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Lately I've been doing a ton of work around the content marketing vendor landscape, conducting research as well as helping clients ascertain what their technology needs are and pinpoint the vendors that can solve their problems.

Again and again, one step arises in this process that's absolutely essential and mission-critical both for the short- and long-term success of any content marketing technology investment, yet it's also one too often overlooked by stakeholders: soliciting shareholder input into the decision making process.

Gathering cross-functional input goes far beyond getting stakeholder requirements. Although requirements are, of course, critical.

After identifying the broad outlines of your organization's content needs, the next step is to identify stakeholders and end-users both within and outside of the marketing organization to solicit for their requirements, input, and collaboration. It's important to gather requirements across teams: cross-functionally as well as across workflows.

Some brands actually submit mini-internal RFPs or surveys to stakeholders to help gain very specific documented input on needs, pain points, and feature requests. Not only does this step help identify needs that may have been overlooked, but collaboration also creates a sense of ownership and goes far to facilitate end-user adoption.

The alternative? Tools are foisted upon the teams that will use them. The very human reaction is, almost universally, pushback. Not a very desirable scenario.

Another reason to solicit stakeholder feedback when selecting content tools is integration concerns, and integration almost always goes far beyond marketing. Content marketing tools can easily require integration with enterprise systems ranging from HR to data, storage platforms to customer service, and even finance.

What's the big idea?

When circulating the feedback request, including the purpose of the exercise and vision is critical. Carlos Abler, 3M's online content strategy lead puts it this way, "Never lose an opportunity to 'sell' the idea to stakeholders in order to gain the deepest and most useful stakeholder input, and to rally their support for the long haul and how departments are benefited. Note that there are cross-functional benefits that can be highlighted, such as optimized asset sharing, customer/audience knowledge sharing, economy of effort, and long term reduced redundancy and effort."

Compiling stakeholder feedback to glean insights, ideas you may have overlooked, and pattern recognition is essential. Getting out the vote is obviously not a democratic process. A person or committee is charged with leading the selection process, and lead they will. But the input of the people who will be using the technology informs not only better decisions, but also better, smoother adoption once that final decision has been reached and investment is made.

We like to end the questionnaire for stakeholders with a single, vital question to distill the process to its essence: If this new tool could accomplish just one thing, what would that thing be?

The answers will be food for thought, as well as invaluable input for decision-making.

Rebecca Lieb is an analyst, digital advertising/media, for Altimeter Group.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet. Follow Rebecca Lieb at @lieblink and Altimeter Group at @altimetergroup.

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The social media landscape is shifting. As the value of social engagement becomes increasingly evident, a brand finds itself in a race to capitalize on it.

Facebook in particular has come under fire lately for its infamous algorithm changes as it gradually shifts its value proposition from a free social distribution channel to a targeted advertising platform. The new algorithm dramatically reduces the average reach of an organic brand post to less than 3 percent of that brand's audience, making it seemingly impossible for a brand to reach its fans without buying Facebook ads.

The changes aren't sitting well with a slew of brands, publishers, and influencers, and several -- including Eat24, Charity Engine and the guy who plays Dwight on "The Office" -- have publically quit Facebook in protest. Calling Facebook's algorithm "hella messed up," Eat24 outlined its reasons for dumping the social network in a hilarious Dear-John style blog post: "All we do is give, and all you do is take. We give you text posts, delicious food photos, coupons, restaurant recommendations...and what do you do in return? You take them and you hide them from all our friends."

Facebook says it limits brand reach in order to save our timelines from being dominated by the over 15 million brands on the site, but the changes send a very clear message: if you want to reach your audience on Facebook, you're going to have to pay for it.

A new era of social marketing

It might sound like huge blow for brands that have invested years of time and resources into building a strong social following, but it doesn't have to be.

Facebook has paved the way for social advertising from the get-go, and the space will continue to evolve in its footsteps -- just as it did with sponsored posts, brand pages, and news feeds. To succeed in this emerging new era of social marketing, it just takes an understanding that Facebook's role in your marketing strategy is changing. While it's still vital to invest in maintaining an active Facebook community, it's now more important than ever to tie that community through to your owned properties.

Instead of investing in Facebook campaigns that only live on Facebook or other social networks, use those campaigns to bring traffic to your owned properties -- where you can truly drive toward conversion. By weaving real-time social applications throughout those owned properties, you can offer your audience the same engagement value as the social networks that brought them to you. They can still interact with each other on their favorite social networks, but they're doing it on your properties, where you can control the messaging and showcase the best user content.

By incorporating specific hashtags, photo contests and other calls-to-action throughout your social marketing campaigns directing traffic to your own socialized properties, you can create a sort of social loop:

  • Your fans are inspired to create social content around your brand, and they're directed to your properties to see their posts and engage with other fans.
  • You weave dynamic social elements -- like multi-channel media walls, live chats, or trending applications -- throughout your properties, creating a central hub where fans can interact with all the latest news and updates around your brand.
  • Fans share and create more content directly on your properties, increasing engagement and time-on-site while creating high-quality, authentic user content across social networks.

This same strategy can be applied across mobile apps, jumbotrons, and other digital assets to create a 360-degree experience. Interscope does a great job of this as well, using jumbotrons during live events to showcase fan reactions in real time, and broadcasters like Showtime use their own sites and mobile apps to create second-screen experiences where fans can chat live during their favorite shows.

What now?

The social landscape is shifting, and social marketing strategies will have to shift with it. But that doesn't have to mean just throwing more and more of your marketing dollars into social advertising. A brand that uses social advertising strategically to inject social value into its own sites, mobile apps, and other digital properties is creating the best of both worlds -- its own cross-platform social communities with the brand at the center.

Jordan Kretchmer is the CEO of Livefyre.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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Ending a relationship is the worst. Knowing when to walk away from your partner is one of the toughest things to identify, and long-term relationships -- the ones you've devoted weeks, months, even years to -- can be especially hard to know when to end.

Sure, you might be growing tired of the routine, your partner never really surprises you anymore, and you're finding yourself constantly thinking about what else is out there for you. Yet the moment the notion of breaking up even enters your mind, you begin to remember the long nights together, the shared excitement of trying new things, the ways you pushed each other to be better, the lunches, the gifts -- even the arguments and petty disagreements. It all adds up to a relationship that's followed you from one organization to another, becoming that safe place for you to go when you feel the pressure pushing down on you.

5 signs your vendor is screwing you over

Yes, it's a difficult decision, and an even more difficult discussion, but sometimes a breakup needs to happen in order for you to continue to grow and become the best version of you that you can be.

As a marketer, it's your job to deal with underperforming media vendors. There are times you'll have to coach vendors whose performance isn't quite up to par, confront vendors who aren't pulling their weight, and even put a vendor under review as a way to drive performance improvement. But there are also times when your efforts won't be enough -- and when the best approach isn't to spend more energy trying to help a difficult vendor turn around. Then it's time to have "the talk."

Since media vendors work on your behalf, they should always be working in your best interests. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. And for a long-standing relationship, it's very easy to ignore the warning signs, especially for old times' sake. So how do you know when it's the right time to divorce your media partner? What are the signs that the relationship is on the rocks?

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You know how people initially complained about the 140-character limit of Twitter being too brief to say anything meaningful? Well, these days, we don't even want or need those 140 characters. We let photos do our talking, and it's a more beautiful internet these days for it. Nowhere is this more evident than on Instagram, where every photo is worth 1,000 words plus whatever other words are thrown into the comments. It's no wonder that the platform has the attention of marketers. Consider these simple yet impressive stats:

  • Instagram has more than 200 million monthly active users.
  • More than 20 billion photos have been shared on Instagram
  • About 1.6 billion "likes" are racked up on Instagram daily.
  • An average of 60 million photos are posted per day.

The state of brands on Instagram

Perhaps one of the most compelling brand draws of Instagram is its popularity and engagement rates among younger users. Nearly a quarter of teens cite Instagram as their favorite social network, with more than half of high school grads in 2014 using Instagram daily. Instagram's mobile app user base grew 25 percent between December 2013 and May 2014.

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When Western Union was thinking of cool ways to spice up its "$50 for $5" campaign in early 2014, it turned to Hollywood for an injection of energy. The film "Rio 2" was about to be released, and the financial services company saw the perfect opportunity for a collaborative marketing endeavor. "Rio 2" was aggregating an audience that appealed to Western Union, especially in the Hispanic market. The company started conversations with Fox Studios to produce high-quality, fun, and unique ways to inject the Western Union brand into the "Rio 2" hype.

Using humor to make the message stick

First, Western Union was given the "Rio 2" script well in advance and knew the content worked perfectly for the audience it was trying to reach. Based off the story and characters, Western Union and Fox Studios wrote a funny and entertaining script for the marketing effort, in which some "Rio 2" characters are thinking of ways to send money to a family member and ultimately find that Western Union is the most reliable solution. Going in the humorous direction was an easy (and expected) path and gave levity to a service not usually looked at with much pizzazz.

Creating high-quality video that was consistent with the movie

Western Union and Fox Studios created four funny and entertaining TV commercials featuring characters from the film debating how to send a family member some quick cash. These videos were painstakingly animated in the same high-quality fashion as the actual film, ensuring consistency and seamless integration. Each commercial was tested in front of a focus group of consumers and was refined to the point where Western Union knew they would be highly effective and break through the clutter.

Diverse platform partnerships

Once the story was set and the content was vetted, Western Union partnered strategically with broadcast television, cable channels, radio stations, and digital partners to release the message. ABC Family, TNT, A&E, and Hallmark Channel were just some of the many TV networks selected to run the commercial because their audiences fell in line with the Western Union demographic. It selected radio as a big platform to get the message out as well, choosing popular stations such as Univision Radio, iHeart Radio, and Rhythmic CHR, just to name a few. Western Union also had a broad paid media campaign across digital partners such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and of course, YouTube.

The mix of film-quality content, a diverse video/radio platform strategy, and a targeted digital footprint helped catapult this campaign to receive millions of views. No one knows more about this undertaking than Laston Charriez, Western Union's SVP of marketing. In this exclusive interview, he speaks with iMedia about the tactics involved in creating, maintaining, and executing this unique partnership campaign.

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As the content marketing space continues to grow and evolve, we hear a lot about how content marketing isn't like advertising. After years and years of advancement, display still gets hung up on the "engagement problem." Consumers understand the ambient buzz of traditional display ads, and they'll take them or leave them. In the history of advertising however, no consumer turns on their digital device and seeks out display ads to engage with a brand. What they're almost always looking for is great content. That's the core appeal of content marketing: Businesses and brands can speak to their target customers where those customers are already engaged.

There's a flip side to how content marketing isn't like advertising, though: Typically, content marketing platforms lag far behind the display space in their ability to target audiences in real time. Within the content marketing space, creating the content isn't the challenge anymore. In fact, with so many tools on the market to create content quickly and easily, we've ended up saturating and overwhelming consumers with content. It's easy to draw a line between where content marketing is now, and where display was during the era when it seemed like a good idea to load up as many pages with as many banners as possible (reminder: it wasn't a good idea).

The display space came to accept that the way to show results wasn't more ads, but better-targeted ads. In today's digital environment, content marketers need to expand their thinking beyond creating content. They need to be exceptionally strategic about building an audience and measuring that audience's response -- at all points in the funnel.

In short, brands need to take a more data-driven approach to content marketing. Content marketing may not look or feel like digital advertising, but its back end needs to work more like today's existing programmatic ad technology stack for brands to really succeed in a digital environment. This means having access to the huge amounts of consumer data that programmatic advertising relies upon to understand and predict consumer behavior, and leveraging the technology to target those consumers in a relevant, meaningful way.

A more data-driven approach is key for reaching consumers and moving the industry to the next generation of content marketing. We have the content, and the data is at our fingertips. The next step now is for content marketers to harness that data in the same way display has. Programmatic platforms sift through data troves quickly, gaining insights about consumer behavior to target at the impression level in real time. If content marketers were to take advantage of programmatic trading systems, its precise targeting capabilities and real-time delivery could help ensure that the right person sees their content not just with ads, but with content the exact moment in their path to purchase when it's the most relevant, interesting, and impactful to them. The digital advertising world understands this and has been rewarded for it. Now think about the effect programmatic advertising technology could have.

Programmatic technology, when handled well, offers efficient solutions for delivering consumers relevant and useful messages at every step along the path to purchase. This could be extremely valuable in content marketing. And the space needs to be better at leveraging data insights to determine where the consumer is at any given moment. The content they see needs to reflect whether that consumer is first browsing, has expressed interest in a brand, or has recently made a purchase. It's crucial now to break content marketers out of their more static confines and allow data and technology to help them and their content meet the consumer on the consumer's terms -- whatever those needs might be in that moment.

It's one thing to talk about how content marketing can learn from display's use of programmatic technology, but it's another to imagine what shape that might take for content. Programmatic technology works in display because the ad inventory itself is a blank slate, and any ad can load into it. For content to be as customizable, per what's useful and relevant to the consumer, we'll need to rethink how dynamic web content can be, and what kind of tech solutions we'll need to allow for truly programmatic placements of content.

For content marketing to succeed and thrive, we need to climb over the mountain of content we already have and allow data-driven insights to deliver that content to audiences that want to see it, when they should see it. And for that to happen, we must take a page from programmatic tech's playbook.

Steve Sachs is CEO of OneSpot.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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The purpose of any good advertising campaign is to get your brand or product noticed. But what happens when a simple campaign goes off the rails? Well plenty of companies, in fact big and important companies, have found out the hard way. Lucky for you, their mistakes can serve as an example of what not to do while navigating your own campaign. Here is a list of campaign blunders to avoid.

9 campaign blunders to avoid

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Today's fragmented media landscape means it's becoming harder and harder for brands to reach a critical mass. Consumers are now divided across millions of different channels and hundreds of devices, which means the brands that are still trying to reach everyone with blanket media placements are in serious trouble.

But for marketers who are willing to dig in and get to know individual segments of their audience, the digital media landscape presents wonderful opportunities to make meaningful connections in less crowded environments. You probably already use Twitter as a vehicle for your brand messages, but you might not know how to tap into this social giant's research potential to identify targeted media placements for your audience.

Use public Twitter data for an analytic edge

Twitter is a rich source of free, up-to-date public information about your target consumers. This data can uncover narrowly targeted media placements that are more effective and less expensive.
Just use these three tactics to help you sort through the data:
Segment to find No. 2
The first and most important step to using Twitter for research is to segment your data. Even if you can't get fancy with algorithms and text analysis, segment for basic demographics like gender, age, location, and frequency of engagement.
When you've identified the most valuable segments, set aside your most engaged segment and look at your second most engaged segment. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but moving beyond the expected will allow you to identify media outlets that aren't receiving as much attention from advertisers.
Ignore overrepresented media in favor of segment saturation
Dig into your analytics tool, and determine which media is overrepresented by the personas you want to reach. Popular sites such as The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and ESPN will be overwhelmed with advertisements and probably out of your price range.
Instead, compare the ratios of your followers to a media source to the rest of Twitter's user base. Taking this extra step will help you find the media outlets with a higher saturation of your target audience (not just Twitter's total audience), which could unearth less popular blogs with a high concentration of your followers.
For example, if you were looking at media placements for the FIFA World Cup, hopefully you didn't get stuck on sports blogs. Your audience visits other places online, such as @FiveThirtyEight, or Nate Silver's blog. His account doesn't even hit the top 25 for @FIFAWorldCup in popularity, but for uniqueness, he's at No. 8. His blog is a nice outlet advertisers could use to extend their reach.
Identify what else is popular
Next, look at the other off-topic media outlets your target audience engages with. Identify the most popular media by counting the links your target personas share on Twitter. Which URLs and media outlets do your top engagers link to when they're not talking about you? This data can reveal media options you might not have considered.

How to ensure the right fit

Identifying possible media placements is only half the battle. When you've put together a list of possible media outlets, there are three questions you need to ask before moving forward.
Are you trying to extend your reach or defend your most loyal advocates?
Determine your goals for this promotion. If you're trying to defend your loyal advocates, you'll want to stick with media outlets that are comfortable for your audience. If you're trying to extend your reach, the personas you use become a little more flexible, and so do your media options. Customize your promotions and content accordingly.
Are you trying to win over your competitors' engagers?
Another value of persona-driven targeting is that you can sometimes win over competitors' engagers. If your competitors are behind the times, you can find their market and target them as you would your own.
In this case, go for their No. 2 segment again, which might be more likely to swing over to your brand without a fight. Just look at what Apple has done to Microsoft Windows. Apple started with its core audience of heavy graphic design users but quickly moved to users who weren't emotionally attached to Windows. Apple targeted them and increased its market share by more than 300 percent in just five years.
Can you match the tone of the targeted media?
Even after performing an analysis and finding unique and popular media for your targeted personas, you have to be able to match the tone of the publication for your efforts to be successful. If the tone of the publication doesn't match your brand truths, it's not a good match.
For instance, if your brand is straightforward and honest, you can't bend it to be snarky and sarcastic for the sake of a media placement like The Onion.
When you know your audience, there's no need to fear media fragmentation. With the right approach, you can put Twitter to work for you and identify a highly targeted media placement. You'll stand out by appearing in a less crowded environment, and you'll make an instant connection by associating your brand with media your target audience already loves.
Jack Holt is co-founder and CEO of Mattr.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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"Weird Al" Yankovic -- Word Crimes

We firmly believe that there is a Weird Al song out there for everyone. This is one video -- whether you love him or hate him -- everyone needs to watch. And obey.

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Acquiring new customers, increasing conversion rates, driving customer loyalty -- these are all classic examples of the goals of a marketing professional. But as companies try to capitalize on the promises of big data -- the ability to glean insights from terabytes and petabytes of data to better target your customer -- IT departments play a crucial role in helping marketing achieve these goals.

Gartner predicts that by 2017, the CMO will actually have greater power over IT budgets than the CIO, while some pundits think both roles will be collapsed into a single chief digital officer role in the future. This analysis assumes a zero-sum game where IT and marketing can't effectively work together to create better customer experiences.

I think there is an alternative way for IT and marketing to collaborate to achieve even greater personalized experiences with measurable results. Before I get to that solution, however, let's take a look at the marketing department.

What the marketing-IT relationship looks like today

Let's say you work as a product marketer at a travel company, and you're redesigning your e-commerce website to facilitate the trend towards online research and purchasing. You're on the line for increasing conversions (AKA ticket purchases) by next quarter. How can you make the digital experience more compelling than your competitor's website?

You might start by trying to learn who comes to your website, so you pull up traffic reports from a couple of analytics tools you use. The data you get varies somewhat, but that's OK. You log into your CRM to create buyer personas so you can better personalize your website. You talk to your IT team to query reams of customer behavior data to be able to predict purchasing behaviors, which you work into the shopping cart. Finally, you use another tool to segment your audience and A/B test different designs and different web copy.

Depending on the size of your company, this sort of cross-functional planning could take months. Execution could take even longer. This common scenario forces even the most tech-savvy marketer to rely on overworked IT teams to implement changes. Worst of all, this method often fails because marketers don't have good customer data to work with.

Times have changed, and marketers are now in a position where they're trying to be more sophisticated with customer experiences. Some marketers are finding that their budgets are being consumed by disconnected technologies which are, ironically, building increasingly complex, fragmented customer pictures.

What it could look like

Now you work for a travel company where marketers and IT play nice. Same job -- to redesign your e-commerce website. Only now, you're not using a bag of applications, you're using an integrated customer experience platform that centralizes customer interaction data and marketing tools (from marketing automation to search engine optimization) in a single digital marketing environment. Instead of having to rely on other departments to provide you with customer insights, you can dig into customer data yourself. IT can serve more as a consultant and spend time querying big data, which, let's face it, is still better off done by humans.

Everyone is happy in this scenario. As marketers you can proactively make data-driven decisions, and your IT colleagues are happier knowing all they have to support is a single, managed application. But your customers are happier too, because finally, you're looking at, and speaking to, a single customer view that gives you genuine insight into what your customer needs and wants.

Some companies are already seeing the benefits of a strategic marketing-IT partnership. Amazon is a clear leader in this space, having long chosen to invest in big data-driven marketing rather than traditional advertising tactics.

Starbucks is another great example of a successful marketing and IT partnership. Starbucks has embraced technology like web-based coffee builders and mobile apps, to expand and improve the entire Starbucks experience. It's no surprise that Starbucks has seen steady growth for the last four years.

A customer we work with is Carnival Cruise Lines, where IT and marketing work hand in hand to optimize the entire user experience, from pre-purchase to the voyage itself. At Carnival, you no longer have to worry about packing bottles of shampoo into your already oversized carry-ons. Carnival lets you order toiletries online before you board and have them waiting for you in your cabin. On the cruises themselves Carnival has installed several customer-facing intranet services, which are easily managed in the cloud using Sitecore.

Invite IT to brainstorm with you

A lot of companies make a lot of promises with their marketing products. As a customer, you'd be wise to ask your IT department to look at what is going on in the backend.

The ideal customer experience application combines web content management, marketing automation, email marketing, social media, e-commerce, optimization, and analytics into a unified platform. But does it truly integrate disparate data sources? Is it easy to manage and secure? Does it operate well within the existing IT environment? These are all questions that even the most tech-savvy marketer should talk over with their IT counterparts early on.

The opportunity is ripe for the analytical left-brained IT side to collaborate with the creative right-brained marketing side of your business to create more intelligent and thoughtful customer experiences. Position IT as a strategic partner rather than the more traditional function of executors. This means bringing IT into the conversation from the beginning, understanding their technical concerns and coming up with a mutual set of goals and project timeline.

James Smith is the VP of marketing, North America at Sitecore.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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