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The Back Deck

Our view on navigating today’s marketing landscape

24 Jul
2013

How to Mix the Secret Ingredients for a Good Corporate Blog

What are the ingredients for a good corporate blog?

This question has plagued mankind since the dawn of, well, the Internet, some 20 years ago. In that time, brands and corporations have been attempting to attract readers and spur interaction, but many fall short of success.

We’ve been thinking a lot about corporate blogs recently at CMD and what makes them succeed or fail. So we did some research and at the end of the day came back with this definition of a good corporate blog: a good corporate blog helps make customers smarter. There, I said it. A good blog educates.

Our theory was confirmed earlier this year when a blog that we manage for a client—which features an educational strategy—won the BtoB Magazine award for Best Corporate Blog.

In order to understand what makes a corporate blog good, we first must explore what makes a corporate blog bad:

1) We, We, We Syndrome: Too much focus on the company. Nobody wants to read a blog that is all about the company, announces company news, explains how great an organization is, and links to product brochures. If this were an actual disease, the Center for Disease Control would classify it as an epidemic, because this type of blog is everywhere.

2) Casket-itis: A blog that has not been updated since June of 2007 is officially dead, and turns away readers who are looking for current information.

3) Lackus Strategyus: English translation: no strategy or cohesion. This type of blog puts bits of information together piecemeal in hopes that it will appear as an organized unit.

So back to the original question: what are the ingredients for a good corporate blog? Here’s my take:

4) Serves educational content: A corporate blog that addresses industry hot topics and shares its point of view encourages conversation while helping customers understand the key issues. Brands have an incredible opportunity these days to become their own media outlets and speak directly to the market with educational information that years ago was reserved only for trade publications.

5) Offers rich media: A blog should contain multiple ways to educate. A mixture of written blogs, videos and podcasts lets visitors choose the format in which they want to consume the information.

6) Presents multiple voices: A good corporate blog is a platform for the participation of others, as well. Invite your best customer to contribute a guest post, or interview a key supplier and ask for their view on a pressing issue. Adding multiple voices from inside and outside your organization demonstrates your willingness to foster discussion, and to help readers, rather than simply push product.

7) Posts consistently: Posting every week shows the audience you are serious about the effort and will attract repeat visitors. This also helps to fill the sales lead funnel.

As early adopters of this content philosophy, we are now starting to see the real results of engaging directly with customers and becoming the “media.” CMD saw this trend coming and took action about three years ago with a client’s corporate blog. Our recommended content strategy at the time (talking about industry trends, inviting guest posts, showing videos of experts in the field, hosting informational webinars) was to focus on industry hot buttons from a journalistic approach; basically everything except the client’s products.

This client understood what we proposed, and welcomed taking the position of a thought leader who facilitated conversations with potential customers. Now, the BtoB Magazine award for Best Corporate Blog hangs in their office.

What questions do you have about corporate blogs?

 

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17 Jul
2013

Matchmaking for Content Creators: What Agencies and Brands Really Want

 

Get Connected

So you want to monetize your blog, or perhaps you’ve been at it for a while and want to put a finer point on your social ROI and your interactions with business partners. The good news for content creators is that brands and the agencies that represent them are hot on the trail of finding social media influencers who can spark a deeper connection with target audiences. The not-so-good news? Partnering with an influencer can be a bit like dating: Is there any chemistry? Does one party see potential in the other, perhaps in an unexpected way?

The key insight here is that with a little bit of prep, one can take the unpleasant surprises out of the matchmaking process. Our team at CMD started working in the intersection between brands and influencers before Twitter was a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s eye, and I will be participating in a panel on blog marketing and monetization at BlogHer later this month. I’m looking forward to hearing from the BlogHer community about finding a good pairing for their business goals.

In preparation for the session, here are some thoughts on the fundamentals of a solid partnership:

1. Desperately seeking shared interests

Specifically, in the target audience. Is your content addressed to the same audience that an agency or brand is seeking out? When defining your audience it pays to be as specific as possible and to think beyond standard demographic shorthand. Just saying that your content targets women ages 25 to 34 doesn’t cut it in today’s environment, where big data analysis rules many marketing decisions. Brands and agencies need to know more psychographic and behavioral data—for example, whether those women ages 25 to 34 represent connected moms or road warriors—and what content of yours resonates with them most.

2. Must be highly engaged

Engagement is one of those marketing words that’s bandied about as if everyone fully understands what it means. The truth is that agencies and brands often define engagement in different ways, and it’s important to understand the specifics involved. To one brand, engagement may mean user actions on your content, such as comments; to another, it might add up to web page views and time on site. The first step here is defining engagement for yourself and your own community, regardless of social platform. Then understand how your intended partner defines engagement and find the common ground together.

3. Ready for commitment

Make sure that you and your partner have an agreed-upon vision for the outcomes, so there’s no unexpected conflict later on. It’s important to ask partners: What does success mean to you? An example of this might be a target number of signups during a certain timeframe or benchmarks for engagement, such as likes, ratings or comments within your community.

Salesforce’s blog recently posted an excellent overview for those who want to go deeper into the subject of social media ROI.

For all the not-so-lonely content creators out there, if you’ve forged a great partnership with an agency or brand, we’d love to hear about it. Share your thoughts with us and a link to sponsored content that particularly resonated with your community.

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2 Jul
2013

Herding Cats: Corralling Content Chaos [SlideShare]

Content marketing is all the rage these days – turning marketers into publishers and storytellers via a variety of digital channels and multimedia integration. But what are the best practices when it comes to determining your content strategy, how can you organize it and tell a compelling, consistent storyline that both reinforces your brand and motivates your audience? Darcie Meihoff and I recently led a content marketing Boot Camp at the Digital Marketing Conference in Portland, Ore., and our presentation explores tips, techniques and tools that can help you build an effective content marketing initiative designed to generate results. View it below and share!



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28 Jun
2013

What We’re Reading Now: Big Data, Hashtag Trends, Converged Marketing

As marketers we’re constantly challenged to think differently. Shifting one’s perspective is definitely the theme of the week from our team’s roundup of favorite articles. From putting big data analysis in its proper place to fresh perspectives, content marketing and working with social influencers, this week’s headline roundup offers and eclectic mix of insights.

  • From Darcie Meihoff: Don’t let the increasing focus on big data make you lose sight of the fact that your customers are human beings. New read on HBR.
  • From Elizabeth Johnston: Think you’re clever? Here’s a post that helps us work through some of the pain points when logged into multiple social media tools.
  • From Kevin Murphy: Of interest for marketers who are seeking to connect with teens—a great read on current trends among this age group. Teens aren’t abandoning “social.” They’re just using the word correctly. Also, a practical path for creating customer advocates.
  • From Megan BlankenshipContently’s blog, Strategist, takes up the daunting task of exploring the social conversation titan, the hashtag, including recommendations for how to extend its social shelf life, and the benefits of developing more lean (albeit still dynamic) hashtag strategies.
  • Finally, a few thoughts from an influencer—Yahoo! Small Business Advisor is running a series of interviews with Pinterest influencers so marketers can hear directly from them. What a concept!

What are you reading lately that has shifted your point of view on converged marketing?

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12 Jun
2013

The Healthy Agency-Client Dynamic

A positive long-term relationship takes care, attention and ongoing checkups

Just like any relationship, the best client-agency partnership is a give and take.  

No matter how big or small the budget, the stronger the relationship is, the more both sides will get out of it. And I’m not just talking about better work. Clients who can establish really great working relationships with their agencies will naturally find them willing to go above and beyond and throw in a few “extras” when push comes to shove (and push always comes to shove).

At CMD, we’re fortunate to work with stellar clients who set great examples for how to get the most out of an agency team. In fact, we’ve had some client relationships for 25-plus years. What it has taught us is that to keep a relationship strong, it’s wise to take pains to avoid the troubling syndromes that can trip up even the best client-agency dynamic. Here are our top 10 bad cases to watch out for:

#1. The “Um, you wanted what?” syndrome

The best relationships are the ones in which the agency knows where it stands. Is the expectation clear on whether the agency is a strategic, executional or simply project partner? Is the agency welcome to bring new ideas to the table, or do you just need strong execution? Clear expectations are key to avoiding confusion and frustration.

#2. The “I think I have that somewhere in my inbox” syndrome

The best agency-client communication style is consistent, responsive, organized, concise and direct. Issues are flagged early and the agency and client work together on the solution.

#3. The “We know better than you do” syndrome

Agencies need to realize that they will never be as much of an expert in the client’s business as the client is, and the client should trust the agency for its outside expertise. Both sides need to be willing to learn and listen. Enough said.

#4. The “Whoa, those recommendations are way off base” syndrome

In a healthy scenario, everybody’s marching to the same beat. Great clients provide clear direction, goals, insights, expectations and help prioritize based on budget and constraints. The agency responds with solutions that are squarely in-line with the direction set. Both work together to eliminate surprises. Budgets and scopes are clearly defined, but as project demands change, so do budget expectations.

#6. The “No risk, no reward” syndrome

Some tolerance for risk-taking is allowed, and all parties understand how far creative limits can be pushed. The team learns from successes and failures as a way to improve and advance future programs and efforts.

#7. The “Are we having fun yet?” syndrome

Great creative work takes inspiration and motivation. It’s a challenge that’s all at once exhilarating, addicting and full of highs and lows – but if both sides feel beaten down, the work will probably suffer as well.

#8. The “This will go viral, right?” syndrome

Agencies that promise things they have no real control over are doing clients a disservice by not being honest. Conversely, clients who have unrealistic expectations of their agencies are setting themselves up for disappointment.

#9. The “Decision by committee” syndrome

Processes, such as how many rounds of approvals does the budget/timeline account for, are clear. The client manages internal stakeholder feedback and gives the agency specific direction to help eliminate back and forth.

#9. The “One way street” syndrome

Partnership is rewarded; agency loyalty is rewarded with increased opportunities and arrangements that allow for greater collaboration; the client is rewarded with greater agency investment and dedicated teams who are committed to their business on an ongoing basis.

#10. The “So, did we succeed?” syndrome

The client and agency work up front to define success for what can reasonably be accomplished given the timing, resources, budget and position in the market. Key metrics are outlined and results are showcased in ways that make both sides look like heroes.

Great relationships are founded on mutual respect and appreciation. For more perspective, I found this white paper from the Bedford Group to be particularly good: http://bit.ly/ZKmMwL

Every agency and client I know has a story about great and not-so-great partnerships, and could probably add to this list. What would be your number 11 syndrome to avoid?

What’s music to our ears? When clients like Expedia are so happy with the outcome of a project, they serenade us (really!)

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20 May
2013

What We’re Reading Now: Content Marketing

Content marketing is top-of-mind around the office this spring. All of the posts and articles that have caught our attention recently discuss different shades of content marketing, especially ways to stay relevant within the customer’s buying journey.

From Kevin Murphy:

  • 5 ways to make your research stats in content marketing more credible. Read
  • Forrester Forum, Part 3: The New Customer Journey Lifecycle – learning the difference between depth and relationship channels. Read
  • How the big brands are doing content marketing—we are big fans of the UX of Intel’s Digital iQ magazine – here’s advice from one of the key contributors. Read

From Elizabeth Johnston:

  • Risk-taking is sometimes a part of content marketing – here’s a fresh take on getting out of your comfort zone. Read

From Stefanie Week:

  • From this fall, here’s a helpful resource for understanding what type of content drives B2B lead gen at certain points of the process. Read

From Brandon Wick:

  • Social media is a part of content marketing – this article shows social skills are correlated to share price. Read

For my picks, I really like these two posts from the Content Marketing Institute:

  • Great tips for optimizing content for mobile devices. Read
  • Here’s an excellent list of common pitfalls – 13 Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Might Fail. Read

What is your top content marketing tip for the year?

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1 May
2013

It’s a “Beautiful” Thing: CMD and AC Portland RAISE to Support Area Youth

 

Pro-bono assignments can present a challenging predicament for any agency.  On one hand, the agency team is typically very excited to lend their creative expertise to develop something truly special, often for an inspiring nonprofit cause. On the flip side, (while rarely stated) an agency must evaluate the overall pro-bono commitment and ensure the proper resource allocation is in play–after all, paying clients take precedence.

CMD was recently presented with the opportunity to help AC Portland, a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform communities through youth soccer.  The specific assignment focused on AC Portland’s silent auction fundraiser, the organization’s first, held on March 7, 2013. The money raised from the fundraiser would help AC Portland continue serving 400 Portland-area students with soccer programming, creative writing, service learning and nutrition education.

Why was CMD so excited for this opportunity?

Let’s face it. We live in Portland, Oregon, aka Soccer City USA.  Many CMD employees bleed green and gold for The Timbers. The Thorns of the NWSL recently took the city by storm in their inaugural home match.  CMD played an instrumental part in the JELD-WEN Field sponsorship development and implementation. We then get to leverage this passion for the beautiful game and help kids in need.  What could be better?

Selecting a pro-bono project team that is eager and excited about the challenge at hand obviously sets the stage for success–and that’s just what CMD did. Our team’s mindset was to treat AC Portland just like any other client that comes through CMD’s door. While this effort may have required more night and weekend hours, our intention to deliver sound strategy, creative solutions and flawless execution never wavered.

RAISE 2013 Takes the Field

So what exactly did CMD do?  It started with AC Portland coming to us with a kernel of an event idea.  Given this was AC Portland’s first foray into an auction-focused live event, we evaluated a series of solutions based on a variety of parameters.   While we were certainly presented with challenges along the way, CMD and AC Portland remained optimistic and flexible to ensure the best possible outcome.

We worked in lockstep with the client to establish the most effective approach and lay the groundwork for the overriding fundraising theme–RAISE 2013.  The theme was developed not only for this lone event, but also to serve as a rally cry for future AC Portland fundraising activities.

The RAISE campaign took shape and extended into all facets of promotion including the event landing page, posters, email and social media outreach.  CMD’s approach with all event communications was to infuse a fun and energetic tone and stay away from the “tug-the-heart- strings” messaging technique.  Further, CMD was heavily involved in the procurement of auction items and coordination of all event logistics.

But something was missing.  The essence of AC Portland’s mission, beyond the information provided on their website, needed to be captured through an inspiring statement. CMD proposed telling this story through the voices of the children whom AC Portland impacts most.   The result was a short video that was shot during a special soccer session held on the adidas headquarters pitch.   Capturing this story was important, but even better was seeing AC Portland’s commitment to these kids firsthand, not to mention the ecstatic and energetic attitude of all participants. Once the kids hit the pitch, they never slowed down!

Event Night

The sold-out RAISE 2013 event was held at Casa Del Matador NW, which provided an intimate atmosphere for attendees to socialize and preview the wide array of auction items.  Andy Carson of Fox 12 Portland served as emcee while event-goers rubbed elbows with Portland Timbers players Darlington Nagbe, Brent Richards and Futty Danso. Also on hand were mascot Timber Joey and Portland Thorns’ local superstar Danielle Foxhoven, who played an instrumental role in helping with the auction.

In the end, the silent auction saw a lot of participation with folks bidding on everything from valuable soccer memorabilia to a variety of goods donated by local businesses.  The overall result was not only a healthy financial contribution but also great awareness building of AC Portland’s mission.

The Most Important Lessons Learned?

Not to state the obvious, but the best lessons learned are simple. When taking on a pro-bono assignment:

  1. Commit to the effort just like an agency would for any other paying client
  2. Embrace the opportunity to lend strategic, creative and executional resources to an organization in need
  3. Give the client your best work and don’t forget to have fun along the way

Here’s what AC Portland said about the experience:

“It was such an honor to get the opportunity to work so closely with the CMD team to help RAISE 2013 be a success!  As executive director of AC Portland, I have experienced the ups and downs of the nonprofit world. So often, people promise the world and underdeliver.  CMD treated us like a client, and gave 110% of what was promised!  For that experience alone, it restored my hope in nonprofit work.” - Ben Dudley, Executive Director, AC Portland

The results speak for themselves and in a word are…beautiful.

 

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19 Apr
2013

What We’re Reading Now

There are some excellent fodder for your next digital marketing brainstorm in this week’s headline roundup, from locating influencers on Pinterest to contemplating what it’s like to be a social media DJ. Click on names to follow some of our awesome agency leaders on Twitter. Click on the article links to get reading. Enjoy! 

Have you read an article recently that is still speaking to you? Share the link with us.

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17 Apr
2013

From Funnels to Breadcrumbs: Why Shortcut to Sales Mentality Misleads Many Marketers

I bought a pair of shoes yesterday―admittedly, not earth-shattering news.

But it brought to mind the discussion many brands are having these days about “driving to end of funnel.” Maybe you’ve heard this term. It reflects the desire to shortcut the typical awareness, consideration and purchase process, and go straight to sales.

Wouldn’t that be nice? If only you could actually get consumers to stop all that pondering and buy already! Just imagine all the money we’d save on marketing.

Which brings me back to my shoe purchase. While poking around Facebook, I spotted an ad for Zappos for 40% off on boots. Being a boot fanatic, this caught my eye. But rather than shopping right then, I logged off, poured a cup of coffee and decided to go back and browse Pinterest to see if any styles were trending. As I had to catch a plane that morning, I packed up and headed to the airport. A Zappos ad on the security bins reminded me of the deal, so while waiting to board, I went directly to Zappos.com, found the boots I was looking for and the rest, as they say, is shoe history.

Facebook probably doesn’t much appreciate what I did. Nor does Pinterest. And likewise, it’s a bummer for the internal marketing team who, without a much deeper set of behavior analytics to give them the ability to track my ping pong-like behavior, most likely credited my “conversion” to the Web team. The poor social ad buy team was left to justify their spend on Facebook with only those suspect impression numbers to arm them, since I took no action originating from there.

The real story is that Facebook was the inspiration for my purchase. Pinterest was another breadcrumb on the trail. Airport advertising gave me a nudge in the right direction. The Zappos site simply hosted the transaction.

Too often, marketers think of the purchase journey as a narrow funnel, where consumers slide down the slippery slope of an ironclad chute we’ve built for them, reinforced by data, until they are blindly force-fed a purchase after they hit bottom. They tend to put less priority at the top and want to focus all on the bottom, where they believe that transactional goodness takes place. Yet, even with big data insights and better abilities to track behavior, we intuitively know it doesn’t quite work that way.

I prefer to think of successful marketing efforts not as a funnel, but as tempting morels of inspiration, education and motivation―breadcrumbs that entice consumers to discover and find many paths to purchase that reflects how most people actually buy. In the quest for how to create the best sales journey, the idea of how a conversion takes place has to take into account for when a mindset decision is made (which can happen at any point), as well as where action takes place.

So my theory is that marketers need to stop looking for the shortcuts, and instead combine the knowledge that numbers give them with an understanding of human behavior, recognizing every step is important.  And speaking of steps, holler if you know of any other great shoe sales going on out there―I’m self-identifying as a qualified lead.

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11 Apr
2013

Building the Agency of the Future

Illustration by David Lemke, CMD

Guest Post by Kevin Murphy, CMD’s Director of Digital Strategy

Flying cars, jet packs, ads that sense your mood, universal translators that work, virtual account managers . . .

Unfortunately, Jules Verne didn’t write about the agency of the future, but many Verne-like concepts that were marketing science fiction a few years ago are just around the corner.

Tomorrow’s brands won’t care about demographics, impressions or reach. They’ll care about behavior, and affinity. Content, offers and messages will be defined on the fly, based on things like audience behavior and personal context. Marketing and customer experience will become inseparable, with customer advocacy as important as lead generation. Already, we are seeing marketing triage centers that enable creative to react to opportunities within minutes.

Last month, the Harvard Business Review Blog Network posted an article outlining what marketing agencies will do differently in the future.  In the article, the author asks, “So, now what? How do agencies ensure their future by being able to help brands sell more and build stronger loyalty in such a disrupted and disintermediated world, where every individual is consuming so much media from so many different channels?”

To answer the how in the above question, the agency of the future will not only care about behavior, but also about the environment the content is consumed in. It will measure impact and behavior in real time and adjust campaigns dynamically. The future agency will build tools and campaigns that are responsive to the context of the customer need and dynamically modify creative, offers and experiences. The barriers between social media, PR, advertising, out-of-home, and digital will vanish as campaigns focus on end-to-end integrated experiences.

Traditional competencies like storytelling, creative, strategy and messaging don’t go away.  But instead of agencies being fully focused on pushing brand messages, they will selectively match brands to customers. With the growing amount of noise in a consumer’s day, agencies that can offer utility to customers—not just brands, will be the most successful.

How is CMD embracing this future?

We’re rethinking content . . . We’re developing content that’s designed to be useful and measuring its usage in real time.  We understand that there is not a single path to purchase and that customers consume information from many sources. Our goal is to deliver content that resonates wherever the customer is in their decision making, from evaluation to advocacy. We know that content with value gets shared. We’re designing contextual experiences with responsive design. Our goal is to increasingly deliver tailored content and experience based on the optimal moment of need and impact.

The barriers between marketing functions are falling. The consumer experience is seamless, and that drives seamless integration on our end. We tell stories across channels that can stand on their own, or be stitched together to form a master narrative that follow the customer from corporate website to Facebook, to Instagram, to TV.

We measure everything. CMD continues to grow its investment in analytics and data visualization. Great reporting is a huge value-add, and also enables our teams to see results in real time (or close to it) and adjust campaigns on the fly.

We might not drive flying cars to meetings. Only a few members of our account staff have started growing tentacles—they help with multi-tasking.  And, despite the lack of jetpacks around the agency, the age of behavior-driven marketing is here.  We’re happy about it.

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