It takes time. There is not one set way for all companies to engage and connect. Because of this, brands look at social media marketing much in the same way that they look at their campaigns or their quarterly goals. And, if we’re going to honest about this, that just won’t cut it. Social media is organizational and it’s not a vertical within the marketing or corporate communications department. Social media is the horizontal that runs across the organization, much in the same way that the culture, brand and human resources should. If we benchmark social media by campaigns and quarters, we are relegating it to a world where its efficacy won’t be about how to build a better brand through better connections, but rather a world where its only role is to augment and supplement the communications of a brand. That sounds like more noise to me.

That would be a shameful waste… wouldn’t it?

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The Truth About Advertising In 2013

Here’s a quote worthy of your attention:

"The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad." – Howard Gossage.

Let’s face it: we often make out marketing and advertising to be more …

Two Terms Marketers Need for Today’s Media Landscape

We thought that the Internet would bring with it a whole wave of new media disruption. We were unprepared for just how massive the disruption has been.

You needn’t look any farther than this one staggering statistic to understand the change that has b…

The Failure Of Social Media

Social Media doesn’t work for the vast majority of small businesses.

That was the main message in the USA Today article titled, Study: Social media a bust for small businesses, published on April 17th, 2013. From the news item: "About 61% of smal…

The Marketing Agency Of The Future

Is there a future for the advertising agency as we have known it to date?

In recent months, there has been a slew of articles about advertising agencies and their future/fate in a world that is so dramatically changing when it comes to the marketing o…

Three New(ish) Trends In Digital Media

Life after Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube? Can’t imagine it, can you?

There are a handful of new social media tools, channels and applications that could be giving way to newer ways in which consumers connect. Not just to one another, but to…

Maybe Nobody Knows Nothing

Consumers are fundamentally ahead of brands when it comes to technology and social media.

You may have heard this line before. I use this line in my presentations, in articles and in past blog posts. It is the battlecry by which us marketers hope to s…

Why Newspapers Let Sandy Blow Paywalls Down

With Hurricane Sandy happening, the Wall Street Journal and New York Times took down their paywalls.

Unbiased media is a public service. Still, it is one that we pay for. Whether it is a subscription to the local newspaper or access to cable on televi…

The New Electricity

You can’t click a trackpad without seeing some kind of chart that compares the growth of the Internet and mobile connectivity to traditional media channels.

As newspapers, television and radio lament plunging advertising dollars, and not a week goes …

You Can’t Pay Me To Do That

At what price integrity?

There was book on the future of advertising (or media… or something) that was being offered for free. I clicked the link, read the synopsis and thought to myself, "why not! I’ll download it, find some time and peruse th…

Facebook Should Not Be Treated like Other Media

What is Facebook?

It seems like an easy enough question to answer, doesn’t it? If you ask the co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer, Mark Zuckerberg, he’s likely to tell you that it’s a platform which hopes to connect the world in a much mo…

Leaving Facebook

Should you pull all of your advertising dollars out of Facebook?

On the eve of Facebook’s historical initial public offering, automotive manufacturer, GM, made a big public stink about pulling ten million dollars of media spend out of Facebook because…

Twitter Is Not Easier Than Blogging

Somebody had to say it.

There was another "Blogging is dead" news item that crept out of USA Today today titled, More companies quit blogging, go with Facebook instead. Here’s what the article is saying: "A survey released earlier this …

The New Media Diet

How much media can you switch through in an hour?

For years, new media speakers would tell the story of their sixteen year old niece, who plops herself down in front the television after school, grabs her iPad with her smartphone near-by and engages i…

Where The Boys (And Girls) Are

In schizophrenic times, there’s a good chance you’ll see some schizophrenic thinking.

It takes a couple of years as a Blogger to come to the realization that you will, eventually, write a Blog post that completely contradicts what you may have blogge…

Expect Big Changes At Facebook

Most companies change dramatically after their initial public offering.

There is a reason that Facebook is going public. And while many are speculating as to the reasons by digging through the company’s SEC filing, I think Facebook is going public bec…