Six Principles to Build a Great Content Brand

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All brands should start to act like publishers.
— Every consultant

No doubt you’ll have heard that brands need to start to act like publishers. And I am as guilty as the next person/consultant of using this concept – but I do so advisedly. You see, many moons ago, I worked in publishing. And now I don’t. In fact, many people have started their careers in some form of publishing and have either been forcibly ejected from the industry through some form of disruptive change, or they exited strategically to reinvent themselves.

But the plain fact is that publishing is in decline.

However, knowledge of publishing has never been more necessary.

Good publishers have known forever that their best asset is their audience – and that strong writing, creative and content is what attracts that audience. Many businesses, from startups to enterprises, think that “content marketing” is simply a function of production – that you just need to feed the various channels so that you can cover all your needs. But this is 20th Century thinking. It’s broadcast masquerading as social media.

To be heard in a noisy, always-connected world, you need to be relevant. And that requires some rethinking around your content strategy.

Luckily, the folks from Velocity Partners have done the hard work of distilling this challenge into six key principles:

  1. Be the buyer (ie know your customer)
  2. Be authoritative (ie know what you are talking about)
  3. Be strategic (ie connect the dots for your customers)
  4. Be prolific (ie produce regular, reliable, quality content)
  5. Be passionate (ie have a point of view)
  6. Be tough on yourself (ie make an effort to produce good work)

In addition I would add a final point to this – buddy-up. Most of us are not geared towards producing enough content – let alone producing enough QUALITY content. This means partnering. It’s worth experimenting and collaborating to find a team that is right for you. After all, you’re building a great content brand, right, not just factory farming content?

Fresh Ideas-Woolworths launches innovation program for startups

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One of the greatest challenges any startup faces is distribution. How do you get your new product or service into the hot little hands of your customers? How do you do it quickly and with a high conversion rate? Gone are the days when you could drop your new app into the Apple App Store and start seeing download traction.

At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in July 2014, it was revealed that there are now over 1.2 million apps on the iOS App Store (Google Play, by comparison, is estimated to hold around 1.2 million apps on their store). This literally means that the chance of someone stumbling upon your prized and well-loved app is way less than one in a million – and when you add in algorithms, rankings, reputation and efforts to game the process, the average app developer is at a distinct disadvantage.

Rather than placing all your bets as a startup founder on “going viral” and creating the “next Facebook”, many are turning to some form of collaboration with corporates. And just as the startups turn to corporates, so too do the corporates turn to the startups.

Over the last few months there has been increasing interest in curating engagement with the startup community – not just sponsorship of events which is a light touch, but more substantial programs. While these may start out as “hackathons” where teams of developers come together over a weekend to collaborate on often random projects, when successful, the programs evolve into more substantial efforts. Firms like PwC host Open Innovation events that bring together entrepreneurs, small business owners, clients and researchers to solve challenging problems; NRMA and Slingshot recently launched their JumpStart program; and Telstra has progressed even further, establishing their Muru-D accelerator which has just accepted its second intake.

In an unexpected – but welcome move – Woolworths too are stepping into this space. It is still unclear what the benefits would be for a participating startup – the Wstart program website explains:

This is an opportunity to be heard by key Woolworths executives and discuss your business idea that could drive new thinking within Woolworths. We provide a collaborative environment to learn, share and network with others.

The format of the first event is Speed Dating where you can showcase your idea, collaborate with like-minded individuals, network, and receive mentoring from industry experts.

But the Wstart website is sparse – and to be honest – collaborative environments are popping up faster than I can blink. Or write. And while mentoring is great, access to potential customers, users and communities are far more important for startups.

After the speed dating event there is the opportunity to continue discussions with Woolworths.

If you are interested in participating, you need to submit your startup idea for consideration by 17 November 2014. You can do this on the Wstart website.

 

Holidays Ahead: All aboard the content marketing express

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At the beginning of the year, Oracle Eloqua released a State of Content Marketing Survey Report that revealed the trends that were impacting content marketing and approaches that would be taken through 2014. And now, as we are closing in on what is possibly the most explosive time of year for content marketing (yes, I mean the Christmas/Holiday period), I thought it worth running a fine toothed comb across the findings to consider what has changed and what hasn’t. In doing so, we may find a worthwhile insight to drive our holiday content marketing efforts.

Some of the things to consider in your own content marketing include:

  • Grow your own content: With 93% of respondents creating their own content in-house, 2014 was set to be a strong year for client-side marketers. However, just a little over half are regularly creating content for sales enablement. This leads to a disconnect between marketing and sales which can cause internal challenges and misalignment between business and marketing objectives. Lesson: Work with external agencies to expand content creation capabilities
  • Tool-up to measure effectiveness: Almost 50% of respondents expected to successfully align content with the buyer’s journey by mid-2014. However, only 22% have an effective measurement strategy, and 23% don’t have the tools they need for measurement. This further exacerbates the disconnect between marketing and sales. Lesson: There are increasingly powerful measurement tools available. Now is the time to invest, evaluate and refine your measurement approach ahead of the holiday period
  • Feed your marketing automation machine with quality content: Just like data, you get out what you put into content marketing. It’s not just a matter of “pumping out” content – the challenge for marketers is creating a centre of gravity which attracts customers, leads and opportunities to engage. This is done with quality content, and with 24% of marketers indicating they struggle to engage their audiences, it’s clear there is work to be done here. Lesson: The dream of one-to-one conversations at scale is only possible with a deep understanding of your customer’s journey, marketing automation that has been tuned to that path, and quality content that nurtures leads and moves your audiences from anonymity visitors to known customers. 

Most marketers will have clear plans for the next two months, but it’s worth pausing and asking the question “Are we doing the right things and doing things right?”. In this digital age, strategy, execution and measurement are no longer time consuming – and marketers must learn to iterate their marketing at the speed of their customers’ lives. Find people who can help you experiment and climb aboard the content marketing express.

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80s Awareness – a message from Kevin Bacon

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Over the last decade, 80s awareness has been in very steep decline. Thank goodness that Kevin Bacon is supporting this important cause. Please give your 30 second attention span to help.

 

The SMEG Police Brought to You by Adobe

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You’ve probably met the type – or had them pitch you. They’re the FUD masters, sewing fear, uncertainty and doubt, knowing that at the end of the conversation they have a lead to follow up or maybe even a project. They talk big numbers, after all, 40% of the Australian population use Facebook, 3 million on Twitter and well, everyone in the country on Google. Surely you can’t afford NOT to have a presence in these digital territories.

In the world of small business, we’ve been hearing these pitches for years. These “Social Media Expert Gurus” (SMEGs) would sweep in, dazzle business owners, soak up budgets and then disappear when it came time to report back on results and outcomes. More recently, we are seeing larger enterprises follow this same course. Sometimes the entree comes through the Board or senior executives. They are swayed by the “social media savvy” and “digital swagger” of the SMEG and quickly find themselves signing up for hefty retainers attached to uncertain outcomes.

But the immediacy and impact of social media can be addictive. And even the most cynical executive can find themselves enthralled.

Every time someone reads, clicks or shares a link or piece of content that we have created, it sends a small dose of dopamine into our brain. This release provides us with a sense or reward, pleasure – and encouragement. It’s why (for the marketer) digital marketing or social media can be addictive. It is also why those who don’t use social media fail to understand the way that participation can become contagious – or how content can go “viral”.

Adobe have taken aim at this phenomena with their Mean Streets video. It’s a fantastic take on the rollercoaster of social media vanity metrics – Likes and Fans. Will it help you spot a SMEG in the crowd? Perhaps not, but you know who to call when you need to be bailed out.

Disrupting Retail: Three myths about digital and in-store shopping

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A couple of weeks back I had the opportunity to speak at the DiG Festival about the future of retail. The panel hosted by retail guru, Nancy Georges evolved very quickly away from a simple notion of retail to one augmented by digital technology, mobile connectivity and dominated by a focus on customer experience.

And while great strides have been made overseas in recent years, it seems that Australian retailers are only now starting to properly grapple with the challenges and opportunities afforded by digital. For many categories, this has left gaping holes in the retail experience, affording startups and more agile small players to enter and dominate parts of the Australian retail landscape. Just think of the way:

  • Zara swept into the country, catching Myer and David Jones completely off guard
  • Shoes of Prey have outflanked and reinvigorated the custom women’s footwear space
  • ASOS out-compete local retailers with reliable online shopping and speedy fulfilment

In many ways, this is symptomatic of a larger shift in consumer behaviour. We are now using our mobile phones and digital devices to fulfil our consumptive impulses, and Australian retailers have been caught with their pants down, having stubbornly under-invested in technology, innovation and customer experience for decades.

There is, however, an increasing body of evidence that retailers can rely upon to bust the entrenched, old-skool thinking that seems to dominate the boards and executive ranks of Australian retail. And this latest research from Google is a great starting point. Busting three myths about digital and its relationship to in-store purchase, the report shows:

Myth 1: Search results only send consumers to eCommerce sites

The research shows that far from creating a barrier to in-store shopping, quality search results can drive in-store traffic. However, this clearly means that retailers have to be actively managing and updating their web presence and product catalogues.

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Myth 2: Retailers lose the attention of in-store customers once they turn to their smartphones

With 42% of in-store shoppers searching for information online while in the store, an up-to-date website with integrated recommendation could deliver powerful cross-selling opportunities.

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Myth 3: Online research has relegated in-store experience to the transaction

In reality, consumers have higher customer experience expectations than ever before. For example, 85% of shoppers say they’d be more likely to shop in places that offer personalised coupons and exclusive offers in-store.

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You can download the full report here. But it is time for retailers to go beyond reading and to step out of the shadows of the Twentieth Century. It’s time to embrace the opportunities that come with disruptive technology and business models. Not to do so will open yet more doors to disruptive competitors – and no business can afford that.

Eleven Startups Catch the Next Wave at Muru-D

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You could hear the noise in the lift on the way up. Over 150 people were packed into the open area of Muru-D, Telstra’s startup accelerator, awaiting the announcement of the ten teams who would participate in the second class of the Muru-D academy. For the teams that were selected, there was excitement. For those that didn’t make it, disappointment.

The Muru-D academy is a startup accelerator program supported by Telstra. It offers entrepreneurs $40,000 and six months of business mentoring and active development in exchange for six percent equity in the fledgling business. I joined the program as a mentor for the first class so was interested to get an early look at those involved in the second intake.

Around 20 or so new teams had been corralled at the Muru-D office in Sydney’s Paddington over a weekend. They were put through their paces in a “bootcamp” – an intensive round of meetings, instruction and pitching designed to help the Muru-D judges determine those most likely to succeed. Across the weekend, the startup teams were questioned, provoked, supported and challenged. It is certainly not a process for the faint hearted.

But talking to a number of the participants, it was clear that the bootcamp process was worthwhile – even more experienced teams learned a great deal.

All-in-all there were 11 teams selected to participate in the academy process. That was one more than expected – but clearly there was value to be found. This rounds teams include:

  • FanFuel – a sponsorship marketplace where brands search, measure and secure their sponsorship deal.
  • FreightExchange – a digital marketplace for freight transporters to sell their unused capacity to businesses that need to ship goods.
  • Wattblock – quick, customised, web-based energy-saving road maps for residential and commercial strata buildings.
  • Disrupt Surfing – custom surfboards made using 3D modelling.
  • You Chews – an online catering platform, making it easy to find great food for meetings and events.
  • TripALocal – an online platform that connects travellers with local hosts for authentic local experiences.
  • Peep Digital – an intelligent, phonetic English technology platform to help children, youths and adults struggling with English pronunciation and comprehension.
  • VClass – the first ever hybrid education platform that combines the power of internet, VoIP and traditional pen and paper to create an online teaching experience like face to face.
  • Instrument Works – developers of wireless, portable sensors and instruments to build the internet of things for research.
  • CroudSourceHire – a pre-hire assessments marketplace platform that crowdsources industry experts to assist with assessment of jobs for companies.
  • SoccerBrain – making it easy for anyone to coach a team, providing tailored, interactive training sessions week-by-week for coaches and players.

The teams kick off their acceleration program in the coming weeks. It will be interesting to see where this wave takes them. And indeed, where it takes Telstra and the Muru-D team.

Do CMOs Like to Play the Field?

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CMOs are a funny breed. They work with a constant tension – half living in the shadow of the former incumbent and half looking towards their own future vision. And with a tenure that lasts about 45 months, that means that there is about two years’ worth of clean air for the marketing chief to make their stamp on a business. It’s precious little when you think about it.

So, from an agency point of view, working with a CMO also has challenging ramifications. Is there alignment between the agency and the CMO? Is there a long term partnership? Or is there a whole new agenda at play?

The Agency Management Institute has released a study that looks under the hood at what truly drives the agency partnership by interviewing CMOs from across the US. It reveals three main style of CMO:

  • Looking for love: these are the CMOs who are in it for the long haul. They are looking for the one-stop-shop and see the agency as a partner in the business and brand building process
  • Playing the field: this is the CMO who hires best of breed. They want the expert know-how and will shake up the agency relationship to keep the blood pumping
  • Single and satisfied: these CMOs are firmly in control of their own destiny – they’ve got strong in-house teams and use agencies on a project by project basis.

Understanding the CMO you are dealing with can help you plan ahead. But there are some things that all the CMOs agreed upon – agencies need to stop being pushy and need to work on building trust levels. Easy to say, hard to do.

 

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Don’t Bore Your Audience: Use the Pixar Pitch

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When I studied literature, I was fascinated by form. By the words. Arrangement. Layout. And narrative. I loved the way that John Fowles would create untrustworthy narrators that led the story in new, unexpected directions. And I loved Antonin Artaud’s dangerous writings. Or Christopher Barnett’s language that was so revolutionary it broke the words. I was intrigued and excited by writing that would break the language and our expectations and then reconstruct things completely new. It was a disruption to thought and expectation and it blew my mind.

But the best of these writers were not rampant destroyers of meaning. They were articulate explorers pushing the limits of language and the implicit bargain that writers make with their readers. Sometimes it would work and take us – together – on new journeys. And sometimes I’d throw the book against the wall and leave it to make its own way back to the shelf. The thing is, that the best of these writers were masters of their craft – and they’d work very deliberately to take us as readers on a journey – it just so happened that the by-product of that journey would be some form of collision or catastrophe of language. And in that way, the product of the writing was not the book – but the experience. Of reading. Co-creating meaning. Disruption.

So when I attend a conference, view a video or see a presentation, I look for something that is going to set my heart ablaze and send my mind wheeling. I wonder where I will be taken or how I will be surprised. And more often than not, I am disappointed.

There is no narrative. No journey to follow and become involved with. It’s just facts. Numbers. And opportunities for micro-naps.

It’s a slow death being hammered by statistics.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Dan Pink’s book, To Sell is Human, explains the formula deployed to great success by Pixar. It goes something like this:

Once upon a time <something happened>.

Every day <life went on like this>.

One day <something changed>.

Because of that <the world was never the same again>.

Until finally <a new world became the next chapter>.

Now, I am not going to say that this formula will change your world. Nor that each presentation needs to be a masterpiece.

But if your job is communication (and if it’s not, why are you presenting?), then do your audience a favour and wheel out the Pixar Pitch. You might just be amazed at the impact it has.

Disrupting Graphics: Now Design’s at Your Fingertips with Canva for iPad

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Canva-ipad One of the great local startup success stories, Canva – the platform that lets us all create great graphic design in an amazingly simple way – has reached a milestone – 850,000 users. This is no mean feat – especially in a world where every startup, every mature business and hoards of consultants, freelancers and the like vie for our attention, loyalty and share of wallet. With a super-intuitive yet powerful interface, Canva have made it easy for anyone to produce quality graphic design, collateral and presentations.

And by “anyone”, I mean anyone. Including me, my brother and my mother (so yes, it passes the family test). And by “quality” I mean that the results don’t look like they were produced by me, my brother or mother. They look like they’ve been done by a designer. This is largely down to the great library of ready-to-go images, design elements, templates and fonts that come with a Canva account. But it’s also largely by the Canva co-founders keeping a close eye on their advocates, user base and fans.

Speaking with co-founder, Melanie Perkins, over a year ago, it was clear that the Canva team needed to walk a fine line between democratising design – making it available to the masses – while also maintaining the goodwill, support and efforts of the design community. After all, Melanie and co-founder, Cliff Obrecht had come from a design background themselves and were actively working with designers to build out libraries of assets that could be commercialised at scale.

In just over a year, more than 5.7 million designs have been created, Guy Kawasaki has come on-board as chief evangelist, and the team has grown beyond its cute digs in the funky Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.

But not content to rest on their laurels, Canva have now released a new a full function app for the iPad.

And for me, this takes Canva into a whole new market. It puts their powerful platform into the hands of its users. Literally. And that means small business owners. Those who work in shops, restaurants and cafes. It brings ease-of-use to a new level too – with access to your iPad’s camera and camera roll, there’s no more messy transferring of images across devices. It’s all in one place – ready to be edited, filtered and combined with illustrations and images from the Canva library.

Now, I won’t lie. Canva in the hands of a good designer will astound you. And my mum’s birthday card designs, while a big hit with the family, are unlikely to end up being featured in a Hallmark promotion. But Canva is a massive step up from the entry-level tools that still dominate small businesses the world over. So say goodbye to that old Paint program, and say hello to a new universe of creativity. Download Canva for iPad here.