Home            Blog
Showing posts with label linkedin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label linkedin. Show all posts

Monday, August 8, 2016

LinkedIn's Creative URL's Seem Designed for Organic SEO

This link for a LinkedIn download of a hiring .pdf is a great example of a very selective and creative URL that shows just how detailed LinkedIn is with their landing pages and how you get to it.


There are key words, title of content, and the word business TWICE! When have you ever had two key words in your URL? And they both mean something different as categorization is concerned. Having creativity in your team is a must, and LinkedIn has that covered well

Monday, June 1, 2015

3 ways sales people should use LinkedIn to increase sales

You are sitting at your desk in a panic because you are not going to make quote for the quarter....LinkedIn can help even if you do not have a premium account.

1- Reach people at companies you want to sell to and you are not selling to today.
A-Search for employees at XYZ- check out titles -look at profiles. 
B- Check to see if any of your connections know them- If yes, ask them to help connect you so you can send a message to them.
C-See if they belong to any of the groups you belong. If yes, go to group page find them and send a message-this is free.

Need more help using LinkedIn as a sales tool...Contact us for an individual online session at nanette@nsgconsultinginc.com

Or do you want to get more sales from your sales team-Contact us about doing a presentation at your next sales meeting at: nanette@nsgconsultinginc.com

Learn more about our firm at: http://nsgconsultinginc.com/

Friday, August 8, 2014

For Retailers, Being Social is Harder Than It Looks

For Retailers, Being Social is Harder Than It Looks

Retailers are constantly being urged to up their social media presence. But that doesn’t mean they should simply join another social network and then forget about it. In the rush to be part of modern retailing, some stores forgot the communal, interactive aspect of social media.
Michael Weiss, managing partner for C-4 Analytics, a Boston-based digital marketing agency, says most retailers – and not just apparel – are still struggling to understand social media. They need to discover how social media can deliver customer research and customer service, and fill gaps that a marketing program cannot. While most consumers start their online apparel shopping through retailer or brand sites (55 percent), e-commerce sites (29 percent), and search engines (25 percent) according to the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey, almost 1 in 10 consumers start shopping through social media sites (7 percent).
“Anyone who’s looking at social media as just another place to put advertising is missing the point,” Weiss says.  “Social media is not just another place to post your weekly circular or hype your latest sale. Understand who you want to reach and what goals you want to achieve. Once you have that information, you can identify the social media platform and communication strategy that is most likely to work.”
In the low-margin world of fashion retail, apparel stores that manage to navigate the diverse social media landscape can benefit greatly, especially given that shoppers still say clothes (30 percent) are their top item of choice to shop for, followed by electronics, (23 percent), groceries (25 percent) shoes (10 percent) and cosmetics (6 percent), according to the Monitor survey. And the majority (55 percent) continue to “love or enjoy” clothes shopping.
8_7 chart
The problem for retailers is that social media isn’t as simple as setting and forgetting a Facebook page or Twitter account. It’s about geo-location apps that can alert shoppers to local deals, wallet apps that show mobile users where they can shop nearby while paying via smartphone, as well as reward apps that alert shoppers to deals when they walk near a store. Complicating matters is the fact that new apps continue to pop up regularly, making it tough for stores to figure out where to spend their social media dollars.
It’s expected that U.S. social media advertising revenue will jump nearly 200 percent to $15 billion in 2018, from $5.1 billion last year, according to a recent report from media research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey. This year, the firm expects social ad revenue to increase 62.7%, to hit $8.3 billion.
Much of the social media budget revolves around ads that appear in, say, the Facebook newsfeed. But shopping apps can be quite beneficial to both the retailer and the consumer. Again, the problem is picking the right player.
Some apps, like Instagram, are really just geo-social, while others — like Shopkick or iBeacon — incorporate commerce. Geolocation apps, meanwhile, appeal to the tablet or smartphone user. The Monitor stats show 45 percent of shoppers browse on their phone, while 39 percent use their tablet, and less than one in five (18 percent) use a smart TV. However, the majority (84 percent) turns to their traditional desktop or laptop computers to browse apparel online.
Weiss says a big drawback to geolocation apps is the “spying” factor they inherently possess.
“Some of our established retail clients have been very resistant to geolocation because they see it as intrusive, and it’s hard to argue that point,” he says. “If you’re a national brand, people know who you are and where you are, and they don’t necessarily want another one of your ads showing up every time they walk by your store. They may want something very personal that’s interesting to them, such as an alert when a shirt goes on sale.”
Weiss points out that apps like Scoutmob are more of a service — and C-4 would recommend it to a new business or a regional retailer with just a few storefronts. “Platforms like this can get a local business some consideration and ‘even up’ things against the onslaught of advertising from larger retailers.”
On the other hand, he says, Shopkick is a loyalty program that gets shared across competing retailers. “You probably don’t want your customer redeeming loyalty points at the store down the road. It’s better to run your own program.”
The fact remains though, today’s consumers like various aspects of pre- and social shopping, whether it’s on a retailer’s site or social media. The majority of shoppers “always/usually/sometimes” compare prices (77 percent), browse styles (73 percent), look-up coupons (71 percent) and read customer reviews (58 percent) online before purchasing an apparel item in store, according to the Monitor. A total of 68 percent of shoppers say online product reviews are “very or somewhat influential” when shopping for apparel, up significantly from 61 percent in November 2010. And most (68 percent) read these reviews on retailer or brand websites, followed by e-commerce (30 percent) and community-based social media sites like Facebook or Twitter (15 percent) and media-based social sites like Instagram and Pinterest (13 percent).
Weiss says once a store understands who it wants to reach, it then must start listening to its customers.
“If people are asking for a specific service or information on Facebook or Twitter, find a way to provide it,” he says. “Social media has made it easier than ever for retailers to talk with their customers and learn what they want. Note that I said ‘talk with,’ which means real, two-way dialogue. If you’re just talking at them with promotions or canned questions like, ‘What’s your favorite weekend getaway?,’ you’re just going through the motions, and a lot of users will tune out. Actual conversation builds real engagement that becomes a powerful way to promote your business.”

This article is one in a series that appears weekly on sourcingjournalonline.com. The data contained are based on findings from the Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey, a consumer attitudinal study, as well as upon other of the company’s industrial indicators, including its Retail Monitor and Supply Chain Insights analyses. Additional relevant information can be found at CottonLifestyleMonitor.com.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Richard Edelman: Traditional Marketing Is Broken

Richard Edelman: Traditional Marketing Is Broken

In Chicago today, the head of the world's largest PR firm declared that the marketing industry has its business backward. Speaking to an audience of academics and brand marketing executives at De Paul University, Richard Edelman, who runs the eponymous agency as President and CEO, stated that much of the marketing we've grown up with "is a short-term and broken model."
The marketing industry has been rocked the last few years by the massive rise of commercial brands acting as publishers. Whereas brands like General Electric and American Express historically could only reach customers through advertisements next to content people sought in newspapers and television, they can now create their own stories that readers find and share in their news feeds on social media websites. (This, of course, is not news to anyone who's reading this story on LinkedIn.)
However, the communications approach brands have been using as publishers is still often anachronistic. "It's always been marketing first and communications as a servant," Edelman said.
I see the emergence of a new paradigm, which is 'communications marketing' instead of 'marketing communications.'"
The difference, he says, has to do with priorities. In a media environment where control over who sees content is actually up to readers—not editors or advertisers—companies who wish to build relationships with potential customers must now do so on readers' terms. That means communicating meaningfully before selling to them. It means sharing useful and entertaining information as a primary objective, with the understanding that relationships and sales will eventually flow if done appropriately.
The early adopters in the marketing community understand this well. It's why Red Bull makes snowboarding movies and drops skydivers from space to entertain its audience. It's whyBlackrock creates in-depth education to help people understand investing. And it's why creative and media and PR and social agencies (and publishers like The New York Times and Forbes) now sell "sponsored content" and content marketing solutions.
Social media has changed our expectations around what we see and don't see on the Internet, and that's forcing the hands of some brands—the ones with a lot to lose—to behave more in the interest of the crowd. Interestingly, that mindset (and pressure) is influencing beyond simply what brands broadcast from their Twitter accounts. Edelman uses Starbucks as an example: The company recently announced that it's going to subsidize its employees college tuition, in part as an effort to help its workers feel connected to the brand and to care about its customers more to the point that they share the brand's story and ethos with strangers who buy lattes.
You're not just selling coffee," Edelman said. "You're selling a relationship."
The key to "communications marketing", Edelman said, is "substantive storytelling." Purveying interesting and surprising stories instead of ads. To work, he said, brands must publish content that is:
1) "Rational and built for consumption." (Useful to the reader.)
2) "Emotional and built for sharing." (Of human interest.)
3) "Supported by data and insight." (Factually sound.)
These sound a lot like things a journalist would say. But when Edelman then declared that the PR industry must now consider themselves "guardians of truth," I was taken aback. It's a dramatic statement coming from the head of an industry that's thought by most people to be paid to spin facts. However, knowing that the social media crowd is quick to point out and amplify improprieties, public relations firms seem to be grabbing onto the idea of storytelling and relationship-building through radically transparent publishing more fully than almost anyone. (I suspect that this is largely due to the fact that Edelman and firms like Weber Shandwick's Mediaco have been hiring editors from traditional media with strong journalism backgrounds to run branded content.)
Though I think that brand publishing should not be overly compared to journalism, the infusion of a journalistic mindset—or communicating instead of selling—into marketing is a great thing. After all, the number one priority of journalism is to seek the truth and not betray readers. Marketing, historically, hasn't had much incentive to rank such ideals above the bottom line.
"We're going to change the mindset of marketers," Edelman says. It's a lofty idea. But if we can collectively manage it, it just might make the Internet—in which the 5.7 trillion ads served per year get ignored by 99.9% of us—a little more interesting.
Shane Snow is Chief Creative Officer of Contently and author ofSmartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success. He writes about media and technology for Wired, Fast Company, Ad Age, and more, and tweets at @shanesnow.
If you liked this post, please share it and click the FOLLOW button above to get more! Or consider subscribing to my mailing list athttp://eepurl.com/yJaEP
Image via Edelman. Disclosure: my company works with many of the companies mentioned in this post.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Link Graph Conundrum: Why Citations Remain Critical to SEO Survival

The Link Graph Conundrum: Why Citations Remain Critical to SEO Survival

1 Comment
SEO Evolution: Sell, Discover, Deliver & Report on Highly Converting Keywords by Krista LaRiviere, gShift
It's a popularly held belief that the link graph is broken. This post will explore the roots of the problem, and why it is such a tough problem for Google and Bing to resolve.
The Link Graph Still Alive and Kicking
It all starts with the original Larry Page - Sergey Brin thesis. At the time they were developing this concept, the leading search engines of the time were almost solely dependent on keyword analysis of the content on your page to determine rankings. Spammers had so thoroughly assaulted this model that change had become an imperative, lest the concept of a search engine go the way of the dinosaurs.
Here are a couple of key sentences at the beginning of the thesis:
The citation (link) graph of the web is an important resource that has largely gone unused in existing web search engines. We have created maps containing as many as 518 million of these hyperlinks, a significant sample of the total. These maps allow rapid calculation of a web page's "PageRank", an objective measure of its citation importance that corresponds well with people's subjective idea of importance. Because of this correspondence, PageRank is an excellent way to prioritize the results of web keyword searches.
The concept of a "citation" (bolding above was mine, for emphasis) is a critical one. To understand why, let's step away from the web and consider the example of an academic research paper, which might include citations in them that look like this:
Academic Citations
Placement in this list is normally made by the writer of the paper to acknowledge major sources they referenced during the creation of their paper. If you did a study of all the papers on a given topic area, you could fairly easily identify the most important ones, because they would have the most citations (votes) by other papers.
Using a technique like the PageRank algorithm, you could build a citation graph where each of these "votes" were not counted equally (e.g., if a paper has a lot of citations, the votes it gives would count for more if they did not). And, just like the PageRank algorithm, you could apply the algorithm recursively to identify the most important papers. The reasons this works well in the academic citation environment are:
  1. Small Scale: The number of papers in a given academic space is reasonably finite. You might have hundreds, or thousands, of documents, not millions.
  2. No Incentive to Spam: You can't really buy a citation placement in an academic paper. If you were the author of a paper and had some illogical references in your citations, the perceived authority of your own paper would be negatively impacted.
  3. Small Communities: In a given area of academic research, all the major players know each other. Strange out of place behavior stands out in a way that it doesn't in an open chaotic environment like the web.

Citations and the Web

At the time of the Page-Brin thesis, the spammers of the world were attacking search engines using a variety of keyword stuffing techniques. Practical implementation of a link-based algorithm was a revelation, and it had a huge impact very quickly. The spammers of the world had not yet figured out how to assault the link based model.
As Google gained traction, this changed. Link buying and selling, large scale link swapping, blog and forum comment stuffing, and simply building huge sites and placing site-wide links on them were some of the many tactics that emerged.
Fast forward to 2014 and it appears that Google has partially won this battle. The reason we can say that they have partially won is that these days almost no one publishes articles in support of spammy link building tactics.
Unhappy Spammers
In fact, the concept of link building itself has been replaced with content marketing, which the overwhelming majority of people position as being about building reputation and visibility. This has happened because Google has gotten good at detecting enough of the spammers out there that the risks of getting caught are quite high. No business with investors or employees can afford to invest in spammy techniques because the downside risks aren't acceptable.
On the other hand, if you spend enough time studying search results, you can easily find many examples sites that use really bad link building practices ranking high in the search results for some terms. If you're playing by the rules and one of these people in outranking you, it can be infuriating.

Sources of the Problem

Why does this still happen? Part of the reason is that the web isn't at all like the world of academic papers. Here are some reasons why:
  1. Commercial Environment with High Stakes: Fortunes are made on the interwebs. People have a huge incentive to figure out how to rank higher in Google.
  2. Huge Scale: It was back in October/November 2012 that Google's Matt Cutts told me that Google knew about 100 trillion web pages. By now, that has to be more like 500 trillion.
  3. No Cohesive Community: The academic community would probably argue that they aren't as cohesive as one might think, but compared to the web there is a clear difference. There are all different types of people on the web, including those who are ignorant of SEO, those who have incorrect information on how it works, those who attempt to abuse SEO, and finally to those who try to do it the right way.
  4. User-Generated Content (UGC): Blog comments, forum comments, reviews, social media sites are all example of UGC in action. While Google tries to screen all of this out, and most of these platforms use the rel="NoFollow" attribute not all of them do. As a result, spammers implement algorithms to spew comments with rich anchor text references to their sites across the web.
  5. Advertising: The web is a commercial place. People sell advertising, and even if there intent is not to sell PageRank, many of them don't use nofollow attributes on the links and simply label the links as "Sponsored" or "Ads". Google is not always able to detect such labeling.
  6. Practical Anonymity: The chances of blowback if you link to a crappy site are much smaller than they are in the academic paper scenario. Because of the scale of the web, the advertising environment, and the structure of web content, a crappy link or two may just be seen as an ad, and the average visitor to a web page simply does not care.
  7. Complete Lack of Structure: Let's face it, the web is a chaotic place. The way sites are built, the way people interact with pages, the types of content, and the varying goals of such content lead to a web that has little real structure.
One Little Corner of the Web

Why Haven't Google and Bing Fixed This?

Of course the search engines are trying to fix it. Don't pay any attention to anyone who suggests otherwise.
Google lives in terror of someone doing to them what they did to Altavista. A fundamentally better algorithm would represent a huge threat to their business. And, of course, Bing would love to be the one to find such a new algo.
The money at stake here is huge, and both search engines are investing heavily in trying to develop better algorithms. The size of the spoils? The current market cap of Google is $356 billion.
The reason why they haven't fixed it is because they haven't figured out how to yet. Social media signals aren't the answer either. Nor is measuring user interaction with the SERPs, or on the pages of your site. These things might help, but search engines would have already started weighting them quite a bit more than they have if they were the answer.

What Does This Means To You?

Frankly, it's a tough environment. Here it is in a nutshell:
  1. Publishers that use crappy link building practices may outrank you on key terms, and they may stay there for a while.
  2. Google will continue to discover and punish bad tactics to the best of their ability, uneven though that may be. They do this well enough that any serious business just needs to stay away from such tactics (most likely that means you!).
  3. Search engines will keep looking for creative new ways to reduce their dependence on links. This will include more ways to use social media, user interaction signals, and other new concepts as well. However, Cutts says that links are here as a ranking factor for many more years.
  4. As search engines use more and more of these new signals we aren't going to get a roadmap as to what they are. Yes they patent new ideas all the time, but you won't know which patents they use, and which ones they don't. In addition, even when they use an idea from a published patent, the practical implementation of it will likely differ greatly from what you see in the patent.
Your Direction Might be Unclear
It isn't an ideal situation. Your best course of action? Focus your efforts and building your reputation and visibility online outside of the search engines. Ultimately, you want to build your own loyal audience. Here are a few ideas for doing that:
  1. Organic social media: Just recognize that this opportunity may be transient too. As we have seen, Facebook is reducing organic visibility in order to drive revenue growth. For that reason, new emerging social platforms are particularly powerful opportunities to get visible, provided that you pick the right horse to ride.
  2. Earned Media (Guest Posting): Cutts may have signalled the The Decay and Fall of Guest Blogging for SEO but writing regular columns on the top web sites in your market is something you should strive to do anyway. Don't view it as an SEO activity, its still a surefire way to build up reputation and visibility.
  3. Speaking at Conferences: This is a great technique as standing up in front of a room full of people and sharing your thoughts allows them to begin developing a connection with you.
  4. Writing Books or eBooks: Another traditional reputation builder, but a really good one. Don't underestimate the work in writing a book though. However hard you think it is, the reality is 4 to 10 times harder.
  5. Develop Relationships with Influential Media and Bloggers: Building meaningful relationships with other people that already have large audiences and adding value to their lives is always a good thing.
These activities will all give you alternative ways to build your reputation, visibility, and traffic. They also give you the best chance that your site will be sending out the types of signals that search engines want to discover and value anyway.
Ideally, your reputation will be so strong that Google's search results will be damaged in the event you aren't ranking for relevant terms, because searchers will be looking for you. You don't have to like the way the environment operates, but it's the environment we have. Complaining won't help you, so just go out and win anyway!

Friday, March 28, 2014

State of Content Marketing: You Say You Want a Revolution?

State of Content Marketing: You Say You Want a Revolution?

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers analyze the state and future of their industry. Read all the posts here.

The State of The Brand Publishing Industry

Revolution. That’s the term that Brian Alvey, the man who built the software underlying three generations of digital publishers, uses to describe a buzz in the marketing industry that has reached crescendo over the last twelve months: Advertisers don’t want to just make ads that run alongside other people’s content anymore; a surging number of them want to be publishers themselves.
“The revolution occurred,“ Alvey says, because, “the audience is now in charge.”
Brands have been publishers for almost as long as publishers have been publishers. Tractor maker John Deere has been publishing a corporate magazine called The Furrow since 1895. But it was the late aughts when corporations like Coca-Cola and P&G started embracing the Internet's chant, "We're all publishers now." They began trading homepages for magazines, press releases for documentary-style storytelling, 30-second spots for web series.
Today, the chorus has become more frenzied. Because of social media’s massive new influence, "publish or perish," is now no longer just the dreaded axiom of academics; brands—and their agencies—are saying that those who don’t embrace the trend will be left behind.
Perhaps that’s overdramatic. But the recent success of brand publishing (and long history) indicate that the practice may be more than a fad, and that those that refuse to embrace itmay find themselves in a difficult position in a few years.
If you’re in marketing, you’ve likely heard the buzz—Red Bull’s magazine circulates to two million people a month; American Express attracts millions of small business owners to its stories on OpenForum.com; Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” video became the most viewed “ad” of all-time. In response, creative and PR agencies are adding “content marketing” to their lists of offerings and hiring away some of the traditional magazine world’s best editors to run publications for their clients. Brands building newsrooms in house are doing the same.
In 2010, I went part-time in my own journalism career to build a company, and inadvertently entered the space myself. At the time, content farms were polluting the media world, and with two friends, I co-founded Contently with the aim of building a better one—one where content is awesome and free of spam, and where journalists and storytellers could do what they love and get paid for it. To our surprise—and initial resistance—the fastest-growing number group publishers who came to us was comprised of commercial brands rather than traditional, “pure” media companies.
But instead of cheap or spammy SEO content (which we refused to do), these companies wanted to engage people on social media, which means they wanted to create the kind of professional editorial content that a veteran reporter would be glad to do (and paid well for). Since then, our growth has mirrored the hockey stick chart that what is now the “content marketing” industry, and we’ve been fortunate enough to see the evolution of the revolution from the inside—and report its news along the way. It’s been a wild ride, and as Alvey says, it’s clear that the trend is not going to flame out quickly.
(Fig. 1: Google Trends report for "content marketing")
As we close 2014’s first quarter, I’d like to step back for a moment and discuss the state of this industry: how we got here, where we are now, and what the future holds.

How We Got Here

Since the historical beginning of trade and commerce, businesses have wanted to build relationships with customers. That’s the goal. With the invention of each new communications medium, businesses were able to reach more and more of those customers by piggybacking on content that people wanted. The press gave rise to print advertising; the radio enabled sponsorships and radio advertising; television allowed 30- and 60-second spots; the Internet quickly yielded banners and popups. This is a crude recap of media history, to be sure, but the fundamental idea in each iteration was to insert a commercial message into the flow of the medium with the hope that a consumer would pay attention to the business as well.
The Internet made it possible to publish without the prohibitive fixed costs of presses and trucks and antennas. Commercial brands began staking their own real estate on the web. But it was the next medium, dubbed “social”, that allowed them to reach audiences with their own publishing messages in a much easier fashion.
At first, it was just about “doing” social media, and having some sort of presence on Facebook and Twitter. In the absence of clear goals, the game was about vanity metrics, such as “likes” and “fans” and “followers.” Often, this was done through giveaways and contests—online analogs to sweepstakes and coupon books. Social Media Management Software companies like Wildfire and Vitrue and Buddy Media popped up to help enterprises manage the fan-building process. And suddenly all of these giant businesses had built or bought direct access to audiences and needed something to say to them.
The challenge, however, was that social media gave distribution power to the people, not the highest bidder, which meant that brands had to publish messages that people actuallyenjoyedin order to get them to spread. All the inane Facebook posts like “Who loves summer?!?!” might have been good at juicing interaction at first, but translated poorly into business results, even before consumers learned to ignore them. And banner ads posted to Instagram feeds and Facebook walls did absolutely nothing.
This realization caused smart brands to think in terms of storytelling; rather than shoving an advertising round peg into new media square hole. Red Bull, perhaps the most overused example in the space (though still the superlative one), made other brands realize that a company with no publishing DNA could build an audience that was loyal to it by telling stories about things that people love. In Red Bull’s case, it was action sports. (And indeed, there is no action sports publisher bigger than Red Bull today.) Red Bull’s media house’s goal was to become independently profitable—with content so good they could sell it—which forced them to create content that people loved. That content helped the mother brand build an unbeatable reputation and dominate the crowded energy drink market. This and other examples of successful brand storytelling ushered the term “content marketing”—and its euphemisms—onto the docket of every CMO in the Fortune 5000.
Hence, Alvey’s brand publishing revolution: Brands telling stories that inspire and provoke consumers’ attention, imagination, time, and willingness to talk.
Interestingly, this caused content marketing to engulf social media marketing, as brands realized that social media success hinged on telling great stories native to each platform. Today, it’s all about content, not contests. And so social media is now a subset of content marketing.
Meanwhile, the same, increasingly tech-savvy consumers were no longer interested in or fooled by banner advertisements. Click-through rates steadily declined; attention to 85 percent of the ads came from the same 8 percent of people—mostly older or not technically astute. This created problems for the vaunted journalism institutions we’ve trusted for decades, who once again had to downsize or find new revenue.
Some of that new revenue, it turned out, could come from the same brand publishing trend: Media companies still attracted huge audiences and (often) great trust. By allowing advertisers to publish stories on, say, Forbes.com, Forbes could charge a premium versus a traditional ad, and give its partners’ messages some distribution.
In the last five years, a handful of media companies embraced this “sponsored content” model. (Mashable, which (full disclosure) I started writing for in 2009, was a quiet example of a media company that did this well early on.) In the past 12 months, nearly every major media company in America has either launched or talked about launching a sponsored content program. (We’ve been privy to some of the inside conversations with the ones that aren’t public yet, but will soon.)
As advertising agencies got increasingly interested in this emerging trend and their place in it, the term “native advertising” started becoming popular. (My favorite definition of native advertising comes from NYU professor Jay Rosen: “Ads that can compete with the best material out there.”) Research organizations like the Content Marketing Institute started evangelizing the merits of brand publishing, and agencies, consultants, “experts,” and vendors swooped from the sky and seeped from the floorboards, all talking about marketing with content, but in terminology that their respective industries could jive.
And so we got the following terms added to the dictionary:
(Fig. 2: Content Marketing Definitions)
A small number of technology companies like my own grew up with the trend, and a larger number of them began popping up to meet the demand for brand publishing solutions. Predictably, a number of startups with competencies in other arenas shifted over the last 18 months to become content marketing solutions, hoping to assist brands in achieving their audience-engagement goals. And the game, as they say, is now on.

Where We Are Now

The Stats

According to various studies, content marketing (and its outcome, audience engagement) is top priority for marketers in 2014:
(Fig. 4: Adobe Marketer Survey)
And spend on content marketing is increasing:
(Fig. 5: CMI/MarketingProfs Marketing Survey)
There are a lot of bogus content marketing statistics floating around out there (Google “content marketing stats” and the front page of results are all marketers regurgitating lists of dubiously-sourced statistics), but The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs put together a fantastic benchmark report for 2013 from real research.
The nutshell: more brands are doing more content at a faster rate than before. Brands that aren’t prioritizing publishing are now in the minority.

The Voices

More momentum in the space has meant more commentary, more analysis, and, predictably, more marketers marketing about marketing. Making sense of the noise, a number of prominent voices currently stand out:
  • Jon Steinberg: The ubiquitous president of BuzzFeed has near-encyclopedic knowledge on the history of advertising the future of media—and he shares it regularly online and on cable.
  • Rebecca Leib: Altimeter Group’s digital media and advertising analyst literally wrotethe book on content marketing. Her posts and panel appearances are frequent and insightful.
  • Dan Lyons: Currently my favorite journalist/brand reporter crossover, Lyons is formerly of ReadWrite and Newsweek, and writes about both the journalism and branded content industry with refreshing skepticism and advice. Definitely check his stuff out.
  • Joe Pulizzi: The orange-draped founder of the Content Marketing Institute is probably the most prolific guy out there right now. He helps old-school marketers cross the bridge to marketing with content, and has a new book out, too.
  • Joe McCambley: Credited with creating the web’s first banner and founder of The Wonder Factory, Joe is one of the more sensible voices in the industry from an advertising POV and has a great perspective on storytelling.
  • Brian Clark: The Copyblogger founder has spent the better part of a decade writing some of the most practical stuff on creating helpful content. He’s among the best “how-to” voices out there right now.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hookis another recent book to tie a thread between social media and brand storytelling, and Poynter’s The New Ethics of Journalism by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel provides needed perspective as brand new publishers flood onto the web.

The Vendors

Between technology vendors, agencies, and media companies forming internal branded content studios, the solutions landscape is being filled in on all sides. Here’s a crude chart of the main players right now in the enterprise market:
(Fig. 6: Brand Publishing Vendor Landscape)
Of note: new tech startups and small agencies are emerging to compete on every inch of the field. This time next year, I predict there will be several times as many vendors on a chart like this.
This is, of course, not including all of the vendors in the existing ecosystem of CMSs, CRMs, analytics tools, and email and marketing automation systems like Hubspot and Mailchimp that are all fed by content and its associated traffic. I’m particularly interested in how new players like Rebelmouse and big software companies like Adobe are getting involved in the content marketing space.

The Highlights

(Fig. 7: E-commerce site Net-A-Porter's magazine that's taking on Vogue)
The last 12 months witnessed a lot of great examples of brand content rise above a sea of noise. Here’s a good recap of some of the best. My personal favorites were the following:
Of course, there were some misses, too:
  • Scientology’s advertorial-in-sheep’s-clothing on The Atlantic:http://poynter.org/extra/AtlanticScientology.pdf
  • A few of Gawker's sponsored posts that Gawker itself called "garbage":http://gawker.com/your-ad-here-511529098 (despite some great sponsored content, Gawker had some big flops on Deadspin in particular)
  • Yahoo's stream ads on its homepage are often direct response crap that jam up the experience (sketchy mortgage ads, etc): yahoo.com
  • CapGemini’s Content-Loop website of aggregated posts from Forbes and ReadWrite (which causes one to ask, why not just go to Forbes?), and the head-scratching claim of being “The Only Continuous Source of Technology And Business News”http://www.content-loop.com/ was disappointing, especially considering the institutional expertise and potential original stories the brand has to share
  • BuzzFeed has a lot of hits, of course, but several head-scratchers (Virgin Mobile's gifs about dads are meaningless from a brand-value perspective, and Nestea's Summer Holidays you never heard of http://www.buzzfeed.com/nestea/12-summer-holidays-youve-never-heard-of fall pretty flat, for instance.)
  • Coca-cola's The Polar Bears short, produced by Ridley Scott, had exceptional production value and was cute, but failed to deliver a great story or much word-of-mouth. (However, it's a fantastic start, and I think we're going to start seeing a lot more stuff like this starting next year. Who knows, maybe Coke will keep the polar bears' story going and up the ante.)
  • Wheat Thins jamming a bunch of print ads into a Vine = truly terrible.https://vine.co/v/bP2KqMT5e56 (and all of other brands that did this)
Interestingly, an examination of the landscape reveals zero prominent case studies of large brands using licensed content (paying someone else to use their content, with credit, on your own website) or curated/aggregated content (cobbling together already-published content from around the web) to make any meaningful return on investment or build audiences of significant size. The reason is somewhat intuitive: telling original stories is a more powerful way to build brand affinity than republishing bits and pieces of other brands.
To drive the point a little deeper, here’s a look at Contently’s own publishing results versus a competing blog’s licensed content on a similar topic:
(Fig. 8: Licensed Content vs. Original Content about the topic, "content marketing")
Though many companies are embracing publishing and paying homage to original storytelling, many of them are not indeed telling interesting stories—yet. However, one can see from industry news that every week brings new examples of brands that are starting to get it. (In fact, one could argue that LEGO just created the world’s most profitable piece of branded content ever.)
What The Future Holds
Right now is a moment of truth for brands. We’re simply never going back to an age where our companies can just scream at people for attention. Every day that we fail to embrace that reality is a day that hurts us. The social web has altered the balance of power in the information business, which in turn has shifted the ground on which advertisers stand.
The brand publishing space is a land grab right now. Like in the Old West, the early settlers have (and can still) staked claim to good land that they’ll be able to harvest (cheesy metaphor alert!) with increasing results. But as more rush in seeking gold, competition for attention is going to get stiffer.
Based on what we’ve observed brand publishers do over the last 12 months, and based on what aspiring brand publishers are asking for right now, Joe Lazauskas, editor in chief of our magazine, The Content Strategist, predicts the following four trends for the near future of brand publishing:

A Surge In Transparency

Contrary to popular advice, brands have nothing to gain by downplaying their role in the content they produce. Small disclosures or shying away from the spotlight is counterproductive. And, as great big-brand examples like Chipotle’s Scarecrow campaignhave shown, people respect and buy into brands that are very clear about what they believe and what their goals are when they tell great stories.

Increased Measurement And Accountability

What’s the point of publishing content that doesn’t make a difference in some way? The further down the publishing path brands get, the more pressure there will be to show results from their efforts. In 2014, a good number of brands will put real pressure on their marketing teams to tie the thread between publishing results and business results.
The metrics that will matter will be proxies for relationship-building, not vanity stats like page views. B2B brands will closely track pipeline value, and B2C brands will want to measure consumer sentiment. The best short-term proxy for either right now is going to be quality timespent with the brand, and that will be driven by creating content that people like enough to spread. Chartbeat CEO Tony Hale wrote a great piece about this for Time just recently. AndBuzzFeed’s case studies show that a second important proxy is “repeat exposure”, which increases brand lift astronomically.

Distribution Gets Proper Attention

The newspaper companies used to have two things that gave them control of the world’s information: printing presses and delivery trucks. Tools for creation and publishing online have given brands the virtual press; this year and forward, they’re going to need to start investing more intelligently in the trucks. We have lots of options now—which lead to nice dilemmas like buying traffic versus placing stories as sponsored posts.

A Storytelling Arms Race

This one is my favorite, because it’s the trend that benefits consumers the most. More competition for attention means that brands will need to invest more in creating content that people really love. They’ll have to create hits, not just filler. That means more investment into great production and into paying creative people what they deserve to find and tell amazing stories—which is great for the beleaguered journalism talent community. (And which is why I got into this business in the first place!)
That will also mean less garbage in our news streams. The path to that utopian news feed is going to be slow, and lots of brands will flop in the process, but it’s going to be awesome. We’ve been writing about this arms racea lot latelyand invested in it ourselves.
There are, of course, lots of discussions to be had this year about the future of this industry, particularly about content marketing ethics, and what happens to “journalism” when the advertisers write the stories. Another big conversation will be “what happens to the agencies when media companies create their own agencies?” But I’m encouraged at the quality-first direction the industry is taking—and so is much of the journalism community.
Revolution is a term that ought not to be used lightly. But in 2014 it appears it’s no longer a premature descriptor for the brand publishing movement. Like most successful revolutions, the dominant powers appear to be aligned in giving the people what they want. Let’s hope that doesn’t change.
Want more insight about this industry? Follow our Marketing Strategies channel.
Enjoyed this post? Read what other Influencers had to say: