Is It Time for a Chief Brand Storyteller?


This great presentation on content marketing and storytelling by Jonathan Crossfield got me thinking. What is it about brands, storytelling and technology that we continue to struggle with – and why is this struggle so pervasive?

Now, I see a lot of content marketing every day. There are newsletters, infographics and blog posts. Sometimes there are videos. Podcasts. Quizzes. Surveys. The variety is rich … but the quality? Well, often the quality leaves much to be desired.

Who can we blame?

Content marketing – like all marketing – has many masters. There are the internal subject matter experts to please. The brand and reputation folks to appease. And let’s not even bring up compliance/corporate affairs. Or Legal. Imagine having to include them!? Then there are the representatives from sales, product, engineering and finance – after all, someone has to pay for this.

Eventually, someone will create the brief and the creative process will kick in. It could be internally created or pushed out to an agency. There will be drafts, revisions and feedback. There will be interpretation.

And then one day there will be an approval … and your content marketing baby will be pushed out into the world. Will it work? Will it deliver a bounty?

Too often our marketing efforts end up a pale imitation of the original idea. After review upon review, interpretation upon interpretation, much of the spark and energy is lost.

It makes me think that we need a new custodian. A Chief Brand Storyteller (CBS). Someone who ensures that the story we want, need and should tell, remains intact. The CBS would:

  • Prioritise our audiences over our processes
  • Reclaim our business narratives from the tyrannies of product form and function
  • Remind us that our purpose is to serve customers, guide them, delight and surprise them.

And the CBS would also have an important technology role. So many of our brand and business narratives are generated, delivered and amplified through technology – and this impacts the story and the storytelling. The CBS needs to help brands re-imagine storytelling for our times. And this may, perhaps, be the most important aspect.

Consumer Behaviour Has Changed. Your Content Marketing Needs to Change Too


It wasn’t really until Joe Pulizzi came along and started talking seriously and meaningfully about content marketing that anyone realised that’s what we were doing. As marketers we had been creating collateral, whitepapers, insights, case studies, quizzes, articles and presentations forever. And I mean forever. But we had been producing all this content from a particular point of view – from the inside. After all, up until social media really hit its straps, we were living in a largely broadcast – one-way communications world.

And as we had our heads down, chugging away on our daily tasks, weekly WIPs and month-end reports, something strange happened. Unexpected. Unprecedented.

The audience shifted.

It wasn’t that we weren’t paying attention. It’s that we didn’t have a response. All of sudden, people were reading reviews on the web. They were taking notice of blogs – and complaining about bad customer service. In public. The closed-loop channels that we had developed no longer held any sway. Our customers – whether they loved or hated us at the time – were taking their opinions, feedback and recommendations out of our hands (and channels) and talking directly to each other. Without us.

Fast forward a decade or so and many brands have caught up. To be honest, there has been huge acceleration over the last year or two – and content marketing leaders are rapidly outstripping and outcompeting the rest of their industries. Take a look at the work that Commonwealth Bank is doing. Or ANZ with their BlueNotes initiative. Then look at other industries.

Those that are leading the way have put in place a strategic approach to content and it is paying dividends.

As a member of the ADMA Content Marketing Expert Community, I workshopped key (and continuing issues) with content marketing with leading Australian marketers. We examined the challenges and the processes, skills gaps and opportunities. We looked into ROI and analytics, native advertising and changes in audience behaviour. The resulting whitepaper provides marketers with a solid framework for becoming more customer centric.

This seismic shift in the ability to communicate with audiences from the organisation to consumers demands a radical rethink in marketing strategy. It is no longer the case that businesses can produce marketing materials to support their product cycles. For messages to achieve cut through, organisations need to have a social licence to discuss the topic, putting permission to engage squarely in the hands of the audience. Credibility and media both need to be earned.

You can download the full paper on the ADMA website.

Even Your Boring Brand Can Be Sexy on Social Media

Man sleeping

I often wonder if there is such a thing as a “boring brand”. Sure we have exciting, innovative and even “cool” brands – these are easy to spot. Big budgets. Celebrities. Airplanes. But not all of us work for or with these kinds of brands.

And that is the real opportunity. But to understand that opportunity, there are three steps you must take:

1. Think beyond your product

It may be your job to evangelise your product, but the challenge for social media is to step outside of your comfort zone. Rather than thinking of the product you are selling, think of the problem you are solving for your customers.

One of the  best examples that springs to mind for me is an old NRMA ad where the product being sold is roadside assistance. A middle aged couple are dressed up, driving to an evening at the opera. Along the way the car stops in the rain. He has forgotten to renew their roadside assistance insurance. While attempting to fix the problem, somehow the hapless gentleman removes the distributor cap and attempts to hide it in his tuxedo while his wife hits him with her handbag.

What is the ad selling? Not roadside assistance. Not even insurance. It’s selling peace of mind for all the non-mechanics out there.

2. Build customer relationships

Given that customers these days buy in their own time (not just when suits brands and marketing campaigns), we need to find ways to build customer relationships ahead of the buying curve. Learn to speak the language of your customers. Participate in their activities. Show that you “are one of them”.

This is something that startup Canva do exceptionally well. They manage to balance on the one hand, a community of designers; and on the other a growing community of business people who need graphic design for personal or professional reasons. It is clear through their Canva blog and their Design School that “sometimes you win, sometimes you LEARN”. And the more you work to bring both together, the more value is created in and around the Canva platform.

3. Advocate for your customers

As shown in this interesting infographic (below), Tampax’s Awesomely Active Girl Challenge was a great way to engage women, encouraging them to remain active during their period.  But it’s not just a matter of encouraging activity – it’s about being “awesomely active”.

As brand ambassador, surfer, Bethany Hamilton explained during the 2013 campaign, “I am happy to be partnering with Tampax Pearl Active because they offer high performance protection for high performance girls just like me who would never think of letting their periods keep them from hanging ten or biking hard. This contest is all about cheering on each other and celebrating those active moments when all eyes are on them”.



Man sleepingCreative Commons License Timothy Krause via Compfight

Content Marketing in Australia 2015 – Are you creating content worth sharing?


At a recent event hosted by Livefyre, Neal Mann, digital strategist for News Corp Australia posed a challenging question – would you share the last piece of content that you created? Answering his own question, Neal revealed the single largest challenge facing Australian brands and marketers using content marketing as part of their strategy:

Most people don’t say yes. They don’t. Because they’ve not actually created [content] to engage an audience, they’ve created it to get it out the door … It’s worth highlighting engagement on Facebook and marketing. There’s a big difference between paying for engagement which is kind of the initial stages of what happened with social. Now, if you look at the US brands in particular that are notoriously in news, they’re creating content that’s cool.

The Pepsi Max test drive pranks, for example, saw widespread engagement, with some of the videos – like the one below – delivering over 40 million views (and counting). And the Pepsi YouTube channel has also grown as a branded media channel with over 729,000 subscribers.

But this kind of content is rarely being produced here in Australia. There is sill a focus on buying engagement rather than producing engaging content – material and media that are worth sharing.

The release of the Content Marketing Institute – ADMA benchmark report for 2015, seems to provide at least some of the answers to why this might be the case. Presenting the findings from over 250 Australian marketers, the report shows:

  • Content marketing effectiveness is lagging: Only 29% of marketers consider their companies effective at content marketing – though this extends to 44% where there is a documented content marketing strategy in place
  • Marketers need to commit and plan content marketing: Only 37% of the respondents indicated that they have documented content marketing strategies in place. A further 46% indicated that there is an undocumented strategy
  • A disconnect between demand generation and marketing: With 60% of marketers indicating that web traffic is a measure of success for content marketing, sales lead quality languishes at 29% with customer renewal rates at 19%.

Interestingly, the report also reveals that 63% of marketers intend to increase their content marketing budget in 2015. And with this in mind there are some key activities that marketers can work immediately:

  • Develop and document a content marketing strategy: Unless a strategy is clear in the minds of the marketers, agencies and suppliers – as well as the business management – it’s almost impossible to track effectiveness. For assistance in developing your content marketing strategy, reach out to us here
  • Measure and innovate to improve effectiveness: Once you have a strategy, you need to stick to it. Simple frameworks and dashboards can help you measure what works, change what doesn’t and consistently improve over time
  • Commit to creating content worth sharing: Almost every business has employees who are also customers. If you can’t encourage your own employees to share your content with their friends, family and business networks, then you need to reassess your creative approach. It’s time to invest in creative rather than paid media.

As Joe Pulizzi, Founder of the Content Marketing Institute says:

There are two critical factors that differentiate effective content marketers over the rest of the pack – having a documented content marketing strategy and following it very closely. Those two things make all the difference.

And with budgets under scrutiny and competition fierce, it may be time to reach out for assistance. After all, isn’t it time that you started making content that you are proud of? You know it is.

Six Principles to Build a Great Content Brand


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?

Holidays Ahead: All aboard the content marketing express


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.


Breathing New Life into PowerPoint with SlideDocs

The book

I have always been a fan of storytelling. But not everyone is keen to be a story reader. Or a listener. For in our time crunched lives, our own attention is our most limited resource. Accordingly, communication has been concatenated, shrunk, manipulated. We’ve got our 30 second, 60 second and elevator pitches down pat.

But a picture is worth a thousand words

As someone who loves language I have always bristled at the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words. Sure a picture might be worth a thousand words, but they’d be indifferent words. They’d be rushed, debased, uneven. Or so lean that they lose the humanity, beauty and creativity that inspired them.

Fortunately, like so many things, words are a kind of fashion, and it feels like they may just be coming back in vogue. Witness the popularity of longer form writing like Snow Fall. And the growing popularity of newish text driven platform Medium.

From PowerPoint to SlideDocs

Nancy Duarte’s new Slidedocs book provides a great framework for us to reconnect with our love of text, storytelling and technology. And it does it using that old nemesis, PowerPoint. You can look through and download the book, interrogate its construction and authoring and apply it to your own needs. Sound like a plan? I’m hoping it’s the start of a whole new chapter.

The bookCreative Commons License Dave Heuts via Compfight

Get More from Instagram


I have been a fan of Instagram for some time. Not just because of the filters … but because it has developed an interesting and engaged community of users. Instagram has become the Flickr that the internet didn’t forget.

But there is a vast difference between using Instagram as an individual and using it as part of your business marketing toolkit. But many of the things that you love about Instagram personally, can be usefully applied professionally – with a couple of caveats:

  • Think with your brand hat on: Consider the content, composition and colour of the photos you are taking. Try to provide some form of visual consistency
  • Let your personal creativity and personality shine: Just because you are working on a professional presence doesn’t mean that it is a personality free zone. You got your job due to your unique talents. Apply these to your Instagram efforts
  • Connect in and connect out: Make sure that your Instagram efforts are connected with your broader marketing and business strategy. Remember, likes are not revenues, so don’t get carried away with a flurry of interest. But do take advantage of the high levels of community engagement available through Instagram – it’s a great way to connect out to your community.

This great presentation on Instagram by Ross Simmonds provides some fantastic guidelines for doing more with Instagram together with samples of brands that are doing the right things.

Brand Storytelling: Teradata’s Case of the Tainted Lasagna

51: CSI: Investigates!

Brand storytelling can be hard work. Not only are there all the internal hurdles to overcome, sign-offs and legal checks and so on – there is also the challenge of subject matter. What do you do if you have a complex product or solution that you are trying to explain? Which channels do you choose – and how do you incorporate social media into the mix.

I was recently speaking with a financial services industry CEO who lamented that they have the most boring product in the world. He couldn’t see how it would resonate with a social media-savvy audience.

But social media is not broadcast – especially in B2B (business-to-business) marketing. You’re not trying to reach and engage millions of people – you are (or should be) focused on the buyer’s journey and helping to ease your customer’s decision making process. That means selecting the most appropriate channel – and delivering content that provides very specific value to your customer at their point of need. And brand storytelling can form a very powerful component of your content strategy and lead nurturing program.

Still unsure of how this might work for you and your brand?

Enterprise software vendor, Teradata, have been experimenting with brand storytelling for some time and have taken a novel approach that you may want to steal (I mean “learn from”). Tapping into pop culture’s interest in forensic analysis (a la CSI), they have created a series of videos that take a new approach to case studies and product/solution brochures. The “Business Scenario Investigations” or “BSI” team dramatize business problems and then showcase how technology can be used to “solve” the problem.

Each of their videos can be found on the BSI: Teradata Facebook page as well as the YouTube channel. They cleverly provide a powerpoint version of the scenario via Slideshare and share the storyboarding process from problem definition to casting through to resolution.  And while the case of the tainted lasagna may not be to your taste, it’s likely to be very appealing to those CIOs and CMOs wanting to understand how data can transform their businesses. And that’s tasty. Very tasty indeed.

51: CSI: Investigates! Kit via Compfight

Scale Your Digital Marketing with Marketing Automation

laughing cow

In these challenging times, we are all asked to do more with less. For marketers, this means coping with an explosion of channels, transformation in the expectations of our customers and an abundance of data that can, in equal parts,  obscure or facilitate insight.

So where can you turn to scale your marketing efforts?

The first generation of marketing automation software provided a great way to deal with an increasing volume of broadcast style communications. But in this digital – multi-directional world, marketers must be more responsive, engaging and yes, social.

My just released report, Scaling Up with Marketing Automation, provides a birds eye view of the marketing automation landscape, presents the key strengths and features of a range of vendors and examines how these solutions can help marketers do more with less. You can download a snapshot of the report here.

laughing cow chotda via Compfight