Searching For Brand Salvation? Be Strategic, Skeptical

I’ve grown incredibly tired of hearing about the next big thing in marketing. Almost everyone seems to have their own version of snake oil that will magically increase ROI, increase customer engagement, grow consideration levels overnight, or improve the overall image of a brand in just three short weeks. Bad news friends — there is no magic bullet, no tonic or single tool that will fix a brand.

Social media won’t do it, digital won’t do it. Neither will print, mobile, TV, emerging media, gaming or whatever comes next. All those things are tactics. And while brands will toss millions on one or a combination of several of the above, most of them fall short on the most important part of their execution … the strategy.

Instead of simply patching the holes with tactics, wouldn’t it be better to eschew the promises of salvation made by individual practitioners and start thinking more skeptically in regards to your marketing/advertising campaigns? As a content strategist, my favorite question to ask any person in a meeting that brings up a creative concept or suggests the use of some sort of tactic is, “What does that mean to the consumer?”

It seems so simple, but 9 times out of every 10, no one thinks of how creative will ultimately be interpreted by the consumer. Perhaps our biggest challenge as strategists is attempting to persuade a client that we need to talk about our audiences and messages – and ultimately whether we have product or service that satisfies those audiences – before we get anywhere near a tactical discussion.

My recommendation to brands and the content strategists and content planners working for those companies, is to place the greatest amount of initial emphasis on finding out who the customer is.

What do they do? Why do they need your service or product? How do they consume media? What do their activities in social media look like? Develop personas for consumers you’re likely to encounter given the economic and product landscape and then figure out what kinds of messages need to be created to satisfy those minds.

Once we know who they are and we know what we need to say to them, we hopefully have something in our wheelhouse that they give a damn about. Then we can take those learnings to decide what we can do to creatively satisfy them, but whatever we come up with better execute against the strategic thinking we spent all that initial time on.

Social media and emerging media may be all shiny and new, and I’m sure brands have every ‘media expert’ that’s blogging in his or her basement telling them that they need a “Twitter-Strategy” or a “Facebook-Strategy.” That’s a farse.

All the “strategy” in the world won’t mean a thing if your customers aren’t looking for you to be there. Be skeptical, be like Socrates or like your 4-year-old. Ask these so-called experts “Why?” Ultimately, both strategists and brands should be asking the same question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

“Why do I need to build a Facebook app that lets you change the color of my product and then gives me a badge to annoy their friends? What does this tactic accomplish and how does it support my strategy?”

“Why do I need to ‘tweet’ about my guys who drain septic fields? What does tweeting about that accomplish?”

“Why should I make a mobile game for my family sedan? What does that tactic accomplish?”

Brands get to where they are for a reason. They either have a service or product that satisfies a need or they don’t. All the tactics in the world won’t help boost profitability if they don’t have skeptics to make sure that the tactic is being executed to a strategic umbrella that ultimately influences brand consideration.

It’s time to stop being creative for creativity’s sake and time to start communicating with consumers in the ways they choose.

In short, brands shouldn’t steer away from delivering messaging in print because it’s percieved as a dying art, or put all of their eggs into digital and social baskets because many people access their information in that fashion. It’s about being accessible to all, being strategic with your messaging platforms and spending less and less time focusing on your campaign creative or tactics that may not even be appropriate. What are your thoughts?

Photo: Billie Hara

I’m Not A Social Media Expert And Neither Are You

It seems as if every time I attend a networking event I’m meeting new social media “experts,” “gurus,” “ninjas” and “rockstars.” Quite frankly, I’m not a social media expert, and damn it, neither are you.

Want to know who the real “rockstars” are? They’re people. Real, honest, people; with real, honest faces.

The people who don’t use social media to earn a paycheck are the most valuable voices in the space. And more often than not, they’re the people these self proclaimed “experts” are forgetting about when they make recommendations to companies and brands big and small. There is an infinite problem in measuring your success by the number of tweets you produce daily, the number of friends you were able to corral on Facebook and in the number of referring links you’ve been able to garner. Why? Because more often than not, there is little to no attention paid to whether or not there’s anything worth saying at all and no thought put into what happens once the conversion metric has been satisfied. That comes down to a lack of strategy on the front end.

Kick ass creative? Check. Kick ass social media analytic suite? Check. Kick ass bloggers? Check.

Nothing valuable to say? No plan for what to do with people once you’ve brought them to your site? EPIC FAIL.

I think Joe Pulizzi nails it down perfectly in this post where he says:

Publishing is marketing, marketing is publishing. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that the majority of new media marketing efforts rely on a keen understanding of publishing. That means that you (the marketer) need to take your sales and marketing hat off and put on your publishing hat. Instead of features and benefits communication (look at most e-newsletters, which are most times product or offer driven), are you delivering information like a publisher does to readers?

I can’t stress how important this concept is, especially when it comes to sharing your content in the social media space.

Believe me, there’s no way in hell you can consider yourself in expert in understanding something as fluid as the social media space. It changes daily and it gets deeper and deeper by the day. Social media doesn’t have a beginning, an ending or an in between. But if we all begin to start thinking of how we deliver our information on the front end (think about how it’s tagged, the tone you’re presenting it in, who is saying it and why you’re saying it in the first place) and couple it with a strong plan of action once conversion occurs, our content is useful to those swimming in the communication stream and to us, the publisher.

Stop worrying about your ninja skills and start building your strategic muscles. And please, stop calling yourself a guru. It just sounds ridiculous.

Photo: Sanja Gjenero

How To: Avoid Invisibility With Your Personal Brand

How do you keep up with all of those different Web sites, and how do I build a web presence? It’s a question I often hear from friends, students and clients. I always respond to it the same way – Are you sure you want to be as transparent and public as I am? If the answer is yes, here’s my brief how-to on the best ways to stop being invisible online, through careful building of your personal brand and web presence.

Perhaps the most obvious would be to start snagging up your name on the popular social networking sites. If your exact name is available, get it. But if it’s not, I’ve found it helpful to stick to a similar user name or URL shortcode for EVERY service you use. Consistency is something search engines love. The more properties that you can duplicate your username or URL shortcode on, the easier you are to find. And if your last name isn’t quite as unique as “Eizans,” do the best you can to do a first last combo or a username that at least applies to you in some way. You’ll find that most of my property on the web is full first, full last (danieleizans).

Five sites you absolutely shouldn’t ignore include Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and last, but certainly not the least important is building your own website on your own domain. Here’s a quick rundown on why these five things are important to being more visible on the web.

Personal Domain/Website: If your name is available as a dot com, grab it now! With your own web site, you can point it towards all of these other great properties and build your blog into it. If your name isn’t available, do your best to figure out something memorable that applies to you. Don’t get cute, unless you have a company that is tied to your name.

Once you begin adding content to the site, you’ll begin to rise in the search engine rankings, so long as your content is optimized correctly, have strong title tags, header information and include links in the body copy.

Building clean and optimized content is a whole other post I’ll probably get to later.

LinkedIn: If used correctly, your LinkedIn profile says everything about your professional reputation. It essentially serves as your amendable online resume, complete with instant access to your professional references. It’s also plugged in to job hunting tools and is highly functional and SEO friendly.

Since spending a good deal of time updating my resume, background and ACTIVELY asking for recommendations, I’ve gotten at least 1 to 2 job leads a week from my LinkedIn profile. Don’t settle for just listing the job title, fill out the descriptions. Sell yourself.

Flickr: If you have any skill with a camera, Flickr can be a great way to house your photos, tag them, optimize them and be sure they are providing traffic back to your web site. I use Flickr exclusively for all of my images on Diary of a Would-Be Chef and for a great deal of content that I’ve personally shot for this web site. It features an analytics suite that’s reasonably good at identifying where your traffic is coming from and if you choose to make your photos sharable and usable by other bloggers, you could get even more traffic back to your site depending on the publishing rights package you go with.

Several of my food photos are being used as stock art for other blogs, in blog headers and in recipe reprints. In exchange for that use, I require the blogger publishes my name and links directly back to my personal web site, and believe me, I get traffic from it. Flickr also allows you to add links to comments and HTML. Also, take advantage of tags and create one for your site that you’re using the photos on.

Facebook: This social networking giant is a bit of a no-brainer. But, in order to display your profile in the Google results, you will need to change your privacy settings. Sharing your other sites and just having your name attached to Facebook helps you to be more visible.

Twitter: Claim your username on Twitter (before someone else does) and make your bio about you, not just what you’re interested in. Admittedly, Twitter isn’t for everyone. It takes work to stay on top of who you follow and the topics you’re interested in. But having your username locked down isn’t a bad thing. And if you’re as busy as I am at times, you may find it much easier to provide quick updates through micro-blogging as opposed to taking the time to research and post a longer piece. At any rate, Twitter is growing like gangbusters right now and you should become acclimated with it sooner than later. Being on Twitter will only help your name get out there.

So that’s it. Those are the bare bones you need to get started. As you get those properties going, you can add others, like FriendFeed, Tumblr, etc., etc. Crawling out of the cave of invisibility isn’t terribly difficult, but it does take time and a real effort. Also, don’t forget that once you’re out, it’s impossible to crawl back in. So before you go crazy, make sure you don’t mind being found with a single keyword or two. You may regret it in the long run.

Photo Jonathan Phillip