Content Marketing and Why CS Majors Won’t Take Over the Marketing Industry

Recently, I was working on promoting an organization to students at my alma mater (whoa, weird to say!) called Boston Content. The organization, run by my friend Jay Acunzo, provides education, and inspires creativity for content creators, strategists & marketers.

I’m a firm believer in content advertising and content marketing – I think it’s the future of the web.

As more blogs switch from display advertising to more native advertising, good writing will become even more important – potentially, this could even mean journalists stealing a lot of the jobs marketing students will be going after.

However, when I promoted this organization on Facebook, I got a really interesting comment from a BU student majoring in Computer Science. Continue reading

Teaching Programming to an Ad Student

Company Complaints HomepageI recently read an article by Mindy McAdams, a professor of online journalism at the University of Florida that got me really thinking about learning programming as a communications student.

Mindy’s article, Teaching programming to journalists, explains how she can only get her students interest in coding if they believe they can do it. The problem is, she doesn’t know how.

I’m not a journalism student, and I’m not sure I have the answer to Mindy’s question. However, I understand where she’s coming from and hopefully, can shed some light on my own experiences learning about programming as a non-programmer.

Since freshman year, I’ve become enamored by the way the web is disrupting people’s consumption of media. It didn’t take me long to realize I would end up studying advertising, a field I felt had a better grasp on how the Internet was effecting it’s profession than say, film and television or public relations.

In addition to studying advertising, I chose to take a computer science course in the College of Arts and Sciences during my fall semester of sophomore year. I knew I needed to learn programming to become a better online advertising student. Even if I chose to not become a developer myself, I’d still have the ability to think like one and have a better grasp on product.

It was a disaster. I had chosen the intro class for CompSci majors — the one meant to weed out the pretenders. I had also chosen to overload that semester and taking an extra course in computer science wasn’t the best decision.

So, midway through, I dropped the course and received a ‘W’ on my transcript. I had good grades in the class and enjoyed learning about the intricacies of Java. However, my performance in my other classes was slipping as I spent more and more time trying to understand concepts for an elective course.

I decided while learning programming interested me, it wasn’t for me. I couldn’t do it.

Fast-forward to today. I’m finishing up something I said I couldn’t do two years ago and am 98% of the way done with my first web application.

What happened in between and what I decided to do differently helped me realize that not only could I do programming, but I enjoyed it too.

So how did I stay motivated despite a minor hiccup my sophomore year? Continue reading

Building Creative Ideas for the Real World

ViralityAs I mentioned in a previous post, I built a website with a few other BU students to help our peers find better on-campus housing. The experience was a great learning experience for us in how to build a product and how to acquire users.

More importantly, the project taught me that while conceptual work can be cool, it isn’t as satisfying as creating something real and tangible — something you can get results from and show to a potential employer.

I bring this point up, because I notice a lot of my friends – those who want to go into the ad industry – are building out portfolios of creative work they’ve done for brands – conceptual work that, to be honest, tends to stay in their binder and not go much further.

This problem is also encouraged through the academic model. Even in vocational-based programs like business or communication schools, classwork is very much theoretical and doesn’t leave the walls of the institution.

Business schools still for the most part, emphasize the business plan competition but don’t actually emphasize the more important part – the execution. At BU, students simulate building a fake product and company through a cross-functional curriculum. When the semester’s over, so is the fake company.

Communications programs in the advertising area provide students with an education built on theoretical work and producing campaigns that never end up being used by their theoretical clients.

Instead, what these programs should be doing is incorporating more real world assignments – things that can be measured with real results like page views, referral traffic, or if you’re in business school, pre-orders and/or sales.

(Although I love business, for the sake of keeping this post shorter, I’ll only be talking about what I think students in the advertising world should be doing. The truth, is it’s a bit harder to get the capital needed to make a business product a reality. However, media, for the most part, can be created for next to nothing. )

Web 2.0 has made it easy for those with amazing content to get recognized. Nowadays, those who create interesting Tumblr’s (like Texts from Hillary Clinton) or cool videos (like my friend Eric’s Mad Men/Facebook mashup) will be more in demand. If you’re content is great and you know how to get the right key people to see it initially, you can make magic happen.

Times have changed.

We don’t need to rely on creating stuff that only you and your professor see because we now have this much larger audience we can use to help us gauge our progress and talent.

From the educational perspective, imagine not being evaluated on a holistic scale by your teacher and instead being graded by something much grander and tangible. How cool would it be to be to receive a grade based on how many page views your work got? Or how many social referrals? Or the influencers who saw it and commended it? Or the press you were able to receive?

All of a sudden, that work matters a lot more. It’s made an impact past the class room.

From a career perspective, that work will mean more too. Now, instead of showing that theoretical Miracle Whip print ad you created, you can show a potential employer a meme series you made of Jersey Shore’s Pauly D hawking the mayo-product. And unlike the ad that you’re still unsure would be a real world hit, you have proof you’re talented through insane page view metrics, great referral traffic, and countless imitators on Reddit.

I’m not saying you still shouldn’t put you’re fake Miracle Whip print ad in your portfolio. By all means, go ahead. However, the superstar hires, the people every agency wants, will be those who have already achieved success in a measurable way.

Because at the end of the day, success isn’t about the theoretical. It’s about those who can create something and make results happen in the real world.


*Photo taken with permission from Eric Leist

On Facebook, Embrace Your Fans for Ideas and Think Small(er) For Development

On Friday, I finished my first week interning in Facebook’s New York City Office.  I figured I’d share two lessons I picked up about social marketing this week and how I applied those learnings in building a simple Chrome Facebook Extension for McDonald’s.

  1. Use your fans as guides in building your social campaign: While you need to build your content to help shape how you want your audience to perceive your brand, there’s a lot of good to be had from also adapting to what your fans want.  One of the case studies we were shown was for Lacta, a Greek chocolate brand that noticed a lot of their fans were comparing their loved ones to the candy bar.  Lacta decided to embrace this trend by building an app that allowed users to create a chocolate bar with their friend’s name.  The messages were shared to the wall with the photo as well as appearing in their photo albums with the person’s name tagged.  This simple idea blew up in Greece as over 135,000 users sent nearly 300,000 virtual Lacta bars out to their friends.  Unlike many other brands, Lacta saw their fans as an inspirational tool in how to build their marketing efforts.  Because they listened to for ideas on how to cater to their followers, they were able to get huge returns on their campaign. 
  2. Think small (in both action and development cost): Many advertisers on Facebook think they should be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook to build complex apps (or as I like to call them, microsites that just happen to be on Facebook).  They expect that once there, users will go through all of the ridiculous steps that are expected of them.  In reality, Facebook is better suited for lightweight actions like the app Lacta chose to build or the creative content Starbucks shares with their fans.  It’s fun (not frustrating) and makes you want to like, comment, share and in the case of the Lacta app, do.  Instead of spending a lot of your money building complex apps and asking your fans to give back so much in return, build something simple — they’ll be a lot more likely to return the favor.  (One of the problems that happens is advertisers spend a lot more money developing apps instead of spending that money to market them on the site. If you don’t pay for media to reach those fans, chances are they won’t see it.)Starbucks Facebook Creative

The Facebook “I’m Lovin’ It” Button (download here)

Taking these two lessons into account, I ended up building a simple Google Chrome extension for McDonalds’ fans on Facebook (although build is too generous a verb — thanks to Ben Schaecter, whoever you are, for posting your source code on GitHub and giving me the opportunity to modify it!).

I was noticing a bit of a trend on a couple of the McDonald’s posts where users were commenting “I’m lovin’ it,”  the Mickey D’s-style way of saying “Like” on Facebook.

I thought, wouldn’t it be awesome if I could somehow replace the “Like” with an “I’m Lovin’ It” button?  Like with Lacta, it’s a simple idea.  More importantly, it isn’t a whole complex ordeal for the user to accomplish on the other end — and, if it was, I only wasted an hour and $5 building the extension.

From "Like" to "I'm Lovin' It"

Even though this idea is simple, there still are a number of flaws with this deliverable — mostly, that it isn’t that social.  Users download the extension, but Facebook won’t tell your friends via the News Feed that you downloaded the “I’m Lovin’ It” button for your browser.  That means, unless your friends think this is extremely cool and worthy of sharing, there’s a really good chance something like this wouldn’t be seen by others.

(I do think this concept could definitely be adapted into better creative that’s more inherently social and probably not a Chrome extension. However, I knew I could easily build this application as a non-developer and that was extremely important to me.  It’s a half-baked idea at best.)

Regardless, I’d be much more willing to try my chances with this low-cost, low-effort extension over a highly expensive microsite on Facebook.  Why?  Because although a complex app built on Facebook has the automatic functionality of posting to the News Feed and may be cool in concept, if no one wants to use it, nothing will ever get shared. And, because as Lacta, Starbucks and countless others have shown us, simple can be a lot more sticky (and viral) with users — that type of return is the exact reason we all market on Facebook in the first place.

5 Steps for Marketers to Become “Growth Hackers”

There was a really awesome post on Andrew Chen’s blog the other day on how Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing. Basically, the gist of it was that marketers today need to be a hybrid marketer and coder, particularly in the startup world.

While I do believe we will see a number of developers helping on the marketing side, I think that this role will be mostly taken on by the marketing types.  The problem is there simply aren’t enough developers. It doesn’t make sense for a company to make an all-technical growth team instead of putting those folks on product where they’re more essential. Also, marketers will be better marketers than engineers will — it’s just a difference in how both types think.   Lastly, I think engineers who are also growth hackers are more of the entrepreneurial type — they’re probably already building there own company.

So what do marketers need to do in order to become growth hackers? I think there are a few steps.

  1. Get analytical and know how to optimize: You need to be thinking in terms of ROI or the bottom line or how to move the needle.  If you aren’t able to figure out how many people who clicked on A button caused X number of people to buy Y, that’s a bit of a problem.  It’s really important to not only understand how to track this information, but also to be able to optimize it for better results.  So for example, figure out why only Z number of people clicked on A when you expected Y and understand how you can fix the problem.
  2. Understand API’s and their capabilities: The digital marketer (and engineer’s) best friend is the API.  It not only can take out a lot of the hassle in building your product, but can also help enhance it and and help it grow.  Nowaday’s, nearly every growing startup has an API.  My suggestion would be to look at those sites API sections, see what their capable of, and read case uses.  It’ll give you a better understanding of how you can leverage that API for your own company.  I had this crazy idea I wanted to implement in school for my marketing friends called APIron Chef.  Essentially it would be like the Food Network show: you have to create an application using a secret ingredient (i.e. the main API) as the main flavor.  You can certainly use other ingredients (i.e. different API’s), but your main ingredient still needs to be the main API. In my friends case, we’d create wireframe mockups for our app idea — I kind of think of it as a hackathon for non-technical folks. (I actually am going to be doing this next semester, so if you go to BU and are interested in participating, stay tuned).
  3. Learn how to build (without technical skills):  There are some really awesome websites out there that can actually help you do your marketing much easier.  If you don’t know how to build a landing page yet or easily set up a blog, that’s a problem.  You should know about tools like LaunchRock and understand how to use them. Once you do, you want know how you lived without them.
  4. Attend a Hackathon, or hang out with some engineers: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in regards to the way engineers work compared to marketers, it’s this – time is valuable.  It sounds so logical and yet in ad agencies they sit there endlessly trying to come up with new headlines to use for days until they finally come up with one great one.  An engineer thinks “How much value will I get out of the time and effort I put in?”  Unlike an advertiser, they’d spend 20 minutes brainstorming different headlines with one other person, pick the five best and then A/B test them in display ads online or on their website until they’ve found the most impactful message. Try attending a hackathon or working with some engineers — it’ll give you new insights on how you can work and be more productive in your job. How does this relate to growth hacking? The more time you don’t waste, the more time you can use to market effectively — it’s all about being efficient.
  5. Learn to Code: I know it’s scary, but it’s super important if you want to become a better growth hacker.  Seriously. Check out this post if you don’t believe me.

There’s a new digital line being created from social media savvy to hard core hacker.  You don’t necessarily need to be a technical wunderkind, but if you’re a marketer and you’re not willing to do at least bullet points 1-4, that may be a problem.  The new era of marketing is not coming, it’s here now.

(Side note: please don’t ever call yourself a Growth Hacker.  I really hope the term goes the way of Rockstars and Ninjas) 

JC Penney and the Interest Graph: Different Experiences for Every Month

hopping_april

This is cute, but is completely irrelevant to my interests.

When JC Penney revealed their new store strategy and marketing campaign, two things stuck out more than anything else: the fair and square pricing model and the switch to a promotional calendar based on the month of the year.

In February, there was lots to love like Valentine’s Day, the Superbowl and the Oscars. People were mad for March, with events like the NCAA basketball tournament, St. Patrick’s day, and the start of Spring. April is hopping with Easter,  getting ready for prom, Spring decor and recipes, and the start of baseball season.

For a brand like JCP, using a platform like Facebook or Twitter can be a great way to get your brand’s new promotions out there. But as a male Jewish college student, if I were to like JC Penney on Facebook or follow their messages on Twitter, I probably wouldn’t care about content related to Easter or prom.  I would, however, be interested in JC Penney’s Major League Baseball related-content.

For JCP, the monthly promotions are amazingly broad and brilliant, yet completely limiting at the same time.  A big department store needs to cater to multiple needs. However, this large amount of noise may deter me from seeing the messages I actually care about (in this case, baseball season).

What if JC Penney leveraged the interest graph to let me see only the stuff I care about during a given month?  In other words, JCP can use their current marketing materials like they are on Facebook, but segment out based on the different interests they’ve created for April.

So for example, on a platform like Springpad they can create different notebooks based on the various topics for each month.  April could include notebooks like:

These segmented notebooks could be a brilliant way for JCP to better deliver their monthly message.  Instead of getting info on Easter Fun, a teenage girl could only choose to follow a notebook on Prom.

As more months pass, this information could become even more valuable to JCP’s marketing team.  For example, if I’m a teenage girl and I’m interested in Valentine’s Day (February), spring flowers (March), Prom (April), this data will allow me to figure out exactly what type of content would be interesting to this target demographic in May (something flowery and lovey-dovey).

Without this information, I may have neglected to include a theme like this in my monthly messaging and only thought about Mother’s Day and graduation. Having this data would allow me to see there’s a need for a notebook with a similar interest style.

In order for the interest graph to work, it needs to still fall in line with your brand’s marketing campaign.  For JCP, this means taking their current messaging, but delivering it in a new way.

This Springpad experience is still about monthly events, feelings, and milestones.  April is still hopping, as the retailer wants us to think — the message is  just being delivered in a more targeted way to each of it’s intended audiences.  For JCP, that could mean more engaged consumers and better overall sales growth. Results like that could mean the retailer really experiences a hopping April.

Despite my criticism of Facebook not catering to Interests, I do this we’re seeing them start to aggregate that data to build new ways for people to get the information they care about (see Interests).  I wouldn’t be surprised if we see pages be able to target content to users based on interests in the future as well with this sort of information becoming a more prevalent part of the Facebook platform. 

To: The Browser I Love to Hate

Dear Internet Explorer,

Your browser sucks.  I know you know this, but as a concerned web user, I wanted to make sure I really drove the point home. So again, let me say: your browser sucks.

I’ve heard the good news though — you’ve come out with Internet Explorer 9, a huge improvement that even the New York Times has called amazingly fast.  And I’ve seen the flashy ad.  It’s cool and all, but it won’t get me to try your new browser.

The thing is, your new commercial only makes me laugh.  Microsoft has never been known for beauty.  That’s Apple’s game.  You should stick to what you do best: promoting productivity and building efficient software.  Although Internet Explorer has often been inefficient, your new browser is supposedly much better.

I know this because of your less flashy, but quite humorous YouTube video you recently released:

You see, this ad makes me want to go out and try IE9 (and not the one I’m seeing during every single TV show I watch).  It’s more effective because it plays up the joke that Internet Explorer sucks (but is now a good browser).

I know what you are thinking: the humorous video is for the nerds and geeks who’ve always made fun of IE; the flashy video is for the normals who still consider AOL the Internet.

Here’s the thing though: even most normals hate using IE and those who do use IE will only get confused by your ad’s messaging.  The normals will think they already have the new browser — they aren’t smart enough to figure out they need to download a new version.  If they are smart enough though (which they aren’t), they won’t know how to upgrade from what ever version of Internet Explorer they’re on without the help of an IT person or their young son/daughter.

Right now you have a great Tumblr page and a really awesome video that makes fun of your old product being god awful. However, you’re still putting most of your eggs in one really flashy yet ineffective basket.

Instead of the flashy ad approach, this campaign should be extended in two other ways to really drive mass IE9 adoption:

1) Make your offline campaign the same as your online campaign. Instead of spending all your money buying media time for your More Beautiful Web spot, build your entire campaign around the idea of the Browser You Loved to Hate.

Extend the web campaign offline because it’s much more effective in brand messaging and getting the word out.  Put your Browser You Loved to Hate spot on TV.  Build your magazine and out-of-home ads around this idea as well.  Drive people to the Tumblr site.

Admitting your old product sucked is a really brave approach to take.  It would be even more brave if you proclaimed it from a higher mountain top.  It will get people talking and actually provide you with more buzz than the spot you currently hold so dearly in your heart.

2) Make the campaign more social and help me evangelize your product to those who need it.  I think some of the content you have on your Tumblr page is great, but it’s not inherently social — sure I can pin some of those funny infographics, but this campaign has such a possibility to be social in a really unique way.

You know what I’d love more than ever? The ability to send my dad an email from your website with a link to download the new IE9.

Every time I go home, I yell at my dad if I see he’s using Internet Explorer.  I’ve downloaded Chrome and Firefox on his computer, but he still uses Internet Explorer because that’s what he thinks of as the Internet.

Build out the functionality to allow me to share the new Internet Explorer with those I know suffer from your retched original product.  Let me give them the opportunity to use your new product.  It may take a while to convince me, but I’m still more than happy to evangelize your better browser to those who don’t know any better.

If you give your website the functionality to allow me to remotely install your new browser on my dad’s computer, I’d be more than happy to do it.  Give me that option and  I may even download IE9 for myself in the process.

So Internet Explorer, now that you know what needs to be done, it’s time to get to work.  I know you spent all that money on the highly produced More Beautiful Web spot, but people will not care.  Show your audience what really matters and give them more of it — I have a feeling you’ll see better campaign results because of it.

Sincerely,

Maurice Rahmey

Lessons from a Newspaper for the New Age of Marketing

When The Guardian‘s new television spot came out a couple of weeks ago, it struck a cord with where we’re seeing journalism go as a medium.  The Guardian‘s open journalism policy isn’t just about using it’s readers to create and curate the news, but about the effect of how a community built story can change the impact of current events.

This new branding strategy has separated The Guardian from other UK-based (and globally-based) papers.  In a sense, The Guardian is the first newspaper that doesn’t just tell stories, but enables them.  They’re brand has been shifted to a community oriented one that empowers the very people who read their publication each day.

For brands and marketers, this is a powerful case study in what can and should be done in the digital age.

Here are six lessons brands can take away with them to be more digitally relevant:

1) Create a trans-media campaign to tell your story: As we see in the Guardian spot, the news doesn’t happen in a siloed medium. As the commercial plays out, the pigs story is told on their website, on an iPad, in YouTube videos, in forums, on Twitter, through reader polling, on Facebook, and yes, in traditional print.    As The Guardian knows, people don’t solely rely on the actual paper for information anymore.  With multiple screens and multiple media entities vying for their attention, they have to make sure they tell their story in multiple places.  Brands, whether goods or services, have to think similarly when it comes to marketing themselves.  People aren’t just watching TV or just reading the paper.  In order to really gain the attention where they are — everywhere.

2) Enable your audience to help tell your story:  What The Guardian does really well, as reflected in their spot, is use their audience to help enable their stories to move further.  We saw how Twitter, Facebook, and real-time polling showed audience sentiment for the three little pigs and their fate.  We saw how their online opinions led to political activism in terms of housing reform.  The Guardian’s use of story to help further tell their story is an interesting idea we’re seeing happen more often. Continue reading

6 Quick Takeaways from a #SXSW Rookie

It’s been one and a half days since I’ve been in Austin and I’ve been blown away/overwhelmed/underwhelmed/confused during my time at SXSW Interactive.

I wasn’t really so sure what to expect when coming here, but I think despite the rain, I’m starting to understand what SXSW is all about.

I got to the Convention Center a bit late this morning (driver got lost) so I have some downtime now to write a blog post.

Here are some of my quick takeaways from a SXSW rookie.  Hope these help for anyone who is considering coming in the future.

    1. Stay in Downtown:

I made the mistake of picking a hotel in the Northwest Arboretum.  While my hotel is on the shuttle route, I could have easily avoided 30 minute treks to the Convention Center had I realized how far I was from all of the action.  The closer you get to the Convention Center, the more expensive the hotels get.  However, you may end up paying the same price due to cab rides and the shuttle rides you’ll be taking.

  1. ABC (Always Be Charging): You will burn through your iPad, laptop, and cell phone battery at SXSW.  Whenever you see an outlet, make sure to charge up.
  2. You’ll get shut out of panels: If you really want to go to a panel, make sure to get there early.  I got shut out of a number of panels since I’ve been here.  It sucks, but I’m getting used to learning that I have to sometimes skip a previous panel to go to a better one.
  3. Research speakers before you pick their panels: There are so many panels and sessions to choose from, probability says most of them are going to suck.  To avoid these issues, make sure to research panelists to see they are credible sources and even see if you can find them speaking in videos on YouTube.
  4. Free food & free drinks everywhere: Seriously, every place you go to has an open bar or gives out free beers (it’s awesome!).  There’s also a lot of free food — mostly barbecue and Tex-Mex.  You can easily go the entire trip without paying for a single meal.
  5. Meet tons of people: If you’re a business, this is really the only benefit you’ll get from being here.  Since most people come down to SXSW, it’s really convenient to set up a number of business meetings.  This will be the biggest return on investment for your trip — having an employee speak on a panel or giving out grilled cheese will only get you so far(unless your GroupMe).  Also, don’t feel embarrassed to just randomly tweet at someone and see if they want to meet — chances are, they will!

There are more takeaways I’ve got since being here, but I’ll leave my post at 6 for now.  More to come soon!

Exploring New Ad Agency Revenue Models (courtesy of BBH)

Startup philosophy and intrepreneurship go against the very nature of what an ad agency is all about (see more).  That’s why what Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and Chupa Chups Lollipops worked on together is all the more astounding.

Chupa Chups is not the biggest client and they certainly don’t have the biggest budget to work with, but BBH certainly found a way to game the marketing system and get the most bang for their buck.

The Chupa Chups brand, much like the lollipops themselves, is fun, irreverent and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

According to Corrado Bianchi, international marketing director of Chupa Chups’ Italian parent company, Perfetti Van Melle, ”the brand philosophy of Chupa Chups is all about giving youth a respite from the seriousness of everyday life, similar to the role gaming plays in our target audience’s life” (via AdAge).

As a result of this key insight, BBH made a Facebook game for the Chupa Chups targeted demographic to play during their down time.  More surprisingly, an ad agency actually made a good branded Facebook game.

In Chupa Chucker, a game reminiscent of the PC and mobile game Zuma, players shoot “brain spam” with lollipops, trying to get as many points as they can before time runs out.

There’s even a bit of a backstory: R4V3N, the Chupa Chucker World Champion who plays the game with his mouth (on a Chupa Chups lollipop joystick, of course), needs to be beat and you’re gonna be the one to do it.

Continue reading