Content Marketing and Successful Polar Exploration

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Content Marketing and Successful Polar Exploration

Or How Coding Can Make Your Writing Better

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What's the Connection?

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Ragan Communications Social Media Conference in Orlando, FL, where I heard Carolyn Shelby (@cshel), Director of Digital Strategy at 435 Communications, give a fantastic talk on SEO for social media and content marketing professionals. In addition to some simple, code-free tips for social media folks, the presentation also talked a lot about how difficult it is for content marketers and SEO people to work together. To put it simply, these two groups have a fundamental conflict because the former is interested in writing for human beings while the latter is writing for machines. I started to wonder what these teams could do to make reaching their mutual goal faster and easier - and this got me thinking about one of my personal heroes, the early 20th century polar explorer Roald Amundsen.

I know that sounds weird, but let me explain. I believe that Amundsen's success - the first navigation of the Northwest Passage, the first successful expedition to the South Pole - can be attributed to the fact that he was the first modern explorer that was both the ship captain and the expedition leader.

You see, during the golden age of exploration, the person who led the expedition was not the same person as the one in charge of the ship. The expedition leader was the public face of the expedition and was responsible for crafting a narrative that generated both public and private investment in the team. The captain, on the other hand, was responsible for the technical details of navigation, safety and ship management.

Because the captain and expedition leader were taking completely different approaches to the same goal, conflicts naturally arose between them - and this is essentially the same dynamic that exists between content marketers and SEO people. Though they both share the same goal, the former is a creative while the latter is a technician.

What made Amundsen so successful was his drive to understand both the creative and technical sides of his work. Yet just like most expedition leaders felt there was no use in learning to navigate a ship, many creative professionals - even those who work in social media or develop online content - feel that they shouldn't (or can't) learn to code.

Here are three ways I think Amundsen would approach this problem.

1. More Knowledge Makes a Team More Cohesive

Imagine, for a moment, that your content people didn't know anything about legal. Every press release they sent for review - every blog post, every tweet - was written with no understanding of its potential legal implications. If you think working with legal is a difficult now, imagine how much worse it would be like this!

If that sounds bizarre to you, then content marketers with no knowledge of how SEO works should as well. Remember, just like a captain and an expedition leader, an SEO person and a content person look at the same goal completely differently. Writing that looks great to a computer sometimes sounds terrible to people, and vice versa. If content marketers took the time to learn a little bit about the SEO team's work it would make both teams' work a lot easier. That's why teams that develop any type of content that's going online - i.e., almost everything - should learn to code at least a little bit.

If Amundsen was able to tackle ocean navigation to reach his goal, it should be within our ability to learn a little code. With online educational resources like Codecademy, Treehouse and Coursera now available, it's easier than ever for us content people to learn the basics. Unfortunately for the SEO people, learning to write compelling content remains as stubbornly difficult as ever.

2. Good Code Compliments Good Writing

Learning a little code does more than just make working with SEO easier - it can make your finished product better.At the Social Media Conference, I saw a fantastic presentation by Shel Holtz (@shelholtz) about image-driven storytelling. The power of digital technology has enabled us to tell stories with more than just words - we can now integrate text, video, images and more into content that's more compelling than each piece is by itself. Just like an expedition team, a well-organized whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Take a look at the New York Times' Snow Fall, or the BBC's Arms Wide Open. In addition to great stories, they also have images, video and interactive content. Notice how they all work together seamlessly, even on mobile devices. Try resizing your browser window and see how the content reacts. What makes this user experience so fantastic? Great code. As these and hundreds of other pieces prove, content that uses code to build multimedia experiences is much compelling than text alone.

Just like the examples above, this blog post uses interactive features to hold the reader's attention and reduce the TL;DR factor. Even though the features of this post are relatively simple in comparison to those in Snow Fall, we still think they do a lot to hold the reader's attention!

3. HAVING MULTIPLE SKILLSETS MAKES YOU MORE CREATIVE

One could argue that learning to personally write a bit of code isn't actually worth the time, given that there are so many contractors out there who can already do it much better. But Amundsen's success counters that as well: there was no shortage of captains for hire in his day, yet none of them were able to achieve what he did.

When you're working with a team to produce online content - even if you're not writing a line of code yourself - having a personal working knowledge of how your work will be displayed and presented to the user can actually help make you more creative. A little cross-disciplinary knowledge often expands one's idea of what's possible in one's own work - just think of all the innovators who stumbled upon their great ideas while doing something completely unrelated.

Amundsen didn't navigate his own ship, and most people don't write their own code. But Amundsen did speak his navigator's language (though likely not as expertly as the navigator himself), and could meaningfully contribute to a conversation with him about his work. More importantly, a little understanding of the importance and mechanics of navigation would have helped Amundsen approach the high-level problems his expedition faced (and for which he was ultimately responsible) more knowledgeably and creatively.

Amundsen didn't achieve his goals because he was tougher or luckier than those who came before. He did it by being the first to combine the creative vision of an expedition leader with the technical expertise of a captain. Content marketers who do the same might not reach the South Pole, but they will make their work a lot more efficient and effective.

Zach Pearson is an account executive at Greenough. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_p_pearson

 

Visual Storytelling: Style versus Substance

Photo: Knight Digital Media Center 2011
Photo: Knight Digital Media Center 2011

We’ve all seen them… action-packed, special effects-driven movies with empty characters and a vague plot line.  These “blockbusters” always leave you wanting more (and not in a good way).   And as I see use of video marketing exploding among businesses, I can’t help but worry that brands will fall into the same trap.

According to a 1to1 Media post, videos are 50 times more likely to appear on Google’s first page results than non-video pages, presenting marketers with an immediate SEO advantage.  Viewers stay on sites with video five times longer than text-only sites and 80 percent of business execs watch more online content now than they did last year.

So how do companies capitalize on an effective visual storytelling plan without blowing their whole budget on one expensive, effects-driven production?

The right video crew understands the balance between style and substance.  They focus on telling a meaningful story and use animations and effects to enhance the original message.

Take Next Step Living for example: This video utilizes one of the hottest video marketing tactics right now (whiteboard video) while clearly conveying the company’s mission and commitment to making New England homes more energy efficient.

On the flip side, Geemmodity’s videos look great, but without any well-written copy to support the visuals, the “how to” productions fail to explain the product and ultimately end up confusing the viewer.

Flashy videos might be a creative way to grab a prospect’s attention, but without a substantial story to tell, even the prettiest productions will flop.

Christine Williamson is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineDBW

Visual Storytelling Crucial to Marketing Success

For years, video was an entertainment-only medium – a plop down on the couch, feet up, relax after a hard day activity.  Workers caught watching videos at their desks were seen as slackers.  But nowadays, video is no longer a novelty.  It’s a marketing necessity because of how powerfully it can tell brand stories. 72 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. The site boasts 4 billion views per day and the demand keeps growing.  In fact, Cisco predicts that by 2013, 90% of all Internet traffic will be video.

So what makes it such a powerful and versatile tool?

Video - more than any other tool at a brand’s disposal - can establish a personality for your company.   It can put a face to your brand, bring your products to life and connect the company with customers in ways that print and web collateral simply cannot.  But that is not to say that traditional media should be ignored.

Check out MC10’s two-pronged approach.  A winner of the Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award, Massachusetts-based MC10 is on the brink of revolutionizing the medical industry with its conformable electronics.  This recent article in Time details the medical benefits the company offers while the video below brings to life how the technology integrates with the body.

MC10 Demo:  Making Stretchable Electronics
MC10 Demo: Making Stretchable Electronics

By combining company-created visual storytelling with more conventional storytelling, companies like MC10 are building a greater connection with their audiences and more rapidly moving from awareness to affinity and, ultimately, customer action.  So what role does video play in your communication and marketing strategy?  How can video increase your brand affinity or loyalty?  If your brand has yet to embrace visual storytelling and video, then it’s missing out on a huge opportunity.

Christine Williamson is a senior consultant at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineDBW

See How Clients Rate Our Passion for Their Business

Surveying your customers in order to gauge their satisfaction with your products or services is nothing new—and applying that same principle to a PR, marketing and communications agency such as ours makes perfect sense. And we’ve been measuring client satisfaction for 11 years. The results, as you might expect, help us assess our strengths and weaknesses, and they form a strong foundation for determining the agency’s to-dos, whether that’s to build on our ability to drive new sales for our customers or polish our storytelling capabilities.

Instead of purely bragging about our results, however, which you can see a select sampling of here, we challenge you to assess your own PR/marketing/communications agency on the following criteria:

1) Is your agency an extension of your own team? By this I mean does your agency work efficiently and effectively with your staff? Do the two teams have a solid rapport and bullet-proof communication? Does your agency enhance your own capabilities (versus creating redundancy) and complement your existing skillset (versus replicating key abilities)? If it didn’t violate any contracts or policies, would you hire the staff at your agency as employees? Do they have the same (or complementary) core values, work ethic, personal style (and even sense of humor) as your strongest team members?

2) Does your agency demonstrate a passion for your business? Let’s face it—it’s difficult for anyone to know your business as well as you do—but a good agency can come damn close—and should. Your perfect agency should demonstrate complete immersion in your industry, including knowing your competitors, understanding the key issues and having a familiarty with the major players, trends and developments. We’re not talking about a quick refresh before your next in-person visit or conference call—we’re referring to a deep  and ongoing knowledge of all your strengths, weakenesses and paint points—internal and external. In a word, your agency should be a subject matter expert in your company and your industry.

3) Does your agency work proactively on your behalf? Someone once said you can’t teach people to be proactive—they either are or aren’t. In my opinion, the best employees are wired to take charge and think ahead—they try to solve problems ahead of the curve. The flip side, naturally, is less desirable—the reactive (versus proactive) employee waits for your orders before they move. Seems pretty clear which type makes a better partner, don’t you think?

4) Last but not least, and perhaps most importantly, does your agency help drive new sales? Is your agency connecting you to qualified leads? Yes, a large part of PR, marketing and comuinications work involves building a brand, whether that’s through thought leadership (contributed articles), social media (Facebook likes) and/or media coverage (Wall Street Journal). But is your agency working from a strategic point of view, directing, managing and integrating all the efforts, from content creation and media outreach to social media, ongoing measurement and reliable follow-up, in order to drive new business into your hopper?  At the end of the day, just answering that one simple question may be the truth you need.

Barbara Call is director of content at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraCall1

Can Email Survive Mobile?

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5592463982_0b2bd14964

At first, I was prepared to disagree entirely with Christine Dunn’s post from last week, “Email Is Still the Best Way to Share Content among Consumers and Businesses.” I've since relaxed my stance, but I still don’t believe it’s the “best” way, although I’ll concede it’s still important and valuable in many instances. But things are starting to change.

Just because email may be the “most-used method” today doesn't mean it’s the best. Why is that distinction important? Because it continues to provide a false sense of security, especially for traditional marketers who are still overly reliant on tools they’ve always used. Yes, email is still the original killer app, but can it survive fundamental changes in how we interact with our surroundings and each other in mobile ecosystems? I’m not so sure.

I strongly agree with Christine that encouraging “smaller, more intimate groups of colleagues, friends and family” to share content is an important goal for all marketers. But I’m not sure if email is really the ultimate tool for doing this, it just happens to be the most familiar to many. The StumbleUpon study Christine mentions (overview here from AdAge) suggests that its users, a younger demographic, “want a direct line of communications,” but the fact that email is one of the ways information is shared doesn’t prove that it’s the best. Maybe it’s just the easiest from the SU interface. I’d need to see more data.

When I think of “direct line of communications,” however, I think texting. I’d wager that more people 34 and younger are communicating via text than email, at least outside of work. And even people older than 34 are growing increasingly more comfortable with texting. It is more immediate and fluid, something that can also be said of popular mobile apps used today for discovering and sharing content such as Instagram.

The discovery-sharing paradigm is much more complex – and potentially powerful – than standard approaches to outbound marketing. That’s another reason I was so eager to disagree with Christine. In fact, her reference to the BtoB marketing study finding that “email marketing is still considered the ‘workhorse’ of the marketing industry because it’s inexpensive and effective” really set me off because the bar for what’s “effective” in email marketing is often quite low.

The BtoB study offers unsurprising stats about how marketers plan to send more content through email, but that still doesn’t prove its value. The report summary teases the notion that marketers can no longer ignore email/social media integration, but I think strategic mobile integration is even more important; and not just mobile versions of online networks, but new methods to experience content that tap either new technology or new approaches  to advance the discovery-sharing paradigm.

No, email isn’t going anywhere soon. But let’s not get carried away with its perceived value, especially considering the source (marketers comfortable with it). I don’t have the answers, but I do think that as we spend more time in a mobile ecosystem, email, at least as it exists today, may not be such a workhorse any more. At least that’s a possible sea change we should all be watching more closely today.