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

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.

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. 

A Summer of Airbnb: 12 Weeks, 12 NYC Neighborhoods

We had an assignment in class to try and come up with an individual creation that we could actually make.  My idea was to see if I could live in NYC for free, meet different people, and write about my experiences.

I’m bracing myself for an amazing summer in New York City, but there’s still one thing I’ve yet to nail down — a place to live.

Let’s face it: even if you have a full time job, an apartment in New York City can be pricey. For a college student, those rates can seem astronomically higher in your mind.

It got me thinking though. Maybe I should just forgo the whole sublet/NYU rental approach every other college student does to make their “dreams come true” in the city that never sleeps.   Maybe I should just push my luck and find a new place to sleep by every week.

I’ve been looking at Airbnb as an option, and while the rates fall somewhere in between getting a hotel and actually renting a place, it could be interesting to see if I can have Airbnb sponsor me in in return for a little exposure.  There’s also CouchSurfing which is free, but I’d prefer to work with Airbnb because there booking process is a bit easier to work with.

I think the benefits of living in other people’s homes for an entire three months could be extremely interesting.  New York City is known for it’s eclectic population and there’s a lot to be learned whether I spend a week on the Upper East Side with a well-to-do family or a few days with a musician in the Village.

Although my main goal was to essentially live in NYC for free, I think there’s a story that can be told from an experience like this. Why not create a web series on living like a local in all of New York’s different neighborhoods?  What if I put myself up to the challenge of learning about NYC from actual New Yorkers?

The rules would be simple:

  • You can’t stay in host’s apartment or home for more than one week.
  • You can’t stay in a particular neighborhood for more than one week.
  • Each borough can only be stayed in for 5 weeks maximum.
  • You must document your stay via video and traditional blogging.

Each week a new episode would be posted online for viewers to watch.  You’d learn about the best places to hang out, eat, drink, and play, all from a local’s perspective.

The best part is that you’d be getting different perspectives on New York City from at least 12 different people in 12 different neighborhoods. And, since they know they’re respective areas best, you’d learn about the best places in Astoria to eat from an Astorian or the best Beer Garden in Williamsburg from a local hipster.

Of course, the hard part would be getting Airbnb to fund this.  I’ve decided to set up a Kickstarter page (note, this is a preview link) to start and raise money.  Those funds would go towards paying for housing as well as some initial production equipment.  If Airbnb would like to help out, they’re more than welcome to as well.

I think a web series like this could be an interesting experiment.  There’s so much to see and do in New York City — you might as well try and do it with the people who know best.

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

4 Biz Dev Tips that Can Be Applied to The Job Hunt

Last night I attended Startups Partnering with Big Companies: Best Practices, an event for business development folks in New York City.  Among the panelists was foursquare‘s VP of BizDev, Tristan Walker.

Tristan gave some amazing insight on the panel when Rachel Sklar, founder of Change the Ratio and team member at Hashable, asked about how a BizDev person should go about creating partnerships and relationships with big companies.

Tristan jotted down four bullet points on a napkin which he gave to me when the night was done. The advice was so good, I wanted to make sure I got what he wrote down correctly.  When I looked back over his notes, I saw that his insight could be applied to a lot more than just BizDev, specifically the job search.  Here are my thoughts on how each point relates to finding employment:

  • Nothing to lose, be persistant: Tristan mentioned how if you really want to partner with a company/brand you should just reach out.  There’s really no risk in trying, only reward.  I think this can be applied to emailing potential people you’d like to meet as well.  Personally, I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve wanted to meet with people who I thought could be a great resource for advice and knowledge.  Never once was I turned down and the best part was that I usually got a free meal out of the deal too.  Being persistant and realizing you have nothing to lose is really important to get the job and more importantly, be a hustler.  Afterall, had Tristan never emailed Dennis Crowley eight times, who know’s if he’s be working at foursquare right now?
  • Build a great product – they’ll find you: More poetically, what Tristan meant to say here was: If you build it, they will come.  Tristan explained how he’s been lucky that he works on a great product like foursquare that eases the job of trying to create partnerships.  In the job world, you have to look at yourself as a product too.  It’s important to hone your skills, hustle, and be a real team player.  Without those traits, the product (read: yourself) that you’re portraying to potential partners (read: employers) will be undesirable and not worth their time to look at.
  • Focus and do your homework: Tristan mentioned how important it was that no matter what vertical and company he was looking at, he was well versed in the lingo of the business.  For example, Tristan brought up how when he met with Pepsi he made sure to learn as much about the CPG vertical as possible.  In the job world, you can’t half-ass your way into a position.  You have to know what you’re talking about and be able to back it up.  Tristan also mentioned how yes, you can be picky on who you choose to work with.  I think many students underestimate this statement.  I personally wouldn’t take an internship with a company if I didn’t like the way they executed their business or their actual product.  This past summer I had a few offers from some pretty cool start-ups in New Yorks.  However, I never applied to a company if I thought their start-up’s idea sucked or their vision at the top was murky — at the end of the day, I wasn’t planning on taking an internship just for the sake of taking an internship.  I wanted to work for a company doing interesting things that had a vision at the top as well.
  • Practice Humility: Even if you do your homework, you have to realize you don’t know everything and there’s still room to learn and grow.  My advice with the job world is simple — when you interview or meet with someone, listen to what they have to say.  Don’t own the conversation, but be a part of it.  It’ll show you care about what the other person says.  More importantly, because most people love the sound of their own voice, the person you spoke with will be impressed with you and even think the conversation went exceedingly well. It’s surprising how people will be impressed with your silence as you listen to their stories of how they rose to the top of their company and/or industry.
Overall, the BizDev event was an amazing learning experience for me.  It gave me more knowledge of another field I can pursue in startup land.  I think I still have a lot to learn, but these 4 tips were definitely an excellent place to start.

Marketing and the Facebook Wall Sneak

Somewhere in the past couple of months, Facebook changed the default settings on wall posts so users can only see content from the friends and fan pages they interact the most with.  This weekend, I changed the settings back to the original Facebook content filter – “All of your friends and pages.”  Like magic, my wall became inundated with “friends” I forget about and pages I forgot I liked.  Like any person with a marketing mind set, I was thinking about the effect of companies losing many of their fan page views.

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The Five F’s of Checking-In

I recently read a blog post that I thought was really interesting regarding Location Based Services (Check-ins, Location Based Marketing and the F’ Word by Claudio Schapsis).  According to the writer, there are five reasons people use location based services: Fun, Friends, Fancying, Freebies and Following.  All five F’s were framed underneath a larger, more vague ‘F:’ Find.

I actually contributed three of them when Claudio posted the question to Quora as a way to come up with the motivations for checking-in (Friends, Fancying, and Freebies).  The other two hadn’t been on my mind, but I’d like to elaborate on all of them now.

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#TVNext and 2 Solutions to Enhance Current Online TV Ads

This past Friday, advertising agency Hill Holliday held an event called #TVNext for their clients as well as the press on emerging trends in television consumption (how I fit into either of those groups is a mystery to me too).

The event featured panels called TV Gets Social, TV Gets Connected, and TV Gets Portable. Representatives from companies like CNN, GoogleTV, XBox, and Hulu were on hand to discuss the future of television and television programming (a more comprehensive list of speakers and the event schedule can be found here).

As exciting as the event was, I wish there was more talk about advertisements for online programming.  Advertising on sites like Hulu is boring right now.

The main problem is that these advertisements don’t take advantage of the medium they’re on.  Online video ads are treated like television video ads and don’t embrace the single greatest benefit of the Internet: interactivity.  I don’t know if the problem with these ads basically being ported from their television counterparts is the fault of the agencies producing them or the Hulu website not allowing a new style of advertising.  Regardless, advertising for online video is still ripe for a revolution. Continue reading

Interview with Deb Trevino, Director of Corporate Communications at Starbucks (Part II)

I recently had the opportunity to interview Deb Trevino, the Director of Corporate Communications for Starbucks.  In this position, Ms. Trevino covers a breadth of roles: she handles financial communication, business and brand communication, corporate social responsibility, and crisis communication.

This is Part II of my interview with Ms. Trevino.  Topics discussed here include Starbucks in the global market and the coffee chain’s integration of corporate social responsibility within company policy. (Part I, found here, discusses branding, the new Starbucks logo design, and digital media.)

Starbucks Around The Globe

Maurice Rahmey: From a global perspective, how does the branding of Starbucks differ in other countries?  From a PR standpoint, what are the differences between the US market and other markets?

Deb Trevino: There are a lot of differences.  From a PR standpoint, I would say that, just the way that the trade works in every market is very different.  We always have to alter our approach depending on the market that we’re in.

More broadly, from a business standpoint, you will see a lot of differences in Starbucks around the globe – a lot of consistency, but also differences based on really making those stores relevant for the customers.  It may mean different product offerings. It may mean different hours.  For example, whereas in the US people will come to Starbucks primarily in the morning, in China we have very light business in the morning.  We have more traffic in the afternoons and evenings.  Business is very different depending on where we are, as is our PR approach.

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