The Great #Data Overload Part 3: Differentiating in a #Digital World

Have you noticed that what was once old is new again? In particular, I’m talking about traditional direct marketing techniques, such as door-to-door sales, print circulars, and telephone cold calling. It’s as if businesses realise that to be heard and to get noticed in the digital world, you have to do something different or unexpected, and nobody expects to see a door-to-door salesperson these days!

MBPI mostly work from a home office, and in recent months I have had door-knockers trying to sell me car tyres, energy-saving devices and fire extinguishers. That’s in addition to the telesales calls persuading me to switch phone and utility providers, take out insurance or upgrade my security software (yes, I know that last one is probably a scam). Plus, more and more local businesses and tradespeople are using good old-fashioned leaflets and letter box drops (which is interesting, given that around 58% of local search is done on a mobile device).

Why are some advertisers reverting to this form of direct marketing?

I can think of several reasons:

  • They need to cut through the digital noise and reach their target audience via “novel” promotional tactics.
  • Their products and services are less-suited to on-line or in-app purchasing decisions.
  • Their sales activities are focused on acquiring existing customers from competitors, a conversion process more likely to succeed via personal contact.
  • Or simply, the costs make more sense.

Why is it important to differentiate? 

It’s 10 years since “Blue Ocean Strategy” was published, which stressed the need to stand apart from your competition (“avoid the shark-infested waters”). The message is even more relevant today, because the ubiquity of social media and content marketing platforms means that everyone has access to the same tools, and it’s not that difficult to play technology catch up; and while there may be good reasons for your business to engage with these channels to market, you also need some alternatives, like offering direct customer engagement that is not wholly reliant upon on-line and digital. That’s why some banks are opening more branches as part of their growth and customer acquisition strategy, why some retailers are offering “buy on-line, collect in-store”, and why some service companies are moving to an integrated, end-to-end customer experience, so that customers get the same person helping to resolve their problem from start to finish.

How to differentiate?

Standing out from the crowd (for the right reasons!) is critical to attracting customer attention. Competing on price alone is typically a race to the bottom where nobody wins. Getting noticed, especially when everyone is using the same marketing tools and sales offers, may mean doing something unusual or unexpected (for example, ALDI‘s “anti-ads”) as part of your marketing campaign. Or connecting directly with your audience in a way that doesn’t rely on “Likes”, “Shares” or “Follows”.

Sometimes it’s as simple as as this leaflet (shown above) found in my letter box the other day. At first, I thought it was a flyer for a local bar. Then, I noticed it was promoting a new smart phone app. On closer inspection, the flyer comprised a printed sheet hand-pasted onto a page torn from a magazine. That’s a lot of manual effort to promote a digital product, but using a lo-tech solution that totally makes sense! (No doubt, it appeals to the hipster crowd, ’cause retro’s cool, right?) So, the element of surprise (if that was the intention) worked – it got my attention because I wouldn’t have expected to receive a leaflet for a new app.*

Next week: “Why? Because we’ve always done it this way…”

Notes

* For an interesting story on the power of the unexpected, see Adam Posner’s talk on customer loyalty programs.

 

The Great Data Overload Part 1: Meaning vs Megabytes

Data storage is big business, and research suggests we currently spend 30% more per annum on buying additional capacity. Interestingly, a significant part of that growth is being met by the use of tape storage – which is far more energy-efficient than traditional hard drive arrays.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 4.17.07 pm

Image © 1943 Universal Pictures Co., Inc.

No doubt, this storage demand is being driven by data automation, cloud technologies, mobile transactions, social media and the desire to know everything about everything. But why do we really need to store so much data? Although we have the ability to store exponentially increasing numbers of terabytes, and even though the management costs are stabilising, what are we really doing with it all? Aside from meeting legal and compliance obligations, what are we hoping to achieve with all this data? How much of it is actually contributing to improving our knowledge, increasing our understanding or helping us to uncover valuable insights?

First a slight detour. A few days ago, I was watching a DVD of “Sherlock Holmes in Washington” (1943). Holmes is investigating the disappearance of a top-secret document, which he deduces has been transferred to microfilm “the size of a postage stamp”. He further explains to Dr. Watson that microfilm enables carrier pigeons to transport the equivalent of 18,000 letters*. I was surprised, because I hadn’t been aware that microfilm was in use in the 1940’s (but a quick check of this article soon clarified the issue).

Anyway, to return to my original theme: have we lost sight of meaning in our pursuit of megabytes?

The issue of contextualisation is central to much of my work, and increasingly I am finding that while companies (especially those engaged in data analytics, content marketing and social media) understand the mechanics of Big Data, SEO, blogging, channel management etc., they are less able to understand the “why?” of what they are doing, or cannot articulate what their goals are or what their expectations might be in trying to capture ever-increasing amounts of data, or deploying new content generation and management tools.

It seems to me that they haven’t clearly framed the context for the tools they are using, nor have they anticipated what results they should expect to see from these efforts. Rather, they focus on capturing more data and generating more content; instead of stepping back and asking “if we do this, what might the outcome be?”, and then clarifying whether that is a good use of their resources.

A small example: the use of “smart” content management tools means that companies can automate the sharing of third-party posts, headlines, Tweets, news and blogs. One of my clients is a career management consultancy, whose content was recently referenced by another career information service. Which was flattering, until I investigated further and discovered that this latter company had simply chosen to share any content with the words “career” or “careerchange” in the headline – which included news items about cars crashing into buildings and athletes achieving PB’s….

If only they had bothered to think ahead about what content they were likely to end up sharing, rather than trying to maximise their output, they wouldn’t have risked confusing their audience.**

Next week: Is Digital Making Us Dumber?

Notes:

* Watch here from about 20:15 onwards. For comparison, it prompted me to estimate how many 3.5″ floppy disks you would have needed to store that many documents, given their meagre 1.44MB capacity. (The answer is 48.) For further comparison, the computer aboard Apollo 11 had 36KB of ROM, and 2KB of RAM. Nowadays, we won’t leave home without a minimum 16GB smart phone.

** See my related analysis which led me to conclude that context is all about the difference between “data” and “knowledge”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A couple of No-No’s for content marketers

If you are just getting started in content marketing, or if social media is still a bit of a novelty for your organisation, there are a couple of things you should definitely avoid when attempting to use third-party content for your own promotional purposes: don’t misappropriate, and don’t misrepresent.

All marketers will be alert to false, deceptive or misleading advertising. More experienced content developers should also understand legal issues such as plagiarism, copyright infringement, passing-off and libel. However, even seemingly innocent and well-intentioned references made to third-party content may inadvertently border on unconscionable conduct.

Last week, I had the rather disturbing experience of a company attempting to use my blog to promote a service, and in a way that not only implied I was endorsing that service, but also suggested that my blog was somehow the reason why customers should sign up for it.

I found this problematic for three reasons:

First, I had no knowledge of or connection with this particular service, and the promotional message gave the impression I was endorsing it, which was obviously misleading, and it quoted my article out of context. At an extreme level, if I ever wrote a blog about the “10 reasons why I take public transport”, and then a political party co-opted my content to say “10 reasons why you should vote for our transport policy”, that would be misappropriation (of my content) and misrepresentation (of my views).

Second, even though the service referred to was being offered for free, if the company had managed to generate new clients via this particular campaign, there’s no direct benefit to me or my business, but lots of benefit to the company and/or its partners. In this increasingly self-directed, interconnected and collaborative environment, it’s important to make sure we are all “paying it forward” in a constructive and mutually beneficial way. (I have no problem with receiving a referral fee or a direct benefit in kind if my efforts have been instrumental in securing new customers for your business!)

Third, I am fortunate that a number of my blog articles have been re-syndicated via social media and other channels. In writing about third-party products and services, I am very careful not to endorse specific businesses or brands, other than to mention names (and link to relevant sites). Where I am providing criticism, I endeavour to do so under the auspices of “fair comment”. This is important when establishing credibility with an audience: that my content is seen to be authentic, that I demonstrate awareness about the purpose and context of my blog, and that I attribute whenever I am referencing or citing third-party content. (See an earlier blog I wrote on this topic) But, if in doubt, always ask the content owner in advance before linking, referencing, quoting, attributing or re-contextualising their content.

Finally, if I can be of any assistance in relation to your own content marketing, please let me know via this site.

How Can I Help?

My purpose in launching this blog was to develop a personal brand, to engage with an audience, and to provide a platform for my ideas and interests, especially in respect to navigating the “information age”.

At the risk of self-aggrandizement, I’d like to think that this blog is helpful, informative and even entertaining. After two years of blogging, I have a sizeable and regular audience, my content gets shared and commented on by numerous readers, and key articles continue to be read many months after publication. (Two of the most popular articles in 2014 were actually published in early 2013.)

Several of my core followers have mentioned why they enjoy my blog, and these are some of their reasons:

  1. The content is original and well written
  2. The articles make them think about things in new ways
  3. I write about novel ideas
  4. My thinking reveals hitherto hidden or less obvious connections
  5. I’m never afraid to state my opinion

Which all suggest to me that they derive value from my analysis and conclusions.

So, my offer of help is this: If you would like access to this creative process, either in support of a specific business opportunity, or to address a strategic issue you face, or simply to help with your own content development, please get in touch via this blog or direct by e-mail. In return, I will provide you with an initial assessment of the issues as I see them, and an outline solution, at no obligation. It’s simply my way of saying “thank you” to everyone who has made an effort to engage with Content in Context.