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Archive for January, 2010

Ask people to list their favorite foods and you won’t get many votes for the Chinese water chestnut.

Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.

Bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. Credit: Allrecipes.com

You know: That roundish, crunchy white thing you often find in Chinese food? According to its Wikipedia entry, Eleocharis dulcis isn’t even a nut. It’s a vegetable grown under water. The part we crunch as we tuck into a serving of stir fry? Near as I can tell it’s called the corm.

Next time you host a dinner party, try spreading four dozen water chestnuts on a platter and serve them as appetizers. I’m willing to bet you’ll end the evening with your original inventory of corms mostly intact.

Products and services can be like that. Try as we might, in certain industries, certain categories, there sometimes just isn’t much to differentiate, or stimulate preference for, one from the other. At first blush, to your typical customer, they appear relatively homogenous. Commoditized. And, perhaps, not all that appealing.

Don’t get me wrong — they might all be perfectly fine water chestnuts. Dense with carbohydrates and starch. A great source of dietary fiber and riboflavin. And if one of your party guests happens to be longing for a water chestnut, they’ll no doubt pick one or a few off the tray. 

But pretty much any one will do. No real reason to pick one over the other.
 

Not-so-Secret Ingredient
Now, rewind your dinner party preparations. Wrap a dozen of those water chestnuts each in a slice of fried bacon (you can find a recipe at Allrecipes.com). Hold the bacon in place with a toothpick. Watch what happens next. Suddenly, at least some of your guests are visibly and verbally aroused. What’s this? Smells good. Think I’ll try one of these. Hey, I’ve gotta have me another one of those.

By surrounding your core offering, the unassuming water chestnut, with a layer of attractiveness and potential value, you’ve dramatically changed the dynamics of the situation. Stimulating perceptions, appetites and interest in some of your guests in a way that a water chestnut alone simply can’t.

Importantly, you didn’t have to spend months or years experimenting with ways to genetically modify the water chestnut to be more colorful or tasty. You didn’t change the price. You simply gave your audience another reason to notice, see value in, and resonate toward a certain set of water chestnuts above all the rest.

Done well, content can work like that. If you’ve taken time to understand customers’ appetites and hot buttons, surrounding your core offering with value-added content can transform how a commoditized, relatively undifferentiated product or service is viewed and, ultimately, consumed.

Will wrapping your water chestnuts in bacon add to cost? Yes, some. Will it promote a higher perceived value? Encourage repeat consumption? Create a more memorable overall experience? Yes, yes and yes.

If you’re feeling the need to stand out and get noticed, maybe you don’t need to change the water chestnut. Maybe you just need to be the supplier who recognizes that man does not live on water chestnuts alone.

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What do you think? Dumb metaphor or tasty truism, pertinent to your business? As always, comments welcome.

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While other media and marketing types have long since weighed in on golfer Tiger Wood’s sudden and spectacular shank as a spouse and brand spokes-icon, Touch Point City has stood quietly at the back of the gallery, gazing through one of those cardboard periscope thingies, trying to decide what we think and feel about it all.

Image Credit: Accenture

As an avid golfer and golf fan, I concede his greatness at the sport. Yet I was never among those who relished sycophantic coverage of Tiger’s exploits by TV broadcasters. On the contrary. Their seemingly obsessive need to make Woods a main story line of virtually every tournament — regardless of his standing on the leader board, and sometimes regardless of his presence at the event — to me made men’s pro golf less compelling, not more.

As a spouse and father, I mostly feel sorry for Woods’ kids. Now they stand an even greater chance of having to spend their lives always on the periphery, or smack in the middle, of that omnipresent, peering, not always flattering viewfinder that fuels our “have you seen the latest celebrity car crash” pop culture.

Finally, as a marketer, I’m starting to think Tiger’s infidelity — to his wife, his family, even his own brand image — might be a defining event that wakes up the marketing profession to what has long been a shallow, tenuous, even risky approach to brand building.

For too long, some corporate marketers and their agencies have chosen to duck behind the premise that spending big money trying to graft a brand onto a celebrity’s image, talents and achievements is somehow not only “creative,” but legitimate branding strategy.

To gauge the flimsiness of that approach, look no further than this week’s announcement that Accenture has hastily replaced ads featuring iconic Tiger photos with a campaign showcasing real animals: A chameleon. A frog. Some fish. And, of course, everyone’s favorite visual metaphor for astute business analysis and problem solving — an elephant riding a surfboard. 

Whether you’re showing Tiger or a tiger as the main, attention-grabbing element of your advertising, the underlying issue remains: What’s behind the visual?

If it’s not something relevant, something valuable, what have you really accomplished? You might have created a positive brand association, but even that can turn negative overnight. Then you’re in the news for all the wrong reasons, including whether you were fair and wise, or simply two-faced, in hastily dumping the spokes-representative who just yesterday you were embracing as emblematic of all that’s good about your brand.

So here’s the question for corporate marketers: If you’ve got millions of dollars to devote to a Super Bowl ad, or a long-term branding campaign, is the foundation for your message going to be a Tiger, or your own ability to demonstrate thought leadership and add value. A surfing pachyderm or, say, a value-adding e-book, Webinar series or online community?

In other words, as you seek to position your brand, have you taken the time and effort to create something compelling and relevant that invites true, win-win engagement from your customers and potential customers?

Or, are you just going to take a big, roundhouse swing, using the shiniest new driver you could buy from the celebrity spokesperson store?

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Think about how difficult it is to get 75 percent agreement on just about anything.

At their peaks — which tend to be rare and short-lived — the most popular politicians, celebrities and fads might bounce around the three-quarters approval mark in public opinion polls.  

Credit: Leo Reynolds

 Meanwhile, there’s a good chance, if you do a survey, you’d have a hard time getting 75 percent of thumbs to turn up on everything from health care policy to the Holocaust, legalizing pot to banning same-sex marriage, or global warming to the current whereabouts of Elvis. 

In fact, given how fractious U.S. society can be, in some corners, in some conclaves, you might have a tough time getting 75 percent agreement on whether the current president, Barack Obama, is even constitutionally eligible to hold the office. 

In light of all that, it’s fairly remarkable that, in a survey recently conducted by the newsletter ContentWise (in collaboration with the Custom Publishing Council), 78 percent of respondents agreed to this: 

Branded content initiatives are more effective
than other leading forms of advertising and marketing.
 

Seventy-eight percent?! 

Branded content. 

More effective than print and TV advertising. Direct mail. Public relations. 

What to make of this remarkable number? At least three key things: 


ONE
Before you scrap all your advertising, DM and PR plans, it pays to look more closely at terminology and definitions. The study defines branded content as spanning not only printed publications, but pretty much all things Web and social media related. 

For starters, this is a bit like taking the Boston Red Sox, merging them with the New York Yankees, and saying, “We think we’ve got a shot at getting to the World Series.” 

But the more important point is this: Comparing content to those other traditional marketing tactics is an apples-to-bananas comparison. Branded content, at least in my experience, is not so much another marketing communications tactic as it is a brand positioning and marketing strategy. 

In simple terms, traditional marketing communications tactics help you make marketplace aware of your product and service. 

Content does more than that. Done well, it becomes an integral part of your customer value proposition. In fact, for many companies, especially B-to-B products and services with long lead times and complex sales cycles, content might effectively be your product for long stretches of time prior to an actual purchase. 

Thanks to search, social media and word-of-mouth/mouse, content has the added benefit of being attractive and awareness building in its own right. In other words, if you put great content out there, customers and prospects will find you, whether you advertise, do PR or direct mail. 

Which brings us to point… 

 
TWO
Branded content and marketing communications tactics such as advertising, DM and PR can be extremely complementary and symbiotic. 

Instead of touting your product’s latest bells and whistles, or offering a percentage off trial of your service, consider using traditional marketing communications tactics to promote your branded content. 

Now, instead of thinking of the two as separate and even in opposition — branded content is more effective, traditional media and marcomm is less so — you’ll be using each to do what it does best. Traditional media and marketing communications to drive reach and awareness-building. Content to create a relevant, engaging, value-adding experience for those who follow through on the call to action presented via your traditional marcomm touch points. 

In other words, branded content and traditional media don’t have to be an either or. They can be an integrated, powerhouse combo.  Which brings us to point… 

 
THREE
If you’re not already beefing up the ways you connect with key audiences via branded content, the time to start was yesterday.
After all, marketing thought leaders and branded content firms have been trumpeting the strategic importance of content for several years now. But when 78 percent of business people surveyed say it’s now risen to the top of their list in terms of effectiveness, you want to get on the bandwagon and choose to compete aggressively on the basis of content.   

At least I’m 75 percent sure that you do.

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Yesterday’s mail included three pieces of direct marketing.

Each:

  • Arrived in a white, windowed No. 10 envelope
  • Teased 0 percent APR for the first 12 months
  • Contained a faux credit card
  • Pledged “no annual fee” on the buck slip, with a sword-shaped asterisk directing me to 7-point legalese
  • Allowed the card holder to “earn” points — for gas, merchandise, travel and the like

None:

  • Offered to educate me about being a more savvy consumer, saver or investor
  • Provide tools I might use to teach my children responsible credit habits
  • Committed to having my purchases contribute to a worthy societal or environmental cause
  • Offered information to help me simplify my life, grow my business, or in some other way climb just a bit higher on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In other words, none offered content. Therefore. none promised a life- or business-enhancing experience, conversation or relationship.

So, all wound up directly in the recycling.

Three marketers and their direct agencies, hoping to squeeze just one more iota of an ROI percentage out of this particular test, missed by a country mile with this consumer. And you have to wonder how good they felt — not how confident or smart; how good — designing and dropping those mailings in the first place.

Reason No. 47 why content marketing is a great strategy? Good karma.

As a content marketer, you can take satisfaction in making a legitimate attempt to add some level of value to the world, the marketplace of ideas, and most important, for your desired audience.

Whether that value is designed to entertain, connect or educate, it’s built in there, interlaced with your marketing purpose and message.

When you shut down the computer at day’s end, you can take that legitimate attempt to add value and make a deposit in the psychic bank.

Ironically, you’re also more likely to get the purely financial ROI you seek. Because you’ve attempted to differentiate, through relevance and value, from that veritable blizzard of white, windowed No. 10s.

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Joe Pulizzi

Looking for some inspiration to get your 2010 marketing off on the right foot?

Take 30 minutes and buzz through 100 content marketing predictions from more than 60 thinkers and doers in the content marketing and social media fields. They’re all captured in the e-book you can download for free right here.

Joe Pulizzi, himself a preeminent content marketing strategist and founder of the content marketing matchmaking service Junta42, put out the call for New Year’s content marketing prognostications late last year. First to take up the question was none other than Seth Godin, who predicted an economic turnaround in the second half of 2010, along with the arrival of a “shiny new thing” that will cause Twitter to lose some of its luster.

Godin’s comment was followed soon after by a veritable who’s who of social media and content, including Jason Falls, David Meerman Scott, Paul Dunay, Ardath Albee, Brian Solis and John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing fame.

Here’s the question posed by Pulizzi:

What is your prediction for how brand marketers
will create and distribute their own content in 2010?

Yours truly was among those who took a spin at a fearless forecast:

Marketers will begin — at least should begin — to put greater innovation emphasis on being relevant and engaging with content delivered via flesh-and-blood channels — the sales force, customer service, dealers and distributors, etc.

As content marketers we tend to fixate on other content types — value-adding articles, white papers and e-books; social media postings and dialogue. Still, some of the most critical content for building brand and business is that which gets lumped into the easy-to-neglect category of “collateral.”

The days when it was good enough to throw a brochure and some case studies in an envelope and consider that you’ve done an effective job of following up with a customer or prospect are over. 

With Web 2.0 thinking and technology, there’s opportunity for bringing customization, engagement and measurement to these communications. And, as recipients click through personalized content collections – online experiences tailored to their needs and interests, vs. off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-all print pieces – marketers can measure and continuously learn from their interactions.

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Be curious to know if you see what I see, or just what your prediction might be for social media and content marketing in 2010. Comments welcome.

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