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Dancing With the Genie (or The Ongoing Plight of the Omnipresent Media Brand)

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

DVI0775032The New York Times recently debuted its re-launched weekly magazine with the February 22 edition of the paper. Besides the usual self-aggrandizing about the new typefaces, columns, departments, and paper stock, the publication presented a compelling statement about its multichannel strategy on page 44 titled, “Beyond the Page.”

If the title sounds like a Harvard Business Review whitepaper, it’s a vision statement that all publishers aspire to — and which is easier said than done. The perfect recipe is content distribution through print, website, daily emails to mobile, podcasts, events — a 360 degree universe of readily available, current information services. Doing it all well and managing costs is an enviable dream for any organization charged with keeping the paying customer — its readers and sponsors — satisfied.

Even as the universe of ad dollars is being stretched across a burgeoning community of niche media properties, publishers like The Times have also had to contend with increased costs to populate content in multiple forms. As the saying goes, best practices means “giving the reader what they want, when they want, however and wherever they want it.” The old joke about putting the genie back into the bottle rings true. In 2015, the challenge is evident: The genie ain’t going back in, so we might as well enjoy the dance. Editors are charged with delivering well-researched, well-written, specific information for what amounts to an audience-of-one, catering to all levels of knowledge and specialization, meeting all reader expectations across many channels — and they need to do this on a publishing cycle that is as close to 24/7 as possible.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, publishers have the age-old challenge of trying to attract new readers to the pipeline, infusing the existing audience with younger members and ensuring that the development path is replenished and healthy for the future.

The Times announced another round of staff layoffs, letting go of about 110 newsroom jobs and closing its popular “Home” section this week. According to Keith Kelly and The New York Post, The Times print ad revenue fell 4.7 percent last year as readers continued to migrate to other digital venues. Sports Illustrated, an industry icon for its prose and breathtaking action photography, recently announced that it was letting go of the six remaining staff photographers, along with another round of cuts to the editorial staff.

Associations, as non-traditional publishers, are in a similar position. With an easy twitch of their Google-bound finger, members now have access to thousands of sources of news, analysis, data, shared insights and networking that professional memberships once exclusively offered. Reeling from the changes caused by technological advances and ubiquitous communication, executive management teams at these professional organizations are looking beyond traditional sponsors and turning to something called “non-dues revenue,” or ancillary revenue streams.

It’s all a necessary adaptation. Revenues will need to fragment into smaller pools just as the reader communities have fractured into their own niches. While events continue to produce successful sales results for associations and other publishers, these companies will need to establish and grow alternative ways to monetize their content. Ad agencies have done the same thing. If there was once a handful of revenue sources, many more streams were cultivated over the last twenty years and today, it’s not uncommon to see a plethora of offerings like research, data and analytics, mobile services, SEO, social, tie-in’s and cross-promotional deals, product placement, event marketing, and more — each profit line being mostly smaller in value for the agency.

One would think that conference and event strategies might be more prominent for associations, since in-person, face-to-face interaction is not the one thing that the Internet can’t offer.

In our office, we get a lot of queries from associations asking for our recommendations or best practices in multichannel publishing. Catering to their customers hasn’t been an easy task. Microsites and magazines are constantly being created to serve smaller, targeted segments of their universe of readers. Perhaps chasing their members’ ability to access niche content in the field of interest, publishers have continued to launch and sustain specialized technical and trade media properties. In this way, professional publishing has followed the path of its consumer counterparts. (Fishing magazine becomes Saltwater Fishing magazine, which becomes Eastern Saltwater Fishing, which becomes Florida Saltwater Sports Fishing, and on and on.)

Association managers need to know that they are in good company. Virtually every content-based organization is learning to manage new, real-time publishing cycles and multichannel strategies. It may not be a pretty dance, but there is abundant opportunity.

If you would like a consultative meeting to review your publishing and content strategy, please contact our office to set up a time to speak.

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Posted in Business, Customer Experience, Design, Media, Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized | No Comments »

 

Innovations, Driven by a Monotony of Marketing

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

My job affords me a luxury. I have tremendous gratitude for the things I have learned over the years as we have led cross-industry brand initiatives for some of the world’s leading organizations. But at times, all it takes is a long walk in the city to observe new ideas. Considering this blog, which was intended to reflect the current culture or a snapshot of contemporary marketing, I’m seeing that there are many varied items of interest emerging lately — perhaps appropriate to the disruptive, seemingly haphazard business and communications climate we live in. I’ll share a brief note here that relates to a compelling trend I’m noticing on the streets of New York.

The User Experience
I don’t think it would be an irresponsible statement to say that a lot of consultants base advice to clients on their own perceptions as a customer. I do it. I’m human. I see advertisements, retail merchandising, integrated marketing, and digital or traditional direct campaigns, and I see and how effective — or at times, how ineffective — a particular practice can be.

IMG_20140905_162443Lately, I see great examples of innovation in marketing. Take my stroll down Columbus Avenue last weekend, where I stumbled upon an interactive experience in real estate outside the offices of Halstead, a real estate broker in New York. The touch screen display offers profiles of new properties available to anyone casually passing by. That’s west side Manhattan, but on the east side, the Halstead experience has a counterpart that is perhaps even more novel: The cupcake ATM at Sprinkles. Yes, I wrote cupcakes — available to pedestrians in an automatic, street-facing display. Each cupcake costs $4.25 and buyers can choose from among red velvet, cinnamon sugar, Cuban coffee, and banana dark chocolate. Served in a small pink and brown box, cupcakes are available at the ATM on a 24/7 basis, and replenished throughout the day by bakers inside the store.

What’s driving these types of experiential marketing innovations? Well, one explanation is that technological advancements over the last 25 years have created a mind-numbing, geometric growth in channels to reach the consumer. As a result, it all means less, and along with desensitized consumers comes more noise — or a different kind of noise. In brief, the constant drone of a billion messages across a billion microchannels is pushing marketers to discover to new ways to share their message.

The people who develop and activate brands realized that in order to be heard and seen, they have no choice but to create experiences that are disruptive, ways to engage weary customers with arresting and novel ideas. That provocative headline, offer for “free” or “discounted” product, those reward programs and that daring (is it even legal?) photograph? It’s no longer enough. Now, we need cupcakes dispensed to our waiting, sugar-deprived hands on the street — which, will also create a social buzz and gain lots of earned media to build the brand. In the weeks and months to come, look for this trend to get even greater traction. The digital marketing experience, in my opinion, has failed on many fronts to truly engage and earn loyal customers. Technology presents marketers with a new playing ground and new opportunities, but we have yet to tap the vast possibilities to engage, inform, and inspire consumers. But interactive pictures of houses listed for sale, and cupcakes dispensed on the street? Now, that’s a beginning.

IMG-20140831-00844The fall is an inspirational time and I have folders with dozens of clipped articles and saved links to share, so I’ll be updating this blog frequently. We also have a flurry of new prospects and leads in the hopper that are yielding interesting dilemmas and challenges for our clients, and our A-team of professionals. Is it possible to make a compelling print magazine that appeals to that ever-elusive Millennial? Are eBooks a thing of the past, or have they simply not been marketed well enough? What’s the best way to pique the interest of the affluent patriarch, or how can one best engage the corporate attorney? Solving these and other questions is a large part of my job, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As part-hobby, I’ve also been photographing another trend in what once would have been called guerrilla marketing, and which now I suppose we can call experiential retail: A review of outrageous food trucks, which I’ll share in a future blog.

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Posted in Advertising, Brand Identity, Brand Image, Business, Customer Experience, Design, Marketing, Media, Social Media, Technology | No Comments »

 

90 days, and counting

Monday, August 25th, 2014

HEUER-STOP-WATCH-STH810As of today, we have precisely 90 business days left until 2015. In addition to fall being “back to school” season, it’s also “getting back to business” time as we begin the sprint to year-end and the promise of the new year ahead.

Bear Bryant famously said, “It’s not the will to win that matters. . . everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

It’s difficult to understand any company being satisfied with the status quo of their business. By now, many of us have learned that this isn’t exactly the age for complacency. The climate is volatile and shifting rapidly; every business market is disruptive and unpredictable. Things change and new opportunities — and challenges — arise. For the marketing industry, it’s the globalization of labor, but also the digital revolution, which has created thousands of new micro channels through which we build brands.

As confusing as it is, this is definitely not the time to wait it out on the sideline, or feel content with traditional practices. If anything, there’s an urgent need to assess the organizational plan, tighten or sharpen all messaging, and better define the most appropriate channels.

At our offices, we are in meeting several times each week to better understand the behaviors of buyers in those markets where our clients work, as well as the ones where we work. We ask, “What changes to value are driving their emerging needs, and how to be positioned more effectively to serve those needs?” It’s about practical, tangible business results more than it ever has been.

On the client side, it can be a daring, brave gesture for any leader in any organization to raise their hand and suggest that the brand can be challenged, that the modus operandi of marketing operations can be better. The inaction, however, is definitely the greater evil.

What actions can you take now to prepare to take your organization further, grow your business, and seize emerging opportunities in the market? How can you improve the performance of your brand and communications? What would empower you to compete more effectively than you have in previous years?

You can make 2015 as successful as you wish. All it takes is a commitment to make smart decisions, work hard, and build your brand with clear and compelling messaging that conveys your value proposition.

IridiumGroup can help your organization define the obstacles, set goals, develop your strategy, and create a strategic marketing and communications plan that will lead to a successful platform for your brand. Together, we can develop the tactical tools to engage and activate new business opportunities to enable positive change for your organization.

Some of our most successful clients have taken those steps; others are working to position themselves to capture emerging opportunities. There’s no time like the present for you to get started. Visit our website to learn more, or contact me to discuss how we can collaborate on your behalf – and make the most of the 90 days ahead.

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Posted in Advertising, Brand Identity, Brand Image, Business, Customer Experience, Design, Marketing, Media, Social Media, Technology | No Comments »

 

What’s So Social About Social Media?

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

Columbus, Ohio – February 1995. Another consultant and I were touring the offices of the now defunct CompuServe, an early forerunner of AOL and other online communities. As we sat in cubicles and peered over the shoulders of staff giving us demos of the online capabilities, someone observed that members could spend their whole lives online — to which an astute editor retorted, “or their non-lives.”

There’s a great Op-Ed in The Times today titled, “Love People, Not Pleasure.”

Arthur C. Brooks writes, “Today, each of us can build a personal little fan base, thanks to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and the like. We can broadcast the details of our lives to friends and strangers in an astonishingly efficient way. That’s good for staying in touch with friends, but it also puts a minor form of fame-seeking within each person’s reach. And several studies show that it can make us unhappy.”

“It makes sense. What do you post to Facebook? Pictures of yourself yelling at your kids, or having a hard time at work? No, you post smiling photos of a hiking trip with friends. You build a fake life — or at least an incomplete one — and share it. Furthermore, you consume almost exclusively the fake lives of your social media “friends.” Unless you are extraordinarily self-aware, how could it not make you feel worse to spend part of your time pretending to be happier than you are, and the other part of your time seeing how much happier others seem to be than you?”

Love People, Not Pleasure

The article is an adept and compelling view of the current world we live in, one which is rife with images of luxury and success, all broadcast and transmitted over a million channels of marketing. From aspirations of fame (reality television) to social media (Facebook), to the pursuit of money or any other dalliances that we can all be prone to chase, Brooks shares a complete and well-reasoned argument for a more spiritual life.

In his words, “It is the worldly snake oil peddled by the culture makers from Hollywood to Madison Avenue. But you know in your heart that it is morally disordered and a likely road to misery.”

Thankfully — and I’d like to think there is a reason for this, Iridium doesn’t work in consumer marketing or advertising. We’re strictly corporate, focused on business services and institutional finance. This Op-Ed by Arthur Brooks reminds me of why we would be so poorly suited to that branding culture.

*     *     *

A few weeks ago, I was negligent in sharing another gem by David Carr, an article on just how truly effective — or ineffective — those ubiquitous enewsletters are.  We all rely on them and at IridiumGroup, we can confirm that all client organizations are pursuing original content as an important marketing technique to differentiate themselves and position as a leader in their respective categories of business. It’s an interesting article that champions a technology (and medium) that I was surprised to learn is now 40 years old.

For Email Newsletters, a Death Greatly Exaggerated

Amazon Unveils E-Book Subscription Service, With Some Notable Absences

 

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DWAYNE FLINCHUM
Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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