Tag Archives | marketing

Brand Storytelling Lessons from “Breaking Bad”

Brand Storytelling Lessons from Breaking BadSo, it’s over. Walter White is gone, the “Breaking Bad” story concluded. Pundits and critics will be discussing the series finale for weeks. But I’d like to focus on something altogether different: the long narrative arc, the short story that is each episode, and what marketers can learn from Vince Gilligan to improve their brand storytelling.

Let me start by saying that I’m a latecomer to “Breaking Bad,” having  started the series just a few weeks ago. At least I have the pleasure of continuing on, while many fans now are in the unenviable position of series withdrawal. I’ve still got three and a half seasons to view, which I’ll watch leisurely over the next few months – if I can stand to slow it down.

And I have another advantage: I’ve read ahead. Don’t be shocked! I do this all the time when I read novels. I like to know where the story is going, but I’m also keenly interested in story construction and character development. And I’m always looking to borrow from other disciplines to hone my own brand storytelling skills. So I’m glad I’ve read the dozens of articles about White’s transformation and the eventual end to his story. I now have time to fully appreciate and learn from Gilligan’s talent in storytelling.

There’s much that brand marketers can learn from Gilligan and this series. When we think about how to tell our brand story, we often think in terms of corporate messaging and individual campaigns. In an ideal world, these two types of narratives need to snap together. More realistically, in large organizations and fast-moving markets, that may not always be the case. Consistency of story is always a brand challenge.

Brand Storytelling and the Long Narrative Arc

Vince Gilligan pitched Breaking Bad to the studio with this one line: “This is a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

That sentence says a lot about what Gilligan sees as White’s brand and direction. It answers the question: What does Gilligan want Walt to be? To support that vision, he weaves a narrative in episodes that turn Walt into a badass.

Every company has a vision for what it wants to be, although it may not exactly want to be known as a badass corporate entity. Nearly every one will want to be known as innovative or the best in their class. How they express that ambition, however, is widely different.

Apple, for example, has built a its reputation for innovation on the idea of originality. Its campaigns (“Think Different”) and product development (Mac, iOS, iPhone) have all supported that broader vision. Another example: Pepsi targets a youthful audience with its soft drinks. And of course it wants its customers to associate the brand with fun and entertainment. Its long narrative arc therefore taps into pop culture.

The long narrative arc is where brand storytellers and strategists must start. It’s ground zero. The questions are:

  1. Who are your customers and what do they think of you?
  2. What products and services do you offer?
  3. What is your promise to your customer?
  4. What does the brand want to be?
  5. What is your big picture story?

Some of these answers are very concrete, but others can and should be aspirational.

Campaigns as Short Stories

Each week, Walter White made another step toward Gilligan’s vision of badass. In season 1, the catalyst was a diagnosis of cancer. The first action toward building his badass brand was to start cooking meth. Each week after, Gilligan unveiled another proof point, whether it was Walt cutting deals with drug lords, abusing Jesse, lying to his wife, or cutting down adversaries.

With every episode, we had more proof of who Walt is. Each installment snapped neatly into the longer narrative arc.

Marketers must align every campaign that they run with their longer narrative arc. If a campaign isn’t consistent with the storyline, it needs to be rethought or even killed. Every campaign must be another building block in the story.

But here’s another thing that Gilligan did very well: He helped his audience become emotionally invested in Walt himself. In literary terms, Walt is an anti-hero, and by the end of the series, fans had divided on what they felt should happen to the man. While this division isn’t quite the fan investment brands desire, we do want our fans do care about us emotionally.

Here are the questions that brand storytellers and campaign managers need to ask:

  1. How does this campaign build our brand?
  2. How do we make an emotional connection with fans?
  3. What is the mini-story we want to tell?
  4. What do we want our customers to believe and feel?

Of course, brands can run campaigns without the bigger picture narrative or an emotional connection, but they’ll never build the kind of loyalty and love from customers that will insulate them from pricing and market challenges. For this, they need to develop that longer narrative arc and support it with proof-point campaigns – over and over again.

Become a Guru: Be a Thought Leader in Your Field

Whether you’re a brand, small business, or an individual, establishing thought leadership in your industry is critical to your success in content marketing. But I’ve seen some people hesitate when describing themselves as a thought leader. The truth is: we’re all experts in something.

So, what does it mean to be an authority on a topic? A subject matter expert? A guru? Let’s look at some commonly accepted definitions of these terms:

guru teacher expertGuru: teacher, leader, a leading authority

Expert: A person with exceptional skill or knowledge in the field

Authority: an expert

Master: A person with exceptional skill in a certain thing; a person qualified to teach

These are high standards, aren’t they? Perhaps, but we have to remember that they’re imbued with a certain set of expectations that are sometimes just a bit over the top. For example, when I hear the word “guru,” I usually think of that wizened old man at the top of the mountain, who knows with absolute certainty what is the truth.

The Internet is full of gurus, though. Is it possible for each and every one to be as all-knowing as the guru on the mountain? Of course not. Like most of us, they’re still learning – and they’ll always be learning – new things in the area in which they’re experts. What they do have is a preponderance of knowledge in their specific field that they’re willing to share.

So if you’re having doubts about whether or not you too can be a guru, have no fear.

If you’ve been running a small business or following an interest or a passion for some time, then you’ve probably accumulated knowledge that others would find useful to learn.

Think about it: How many formal classes have you taken? Do you have a degree in your field? How many clients have you worked with? How many new scenarios have you faced? How many problems have you solved? How many industry, trade journals or blogs do you read?

Chances are, you’ve mastered your field of expertise, and you’re uniquely qualified to teach others how to be successful.

And that’s what a guru really is: a teacher. It doesn’t mean that you must know everything, or to be that expert or that guru on the mountain who knows all. You just have to know more than those who want to learn.

That may seem like a trite concept but that’s really what’s playing out on the Internet right now. Many people were sharing their expertise through blogs, videos and online courses.

Here are five steps to becoming a guru in your field.

Be confident. You know more than you give yourself credit for. And you certainly know more than your clients (that’s why they hire you) or the people who are just getting started in your field.

Don’t stop learning. Many of us believe that we must know “all” before we can teach. But if gurus waited until they learned all they could learn, there would be no teachers.  The experts are constantly educating themselves about changing developments in their field, and they learn new things all the time. Does this sound familiar?

Share your knowledge. Blog about it, create a video series or an online course. Your authority increases with the amount of knowledge you share.

Share what others are saying. Don’t keep what you’re reading and watching to yourself. Share it in social networks and offer commentary.

Connect with other gurus. Reach out to influential experts in your field and make those connections public. By building your network, you’re also building your reputation.

Continuously sharing your knowledge with a ever-widening range of people can draw huge benefits. You’ll connect with new clients and partners, your fellow experts will ask your assistance with problems, and the media will seek commentary on breaking news. Not bad, guru.

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Albert Einstein

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

What the Perfect Editorial Calendar Should Include

editorial systemI have a problem with editorial calendars for content marketing. Maybe it’s just that I’m spoiled by my years as an editor in the newsroom, but spreadsheets and Word docs just aren’t cutting it for me. And yet, today, as I download yet another “how to plan your content marketing strategy” ebook from a marketing agency, here’s what they recommend: a spreadsheet.


Editorial calendars are the nervous system of your content marketing strategy. Heck, they’re the nervous system of your whole marketing strategy. But they really need to WORK for you. And spreadsheets are just clunky. They aren’t easy to edit, to insert images into, to capture links, or use for collaboration in teams. You can’t hold a discussion or leap nimbly from Web to spreadsheet to social network.

What’s more, there’s no easy way to create a bird’s eye view or effectively manage dozens of social accounts. It makes both strategic and tactical planning cumbersome and inefficient.

But if I’m really honest with myself, what I really want is an editorial system. I want something that allows me to plan several months out, manage the process and all the specifics easily, allow for agility and flexibility when situations change or opportunities arrive, and distribute across my marketing channels effortlessly.

Dear journalist friends, does this sound familiar? That’s right. Media outlets do this every day. They have publishing systems, style guides, and processes that make it possible.

Here are my requirements for the perfect content marketing editorial system (and this is just a start):

  • Ease of planning
  • Short term view
  • Long term horizon
  • Ease of sharing (with clients and teams)
  • Ease of collaboration (for clients and teams)
  • Integrated real-time monitoring of topics (to easily curate)
  • Ability to distribute and share to multiple channels
  • Ability to customize messages for each channel
  • Ability to repeat posts easily (copy / paste)
  • Copyright compliance detector
  • Plagarism detector
  • Analytics (graphics, customizable data points, ability to download to a spreadsheet)
  • Mobile enabled
  • Fully integrated with all platforms from CMS to social network

How about you? What are your requirements? Tell me in the comments below. I’d love to hear them. And I promise to consolidate them into the ideal wishlist and publish it here for reference.

I’ll even go a step further: Over the next few months, I’m going to test, evaluate and review tools for managing editorial calendars and social media. I’ll use our ideal list to do that. So, comment away!

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc


Advertising in Reverse

Journalism Notebook

Credit: planeta

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Gretchen Peck of Editor & Publisher about marketing tactics that publishers could use to drive traffic to their websites. Publishers, I said, really needed to think about advertising in reverse. That is, syndicating editorial content to brands for use on their websites.

Some top publishers (like the Huffington Post) and aggregators (Newscred and Contently) are already doing this. Now, Fortune has added a new product for advertisers: Trusted Original Content. Already, it has signed up Capital One, for which it will be creating custom content under the Fortune brand.

We’re all familiar with the idea that “everyone is a publisher.” That’s because search engines rank websites according to how much relevant content they include about a particular topic. The goal is to send searchers to sites that are authorities on a topic. That means strategic use of specific keywords and lots of inbound links.

The problem is that most marketing teams don’t have the skills to create journalistic copy. It’s not merely about writing skills, it’s also about the ability to build editorial calendars and produce timely, newsworthy content in all forms (print, graphical, video, audio) — frequently and on deadline. Publishers are expert at this. What’s more, they’re set up to do it properly with a proven process and skilled journalists, producers, artists and editors.

I spent years working for one of the world’s top publishers and straddling the line between journalism and marketing. It makes perfect sense to me that creating or licensing journalistic quality content to brands for use in their own media channels is the next frontier.

And while I’m sure that many of my editorial friends are horrified at the idea, I’ve no doubt that this is a future business model for publishers. I expect we’ll soon see more publishers moving toward advertising in reverse.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Anatomy of a Redesign

Believe it or not, Simply Talk Media has passed the first year mark of being in business. This Web site followed on the heels of the LLC. For many reasons (some of which are listed below), we’re due for a rebranding.

Simple Talk this week: Rebranding

Within the next few days, this will all look different. In the meantime, we’re going to speed you through our journey of the last couple of months, a time where you may (or may not) have noticed that we’ve been on hiatus. Lots of work, though, has been going on behind the scenes.

Simply Talk Media is emerging as a different kind of business than what I’d originally envisioned. First of all, let me say that my vision was sort of murky. Like any new entrepreneur, this last year has been all about:

  • Finding out who I am
  • Deciding who I want to be
  • Making a lot (A LOT) of mistakes
  • Understanding who my customer is
  • Getting to know my customer
  • Defining how I can help

Initially, here’s what I thought the market for Simply Talk Media might be:

  • A social media consultancy
  • For small business
  • And perhaps nonprofits
  • Oh, and startups too
  • And yeah, corporates. I’ve done a lot of corporate work.

And what could we do for this market?

  • We’d focus on developing, but not executing, social media strategy (because everyone loves to use Facebook, right?)
  • Oh, but, if you need us to write copy – blogs for example – we can do that too.
  • And media relations. Yeah, we can do that.
  • A full blown marketing and communications strategy? No problem.
  • Sure, we can edit news (those are our roots).

So the last year has been spent in experimentation. But now, we’re ready to say what Simply Talk Media can do and for whom. Check back tomorrow soon to find out what we decided.

How to Set Up Your Social Media Marketing Channels

A few days ago, I started writing a post about how to set up your social media channels. Alas, I never finished, and today I was scooped by Chris Brogan, who wrote about Starting your social media channels. On the bright side, it’s reaffirming when you find your head is in the same place as Chris’s.

Chris provides a great overview of the ecosystem and some strategies, so I’ll let you read his post first. Then, come back here and find out what I have to say about how to determine the best channels by knowing your objectives and your audiences.

So, go on and read Chris’s post. I’ll wait.

First Step: Defining Your Objective

Welcome back! Many of my clients want to jump in to social media right away, but beyond a belief that they “must” do social media, they haven’t yet worked out what they want social media to do for them.

Like any communications strategy, the first step to being successful is understanding your objectives. For some, it might be increasing awareness of the brand, while for others it’s to generate sales. And yet for some businesses, being there is most important. Social media is deceptively simple. We all see teenagers using it, so it must be easy to do. The truth is that there is a learning curve, and sometimes, your objective might just be to get up and over that curve.

Whatever your objective, it will determine the strategy you start with. That, in turn, will determine the channels you launch, the tools you use, the content you create and the resources you apply. It also gives you a measuring yardstick.

For example, let’s say I have a goal to improve customer service for my pet store business. My in-store sales staff has been spending 30% of their time answering phone calls. Many of the questions ultimately come to me and my partner, because we have more experience. I’d like to cut the time my staff spends handling calls in half.

So, my objective for my social media channel is to become the go-to resource for pet care questions, and the measure is reducing the time my sales team spends on customer service by 50% by the end of the year.

Now I know something about the content I need (expert advice), who needs to provide it (my partner and I) and how I will measure success. I don’t know yet what social media channels I’ll need. That’s step two.

Second Step: Choosing Channels Based on Audience

This is probably the most critical step, because if you don’t define your target audience, you may as well not spend the time or resources on any communications strategy.

So who are the customers calling in for pet advice? Look through your customer call logs and evaluate the data. Are they young? Married? With children? Baby boomers? How many pets do they own? What kind? What is their income level?

Likely, what will happen is that several pictures will emerge. For the sake of the example, let’s say that retired baby boomers with one dog tend to call  your store most frequently. Mothers with elementary age children and several household pets make up the second demographic.

Now do a bit more research. Call a few customers back and ask: How do you find out information about your pet? Do you search online? Are you active on social networks? Which ones? Do you read blogs?

Another dimension is likely to emerge. The baby boomers say they spend a lot of time on Facebook, sharing photos of their grandchildren and their dog. The moms enjoy reading blog posts as they sit through dance class and baseball practice.

This creates two very specific places for you to start building your social media channels: Facebook and your own blog.

Suddenly, social media is a little less daunting. You don’t need to engage in every channel, just the ones that matter for your objectives and your audiences.

Feel free to share your tips and experiences for beginning your social media strategy below. I’d love to hear them.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Why Marketing Will Soon Look Like a Newsroom

Newsroom panorama

Credit: victoriapeckham

Social media is changing marketing, reshifting priorities. That’s clear in the spending trends: AdAge reports that 59% of survey respondents say they’ll spend more money on social media ads in the next 12 months, with social media advertising jumping to 27% from 22%. (The survey was conducted by Advertiser Perceptions.)

And it’s not just advertising: CMOs say they plan to increase their social media budgets to 10.8% in the next 12 months from current levels of 7.4%, according to the latest CMO Survey from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

But social media marketing is different from traditional marketing, and a key reason is that it requires content – good, quality content that helps readers solve problems or understand issues. This is vastly different than traditional marketing, which relies on pithy and memorable campaign slogans.

This is why content marketing is the hot, new buzz word for marketers. There’s a lot of information available about how to create content that grabs the attention of your audience. (The Content Marketing Institute is an excellent resource.) But what does it mean for the structure of the marketing department as we know it?

Content marketing is going to require marketing heads to rethink the composition of their staff, the skill sets that are required, and the tools that they use. What’s a better place to look for a model than the newsroom, which has a strong track record of producing informative content? And by newsroom, I envision a hybrid of TV, print, magazine and online, with a dash of customer service thrown in.

▪   Hire an Editor in Chief. Eventually, CMOs will take on this role. But as the marketing newsroom evolves – along with the skill set of the CMO – the most important hire may be a former journalist or editor who understands editorial calendars, assignments, and most importantly, determining the editorial focus based on what’s important to the readers.

▪   Producers. Content is not one-dimensional. It can’t be merely words on a screen. It needs animation, images, video, audio, and graphics. Like TV producers, they have full creative responsibilities, making decisions about everything that appears in the final version, from script to spokesman.

▪   Writers. Tasked with researching and writing stories, posts, scripts, and status updates, in line with the editorial focus.

Community managers already do some of this, in addition to managing the company’s responses to questions from fans and followers. Perhaps this role will morph into the modern day equivalent of the editorial page editor.

I’ll be writing more about the marketing department of the future – the tools it will need and the skillsets of its employees – over the next few days. Stop back and let me know what you think – and how you are thinking about reorganizing your marketing staff to meet social media marketing challenges.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Looking for Social Media Statistics?

I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly misplacing my social media statistics. This is frustrating, because they’re so useful. Nothing underscores the importance of a social media recommendation more powerfully than being able to support it with facts.

There are still many people who are skeptical about the impact that social media can have on their marketing campaigns and – more importantly – their bottom line results. That’s why I always provide a “State of the Union” on social media at the start of my strategy recommendations.

I’m a master searcher, having spent most of my career building online business information services for corporate librarians and knowledge workers (Boolean search language, anyone?). Yet, even I have a hard time keeping track of the latest social media statistics.

I’m not a particularly good bookmarker, and like many people, I appreciate visually represented material. This is why I’ve started to use Pinterest to keep track of the latest and greatest social media statistics. Feel free to follow my board.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Announcing: Simply Talk Media

Technology is profoundly changing the way we communicate. This has not happened overnight, of course. It has happened in a series of developments over several decades.

The first wave I noticed was back in 1984, when talk of an electronic newspaper became a reality for me. I was a Dow Jones Newspaper fund editing intern visiting The Wall Street Journal campus in Princeton, N.J. Sure, the tour of the new pagination system was fascinating. But it was the little side project that caught my eye: a searchable, electronic database of The Wall Street Journal.

Ten years later, the second wave: the Internet arrives, along with groundbreaking news sites like WSJ.com. Those were fascinating times to be the competitive intelligence manager for Dow Jones Interactive, and later, Factiva.

Ten more years, and the third wave, arguably the most important: social media grabs the world’s imagination.

This shift in the way we communicate has affected not just how we talk to each other, but also how we assemble, organize, market, work, play, entertain, and much, much more. This shift is important and is just getting underway. Don’t get me started on mobile!

I forget, sometimes, how close I am to all this change, how much digital flows through my bloodstream. I’ll admit, I can get rather geeky (we geek girls, are IN, remember). I tend to think everyone is live streaming Facebook announcements.

But, I’ve learned that not everyone has time to stay ahead of the rapidly changing world of communication. Sometimes, we just want the Cliff Notes.

That’s why I’ve started Simply Talk Media, a new communications consulting firm to help small and mid-sized businesses use modern communications channels to talk to their clients, prospects, media, and community.