I meet with my local competitors as often as possible. Rochester is a small community and it's nice to get to know the people working in our industry. Recently, I met with two different competitors and was struck by the difference in each of their approach to online marketing.
I won't get into all the details here, but the point that struck me is this: One agency was throwing all its resources and energy behind social media. Everything in their view was about leveraging the communities of Twitter, FaceBook and the like. The other agency, although social media savvy, viewed social media as just one tool in the marketer's toolbox.
Anyone that follows me on Twitter (@mikegastin) or works with our firm knows that I align closely with the latter. Social media and SEO are tools. They're important and can be useful in a greater strategy, but at the end of the day, they can't carry your company's marketing needs on their own. In fact, I don't believe any one tactic is enough, traditional or digital.
How about you? Have you dumped collateral, direct mail and print ads all in favor of on line marketing? If so, do you have metrics to show how it's worked out? Or, have you decided to keep some of your traditional marketing efforts and mix them with on line marketing? I'd love to hear about your experiences, so please leave a comment!
Content strategy calls for regular content on your web site and that's great, but only if it's useful and relevant to your prospects
Maybe you’ve noticed a lot of talk lately about content strategy. If you’re a savvy marketer, the idea of driving traffic to your site by providing awesome content makes perfect sense. Ideally, you’re already developing a strategy to provide your target market with useful content.
I want to address one aspect of developing a great content strategy that often gets overlooked: relevance.
The potential to connect with our prospects via our web sites is exciting. We know that prospects are continually searching the internet for information. We also know that traditional media is delivering less and less of the return on our investment than it used to.
So, we create as much content as we can and publish it to our site.
But, for our content to truly be effective—meaning for it to draw in prospects—it has to be relevant and useful. Just putting content up on a regular basis is not going to drive sales unless that content is somehow worth something to your audience. It’s like a magazine for dog lovers. If the magazine is chock-full of articles about cats, well, there’s a good chance that its readership will drop off significantly.
I know that’s a bit extreme, but it’s not far from what a lot of companies are doing because they are publishing content, but its worth to their target market is dubious.
I’ve been following a publicly traded high-tech company with close to a billion dollar market cap as they foray into content strategy. They have a blog, video, news releases and regularly revised sales info. Not bad, right? I mean, they’re doing it by the book. But, almost all of their content is a sales pitch. Their blog posts can be distilled down to, “Hey! Look at our cool new thing we’re offering!” Their videos are product demonstrations. Their news is about what trade show they’re attending. Who cares, other than the company itself?
What they should be doing is first drop the sales pitch and start to provide information that impacts their prospects' lives. What problems can they help solve? What information can they share that will make their prospects' jobs easier or make them more successful? How can they make their company more accessible in ways that are useful to their prospects?
We, as marketers, want to publish information that we are excited about. “Look! A new product!” But, our prospects are trying to solve problems and their problems are not the same as our problems. Our prospects aren't worried about our lead-gen campaign or our sales quotas.
Start giving your prospects content that helps them with their problems and you won't have to worry about quotas. Instead you’ll have to figure out how to deal with your new sales volume, and who doesn’t love problems like that?
Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson reveals his journey to discovering why the iPad and tablet computers will be the future of his company
I attended a talk today given by Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired. He was part of RIT’s Future of Reading conference and honestly, his presentation made my registration fee well worth the spend.
Chris talked about how Wired has been dealing with the changing options for publishing—print, web and tablet—as well as their economic impact on his publication. We’re all hearing of the terrible bloodbath in print media but here’s the thing: Wired is doing better now than it ever has!
It's clear to me the secret of their success is that Chris and his team are not afraid to think.
I say that because Wired has figured-out what business they are in. They’re not married to any sort of format, delivery mechanism or content type. In fact, Anderson said he’s thinking of trimming some portions of wired.com because it just does not lend itself to their business. He knows that because he knows what business he’s in.
Wired asked itself two questions.
1. What is a magazine?
2. Do people still want magazines?
The first question gets at the essence of what they offer. Chris believes a magazine is the following:
A magazine is a periodical
It’s an event. It’s heavily produced and then revealed at a specific time and on a regular basis.
A magazine creates suspense
Since it’s a periodical, it creates a sense of secrecy and suspense until it is revealed. What will the next issue be about? It could be about anything, so we have to wait and see.
A magazine is a curated collection
It’s a collection of content with a theme. It’s controlled by the creators. You can’t break it into it’s smaller parts and have the same value because it's really a collection.
So, the second question then begged to be answered. Do people still want an immersive, curated, periodic event?
The answer, of course, is yes.
Listening to Chris, I realized he’s not going to let romance or history or legacy dictate what he can and can not do with Wired. He has to think honestly about what business he is in and how to keep that business healthy.
Chris and his team evaluated their options. They have a print asset already in place and it works quite nicely as an immersive, curated, periodic event. At a time when everyone is crying that print is dead, Anderson knows his print will thrive.
They’ve developed a web version of Wired, but it’s not successful as a magazine. It’s hard to deliver an immersive, curated event on the web because it's too immediate and too atomized. Users want to get in quick and get out even quicker, the average time on their site being something like three minutes!
That leaves the new tablet-based options. Well, for now the only option worth mentioning is the iPad. Of course, when other tablets roll out with color, sound and interactivity that will change.
Since Chris knows his business he had to only figure-out three things.
1. Will the tablet become ubiquitous?
2. Will people want to engage it in a way that's immersive?
3. Will tablets allow Wired to create sustainable economic relationships with its subscribers?
Wired decided that all three were true and that the tablet is the future of their company. That’s a big commitment, which tells you what they think of the future of the tablet.
Anderson showed a demo of what Wired looks like on the iPad and it’s ridiculous! Seriously, these guys have figured it out. Watch the clip in full screen mode to get the full effect and then tell me if you want to run out and buy an iPad. I know I did when I saw it.
Of course, Anderson has an award-winning publication at his back while he figures this stuff out. Being part of Conde Nast, having access to deep financial resources and an army or bright minds does not hurt either. But, look, that never guarantees success, does it?
We can all learn a lesson from Chris and Wired. What business are we in? Telephony? Design? Law? High tech manufacturing? Anderson figured out that he's not in the paper magazine business, but that he sells immersive, curated periodic events. That freed him to create and deliver an amazing new experience that's quickly becoming the key to his company's future.
Don't be afraid to think, to ask tough questions. Figure out what business you're in, distilling it to its essence. We all have to do this because knowing what business we're in is the only way to make smart, bold decisions in the new world.
The original post stated that Wired was considering cutting significant portions of it's online content. After communicating with Chris Anderson we realized that was incorrect. The post has been updated in the interest of accuracy. Chris' comments follow.
We did an audit of Wired Magazine content on wired.com (magazine content represents considerably less than 10% of the content on wired.com, and the site is run by a different team, not me). We found that about a quarter to a third of the those stories (but less than 10% of word count) were getting almost no traffic, mostly because they were shorter items designed for print with a heavy integration of words, pictures and design, and they didn't make much sense when stripped of the design. So we decided to make those stories print and tablet only for now. We'll put them back on the web when we have a way to do so with design intact, be that Adobe Air, HTML 5 or some other method.
So just to be clear, that's <10% of <10%, or less than 1% of the content on wired.com that we're temporarily making print and tablet only while we wait for a better web-friendly solution.
Web site projects can be large and complex, making it easy for a project to get sidetracked or to fall short of expectations. The following five tips will help you deliver an awesome site that’s an asset to your organization and maybe even make you a hero in the process.
Here are five tips for web site development success.
1. Let your company’s goals and objectives drive the project
The best place to start with any web project is at 30,000 feet: your company’s goals and objectives. These goals and objectives should be your yardstick when deciding what your site should and should not do.
Everyone has an opinion on what your new site should look like or how it should function and it’s easy to get caught in the trap of trying to keep them all happy. But you’re going to spend a lot of company resources to deliver a new web site. A project of that scope should align with company goals and objectives.
Be a zealot about building a site that helps the company accomplish its goals. If a feature, design or function can't align, it shouldn’t be done. This will help you stay focused and it will give you a sound argument when dealing with all those 'helpful' opinions.
2. Refuse to choose between functionality and design
In the early days of web development you had to choose between functionality and design. Either you got a web site that had a lot of technical functionality and allowed you to manage your own content or you got a site that was visually stunning and delivered your brand proposition beautifully. But you could not have both.
Those days are gone! Open source content management systems (CMS) make it easy to build sites that are customizable and functional. That means you can have a functional and flexible site that is custom designed to deliver your message and give your visitors a great user experience.
So, don’t buy it when a stakeholder or vendor wants to focus on just one or the other. You can have it both ways and you should. Help your stakeholders accept the need for both high functionality and great design. Insist your vendors are able to deliver on both. If they can’t or won’t, find new vendors.
3. Content may be king but are you ready to swear fealty?
Everyone agrees that web sites need new content on a regular basis. A static site doesn’t cut it anymore, especially if you want your site to be found on Google and support your marketing efforts. But, here’s the problem: who’s going to create all that new content on a regular basis? Creating content every day, every week or even every month is a big undertaking and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and give up.
How many sites have you visited where the last post in the news section was from six months ago? What did you think? I bet it wasn't good. You don’t want to be that company.
You can beat this trap by developing a content strategy. Before you launch your new site you should have a strategy in place for content. A good content strategy includes the following:
It should also include a one-year editorial calendar. This calendar could include articles, videos, interviews, podcasts and any other item that you want to publish over the next year. It should identify who’s responsible for what and it should include due dates!
4. Talk to imaginary friends
One way to ensure your content meets the requirements of your content strategy is to create customer personas. A customer persona is a little like an imaginary friend. A persona is an imaginary, but accurate representation of an ideal customer.
So, rather than being general and saying, we’re writing for the owners of sheep dogs in America, you would create an imaginary person to represent your market. We’re writing for Sue Jones, a 53-year-old attorney from Boston who took an early retirement to move to Vermont and raise sheep as a second career. She is married and loves animals. Since she worked in the corporate world she is technologically savvy, but loves being back to the land. Sue enjoys training her sheepdog to help with the sheep.
You can have a number of personas depending on your customer mix.
Personas make it really easy to identify great content because you can get in the mind of your audience and understand what they need and want and what you have to offer that can help.
5. Measure for success
Finally, design your site with measurement in mind. Remember the first point? Develop your site to deliver on your company’s objectives. If you’re trying to deliver on your company’s objectives, then your site should be measured as to how well it’s accomplishing that.
Measuring is important because it does two things. First, it helps you to refine the site over time, as you can interpret the data and make changes until it’s doing exactly what you want it to. Second, it allows you to promote the success of your efforts within your organization. Some of your coworkers may be skeptical or ignorant of what you do. Or, maybe your manager was not keen to spend money on a new site. With real data that shows how the site delivers on company objectives you can win them over and gain more support for what you do.
So, launch the site and celebrate—you got it done. And then, after you’ve put down your beer, start measuring!
There’s a lot of work involved in developing and launching a new web site and that means all kinds of things can go wrong. Follow the five tips I’ve just shared and you and your organization will be pleased with the results of your hard work.
Hey, open-source fans, Wikipedia has a new look and feel!
It's not a major departure from their original look, but it goes pretty far in improving usability for both readers and editors of the internet's most popular open-source encyclopedia. I like what I see, so far. It's clean and easy to navigate and it keeps the information front and center.
The improvements were developed over the course of a year and based on the work of 635,000 beta testers. Talk about design by committee! Funny, unlike most design projects that are run by committee, this one is successful. I guess the trick is to have hundreds of thousands of volunteers involved. Who knew?
We've used Media Temple's Grid Server (GS) product for years now to host our web site. They've been great. The cost has been reasonable and their customer service has been really good.
But, ever since we started using Drupal more we've noticed that their GS really struggles. I think it has to do with the MySQL database and the way it's stored remotely from the site, etc. Anyway, after doing some research for a better option we decided to stay with Media Temple, but to upgrade to their Dedicated Virtual (DV) server.
At 6 PM EST, Jon Daggar made the switch. It looks like everything went perfectly except for a minor email hic-up, which was my fault, and we lost one post: today's Monday Favorites. The email is sorted and we're working on getting that post back up. (It's up now!)
One thing I can say, the site works so much better on the DV! Drupal is running smoothly and loading much much quicker than it was before. Visitors should notice a big increase in speed and a decrease in load time. Thanks for hanging in there until we got this sorted out!
Welcome to Monday Favorites, a quasi-regular feature to help you make the transition from weekend to work, because nobody but the boss likes Monday.
Today's favorite: Books on Writing
If you're a marketer you are responsible for creating content. It's likely that you're creating web site copy, press releases, articles, case studies and white papers on a regular basis. But, take a quick survey of corporate writing and one sees a landscape littered with jargon, cliches, and really bad writing.
Writing well is critical and it's what separates you from the pack because good writing supports your company's brand by giving it voice and style.
The following is a list of my favorite writing-related books.
On Writing Well
Author: William Zinser
First Edition: 1976
Zinsser is a prince among men. He's accomplished, cultured, gracious and modest. In On Writing Well, he drives home the necessity of rigorous editing as the key to great writing. I'd never been one for editing. I thought great writing came from being talented so I subscribed to the first draft club—one and done. Zinsser changed all that for me with this book. He claims that he's had a successful career not because he's a great writer but because he's a great editor. He is clearly both.
Whereas On Writing Well is about the 'how' of great writing, Writing to Learn is about the 'why' of writing. Namely, we write nonfiction so that we can learn and so we can help others to learn. Zinsser shows that all subjects are worthy of great writing; mathematics, physics, chemistry, music and art. This book is perfect if you have to cover arcane, technical or esoteric subjects, because it will help you create great, well written information that's engaging to read.
Okay. What does writing a dissertation have to do with marketing? A lot. If you're like any other person who has tried to put pen to paper you've dealt with writer's block. Bolker has spent decades guiding highly educated experts through the process of writing their dissertations. Dissertations are typically focused, technical and go deep in a given subject area, as the writer is trying to communicate their expertise. Sound familiar?
Bolker has developed an approach that helps the writer overcome writer's block and get the job done by eliminating the pressure to write perfectly. This book helped me overcome writer's block and my anxieties to write a 60,000 word book in three months.
Jack Hart is editor at large and writing coach at the award-winning newspaper, The Oregonian. He works with journalists to make their writing sparkle. In this book he deals with writing method, process, structure, force, brevity, clarity, rhythm, humanity, color, voice, mechanics and mastery. This book is a great resource if you write a good deal, but want to get better. Hart has great insight for every aspect of writing.
The Elements of Style
Author: William Strunk, Jr. & E.B. White
First Edition: 1918 (w/ many revisions)
What list would be complete without the famous Strunk and White style guide? We still refer to it when there's a question that our resident usage experts can't answer. Our favorite maxim? Omit needless words.
This is a lovely and entertaining look at punctuation. Lynne Truss is a punctuation fanatic and she wages a one-woman war against the misuses that are so prevalent in writing, be they on billboards, brochures or banners. This book is enjoyable and easy to read, but it will make you aware of your punctuation sins. I love a good em dash just like the next guy—Truss helps us to understand how and when to use it properly.
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
First Paperback Edition: 2002
This has nothing to do with publishing your corporate blog or writing white papers, but all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right? On Writing is about one man's life of writing. Of course, it's not just any man, it's Stephen King! I'm recommending this because it's a wonderful look at a famous writer's life of writing. It's real, honest and inspiring. Give it a read this summer if for no other reason than to be entertained. I promise you'll get more out of it. You probably should not expense it, though.