Monday, 16 May 2011

The Connected Brand and Real-time Marketing

The distinct roles played by brands, media and audiences in the marketing relationships of the past are no longer. Today those roles overlap, creating new opportunities and expectations.  This traditional messaging model still plays a vital role for marketers - as placing brand advertising with media content consumed by audiences is an effective method to reach customers. But alone, the tactic is insufficient.

While traditional media (and media companies) served as the meeting place for brands and audiences in the past, today media companies are no longer the sole connective tissue for brands to communicate with their customers. Today, all three are equal participants in an ecosystem where each party is both a content creator and distributor. This fundamental shift, while disruptive to the status quo, creates both opportunities and liabilities marketers cannot ignore.

  • People are now their own publishers of opinions, experiences and preferences. They share those sentiments with each other in social spaces. By working together, audiences have commandeered many of the functions of marketers, driving product awareness and influencing purchase decisions. They are telling both brands and each other just what they think – and they are doing it publicly, for others to find and see.
  • Media properties are also learning to evolve as technology continues to give rise to the voice of the customer. Magazine articles and news stories no longer end when the writer or journalist finishes the piece. Media companies are now playing host to serious conversations, with readers functioning as active contributors to the story. Media innovators are learning to harness that user-generated content, responding to it, building on it, and using it to inform further editorial direction. They are listening to their audiences, and actively engaging with them. They are evolving into real-time curators of unique audiences, each with their own robust communities.
  • Brands are expected to share back. As audiences increasingly talk directly to brands, brands are realizing that audiences are demanding more of them than simply shouting about their products and services. Audiences want to hear what brands have to say. Every day, millions of them are actively reaching out to connect with brands through digital channels.
  • Content moves through networks at breakneck speeds that marketers struggle to match. To complicate matters, one form of content can create another form of content, and another, and another — moving through a constant cycle of replication. Comments, re-mixes, mash-ups, parodies, and derivatives — it seemingly never ends.  Moreover, as the content replicates, it spreads through networks exposing hundreds or thousands of unique connections to audiences, creating public, visible histories of interaction.

Conquering this rapid cycle, (a significant aspect of the content ecosystem), can prove difficult.

As these forces — brand, media and audience — blur together, the roles and expectations of each also continue to change resulting in two two key takeaways:
  1. Brand’s have become their own media platform - Brand equity is no longer being created by media spend alone.  Quite the opposite. Instead ‘earned’ media (visibility in search and social spaces, word-of-mouth, PR) and ‘owned’ media (a brand’s website, official Facebook and Twitter pages, branded apps, etc.) are becoming fundamental components of the story.
  2. Always-on marketing is the new norm - Audiences are increasingly expecting constant, consistent engagement from brands. 24/7.  Online stores are never closed, so marketing programs and customer service can’t be either. When consumers want to know more about a product, need answers to questions or are ready to take action, the brands are expected to be ready and responsive.

Goodbuzz works with brands that recognize this fundamental shift in marketing. Central to our approach is a marketing framework that focuses on how marketing gets done in a networked world. As our clients embrace this approach, brands become a new kind of publisher, interacting with their audiences wherever they are, whenever they want, armed with unique content that serves as the relationship-building currency they need. This results in higher degrees of loyalty and brand preference — not to mention the ability to more precisely influence purchase behaviours.

The Promise of Connected Marketing
Brands have no choice but to rethink their current approaches to communication, customer engagement, and the metrics they use to determine success. The rules have changed. Connected Marketing (hereafter “Connectedness”) is an approach to executing marketing in a networked world. It is a framework for, and a measure of how intimate a brand is with its audiences. It’s a characteristic of a brand, a ‘state of being.’ After all, a brand needs to be a living organism in today’s marketing world, not an object, not a loudspeaker yelling at people. Connectedness is a way of thinking about how successful brands do marketing: focusing on audiences, not targets; engaging in dialogue, not shouting; and developing trust that is meaningful and lasting.

At Goodbuzz, we see connectedness and measure it by looking at a brand’s visibility to its audiences, its usefulness to those audiences, its usability (the ease of doing business with the brand), the brand’s ability to create desire, and finally, its level of engagement with its customers.  A new approach is required for brands that wish to leverage the strengths of earned and owned media, and adopt meaningful customer engagement as keys to marketing success.

A new approach is required for brands that wish to leverage the strengths of earned and owned media, and adopt meaningful customer engagement as keys to marketing success.  To reinvigorate a brand and strive for category leadership, brands need to become:
  1. Aware. Gone are the days of immense “consumer” studies conducted every several years — audiences’ needs and behaviors are now changing dramatically within much shorter timeframes. Brands need to stay on top of what’s truly important to audiences at any given time — sometimes even minute-to-minute. It is less about isolated market research data and more about understanding your customers, in the moment.
  2. Agile. Brands need to adapt quickly and precisely to shifting audience attitudes, interests and behaviors. What’s required? New processes for creating and distributing content on a frequent and reactive basis.
  3. Active. Brands need to play an active role in the digital ecosystem by reaching out to audiences for interactive, two-way conversations. Those that don’t will either cease to be relevant with online audiences or relinquish control of their brand image to the whims of the masses.

Bottom line:  Brands that mobilize around these themes, focusing on content and community, moving at the speed of the net, and integrating their programs not just across traditional and digital channels, but across the entire bought, earned and owned media landscapes, will define themselves as connected brands, and will ultimately win in the marketplace.

Content And Community
Audiences expect brands to support them throughout their decisioning journey, providing information and assistance in real-time.  Marketers that fail to deliver erode brand equity.  The implication for marketers who want to create connected experiences: beyond campaigns and campaign assets, brands need to create and distribute meaningful content at significant scale, and at increasing velocities.

But content alone does not create a connected brand. Content may be the currency, but active engagement is how a brand comes to life: content is shared, discussed, re-formed and amplified. This is a new breed of communications strategy, where connected brands participate in live, active dialogue with their audiences.  It’s the synergy between content creation, sharing and community engagement that yields success.

Connected Marketing Planning
Marketers are struggling with changes in the media landscape, and are determined to figure out how to take advantage of them.
  •      Do we just create a Facebook page and call it a day?
  •      Do I use Twitter for customer service?
  •      What content should I be producing?
  •      What makes good content, and what do with it?
  •      Can I control the conversation?
  •       How do I pull off the ‘live’ experi-ences my audiences expect?

Goodbuzz are helping marketers answer these and other questions by identifying and developing programs across four must-have areas:
  • Listening: ongoing analysis of customer sentiment, expectations and intent
  • Creation: content publishing, from high-quality branded content to real-time responsiveness
  • Engagement: continuous dialogue with audiences, backed by defined governance models
  • Measurement: benchmarking a brand’s performance within the networks and ways to optimize.

Listening uses both comprehensive research studies coupled with real-time monitoring to ensure that a brand’s insights about their audiences are not only deep, but current as well. Those findings drive the creation and distribution of the appropriate forms of content. A varied mix of content ranging from high-production branded content to the harnessing of audience-generated content then flows across an ecosystem of publishing systems. As that content flows, audience managers guide it to the right venues, motivate audiences to engage and participate in continuing dialogue. As this engagement happens, metrics determine what content, and which actions are successful.

Ongoing optimization ensures that the appropriate mix and speed is used to keep the audience engaged. Finally, all of this information feeds back into the listening process to enhance overall insights and inform the content that will be created going forward.

A gap today exists between the tactics in the typical marketing toolkit and the behavior of audiences in today’s digital landscape. Marketers typically turn to focus groups, surveys and customer satisfaction analysis to understand an audience — but they stop there. As a result, brands are out of touch with audiences’ digital behaviors — and most of their advertising and marketing efforts prove it. While all of these techniques are still useful, they don’t tell the full story. There are numerous techniques to understand how audiences behave, including conversation monitoring and analysis, search data, persona development, web analytics, campaign performance data, social media activity data and more. These newer techniques improve a brand’s understanding of who their audiences are, where they are in the network, and how they behave— a substantial enhancement of insight over mean income and gender.

Additionally, much of this information can be collected now, in real-time — and should be, because it’s continually changing and providing insights. This means marketers need to shift their thinking — audience insights don’t happen in quarterly or annual research sessions, they demand listening right now. Knowing and understanding this information in real time is essential for a connected brand to develop and maintain an effective strategy. Audience needs and desires shift in the moment, and marketers and audience managers need to adapt the content accordingly to remain relevant.

Goodbuzz Inc. helps marketers form a detailed and accurate picture of a brand’s audiences— and ensures that the insights are always up-to-date.  Our listening methods are targeted specifically at digital audiences. We leverage numerous data sources to give us a baseline understanding of audiences’ media consumption, technology adoption and online behavior. We leverage best-in-class monitoring tools to listen to online conversations and understand what specific communities are saying about our clients and their competitors. And with our proprietary linguistic profiling methods, we can also mine search data to identify what people need and want. We find exact language so our clients can connect with audiences using the audience’s own vernacular.  This combination of research efforts provides brands with the needed intelligence to develop powerful and effective programs. Programs that are authentic, intimate, and connected to desired audiences.

Content Creation
There is a tendency to think that an effective tactic to marketing in an always-on environment, rife with chatter, spam (and other noise that may keep a brand from achieving its rightful share of voice), is to simply push out massive amounts of content. After all, consumers are likely to produce more content about your brand, more quickly than your marketing department ever could. There is a bit of a content war going on online, and brands are on the front lines, like it or not.

We believe success lies in distributing the right content to the right audience in the right places at the right time. And that’s a tricky thing to figure out. What topics will engage audiences the most? Where will content have the most impact — in a blog, on Twitter, or on a branded website? How often does new content need to be distributed and how quickly do audience comments need to be addressed? Even if marketers find the answers to these questions, they still need to develop the content. Articles, stories, video, photos, blog posts, and responses to audience-generated content — new ideas for specific pieces of content — all need to be produced. For many marketers, the resources and expertise required for a real-time marketing program can be daunting or just simply undoable.

Connected Brands Create & Inspire Content From Many Participants
While content, sharing and community are at the foundation of a successful connected brand, not all content is created equal. The digital network through which content is published, consumed and re-purposed is increasingly multifaceted. The complexity of creating and distributing content aligned with audiences’ needs and desires requires a robust approach.

Therefore, a content platform for a connected brand is:
  • RELEVANT to the audiences’ needs first. Many marketers put their own needs ahead of their customers. Pressure to meet financial objectives, achieve disjointed marketing metrics, or simply believing that buyers of the brand are still “consumers,” drive marketers to miss the mark. Connected brands know that business objectives begin with an audience need, and that’s no different with content creation. Content must be useful to the audience, otherwise there’s no reason for them to engage.
  • COHESIVE across touch points. Content creation must be diverse to meet audience needs, but it also must tell a larger brand story. Content generated by a brand should align thematically across all touch points, ensuring that the subject matter aligns with audience expectations and allows them to accept, or give permission, for the brand to engage on the topic.
  • DESIGNED to foster engagement. While not all content created will generate massive amounts of interaction, brands should strive to achieve that interactivity as often as possible. One significant tactic to creating engaging content is listening. The brand audience provides ample information about what is interesting, exciting, and useful for them; all the brand has to do is observe their behaviors and listen to the words they say. Built into a robust content plan, this feedback can be invaluable to keeping people engaged.
  • SOURCED from the appropriate creator. Most marketers cringe at the thought of generating the volumes of content required to maintain an engaged audience. But marketers need to remember that they don’t have to generate the content alone. Brand content can come from within the company, from agency and media partners, aggregated from third parties, and developed in conjunction with the brands audiences.
  • ADAPTIVE to modification by all parties. Brands no longer have full control of the content created about them. Content can be owned by the brand, influenced by the brand, or merely observed.  Any content, regardless of source, ‘belongs’ to all other participants in the dialogue. This means it can be repurposed or recreated in newer and more meaningful ways. The connected brand’s role is to design for, allow, encourage and facilitate these modifications. Once the content created by a brand becomes the ownership of the audience, it’s more valuable and it brings that audience closer to the brand because it’s a co-creation.

These content sources can be classified into three primary categories:
  1. Owned—fully in the control by the brand,
  2. Influenced—requested by the brand but not necessarily controlled, and, 
  3. Observed—outside the control of the brand, but still usable (and critical) to a connected brand’s content strategy.

Connected Brands |  TIMING
Content that is created for the appropriate situation and activated by audience management must be distributed at the necessary speed to remain relevant since content exists in many forms and it takes varying amounts of time to prepare. Sometimes weeks or months of research are required to answer a complex question, other times it’s a rapid and instantaneous dialogue — and any type of content can inspire or instigate the creation of a different type. It’s this robust cycle of content creation that demonstrates the need for content that can be shared in a manner that:

  • Allows for the proper preparation time. Some content may require extensive research or preparation, from investigative editorial article to a long-form video, these types of content don’t happen overnight. Additionally, some content is instantaneous, from comments on a blog to @replies on Twitter, a brand need to be prepared and have a plan to respond. Content plans and the appropriate staff are critical components to bringing these disparate forms of content to life in the same ecosystem.
  • Transforms when appropriate, spanning long-term to real-time.  Any piece of content can instigate a flurry of responses by an audience, derivative content that can spread like wildfire. Additionally, some content should be designed for change, allowing the audience to transform it into something completely different. Perhaps a long- form, in-depth article motivates a days-long discussion about the implications. Or perhaps the advice of an expert inspires the audience to test the advice and capture it on video. Any piece of content must be designed to consider multiple forms of derivative output.
  • Achieves the necessary velocity of distribution. Each form of content within the Content Continuum has a different pace for development. As content moves from Owned to Influenced to Observed, the pace becomes evermore explosive. As a result, different content development strategies are employed given the preparation times involved. In fact, there are different types of people employed along the way, but they all must work in a tight knit, integrated fashion to ensure a fluid process.
  • Presents an appropriate amount of information to the audience. Distributing these types of content in the right channels and at the right pace will play a significant role in the level of audience engagement. Too fast, and they get overwhelmed. Too slow... boring. A highly-astute staff must monitor the pace of content generation and distribution (both internally and externally) to ensure the proper flow.
  • Promotes dialogue, not just consumption. Content must be shared in a way that facilitates conversation. Long gone are the days of “consumption,” media control, and push-only messages. Connected brands contribute content and perspective to these conversations, but the dialogue belongs to the audience as well. This means that content must be shared in a venue that is optimized for the desired method of response — perhaps YouTube for video responses, or Facebook for polling.

Content alone does not produce a successful connected marketing program. Nor does a stand-alone Facebook page or Twitter account. No matter how strong their initial foray into branded content or social media, many marketers lack a plan for sustaining their efforts on a long-term basis.

Today’s real-time, networked environment requires that brands produce rich, engaging content on an ongoing basis and continually cultivate relationships with audiences. Brands that can’t keep up with these constant demands will see their online presence start to languish, along with their opportunity to reach audiences and convert them to brand advocates.

There’s a natural synergy between a strong content strategy and an active audience management plan. Through this approach, we compound the value of our clients’ real-time marketing efforts. We develop and execute a Communications Architecture, that requires specific strategy and planning skills to leverage the expertise of individuals who understand the reciprocal relationship between content, community and crafting ongoing brand narratives across multiple touch points through content and conversation.  Whether it’s reaching out to audiences in existing communities or fostering dialog and relationships in communities that we build, teams work on behalf of the brand to engender deeper engagement with audiences. Depending on the client and the content strategy, our daily efforts might include posting updates to a brand’s Facebook page, responding to questions or comments on Twitter, or directly emailing influential bloggers within a community.

But beyond simply publishing content, our community managers play an active role in iterative content development. We turn audiences’ comments into conversations by creating polls, open questions, and other dialogue-based content intended to amplify conversation and interaction within a community. We leverage the Content Continuum to create assets, publish them to appropriate media formats, and propagate them across the brand’s digital ecosystem.  All delivered within the wrapper of a defined governance model, and brought to life through an engagement strategy.

By continually keeping the community engaged, we encourage audiences to create an enormous amount of additional branded content in the form of tweets, comments, status updates, and likes. This audience-generated content magnifies both the volume and speed of branded messages throughout the network — and it does so in an extremely cost-effective manner. Because we’re always in the loop on what audiences are talking about, we’re able to constantly feed new ideas into the content strategy and master content plan.

Audience Engagement
While content is the critical ingredient, and sharing the essential frequency, community is the process that activates that content and defines the pace. The ‘network effect’ of a published piece of content can result in hundreds or thousands of unique connections to audiences, creating public, visible histories of interaction. For brands to be relevant today, they need to entrench themselves where people already spend time, across the fluid ecosystem of digital channels. Managing this ecosystem is a full-time job. It must leverage the expertise and skills of talented individuals who understand the engagement landscape, the power of smart content, and who think and function as strategists, communications designers, and user experience experts. Architecting and managing activities embedded within this ecosystem requires an audience manager who can:

  • BE THE STEWARD AND VOICE. A connected brand exists and participates in many places. Some are owned, like the website or micro-sites. Some are semi-owned, such as social spaces like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Others are not owned, like forums and blogs. Regardless of the venue, the brand needs audience manager(s) who can speak on behalf of the brand in a unified and consistent voice. Many of these individuals become quasi- celebrities as stewards of the brand, so marketers need to find a person (or people) with not only the right skill, but also with the personality that aligns with the brand and is inviting to audiences.
  • ENCOURAGE AN ACTIVE DIALOGUE. The audience manager has to be both a good listener and a social butterfly. Much like a conductor, they must orchestrate many different topics and ensure that the audience stays engaged. Their tactics span from issuing requests for content, to soliciting stories to sharing new content. It’s a never-ending process of monitoring, encouraging, activating and conversing.
  • ENHANCE THE VISIBILITY OF CONTENT. But audience managers don’t just engage in conversations with the audience, they also promote and distribute content. Some of that content is contributed by the brand (Owned or Influenced content) and made available through various digital channels. Additionally, sometimes that content is created by the audience themselves (called User Generated Content or “UGC”). Either way, the audience manager acts as the hub making sure anyone who might be interested knows the content exists. Lastly, audience managers access search and social data, to ensure the visibility of content in search engines and relevant social spaces.
  • DRIVE BUZZ AND WORD-OF-MOUTH. Getting the word out is not only the job of the audience manager. The audience itself plays a crucial role in exposing the brand and the conversation to new people. The audience manager must ensure that the community has all of the tools, motivation, and interest they need to spread the work. Audience managers use techniques like contests, promotions, and audience generated content initiatives.
  • CREATE AND INSPIRE DERIVATIVE CONTENT.  Just like spreading the word is a role for the audience, so is the creation of content. An effective audience manager actively encourages the audience to create new content or enhance and modify content contributed by the brand. It’s a process of co-creating that furthers engagement and brings people closer to the brand.
  • BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH INFLUENCERS. Some audience members are of significant importance because they are key influencers — they also inspire the audience. The audience manager constantly seeks out and identifies these influencers and engages in relationships with them to help promote both the brand, and the influencer themselves. This mutual benefit helps motivate these influencers to amplify brand messages.

MEASURE and Optimize
The point of connected marketing is to help brands maximize their marketing spend by creating deeper engagement with audiences. While many marketers have jumped on the social media bandwagon to create a branded presence on Facebook or Twitter, they’re just not seeing results. Or worse: they don’t even know how to measure their performance. In order to take full advantage of their investments in real-time marketing, marketers need to understand what content is getting the most traction in the community — and how it’s performing across paid, owned and earned media.

Start by creating an initial baseline for audiences’ conversations around a brand. We benchmark KPIs such as blog mentions, social signals and referral traffic and then monitor these metrics over time to understand what’s working — and what’s not. We measure conversions from Facebook fan pages and referral traffic from Twitter followers, which allow us to determine the actual value of a brand’s participation on these sites. Our real strength lies in our proprietary platform that tracks audience behaviour across SEO, SEM, display, brand websites, and social spaces in order to create a robust understanding of who’s engaging with what content and where. In addition, our custom Web-based marketing intelligence dashboards enable our clients and our internal teams to view all content performance data at a glance.

Once we understand how certain pieces of content are performing in different contexts, we’re able to adjust the content strategy and master content plan accordingly — creating additional content around a hot topic or scaling down our efforts on a particular site.  Often, we’re able to adjust our programs that same day. Our ability to continually fine-tune our approach ensures that brands are always getting the most of their marketing budget.

Participatory Marketing Partners
Creating and managing a connected marketing program takes preparation and strategic vision. It also requires an ability to see and react to changes in audience behaviour and conversations as they happen. This is clearly one of the biggest challenges that marketers will face in the years ahead — and many are unprepared.

Marketing programs at most companies simply aren’t designed to keep up with audience expectations for real-time content and interactions. Marketers spend months designing and developing micro-sites — and years on their primary .com properties.  They treat social media efforts as on-again, off-again campaigns with stringent review processes that cripple new content development. And while analytics platforms can provide immediate visibility into data trends, most marketers don’t look at their website or search analytics data until they’re months out of date. In short, many brands are stuck in old-fashioned marketing practices that aren’t conducive to — and actually hinder — active participation with audiences in a connected manner. To succeed with connected marketing, savvy brands need to align with partners who can inspire people around the world through rich content – and distribute that content to audiences precisely when and where they need it. 

Goodbuzz is a full-service digital marketing agency. Our digital heritage in search engine marketing, content strategy, and optimization affords us unmatched skills in understanding what online audiences need and defining how to distribute content so that it’s highly visible to the right audiences. Our social media strategists and community managers keep an active pulse on audience attitudes and conversations.  We’ve a relentless focus on measurement, so our clients always know how effective their marketing efforts are.

How can we help you?  Goodbuzz help marketers create communities around rich, engaging content. We’re developing powerful connected marketing programs for some of the country’s top brands — and our combined expertise in social media, search technology, content creation, distribution and community cultivation means that we can help marketers sustain these programs for years to come.

You might want to talk to us if you:
  •       Struggle to keep up with the rapid changes in your audience’s needs, wants, interests and conversations online.
  •       Want to figure out the right level of active participation for your brand.
  •       Aren’t sure what kind of content will best engage consumers. 
  •       Aren’t ready to build an internal editorial department,
  •       Lack the resources to continually engage with your consumers.
  •       Seek skills and approaches to measure the ROI of your social media efforts.
Looking for additional information on Social Media Bland Planning?  Check out our Guide.