Archive for Creative

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4 Reasons to Kiss Your Agency this Valentine’s Day

4 reasons to kiss your agency

If you don’t love your agency, you should. Life’s too short to have an agency that makes you miserable.

The fastest way to marketing bliss, however, is not just a likable agency, but also an agency that has the ability to help your brand win the digitally centric consumer.

It’s amazing to me that digital is still an after-thought for so many, even though it has clearly become the center of the marketing universe. I think it’s just because many agencies and their clients don’t know how to comprehensively go about planning for it, and instead seem to lurch from tactic to tactic.

For example, does your agency exhaust the possibilities of Owned media (websites/mobile/CRM/SEO) and Earned media (social media/content syndication) before they dive into the pricey waters of Paid media (broadcast/print/banners)? Of course, they should.  But before anyone starts worrying about tactics, you first need a strategy that will work.

Today digital is so central that any agency that isn’t developing a digitally centric strategy is living in the past. Whether it’s B2C or B2B, consumers discover, explore, evaluate and decide on brands in digital channels. So even though TV, print and outdoor ads are still important, their role in the orchestrated process of influencing a buying decision has changed.

The reality today for marketers is simple: creative and execution today are worthless unless led by the right strategy; almost invariably now a digitally centric strategy.

So as you consider your Valentine’s list make sure your agency has done the following:

1.     Develop segments and personas for your buyers

The consumer is king and needs to be super-served. So you need to identify your target segments and turn them into personas, which allow you to understand what makes them tick.

2.     Map the Consumer Decision Journey for each persona

The path to purchase and beyond is where brands are made or broken, and it’s packed with influences. The only way to know how to connect with consumers at every step along the way is to understand what is important to them at each juncture; and you have to do it for every major persona because they are all different.

3.     Develop a content strategy

Being in the right place at the right time is the first challenge. Then you have to know exactly what to say in order to be relevant and compelling at that particular moment. Content strategy is the bible for your agency, and tells them what to say and how to say it at every point in the consumer decision journey.

4.     Make a Roadmap and Playbook

When you have personas, a map of their decision journey and have a content strategy in hand, you then need to turn it into a plan. This lays out what you should do and when you should do it in detail. For each tactic it shows the rationale for its inclusion, how it ladders up to the strategy, what specific results and ROI are expected, what it will cost, how performance will be measured, what resources are needed and the dates for development and launch.

Most importantly it prioritizes tactics and initiatives over time recognizing that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It not only covers the campaigns and promotions you need to activate the audience, but also the infrastructure you need to make it all work, from websites to mobile apps and POS.

I couldn’t imagine any client moving forward except in the context of these four steps. I suppose every now and then a brand might bet everything on a spot on the Super Bowl and hit it out of the park, but usually the Hail Mary pass fails.

That’s why there is no substitute for a rigorous, digitally centric strategic process. Nothing delivers a reliable stream of prospects like smart strategy, so if you’ve got one, remember to give your agency a big kiss this Valentine’s Day.

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What’s Social Currency Worth?

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It seems Marc Jacobs and his marketers are going to find out. His new pop-up store in New York for his Daisy fragrance doesn’t taking folding money, only social currency. In order to get something like perfume or a necklace you have to send a Tweet or an Instagram photo, or post something on Facebook. Visitors that “pay” with social activity win prizes and the best Instagram pic of the day even gets a purse.

Somehow I don’t think you’re going to be buying a car with a Tweet anytime soon, but this story does point up the value of social currency. Getting customers and prospects to “talk” your brand up in social media is worth a lot. The average person using Facebook and Twitter has hundreds of connections and their connections have connections and so on. It’s the cheapest marketing that money can’t buy.

That’s right, you can’t buy it, the only way to get it is to inspire it and that takes ideas. Marc Jacobs and his crew clearly have some ideas.

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Better Late Than Never

The 4A’s just announced that they are discontinuing the “Television Production Cost Survey” after 25 years. The last report recorded an average cost to produce a TV spot of $354,000. It seems that the traditional advertising industry has finally realized they’re not in Kansas anymore.

The internet tornado changed everything a while ago, so the idea that anyone would spend $354,000 on just a TV spot  has not made a lot of sense for some time. Video, however, is just as important (if not more important) than it has ever been, especially since broadband has made it so accessible on the web.

But it hasn’t made sense for years to just produce a TV spot. Now every time a brand spends a dime on production they should be not only producing content for TV commercials, but also for digital channels. That might be videos for YouTube, a website, a mobile app, viral sharing or whatever.  Of course it takes special skills to know how to use content in digital channels, but that’s another story.

The big trick has been to get brands to move from the mindset of “we’re going to make a big,  expensive TV spot once a year” to “let’s produce videos all the time”.  It used to be okay to just produce a TV spot once a year before, but now content, especially video content, gets old as soon as it’s been watched. So the challenge is to produce a stream of fresh, high-quality content without it breaking the bank.

That’s where digital agencies like IQ have had an advantage over our traditional friends. We came out of TV production into the digital world back in 2000. But we never lost our skills, and with a studio, editing, sound design and animation in-house, it’s easy for us to quickly and in-expensively produce the stream of content our clients need.

So it’s good to see the 4As acknowledging that the world has changed, if a tad late. Consumers still want lots of video, it’s just the rare brand that can spend a small fortune on just a TV spot without a strategy for the rest of its media world.

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A Level Playing Field: How Small Brands Can Win with Digital

david and goliath malcolm gladwell

The marketing playing field is a lot more level than it ever used to be thanks to how digital has changed things. As a result, small brands now have the chance to fight and sometimes even beat big brands.

The David & Goliath legend would have us believe that beating powerful opponents is about luck or divine providence.

The true story of David and Goliath, as told by Malcolm Gladwell in his new book, tells us that Goliath, despite his size and apparent power, was actually slow, and suffered from double vision as a result of the medical condition that had turned him into a giant. David, on the other hand, also contrary to appearances, was not just some shepherd boy.

He was actually a highly trained slinger, the marksman of his age, who could let fly a projectile traveling as fast as a .45 caliber bullet, with sufficient accuracy to bring down a bird in flight.

So what appeared on the surface to be one situation was in fact something else entirely. David used intelligence, insight, strategy and speed to beat the unbeatable giant. He used his advantages while turning his opponents disadvantages against him.

Digital channels offer similar opportunities for smaller brands.

In the pre-digital days, brands had little choice but a head to head battle. Usually the brand that could put up more media money, usually in broadcast and print, won. While the originality of creative could have a multiplier effect, as it always does, the key was always the weight of paid media a brand could bring to bear.

Jump to today and a marketing environment in which paid media has become much less influential as owned and earned media have gained power. Now brands have the opportunity to use intelligence, insight, strategy and speed, just like David, to run rings around the giants. Of course many of the giants have figured out their weaknesses and are not quite as lumbering as they used to be. But at the very least the battle is now one of wits, not just about size.

This presents smaller brands with the opportunity to punch way above their weight if they take advantage of the digital opportunities in front of them. These mostly revolve around smart search optimization, content creation, social media, brand websites and mobile experiences.

If a brand’s digital ecosystem is imagined and managed with insight and creativity, David can hold his own against Goliath – and sometimes even beat him.

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Presentation: 10 Key Ingredients of a Modern Brand Website

At the center of an integrated marketing ecosystem (I hate that word too, but it works) is the brand website. But it still amazes me how many brands don’t get what it has to do. This deck tells the story.










Want to know more about IQ? Contact Us

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Content Strategy: 7 Steps for a Better Voice & Tone

content strategy

Publishing branded content in traditional spaces — better known as native advertising — has been a popular topic buzzing around lately.

From the Native Advertising Summit that stopped by Atlanta this summer to this absolutely awesome (though slightly inconclusive) eMarketer study that popped up on my Twitter feed last week, native advertising is without a doubt shaping the content that brands are creating right now. And according to that eMarketer study, 73% of U.S. publishers are offering some form native advertising on their websites.

The growth of native advertising means more opportunities for brand produced content to be integrated in the design of a publisher’s site. As brands are taking advantage of this opportunity, they’ve become responsible for vastly more content the public sees and interacts with.

But keeping that content on track is easier said than done. From social posts to blog entries and targeted ads, it’s a challenge for businesses to manage all the content they create all the time. The solution is a holistic content strategy including SEO keyword analysis, which prioritizes content and details guidelines for consistent voice and tone.

From a small ‘mom and pop’ shop to a Fortune 500 companies, a defined “voice and tone” keeps the people (and agencies) working on a brand’s behalf on the same page when it comes to how a brand should sound and act in different situations.

A fantastic example is MailChimp’s voice and tone microsite guide that sorts the company’s V+T best practices based on situation, then color codes the tone needed for each situation from green to red.

Green is for situations that call for humor and positivity, red for content that is serious and informative. All entries feature examples and as an added bonus, the site is responsive and remarkably pleasant to use on a smartphone.

But not all voice and tone guidelines need to be as expansive as a color-coded microsite.

Creating or updating your voice and tone is as simple as following a few key steps:

1. Understand the difference between voice and tone

Voice doesn’t change, but tone does. Your brand voice should always be consistent, but tone will vary depending on the situation and emotion you’re trying to communicate to a consumer.

2. Set your boundaries

Decide if your voice and tone is a guide for all of your business communications or just a certain part. Narrow your focus by deciding if you need a voice and tone specifically for something like your company’s digital spaces or for a smaller initiative like social networks. You can easily make a separate voice and tone guide, if needed, for different parts of your business.

3. Interview stakeholders

This is key because your employees are already speaking your brand’s voice and tone. Interview key stakeholders and employees and ask them to share why they’re passionate about the company. Also ask what kind of content they think would be compelling coming from the brand. Their language will give you insight into what your brand voice and tone should sound like.

4. Determine voice with keywords

Start by creating a massive list of words that define the brand — we’re not talking about product names, but instead how a product or service makes the customer feel. Use these important adjectives to shape a mission statement paragraph that defines overall how your brand should sound. Follow up with a list of keywords.

5. Define tone based on situation  

Think of the different situations where you will use voice and tone guidelines to structure copy or content for your brand. Define these situations one by one — from social copy to company blog entries — then decide what tone is needed to communicate with a reader during these situations. With its list of uses, MailChimp’s V+T is a fantastic examples of this.

6. List your “watch outs”

Define words, phrases or messages that absolutely cannot be used in content produced by your company. Additionally, define customer service protocol for dealing with negative feedback — like finding a way to direct a customer complaining on your blog post to customer service quickly.

7. Share and get feedback from key stakeholders

Once you’ve created a preliminary document, come back to the stakeholders you interviewed to get feedback. Constructive feedback will help you continue to improve your voice and tone — rinse and repeat until you have the guidelines you need.

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  • 06.05.13

How to Make Great Brand Videos

Consistently making great content is a tall order for many brands.  Get some insight and tips from the presentation below:

How to Make Great Brand Videos from IQ Agency

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7 Steps for Better Branded Journalism

I don’t pretend to be a savvy shopper, but when I dive wallet-first into the clearance section at The Gap, I tend to stock up on accessories in my favorite color — black. Why? It’s a universal truth that black goes with everything.

So does branded journalism. In the words of veteran digital content guru Ann Handley, “Content is the new black.”

Handley is right, branded journalism (also known as brand journalism or branded content) has caught on like a wildfire this year. From Tory Burch’s fantastic branded blog to Mint.com’s MintLife section, brands realize the value of consumer-facing content like articles, photos or videos, and are rushing to create some with the company name on it.

Why? For a lot of the reasons we discussed in the first post in this series and mainly because consumers are demanding it. As brands become more accessible to fans through social media, people want more from brands than their products and services. So much so, even Twitter is looking to hire a Head of News. That leads us to branded journalism.

But branded journalism breaks the natural order of business that advertisers, journalists and businesses have subscribed to for decades. This makes some people nervous, traditionalists angry and opportunists jumping on the branded content bandwagon faster than Baltimore fans during the last Super Bowl.

So that leaves the question, if you’re going to start creating content for a brand, be it a local business or a Fortune 500 company, what are the best practices? Better yet, how do you do it ethically?

Try these simple steps for better branded journalism:

1. Build a process

Journalistic content should be more than an article or blog post thrown together quickly. Create an editorial plan, support whatever content you create with strategy, edit it, review it with key company team members and a set time to distribute it via a medium that will reach your intended audience.

2. Share something valuable

Share something that your target market will respond to. For example, Home Depot’s YouTube page features an array of do-it-yourself garden tutorials. Completely different from Red Bull’s adrenalin-pumping YouTube page that offers an array of video features on the brand’s extreme athletes.  Both give their fans journalistic content in the same medium, but do it completely different ways to reach separate audiences.

3. Know your boundaries

Producing journalistic content doesn’t equate to producing a Pulitzer winning news article, so stick to your industry and the topics surrounding it. Create content targeted at a company’s audience, on subjects related to your company’s industry. Find creative ways to make content relevant to trends and new stories without reporting the news.

4. Stick to the facts and cite your sources

People want transparency from their favorite brands. Always support your content with facts from experts and credible sources. Back up your claims with research, data or testimonials from credible experts that you mention by name.

5. Strike a balance

Don’t use branded journalism as an opportunity to knock a competitor’s product or service, use it as an opportunity to share valuable content. If needed, acknowledge competitors professionally when it’s appropriate. Focus instead on sharing real insight about a subject consumers are interested in.

6. List a byline

If possible, list the author or producer of a branded journalism piece. This gives your work credibility and gives audience members a face representing the brand to connect with. Melissa Lafsky Wall left her job at USA Today to head up content production at dating site How About We, where every article or column in the site’s Date Report section is credited with a byline.

7. Track results

Producing branded journalism is useless if it doesn’t reach the correct audience to support business goals. Use analytics to track your results and SEO to shape the strategy behind your content. This ensures that you don’t just produce quality branded journalism; you produce branded content that gets results.

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You’ve Got a Video Problem

How to Make Great Brand Videos

In the pre-digital days there really wasn’t a need for brands to produce more than the ads that went on traditional media. Now they need to produce an almost constant stream of fresh content to keep up with digital channels and social media. For most companies it’s a pretty tall order because making content is a completely different business from what they know. And it gets even harder when so much of the content that they now need is video.

Since cheap bandwidth has made high-quality video so easy to get, people want more and more of it. Projections have video representing over 85% of all Internet traffic in a couple of years. So brands need to make lots of videos. The problem, of course, is not just the quantity, but how does a brand make videos that are good enough to stand out? While cameras and equipment are cheap and easy to get, creativity and know-how are still in short supply. Of course, what makes a video good is in the eye of the beholder, but most of us know bad video when we see it, and the last thing any brand needs is to be spreading bad videos.

So the challenge is for companies to put in place the capability to produce lots of “good” videos, consistently over time. The problem is that because the budgets are much smaller, it’s not like producing TV commercials, which brands have a lot of experience with. According to the 4A’s, the average cost to make a TV spot is over $300,000 — but for video content, that may be your entire budget for the year.

The big question is — do you try and do it in-house or hire pros? While you may need a lot of videos, you may not need enough to justify the large expense of hiring a full-time team. So another approach is to hire an in-house video producer whose job it is to put together freelance teams for each production. This is not a creative person, but a video project manager, and you still need to be doing enough work to justify a full-time person.

For most brands the answer is to hire pros. The advantage, of course, is the wide range of talent and capabilities you can access. The problem is how to keep the costs down. Most agencies focus on developing the creative, and then hire a production company for the execution. As a result, the costs mount quickly. Some TV production companies do creative, but their focus is really on the production and they are rarely able to develop the creative or the strategy for the video, which is critical. So that leaves companies and agencies that specialize in video content for digital channels.

The ideal is to have digital content strategy, plus creative, plus production under one roof. A company that can do all of that — and that is set up to produce a lot of video content over time, cost-effectively — has found the perfect solution. Of course, the videos still have to be good in the eye of the beholder, which to start with would be you.

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The Rise and Ruckus of Branded Journalism

Branded Journalism

As a growing copywriter with a print journalism background, I love the idea of “branded journalism.” Editorial content written for brands, targeted at consumers, supported by analytics, published in digital spaces, that raises a big middle finger to the rule that advertising and journalism can never mix? Sounds good to me.

For brands, the need for journalistic content stems from growing branded communities in social spaces. As brands and consumers engage in more personal conversations via social, consumers simply demand more from them.

More than ever, consumers want brands to give them things of value outside of their products or services. A sense of community that includes transparency, responsiveness and quality branded content. That’s where brand journalists and copywriters come in.

Last week, I stumbled on the work of Kevin Maney, a veteran USA Today reporter who turned his attention to advertising after two decades of writing and reporting as a journalist.

After a successful reporting career, Maney made an interesting move. He started working with big brands like IBM to create journalistic content.

Maney co-authored a book in conjunction with IBM, but branded journalism can include works of art, articles, blog posts, books, photos or videos produced by a brand to reach an identifiable market.

Couple creating content with the market downturn, and many wannabe journalists and former reporters are turning to jobs in advertising, marketing and digital. Many seek jobs that offer more security but still challenge them to use skills from writing in the newsroom like critical thinking, deadline management and creativity.

According to Robert McChesney, co-author of Will the Last Reporter Please Turn Out the Lights: The Collapse of Journalism and What Can Be Done to Fix It, public relations professionals now outnumber reporters 4-to-1. With print journalism seeing a continual decline in revenue, it isn’t surprising that some journalists are now writing for brands. Market aside however, branded journalism still causes some debate.

Critics fear that branded journalism might fully eclipse traditional journalism. Will the news report about a damaging tornado suddenly be sponsored by a home insurance company? I highly doubt it. The audience would be too quick to call a news organization on it, like they did with The Atlantic’s big advertorial fail in January.

The Atlantic fiasco highlights that we’re working in a time where the line between advertising and journalism is blurrier than ever. Marketing, digital and journalism just came crashing together, giving us a choice. We can either sit here staring or use this opportunity to create new, innovative content that people will respond to.

By we, I mean brands or agencies working on behalf of brands. New organizations don’t have the freedom to pepper advertising content in their editorial work, but ad professionals now have the unique opportunity to produce journalistic content. If done right in digital spaces, that journalistic content will likely produce results.

The key lies in planning responsibly. Branded journalism needs to be intentional, driven by strategy as much as it is by good writing. It must be targeted and audience-specific and not overstep it’s bounds. Producing journalistic content doesn’t equate to producing a Pulitzer winning news article, so brands shouldn’t try to.

How each company executes branded journalism will vary, but hopefully by the end of the year we will see more fact-based, journalistic content reaching consumers and generating revenue.

To track branded journalism, its growth and the debate surrounding it, a good place to start is Maney’s blog. Ignore the clunky WordPress theme and focus on the journalistic content. After all, content is becoming very valuable.

Want to learn more? Email IQ

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