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1-3-9-12: My Authority Rainmaker Conference Review

Bastardizing Dan Pink’s elegant 1-3-5 opening keynote structure at Authority Rainmaker 2015 … my 1-3-9-12 review of the online marketing conference.

Pink: 1 insight, 3 principles, 5 takeaways

Me: 1 recommendation, 3 reasons, 9 themes, 12 quotes
(yes, I’m willing to break the triad)

 

Subtitled “Integrated Content, Search, and Social Media Marketing (Plus Invaluable Networking),” Authority Rainmaker is Copyblogger‘s (now annual!?) online marketing conference.

I enjoyed the privilege of attending thanks to BombBomb | Relationships Through Video.

To organize my own thoughts (initially captured in 20+ pages of handwritten notes) and to provide a necessarily pale representation of a truly wonderful event (like trying to capture a spectacular sunrise on a spectacular landscape with a photo), my 1-3-9-12 review …

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Marketing Outrage: One Story, Four Headlines

With many ways to sell a story, marketing outrage is a viable option. People seem to like getting emotionally engaged, charged up, fired up, even outraged. We can’t resist.

Here’s an example.

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Opinion on a Hashtag: The Folly of #NoFilter

 

Prideful. Purist. Fashionable. Bandwagonesque. No matter the nature of the underlying motivation, all kinds of people are tweeting their photos with the hashtag #nofilter.

 

A photo is shot with a smartphone. It’s shared to Twitter with Instagram. In that process, a filter or effect may be applied. It’s given a description. The description may include one or more hashtags.

 

Two primary purposes of a Twitter hashtag are to provide context and to increase findability. Hashtags provide definition, tend to be related to subject matter or geography, are often humorous, increase community and conversation, and can be clicked to produce an entire stream of tweets with the same tag. Though they have no function beyond context on Facebook, hashtags are also seen there, especially on photos shared through Instagram.

 

The purpose of #nofilter in particular is to say “I didn’t use an Instagram filter or effect; this photo is less processed and more pure than many other Instagram pics.”

 

At one level, the folly of this tag is immediately apparent and reflects several of the cliches for which both Twitter and Instagram are known and mocked. As in: you shot and shared a nearly in focus smartphone pic of your lunch that somehow makes a delicious meal look unappetizing … congratulations on refusing to filter it! Way to hold the high ground.

 

Here’s a sampling of photos shared to Twitter through Instagram with the #nofilter hashtag this morning:

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Thoughts on Marketing from Inside Local Television Stations

I just ended a 14 year run in local television marketing and promotion that took me from Grand Rapids to Chicago back to Grand Rapids to Colorado Springs.  My short description of the work: running an in-house agency to build brands, drive viewership, and increase our overall standing with all stakeholders.  So, my side was the business-to-consumer marketing that results in business-to-business selling of audiences (basic content around advertising model).

I’ve greatly enjoyed the first decade and a half of my career.  I’ve worked for some great companies and done excellent work with wonderful people.

Here are some thoughts and observations from my experience in the local media industry.  They’re focused primarily on traditional television broadcasting, rather than multi-platform content distribution and marketing.

These thoughts and observations are simplified and bullet-pointed.  I’m happy to elaborate upon or talk through any of this in more detail.  Use the Connect with Ethan page to find me – or just leave a comment on this post.

TV set, television set, t.v., tee vee, boob toob, boob tube

What a TV looked like when my career began. (Image from Photobucket user alex54j )

 

Working in Local TV Marketing and Promotion is Fun

  • It’s a nice combination of creativity and strategy.
  • You get to work extensively with words and ideas.
  • You get to create and manipulate images, both still and moving.
  • You get to work with music, sound effects, and natural/ambient sound.
  • Promos are always more exciting than the news packages – you get to pack all the best video and sound into :30!

The Work Itself is There, Then Gone

  • This is a basic function of linear broadcasting.
  • The display of your work is immediately fleeting and the work itself is highly perishable.
  • You get plenty of immediate gratification; what you just made can be put on TV within minutes.

Marketing to Anonymous Masses Provides Limited Satisfaction

  • The ability to track and measure, to connect directly efforts to results, is weak.  Research budgets are limited.  Nielsen’s measurements of viewing behavior are (insert adjective with negative connotation here).
  • In short, it’s more art than science.
  • Very few people like advertising.  It’s an interruption of what they’ve come to see or experience.
  • Nearly everyone wants and expects content and marketing to be increasingly personalized and customized (rightfully).
  • Television broadcasting is linear and monolithic, not personalized or customized.
  • It’s impossible to be consistently relevant, and therefore satisfying, to a mass of people.
  • That’s because they’re not a monolith; they are individuals who happen to be consuming the same media at the same time.
  • Tools like Facebook have taken phone call and email feedback to a new level that approaches direct relationships.  Even those individuals, though, tend to be treated as a mass.

Local News is Very Static and Homogenous

  • Every station has pretty much the same stories as one another and the same kinds of stories every night.
  • Every newscast provides pretty much the same experience it did a decade ago … but shinier.  It’s predictable.
  • Locally, this is in part due to stations all watching each other.
  • Nationally, this is in part due to all stations being consulted by the same handful of consultants.
  • Overall, this is because “news” is defined rigidly by the journalistic institution.
  • This is why ubiquitous, generic “area man” headlines from The Onion, America’s Finest News Source, work so well.
  • This is why we all immediately recognize the visual and verbal patterns in the videos that close this post.
  • The formula from which newscasts are made seems to work well enough that there’s no compelling reason to make anything more than minor tweaks and conservative decisions.  Related: newspapers have only just found their savior and his ideas don’t seem especially radical.

Financially, Local TV Broadcasting is Challenged

  • As with most businesses, costs are constantly increasing.
  • This effect is mitigated slightly by technology and automation.  The hubbing of core operations, for example, is a fundamental operating strategy for Lin Media (22 broadcast signals originating from just 2 master control centers; 100% of traffic operations run from just 1 location (see 2010 annual report, page 4).
  • Revenue is flat/declining and dominated by TV revenue.  Though it varies by station and company, I’d guess that 90-95% of revenue is still generated by television ad sales.
  • Profit margins, naturally, are tighter than ever.  A broadcast license was once a license to print money; stations enjoyed profit margins above 50%.  Though it varies by station and company, I’d guess that they’re more in the 15-20% range in a good year.
  • For a stronger future, some local news operations will have to be shut down (see above – Static and Homogenous).  This is a natural result of competition.
  • As fragmented as the media landscape is (that fragmentation fundamentally threatening the TV business), television is still the only place to find mass.  This is why network prime time shows command higher ad rates, despite smaller audiences.
  • Among the younger set, it’s cool to hate TV and its advertising.  However, Apple loves it!  Go figure.
  • Television still enjoys an amazing windfall from political advertising.

Local Television Advertising’s Effective, But …

  • Is it cost effective?  By migrating dollars into other channels, the large-scale, sophisticated television advertisers say no.
  • I just finished Joseph Jaffe’s Life after the 30 Second Spot, published in 2005.  At the time, DVRs were the threat to effectiveness.  Forms of digital capture and distribution have increased dramatically in the past 6 years.
  • Digital pureplay companies offer relatively inexpensive marketing and advertising options … and they’re 100% trackable.
  • With inexpensive tools to create and publish yourself, “every company is a media company.”  There’s less need to pay for exposure.
  • Some traditional TV advertisers have flipped the situation upside down, selling advertising themselves.

Local Television Stations Are Important

  • Local television stations have incredibly strong brands.  They’re local instituions.
  • They inform, prepare, and connect people; they provide a sense of local identity and community.
  • People take your calls when you tell them you’re calling from a local TV station.
  • The role and responsibility of the best local news and weather teams will continue to be important, no matter how distribution changes.  The challenge there is to stay relevant day-to-day, rather than simply being a go-to place in times of crisis.
  • High definition television signals are free for the taking – and they’re the cleanest form of television signal.

In Summary

I’m grateful for all the opportunities this industry has presented me and the dozens of excellent humans who helped me along the way.  I hope for the best for the individuals who make the industry.

As you might expect, I’ve got many more thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  I’m happy to have a threaded comment conversation, a real conversation, or an email exchange about any of this.

My Local Television Employers

Related Posts at ethanbeute.com

Upside Down: Traditional Advertising Relationships

Good News: You Get to Decide What’s News!

Broadcast Television: In Praise of a Relic

Our Nation’s Common Medium: Why Just One?

 

Bonus Videos
Both employ coarse language. The first is more slowly paced. The second is more direct and more coarse. Both employ the immediately recognizable patterns to which I referred earlier in this post.

 

 

 

If You Can’t Keep People in the Seats, What Good Is The Game?

You can build the stadium, field a team, schedule the game, arrange concessions, and sell corporate sponsorships, but if you can’t keep fans in the seats all season, season after season, what good is the game?

Answer: if it doesn’t work for the audience, it doesn’t work for anyone.

empty, chairs, crowd, audience

If you can't keep people in the seats, what good is the game? (Image from: theemptystadium.blogspot.com)

I received an email from a colleague at the office alerting me to a new offering from a competitor.  The offering’s a new website; its url alone was enough to inspire this post.  I’ll go straight to my take.

There are three primary stakeholders here: the website users, the advertisers on the site, and the company building, running, promoting, and selling the site.

This is the list stakeholders who were considered in rank order: the company themselves, their advertisers.  It’s a basic selling orientation, rather than a proper customer orientation.

The website, KRDO.biz, is a combination directory, deals, and portal site from a local television station.  Established competitors in this space include Google, Groupon, Craigslist, DexYellowPages, SuperPages, and dozens of others.  And that’s to say nothing of all the local and regional competitors with similar offerings, especially in the deals space.  The market’s saturated – both for audience and for advertisers.

It immediately reminded me of a site they offered up and backed with tens of thousands of dollars in local television advertising inventory a couple years ago, GColorado.com, a local classifieds site.  A visit to that site today is similar to, but far less interesting than visiting a ghost town.  There’s absolutely nothing on offer in most of the categories.  In the common “Cars for Sale,” there are three cars.  More importantly, there’s nothing the site offers that Craigslist didn’t bring to this market nearly a decade ago.

The problem: neither of these sites meets an unserved or underserved market need, solves a problem, makes something easier, delights or entertains, or provides anything unique or new.  A television ad may motivate you to visit (that’s a stretch, I know), but a tired initial experience won’t bring you back.  I would also add that the other audience – the advertisers – does not really have anything new in this offering, either.

Instead, the sites fit these criteria: we can definitely build it and we’re pretty sure we can sell it to advertisers.

The website users, of course, are absolutely critical to long term success.  Even in the short term, though, their interests supersede those of the two other stakeholders.  Yet they feel ignored in both of these offerings.

If there’s no sustained traffic, the sites will slowly die, as advertising contracts fail to get renewed.  I don’t know what the fate of the directory/deals/portal will be, but the classifieds site was DOA and never found its pulse.

Entirely Different Angle

Would the same people who are building, selling, and marketing this site invest in it the project with their own money?  Would they sacrifice their employment within the television operation to dedicate themselves to it exclusively?  If so, there’s more at play here than I’ve observed.  If not, then to whom does the offering seem viable?

Qualifier

My purpose here is not to denigrate a competitor.  They’re not alone in their approach; this is certainly happening everywhere all the time.  Bonus points do go to them for trying to open up new streams of revenue from non-television sources.  And it’s not like I or the local television operation in whose employ I remain for a few weeks is aggressively and insightfully innovating online (on the upside, we remain focused on continuing to be the top-billing station and most-watched news product in the market).

Admittedly – and finally – there may be more at play than I’ve observed (I hope there is).  It’s not like I’m on a “explain your underlying strategy to me” or “describe for me the finer points and assumptions of your business model” basis with these people.  If the site finds success, I’ll stand corrected and be served my own foot.

The Bottom Line

For whom did you build your product or design your offering?  If it’s not for a stakeholder necessary for long term success, it’s time to double back, review, and take another go at it.  Or … what good is the game if you can’t keep people in the seats?

Click here for an excellent overview of a successful local media company.

 

 

How Bad Positioning Can Obscure Good Data

It worked.  Link bait positioning drew me in to a series of posts from Dan Zarrella, “The Social Media Scientist,” who uses data to punch holes in “unicorns and rainbows” myths about social media.

A trio of posts (two relatively new, another a few months old) all attempt to shoot down the idea that marketers should “engage in the conversation.”  Those three are summarized nicely (here) by Justin Wise.

In looking at Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations, Zarrella observes that likes, @replies and comments are insignificantly or negatively correlated with some desirable outcomes (more links, views, followers).

Here’s a grab from his post on Twitter conversations:

@mentions, @replies, Twitter, engagement, conversation, Zarrella. study, data, charts, graphic, infographic

Zarrella lays out some data about "engaging in the conversation" on Twitter, comparing percentage of @replies to followers.

I’ll leave the specifics to Zarrella’s original posts (Facebook, Twitter and blog conversations) and Wise’s overview.

I simply want to observe that there’s good, interesting and potentially useful data there, but it’s obscured by link bait positioning – that “engaging in the conversation” does not work.  All three posts attempt to destroy unmeasured, touchy feely notions that marketers must “engage in the conversation” to succeed with social media.  The positioning is great for posting headlines and links to generate clicks through, but it’s not especially fair or accurate.  Because the headlines are more specific and fair than the data positioning, link bait may be too pejorative a word for someone whose work I respect very much.  Still, the work doesn’t support directly the notion that “engaging in the conversation” is fruitless and, perhaps, even counterproductive.

A few quick supports:

1 The measures in the Facebook and blog conversation posts have nothing to do with a page admin or blogger “engaging in the conversation.”  Instead, Zarrella observes interactions as a whole.  So, it’s interesting that higher numbers of comments are negatively correlated with higher numbers of views and links, but it says absolutely nothing about the value of marketers engaging conversations.

2 His correlations of Facebook likes and comments to total views are based on just two pages – HubSpot and OnStartups (note: I “like” both pages).  Those two pages have a combined total of 50,000 fans.  Those two pages are also remarkably similar in topic area (online/inbound/content marketing, entrepreneurship, SMB), so the behavior – if not identities – of both pages’ fans is likely very similar.  To make statements about how effective conversation is for hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of fan pages among the hundreds of millions of Facebook users from this narrow sample is a stretch at best.

3 The Twitter piece is the most interesting, but even the graphic (included here, above) provides contradictory takeaways.  Don’t bother replying, because those with more followers don’t reply much, if at all … or reply a lot, because those who do also tend to have more followers.  It also ignores strategy outright.  For example, @replies are the foundation for anyone using Twitter for customer service.

So what’s the use of the collective wisdom conveyed in Zarrella’s three posts?  Read ’em for yourself!  I only observe that it’s far more nuanced than their “engaging in the conversation may be a waste of your time and resources” positioning.

The Bottom Line

The single best takeaway from all three posts is more a reminder than anything else: your most successful tactic is providing great content … or links to great content.

These kinds of posts are plentiful.  Many of these posts are very interesting and potentially useful.  Most importantly, many provoke thought and, somewhat ironically in this case, stimulate conversation.  They should not, however, be the basis for calling into question your entire strategy and reacting in immediate or dramatic fashion.  It’s content marketing, hence the tendency toward link bait positioning.

Have a strategy for how you’re using social media.  Established desired outcomes.  Measure actual outcomes.  Learn, optimize and iterate.

Also, stay informed about others’ outcomes, like those observed by Zarrella.  Then, converse!

(Thanks to Michael Worley Jr for bringing this to my attention by tweeting a link to great content)

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