We’re All Mad (Men) Here

We go about grooming ourselves each morning: Editing that late-night Facebook post, brushing teeth, uploading a filtered pictured of the sunrise, washing face, Tweeting an interesting career-related article, ironing clothes. Who am I kidding? No one irons anymore. But we do go about tending to our personal brand as though it were as necessary for social survival as maintaining hygiene. The trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be all that much healthy about it. We are all marketers now — delusional, unsatisfied self-marketers.

We even groom and market our intimate relationships for public consumption. In a Thought Catalog article entitled “This is How We Date Now” that recently went viral, author Jamie Varon writes, “Say we find that person we love who loves us. Commitment. Intimacy. ‘I love you.’ We do it. We find it. Then, quickly, we live it for others. We tell people we’re in a relationship on Facebook. We throw our pictures up on Instagram. We become a ‘we.’ We make it seem shiny and perfect because what we choose to share is the highlight reel. We don’t share the 3am fights, the reddened eyes, the tear-stained bed sheets. We don’t write status updates about how their love for us shines a light on where we don’t love ourselves. We don’t tweet 140 characters of sadness when we’re having the kinds of conversations that can make or break the future of our love. This is not what we share. Shiny picture. Happy couple. Love is perfect.” But worse — “Then, we see these other happy, shiny couples and we compare,” Varon says. The crux of the problem, Varon identifies is that these “lives do not exist. These relationships do not exist. Yet, we can’t believe it. We see it with our own eyes. And, we want it. And, we will make ourselves miserable until we get it.”

So how out of touch with ourselves are we becoming because of this same phenomena? In a 2012 TED Talk, psychologist and author Sherry Turkle warned that all of the tiny snippets of conversation that happen over text and Twitter do not add up to a real conversation. Conversations happen in real-time because they are real; “texting, emailing, posting — all of these things let us present the self as we want to be. We get to edit and that means we get to delete. And that means we get to retouch the face, the voice, the flesh, the body,” Turkle lamented. “Human relationships are rich, they’re messy, and they’re demanding and we clean them up with technology.” If we’re always trying to put on our best face and then even when we accomplish that, we want to highlight and overexpose that face to get more likes, comments, followers, we rob ourselves of the highest form of honesty: Our ability to be honest with ourselves. If we cannot be honest with ourselves, we cannot be honest with others. And where, as Turkle notes, all of this technology is compromising our capacity for self-reflection — “a skill that is the bedrock for childhood development” — it is also compromising our ability to accept ourselves and accept others, to love them thoroughly, truly, and deeply — the bedrock of intimacy — for all of their flaws and all of their typos.

Don’t do your little time on this earth injustice by marketing your life or your love like a product. You simply can’t do so without detaching yourself from the reality of this fragile world. You might miss the fact that the beauty of our crazy existence is that we are all mad here.

Content Optimization: A Marriage of Marketing Disciplines

a-HIPPIE-CHIC-640x468

From my days of studying whole foods nutrition and exploring the earth-lovin’ mama side of myself, I’ve conditioned myself to think more holistically about, well, everything — because everything is everything… OK, I’ll reign in my inner-hippie in a minute. Imagine first, how I shook my bandana’d head and wondered, “Why can’t we all just get along?” when I read that there is a debate that pits content marketing against search engine optimization.

These two disciplines should do more than get along, they should bolster and inform one another to achieve the best possible search rankings across the Internet and social media. Content Marketing Institute’s Barry Feldman goes so far as to say “SEO, or search engine optimization, is a misnomer anyway. It seems to suggest you optimize the search engine.” In his article, “Content Marketing vs. SEO,” Feldman goes on to say, “Clearly, you cannot and do not. You optimize online content. ‘Content’ optimization — now there’s a term I could live with. Seems like a happy and harmonious marriage of the two marketing disciplines.” Is it really that simple? Do the two strategists need to combine powers to become one Content Overlord?

I don’t think so. Should the two meet frequently to strategize and document together, yes. The thing is there are some agencies and people with skill sets that will soon have to adapt. A blog post by content Management software designer Uberflip clarifies that the “biggest difference between the two types of agencies is that an SEO agency makes decisions based on data coming from search, and they typically make decisions about link building and web design. A content marketing agency focuses more on the data you get from your audience and creating content that fits.” But who can afford two specialty agencies besides the big whigs? So Uberflip suggests that “a good rule of thumb is to start focusing on your content needs so that you understand your audience and your buying cycle. Once you start to publish some great content (in the right places) that you’re really proud of and think would do really well with your audience, you can start enlisting some SEO help to make sure that content gets some visibility via search.”

Content and SEO — and even social media — cannot exist separately in a vacuum and any agency or freelancer worth his or her salt, will already have read that writing on the wall. As Feldman says, “SEO experts need not fear the extinction of their craft. Their roles will remain vital to brand marketing because they know better than anyone that effective and ethical SEO can’t happen without content to be optimized,” says Feldman. While there might not exactly be a new discipline in Content Optimization, experts in content marketing and in SEO will still be needed for their nuanced skills.

WOM-Com

Coffee_capsules_-_anieto2k

Although belatedly, I finally watched the popular film Silver Linings Playbook. It took me so long to watch it because (1) there were plenty of other things to watch and (2) I’m not a fan of the rom-com genre. But there I was, with something that is generally elusive: time to chill out. I had heard from so many people who liked the movie that I thought I’d give it a shot. Word of mouth, coupled with something that would satisfy my needs at that given time is what prompted me to watch the hilarious, witty, and yes, cute movie. And I liked it.

Word of mouth is and always will be the best marketing. Lucky for us folks in the 21st century, social media has given marketers a very powerful tool to influence WOM. So I started digging around to check out some of the most inventive social media word-of-mouth marketing campaigns that took place this year.

  • Ads disguised as other ads: This little campaign by Swarovski had people all over the major metropolitan areas of New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago talking. The company’s marketing agency posted Missed Connections on each city’s Craigslist on behalf of the company, looking for “Cute Dress Girl at Franklin Mortgage – m4w” or “Bright red lips w/ wrist tattoo at big star – m4w.” The ad teased at offering a Swarovski bracelet if “Cute Dress Girl” responded. I’d provide links to this creative use of a social media tool but they were all flagged for removal now.
  • Help out the little guy: “WOMMA [Word of Mouth Marketing Association] recognized Zeno Group with an Engagement award for their Seattle’s Best “Black Friday Coffee Break” campaign, which focused on a segment of the target – retail workers – by offering free coffee to those working on Black Friday. Consumers leveraged the program through an interactive Facebook application. New fans were encouraged to “like” the page and choose from the following options: Have a free sample of Seattle’s Best Coffee sent straight to your mailbox, stop by a participating retail location for a free cup of brewed coffee on Black Friday, or print a $2 off coupon. The brand received 125 million total impressions in two weeks and 6 million YouTube impressions.” See full article here.
  • Empowering the consumer: Maybe you’ve always wanted a Keurig but the initial expense of buying the machine has kept you from the checkout line. Well, Keurig is in a nice position because it uses proprietary coffee pods, so even once the coffee maker is sold, the customer has to continue buying the pods. Perhaps with that in mind, the company sees its Trade-Up program as paying off in the long run. In September alone, Keurig offered Greensboro, NC residents five different days in five different locations to choose from to bring their old coffee maker and “trade up” for a Keurig. Even the people who didn’t make it to the trade up let alone know about it in time were talking about it all over Facebook. But the ones who did get there in time will always tell the story when they have a friend over for coffee!

Customer Service Technology

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 5.05.34 PM

This company is focused squarely on its customers and is using social technology in ways that I was completely unaware of. For instance, simply by using the ever-prevalent hashtag the company is meeting a customer need and providing a solution via social media. Here’s how it works: You see a lady in the bathroom at a restaurant with a pair of amazing boots — women will always talk about their shoes — so you ask, where did you get those from? These ol’ things, the lady might say, I don’t remember. With Instagram and Zappos on your side, you snap a picture of the lady’s boots and upload with the #AskZappos hashtag. A small team of stylists, two to be exact, respond not only with similar Zappos boots but also similar boots from other retailers — that’s some serious customer service. Furthermore, those two hard-working stylists recognize the nature of this beast is that customers want a quick response, so second in their FAQ list is an explanation that they were blown away by the success of the feature and while they strive to respond within 24 hours, it may sometimes take longer. Again, a customer-focused understanding of the nature of fast-paced social media.

The company’s commitment to embracing social technology has spawned an entire office, called Zappos Labs located in tech capital Silicon Valley. Some of the other socially connected efforts they have developed are:

  • PinPointing — Zappos’ Alice H. described it as a way to “look up any Pinterest username and check out the breadth of fun products we think that user will love based on their pins and boards.” The Zappos blog goes on to explain a number of ways you can use the PinPointing tool, including by surprising a friend with a gift that’s just her style.
  • Glance — A curated way to shop Zappos.
  • TweetWall — A now-retired foray into gathering Twitter mentions of Zappos products into an image-based wall.

With all these experiments, it’s obvious that Zappos knows that the landscape continually changes and that consumer behavior is becoming more sophisticated, they are trying to get ahead of that while maintaining a dialogue with its customers. In fact, Zappos Labs uses Craigslist to get live and in-person opinions from the streets — that kind of interaction leads to rewarding word-of-mouth and deep customer insights.

Applying on-the-ground and social-media solicited advice on not just the product offerings but how the product is offered, how the customer is made aware, and how the customer could more easily access the product are key takeaways for my social media plan. Zappos also showed me that creative problem-solving doesn’t have to involve building new platforms or even websites, as in the case of #AskZappos; this is extremely important because this strategy engages on a platform that is already being used by its target audience.

#thestruggleisreal: The Skip-Ad Dilemma

puppy

Seriously, it’s often a moment of relief when that Skip Ad button appears in the lower right of the screen. I mean, it’s been a long day and I’m just trying to watch Orange is the New Black so I can kick back and relax. This is a real dilemma for marketers. According to Recode, YouTube is even entertaining the idea of launching an ad-free subscription service. But other agencies and brands, such as the ASPCA are coming up with ways to use the Skip-Ad Dilemma to their advantage. The ASPCA developed a budget-friendly YouTube ad that caught viewers’ attention by threatening to electrocute a puppy. Could some animal lovers get a little bent out of shape by the empty threat? Sure, but lighten up, buddy. Aside from that, the other joke vital to this pre-roll is that marketers are in fact faced with this skip-ad issue.

Global marketing firm Leo Burnett chose to take an even more interactive approach to this issue of non-interaction. To raise awareness about the plight of ex-convicts who try to become gainfully employed but face being quickly written off, the agency developed this video for the UK’s Business in the Community, in which the viewer plays a major role. “With the subject of ex-offenders being such a contentious issue, we wanted to create a thought-provoking idea. Something that would make people re-assess how they feel towards ex-offenders. Using and subverting the ‘skip ad’ button gave us the perfect opportunity to do this,” Burnett creative Hugh Todd explained to The Drum. So while the ex-con nervously interviews for a job, the usual Skip Ad button pops up.

skip ad

If the viewer/interviewer clicks Skip Ad, the former prisoner responds by becoming increasingly despondent until the job applicant becomes fully dejected and says “I’m sorry that you didn’t want to listen. I hope you can find time in the future to give an ex-offender like me a second chance.” If the viewer does not press the skip ad button, the ex-offender becomes more confident and articulate as the video progresses, eventually expressing gratitude to the viewer for listening to him.

While the Skip-Ad Dilemma is real, inventive marketers have found ways to undermine it. Soon, though, other advertising platforms and ways to monetize content will surface and flexible, savvy marketers will rise to the occasion.

Web Design in 2015

Bring on the lists, the end of the year is approaching and it’s been a big year for emerging media. From B2B really getting into the game to location-based everything, the marketing world has been incorporating new technologies and communication styles with childlike glee. It’s an exciting time in website design as well. People are questioning the paradigm, considering whether a navigation bar is even necessary anymore. Gone are the days of thinking with a newspaper state of mind where a bunch of important information needs to be stuffed in “above the fold” or text takes up more space than images. Let’s look at a rundown of some industry folks’ predictions for 2015.

Carly Stunder, Director of Website & Graphic Design at Miles Technologies, believes the five following trends will be tops:

  1. Minimalist design — clean, minimalist designs eliminate the risk of cluttering up a website and present an ideal design approach for clearly and purposefully presenting design and content elements in a concise, clear fashion
  2. Video engagement — videos provide an opportunity to quickly engage your website visitors, allowing them a fast platform to be informed and delighted
  3. Crisp card design — like Pinterest, card design layouts are highly functional and effective mechanisms for conveying rapid-fire content in concise burst

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.05.01 PM

  1. Responsiveness — while not new, Stunder believes responsive design is a mandate
    Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.30.15 PM
  2. Parallax scrolling — a visually pleasing 3D effect created when the background of a website moves at a slightly slower rate to its foreground. Check out this amazing example of parallax scrolling from Pitchfork.com.

Still others are thinking about changes in web design as evolving job descriptions. CreativeBloq’s Paul Boag points to “four web design trends that will change your job forever”:

  1. The move toward in-house teams — as businesses have grown to see their websites as critical to success, they’ve moved from hiring freelancers to forming in-house teams
  2. The automation of code — “Tools like Macaw and Adobe Reflow are enabling designers to do much of the work of front-end coders.”
  3. The rise of software as a service — “There was a time when self employed web designers could produce cheap websites from home and make a reasonable income. Today that is becoming hard with services like Squarespace allowing people to build their own website.”
  4. The decline of the website — Instead of looking up your local movie theaters website, now you just Google the movie and your location settings guide you to not only area theaters but the search results list show times as well.

What is key here is not which technologies are going to be trendy, but which technologies will achieve your marketing and business objectives. Maybe having automated code just won’t cut it; maybe parallax scrolling isn’t well received by your demographic. As always, knowing what works for your market and pushing that envelope just a little will keep your audience interested and your company with these web-centric times.

Is “New” Media Reviving the Age-Old Art of Listening?

gty_jetblue_nt_120411_wg

According to Jo Piazza’s Yahoo.com article, the “@JetBlue handle gets about 1,500 Twitter mentions a day and about 50 Facebook mentions” and the “goal response time is 10 minutes, but the average is well below that.” Currently, their Twitter account has 1.87 million followers and their Facebook has 986,219 likes. What really separates JetBlue from other brands on social media is their ability to stay on-message while genuinely putting customer service first and steering clear of vapid, vanity engagement.

Screen Shot 2014-12-21 at 1.29.13 PMJetBlue has been proactive in social media since its very first foray into the space in 2007 after a horrible winter storm blasted the Midwest and Northeast: A 3-minute YouTube video apology by founder and then-CEO David Neeleman. More than just an apology though, the video was a stunning move by a CEO — he was nervous and sincere — and he offered a (gasp!) solution for the future.
Although it stinks to dip your toe into the social media waters under these circumstances, it would seem the company learned a lot of lessons about social media that day and what Neeleman did set the tone for the company’s social media strategy still today.
It is obvious that, while at times lighthearted and witty, JetBlue approaches their social media engagement as a tool for attentive customer service. Within minutes, one of the company’s 25-person 24/7 social media staff responds to any substantive comment that comes through a given channel. Their approach is much like Neeleman’s: matter-of-fact while providing a solution. Their pages are littered with people asking when JetBlue will fly here or there and more often than not, the airline responds with a link to the suggestion form along with an encouraging message. Providing links is an essential part of their response mix, and it is a detail that makes things that much smoother for their customers. On the Facebook account, employees even respond with their first names! Furthermore, these social media employees aren’t just posting pretty travel pictures or trite Happy Friday memes, these people are empowered to offer such accommodations, such as credits. Just as importantly, they aren’t expected to respond to every comment, even negative ones. JetBlue social media employee Laurie Meacham told Piazza, “You realize a person is unhappy, and you cannot make a difference. We never want to just make noise.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 5.16.48 PMThe airline believes in true engagement. Meacham also pointed out to Piazza that there“is a lot of vanity engagement happening out there. People talking about nothing and responding about nothing. We always recognize that as a brand, we are a guest in this community. Brands came in uninvited. We need to earn the right to be here.” But that also doesn’t mean they are serious all the time. Instead they pick and choose with care, and when they do respond, they even tie in their current pushes but in a way that makes sense. For instance, a woman tweeted that she found a little corner in which to do yoga while waiting for her JetBlue flight. JetBlue responds by acknowledging what the woman did, kept the hashtag going, and encouraged her to post a picture with the tag #JetBlueSoFly (a lighthearted photo-sharing campaign). The best thing is that even though she didn’t have a picture to submit, JetBlue still responded with a sincere and on-message response!

I could just go on and on about JetBlue’s social media — they post multiple times a day to a handful of different platforms; they cross-promote the channels; and even though a lot of content is repeated, they write the copy a little differently for each channel. But one of the most telling things I could say is that I never thought much about the airline before, I was quite neutral to them, now I actually respect the company and would be happy to fly with them.

Staring at the Horizon Line

Expedition_24_Crescent_Moon

In emerging media, there certainly is a first time for everything. Remember the first time you realized you actually needed a LinkedIn account or the first time you went ahead and used a hashtag? You are participating in innovations in technology that are changing the way we see the world, communicate with others, and yes, the way marketing and commerce is affected. These emerging media are everywhere and have become so pervasive that we might not even realize how often we are interacting with them.

Emerging Media & You

Emerging media are not only the social networks you check in with weekly, if not daily, it’s also the mobilization of technology, with smartphones and tablets. It’s the targeted ads you see when surfing the web; it’s the HBO you are watching on your Apple TV; it’s the face-to-face meeting you just had with your boss, who’s on the other side of the country. Emerging media is any communication based on digital technologies; it is becoming more interactive and more personal every year. We are only staring at the horizon line when it comes to how marketers will utilize these emerging media, but soon we will be upon it…and it will be a new day.