Why Community is the Answer

Zapnito asked me to speak at their annual Community Insights event on the Changing Landscape of Media and Marketing – and the Growing Power of Community within That. I explained that today’s landscape has been fundamentally shaped by 10 things that came out of the dot.com boom and bust. Publishers, associations and commercial event businesses can harness the power of community to drive their marketing ROI – but only if they stop mixing up product with promoters, get their pricing models in order and think strategically about the content they produce and share.

I was asked to speak at the Zapnito Community Insights Annual Event on the Changing Landscape of Media and Marketing – and the Growing Power of Community within That. Here’s what I said:

Thanks Charles. Good evening everyone.

As I was doing my research for putting this speech together (or to be more accurate, procrastinating putting it together), I was reading Ashley’s excellent article on the return of community in B2B publishing. If you haven’t read it yet, you can find it here https://community.zapnito.com/users/206116-ashley-friedlein/posts/53806-the-return-of-community-in-b2b-publishing-media-part-2 on the Zapnito site and on the Guild website (lesson one in the changing landscape of media and marketing – SEO is so important that we multiple place to improve our discoverability). Back to the blog though, it begins with saying, “if you’re old enough to have been around in the dot.com area of the late 90s then you may remember the famous “3Cs” that were meant to characterise the web: Content, Commerce, Community.

This made me wince. For two reasons. Partly, because not only am I old enough to remember the late 90s, when I first worked with Charles, I actually started my marketing career at the end of the 80s, a time of shoulder pads and mobile phones like bricks.

Mainly though, I winced because that time frame and mantra was peak internet bubble and a disastrous mix of belief in, and misunderstanding of, the 3Cs fundamentally changed both the media industry and how we market today – making it, frankly, a whole lot harder.

At the height of the boom, everyone was so in love with dot.coms that the Wall Street Journal suggested that investors ‘re-think” the “quaint concept” of profits.

These were the companies who were spending a fortune on marketing, offering their services for free with the expectation they could build sufficient brand awareness to charge profitable rates for their services in the future.

In January 2000, there were 16 dot.com commercials during Super Bowl XXXIV, each costing $2 million for a 30-second spot.

The Nasdaq Composite stock market index peaked in value at 5,048.62on March 10, 2000 before crashing. In its trough on October 9, 2002, it had lost 80% of its value. Trillions of dollars in wealth vanished almost overnight. It took until March 2015 for the Nasdaq to reach its 2000 peak. In Silcion Valley alone over 200,000 people lost their jobs.

I share this with you not just so you can bask in how young and fabulous you are (and perhaps think carefully about investing in WeWorks) but because…

the stonking hangover from that time wasn’t just financial. It fundamentally changed the media landscape and how we market in 10 ways:

In its obsession with the first of those 3 Cs, content, the dot.com boom turned everyone into a publisher, creating a blurring of the lines between authoritative content and UGC. If anyone can publish their version of the truth, how do people know what is fact? It seems that it depends on whether you are part of that tribe or community or not. Because whatever you think of Donald Trump (and I am firmly in the Dear God how is this possible, camp) his followers – “his community” believe everything he says and unsays. Because that is the other thing that digital content enabled – a blithe changing of the story. The more reputable papers note on their websites if a story has changed but even blogs that should know better, like the media industry’s Flashes and Flames, have been known to completely change, for example, acquisition prices, without noting it. So your understanding of a deal outcome is completely different based on the day you read the blog.

The other thing that became blurred was the difference between content which was a marketing tool, and content which was the product / service. If McKinsey is going to give a 100 page report away for free, why should a reader pay £1k for a report by a professional publisher?

People’s perception of the value of content has changed irrevocably.

Google is now 21 years old. When free information is everywhere, and Google has become a verb, then we have trained a whole generation to believe that information is not something you need to pay for.

So started the slow tortuous death spiral of print publications. Marie Claire just announced it would be going digital only after 30 years in print.

A few years ago Lloyds List (one half of the Lloyds List and IBC merger which formed the now mighty Informa plc) which had been published since 1734, became digital only. Good for the trees. Not so good for the printing industry and for the designers and sales teams at magazines.

To add insult to injury. Not only have (a worryingly large number of) people stopped paying for content but advertisers have changed the way they buy too. Value and pricing models for both the consumption of digital media and for advertising on and in it has changed dramatically and publishers are still finding their way.
Unlike the FT and the Economist who were early defenders of the value of their intelligence, and put in place firewalls, the Guardian landed itself in a terrible muddle.

Because Google and other media disrupters were wooing advertisers with the concept of eyeballs – not based on the value of their readership (of their community), but just on volume and a sprinkling of psychographics (behavioural preferences) they made their content free in a desperate play to increase circulation and at the same time lost their advertiser pricing power by moving from per page print pricing to CPM digital pricing, creating a double whammy of disastrous financials which only thanks to the munificence of the Scott Trust prevented them from going bust.

They of course, like a slew of media owners then sought other revenue streams and diversified into formats in which they were, to be blunt, amateurs. Since these were non-core revenue streams, they hopelessly under-priced them, creating (frankly infuriating and wholly unnecessarily) downward pricing pressures for the expert incumbents. As their delivery was also often poor, it tarnished the format in the consumer’s mind. Hard to know why one event will be fabulous, when the last one you attended was shoddy, unless of course you have built a community which is loyal to you.

 

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter were all founded shortly post the boom. Marketers already struggling with how to include email and their own websites into their marketing mix then had to decide how much of their time, spend and brand authority, to give to these new apps. This explosion of marketing channels created existential angst for marketers, did they simply go to where hordes of other people were and try to use content and messaging to break through the noise and attract the tiny proportion of people who might be right for their target audience (their potential community) and hope that they would then follow them and not be distracted by other people’s content or did they simply use their databases (their pre-built communities) to email people directly. In some ways, it was like the difference between an insert in a magazine and a direct mail shot. The latter of course always outperformed, but in the excitement of the new, far too many marketers forgot this.

And what no one really paid attention to was that it turned people into the product As individuals and businesses we have fallen into a trap of convenience and ubiquity winning over performance and ethics. I was talking to a super smart millennial the other day whose first reaction to my saying that the Laidlaw Foundation is going to move off of Facebook and that we want to encourage others to do so, was “but they have 15 years worth of my photos…” We have handed over our IP. In case you were wondering why we are moving away from them, the answer is that we don’t believe that they have shown the moral leadership they should. Happily, our Scholars Network already has more traction than we ever did on Facebook so the sacrifice isn’t large. Individually, I am doing the same too though and not seeing the posts and pictures of friends and family does feel like a wrench.

 

No one reads the T&Cs carefully enough. Even after Facebook admitted that they breached their own data privacy rules, they continued to add users.
We have given up our privacy and no one seems to care that much.
The Guardian who are finally in profit partly in thanks to their examination of this (and partly to their new begging pop up notices model), still weirdly and unashamedly promote their exclusives on Facebook.

 

Two final points: The dot.com boom and bust made people talk absolute nonsense about community for decades – mixing up target audience, leads, and customers with people who might love you but have no intention of buying from you ever. Equally, not realising that people could buy from you without feeling any community allegiance whatsoever. Not to mention forgetting that different groups within the community have different motivators. It is one of the reasons why Forums were so hard to monetise.

 

It also made people forget that marketing was ultimately about generating profits through optimising our ROI. Today’s media channels and marketing opportunities are set in the context of what happened 20 years ago.

It has all got a ton more crowded, complex, difficult and, in a happy offset, cheaper.  In response we have a plethora of exceptional marketing tools from out of the box CRM and marketing automation to community platforms like the wonderous Zapnito.

When I started marketing conferences and training courses, we printed a brochure, sent it out to the 30,000  most relevant people on our database, put a few inserts into partner magazines (where we bartered a deal so that the low response rate was off-set by the equally low cost) and then did a re-mail to the best performing selections. We spent 25% of our projected revenue on the marketing. Lord Laidlaw grew IIR into the largest conference company in the world and, fast forward to 2005, became a billionaire when we sold the business to Informa.

Now I would not sign off a campaign plan that didn’t include social media, email, web, telesales, print etc; that didn’t have at least 100 different selection segments and trigger trees. And a good 30 partnerships. Yet for an established event I wouldn’t expect to have to spend more than 15% of revenue. Today, it is all about targeting the micro communities, with what is important to them.

In 2000 there were approximately 17 million websites only. Today there are over a billion websites. More sites are visited from mobiles than desktops.

To stand out in the midst of all the noise, and the bombardment of messaging, our prospects will only yes if we:

  • Make them notice us (hence re-targeting and re-marketing)
  • Make them connect with us
  • Make them an offer that they can’t refuse
  • Make it incredibly easy for them
  • Make them feel smart, recognised and rewarded for doing so.

Communities are the most powerful tool in enabling each one of these.

In essence because the model is flipped on its head. We’re not having to shout and produce content-value destroying clickbait so that people notice us, they are are already coming to us. As contributing members of the community, the connection already exists. If we are properly mining the data on their contributions, collaborations and time spent where within the network, we know what to offer them. We can add easy buy-now buttons at the appropriate spots on their user journey and depending on where they are in the marketing funnel.  They become partners in product development and promotion, and we reward them for being such.

B2C media businesses have always had communities, avid brand followers, loyal readers, the trouble was they didn’t know who they were or how to reach them. Which is why of course Facebook etc – where they could see who their fans were, was terribly exciting. It meant that instead of creating half a dozen broad based personas, we could actually personalise, create hordes of micro campaigns. And thanks to Google Analytics and the like measure the effectiveness of messaging to each of them. Cambridge Analytica, appear throughout the Great Hack as the most appallingly, ethically challenged company imaginable, but also as being absolutely phenomenal marketers, micro-targeting and custom messaging to the nth degree.

B2B has always had the benefit of knowing who its customers were, and then being able to extrapolate out to similar target markets, looking at job title, function, company size, SIC etc. We captured all of this on databases. And added interest codes and other psychographic indicators. The biggest danger for marketers today, is that in the excitement of so many easy to use channels, they forget to measure what is and isn’t working and respond quickly enough.

Community takes target markets a huge leap forward. Here at the intersection of interests, shared emotions and experience – target groups self-identify and, more importantly, forge a brand loyalty and momentum that makes them more likely to say yes, to spend more and to encourage others to do so too.

It is why it is so important, that you and your members are clear about the values you share. What it is that you believe in. You need to be specific. Events, Associations and Publishers can all do this easily. Be clear about your purpose and your values.

Look at how successful Nike was with their Colin Kaepernick campaign. It didn’t matter that some people stepped away from Nike, because the sales from the community who did identify with the campaign went through the roof.

Your community members should be your promoters. These are your brand Life Time Value heroes.

Effective marketing then comes from building and monetising those communities.
It helps then to be clear about who those communities and micro communities within them are. One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make is to assume that a community centres around their product. Conference companies are some of the worst offenders here.  An event is not a community – although it may be the physical manifestation of one or the annual meeting place for everyone in it.

To create that 365 day community, you have to think about each of the micro communities within your event world, your sponsors, exhibitors, advisory board, speakers and delegates, and how you can fuse their interests and needs in an on-line community so that they all feel engaged, committed, recognised and rewarded.

This is true for association sub groups, business information and so on.

It is particularly important if you are using content to build your place in the community and eventually own it and be seen as the voice and champion of it. Before all the marketers start throwing things at me, I am not suggesting that you create a ton more material, you can absolutely re-use and re-purpose assets. The key is to think about what are you trying to achieve and match the output to the objective.

And back to our original 3 Cs, to know which content to give away for free, which content requires commitment from the recipient and which is paid for.

You can them move content between those categories when necessary in order to reward and grow your community. So the FT yesterday made its premium content open to all, in a shameless tease to grow their subs and their average order value.

They made me, a long term subscriber and active user, pay attention to an offer upgrade that I have ignored for years. I also went to their FT Weekend Festival last year. They really don’t know how to run events properly so I ended up with a 20 point snagging list that I sent to a friend of mine there (who said he was super grateful although…) but they got the content right and I still felt part of the community. This is in marked contrast to the Economist who sent me a “special” renewal offer which was the same 12 for 12 offer that they have been handing out at every station all year. The Economist has a great brand legacy, but its profit margin has been shrinking at speed because it doesn’t get community or ROI based marketing.

The best marketers today – know how to make community the driver of campaign-based, highly profitable, marketing.

Thank you and good luck.

Should You Have Bilingual Speakers Sitting at Your Board Room Table?

I am a fan of Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg’s book, How Google Works. One comment particularly resonates, they say that at Google, decision making is based on the principle that goes something like, “In God We Trust, everyone else needs to bring data”.

It would be hard to find investors or boards that would seriously argue with that rule. Yet, though the data around what makes up successful executive and non-executive boards is extensive and compelling; bizarrely, it is seemingly rarely acted upon.

What if I were to tell you that Mass Challenge, a US accelerator found that boards made up exclusively of English only speakers were a worse investment than boards with bilingual speakers? What if, for every dollar of funding, start-ups with bilingual directors generated 78 cents while those with English only speakers generated 31 cents?

More data points to consider:

  • investment in companies founded by someone who is bilingual generates 10 per cent more in cumulative value over a five-year period than English-only speaking founders
  • bilingual entrepreneurs create more long-term value
  • 55% of companies that fell off the Fortune 1000 index had only one or no bilingual directors on their board
  • a ranking of Fortune 500 companies by number of bilingual speakers on their boards found those in the highest quartile had a 42% greater return on sales
  • companies with at least one bilingual director on the board outperform those with none.

The list goes on. Every data point under-scores that it is smart business to have bilingual speakers in leadership roles.

What is stopping you, assuming you are in the majority, from doing the smart thing? Given the evidence, will you tell your head hunters to be sure to find some bilingual speakers for your short list? Will you check that internally you are not unconsciously preventing your bilingual managers from being promoted because they don’t immediately gel with some of the senior team or have a different way of looking at things? Or do you think that despite the data you should go ahead with English only speaking boards? Maybe bilingual speakers might actually not be very good at numbers. Maybe the pool of really good bilingual speakers is quite small and so it isn’t worth looking. Maybe bilingual employees are content with not getting the top jobs because they aren’t really ambitious or motivated.

Of course not. It is patently absurd. So why when we substitute women for bilingual speakers, or men for English only speakers, do so many people fight against the data? I have been told in all seriousness that “the good ones are all taken”, that “women are not comfortable with numbers” and that “women just aren’t very ambitious”. Every time a journalist shares new data showing the lack of progress regarding women in senior roles and the consequent negative business impact the comments section is filled with sarcasm and vitriol.

So next time you are tempted to dismiss the need for women on boards as some sort of Political Correctness gone mad think how you would react to the very same data if it proved that bilingual speakers dramatically improved your business results. Do a simple edit / replace in your head.

That is what I just did with the text.

The 10 Things to Think About When Setting Your Content Strategy

Content is a great way to position your brand expertise, build your community, generate leads and grow revenue – done properly. Dive in without a clear strategy though, leave it to your most enthusiastic millennials, or – even worse – let your IT team lead the charge, and you are likely to do more damage than good.

Content is ubiquitous. That is not a good reason to dive in without considering what you are trying to achieve by producing your own. The opposite is true. LinkedIn has 9 billion content impressions a week. There are 656 million tweets a day. On Facebook, users generate 4 million likes every minute. There are over 40,000 Google searches a second. For you to stand out in this noise, your content strategy and execution has to be right.

Here are 10 simple steps to ensure that it is.

  1. Nail your objectives. Why are you doing this? What change in your business are you looking to see because of implementing a content strategy?
  2. Set smart goals. Decide how you will measure success. What size should your community be? What engagement levels from your clients equates to trust and stickiness? What role does content play in your lead funnel? When can you start monetising your content?
  3. Embrace the conversation triangle. You can join an existing conversation, add value to it or own the conversation. Each requires different content and different levels of expertise.
  4. Match your output to your purpose. If you are looking to build the community, start by joining the conversation that your audience is already having. Like and share content from them. Comment on it. Post relevant news alerts. To create awareness of your own brand and expertise, you will need to add value. This means producing blogs, social media posts, web cards, listicles, POVs and infographics. Establishing real credibility though takes owning the conversation with original data, research, substantive white papers, briefings, surveys, studies and videos.
  5. Determine how to link your products and services. If you are looking to make direct sales or generate leads for your salesforce to follow, you need to be able to stimulate an emotion such as fear or greed that you can satisfy. Make the connection with what you offer explicit.
  6. Use content to close the sale. Whether you need to move your prospect through the pipeline, or persuade them to finish checking out, great content can help. Think about how to use testimonials, imagery, usage guides and case studies to get them across the line.
  7. Define your communities. Content needs to be bespoke to your different audience groups. Who are you hoping to impress and engage? If you are B2B, the CFO who signs off on your purchase is not necessarily going to be interested in the same content as your users but still needs to be reassured that you are experts in your field. Think about potential audiences and building community groups based on core criteria such as sector, job function, seniority, interest area, topics, geography, size of business and their relationship with you.
  8. Enable user generated content. You know that your clients love and trust you when they are contributing to your content. Think about the promotions, tools and viral nudges you can build to make that happen.
  9. Agree who does what, when, how. Your best author may not be consistently available. Your biggest expert may not be your most engaging writer. Think carefully about who should produce what, when. Produce a content calendar. Be clear about your brand’s tone of voice. Your brand guidelines should include a style guide. Will you use American or British spelling? Will you produce content in local language? Are you comfortable with slang? Agree which content needs to be approved before it is published. Have a crisis response strategy in place BEFORE you post your first piece of content in case of a content or a real world crisis.
  10. Integrate, amplify, promote, analyse, adjust. The best content in the world is redundant if no one reads it or it clashes with your other sales, marketing and advertising campaigns. Content marketing should never be a silo. Build your social media strategy, including hash tags and paid for promotion around your content. Analyse in real time and adjust accordingly.

Once you have your strategy in place do not forget to look at the technology. There are systems and platforms available, ranging from simple and free social media tools to expensive and bespoke content management systems, that can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of your content output.

Download the presentation attached to help structure your thinking about purpose and audiences.

So You Want to Speak at a Conference?

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me which events their boss or client should speak at. The beginning of the year is peak absurd question season. As every comms agency is dusting off their client’s thought leadership strategy prior to their new year kick-off meeting, some poor minion is dispatched to pull together a list of conferences at which the CEO or her successor should be speaking. And yet so few have bothered to ask the fundamental question of what is he or she tying to achieve.

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone had asked me which events their boss or client should speak at. The beginning of the year is peak absurd question season. As every comms agency is dusting off their client’s thought leadership strategy prior to their new year kick-off meeting, some poor minion is dispatched to pull together a list of conferences at which the CEO or her successor should be speaking.

The answer is classic It Depends.

It depends on your marketing and communications strategy. Are you looking to raise the profile of your leadership? If so, with whom? Are you launching a new corporate narrative? If so, why? Are you trying to make your overall brand better known? If so, for what? Are you looking to develop new business or cement your relationship with existing customers? Depending on the answer, one event will be better than another.

There is no point speaking at the largest Internet of Things event in the world (unless you are being paid a lot of money to do so) if the audience you are trying to impress are bee keepers.

The events sector is a $1 trillion + global industry with more than 10 premier B2B events held daily. There is plenty of choice.

Events change ownership though, lose or gain traction and punch above or below their true weight. Carefully auditing an event’s current status is vital before raising your hand and saying you’d like to be on the stage.

You really want to be sure that their brand values mesh with yours. Who else will be speaking there? Are you happy to share even the green room, let alone the platform, with e.g. Nigel Farage or other controversial keynotes? Who is chairing the event? Is his or her tacit endorsement of your brilliance a good thing? Who will be in the audience? Most critically, when and where will you be speaking? Are you on the main stage or tucked away in a breakout session in the dead zone after lunch while your biggest competitor has their own standing room only unplugged session in the auditorium?

Finding the perfect event is only half the battle of course.  It is sometimes hard to hear, or tell your client, but the organiser might not be as convinced as you are, that giving you a keynote or putting you on a panel, is the way forward. Particularly if you have something to sell.

Event producers are looking for two things: speakers who will attract others (whether it is delegates, sponsors, media coverage or other speakers) or who will dazzle on the day (creating happy delegates who will therefore return next year and recommend the event to other people, and lots of media coverage) – ideally both.

The perfect event faculty is made up of legends (political, financial, business, social), thought leaders, best in class practitioners, inspirers and disrupters (the innovators, commentators and technologists). Positioning where you fit within that mix will ensure that when you raise your hand to speak, the event organiser bites your arm off.

The deck attached takes you through step by step how to choose the right platform, how to be invited to keynote at the world’s leading events and how to make the most of it when you do.

Happy speaking.