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A couple of years ago, I researched content marketing maturity in the enterprise. We identified five phases of maturity, the highest one being the very aspirational level of actually monetizing content; organizations from Red Bull to Coke to Kraft have been able to actually sell their content marketing.

That's clearly not going to happen for every brand practicing content marketing, nor should it. A far more attainable and worthy goal is phase four of our maturity model: fostering a culture of content. That is, evangelizing the importance and impact of content marketing not only across all sectors of the marketing division, but across the enterprise itself. It means getting senior management, sales, customer service, operations, product, HR, IT, and the rest of the company (as well as partners, such as agencies) educated and informed about content.

Many misunderstand this as a "find the bloggers" initiative. And sure, it's always great to identify, inspire, and encourage the development of content creators who have real domain knowledge and expertise, not to mention channels of communication into relevant sectors and target markets.

But a genuine culture of content goes far beyond enabling and empowering content creators outside of marketing.

It's about education: what content can achieve and how those achievements might benefit them. This means fewer calls to customer service, for example, if that department can help surface issues and problems that can be addressed with content (with the additional benefit of savings).

It's about finding more content or topics for content, perhaps from an offsite, conference, or convention where marketing isn't attending but customers or executives are.

It's about employee advocacy. Employees can showcase an organization as a great place to work or provide behind-the-scenes expertise where it's needed around products (or projects).

It's about executive buy-in. When the C-suite understands content and the role that it plays, it is more willing and able to get behind programs that spread content culturally. (This is why Nestlé's Pete Blackshaw, global head of digital, arranged a Silicon Valley "field trip" for that company's senior leadership -- to imbue them in the culture and potential of digital communications.)

This week, at Content Marketing World, Kraft Food's Julie Fleisher discussed company-wide initiatives around content, such as building a software platform that integrates with enterprise functions around data and CRM, and also an educational program spanning hundreds of employees and a few dozen agency partners to boot, to get everyone on the same page around content.

We're going to see many more enterprises rally around the culture of content, creating training and evangelism programs to spread the word and foster participation. This will result in better marketing and hopefully, more openness and transparency insofar as consumers are concerned.

What has your company done lately to foster a culture of content? I'd love to hear your stories.

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

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For decades, marketers relied on gut feelings to make major marketing spend decisions because useful data just wasn't available. Today, however, marketing executives face a bigger conundrum: They know the data is out there but aren't exactly sure how to get meaningful insights from it. Relevant data is being gathered. However, this flood of unstructured information creates a big data beast with little connection to actionable insight that can improve decision-making.
Fortunately, major media sites are rushing to marketers' aid -- armed with terabytes of data from every click, swipe, check-in, and registration. That data shows, among other things, the demographics of who engages with what content, the time they engage, how they engage, and across what channel. Media sites are able to package up this data and deliver insights that help guide marketers' campaigns, tapping into tools that make data actionable and drive the bottom line.

But just how are they doing it, and what should marketers expect from their media partners going forward? Here are the top five big data-driven innovations to look for:

Drastically improved demographic profiling

Premium publishers and large media companies dedicate major time and money to making sure their first- and third-party demographic information, based on millions of users, is high-quality and accurate. Media companies can also do the legwork to make the data useful by culling through massive amounts of information and modeling it. Marketers may pull the information they need to better understand their audience and more accurately target campaigns.

Self-service portals

Analytics isn't just for IT anymore. In order to stay ahead of the competition, business users need to be able to access and use agile, dynamic analytics and enhanced self-service dashboards, with minimal training. Innovative media sites that recognize this need are offering user-driven analytics that enable analysis of the site's data at any time. These tools make information actionable and easy to understand for marketers.

Information-rich visualizations

It's simple: Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text and are more engaging than a giant spreadsheet of numbers. Intuitive and insightful information visualizations help marketers quickly wrap their heads around customer information in relation to location, social network, products, brand sentiment, and purchasing power. For example, marketers can pull a highly visual graph representing their brand's most popular content to gain an understanding of consumer content preferences instead of scrolling through thousands of rows in a spreadsheet. Media sites that incorporate these interactive visualizations offer more value to marketers.

Real-time trending analysis

Media sites want users to tell stories, and individuals want to share their stories. Why? For individuals, it's a platform for self-expression. For media sites, it's a way to better understand users and improve customer experience. And for marketers, the media sites that help them track users' stories can help increase engagement, distribution, and growth of valuable content, all while helping both businesses get a better understanding of customer data. For example, if a video is trending, marketers can see in real-time who is engaging, how many times they clicked and basic demographics of viewers like age, gender, and purchasing power. This kind of real-time data allows marketers to pivot (or not!) right when patterns are emerging. Think Oreo's famed 2013 Super Bowl blackout tweet.

Custom mobile apps

We're in the mobile age, and marketers, like customers, demand access to information on the go. If asked something very specific, like what age group the company needs to target in the following quarter, marketing executives should be able to have that information in the palm of their hand. Also, marketers routinely need to adjust campaigns based on target audience behavior, sometimes at a moment's notice. To that end, media sites that provide customer data via a mobile app will lead the pack in marketers' eyes. And, it should be enriched by everything listed above -- first- and third- party data, visually accessible, and up-to-date in real time. 

With many of the world's biggest media sites now employing big data analytics to make their inventory more valuable and effective, marketers can look forward to having access to comprehensive, visual, insightful customer data that can be accessed in real-time and on-the-go. The future is bright, marketers, and I have a feeling we're only scratching the surface with what we can do with customer analytics in 2014 and beyond.

Kevin Spurway is senior vice president of marketing at MicroStrategy.

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"Generation Z" is the name of the "new" generation, a collective name of the people who are teenagers today -- a fearless cohort.

Growing up as digital natives, this group has always had access to digital tools which have helped them gain exposure (for good or for bad) online. Platforms and tools like YouTube and Snapchat have enabled both the fame-inclined and the everyday sharer the ability to create their own fully-formed brand or casual presence online.

So, what's the key to this fearless behavior? A fearless attitude. For Gen Z, it's all about going your own way -- starting your own company or creating a new product without having to wait for permission, the right skill set, an academic degree, or even years of work experience.

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Over the past five years, the number of internal creative services teams (CSTs) restructuring and rebranding as in-house agencies has grown 16 percent, with shops like Disney's Yellow Shoes Productions and BestBuy's Yellow Tag Productions leading the way among the enterprise set. Not all teams come from household-name brands; however, smaller and mid-sized organizations are also joining the trend to take advantage of a number of key benefits.

So why switch? Nearly 45 percent of in-house professionals, report that gaining respect from internal clients is one of their greatest challenges. Transitioning to an in-house agency can help overcome that hurdle, raising the profile of the internal team and changing the perception of the creative team as a strategic asset rather than just an order-taker who fulfills requests.

This heightened strategic and creative value puts in-house agencies in a much better position to compete with outside firms, enabling them to win more work. Among those who have made the shift, the strategy seems to work quite well: More than half of newly minted in-house agencies say they've been able to successfully take business away from external providers.

In addition, the increased business value and new business wins go a long way toward justifying the team's existence, and providing job security to defend the in-house agency against personnel cuts when budgets get lean.

Of course, making the switch to an in-house agency model requires more than just selecting a fancy new name -- it takes careful planning and a well-executed transition. After all, how you handle this new "product launch" will serve as a benchmark to internal clients.

If you're ready to make the change, follow these six steps to ensure a smooth transition that will demonstrate your agency-caliber planning, management, and execution skills.

Be honest: Is it even a good idea?

Take stock of your existing capabilities and capacity. If a successful transition brings in an abundance of new business, can your team handle the increased workload? Almost 75 percent of in-house pros already work more than 40 hours a week, and managing heavier workloads is the biggest challenge for almost 60 percent of teams. If your crew is already understaffed and overwhelmed, transitioning may not be in your best interest. Most CST-to-agency shifts work best for teams of at least 10 or more, although supplementing with freelancers is also an option.

Get top-to-bottom buy-in

Beyond your department, the entire company can benefit from the transition. Cost efficiency, institutional knowledge, availability of a dedicated team, intrinsic brand expertise, and quicker turnaround time are all major benefits to the organization. But these benefits must be communicated throughout the organization, and management buy-in is critical to establishing that credibility.

Make a project plan

In many organizations, the stakeholders requesting the work handle project planning instead of the CST. As an agency, you'll need to take on that management burden. Treat your transition like a new product launch: Design a project plan to manage the entire lifecycle of the project, from personnel training and reallocation, budgeting tools, and software procurement to marketing materials, post-mortem measurement, and evaluation. Plan and execute as though you are your own client. Prospective clients will be watching, so it's a great opportunity to show off your best work.

Define your service offering and structure

Not every team is able to offer full-spectrum agency services. In that case, select what you'll offer based on existing resources -- perhaps you'll produce only printed collateral, basic website design, and email marketing, and then you'll outsource the rest. Organize personnel around an agency model, including account and project managers, traffic coordinators, and other roles beyond just the creative resources skills. You may need to cross-train, hire or use freelancers, but be careful not to overcommit without the right resources in place.

Streamline your workflow

Taking on more projects means productivity must become a top priority. Yet, 70 percent of creative professionals say they already lack "creative time." To gain the efficiency you'll need to stay on track and on time, start by implementing a centralized system to receive, triage, and assign incoming work requests. Avoid wasting valuable creative time by using creative briefs to gather pertinent project details up front and then employing inline digital proofing software to streamline and speed up the review and approval process. You'll also want to track productivity, billable hours, on-time delivery, and profitability. This will not only ensure that staff members are working on the right projects, but also prove to clients that you're delivering as promised to build trust.

Give clients visibility

One of the key advantages in-house agencies have over their external counterparts is that there's no need to maintain competitive secrecy between clients because you're all working toward the same strategic goals. This is great news when it comes to managing expectations. Give your internal clients visibility into the workload, capacity, and priorities of your team to help them understand where new projects might fit -- or interfere -- with others in the queue. This level of transparency can help ensure all of the work aligns with corporate strategic goals and can help your team manage work scope, give accurate estimates, and set realistic timelines.

It may be difficult to imagine that simply rebranding your CST as an in-house agency will raise the profile of your team, especially when it's the same individuals performing the work. But it's important to recognize that it's not just about a name change -- it's about changing how you operate. Perception quickly becomes reality, and by demonstrating a strategic vision, professional processes, and business savvy in-house agencies can finally earn the respect they deserve to win the primo projects and feel secure in their value within the company.

Bryan Nielson is CMO at AtTask.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

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Redesigning to be responsive to smartphones and tablets

If there's one big step marketers can take to look and feel more natural on mobile, it's to invest in responsive design. A lot of brand websites are still living in the past. Online shoppers or browsers expect their experiences on mobile to be seamless, simple, and beautiful. If you have not turned your attention to making your online presence responsive and visual, you are doing your brand a disservice.

Working with Google to optimize SEO

Naturally, you want certain keywords and phrases to link back to your brand. In the automotive market, things are quite cluttered, so having an optimal SEO strategy is key. Volkswagen Canada works with its partner Google to ensure best practices for search on mobile. Make sure you're easy to find.

Investing in display and search ads for visibility

Lastly, there's no shame in a little self-promotion through mobile display and search ads. Because many websites are becoming responsive, it's important for brands to find unique ways to advertise on smartphones and tablets. Search ads are a great way to accomplish this and are a pay-per-click investment. Other display tactics are also encouraging including interstitials, which take up much more mobile real estate.

Kayan Kg, digital marketing manager for Volkswagen Canada, speaks to iMedia about how this massive brand has taken simple steps to ensure its mobile presence is optimal while avoiding huge structural overhauls.

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Article written by senior media producer David Zaleski.

Video edited by associate media producer Brian Waters.

"The emblem dealership Volkswagen" image via Shutterstock and Bocman1973.

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This article is sponsored and authored by Crowdtap. Learn more about sponsor opportunities.

Consumers' time spent with media has rapidly shifted in recent years. First it moved from traditional media outlets controlled by a few companies to ad networks comprised of millions of websites. We later witnessed another fragmenting shift to bloggers with loyal followings. Today, we've hit the last stage of fragmentation: Consumers are now spending their time relentlessly checking content created by their social networks or publishing content themselves. Consumers now control the media. So what does this mean for marketers?

Ease of sharing

It's only getting easier for our peers to publish and share content. Seventy-six percent of internet users are now active on social media, and while we likely still have a few friends who lurk silently, the majority of them are creating or sharing content across their networks. Armed with Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, non-bloggers can easily create and share content -- and we can't get enough of what our friends are publishing. In fact, Millennials are spending 30 percent of their media time with content created by their peers.

Millennial power

Millennials, forecasted to have record-breaking purchasing power of $1.4 trillion by 2020, love user-generated content (UGC). Based on new research from Ipsos MediaCT, Millennials spend 30 percent of their time with content created by their peers. This means they're spending more time with peer-created content than traditional media combined (print, TV, and radio).

According to the Ipsos MediaCT study, UGC is more memorable and trustworthy than other media. Nearly 70 percent of Millennial social media users are influenced to make purchases based on their friends' posts, according to eMarketer. Nielsen's "Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages Report" also reports that word-of-mouth recommendations from the people closest to us are most influential. But even the most sound research doesn't necessarily divert brands from investing in the most controllable channels to disseminate their own branded content via sponsored posts, native advertising, and programmatic banners. With declining click-through rates on sponsored posts and mainstream controversy around trust as it relates to native advertising, these solutions will likely not be sustainable in this new peer-powered future. In turn, some of today's most successful brands are letting the people power their marketing.

Giving power to the people

Marketers know that brands don't live on spreadsheets or inside creative agencies. They live in the hearts and minds of their consumers. Many brands are handing the reins over to their consumers and putting them at the center of their marketing infrastructure. Historic brands like Chapstick, Cottonelle, and Verizon have found ways of working intimately with huge groups of their consumers. Together with their crowds, they are unlocking new ways of thinking about their respective categories and driving product ideation, strategy, creative, and marketing.

Breakthrough companies like The Honest Company, Dollar Shave Club, and Birchbox are prepping for billion-dollar IPOs by avoiding huge merchandising and advertising spends and going straight to their consumers online. They enable their consumers to dictate the products they create, elevate the right marketing messages, and go to market through viral video sharing, UGC creation, and robust referral programs.

Advertising in its current state is broken -- but not for long. The people who believe in your brand can fix everything. Let us know your take on the state of advertising or ways your brand puts consumers at the heart of the marketing process in the comments section below.

Anna Kassoway is CMO at Crowdtap, the sponsor of this article.

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Continually creating new content is vital to keeping a marketing message fresh, elevating search visibility, and perhaps most importantly keeping an audience engaged. Content marketing, the practice of creating (hopefully quality) content for the purpose of building an audience that can then be marketed to, has recently come of age in digital marketing. "Native advertising" seems to be the buzzword of the year. And more marketing managers than ever have realized that finding something interesting to talk about can give brands (especially old or stodgy ones) a renewed voice among consumers.

Until a few years ago, the phrase "Old Spice" was synonymous with "dad cologne." I once read a piece of dating advice that recommended wearing Old Spice aftershave on dates because it reminds women of their fathers (paging Electra...). But now Old Spice is perceived differently. With a brilliant move into the current meta phase of hipster weirdness, the brand has engaged with an entirely new demographic. And also sold tons of body wash while it was at it. That's the power of content marketing.

5 pieces of content marketing you can create today

That said, creating new content scares and mystifies marketers more than it should. But the trick is this: Don't overthink what you're doing. There's an old cure to writer's block that suggests writing anything down on the page, even if it's unrelated. Because there's nothing more intimidating to a writer than a blank page. Sometimes to break the equivalent of marketing writer's block you just need to create something -- anything -- to get those creative juices flowing. If a quick and dirty content idea paves the way to a bigger project, great! If not, you've already created your content for the day. Win-win.

Here are five easy concepts you can likely apply to your brand and crank out within an hour.

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No one on the marketing team ever really looks forward to conducting an email RFP. It's not like your day job goes away while you are working on the RFP. Now you simply have more work to do in the same amount of time. In addition, RFPs can drag on for months with no end in sight. You're spending more money, losing more time, and finally you get to a point where you don't even really know how to make a final decision. It used to be simpler -- the easy choice was often the least expensive choice. But as email marketing has become more of a critical revenue stream to companies' e-commerce programs, the least expensive choice is no longer necessarily the smart choice. With all of this in mind, a successful RFP process begins even before you start gathering requirements in advance of sending out the RFP. At the Relevancy Group we've helped a large number of F500 companies through an RFP, and in the process saved all of them a lot of time and money. These experiences have revealed the best practices in preparing for an RFP. What follows is a short list of the most important ones.

When possible, negotiate a month-to-month extension of your existing agreement with your email marketing provider

Remember the last time an RFP process ended on the original end date? Me neither. It's a fact of life that RFPs never go as quickly as planned. If you go into an RFP with the thought of having selected a new provider and migrated to a new platform by the end of the contract with your existing provider, you can find yourself in a very tough place if that schedule goes awry. While most ESPs will gladly extend an expiring contract on a month-to-month basis if you ask them to do this well into the RFP process -- and when they have realized they aren't going to keep the business -- the extension will be on their terms not yours. You're likely to get much more favorable terms before you even start the RFP when they still hope to keep the business.

Make sure you understand the reason(s) behind the RFP itself

Why is this important? There are many reasons why companies go into an RFP. Sometimes procurement requires RFP on a predetermined cycle. Sometimes a relationship with an ESP has deteriorated over time. Sometimes there is curiosity regarding how the marketplace has evolved and what other providers offer. It may be a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason is, you need to make sure it is communicated clearly to your existing partner before the RFP actually begins. Migrating to a new platform is a lot of money and work. You don't want to do it if you don't have to. By letting your existing partner know why you are undertaking the RFP you give them every opportunity to address any concerns or issues you have during the process itself. They deserve that chance. At The Relevancy Group we always advise our clients to be biased towards the incumbent.

Review any materials from your most recent RFP

Unless your last RFP was more than five years ago, there is likely some useful information to be gained by reviewing the documents and contenders in your previous RFP. There are several good reasons to do this. First, it may inform you as to what made the decision-makers fall in love with your current incumbent in the first place. Second, reviewing the RFP document itself will give you insight into how your needs have evolved over time. Have you outgrown your current provider? Regardless, you want to take the time to ensure that someone in procurement doesn't just re-purpose the prior RFP questionnaire (we nip that in the bud for our clients). Lastly, you can see how well the contenders performed the last time, which can help you decide who to include -- and not include -- this time around. If someone finished dead last in a prior RFP, do you really want to include them again?

Reacquaint yourself with the major players in the email space

The ESP space is not a static one. Providers rise and fall over time for any number of reasons -- lack of or increased investment, acquisition by another firm, significant staff changes for better or worse -- and if you haven't been paying attention you may not be aware of the current dynamics of the landscape. I can't tell you how many times we come into an RFP after it has started already and are surprised by the contenders involved. They are literally looking at apples vs. oranges vs. bananas. It's no wonder we get brought in to sort everything out! Asking other marketers for their opinion helps, but they are going to be biased towards or against their incumbent based on the health of the relationship. So a better place to start in The Relevancy Group's very own Relevancy Ring�Email Buyers Guide 2014. You can get it here and it's free (we have an update planned for early 2015). This report documents the strengths and weaknesses of all the major midmarket and enterprise ESPs. Did I mention that it's free?

Ask your current provider what version of the platform you are on

If you've been with your current provider for an extended period of time, there is a real possibility that you aren't on the latest version of its platform. We see this all the time with our clients. Why is this important? It means that your current provider is going to re-pitch your business with the latest version of their platform not the one you are on, and there's good news and bad news in that fact. The good news is that it will likely include a lot of cool new features and functionality. The bad news is that if they win the RFP, you're still going to be migrating to a new platform. So incumbency loses a little of its importance in your RFP process.

If you make sure that you check all of the boxes before you embark on your RFP, you're giving yourself a much better chance that it will progress smoothly -- as much as any RFP process can be considered a smooth one! You'll have clear ideas about what you and your company want out of the process, and you'll maintain cordial relations with your current provider regardless of the outcome. RFPs are a necessary evil, so you want to make sure you give yourself every chance for the optimal outcome. It'll help you preserve your job, and just maybe you sanity as well!

Chris Marriott is the vice president of services and principal consultant at The Relevancy Group

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You would think of all days, Sept. 11 is one marketers wouldn't touch. However, there have been many instances where brands have crossed the line and used 9/11 to further their agendas.

We're counting down the most disrespectful ads ever produced that used 9/11 as a marketing tactic. You'll never believe how far some companies have gone. 

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"Teens react to Nintendo (NES)"

Remember when Nintendo was the coolest thing ever? Neither do most people these days. It's moments like this that make one feel ancient. Pretty soon we'll be saying: "Remember when we used to drive?"

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