Emojis: “A New Language in Digital Media”

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Emojis are emerging as a whole new digital language where a tiny icon replaces text to convey emotion and sentiment and to personalize online marketing interactions.

Visual communications can take odd twists, such as the emergence of emojis as defining icons for marketing campaigns.

An article earlier this year in Adweek went further, describing emojis as a “new language in digital media” that can communicate “tone and sentiment on messaging apps and social media among consumers.”

Whereas they used to be limited to a happy face and a sad face, now there nearly 2,000 emojis and the character count keeps growing.

Emojis have matured beyond being punctuation marks for text to becoming the message itself. Well known brands such as Taco Bell use emojis that correlate to their products in digital marketing via apps, social media and email. General Electric launched the #EmojiScience campaign that invited people to send emojis to get short video lessons from Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Twitter now enables marketers to target customers who have used specific emojis. Dominos has an Emoji Ordering campaign that centers on customers including the pizza slice emoji in tweets. Instead of zeroing in on key words, brands search for relevant emojis. Consumer brands with an eye on younger adults are eager to jump into emoji-based marketing.

While emoji marketing may work best for now with Millennials, it won’t be long before its appeal spreads, if it hasn't already. Who wouldn’t want to order a pizza by posting an emoji on an app? I received a message with a rose emoji from my wife after urging her to take a moment before going to work to look at the beautiful blooms sprouting on her rose bushes.

The advice to marketers at this point seems pretty basic. If you sell ice cream, look for the ice cream emoji. Keep up to date on the growing cast of emojis. Be sensitive to the details of these little drawings, which sport a range of skin tones and nuanced emotions. Don’t expect everyone to jump on board with your emoji campaign until you build some trust. 

Engaging people with emojis means using them as if you are actually communicating with someone. Expressing emotion or sentiment through an emoji can personalize a brand’s interaction with a consumer and sharply increase engagement rates.

Learning how to use emojis may not be quite the same as taking French lessons, but it kind of is. Emoji fluency is critical to say what you mean and not inadvertently communicate something you never intended.  When you are fluent in emojis, you can tell stories with pictures.

Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

The Face of News Media Keeps Changing

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

Newspapers continue to decline while more readers get their news via mobile devices, which has pulled advertisers into new platforms and still-emerging forms of advertising content.

We may be trading dominance by communications conglomerates for dominance by a handful of gargantuan technology companies that are emerging as prime arbiters of our news feeds.

Given the recent flap over Facebook’s censorship of certain trending news, that could be a growing concern, rivaling worries over the likes of Rupert Murdoch’s influence over what is considered news.

It is no secret that newspaper circulation has continued to dive as many print publications have struggled to cash in on their digital siblings. But it has gone relatively unnoticed that eyeballs tracking the news have shifted so dramatically to Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter – with $40 billion in digital advertising trailing along.

Microsoft’s $26 billion purchase of LinkedIn puts it alongside Google, Facebook and Apple as digital platforms intent on creating bubbles that users never have to leave to do their work, share information, network with friends or potential employers, be entertained and view the news.

According to the Pew Research Center's 2016 State of the News Media report, 2015 was the worst year for newspapers since the Great Recession. Circulation dropped 7 percent, advertising fell 8 percent and newsroom staffing shrunk 10 percent.

Michael Barthel, a Pew research associate focusing on journalism research, speculated, “Coming amid a wave of consolidation, this accelerating decline suggests the industry may be past its point of no return."

Meanwhile, TV and cable news operations held their own, thanks in part to a long and lively presidential primary season with lots of candidates and SuperPacs. News podcasting and live streaming are experiencing audience growth, but not revenue growth. If there is good news, they also are not cannibalizing traditional radio listenership and revenues, Barthel says.

Mobile devices are gobbling up audience attention and attracting more ad bucks -- and Google and Facebook are raking in the lion's share. The transition is more rapid than some may realize, with mobile advertising now outpacing advertising geared for desktop devices.

The question begged by the mounds of data in the Pew media report is “So, what does it all mean?” For one, it’s clear people appear more, not less interested in the news. They are shifting where they get their news, which is pulling advertising to new places and creating a demand for different types of advertising. But there is no promise current trends will persist. They may just be dog legs to the left on a course that is inexorably going into a water hazard on the right.

It seems obvious there is increased channel segmentation and a sharp divide in the news viewing habits of younger and older adults. But where does that lead? In an age of videos and visuals, why are audio-only communications picking up steam?  Will cable TV news retains its appeal after the November election? Would TV networks and stations have benefited as much by a more traditional contest such as Hillary Clinton versus a candidate like John Kasich?

Local TV stations have been buoyed by the buzz and business bump of morning TV shows, which feed into national news TV shows. Even evening TV news shows, which have been stretched over a range of “getting home” times, are prospering or at least holding their own. But how is this sustainable when younger adults no longer tune into traditional TV?

Media trends have a remarkable ability to mirror general societal trends. They show, as Pew reports, that people still thirst for news, but are willing to gravitate to different platforms and non-traditional sources to find it. Apple and Yahoo aren’t permanent emplacements. They can be as temporary as yesteryear must-sees, such as “Laugh In” and “Dallas.”

One thing is clear. In times past, all people could do is complain about the faults of their local newspaper or the bias of TV networks. But there is a lot more to fret about today when it comes to the news.

Rick Steves as a Guide to Value Propositions and Branding

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Travel guide Rick Steves provides excellent direction on how to express a value proposition and back it up with authentic personal branding.

Rick Steves says a good guide book is a $20 investment to ensure a great $3,000 vacation. His comment is the kind of crisp value proposition companies should emulate.

Many companies settle for value propositions that are inward looking and self-serving. A value proposition should say how your product or service will solve problems for or deliver benefits to your customers.

Junk the jargon and put aside the taglines. Use plain language to convey your value to customers in less than five seconds. Make your brand a living, breathing example of your value proposition. 

Steves has earned a reputation as a well-informed and informative travel guide. His guide books are chock-full of helpful tips from how to pack to where to go.

Steves hosts a travel show on PBS that reinforces the tips found in his guide books. He just aired a three-part series consisting of practical advice for European travelers that included smart ways to travel, how to protect your valuables from pickpockets and savvy moves to avoid long lines at major venues.

Steves doesn’t brag about his own guide books. He doesn’t have to. Users tell fellow travelers about them, including Steves’ advice to rip up his books so you carry only what you need during day trips. Those word-of-mouth recommendations are worth a lot more than advertising or self-promotion.

Implicit in Steves’ simply rendered value proposition is that the $20 you spend for his guide book will save you a lot more when on the road. Sometimes he recommends spending money – for an upgraded train ticket or an all-city venue pass – that enhances a trip and saves valuable time. Grabbing some shuteye on a train ride or bypassing a ridiculously long line can mean seeing another sight or spending more time in the place you’ve always dreamed of seeing. 

The Rick Steves brand is all about useful information that he has personally vetted. When you buy his guide book, you know the advice he dispenses is based on his own experiences. The combination of his TV show, guide books, guest appearances and audio tapes makes Steves your trusted travel companion. His advice is golden, whether it’s what shoes to pack, how much underwear to bring or where to store your suitcase on daytrips. You might even be inclined to buy the suitcase he designed for ease of travel.

A solid value proposition, as Steves illustrates, should provide a concrete result for a customer expressed in a short statement. Branding, which features your differentiation from competitors, is separate from the value proposition. If you try to conflate the two, chances are you will inject hype and undercut the authenticity of the value proposition.

Follow Steves’ lead in describing the value of his guide book to customers and living your brand so customers choose your book instead of a competitor’s. 

New Ad Campaign Example of Showmanship

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

A new Excedrin ad campaign addresses the common view that people exaggerate the pain from migraine headaches by replicating the experience through virtual reality. It is a great example of communication showmanship. 

Stung by criticism that a previous ad campaign trivialized migraine headache pain, Excedrin created the "Migraine Experience" which replicates the auras, disorientation, bright lights, floating spots and tunnel vision suffered by people with migraine headaches.

The pain killer company plans to make the migraine simulator available as a downloadable app, which can be experienced using Google Cardboard.

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

In one new TV ad, the mother of a young woman afflicted by migraines dons a virtual reality headset and is able to “see” her contorted world. She reacts emotionally, hugging her daughter with newfound empathy for the pain her daughter suffers from migraines.

The ad campaign is less about selling Excedrin than persuading people the anguish of migraines is real, excruciating and debilitating, often going beyond severe headaches to include nausea, dizziness and heightened sensitivity to sound. The ads serve effectively as an advocate for the 40 million people who are afflicted with migraines, Excedrin’s target audience.

This is a far cry from a few years ago when a previous Excedrin ad campaign drew fire by suggesting two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines would give up shopping to get rid of them. A website called thedailyheadache.com criticized Excedrin’s campaign for “minimizing migraines and treating women as superficial.”

The new campaign is very different. The simulator shows the severity of migraine headache pain and it tells heart-tugging stories that are relatable and shareable. Excedrin has created a strong web presence for the campaign, with more back stories, useful information about migraine symptoms and behind-the-scenes looks at how the Migraine Experience was created

“The reaction of loved ones to the experience spoke volumes,” Excedrin said of the ads. “Once the non-suffered experience what their friend or relative goes through during a migraine, their increased understanding led to a reaction full of empathy and love, which until now was harder to identify.”

The Excedrin ad campaign is further validation of the power of visual explanations that show what you mean.

Jimmy Fallon and Integrated Media

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show follows the script Johnny Carson wrote years ago, but with a new twist – audience interaction via multiple social media channels.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show follows the script Johnny Carson wrote years ago, but with a new twist – audience interaction via multiple social media channels.

Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is true to the legacy of Johnny Carson. Lead-off monologue. Soundtrack sidekick. Funny sketches. Engaging band. But there also is something new, even though that something is based on an old idea, too.

Fallon’s late-night show exploits engagement on social media. He crowdsources comedy on Twitter in a bit called #Hashtags. And he solicits raw material for sketches on Facebook and YouTube.

Engaging audiences – and fishing for expanded audiences – is an old idea packaged like a new one on social media. It is what marketing public relations is all about – contests, special events, loyalty discounts and social media interaction.

Dove sponsored soap-carving contests. BMW facilitated motorcycle workshops in home garages. Powell’s employees write reviews that are posted on bookshelves.

Fallon is a great entertainer and his show reflects savvy marketing to keep it at the top of the ratings and reaching out to new, often younger viewers.

The on-air show follows the form of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but it has added twists. The celebrity guests don’t just show up to shoot the bull. The guests, who are curated to appeal to a wide audience, pitch their latest movie, album or book, then join Fallon in a game. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington and country crooner Blake Shelton played charades with Fallon. Rapper Drake and Fallon donned miniature baskets on their heads for a game of faceketball.

Occasionally Fallon breaks into one of his Saturday Night Live characters and he has recurring bits, such as his “thank you” notes on Friday nights and his frequent impersonations of Donald Trump. 

But the show doesn’t end there. Fallon asks viewers to send tweets using a hashtag he’s created, such as #ImDumb, which fetched some hilarious examples of people being stupid. He reads some of the best ones on air, but many others are included on the show’s website, which provides a convenient opportunities to watch – or re-watch – a Fallon skit or monologue.

Fallon invited young people to submit their “Fallonventions,” which will be featured in an upcoming show. An earlier invitation for funny faces turned into an on-air sketch with Fallon and Miley Cyrus trying to imitate the facial contortions.

Other TV shows use integrated media to connect with viewers. The Voice lets viewers vote via an app to decide who stays and who goes by purchasing performers’ songs on iTunes. Bones engaged viewers with an open dialogue online about favorite moments and clues on how to solve the crime. Person of Interest encourages fans to submit their photos, some of which appear on the drama.

Integration of channels may seem daunting, but it’s less arduous than it may appear. You don’t have to be a social media guru to make the kind of connections you want to achieve. Think of loyalty programs that you run through a platform like Facebook. You build a connection with customers that can be as simple as coupons or a flash sale. 

If you aren’t thinking about integration, you should. If you need inspiration, watch Jimmy Fallon.

Facebook in the News for News Bias

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook faces new scrutiny as a news provider after a Gizmodo journalist exposed a liberal bias behind the company's Trending stories feature. Hoping to smooth things over, Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg says he plans to meet with conservative leaders to explain how the tool the works. 

Facebook has continued to surge as the leading social media site to become a trusted news source. But news reporting suggests that it’s Trending stories may be different than advertised.

With a billion active daily users, Facebook is a commanding platform for news. In the United States, 41 percent of adults are on Facebook and nearly two-thirds of the site’s users say they get their news there, according to a recent Pew Research Center study.

However, one of Facebook’s key news features – the Trending story box located in the upper right corner of the newsfeed – isn’t as objective or automated as Facebook proclaims. In reality, the workers behind the scenes – called curators – apparently have kept popular conservative stories from showing up in the feed.

Gizmodo technology editor Michael Nunez broke the news in a series of stories over the last two weeks, picking apart the inner workings of the Trending news team.

“Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation,” Nunez concluded after interviewing a handful of former Facebook contractors hired for the project. “Imposing human editorial values onto the lists of topics an algorithm spits out is by no means a bad thing, but it is in stark contrast to the company’s claims that the trending module simply lists ‘topics that have recently become popular on Facebook.’”

The Trending feature has been marketed more or less as an automated aggregator that pulls in and promotes the most popular stories on the web. However, the operation actually relies on a lot of help from real people who handpick what makes it on the list and what gets cut, regardless of how much web traffic a story attracts. As Nunez learned, the sausage-making is heavily shaped by personal biases.

“Depending on who was on shift, things would be blacklisted or trending,’ said the former curator. This individual asked to remain anonymous, citing fear of retribution from the company. The former curator is politically conservative, one of a very small handful of curators with such views on the trending team. ‘I’d come on shift and I’d discover that CPAC or Mitt Romney or Glenn Beck or popular conservative topics wouldn’t be trending because either the curator didn’t recognize the news topic or it was like they had a bias against Ted Cruz.”

Facebook executives initially denied allegations of censorship and liberal bias in their news promotion, but they now admit the company’s curators exercise some editorial control over the Trending section. The Guardian’s Sam Thielman dug much deeper into the situation after receiving leaked internal guidelines that not only confirmed Nunez’ reporting, but revealed how deep the rabbit hole really goes:  

“The guidelines show human intervention – and therefore editorial decisions – at almost every stage of Facebook’s trending news operation, a team that at one time was as few as 12 people:

  • A team of news editors working in shifts around the clock was instructed on how to ‘inject’ stories into the trending topics module, and how to ‘blacklist’ topics for removal for up to a day over reasons including ‘doesn’t represent a real-world event,’ left to the discretion of the editors.
  • The company wrote that ‘the editorial team CAN [sic] inject a newsworthy topic’ as well if users create something that attracts a lot of attention, for example #BlackLivesMatter.
  • Facebook relies heavily on just 10 news sources to determine whether a trending news story has editorial authority. ‘You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,’ reads the trending review guidelines for the US. ‘We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.’
  • Strict guidelines are enforced around Facebook’s ‘involved in this story’ feature, which pulls information from Facebook pages of newsmakers – say, a sports star or a famous author. The guidelines give editors ways to determine which users’ pages are appropriate to cite, and how prominently.”

Following the eye-opening reporting, media scholars, journalists and news consumers alike are taking a collective pause to reconsider Facebook’s role as a news source. The stories could be a game-changer for the site, which continues to outpace the online marketplace in raising ad revenue, partly due to how heavily the public has come to rely on Facebook for news.

Not surprisingly, the strongest reaction has come from right-wing pundits and news organizations and conservative politicians. Key Republican leaders, like Congressman John Thune who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee , are demanding an explanation from Facebook and an investigation into how its Trending section works.

Facebook CEO and cofounder Mark Zuckerberg plans to meet with conservative leaders to discuss the controversy over the next few weeks. That will be particularly awkward for Zuckerberg, considering that Facebook is sponsoring this summer’s GOP convention. 

The company launched the Trending feature in 2014, hiring a small team of young, Ivy League-educated journalists to serve as its curators. The group is responsible for writing headlines and summaries and linking back to news stories inside the Trending feed. The curators work on a contract basis, and Facebook seems to be showing signs of cutting the contractors and moving instead to a more automated operation as the company improves its algorithm.

Exactly how this flurry of scrutiny will reshape Facebook’s Trending section and the social network's role as a news provider will take some time to play out. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist.

Putting Entertainment into Your Content Marketing Mix

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Viewers today demand content that is useful, relevant and entertaining. Usefulness and relevance are easy, but entertainment is harder to deliver. Airbnb offered up a good example of how to deliver a message in an entertaining illustrated story as seen above.

Good content must be useful, relevant and entertaining. Useful and relevant are fairly obvious. Entertaining, not so much.

Let’s face it, most of us like to be entertained but aren’t entertainers. So how do non-entertainers entertain? Here’s how: Turn a clever phrase. Tell stories. Show funny videos and photos. Hop aboard breaking stories. Share personal feelings. 

Your words, stories and images don’t have to be Oscar winners. Their purpose is to deepen interest in your useful, relevant content. Knowing how to fix your toilet is useful and relevant, but we probably wouldn’t pay attention unless someone showed us how in a clever, humorous way.

Entertainment isn’t the main act in content marketing. It's the set-up to your main message. If your entertainment is too entertaining, viewers won’t remember why they were watching it, like the TV ad that is so captivating, you remember the entertainment, but not the product.

Clever Phrases

Yes, it is hard to channel William Shakespeare and procreate a new word or pithy phrase. But you can write a snappy headline that turns heads. The snappy headline can parrot a clever phrase you coin in your copy. Nobody churns out chiseled prose like an assembly line. It takes time – and maybe some reflective moments in the shower or on your morning run. All the phrase has to do is spark a smile and encourage the viewer to read on.

     Examples:

  • “Success by Choice, Not Chance.”
  • “Fat Makes You Thin.”
  • “Six Instant Confidence Boosters."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories

As children, we listen to stories to learn. As we grow older, we trade stories with friends. Older people share stories to pass along wisdom. Stories abound in our world, and our brains are wired to tap into their meanings. Stories can take many forms. Children’s books artfully blend text and illustrations. Stories can unfold in videos and picture galleries. Good writers can spin tales with words. The form in this case is less important than the function. Tell entertaining stories with a point that connects to the useful, relevant information you want to convey. 

     Examples:  

 

 

 

Videos and Pictures

Visual assets such as videos and pictures don’t always have to tell a story to draw attention. Sometimes they can just be fun – or funny. Good judgment is required to avoid images that mock or offend. But there are plenty of ways to use light-hearted and good-natured videos and pictures to entertain your viewers into spending more time on your website, online newsroom or blog to consume useful, relevant content. Videos are popular to share, so take pains to brand your visual content so it doesn’t spin away from the purpose behind posting it.

     Examples:  

 

 

Newsjacking

If you can be a free rider on a breaking story or trending topic, you will have a built-in audience. Your “newsjacking” may be a local angle on a national story, a deeper dive into a trending topic or a contrary take on the news. The newsjacking should lead to your useful, relevant content or at least point to the path to your content. This is entertainment by feeding the curiosity aroused by someone else’s story.

     Examples (good and bad):  

 

 

 

Sharing Personal Feelings

In this era of engagement, sharing feelings can be a path to establishing a solid connection with your consumers. There is an element of risk in becoming personal, but it is that exposure that creates an opening for interaction. Sportscaster Jim Nantz shared his personal story of caring for a family member suffering from Alzheimer’s as he urged people to donate to find a cure. A sizable number of supplicants on Shark Tank begin their investment pitches by relating a personal story that resulted in their product invention. As with any relationship, getting personal can get sticky, so choose what feelings you share carefully and make sure they link somehow to your useful, relevant content.

     Examples:

The Secret Sauce of Delectable Content

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

The secret sauce of content marketing is fresh, authentic content that is delicious to consume. 

Here’s a content marketing idea: Have something to say and say it with some panache.

It doesn’t take a master chef to understand the key ingredient in content marketing is content itself. If you want your dish to sizzle, the content has to taste good, be presented well and go down easily.

There is a lot of content out there that resembles processed food and frozen dinners. You might consume it, but you would rather not. You certainly wouldn’t make a special trip to the grocery store to buy it. 

When thinking of content, your mind should go to fresher fare. Like the new Portland restaurant that mixes up gourmet meals for 10 people at a sitting who watch the preparation and eat at an old-fashioned counter. You eat what you see and interact with the cook. It’s like having your own personal chef. 

Writing a blog, op-ed or white paper isn’t something you can customize for each potential reader. But you can personalize content by making it relevant, useful, entertaining or evocative. That’s what separates hot dogs from veal scaloppini.

To understand whether to whip up veal scaloppini, beef brisket or shrimp louie, you need to understand the appetites of your diners. The same is true for content development. You need a deep dive into what your audience craves. You need to know much more than their age, gender and time preference to check out social media. You must discover what interests them, concerns them or inspires them. That becomes your editorial menu for what content to create.

This kind of audience taste-testing isn’t something you can farm out to the folks who make your bar stools or repair your dishwasher. As the master chef of your content, you have to be on top of your customers’ taste buds. If you are in harmony with customer cravings, you will never be at a loss of what to cook up. 

Content marketing counselors urge creating good content, but they often fail to describe the recipe. Good content, like good food, should be authentic and satisfy the palate as well as the tummy. It makes you want to hug the cook. Good content makes the same kind of strong connection between the content creator and consumer.

While good content is easy to spot, it is not always easy to see. That’s where the “marketing” part of content marketing comes into play. The marketing job is to get good content on the table in front of diners. If great content is teamed with lousy marketing, the tables will be largely empty. Likewise, great marketing and so-so content discourages a return visit.

As in fine cooking, content generation requires trial and error. Failure isn’t a bad thing, especially if it forces you into a more productive direction and a refined approach. This is why engagement is so important. A good cook wants to hear compliments, but also needs to see what part of a meal goes uneaten into the garbage can. The same is true for content marketers who should ask for viewer feedback and measure consumer reaction. It’s okay to try out some diner ideas or maybe even let them grill a meal once in a while.

Content marketing success starts with content that makes your consumers’ mouths water and then satisfies their hunger. Content should be dished up with visual appeal. And your consumers should know where to find you and when they can sit down to feast. But above all, have something to say.

Content Marketing Example

Alaska Airlines continues to shine as a savvy content marketer. The airline delayed the takeoff of a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu earlier this year to allow a swarm of eclipse chasers – and a planeload of other passengers – to see a total solar eclipse over the Pacific Ocean, capturing national media attention.

Top designer Luly Yang demonstrates how to best prepare your wedding dress as a carry-on item when flying to your destination wedding. 

In its most recent blog post, Alaska Air featured fashion designer Luly Yang, who will reimagine fight attendant uniforms. However, the blog focuses on something more down-to-earth – how do you pack a wedding dress when flying. In short videos, Yang demonstrates how to fold a flowing gown into a suitcase and even a carry-on bag to ensure it arrives with minimal wrinkles and no damage, avoiding a bride’s worst nightmare.

This is content geared for people who fly on airplanes or who have daughters who will fly on airplanes to go to faraway weddings. The content is useful, and it’s presented in a visually informative and entertaining way. The advice, by the way, might just as easily apply to a guy’s suit coat or silk Hawaiian shirts.

This is how good content marketing is done. 

Making a Better Connection Through LinkedIn

A LinkedIn trainer says the online networking site has hidden capabilities that can make it more personal and less sterile in seeking and engaging new connections.

Blogging and promoting your blogs on social media sites such as LinkedIn is a smart way to demonstrate thought leadership, share valuable content and show off your expertise. It would be even smarter if you exploited all of LinkedIn’s capabilities.

Mic Johnson, a content coach and LinkedIn trainer for Blue Gurus, says some of LinkedIn’s most valuable and useful features are hidden from view for the average user. LinkedIn could make these features more accessible, he says, but meanwhile LinkedIn users can make use of the features if they know where to find them.

One of Johnson’s biggest bugaboos about LinkedIn is its impersonality. Invitations to connect can be sterile, but they can – and, he insists, should – be personalized. The blue “Connect” button makes it easy to send an invite with the clinical “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message. However, Johnson says if you go to someone’s profile and click the button, a dialogue box appears that gives you a chance to describe how you know the person and add a personal greeting.

LinkedIn discourages engagement, Johnson explains, by making it easy to accept an invitation without seeing whether or not the person who extended the invitation wrote a personal note. He suggests clicking on the “quotes” to see if a message was sent before accepting an invitation. You don’t have to respond, but at least you know someone took the time to send you a message.

If you are baffled by how stories or posts appear on your LinkedIn feed, it’s not a surprise to Johnson. He says the LinkedIn default is to give preference to “Top Updates” instead of “Recent Updates.” This increases the likelihood you may not see a post that interests you.

You can change your feed by clicking HOME and looking under “Publish a Post” where they are three little dots that you can pick and select “Recent Updates” as your preference. Irritatingly, Johnson explains, if you leave your home page, LinkedIn will restore “Top Updates” as your home feed default setting.

“I’m not a fan of social networks choosing what they think I want to see instead of the other way around,” Johnson says.

Tucked away on the profile pages of your connections is the largely unnoticed Relationship Tab. Johnson says it can be found below a person’s photo and offers an opportunity to “jot down notes about the person, set follow-up reminders and tag the personal in a category such as prospects."

“I’m a big fan of LinkedIn,” Johnson says. “LinkedIn is one of the best tools out there for connecting with people in business, finding people you share in common with others and consuming and sharing quality content.” 

“Linked needs to spend more time making the user experience more intuitive and stop forcing people to click around to find hidden features,” he adds. But thanks to Johnson, some of LinkedIn’s hidden features have been exposed, allowing you to use LinkedIn like a guru.

The Seven Big Problems of Marketing

Marketing has some big problems in today’s economy, ranging from how marketing works in the digital world and global marketplace to coping with exploding numbers of communications channels and disruptive technological change.

The American Marketing Association unveiled what it calls an “intellectual agenda” that identifies seven big marketing problems in the face of ever more fragmented and distracted groups of would-be customers.

AMA CEO Russ Klein says the seven big problems are intended as “above-the-din context” for addressing an increasingly challenging marketplace while maintaining objectivity and an action orientation.

Here are the seven big problems as described for AMA by Bernie Jaworski, Rob Malcolm and Neil Morgan:

1. Effectively targeting high-value sources of growth

Long gone are the days when brands could be one-trick products. Market segmentation is a bigger factor now than ever, which forces more critical choices about what segment to target that offers the best opportunity for a positive return.

After locating the ripest opportunity, brands need to decide how to position products and influence consumer decision-making. That can involve bumper-car competition with other brands that are trying to win in the same segment. Effective marketers call this “demand landscape mapping,” which still is more like the Lewis and Clark expedition than precise digital cartography.

2. The role of marketing in the firm and C-suite

Historically companies have focused on making and distributing products efficiently – the supply side of the equation. In today’s marketplace, consumer demand has become a more dominant driver, which means the marketing department that had been assigned a room down the hall has been summoned to the C-suite.

Company executives must decide how to integrate marketing into organizations weighted toward production. They also need to figure out whether marketing should be centralized or farmed out to individual product groups. There are company culture aspects to consider by switching to products consumers want from products you want to make.

3. The digital transformation of the modern corporation

The Internet of Things is forcing all kinds of companies to go from “dumb” to “smart.” This transition transcends Big Data and social media and goes to the heart of business models, company hierarchies and the consumer interface.

One way to think of this evolution is to imagine brands are going from a world of two-dimensional videos to three-dimensional video games. There is constant, often real-time interaction with consumers and competitors. There is less time to react and a higher premium on being nimble. The marketing department is arguably best suited to be the front line soldiers in this advancing battle.

4. Generating and using insight to share marketing practice

Research has always been a fundamental building block for disciplined marketers, but today’s challenge is a mound of information. There is a lot of data and plenty of analytics, and there also is the potential for overlooking insights gained by direct consumer contact.

The heart of this problem is whether it is better to analyze consumer behavior or actually observe it. Traditional research methods can reveal why a consumer chooses one brand over another and why. It may not reveal daily experience that could suggest an openness – or even eagerness – for a different alternative, a breakthrough product. A key question is to decipher what tools and techniques are more effective at breaking the “insights code.”

5. Dealing with an omni-channel world 

Even the most efficiently run companies have to face a world of chaotic communications and channels. Nothing illustrates this point better than the surging rise in online sales. A brand not only has to worry about shelf space and in-store promotions; it also has to contend with how to sell on Amazon. Bigger brands need to sort out the brick-and-click interplay. 

Brand marketers must engage consumers on what to buy as well as where to buy it. Many brands already have parallel marketing universes online and in-store, which often includes the option of buying online in a store for merchandise not in local inventory. However, this seems like just the beginning, not the end scene of effective omni-channel marketing.

6. Competing in dynamic, global markets

Globalization is usually described as manufacturing products offshore in low-wage countries to cut production costs. The recent release of the so-called Panama Papers reminds us that capital flows across international borders are a very big deal. But we may just be witnessing a burst of a different kind of international competition with the seemingly sudden introduction of brands we’ve never heard of before.

It wasn’t that long ago when Samsung and Kia became recognizable brands in our marketplace. Expect more. At the same time, wider arrays of U.S. brands have spread their wings and flown on to foreign markets, raising questions about supply chains, unfamiliar regulation and the cultural competency of marketing. The marketing role must take on a deeper role to perceive how a brand can withstand foreign competitors at home and abroad, to take advantage of global opportunities and to see trends as they emerge, not after they turn into tsunamis.

7. Balancing incremental and radical innovation

“Firms need to compete in two time periods: the present and the future.” How can companies achieve the ambidextrous skill to manage in dual universes that may be hugely different? More important, how will the customer experience evolve, especially given the growth of mobile devices that can be used to compare prices, search other distribution channels and pay for goods?

AMA suggests this balancing act will require thinking more about platform products, franchises and product ecosystems. Concepts like “fail fast” may become standard operating procedure. Are there models to emulate successful reinvention and what metrics matter for innovation? How do you go beyond product innovation to organizational, financial and marketing innovation?

YouTube: Your Own TV Station

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

YouTube stars Caspar Lee and Joe Sugg are parlaying their massive online following into gigs in TV and film. It's a bold example of the huge personal branding potential for anyone with their own YouTube channel. 

As digital media has allowed you to be your own content publisher, YouTube allows you to be your own TV station.

Today, the video sharing giant has become far more than a personal outlet for run-of-the-mill vloggers to vent their frustrations and show off their whacky sense of humor. Now drawing tens of billions of views a month on millions of fresh videos, YouTube has created a massive worldwide platform for its biggest stars, many of whom are finding their successful video careers expanding well beyond YouTube and into more traditional media. But you don’t have to be famous to tap into the limitless marketing potential of YouTube.    

Last week, The Guardian highlighted the story of successful British YouTube due Joe Sugg and Caspar Lee, who started small and built a large following, which they later parlayed into TV and movie deals. Though not exactly household names in the U.S., Sugg and Lee have more than 11 million YouTube subscribers and upwards of one billion views on Google’s video service. Theirs is an example of how far the clever use of a YouTube channel can get you.  

Last year, the duo released Joe and Caspar Hit the Road, a straight-to-DVD movie chronicling their trip around Europe. Behind the production is the team from the popular British TV series Top Gear. While going straight to DVD usually means your movie is a box office dud, the rule simply doesn’t apply for the rising stars of YouTube. After topping the sales charts as a DVD and digital download on the web, the movie will make its way to the E4 TV network this month, and a sequel is already in the mix for this fall.

Clearly, you don’t have to be famous to tap into the massive marketing potential of YouTube. If you self-promote it, they will come. Just as blogs have become a more common marketing tool for businesses in the past several years, YouTube vloggers have begun to gain more traction among branding strategists. Now those strategists are turning to YouTube with their own channels for branding a company.  

According to a 2015 Social Media Examiner study of more than 3,700 marketers, 55 percent of business-to-business marketers and business-to-consumer marketers are incorporating YouTube into their brand-building strategies today. The number of YouTube converts continues to grow, and it should for quite some time.

Consider that we live in an age where video has overtaken written communication as a more popular, fast-growing communication medium online, especially among young audiences. Part of what’s driving so many to seize upon YouTube as a marketing tool is the simplicity and accessibility of YouTube. Anyone can shoot a video and post it to their channel, and it doesn’t have to be long or particularly well made to draw thousands or even millions of views.  

Rising new media companies, like Vice, owe much of their recent success to YouTube. After drawing millions upon millions of views on their short clips and alternative documentaries posted on YouTube, Vice had picked up enough of a following to launch its own daily news show on HBO. Now Vice is expanding in Europe with 30 shows in production and another 100 in development, said Eddy Moretti, the company’s chief creative officer.

“Our model has been we launch a channel online, we create the brand, we create a lot of video for that brand, and find talent … And we’ve been moving that talent, that IP [intellectual property], those videos, to other platforms,” Moretti said.

The success of these new media ventures aside, any successful branding strategy in today’s fast changing world needs to be designed to draw in millennials online, and few places in the digital arena offer a better venue for that than YouTube. That concept should always be top-of-mind for any branding strategist today. Whether you work for a meteoric video producer like Vice or a much smaller local business, YouTube may just be your best friend in marketing for many, many years to come. 

Justin Runquist is CFM’s communications counsel. He is a former reporter for The Oregonian, The Columbian and The Spokesman-Review. Away from the office, he’s a baseball fanatic with foolhardy hopes that the Mariners will go to the World Series someday. You can reach Justin at justinr@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @_JustinRunquist

Missing a Newsjacking Layup

When Villanova's men's basketball squad made it to the Final Four, the university seized upon the chance to show off its academic prowess on LinkedIn. But the execution fell flat, as Villanova failed to capitalize on an easy newsjacking opportunity.

When Villanova's men's basketball squad made it to the Final Four, the university seized upon the chance to show off its academic prowess on LinkedIn. But the execution fell flat, as Villanova failed to capitalize on an easy newsjacking opportunity.

 

Villanova University turned a sure newsjacking score into a flubbed layup.

After Villanova's basketball team made it to the Final Four, the university turned to LinkedIn to tout its players’ 100 percent graduation rate. Smart. However, the link attached to its intriguing newsjacking post took viewers to a stale college catalogue explanation of Villanova and its virtues. Informative, but hardly a match for the newsjacking tease.

Newsjacking is the slick pass to capitalize on news events to grab attention. But that's only half of the play. You can’t just dribble the ball, you need to take the shot and score points with the audience you attracted. 

Obviously overlooked were short video vignettes from the Villanova players about their academic experience. Other options might have been a snappy video tour of the campus, showing off what makes Villanova different and its academic atmosphere, or testimonials from successful Villanova alumni.

Almost anything would have been better than a page ripped from the college admission handbook, which came across like a two-handed set shot.

They clearly missed a clear-court layup, but after Villanova’s scorching, historic victory over Oklahoma in the semifinals, it has another chance in the championship game. They have great footage from the basketball court. They need to team it with some compelling off-court footage, which shouldn’t be too hard. After all, it’s just a layup.

 

Content Marketing Personas

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Content personas are similar to buyer persons, but add emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Buyer personas are established elements of marketing plans, so why shouldn’t a content persona be appropriate for a content marketing plan.

Buyer personas show how existing or potential customers think, their perceived needs and where they get information. A content marketing persona is similar, but it zeroes in on what kind of content customers view as useful, informative and entertaining.

Buyer and content personals all have the same objective – to convert someone from a viewer into a customer. They both search for triggers for that conversion. They seek ways to establish a bond of trust between brand and buyer.

There are subtle differences. A content persona places more emphasis on preferred information channels, content consumption habits and frequency of content acquisition.

Marketing personas are ways to humanize customer statistics. It is hard to conjure a marketing plan for metadata. It is easier to envision a plan that addresses people with certain kinds of common characteristics. 

Personas reveal "pain points,” “priority initiatives,” “perceived barriers” and “decision criteria.” Marketers like to track the “buyer’s journey” and “success factors.” Content marketers must be mindful of all that within the framework of creating content.

A pain point could involve finding a way to get rid of mold in the shower. A buyer persona might focus on a product. A content persona would show the process of how to use a reputable product to scrub away the mold. It is the difference between promoting a product directly or demonstrating how your product works.

This example illustrates that some “buyers” just want a solution, while others want to be involved in the solution. That oversimplifies the difference between buyer and content personas, but it does show how they differ.

Another key difference is perspective. A buyer persona is intended to mark the path to a sale. A content persona is a roadmap to winning the customer’s trust and, ultimately, loyalty.

Many companies have shifted marketing dollars to content marketing because it matches well with customer relationship management. If all you do is pitch products, you aren’t distinguishing yourself from competitors. If a competitor comes up with a snappier, cooler and cheaper product, your buyer persona is hasta la vista. Competitors have a tougher time busting through the rapport you establish with layers of successful content marketing that deliver continuing value.

Content marketing and personas don’t require throwing away all you know about marketing or buyer personas. They do require a marketing master's degree in how to generate content from the vantage point of a helpful neighbor with a garage full of unbelievably useful tools.

Alaska Air’s Eclipsing Brand Personality

Alaska Air modifies its flight schedule so 181 passengers, including a gaggle of umbraphiles, can witness a spectacular March 8 solar eclipse on a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu.

Alaska Air modifies its flight schedule so 181 passengers, including a gaggle of umbraphiles, can witness a spectacular March 8 solar eclipse on a flight from Anchorage to Honolulu.

Alaska Air may have eclipsed its long history of a smiling-faced Eskimo brand personality. The airline took a cue from curious customers and slightly realigned a regularly scheduled flight from Anchorage to Honolulu to give passengers a porthole view of a total solar eclipse on March 8.

The customers were veteran eclipse chasers who realized their chances of seeing the March 8 eclipse were slim because monsoons would obscure the view in Indonesia and Micronesia, the only land areas where it would be visible. Astronomer Joe Rao, who works for the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, did some checking and noticed Alaska Air’s Flight 870 would intersect the arc of the eclipse.

There was a problem, the plane’s scheduled departure would be 25 minutes too early. Rao contacted Alaska Air officials, explained the situation and the airline switched the departure time. On the day of the flight, Alaska officials reviewed the proposed flight path and wine and weather conditions to optimize viewing the eclipse. Ground crews made sure all the windows were clean. The plane’s pilot relied on the flight management computer to hit the mark.

The 181 passengers, including more than a dozen “eclipse geeks,” were treated to a grand spectacle en route. Alaska Air won plaudits for accommodating the eclipse chasers. “It’s an unbelievably accommodating gesture,” said Mike Kentrianakis, solar eclipse manager for the American Astronomical Society and a passenger on Flight 870. “Not only is Alaska Airlines getting people from Point A to Point B, but they’re willing to give them an exciting experience. An airline that’s actually talking to their people – and listening? That’s air service at its best. It’s become personal.”

You couldn’t buy a testimonial that good. Nor could you find a way to reinforce your brand personality as an airline that shows it cares about passengers by the quality of its service.

The flight wasn’t just a mystic experience for the eclipse junkies. Dan McGlaun, who viewed his 12th total eclipse on Flight 870, brought 200 pairs of specially filtered glasses so everyone on board could witness the sun during all phases of the eclipse.

Alaska Air has undergone an image refresher since the beginning of 2016, putting more snap into its logo and imagery. Other than Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Air is the only major carrier with a human face as its brand face. The smiling Eskimo isn’t a particular person, but is intended to convey a sense of family and community.

On its website, Alaska Air says the iconic Eskimo’s visage may have been drawn from grandfatherly faces in Kotzebue, a small Alaskan community 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Before a hospital was built there in 2013, Kotzebue residents who were ill or injured “called Alaska Airlines first,” symbolizing that the carrier is “embedded into the fiber of the communities it serves."

Alaska is a company with a distinctive brand personality and an awareness of what it takes to showcase it.

Ten Essential Skills for Digital Marketing

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

The rise of digital media reinforces marketing skills such as clear writing and visual communications and requires new skills ranging from using digital analytics to working productively in virtual teams.

As we plunge deeper into the digital age, some old skills take on greater value and new skills are required to remain top of mind, convey brand value and get work out the door.

Arik Hanson, in his blog Communications Conversations, offers what he calls 10 essential skills for the future of public relations. The skills could just as easily apply to the future of successful communications for brands, nonprofits and public agencies.

Video and audio production and advertising copywriting skills top Hanson’s list. He might have added animation skills. The tools to produce compelling video and audio content have become vastly more accessible to everyday users, who face growing demands to generate visual content. Advertising is expanding to social media, which demands knowledge of how to write snappy copy, even if you aren’t an “advertising creative.”

Another emerging skill set, Hanson says, is the ability to create social media content and manage social content systems. Some still cling to the view that social media is all about dog pictures and people describing what they ate for dinner, original content that is useful, relevant and entertaining has become a staple of marketing programs, especially for nonprofits and public agencies. Curating and stockpiling content, as well as making it searchable, has become a fundamental marketing ground-game skill.

Writing clearly for external and internal audiences isn’t a new skill, but Hanson insists its role is growing. With information overload and a casual attitude about writing, those who can communicate clearly in words will be highly regarded – and perhaps in short supply. Writing for internal audiences involves “understanding what motivates employees,” Hanson says, “as well as having solid writing skills.”

Visual communications dominate on digital media, which means organizations and their PR counselors must “develop a visual style” for their online presence. It’s not enough to be online. You need to stand out online.

Another reality of digital media is the power of influencers. Hanson says collaborating with influencers is a whole new ballgame. "Four to six years ago, everyone was talking about blogger outreach, and with good reason: Blogs were the dominant cog in the social media machinery. Fast-forward to 2016, and there are now platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat – with people on those networks who command significant attention.”

Satisfying clients remains a priority, but Hanson says it now requires a “deep understanding of traditional, digital and business analytics.” It also requires, he adds, an “understanding of how to produce reports that make sense to clients.” “Provide relevant context, provide ideas as outcomes of the data and always cull the data and present them in terms the client can understand.”

The final skill Hanson points to is the ability to work in virtual teams. “I see virtual work environments as a huge trend over the next five to seven years,” he says. That involves understanding virtual team workflows and investing in tools that work in virtual team environments.

Hanson, who is the principal for a Minneapolis-based marketing firm, wrote a similar list of 10 essential skills in 2012. The list changed significantly in just four years. It is highly likely to keep changing rapidly into the future, which means organizations need to adopt an attitude of continuous improvement and a willingness to learn and embrace new ideas.

Making Corporate Candor Funny

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars spoofs corporate scapegoating by having intern Chet Wallaby take the rap for dropping the chain’s popular back-wrapped deep dish pizza from its menu.

Little Caesars is running a TV ad in which intern Chet Wallaby takes the blame for the inexplicable disappearance of the wildly popular Bacon Wrapped Deep! Deep! Dish Pizza from the chain’s menu.

The tongue-in-cheek bit, which features a corporate big-wig thanking the scapegoat intern for his honesty, works because it mirrors reality. A lot of C-suite executives designate someone else to convey the bad news or to take the spears for a corporate misstep.

The ad fits Little Caesars quirky brand personality, founded in 1959 by Mike Ilitch, a Detroit Tigers farm club shortstop. Ilitich’s wife, Marian, affectionately called him her “little caesar,” which became the chain’s name. What started as a single store has become an international food services company, known for filling the largest pizza order in history – 13,386 pizzas – and renowned for setting up Love Kitchens on wheels to feed victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

The bacon-wrapped pizza – a deep-dish pizza with 3.5-foot-long belt of bacon – was introduced in 2015. It drew the expected critical hazing for excess, but apparently it was popular with Little Caesars patrons. When the pizza slid from view on the menu, customers complained. Then, the TV ad announced its bacon-wrapped return.

Wallaby, the awkward, disingenuous scapegoat in the TV ad, is a perfect representation of other designated fall guys. Scapegoating is far too common, which makes the spoof funny and memorable. In real life, scapegoating is less funny and hard to forget. It can even be a brand killer.

Domino’s rebranded itself around a new pizza “from the crust up,” with ads that admitted its previous pizzas tasted like cardboard. The “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign was plaudits for “corporate candor."

Most brands may not need to go as far as Domino’s, which dropped “Pizza” from its name and ran a series of ads showing its signs being pulled down. But some – take note, Chipotle – might consider it.

Whether a brand is remade or not, owning reality is a quality that usually resonates with customers. And as Little Caesars shows, owning reality can be funny as well as serious. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at@GaryConkling.

From Brand Journalism to Branded Entertainment

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

Tonight’s "Late Night With Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra comedy sketch paid for by American Express in a slot where traditional TV ads would have appeared as part of an experiment involving branded entertainment.

First came brand journalism. Now we have branded entertainment. 

Tonight’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” show will feature an extra sketch sponsored by American Express. Other shows such as “The Voice,” “Blindspot” and “Today” have slipped sponsored content into slots normally occupied by traditional advertising.

Branded entertainment, in the form of comedy sketches, extra interviews or extended segments, reduces the amount of advertising while still making the cash register ring. It is a response to more viewers moving to services such as Hulu that offer content without advertising breaks. TV networks are banking that fewer advertising slots will fetch higher prices and different kinds of slots will appeal to gold-star advertisers like American Express.

The notion of branded entertainment is as old as radio and television. Way back when, individual sponsors were associated with shows. The Jack Benny Show was originally called “The Lucky Strike Program.” Ed Sullivan’s Sunday evening variety show was primarily sponsored by the Lincoln-Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company. 

Native advertising, where the ads look and feel like the content or medium they appear with, has been gaining in popularity. But it is still advertising, which some readers and viewers want to avoid. Branded entertainment, which involves sponsorships, is an attractive alternative.

National Public Radio has a form of branded news and entertainment, with sponsors that receive Twitter-size acknowledgements. Weather and traffic reports on radio and TV are another common form of branded content.

According to The New York Times, American Express approached NBC last December about its branded entertainment idea, which it will use to promote one of its credit cards. An American Express spokesman called the partnership with NBC an opportunity “to create a different kind of paradigm” for TV advertising in an increasingly segmented market. 

If the experiment works, expect to see it replicated on more than TV shows as well as promoted on popular online news sites. NBC invested $200 million in BuzzFeed, which “will produce online posts related to sponsored programming,” the New York Times reported.

Avoid Snap Judgments about Snapchat

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

Snapchat is no joke with more than 100 million user visits and 7 billion video views per day and a user base heavily weighted with Millennials.

If you want to direct a message to young adults, consider delivering it on either Instagram or Snapchat. Yes, that Snapchat. 

For many people, Snapchat, which launched in 2011 and was originally called Picaboo, is a quirky social media platform where you post something, then it goes poof. Well, that impression is so yesterday. Almost literally.

In the last two years, Snapchat has added new functionality that allows users to tell more complex stories that hang around longer, send direct messages and conduct video chats. Snapchat’s popularity has exploded, with 100 million user visits per day, a user base nearly the size of Twitter’s and 7 billion daily video views. That is close to Facebook’s 8 billion daily video views, but Facebook has an audience 15 times larger than Snapchat.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

If you want to reach young people in the 18-24 age group, Snapchat is a good choice. It has more than three times the following in that cohort than Facebook or Twitter and more than twice Instagram.

Snapchat appeals to young adults because it is relatively frictionless. Tap and shoot. Hold the button down for video. Snapchat is more personal than Instagram. You can share with a chosen group, not broadcast to the world. For the impulsive, Snapchat offers nearly guilt-free, real-time sharing, with the knowledge that the post will soon disappear. (After a run-in with the Federal Trade Commission, Snapchat settled and admitted that posts aren’t absolutely deleted and in some cases can be retrieved with the right forensic tools. For intentional users, this is a meh moment.)

Writing for socialmediaexaminer.com, Suzanne Delzio says Snapchat’s audience is growing and highly engaged – appetizing metrics for advertisers and anyone who needs to reach a young adult audience. For example, Snapchat could be a perfect crisis response vehicle to tell college students about an infectious disease outbreak and the steps to combat it. Snapchat might be the right vehicle for a continuing campaign to reduce the incidence of sexual abuse on dates.

Delzio says Snapchat endured early criticism for its vertical-only video format. However, data indicates mobile device users strongly prefer vertical versus horizontal video formats. Score this as a built-in advantage for Snapchat. The video completion rate, Delzio adds, on vertical formats is nine times higher, which is good news for marketers who often place their calls to action near the end of a video. Think of how this might work with a video about a car or car insurance aimed squarely at young adult consumers.

Instagram has staked out a strong position with Millennials, but Snapchat is catching up. Delzio reports that a study of Millennial smartphone users shows they spend 5.9 hours per month on Snapchat versus 7 hours on Instagram. Millennials spend almost 26 hours per month in Facebook, but it is a different experience. The key takeaway, Delzio writes, is that 76 percent of Millennials are already plugged into Snapchat.

The network that started in a Stanford classroom may be ready to dress up and go out on the town. Delzio says advertising rates have been lowered on Snapchat to sweeten its appeal for a broader group of advertisers.

In the world of social media, yesterday’s news is ancient history. Snapchat may have been a punch line, but it has quickly grown into a significant network for a key demographic group. Reconsider any snap judgments you may have made about Snapchat and consider how you can put it to work. 

Cheap Ways to Make a Marketing Impression

Influencer marketing, using bloggers and social media promotion, is one way to stretch a scrawny marketing budget.

Influencer marketing, using bloggers and social media promotion, is one way to stretch a scrawny marketing budget.

If you have a scrawny marketing budget, all is not lost. There are inexpensive ways to make an impression. Here are three suggestions:

Influencer Marketing

Find people who influence buying decisions for others. Bloggers with substantial followings are a good example. Their followers pay attention to what they say about food, technology, travel or all kinds of other subjects. Approach a few bloggers who connect with your target audience. Ask them to sample your product, use your service or review your offering and then write about it in their blog.

Writers who monetize their blogs may ask for compensation, but what they charge is far less than advertising and their reach is more targeted because bloggers have created a community filled with your potential customers.

If tracking down bloggers relevant to your marketing pitch seems too daunting, there are services that can help, such as Find Your Influence, which is effectively an automated dating service matching advertisers with bloggers.

YouTube and Other Video

Short, catchy videos are popular, and thanks to advances in technology they have never been easier and cheaper to produce. YouTube presents a perfect open-air theater to post them.

Most videos don’t go viral, but many of them get a good number of views. The key is to make videos worth watching, put them in an accessible channel and let the right people know they exist.

Instead of thinking like a Hollywood movie director, ask a teenager to help you. Videos are second nature to young people, as are the increasingly simplified tools to produce sophisticated video content. They might even be able to show you how to make the next video and you can pay them with a gift card at Taco Bell.

Once you have produced your video and posted it on YouTube, you can encourage people to watch by emailing friends or people on your customer list. You also can promote the video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or other networks depending on who you are trying to reach. Email marketing, assuming you’ve collected emails, is basically free. Promoting a video on social media can be cost-effective, too. The video also can be featured on your website and in your blog.

Street marketing requires a creative costume, something appealing to hand out and a willingness to throw inhibition to the wind.

Street marketing requires a creative costume, something appealing to hand out and a willingness to throw inhibition to the wind.

Street Marketing

Some of the most creative marketing ideas ever have involved street marketing. KFC once hired hundreds of people to dress up like Colonel Sanders and roam around New York, ending the day by sitting in a large bloc of seats at Yankee Stadium. The caper attracted gobs of media coverage and sparked lots of curious conversations.

You don’t need a 1,000 Colonel Sanders to create a stir. All you may need is a few volunteers willing to hand out your product on street corners while wearing logo-bearing T-shirts and funny hats.

KFC got major headlines and earned local goodwill by dispatching a Colonel Sanders look-alike to fill potholes in Louisville. You could identify a good cause – with or without involving asphalt – that connects with your product or service and convinces local TV stations to cover it.

Street marketing is an untapped source of nearly free advertising for those willing to throw inhibition to wind, dress up in a costume and do something kitschy or compassionate. In addition to some exposure and community buzz, you also will be giving your brand an injection of personality.

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at  garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.