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Archive: Dec 2015

  1. Wake up brands! Why content is everything

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    Content is definitely king – we all know this. Search depends on optimized content, social is fueled by shareable content, video with value wins the day. So here’s the problem: everybody keeps talking about the importance of content, but when it comes to actually creating and publishing great content, most brands still fall short.

    I think at its core, we all understand the importance of content in today’s digital consumer journey. We understand that in order to win in discovery, you need to have optimized content:

    • To win in search, you need content that matches the right query.
    • To win in social, you need to have emotionally stimulating and sharable content.
    • To actually close the sale, you need content that changes minds.

    So if we all agree that content is the key to success in digital, why are so many brands are having a such a hard time creating content that connects brands with consumers?

    On the flip side, we see publishers like eHow, WebMD, Buzzfeed, and so forth doing this extremely well. Content produced by eHow is optimized for discovery. WebMD’s content provides a lot of value to the consumer. BuzzFeed’s content is highly viral and engaging.

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    Research shows that this top-of-funnel content is capturing massive amounts of user volume and is driving extremely high engagement. This also demonstrates that you don’t always need high-end, super deluxe brand content; sometimes simple but well targeted, purpose-driven, creative content produces tremendous results.

    Brands – don’t hold back!

    One issue we come across more and more are the naysayers at the brand and agency who continually say that no content is good enough – make that, perfect enough. No piece of content is perfect in the eyes of every stakeholder. These naysayers are the ones who think the brand shouldn’t talk about a specific topic, or it’s not branded or relevant enough. Often, it is those naysayers who prevent brands from publishing what their consumers want to see and hear.

    Brands should focus on the areas and themes where they have the right to play rather than trying to satisfy all the internal stakeholders and their varying interests, peeves, and concerns. Don’t get me wrong – although no automotive brand should talk about costumes, haircare, or makeup, they should definitively join that conversation.

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    In the end, the only voice that matters is that of the consumer. So we need to stop slowing down the progress on content production and start creating it instead.

    Agencies – start collaborating

    Another challenge we often see causing this content shortage at brands is their complex agency relationships. The search agency wants search-optimized content, the social agency wants snackable, viral content, and the creative agency wants a beautiful story written in the brand’s language. On top of these sometimes competing interests is the fact that all of these agencies ask for channel-specific content. However, as we all know, there are no more channels – the days of linear programming are over.

    Today, the content must be able to live and thrive across all platforms. Only when the content is built with the consumers in mind first – and not the traffic source or agency priority – relevant content will be created, published, and spread to users who are hungry for it.

    To conclude

    It’s time we all wake up and start creating the content our consumers will relate to, share, and enjoy. Let’s stop worrying about who is driving traffic, over optimizing, or trying to please everyone in the room. Whether it’s video, social posts, website copy, articles, or email campaigns, great content fueled by consumer insights is where it all has to start.

  2. Thinking beyond the headset: 3 ways brands can utilize virtual reality

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    Last year when Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg bought Oculus Rift, many viewed virtual reality (VR) as a very cool yet niche technology that would ultimately be aimed at creating an immersive experience for video gamers.

    Fast forward a year and a few months, and a number of brands are utilizing VR to enhance their own interactions with consumers, creating deep illusional experiences that go beyond the world of video games.

    “When looking at the best examples of successful VR, it’s the ones that take the viewer to an extraordinary place or opportunity; somewhere where they feel privileged, exclusive and observational,” says Niklas Lindstrom, head of interactive production at Droga5.

    Here are some ways that you can make VR work for you:

    E-commerce

    Thanks to technology advances in computer graphics, 2D representations of products were no longer impressive. As a result, many brands in fashion, consumer packaged goods (CPG) and real estate, began experimenting with VR.

    In June of this year, SapientNitro brought a New York City store to the heart of Cannes in a VR experience dubbed “Apartment by the Line”. By putting on a Samsung Gear headset, users were able to walk around the Soho-based apartment and tap items to add them to their shopping cart.

    “E-commerce tends to be flat across various categories as it’s all about conversion. VR is a different and more vibrant way to engage with consumers without the hard sell,” says Gary Koepke, vice president and chief creative officer of SapientNitro North America.

    vr-real-estate

    Aside from retailers, real estate developers have been using VR to boost leasing and sales. For example, commercial real estate company Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) has been working with a variety of 3D mapping and spherical video technologies to offer vivid VR tour experiences, showcasing building interiors and exterior spaces.

    “VR has tremendous potential in the real estate industry, offering a way for our clients to view buildings as if they are right there, with a high degree of realism and flow. 3D content offers a unique way to explore an interior not only as it is today, but also what that space could become with a build-out,” says Tom Lombardo, chief operating officer (COO) and executive vice president of digital and mobility marketing at JLL.

    Sridhar Potineni, director of innovation at JLL, adds that technology advances in 3D mapping cameras and spherical video cameras or rigs are improving the quality of VR experiences and lowering production costs. And his team can produce 3D content in a more efficient way.

    “This technology is being met head-on by the next generation of VR headsets that bring these immersive experiences to life. There is less of a barrier to using these technologies together since the newer headsets are affordable and very powerful,” Potineni explains.

    Social

    On November 20, Facebook shipped its first consumer VR product that powers the Samsung Gear VR unit. Prior to this move, Facebook already developed a mobile app called Oculus Social Alpha that lets up to five users watch a Twitch or Vimeo stream in a virtual home theater setting.

    facebook-vr-post

    “Even though it is only avatars representing you and the other people, their heads match your own head movement in the space, and then you are able to talk to each other. The notion of someone turning around looking at you and speaking to you directly is pretty powerful,” says Droga5’s Lindstrom.

    Although the app is limited in features, it offers a glimpse of what VR social networking will look like: a user is connecting with someone he or she has not yet met in real life, and they can share an experience with them even though they are not there physically.

    “A practical example of [VR social networking] could be a marketer like Disney creating a unique experience for Star Wars fans. The fans can have a sit down talk with the Director J.J. Abrams in a small movie theatre setting where Abrams can show exclusive clips from the upcoming movie The Force Awakens. Fans can log-in from all over the world to ask questions and discuss the movie with him and the other fans,” Lindstrom explains.

    Storytelling

    Publishers and filmmakers have also been exploring the potential of VR and how it can be used for storytelling. The New York Times has developed its own VR app and collaborated with Google to ship Google CardBoard to all its print subscribers.

    In November, the Times, too, debuted its first VR film, “The Displaced,” telling the stories of three kids that are currently displaced from their homes by war and persecution.

    google-cardboard-flickr

    While the concept seems very cool, the reality of filming VR videos is somewhat more difficult because shooting for this medium requires different techniques, according to a video interview with Saschka Unseld, creative director of Oculus Story Studio.

    For example, the way empathy works and the way comedy works are very different in VR. When filmmakers are shooting for 2D, they usually use a close-up scene to show intimacy. But this approach doesn’t work for VR films because viewers are very close to their headset.

    “If we look at and see how many decades it took to master the craft of film storytelling and even something more recent as crafting great games, you understand that it takes time,” says Droga5’s Lindstrom.

    “We need to give VR some space for experimentation and failures along the way. There will be a lot of attempts to try proven techniques from other genres – some will work, and some some won’t. [Out of these experiments,] the manual of storytelling in VR will be evolved,” he adds.

    VR is not only revolutionizing the way people experience video games, but also changing the way people shop, network and receive information. For the time being, storytellers, marketers, advertisers and game developers have just scratched the surface of what VR can do. But as time passes by, they will be more adept in leveraging this medium.

  3. Harnessing the Force: marketing lessons from ‘Star Wars’

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    As a Star Wars fan, I’ve been diligently preparing for the latest film installment of the franchise, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, by catching up on the previous six movies. I’ve also already purchased my ticket for the film’s opening on December 18.

    But all of this has caused me to wonder, with around 600 movies released every year in Hollywood, why is there so much excitement around this one movie release?

    Great marketing definitely plays a part in this. That said, here are my thoughts on why Star Wars’ marketing strategy is so successful, and what we as marketers can take away from it.

    1. Making emotional connections

    Simply defined, the film’s plot can be summed up as the light side versus the dark side. The character development for protagonists – like Master Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi – and antagonists – like the Sith Lords and Darth Vader – culminates into a classic struggle between good and evil.

    This is perfectly encapsulated by this teaser trailer released for the movie last November. Since its release a little over a year ago, it has garnered more than 21 million views on YouTube.

    While one could say that this sort of conflict defines the core of any quality story, the innovative and creative unfolding of the Star Wars saga is what holds the attention of audiences. Though creatures of fantasy, fans can identify with characters because their emotional journeys align with fundamental humanistic truths everyone can relate to. The ability to evoke powerful emotions via dynamic storytelling has kept the franchise relevant for more than 30 years, with loyal fans spanning a diverse collection of demographics.

    star-wars-tears

    Likewise, for a brand to maintain relevance with consumers, it is important that they establish strong emotional connections with their target audience. Brands like Apple, Nike, Amazon, and BMW have spent years building this type of connection, which serves as a source of differential and long-term competitive advantage.

    Think Apple’s 1000 Songs in Your Pocket or Nike’s Just Do It campaigns – this messaging goes beyond the products themselves. Rather, they offer the emotional benefit of, in Apple’s case, being cool, or achieving athletic excellence with Nike. Thus, both brands have successfully held the attention of consumers for years, without having to stray far from core themes and messaging objectives.

    just-do-it-500

    2. Earning loyalty through continuity

    Repetition is important to learning – this was a message that we’ve heard often as children (especially before our exams). As brand managers, we love to create campaigns, however we forget that every time a new campaign hits the market, our target audience forgets the previous one.

    In the Star Wars series, the central cast of characters has remained consistent (R2-D2, Luke, Princess Leia, Darth Vader) and closely linked to each other throughout the series’ evolution. This continuity within the franchise has also lent to building a loyal fan following.

    A long time ago in a Halloween far, far away….

    A photo posted by Neil Patrick Harris (@nph) on

    A brand that has consistently demonstrated continuity is The Government Employees Insurance Company – also known as Geico. While the brand mascots may vary throughout the years (the cavemen, the English gecko, Maxwell the pig), every campaign has been anchored around the simple tagline, “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on car insurance,” making it immediately identifiable for consumers.

    geico-500

    3. Collaborating to create content

    Brands are often afraid of losing control of their brand messaging, but in today’s social media-driven world, control is an illusion. Instead of resisting control, brands should find a way to appropriately partner with consumers.

    For example, May 4 has been christened Star Wars Day, as the infamous line from the film, “May the Force be with you,” sounds similar to, “May the fourth be with you.”

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    Lucasfilm didn’t invent this idea, but it has since embraced it.

    In addition to setting up a dedicated May 4 page on the Star Wars website and tweeting and retweeting user-generated content (UGC) around the hashtags #May4 #StarWarsDay and #MayTheFourthBeWithYou, the marketing team at Lucasfilm employed social media correspondent Andi Gutierrez to blog about it.

    On May 8 of this year, Gutierrez recapped the best UGC content for the May 4 theme writing, “Star Wars Day wouldn’t exist [without] the creativity and passion of the fandom, so thank you all for making this the biggest yet! The Force will be with you, always.”

    Here is some of the UGC from this year’s Star Wars Day:

    4. Using brand partnerships

    Leading up to the release of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lucasfilm partnered with a number of brands for cross-promotion including Subway, Google, and All Nippon Airways.

    These sorts of partnerships have helped to create excitement and raise awareness about the franchise to a level that would be impossible for a single brand to create. It also serves as great promotion for the respective partners.

    For example, Google launched its #ChooseYourSide campaign, which encourages Gmail and Google+ sign-ups in conjunction with the latest Star Wars release. (Note: You cannot access it without a Gmail account.)

    starwars-google-500

    ANA has added a Star Wars Boeing to its fleet and is promoting it aggressively on social media.

    Although this is not for everyone, it is worth exploring win-win partnership opportunities with non-competing brands to amplify campaigns.

    Conclusion:

    The Star Wars brand can inspire marketers by exemplifying the value of marketing campaigns that effectively capitalize on human emotions, utilizes thematic continuity, encourages user participation, and explores out of the box partnerships.

    In the words of Master Yoda: “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”

  4. 5 strategies that guarantee digital marketing success

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    As we finish out 2015, it is a great time to take stock of both your ability as well as the abilities of those within the marketing department, specifically in regards to their skills, interests, and effectiveness.

    In marketing, nearly everything boils down to five places where you should excel:

    1. Planning initiatives
    2. Designing great campaigns
    3. Flawless execution
    4. Analyzing the results
    5. Deciding how to adjust and improve for the future

    Let’s look a little closer at each one of these important functions.

    1. Laying a firm foundation with solid planning initiatives

    We all know that great marketing doesn’t happen at the snap of your fingers. It takes time and insight to understand where you are and where you’d like to go. Planning is where you take stock of the current state of your customers, prospects, products, and more. You establish goals, milestones, and targets for everyone to rally around. In this phase, you should also determine how much budget and resources you want to assign to different projects and campaigns. To help you stay focused on the customer – instead of just on your products or services for sale – develop or review your buyer personas.

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    Remember, everything will cascade off of your plans, so make sure you have the correct assumptions and double check that you have been thoroughly using all of the market research at your disposal. Hopefully your targets are meaningful to everyone on the team and not arbitrary or completely out of reach before you even begin.

    2. Marrying creativity with digital marketing

    This is where you and your digital agency (if you have one) should get creative with all of the information from your planning stage. Today great campaigns are much more than just a simple drip nurture or series of e-blasts. If you are still relying solely on these types of tactics, then you really need to step up your sophistication.

    You need to design multichannel, customer journey-centric campaigns with interactive content, data collecting assessments, video, mobile apps, new website pages or microsites, location targeting, and SMS and mobile push should all become part of your campaign design arsenal. If you found in your planning phase that you lack key insight about your customers and/or prospects, incorporate simple questions into your campaign so you can build your database as you go. Make sure you preview your campaign plans with both the sales organization and your call center so that they can provide valuable input, acting as an additional team member.

    3. Flawless execution; all hands on deck

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    Once you are ready to launch your campaign, it is everybody’s responsibility to ensure you are executing as perfectly as you can. You need to send your outbound messages on schedule, make sure your website can handle the traffic, have call center reps trained on proper call handling, and have sales act as helpful facilitators.

    Keep in mind that executing flawlessly does not mean you should be so cautious that you take lots of extra time. I see too many marketers move at a snail’s pace because they are so terrified of making a mistake. Remember that “done” is better than “perfect” – you are better off getting out in the market to establish first preference over your competitors. If you do make mistakes, ensure that you can get the feedback and quickly work to correct any errors.

    4. Reviewing all aspects of campaigns and analyzing results

    Over the weeks, months, and even longer periods of time, you will need to assign the resources to analyze your results, so you can adjust and improve mid-campaign or for your next major effort. Of course, good old-fashioned reporting is a great start for everyone. But this is the time to kick things up a notch by doing more sophisticated analytics into the root causes of success or the lack thereof. Perhaps you even take a sample of customers and non-purchasers and interview them about their perceptions of your campaign.

    Finally you can explore newer tools such as predictive analytics to spot trends before they actually happen. Having a robust analytics capability will only make for stronger campaigns and an improved marketing department.

    5. Digging deeply for next time

    Toward the latter half of the campaign, begin to ask yourself, “If I had to do this whole project over again, what would I change?” Allowing everyone in the marketing department to periodically ask and answer that question is the key to continuous improvement.

    people-coffee-tea-meeting

    Hopefully you have a culture that allows everyone to have an open, honest, and constructive dialog about what you need for the next iterations. Make sure that all of the performance data is readily available to all for close inspection. Also, be sure that all voices are heard – not just the more vocal extroverts. Collect all ideas and encourage everyone to share.

    All too often, if things don’t go according to plan or don’t exceed the goals, everyone is quick to bury the evidence and move on to the next project. However, taking time at in this final stage should help you both build a better campaign next time and build a better marketing department. Is everyone in a role that they enjoy? Are they able to contribute to maximum effectiveness? By asking all of these questions and more, you should be well on your way to future success.

  5. Why creative technology engagements go wrong – and how to keep them on track

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    Ajit Umrani, president of Assembla.

    Websites, mobile apps, games, and video are an increasingly large part of digital agency engagements – and they bring a new level of complexity to client relationships. Creative agencies and development shops must professionally track not only creative assets and media, but also code and project tasks.

    There’s potential for four-way miscommunication: Creatives and production may not speak the same language, while the account executive has to keep the client in the loop and respond to continuous requests and feedback.

    Marketing agencies are adopting agile methodologies, and they are going through transformations that are similar to the ones software development went through over the last decade.

    Let’s look at the four major areas where engagements can go south and then examine how to head off trouble with an agile approach:

    1. Scope creep

    Website and app development projects for clients can expand beyond their original boundaries for a few reasons:

    1. Lack of definition: One of the biggest reasons is that the project has not been sufficiently defined at the start. Sometimes clients don’t know exactly what they want. In a typical engagement a lot of time is spent up front detailing requirements and feature requests, and this information is spread around email, spreadsheets, or within project-management solutions. So there is a chance that requests may not be captured or defined adequately.
    2. Collaboration: Another reason can be that decision-makers on the client side are not brought into the process and kept in the loop. They may only begin to give input after the project is well under way.
    3. Enthusiasm: Scope creep can also be due to sheer excitement on the client’s part; “Wouldn’t it be cool to add X, Y, and Z?”

    A good fix to scope creep

    To limit scope creep, provide everyone – account executives, project managers, the creative team, software developers, and the client team – with continual access to project assets and work requests. This ensures that the client and agency have a clear understanding of the original scope. It also makes it easy for the account executive to flag client requests that are beyond the original scope.

    The next generation solution: the agile approach

    The new agile approach to marketing came about because of a need to adapt as quickly as possible to changing market conditions and customer preferences. This shift makes it hard (and unnecessary) to agree to a well-defined scope up front, since clients can’t define the scope well at that point. In fact, the agile approach welcomes priority, and scope changes because it means that you are working on what’s most important at any point.

    assembla-client-messages

    In today’s web and app development projects, clients want the ability to endlessly shift priorities and assign new tasks. If agencies don’t have a good way of capturing and reacting to shifting client requirements, the client becomes dissatisfied.

    But for agencies that succeed in this new way of collaboration, the client-agency relationship goes from being based on a scope of work to being about capacity for ongoing work. To the client, this means that its service provider is always working on the most important task at any time. For the agency, this means a stable, long-term client engagement.

    In reality though, many agencies find it really hard to negotiate a variable scope engagement with a new client up front. Most clients still have to work within the confines of a budget and timeline. So the first engagement is typically a small, fixed-scope project.

    You never get a second chance…

    It is paramount for the agency to create a trusting relationship with the client in that first engagement. A standardized, transparent, and collaborative agile workflow process helps agencies move faster and improve their ability to deliver on time and on budget.

    The same process can then become the foundation of a longer-term relationship where agencies can work as an extension of the client’s team on a fixed-capacity engagement, helping their clients achieve their business objectives without a defined scope up front.

    A cloud-based collaboration tool like Assembla Portfolio helps agencies and software developers work with clients in this agile, transparent way, on both the fixed-scope and on the long-term, continuous engagements.

    2. Schedule slippage

    Late deliveries of milestone items make clients anxious and unhappy. Slippage can be caused by:

    • Requirements that were initially unclear or misinterpreted.
    • Incorrect allocation of resources.
    • Lack of change control.
    • Incorrect prioritization on the part of the development team.

    Another cause of client grief can be a lack of clarity on the schedule. The development team may think it’s right on track, while the client expected delivery last week. Clients may not have visibility into the status of their requests or understand how the development team has scheduled and prioritized tasks.

    And, of course, there are times when the development team just misses the deadline. This can be due to inadequate tools for tracking releases.

    The fix for schedule slippage

    Agencies subscribing to the agile approach follow a fixed release schedule, typically with weekly milestones or sprints. This delivery cadence provides them the ability to reassess priorities and track project status at the end of each milestone.

    assembla-milestones
    A well-defined delivery schedule ensures that the agency will deliver something on the due date. As agencies get better at capacity planning, they improve their ability to deliver the promised tasks on time. More importantly, since clients have the ability to reprioritize, agencies end up working on the most important tasks within the allotted time.

    To make this work, agencies need an agile project management tool like Assembla Portfolio that allows them to define, track, and deliver these milestones consistently. The tool also needs to provide the ability for clients to prioritize weekly tasks, make requests, and communicate continuously. A transparent workflow makes it easy for everyone to track progress in a variety of ways.

    3. Misdirected development or poor quality perception

    When software is not edited and deployed in a transparent way, it’s easy to lose track of versions, increasing the likelihood of mistakes. The development team may be stalled waiting for client feedback, or it may continue to move forward only to have to revise code when feedback finally arrives. Or, you can successfully release, but later find out that it wasn’t exactly what the client wanted.

    Getting clients to see the value in your work

    First, the development team needs an excellent versioning system, along with a system for revising and deploying code that supports an agile development process. Whether opting for Git, Subversion, or Perforce; whether working on fixed-scope projects, agile sprints, or continuous request streams; a home for all code, tasks, milestones, and client collaborations is a must.

    assembla-cumulative-flow

    There’s additional benefit in allowing the client to test alongside the development staff, approving features and changes or submitting issues and requests. Finally, completed features or tasks should be approved by the customer, so that the agency can get clarification or positive feedback before final release.

    4. Billing disputes

    Any and all of these trouble areas can result in billing headaches. The agency may not have been able to capture all its billable hours, or it may not be able to justify items it deems out-of-scope. Sometimes the task names used during the project simply don’t match billed line items and become hard to track.

    At best, the account executive must spend hours explaining the bill to the client and justifying the charges. Oftentimes, the agency ends up “eating” it because it does not have proper documentation to back up the billable hours claimed. At worst, the engagement ends in a dispute, with the client unwilling to pay and leaving the agency.

    Abolishing billing disputes forever

    Integrating time tracking and billing with the project management solution adds accuracy and clarity to the billing process. Line items maintain consistent naming from the initial request through the final bill. As clients approve each finished task, it can be automatically added to the invoice. Just the fact that clients have the access to all the work that the agency is doing at any time and can drill down on any task or line item to see all the details, gives them confidence that they are being treated fairly.

    The bottom line is about transparency

    The agile journey for agencies is about proving to the customer that you are delivering frequent releases or measurable marketing results, and each delivery contains things that the client thinks are important. This approach requires a new transparent collaboration workflow where clients and agencies are working together on the same platform.

    The agile methodology has the promise to help eliminate the idea of scope creep, remove pressure from meeting a fixed schedule, improve quality perception, and stop billing disputes.

    Gaining control and increasing the transparency of client engagements pays off. It contributes directly to the agency’s revenue. There’s bigger payoff from satisfied clients: new projects, continuing engagements, and referrals. That makes everyone happy.

    Ajit Umrani is the president of Assembla, creating homes for companies who develop and design for clients. He is committed to the agile methodologies that make these workflows easier and better. When he is not working, you can find Ajit traveling the world and playing badminton – sometimes concurrently.