April 18, 2014

Marketers Face Humanity’s Biggest Challenge

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The stakes may not be life and death, but the job of a marketer is to attempt to do something that has been central to the human drama since the dawn of history. It’s played on a stage as large as World War II and over a family dinner table as a son announces the plan to drop out of college to follow the Grateful Dead without a source of income. And we encounter it every day usually on a smaller emotional scale than these examples.

It’s the attempt to change someone’s mind.

Calendar Pages and Clock

We can trace advertise back to the Latin word adverto, which means to pilot a ship or to turn. In advertising this is the core challenge: to change the course of someone’s thinking.

As a content marketer it can be a sobering question: is your messaging really designed around a plan based on an understanding of human behavior as it relates to winning minds, or is it merely a marketing activity?

Advertising agencies and scholars have done volumes of research to understand just how people’s minds can be changed. One great example is the FCB Grid developed by Richard Vaughn, research director at the agency Foote, Cone & Belding (now known as FCB). It’s based on a consumer’s emotional and rational states and just one of many approaches to the issue. I bring it up merely to point out that numerous serious investigations into behavior and decision-making go back many decades. If you’re a content marketer it wouldn’t hurt to become a mini-expert in the science of how people respond to messages.

Unfortunately, most of the online messages we receive throughout our day are designed and executed as if the problem confronting marketers is an accounting one: the greater the number of messages delivered means more minds are changed. Check, done.

You don’t need a pile of research to know that telling someone to buy a product, adopt a belief or divulge personal information is not an act of persuasion. You can’t just tell someone a marketing message and, voilà, they change. That’s not how it works.

Only after many repetitions of consuming your valuable content will the audience trust it. Notice I wrote valuable? That means real content that a person feels truly added to their understanding of something or entertained them.

Time is On Your Side

Content that affects how people think rests on one critical strategic element: time. I’m not referring to the time it takes to produce video or audio, or the calendar spacing between posts. I’m talking about factoring in the passage of time as a purposeful tool of persuasion. If you don’t include the element of time in your content marketing toolbox, you might as well consider the challenge of winning someone to your point of view nearly impossible. If you’re starting up an audio or video podcast for your company you need to give it at least two years.

The optimum content marketing plan is made in the mold of a media company. It uses an audience-centric approach, defining valuable content as whatever the audience defines as valuable. And the content does not advocate for the maker of the content but rather for the audience. Marketing messages appear outside of the content, never in the content. The goal is to build an audience — a group of recurring readers, listeners or viewers. The strategic piece that makes this happen is time.

One proviso: if your company defines valuable content as content it likes, and if the message in the content advocates for the company, then time won’t help any. The production may look like an interview show or brand journalism but the potential audience will sniff out that it’s an infomercial a mile away. It might be better to simply pay to put your messages in front of someone else’s audience. Let CNBC, Sunset Magazine or whoever has the audience you need to reach deal with making content. Buying an ad might be more expensive upfront, but the ROI will beat out infomercials easily.

But, back to the optimum content marketing plan: it takes advantage of the Internet’s capacity to scale a company’s media output, over time, without spending millions of dollars. This wasn’t and isn’t possible in broadcast media or in print. Suddenly, a company can create an online show about issues in its industry. The costs for a year are less than an ad on network television. And the audience belongs to the company creating the media.

Does this mean companies can be real media companies, creating real publications and shows?


Jason Lopez


April 11, 2014

Facebook’s Charge for Page Boost is a Content Marketing Opportunity

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If you administer a page for a business on Facebook you know the platform is making it harder to reach people who have liked your page. Facebook wants you to pay to boost your reach as well as to freely engage with followers. And in fact, as Social@Ogilvy’s research indicates, you’ll eventually have to pay to reach just one person.

But there’s no need to worry about strategy in a system that charges for advertising. The world of business messaging before the Internet — advertising on radio, television, print, and billboards — offered zero organic reach and it was expensive. Companies had to make every second and every word count. And ads weren’t only costly to publish or air, they took a small fortune to make.

But the Internet is a much larger place with low barriers to entry and plenty of competition. Unlike broadcasting outlets, limited to a fixed number of over-the-air frequencies per market or bundled by cable and satellite operators, web media is less prone to the effects of artificial scarcity. Facebook knows it can’t raise prices willy nilly because supply can easily be created elsewhere. Still, marketing on the web will eventually cost something on social media platforms, but in terms of cost per thousand remains cheaper than using traditional media.

Therein lies the opportunity for marketers. I believe free marketing is actually a negative for campaigns. Just as the effectiveness of direct email is watered down by the large quantity of spam that users have to contend with, low and no budget campaigns are faced with launching messages into a sea of noise.

The dwindling organic reach on Facebook isn’t the end of the world but an open door. Armed with the knowledge of how media companies really operate, you have a head start in understanding how to develop content marketing strategies.

Media Realities

[1] The media business is still the media business, even on the Internet. Facebook is a media company. It attracts an audience and then sells the audience’s attention to advertisers and marketers.

[2] The Internet media environment is subject to an essentially limitless supply of communication and social media platforms and channels, which keeps advertising and marketing prices lower than in traditional media. This may change with new net neutrality rules, but for now this is what is.

[3] The bad news: there is no free lunch in reaching an audience. It’s been free in the beginning. Players like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, et. al., are only just figuring out how to monetize the audiences they attract.

[4] The good news: ad and marketing costs are a barrier to the vast majority of content-centric noisemakers. Plus, you don’t want to make cheap media in a strategy that if it doesn’t work there was nothing to lose.

[5] Users create Facebook’s content. Every word you write on a status update is content. Every person who reads your status update is a Facebook audience member.

[6] Every person who consumes something on Facebook belongs to Facebook’s audience, just as every person who watches a Chevy commercial on NBC belongs to NBC’s audience. As an advertiser or marketer, you’re just renting.

[7] The web has not disrupted storytelling. It has disrupted marketing. In traditional marketing you pay someone (like NBC, The New Yorker, etc.) to attract people with content they desire and then place your message in front of them. On the Internet you the content marketer are on the hook for creating media that attracts an audience.

[8] You attract an audience with real content not with ads, i.e., people are not attracted to media that tries to persuade them to buy a product, adopt a belief or divulge personal information.

Get Ahead of Conventional Wisdom

The dismay over Facebook’s moves to tap more revenue from marketers and small companies comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the company is. But I think marketers can use the news of Facebook’s recent changes as a kind of trial balloon to improve their media intel.

“This is what happens when Facebook controls the signal and it defines you as noise,” goes the headline of one article about how Facebook mistreated businesses by changing its algorithm and charging for reach. And another online report defends Facebook page owners who, “worked hard to entice people to Like their Page.”

Eat24, an online food ordering business, wrote in a blog post gone viral, “You lied to us and said you were a social network, but you’re totally not a social network.” What kind of social network could they be referencing? Apparently, not one run as a business.
What eat 24 imagines
This, perhaps, is social media’s grand conceit. CEO titles like Head Mambo Teacher, Hustler, or Grand Poobah at some point in the future will elicit groans but for now they communicate, “we’re not about money, but being groovy and having fun.” It appears Eat24 buys into this image of a social network with the foosball table in the middle of the room and the company logo emblazoned on a surf board hanging from the ceiling. So, of course, what Facebook did was highly ungroovy and outrageous.

Facebook gave their value away to marketers in the beginning. It’s difficult to say it was by design. Mark Zuckerberg and his early team had only notions of how to make advertising work on the platform. But once you give something away unintentionally, it can be hard to take it back peacefully. The recipient is going to feel ripped off even though they paid little to nothing, with no formal agreement in place, to market on Facebook’s platform so that they could make money.

To you marketers, just know a significant number of people believe Facebook is somehow in the wrong. Even Valleywag, which loves to denigrate the tech crowd, fails to observe the bottom line and sides against the social network: “Facebook pulled the best practical joke of the internet age: the company convinced countless celebrities, bands, and “brands” that its service was the best way to reach people with eyeballs and money. Maybe it is! But now that companies have taken the bait, Facebook is holding the whole operation hostage.”


It’s your cue to move ahead with strategies that align with reality.

Jason Lopez


March 17, 2014

Content Marketing: What’s Wrong with Content-Centric Media Creation

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The most crucial content strategy decision a company will make is whether to be content-centric or audience-centric. It determines the size of your audience before you even open a mic or turn on a camera.

Most companies adopt a content-centric model, which is to produce videos, audio shows, or what have you, and then seek an audience for it. No company purposefully tries to leave audience on the table. But the fine point is when a company talks about what it wants to talk about, audience size is inherently limited, generally to people who already embrace the messages. When a company finds out what people want, and talks about that, then the ship can leave the harbor to cast its net for a bigger audience.

Choices - content vs audience centric

Three of the Biggest Reasons Companies Adopt a Content-Centric Media Strategy

Assuming an Audience Behaves the Way Customers Behave

Companies study customer demographics, wants and needs, and employ this data to communicate the features and benefits of a product. These marketing messages aid and influence a buyer to purchase. But it’s a critical mistake to assume those messages are audience magnets and then fashion those messages into media content.

Customer data serves as poor intelligence to understand how to attract viewers and listeners. The reasons a person decides to buy and why they are attracted to content are very different. Massive amounts of audience research, conducted since the 1960s, have shown that audiences are most highly motivated by stories and depictions of people; and far less by ideas and things.

Assuming There Is Nothing to Lose

The rise of the Internet has handed marketers a practically free way to launch messages to the world. So, many content marketing budgets are miniscule. Content marketing is supposed to be cheap. Why spend on audience research and strategy? You make the media and then post it to see if anyone bites. If it only gets 200 views there’s always the next one.

Unfortunately, this misses out on exploiting the time-value of media, which is significant. It’s like renting a home rather than owning. While the content-centric model is cheap, it results in a series of one-off posts and fails to leverage the value of video and audio content over time. With each new piece of media you’re basically starting over to attract an audience.

However, in an audience-centric model the individual pieces of content are like Lego blocks which make up a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The media company strategy is to build a whole offering for an audience.

Assuming an Innate Understanding of What Other People Like

It’s hard to recognize just how much distortion exists in our own tastes. It’s not a big deal in our personal lives, but in terms of business, no media company driving bottom line revenue can financially sustain the failure rate of content created on the basis of personal tastes and hunches. Successful media companies revere what audiences think.

When a company favors the likes and dislikes of its marketers and executives over the audience’s, it risks creating an organizational acceptance of a lack of audience building which comes with a content-centric approach. The culture insulates itself from a professional practice of self testing and scrutiny because the company likes the media it produces even if the audience doesn’t.

 A Company’s Media Is a Product Just Like the Other Products It Makes

To put it in a series of unemotional factual statements, a media presentation, regardless of what it’s about, is a product. That product is composed of scripts, stories, transitions, editing, narration, personalities, intros, outros, music, etc.  It will either be a good product or a bad product. The producers will either make that judgment based on their opinion, or on the opinion of the intended customers. If they consistently rely on their own opinion they will attract fewer customers. If they use their customers’ opinion they will get more customers.

Steve Jobs once replied to a contentious question during a stage presentation, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to try to sell it.”

Jason Lopez



February 20, 2014

Content Marketing: Instilling An Audience-Centric Culture

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Conte the movie

Creating media and posting it on the web is easy. Creating media to attract and hold someone’s attention is difficult.

It starts with knowing what people want. We know what people want, right? We know good content when we see it. If we like it then other people will, too.

Well, no.

Figure Out What Makes Them Dance

Leo Hindery, a legend in the TV business, once told me in an interview about the state of video on the web, “People think they are experts in what a good production is because they watch TV. They are experts. They’re experts in what they like. But they aren’t experts in what I like or you like or anyone else until they ask.”

Hollywood learned a long time ago there is an inherent disconnection between creators and audience – the gut instincts of movie executives and producers to predict box office success weren’t reliable enough. By the time The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind were made in the 1930s, movies were being tested in front of preview audiences. Today, testing and research has become a part of media culture in movie studios, broadcasting, cable, the music industry and even on Broadway.

For movie producers, radio and TV program directors, or music label marketers personal taste is essentially irrelevant. Songs, shows, movies, news programs and such are just product: like cheese, Frisbees or shoes. This is not to suggest media professionals don’t appreciate art. It’s show business. And whatever you are creating, whether it’s an avant-garde production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni or a one minute promo video for a mom & pops web page, if you are making media with the intention of attracting an audience you are in show biz, kid.

Time and again those who’ve learned how to make a living in media, preach being audience-centric (identify audience then make media). Guitarist and music business mentor Tom Hess implores new musicians to forget iconoclastic illusions. He writes that the first thing you need to do is “find and identify the people who you will give value to.” And in a book that explores more than the title suggests, How to DJ Right, Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster assert, “The whole point of DJing is that you interact with the people on the dance floor… your job is to get inside their heads and figure out what makes them dance.”

Dollarphotoclub_23600570 turntable

Can’t Afford Free Anymore

As journalist Tom Foremski observed every company is a media company. At first glance that obviously means any company creating media on the web, in order to be successful, must produce well made content.

Let me take you back where the sausage is made. The primary function of a media company is not to make content. Granted, media companies spend a significant portion of their resources on creation. They hire lots of creative people to produce text, images and sound. But regardless of these activities, without revenue the company would fail. A media company’s raison d’être is to sell an audience’s attention to advertisers or sell the content directly to an audience.

But let’s examine a non-media company like a maker of widgets. It wants to get its widget message out to as many people as possible. So, the company’s marketing department, armed with a shiny new website, makes content about widgets and then seeks people to read, watch or listen to it. This is a content-centric model: make media then find an audience.

There’s no need to sell advertising or charge a fee to the audience, because the company makes its money selling widgets. It finds out what the market needs and then manufactures widgets to fulfill that need. Why should it apply this business model to its media creation? The cost to make it is modest. With direct access to millions of people over the Internet and with a cheap microphone or camera the widget-maker can theoretically upload an unlimited amount of content.

Well, about eight years ago the mere process of making a video and uploading it was a great result in itself. It was free. However, through trial and error many marketers have realized they can’t afford free without an audience. Marketers are moving, some more quickly than others, toward being audience-centric. They eschew making media from their personal tastes or assumptions, but instead identify their target audience and “ask” the audience what it wants before ever turning on a microphone.

The web is full of content-centric media looking for an audience. Most of it is noise. But with a shift to an audience-centric model — i.e., treating content creation like a business — marketers can reach more people with media that’s actually valuable and builds brand awareness. In many organizations the shift from content-centric to audience-centric will require a cultural change, perhaps even a tectonic one.

Jason Lopez