Reading Kristina Halvorsen on my new Kindle Fire this morning, I came to the realization that I'd recently been shirking my strategic responsibilities as publisher of online content. I've recently become team lead on an online outbound content program for a client's technical audience. My official title when I first came on the team over two years ago was "content strategist." I managed curation and aggregation of the inbound content resources when evaluating products. To the extent of my job scope, I absolutely fell into a content strategy role.
As my experience and responsibilities expanded into more of a marketing communications role on the team, my oversight into content strategy was compressed into larger responsibilities around outbound marketing strategies for the experience. The organization shifted, and thusly, content strategy was folded into everyone's ownership.
Now the lead on our team, my interest in content strategy is rekindled and three-fold:
The result here is that I'm spending the next twenty business days proving the practice of what I preach - blogging on these four topics to create a forcing function for my yearly goals. I'd love your feedback and helpful encouragement.
Business Consulting | Client Relationship Management | Marketing | Project Management
Terrific video this month in online science journal Edge Magazine, a recording of a talk given by Brian Eno. Those not familiar with Mr. Eno's seminal art pop Roxy Music releases from the 70s should be at least aware of his groundbreaking ambient work or his high profile credits in reinventing the sounds of bands like Talking Heads, U2, and Coldplay.
Eno's talk really focuses on the state of the artist in the early 21st century. In his telling of the musical history of the 20th century, he focuses on a different method of creation, one that involves being less sure of final product, but an interest in guiding and shaping the creation as a gardener.
I'm finding that the same applies to marketing messages in the 21st century. The traditional messaging process was to germinate a fully-formed idea and build a five-year go-to-market plan. What social media has shifted in this framework is that you are getting an organic response to not just the product on the shelf, but how you bring it to market. One interesting result of this is product failures before they get to market.
The interesting-ness of the failure is not the old failure-to-build in these cases, but a failure to converse with the market forces throughout the product lifecycle. Software has made the easiest leap to walking with the market to the market, but there are now opportunities for these to exist in brick-and-mortar stores, and in service organizations. My wish list for bottom-up approach to marketing in 2012 is:
Thanks for reading - happy holidays to you and your loved ones as we close out 2011. Here's hoping for an even better 2012!
Tags: free lunch
The general meme for the last year in tech punditry is that the tablet form factor is taking over the PC market, and iPad in specific will wipe Microsoft's desk/laptop domination off the personal computing map. Forgetting the inherent bias of a Microsoft Certified Partner talking about OS platform predictions, it's worth noting Jakob Nielsen's article this week on platform development futures. Jakob's book on web usability is still one that I pull down from the shelf when I'm thinking about the best way to engage customers digitally.
Jakob's point about designing and developing for multiple platforms in the face of iOS or Android's inevitability as the winner-take-all platform is a poignant one. Almost 20 years after the courts found against Microsoft for monopolistic behavior, we finally have a truly heterogenous environment that all the application developers, hardware manufacturers, and customers said they wanted. Take a moment and breathe in what that feels like.
I'm for it - and I think we all are - the mobile headstart that Apple has had with the app store really drove interesting competition from Android and from Microsoft (with its Windows Phone 7). All three of these platforms have a high degree of customer usability and very different models of supporting various ISVs' business models. A strongly competitive environment decreases the burden of ownership for the consumer, and increases the complexity of design, documentation, and support. You have to educate your customers and ISV partners before, during, and after their platform "conversion."
Content strategy becomes even more important to having complex customer conversations. You can see in this very long, but also very rich Build keynote from Steven Sinofsky at Microsoft where they needed to be able to tell not just the software vendor story to their audience, but also to showcase the wow of the new Metro interface and Metro development platform. Windows no longer automatically connotes the entirety of the consumer computing marketplace. You can't showcase cool developer tools if the developers don't trust your ability to deliver on an interactive UI that will resonate with the users. The result is that Microsoft has regrouped to present a very interesting, strategic, and consumer-focused operating system that they can showcase from several perspectives. As a consumer and as a partner, I'm excited to watch what happens next. And that's the opposite of fatalism.
Search has dominated content discovery and research for the last 10 years. However, the advertising and traffic dominance leveraged by Google’s search algorithm excellence has slowly been subsumed in the last 5 years by Facebook and a rise in social signals to drive traffic around the web. In 2009, Google reacted to this trend with a “personalization campaign,” a shotgun approach to algorithmically providing Search Engine Results Page (SERP) relevance by 57 signals around the user’s identity, rather than simply semantic language queries. There is no “standard Google” any more. Eli Pariser’s recent work indicts this trend, and suggests problems with information retrieval in an algorithmically-personalized filter bubble. There are implications for search engines, for users, and for brands; but I want to focus on the implications for anyone who creates and curates content for online distribution. Journalists, editors, and content strategists.
For those of us that create and curate content, search is something we recognize as a foundational commodity. Our job is generally cultivating a long-term relationship with the customers/audiences, punctuated by elements of transactional marketing. The process as I’ve generally participated in it involves SEO as an integral part of the planning process, but deprioritized in favor of clickstream and referral data as the pages mature. This is an “exploratory search” perspective, so it’s helpful to provide some historical context before talking about the impact of some of the recent social shifts in search results.
There are a couple of different ways to talk about search as it’s evolved over the years. These are really organized by task and query depth. The task is really “what do you want to know?” In the early days of the web, the type of answer you wanted determined not just the type of query but also the engine. “Exploratory search” really answers the “what do you want to know” question with “I don’t know – just give me everything on this topic.” This is generally unstructured data (lists of results organized only by relevance) in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Faceted search, is a more recent entry into the online search space. Rather than offering the black box experience of a Google or Bing front page, users can filter and pivot the query, personalizing the relevance. A good example is Yelp, which focuses its search results around user-queried local business. There are filters for business types, rating, neighborhood-specific proximity. Parallel to this rise is the growth of folksonomies, do-it-yourself classification strategies that are multi-topical and not necessarily hierarchical. Witness the power of Delicious – a social bookmarking site – that allows you to discover other user’s relevant bookmarks through culturally common “tags.” Click on one of those tags in my tag cloud, and then look at the tags in the right nav that are related to that tag. This can be a method for both filtering and discovery of new topics around a given concept.
In the examples of faceted search above there’s a heavy leveraging of social media, which is mostly unstructured data. But faceted search can also be a wizard-oriented approach to structured data. The rise of mobile and its virtualized search box without regard for the computer desk has resulted in narrowly focused task- and location-based faceted querying. Queries are action-oriented and one answer in scope. An example is “Seattle Weather.” You don’t need 15 pages of results, simply 1 page of authoritative sites with accurate forecasts. Bing’s marketing campaign for the last year or so has attempted to differentiate its results offering as a “Decision Engine.” Another example is CNet’s Cell Phone Finder.
What’s the important editorial takeaway for this differentiation? Search intention is different than it was 5 years ago, and information architects need to bear in mind the importance and implications of search as a foundational commodity. We once only wanted to discover. Now we also want to accomplish. What intention does your content surface? Is your content transactional and static? If so, traffic will be from well-defined sources (company home page, exploratory search, etc.), and keyword strategy becomes key. For content that’s technically deep, relying on multiple pivots to slice and dice particular topics, faceted searches become a lot more important to discovery, and social media along with strategic linking strategies will prove more impactful to customers. In the next part of this series, I’ll focus a little more on influentials and curation as a new signal for search engines (and enterprise search) to incorporate.
Business Consulting | Exsilio Homepage | Marketing | Project Management | Search | Social Media
I'm a little late to this post - we're halfway through May, and it's National Bike-to-Work month. With the seasons (finally!) shifting toward warmer temperatures for the next few months, there’s plenty of opportunity left to take another look at your commute.
How long do you spend in your car looking at bumpers? Like many in the Pacific Northwest, I live about 20 miles from our Redmond office, as the crow flies. Sprawl is made more complex here in Seattle by lots of “water features,” and while a 5am commute takes about 25 minutes, a commute anywhere between 7am and 10am (or between 5pm and 7pm) is going to take from 45 minutes to more than an hour. For me - someone who hates sitting in the I-5 parking lot - this was a no brainer. For work-life balance, anything was better than driving. I bus a lot, but also bike once or more a week all year round.
Sounds hardcore, but I’m no spandexer. I have an entry level mountain bike, and wear street clothes. Until the last couple of months, I was even biking on flat pedals (prior to the fancy clipless ones I inherited from a friend). Very little gear is required, and I highly recommend those that have less than 10 miles commute trying this once or twice this summer. Here’s what you need:
You can get fancier than that, but the complexity of “stuff” can outweigh the enjoyment of just getting on the bike and pedaling. Add equipment like pedals, slick tires (if you’re riding a mountain bike), fenders (for rainy riding) when you decide you’re ready for it. If you don’t want to sweat, I’d suggest planning on keeping about an 8-10mph pace (a quick division calculation using the miles to your office as the numerator can tell you how much time to budget). Depending on your local humidity, your sweat threshold may vary.
My own history: I started bringing my bike to work in 2007, when I worked in downtown Seattle. I would take the bike on the bus, and then ride home at night. Took about an hour and twenty minutes, but two or three times a week meant I exercised a minimum amount during the week, and the green trails took me almost door to door with no traffic stress.
I upgraded my commute options when changed jobs and started commuting to Redmond. The Sammamish River Trail took me straight from Shoreline to Redmond with zero traffic. In my second life as a contingent staffer at Microsoft, I also have access to showers and lockers on the Microsoft campus, a block from our Redmond office. This means I can log almost a couple of hours of exercise a day without taking significantly longer than hopping in my car. Bike down, shower, work all day, bike home. And the views!
Hope to see you out on the trail, and if you’re in Seattle, sign up for the Group Health May commute challenge – you can follow my progress here.
Tags: work life balance, commute, national bike-to-work month, cycling
General | Randomness | Social Media
photo by Origamidon on Flickr
Early yesterday, Amazon's cloud offering, Web Services (AWS) had widespread failures and latency issues, effectively blocking Amazon's clients from serving up online services. This effectively blocked companies like Reddit and Hootsuite users from their main services. Hootsuite was completely shuttered for the day, and Reddit blocked logins to the site. With this reminder of the risks associated with heavy investment in the cloud, it's worth surfacing a couple of terms to think about when considering a cloud offering.
High Availability. This is the idea that moves beyond mere uptime for all of your servers, and focuses resources to make sure high-business-impact components are not just up, but have multiple systems of redundancy. No failure allowed.
Points of failure. Again, server uptime isn't sufficient for discussing problems that arrive 1 or 2 hops away from your customers. Diagramming the network points between your services and your customers can identify weak links that won't surface in mere platform uptime analysis.
The irony in Microsoft's recent "all in" cloud messaging is that the for businesses focusing on online services, supplying "brick and mortar" customer service argues the vice versa of traditional disaster recovery. The message is still the same - hedge your bets on platform and network, investing in solutions that deliver 24-7 global services that customers demand.
Tags: Amazon Web Services, Cloud, Infrastructure, Disaster Recovery
Business Consulting | Virtualization | Client Relationship Management
Symbolism. Pragmatism. It’s an ongoing tension that has always existed in the marketing industry. Witness the successful text heavy ads of 70s Ogilvy accounts. Compare that to the wordless mystique of Apple’s design aesthetic. How much should your marketing strategy rely on explaining your product? And how much should be dedicated to imbuing your company’s brand with stand-in abstractions, something that tells the story more from the gut than 1000 words of product feature lists and positioning statements?
A few recent blog articles suggest a pendulum swing towards pragmatism in technology and professional services industries. A couple of reasons arise. The complexity of many products makes it harder and harder to differentiate between multiple flashy ads for an “internet appliance” or “personal financial planning.” Coupled with the 2-year drop in media rates, the barrier to getting the word out is lower than ever, and noisier than ever.
You need to find customers that crave your work. And hold their attention long enough to have a conversation. That conversation isn’t always a handshake and exchange in the elevator. Sometimes it’s a real-time product demo. Sometimes it’s a whitepaper that speaks to a problem plaguing their organization. Can you distill a “what you can do” statement out of what you’ve done? And then deliver that distillation in real value for your potential customers each and every time you have a conversation? That pragmatic action transforms the -ism into what you actually are.
Tags: Marketing theory, marketing strategy
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