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content marketing: Does your social media have “swagger?”

Let’s face it…minivans have a bad rap. Or perhaps more accurately, minivan drivers have a bad rap. I’m the first to admit that, at times in the past, my wife and I have been as guilty as the next person of deriding this particular cross-section of society.

From the comfort of our swish 2-seater BMW Convertible, we would often raise a frustrated eyebrow as a “soccer mom” in a Honda Odyssey swerved into our lane without looking as she chatted on a cell phone, or brought traffic on a busy highway to a standstill while turning to hand out snacks to a backseat full of hungry kids.

Then a couple of children of our own came along and a funny thing happened. All of a sudden, we found ourselves admiring the easy functionality of those sliding doors, looking longingly at all that spacious leg room and leering lasciviously at all those cup holders. We resisted for a while but, in the end, the lure of those seven seats was just too much. We caved.

We have been a “Minivan Family” for eight years now, but only recently have we started to feel that our loyal, trusty and heavily dented vehicle had any kind of AT-TI-TU-DE. Thanks to Toyota’s recent “Swagger Wagon” campaign, we now feel good about our choice of vehicle and, more important, about ourselves as parents.

The commercials, which have been a viral phenomenon and appeared across all the major media platforms, –  TV, YouTube and Facebook – explain all the key features and benefits of the new Toyota Sienna through a series of entertaining, engaging and self-deprecating video vignettes starring “the perfect parents.” We can relate to the family issues satirized, like the loss of identity and the need to feel like we still got a little swagger going on!

The ads check all the necessary boxes required to be a hit:

Engaging — check

Entertaining — check

Relevant  — check

Shareable — check

Thank you Toyota for making it feel cool to be a mom and dad again!

See the videos here:


Content marketing: the undervalued power of branded content

Much has been written the past few months about the effectiveness of branded content. Many commentators are doubting that it has the reach and engagement to move the needle among consumers, saying that they instead favor the quick hit of the traditional 30-second TV slot or magazine ad to influence purchase behavior.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Branded content, in many instances and when done well, can offer even more value to an audience than regular content. For example, the Callaway Magazine that our company launched several years ago has always been able to give great behind-the-scenes insight into product development and technology that its customers simply will not find anywhere else.

If you’re selling a $500 driver, for example, do you want to rely on an assistant editor at a golf magazine getting the story right or would you prefer to be able to tell that technology story in your own words, giving full and accurate information that will help the consumer make an informed decision?

Similarly, access to sponsored players such as Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els means the Callaway Magazine can deliver unique features, tips and columns from these star players that, again, no other magazine or publishing company would ever be able to obtain without having to pay a colossal amount of money.

The secret to creating successful branded content is leveraging those precious assets and resisting the temptation to throw your company’s name into every other sentence.

Branded content is advertising that doesn’t look like advertising, but it can also be content that is valuable, entertaining and problem-solving.

Check out our website – for more insight.

content marketing: the tit for tat of Twitter

About a month or so ago, our company started Tweeting. Yeah, I know, we were a little bit off the pace with this particular method of communication! However, our interactive/digital folks said it was the right thing to do – and so we ventured wide-eyed into what is still pretty much unchartered marketing territory.

The rules of tweeting according to those same folks, are to contribute to conversations, share relevant and interesting info, be transparent and never, ever, ever come across as salesy. It’s all about being part of a community.

With that in mind, we took the logical first step of reaching out to our business network. In addition to chirruping away on various marketing topics, we elected to follow a handful of companies with whom we had an existing relationship.

Well, within a week, our Twitter network had organically grown from zero to 1,500 followers. Again, following the advice of our digital strategists, we did the right thing and followed them back! At one point, we were following almost 2,000 companies and individuals.

Sounds great, huh – a growing symbiotic network. Not exactly. A closer inspection of our following revealed that most were promoting either porn, get-rich-quick schemes and currency trading software/sites.

In all honesty, I have no problem if the entire planet’s spamming community wants to follow us, but we quickly noticed that the tweets we really wanted to read were just lost in a steady stream of spam.

In order to restore some sanity, we decided to cull the number of people we followed. We slashed the number from 2,012 to 18. Almost immediately, the number of people following us started to freefall. Right now, we have about 600 followers and falling!

This is a rather long-winded way (well, we do specialize in longer form content!) of saying that this is the huge issue for Twitter. The tit for tat, or “I follow you, you follow me” nature of the business means that many companies simply grow meaningless networks where there is no social interaction and, as such, no positive business or social benefits.

In its current format, there is simply too much white noise for marketers to be able to effectively reach their target audience. In order to do so, they need to rely on their followers being as ruthless as we have been with whom they follow, or they need to deliver such exceptional, permission-based and earned value that their tweets are a “must read.”

It’s very clear that Twitter is a supplementary marketing strategy, not a mainstream initiative in its own right.

content maketing: despite Old Spice’s stellar creative, folks still ain’t buying it!

So sales of Old Spice have dipped some seven percent during the recent virally successful “Smell Like a Man” campaign.

It’s kind of tough to believe that some 35 million viewings of the series of ads on YouTube hasn’t resulted in at least some immediate uptick in sales.

Of course, the ad agency will tell you that it takes a while for any sales message to slip into the subconscious and that it is unrealistic to expect instant results. Having said that, there are still several reasons why the ads, despite huge national and international exposure, haven’t yet resulted in increased revenues.

1. You can’t revive the sales of a tired, dated product simply with ads.
The last time I checked, the product was still called “Old Spice.” Same colors and same clipper ship logo as when my grandfather used to buy it – and wear it back in the ’70s. A slogan on the website tells you all you need to know – “New Look, Same Great Mansmells”. In this day and age and in one of the most fiercely competitive markets, it takes more than a towel-wearing guy on a horse to get me to switch to a dated brand. You might get the product on my radar with a viral campaign but unless the product lives up to the hype, I’m still not buying it.

2. Entertainment doesn’t necessarily lead to sales
Quite why we’re all assuming that if a campaign or video achieves huge viral success it automatically leads to increased sales I don’t know. Did I like watching Susan Boyle singing on YouTube? Yes, as have some 100 million others. Did I go out and buy her latest CD? No. Did I enjoy the latest Nike World Cup soccer ad? Yes, it was awesome. Did I run out to my nearest Dicks Sporting Goods store and demand a pair of the latest Total 90 Laser III boots? No.
Although we’re still at the stage with social media where this type of entertainment is still a novelty, at the end of the day it all blurs into one. The Old Spice ads take their place alongside a Korean baby singing Hey Jude, Charlie Bit My Finger and Lady Gaga. It’s great fun to watch and share, but as soon as the video is over, we’re on to the next shiny thing.

3. Recognising the need to followthrough
Creating entertaining and engaging content experiences is only one part of the social media/content conundrum. As we mentioned a few days ago in this blog, the true art of social media is being able to develop that one-to-one earned relationship with the consumer. There’s little point in having 50 million Facebook fans or 30 million YouTube views if your relationship with the consumer stops as soon as the laptop is closed. In this regard, Old Spice still has the tough part of the job to do – converting those fans into loyal, brand evangelists and keeping that individual communication going.

Social media, like any other type of media, requires a solid, long-term strategy if it is going to be successful.

content marketing: J Crew takes a step in the right direction

Given that it seems to have been my wife’s personal mission to singlehandedly prop up the J Crew share price during this past 18 months of economic uncertainty, it’s hardly surprising that a rather large amount of direct mail – print and electronic – from this particular retailer makes its way to us each month.

The J Crew catalogs are fine pieces of work and I cringe at the thought of how much they must cost to produce. The design is elegant and stylish, the clothes are presented beautifully on the models and the photography is inspiring and evocative. But at the end of the day, the catalog is what it is – a soul-less piece of direct mail that, because of its lack of engagement, quickly makes its way into the trash.

Given that women (and some men) often have close emotional relationships with the stores that they tend to frequent, I have often wondered why a clothing retailer had never taken the step of creating an engaging content/lifestyle experience for its most valued customers.

Then a copy of J Crew’s The Thread landed in the mailbox at the weekend. It was a breath of fresh air and a great piece of content marketing. Instead of Special Fall Offers and Free Shipping, there was a welcome letter from the creative director, behind-the-scenes stories, designer profiles, unique insights and lots of cool snippets about what was going on at the company. Of course, there were a few product references, but by and large the company did a great job resisting the temptation to put a sales spin on the content.

All too often, when a retailer’s sole communication goal is simply to sell more product, the customer can in the long run end end up feeling resentful at the take, take, take nature of the relationship.

Congratulations to J Crew and The Thread for recognizing this and taking the the first step in restoring the balance.

content marketing: how to combat the marketer’s death spiral

In today’s world, with so many media and entertainment options now available, consumers are becoming increasingly difficult to find. Not only that, they now have the luxury of being able to interact with your company, brand or service on their own terms – if they want to, when they want to and how they want to.

At the same time, while consumers’ attention spans are getting smaller, the number of items competing for that attention – emails, videos, games, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, online communities – is rapidly increasing.

In this new era of consumer empowerment, the traditional tactic of interrupting and talking “at” a customer no longer works. Developing meaningful and loyal relationships requires a deeper connection. This means a company’s message has to be highly targeted, resonate quickly and, most important, add incredible value. If it doesn’t, the communication is nothing more than white noise.

The conundrum facing marketers is that they like to be in control – of the message, of the delivery, of the timing, of the measurement. Unfortunately, the more control a marketer exerts over the dialog, the less engaging that experience becomes for the consumer.

We call this the marketer’s death spiral. Fortunately, it is a curable condition. The first step to complete cure is letting go of control.

In the online/digital world that means giving consumers the freedom to interact with, share and freely comment on your ideas and your messages. In the print world, it means resisting the temptation to talk in terms of features and benefits and instead focus on the needs of the consumer – solving their problems, fueling their passions and giving them the content they want to consume.

Across any platform now the most effective advertising is advertising that doesn’t look like advertising.

Content marketing: On the New York Times Bestseller list this week – everybody!

Back in 1942, the New York Times started publishing a list of the best-selling hardback books in the country. For decades, the list was the definitive guide to the most popular literature in the USA. Once a book made it into the top-10, commercial success for the author – and the publisher – was pretty much guaranteed.

In the early days, it was not uncommon to see a book top the list for several months at a time. In today’s fast-paced society, books make fleeting appearances on the list – one blink and they’re gone. Even the very best selling authors generally are only able to occupy the top spot for a couple of weeks.

To give you an idea how quickly the book publishing world has changed, consider that 10 years ago, in 1999, 12 fiction novels made it to No. 1 in the best-seller list. Last year, no fewer than 35 novels achieved that same status.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I browsed the bookshelves at my local Borders store at the weekend. At the top of pretty much every book’s front cover were the words: “#1 New York Times Best Seller”.

Publishers take note: when Bethany, one of the housewives from The Real Housewives of New York reality TV show, can boast two New York Times best-sellers, it’s time to step it up and find a more credible message that will convince people like me to buy books.