Archive for July, 2012

Every so often you hear an idea or a message that resonates immediately and powerfully. This post is about one of those times.

It happened during a Trend School conducted by researchers and analysts from The Intelligence Group. Their theme for this seminar: Innovation. More specifically, what it takes for brands to be valued as innovative, relevant, even “best friends forever” by Gen X, Y and (yes, believe it or not, they’re here among us) Gen Z consumers.

Early in the half-day seminar, lead presenter Allison Arling-Giorgi (if that last name sounds familiar, Allison’s my daughter in law) delivered this talking point, intended as something of a North Star for product managers and brand marketers to follow.

To achieve breakthrough innovation with today’s younger consumers…

“Operate in the culture, not in the category.”

As a case in point, she cited Kodak and Instagram. One sees (saw?) itself as a film manufacturer. The other as a facilitator of fun and easy sharing of life’s relationships, activities and memories via social media.

Key to operating in the culture, of course, is understanding what an audience thinks and feels. That made this particular talking point a perfect pivot into Allison’s subsequent slides on Gen X and Y attitudes and influences. 

But later, as she was describing the aftereffects on Gen X of having been latchkey kids, and explaining why Gen Y still feels mired in the recession, at least half of my brain was still mulling the earlier call to action.

Operate in the culture, not in the category.

If that’s the key to innovation, is it not also central to effective content marketing?

Great Content: Audience Focused, Culturally Grounded

I believe it is.

After all, a tenet of effective content marketing is that your content (at least a good deal of it, especially the closer you get to the funnel’s brim) must be far less about you and your products and services, and much more about them (your audience) and their pain points and possibilities.

What better way to sharpen your strategy, to strive for engagement breakthrough, than to create content that positions you to be your audience’s resource, ally, even “BFF” where and how they work and live (“in the culture”)? At the same time, how critical is it when creating content to reach far beyond the product features and promotional messages that traditionally define competition and differentiation “in the category”?

Besides Instagram, the Trend School presentation offered several other examples of brands operating in the culture to deliver product and service innovation, and in the process invite brand affinity:

  • Intel, with its What About Me? app, which lets users create personalized infographics of their digital lives.
  • Jay Z and Powermat, collaborating to integrate mobile device charging mats into the music mogul’s 40/40 Club.
  • J. Crew, where Creative Director Jenna Lyons is virtually living, looking and curating the brand aesthetic and experience.
  • Etsy, the online marketplace for all things crafty and handmade, launching a scholarship program for women who wish to become coders and hackers.
  • Method, which imbued character and “story” into its new line of cleaning products.
  • Google, with its Project Re:Brief, a remake for the web of iconic TV ads.
  • Zappos, welcoming headquarters visitors like old friends, providing tours, etc.
  • Foldit, where the crowd is finding solutions to come of science’s gnarliest puzzles.

Notice how many of these case examples are, essentially, content marketing. Or at least close cousins of content. IF, that is, you define content similarly to how I do:

“Value-adding information, interactions and experiences by which brands engage, create momentum and build affinity with audiences vital to their success.”

Next time you evaluate your content strategy, or brainstorm that next round of advanced assets you hope will add value for your audience, ask yourself:

Are we still thinking and operating purely in category? Or are we out there, in the culture? 

Not familiar with The Intelligence Group? They’re a self-described “youth-focused consumer insights and trend research company,” built on discovering and interpreting what younger generations think, do, feel and buy. The firm delivers its insights and interpretive services via multiple “Cassandra” branded products and services, including:

  • Cassandra Report. A subscription-based, ongoing, regularly updated consumer trend study.
  • Cassandra Live: In-person “Trend School” seminars.
  • Cassandra Daily: A free daily trend e-newsletter (a personal favorite of mine). 
  • Cassandra Solutions: Proprietary research using an online community of hand-recruited consumers for custom client projects.

This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.


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Most of us are fascinated by big. Big beings. Big things. Big wins. Big flops.

To be “big,” it seems, is to embody some irresistible combination of nagging improbability and awe-inspiring possibility.

Dinosaurs. The Hindenburg. Sumo wrestlers. The Titanic. Blue whales. Yao Ming. Babe Ruth. World’s tallest buildings. Broadway’s Spider Man show.

It can be not only eye- but mind-opening to ponder that which is truly big in life and business. Will it survive? Will it ship? Will it fail stupendously? What mark or lessons will it leave in its wake?

If that person is attempting something that big, am I thinking big enough? As a company, as a brand, do we need to go big…at least bigger…or go home?

If you lead marketing for your business, you might find yourself in discussions and debates — with colleagues, withing the C-suite, probably even with yourself — about how far, how deep, how BIG can (or should?) your organization go with its content strategy.

To give you a benchmark against which to measure, Content Is Marketing will occasionally point out what appear (at least to us) to be new, noteworthy, BIG content programs. Programs you might want to know about and study (or maybe not, depending on how smart they seem to you, or how they play out).

Today’s example of Big Content: AT&T’s program, Daybreak.

Marketing Technology via Transmedia

Want a tell-tale sign you’re about to embark on a big content initiative? You find yourself ordering one of those folding canvas director’s chairs, customized with the name of someone famous on the back.

For AT&T (which probably ordered more than one of those chairs for Daybreak), the big name was Tim Kring, creator of FOX TV’s Crossing Jordan, Heroes and, most recently, Touch. It was with the Touch season finale last month that Kring and AT&T launched Daybreak, a series of five short, action-packed films. They track the story arc of a character, Ben Wilkins, as he strives to outmaneuver a global conspiracy and return a mysterious object (a 12-sided cube, or dodecahedron) to its proper place, making extensive use of advanced AT&T technologies to ensure that the world as we know it keeps spinning.

The story, and the strategy, are too complex and multi-faceted to explain in detail here. That’s in part because, as Esther Lee, AT&T’s SVP of brand marketing and advertising, explained in a recent blog post, the company elected to work with Kring because he’s considered a pioneer in “transmedia,” or cross-platform entertainment. In addition, she wrote, Kring’s work often focuses on “themes such as interconnectivity and global consciousness made possible through technology.”

A partial list of media, marketing platforms and content formats Kring and AT&T “trans-ed” to deliver the Daybreak experience are TV programming (the dodecahedron first appeared in the last three episodes of Touch), TV ads, the web (both content and ads), blogging, Twitter (#daybreak2012), Flikr, public relations and a Daybreak sweepstakes (sorry, entries closed yesterday).

To immerse yourself further in what AT&T is thinking and doing with Daybreak, check out:

Here’s the elevator-speech intro AT&T provides on its website:

“Technology, fueled by AT&T’s 4G network, plays a starring role in Daybreak. In the series, we showcase AT&T technologies — some of which are available in the marketplace, and others that represent how scientists in our labs re-imagine what’s possible.”

What’s the Big Deal?

Is Daybreak a smart and successful content program, or just a big one? Too early to tell. I do know that when I search “daybreak” on Google, the first result is for an ABC TV program, starring actor Taye Diggs, which debuted and then fizzled after only six episodes in 2006. Right there, given the investment AT&T was making, I have a hunch it would have been better to go in another, fresh direction on the program name.

But this Big Content post is not a case study or a formal critique. It’s mostly meant as a heads up, pointing out a possible benchmark for you and your organization.

If you’re interested in learning more about where “big” is on the content marketing spectrum, you can explore Daybreak for yourself. And with the sweeps now closed, there’s a good chance we’ll hear some reporting of results soon.

Assuming, that is, AT&T’s products helped Ben Wilkins return the dodecahedron to its rightful home.


Have you been tracking Daybreak or is this news to you? Any thoughts on whether this sort of content program will be effective in helping AT&T get consumers excited about its advanced technologies — and engaged with its brand?

This post, originally published on Hanley Wood Marketing’s Content Is Marketing blog, is cross-posted here for subscribers to Touch Point City. For more marketing ideas and insights from my colleagues at HWM, subscribe to Content Is Marketing.

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