VidCon 2014 – The Ascent of Branded Content 

The rapid rise of Internet video in both “native digital” (YouTube, Vimeo) and traditional “show” forms (Netflix, Hulu), combined with the explosion of Internet-based marketing in general, has destabilized the traditional world of advertising. This is not new news.

What is still interesting is how long the transition is taking for the advertising industry and professional marketers.

At VidCon 2014 - the world’s largest gathering of video content creators, fans and industry types (I’m here in Anaheim in both capacities, as the dad of two ‘Tubers and as a marketing strategist) – industry leaders are diving in to what to make of this new platform. There is pressure for YouTube and other platforms to fall in line with traditional standards such as the :30 or :15 pre-roll ad type, yet innovative creators resist outsiders mucking up their creative freedom with such outdated constraints.

One area of excitement and consternation is “branded content.” Various definitions apply, but I like this one from Forrester Research: “Content that is developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education. It is designed to build brand consideration and affinity, not sell a product or service. It is not a paid ad, sponsorship, or product placement.”

Speed Stick GEAR partnered with the extreme sports content producer Devin Super TrampI would only disagree with one specific phrase: “not sell a product or service.” Of course branded content is designed to sell; it just does it in a far more conversational, indirect way.

Another research tidbit from Forrester helps explain why branded content is growing in popularity with major advertisers: Only 3% of consumers describe claims made in ads as “very accurate." Consumers have been trained to be highly cynical, and straight ahead advertising is among the most mistrusted forms of communication. Yet companies still spend billions upon billions churning it out.

There are two primary methods for creating branded content. One is to allow a trusted independent content creator to take your brand and run with it, essentially introducing it to their audience with very little control from you. The second is for you to become a content creator yourself. Both methods have their own challenges.

The key for both methods is to deliver value to the audience that is inherently independent of the brand, yet weave the brand into the content in relevant, meaningful ways. Yes, there are often logo and product placements throughout, but the point of the content isn’t to sell overtly. Instead, content is intended to entertain or educate the viewer on a topic they care about, without the distracting hard-sell of obvious advertising. Branded content is, well, polite.

Branded content takes a more subtle and – if executed properly – authentic approach to cozying up to consumers who may share a brand’s values and have an interest in a particular product or service. By working with an independent content creator, a brand is basically borrowing the credibility of a trusted content creator – say, Devin Super Tramp on YouTube – and asking that trusted voice to introduce the brand to their audience. It’s much the same as having a popular friend introduce you to his network at a cocktail party. If he thinks you’re cool, then his friends will think you’re cool, right?

If you choose to adopt the second tactic - which is to essentially become an effective content producer yourself - you are committing to producing engaging, authentic content in-house or in partnership with your agency. This is tempting for many brands because it is easier to maintain control over content; however, with control comes the dangerous temptation to sell vs. entertain or educate.

Branded Content Examples

Partnerships with independent content creators (in this case, Devin Super Tramp):

Brand-produced examples:

The downside for advertisers entering into branded content relationships is that control is often relinquished to the trusted content creator. I repeat Forrester’s definition above: This is NOT advertising, and you will lose a great deal of control in this realm of marketing. However, what you gain can be very powerful and effective.

There was a lot of discussion in the VidCon Branded Content breakout session from content creators, who argued that they too have a brand, and they cannot risk eroding their audience's trust by shilling for your brand. There needs to be strong personality and value alignment between the brand and content creator in the first place, in addition to a high level of trust from the commercial brand to let the creator introduce the brand to the community in a successful way. If that scares you, branded content may not be for you….yet.

Chipotle's "The Scarecrow" is a highly successful example of brand-produced branded content.If control-freak brand managers exert too much influence (for example, demanding that a tagline is used in the content, or trying to control the content narrative itself), the whole process can backfire. If the fickle audience even gets a sniff of “selling," the effort can do more harm than good.

Branded content can be a very measurable, meaningful approach to marketing without the hard sell. Research has shown that smart insertion of a commercial brand within a creator’s normal content can have great impact on brand awareness and affinity, and can even drive direct marketing metrics such as followers, web site visits and sales conversion. But just as a hard-selling guest at a cocktail party becomes quickly unwelcome, these marketing goals need to flow out of a tasteful, intelligent conversation approach to content.

Innovative brands such as Red Bull have figured out branded content so well that they themselves are becoming trusted sources of content. They and a handful of other brands are considering developing their own branded media channels. It’s yet to be seen whether their efforts will appeal to any consumers other than their existing passionate brand advocates, but it’s certainly a logical pilot.

One final reminder for content marketing of any type: it takes patience. Content marketing is a long-term play, although certain viral hits can parlay an unknown brand into the limelight. However, while everyone wants a “viral” video, they are by definition rare and difficult to pull off: a “viral” video is one that gets shared far beyond an expected set of followers, and that is more often achieved by an independent voice who introduces a brand to the world than one fully managed and controlled by the brand itself (there are exceptions, but very few).

To explore how branded content might fit into your marketing strategy, please contact us. We have excellent marketing strategy and brand workshops that might help you understand its impact. 


VidCon 2014 – YouTube, Creators, Fan Girls and a Media Revolution 

The fifth VidCon conference here in Anaheim, CA, has a distinct “witness to the revolution” feel.

Full disclosure: I’m here first and foremost as the father of two passionate YouTube aficionados, a 15 year-old and 13 year-old who wouldn’t believe me for two days when I told them that I was bringing them to this conference. The older is more of an expert curator, and the younger has become a pretty good creator in her own right. Second, I’m here as a marketing strategist to soak in what’s truly happening in the world of media on behalf of my clients.

My girls with one of their favorite 'Tubers, the ShaytardsFrom a parental perspective, what I notice is this: YouTube has replaced television as the dominant entertainment platform for this age group. There are still the Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf hits on mainstream television, but the daily passionate hours go to the many ‘Tuber celebrities and channels that most parents still have never heard of: PewDiePie, Smosh, Jenna Marbles, TheFineBros, and Bethany Mota, to name just a few. If those names sound familiar, count yourself as relatively hip in the YouTube Era.

Here’s the thing: These “creators," as they are passionately called, are the real deal. They are talented, visionary and leading the revolution in how media content is created, shared and monetized. The shrieks of thousands of fan girls in the cavernous Anaheim Convention Center are testament to the fact that this is where the action is for this generation.

Many of them, such as the powerhouse known as PewDiePie, a gamer-oriented personality with over 27 million subscribers, are entities with far larger audiences than the cable channels most adults know: USA Network (2.75 million viewers), History Channel (2.16 million), and ESPN (2.05 million). In addition, the passion behind the audiences of these ‘Tubers is typically much more intense.

Part of the reason for this passion is that YouTube channels are often very personality-driven. The dominant personality or personalities of that channel, such as PewDiePie, are far more intimate than a more traditional cable channel which features various shows under its umbrella. For many of the most powerful YouTube channels, the personality is the “show.”

YouTube as a media platform draws over 1 billion viewers monthly, 80% of whom are outside the United States. CEO Susan Wojcicki (a refreshing sight to behold as a female Silicon Valley CEO, by the way) shared several upcoming features and innovations that will further expand YouTube’s dominance as the platform for the digital media revolution.

I’ll share my thoughts on how this impacts marketers in a separate post. For now, here are some personal observations from VidCon 2014:

  • The intimate connection between creators and their communities stands out – Even the experts are still figuring this out, but multi-platform social media engagement is critical to success. It’s not just a great video on YouTube. It’s not just an active Instagram account. It's how all of the above relate to and build on each other to point people to core content while maintaining a slightly unique twist that fits that social media platform's quirky personality. 
  • Brands still aren’t getting the “community” thing – It seems odd that so many panelists and speakers are still preaching the importance of connecting authentically with your community (John Green, digital revolution Renaissance Man and author of The Fault in Our Stars: “What’s good for your community is good for your business.”), but apparently many folks – especially traditional brand managers and ‘Tuber wannabes – still aren’t getting it. You can see this underlying belief in action here at VidCon through the accessibility and genuine affection to the ‘Tuber creators have for their fans. My daughters certainly appreciated the hugs and came away even bigger advocates for their favorite creators. (Question: How does a commercial brand “hug” a customer? Food for thought.)
  • Fan girls rule – Not much has changed since the Beatles. Success can still be measured by the intensity of passion found within teen girls.
  • Where are the “colorful” creators and fans? The YouTube audience is 80% non-U.S. and attracts eyeballs from many different groups. But, as is the case with Silicon Valley overall, the VidCon audience is very, very white and not reflective of the diversity of the country. Very few top YouTube creators are people of color, and the attendees and panelists don’t reflect much diversity either. There is a lot of multicultural talent out there that is not being created, shared and monetized. This is a missed opportunity and needs to be addressed quickly.
  • I fit in with my nerd glasses – What is it with the tech industry elite and their choice of glasses?

I’ll be posting on the implications of the YouTube Media Era shortly, but if you’re a marketer of B2B or B2C products and services, understanding the direct-to-audience phenomena is a critical strategic investment.

Now where is that PewDiePie dude? I need an autograph for my daughters. 


WVU IMC Integrate Recap

Last weekend, I attended the WVU IMC Integrate 2014 Conference in Morgantown, West Virginia. I took three valuable insights away from the conference:

(1) The value of personal interaction with clients should not be undervalued,

(2) Whether you you succeed or fail isn’t as important as what you learn in the process, and

(3) My dress sock game is legit!

My favorite speaker was Pam Didner, a Global Integrated Marketing Strategist from Intel Corporation, who managed to make even 8:30 a.m. learning enjoyable with her beautiful personality.  She offered great, data-backed illustrations of how innovative businesses are blending digital and terrestrial marketing to advance their brands.  For example, check out this Korean grocery store that created a way for customers to grocery shop with their smart phones while waiting for the subway train!  Tesco QR Code Subway Store.  While listening to this lecture, I had an a-ha moment: in order to reach buyers on the B2C and B2B side who are on their digital devices over 5 hours a day (eMarketer), we absolutely have to develop content that is personified and shows the brand’s personality.

The conference culminated in a Keynote Dinner featuring Elliot Nix, Head of Media Solutions – Tech, Google.  Before I speak on this event, let me revert back to my small town upbringing with this comment: “someone stuck their foot in the roast beef, it was amazing.”  Now that I’ve got that out of the way—Mr. Nix spoke with us about venturing into unprecedented territory, and what innovative technology might mean for the future.  The tactics he described were simple: “find issues your target markets experience and make a solution.”  He used the example of Google Glass, which was developed to remedy the disconnect a person experiences when looking down at a mobile device.   

Then came the cherry on top: Mr. Nix made sure we understood that to try and fail is no worse than to try and succeed, as long as you learn from the analytics.  In fact, he let us know that consumers feel more comfortable with brands that have failed, learned, and improved from the experience.   

To sum up the weekend, it was really a grand experience filled with beautiful weather, insightful speakers, and actionable thoughts about how to advance brands through strategic use of technology.  Oh yeah, did I mention my socks?  I charge you to assess your organization and see if you are innovating and integrating--or we can do the heavy lifting for you at Mythology LLC, via our Strategy Workshop giveaway.



Content May be King...but It's Hard to be King!

A recent Ascend2 report reiterated what most people know these days: Quality Content is Critical for SEO." 57% of marketing professionals surveyed considered "quality content creation" the most important aspect of earning higher search engine rankings, and over one-quarter of marketing professionals worldwide said that lack of quality content was among the most challenging obstacles to achieving important SEO objectives. 

Most clients we've worked with at Mythology - check that, ALL clients we've worked with - have had a difficult time producing the quantity and quality of content required for Google and Bing to show them some love, especially in a competitive niche.

Many trip over the basics: 

  • Non-existent content calendar, which leads to "Oh shizzle, what are we going to blog/tweet/post this week?" syndrome. 
  • Inconsistent follow-through, or the "why won't our subject matter experts turn in their assigned blog?" syndrome. 
  • Lack of re-usable core content strategy, or the "why didn't we think about blogging this presentation? or "why didn't someone post those event pictures" syndrome. 

Others have succeeded in producing a consistent content flow, but are struggling to have that content stand out and earn the real interest of prospects and influencers. Without the third-party love, little content generates desired results in a crowded field of "so what?" content. 

Content...Things that make you go "hmmmm"The truth is, there is a treasure trove of interesting personalities and potential thought leaders within many companies. They don't necessarily tend to raise their hands to add more work to their plate, but they're out there. There are also many interesting personalities among your customer base. 

The key is that we all know we should be producing more and better content, but the paradigms and processes for achieving this goal are often broken. Therefore, good content isn't published, rankings aren't achieved, opportunities are lost. 

What to do about the situation? Here are a few simple recommendations that have worked for us well at Mythology: 

  • Put someone on point and accountable for content publishing. That doesn't mean they have to write it, but they have to be responsible for making sure the right content is created and effectively published. 
  • Hire a professional. Yes, you can afford it. You can't afford not to have quality content published, so if you truly have a too-busy or too-shy group (or a group that simply can't write well), then you must hire a professional writer. Good ones are out there, such as Jo Lord from (yes, that's a recommendation plug, Jo is great), but they need your clear guidance and direction. Preferably with more than three days lead time to develop a great piece of content. 
  • Interview, don't assign. One of the most effective methods for unclogging your content flow is to stop handing out blog assignments to people who have little or no interest or time in delivering it. However, that doesn't let your innovative thinkers off the hook. You still need to share those brilliant insights stuck inside their head. We've had great success building interview-style blogs. It's an ego-boost for the interviewee, it's helps them feel like they've contributed to the cause without feeling the guilt of missing their blog deadline, and it absolutely gets out the door faster. Many customers also find it a breath of fresh air to be interviewed not necessarily for a long case study or testimonial, but for their industry insights. Here's one of our most popular blogs derived from this interview strategy. 
  • Develop and re-use core content, Part 1. Yes, we know nobody reads long-winded white papers these days. Even highly visual ebooks can struggle to hold attention. But if a quality document is created for download, that's only the first part of its job. The real job that it exists to fill, we believe, is to feed your social media and blogging engine for weeks at a time. The most compelling and interesting quotes from the white paper or ebook are often the best tweets to share and can generate a healthy flow of clicks and interactions with target prospects. Hold your content accountable to provide a healthy string of engaging interactions. 
  • Develop and re-use core content, Part 2. Particularly in the B2B space, we're often surprise how hard engineers, sales managers and other smart folks work on their customer presentations. And then let them sit on their hard drives. A recent client developed a very compelling IT security presentation for a trade conference. Voila! Core content for a blog on the topic, and a great piece of content to share on (which, by the way, is still one of the most best-kept secrets in reaching B2B decision-makers). 
  • Get visual with your content. The infographic craze has glutted many a Facebook or LinkedIn wall, and some absolutely add no value because they aren't designed well enough to facillitate better understanding of the actual information being shared. That being said, simple, powerfully created visual representation of an idea or information is still the most effective method for generating an extra millisecond of eye-catching interest so critical in today's crowded world of content. You don't need an in-house visual design guru (although it helps, and larger firms probably should have someone in that role...Trust us, it will pay off if used properly), but you can easily find a handful of trusted free-lancers ready to crank out your (well-designed) infographic or message panel. 

There you have it. Content will continue to grow in strategic importance and in difficulty. The internet isn't going anywhere. But with a few simple adjustments, your organization can embrace content marketing and reap the benefits in SEO and increased sales. 

Assess your content marketing capabilities and other critical elements of your marketing system with our Spring Cleaning 2014 Assessment tool


The Fast Failure Formula: How Marketing Can Fail Fast to Succeed Faster 

Can you become a success by failing?

Yes, if you get the failure over with the right way so that success can come even faster.  

The term “fail fast” has become standard language in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation over the past few years. The idea is to quickly gain real-world feedback on ideas so that you can get to the winning product or solution formula as quickly (and profitably) as possible.

One of the most expensive mistakes an organization can make is to invest time and resources into an idea that has little chance of success in the marketplace. Yet companies large and small get caught in this trap, often due to an internal champion having an emotional attachment to the idea with little or no real-world market feedback to justify it.

Although Rob Shelton, the global innovation chief of PwC, doesn’t like the terminology of “failing” fast, he does articulate the concept very well and compares it to the scientific process: “It's about having a hypothesis, and testing it," he says. "If the results don't match your hypothesis, you've got data. If the results do match your hypothesis, then you have a discovery.”

Many people who embrace the term “failing fast” do so out of a desire to take the stigma off of failure that can often lead to a disincentive to take risks and think differently. There are some who even believe that rigid quality and process initiatives such as Six Sigma have harmed innovation, and that there must be a balance. The 3M executive behind the Post-It Notes breakthrough has some great advice on this topic (Six Sigma ‘Killed’ Innovation at 3M).

“Failing fast” is really about “fast feedback.” So how can marketers embrace the concept of “failing fast” and infuse more intelligence, less risk and higher return on investment into their marketing engine?


Embrace feedback as a daily habit

We asked several creative agencies that we work with the question: “How many of your prior brand or product campaigns have gone through any significant testing within the very market they are intended to target?”

The typical answer? Less than 10%. Think about it: over 90% of marketing campaigns with budgets from anywhere between $100,000 to well into the millions spend the money without any significant market feedback! That is amazing, and I dare say, irresponsible.

There are too many easy, inexpensive tools for gaining real-world feedback on logos, taglines, and campaign themes for this to continue. It’s a habit that must be developed in most marketing teams in order to have credibility with the CEO and CFO before recommending any campaign be launched.

Social media, online survey tools such as, online panels and even ad hoc focus groups at an industry conference are among many valid methods for gaining reaction from current or potential customers in quick, relatively inexpensive ways. 


Prioritize the market over management

As mentioned earlier, often a new campaign, product or service is rammed through the organization because of the passionate support of a single executive or group of executives. In other cases, organizations are crippled by internal political fights on which direction to go.

Market feedback that tests the assumptions of the campaign, product or service can be a great leveler. Many times we’ve worked with clients where the executive team could not agree in the initial workshop on how to position the organization or product. However, when faced with real-world evidence from the customers they all cared about, they quickly agreed to rally around the obvious direction the customers were asking to go.

When an organization embraces the concept that their brand does not exist in their boardroom, but in the minds of their customers, positive change begins to take shape. That's not to say a visionary, passionate leader with a great idea isn't extremely valuable. But humility and the willingness to listen to the very customers they seek to attract are critical. 

Remember those agencies we spoke to above? Typically, the only audience that gave feedback on 90% or more of the campaign ideas they pitched was the CEO or an internal executive team. In other words, not customers. 


What if customers don’t know what they want until they see it?

There is a meme related to Steve Jobs about his purported disdain for market research. Several quotes are often circulated, including this one:

"Some people say, 'Give customers what they want.' But that's not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they're going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, 'If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!' People don't know what they want until you show it to them. That's why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page."

So if one of the world’s greatest innovators dismisses market feedback, is the “fail fast/fast feedback” mantra invalid?

Not at all. The key is what kind of feedback you’re gathering, and how. To ask a customer, “What do you want?” or “What do you need?” is typically not effective, at least for generating innovative new ideas. Customers tend to zero in and compare their wants/needs based on existing solutions. This feedback method can be effective for incremental innovations, but rarely for disruptive innovation. Jobs was usually focused on disruptive innovation.

Even so, at some point, a disruptive product like the first iPhone needs feedback prior to going “big” with multi-million dollar manufacturing initiatives. The tech industry, among others, is littered with examples of millions lost because not enough feedback loops were built into the product development and launch process.

The concept of “Minimum Viable Concept” has developed around the need to show potential customers a visionary idea to gain reaction, objections, obstacles and additional ideas on whether they would accept it and when. There’s even a service to provide this kind of specific scenario feedback.

A better feedback approach for deriving breakthrough innovation is to focus on problems that need solved or “jobs that need done”. Harvard innovation guru Clay Christensen has built quite a career on this concept.

Fast feedback is a cultural and process issue

At Mythology, we’ve built “fast failure”, aka fast feedback, into our Ten Pillars of Meaningful Marketing™ methodology. Three pillars address the issue:

  • Understanding – Addresses the initial insights required for you to move forward with marketing a product or service.
  • Dialog – Addresses the need for a constant “listening loop” with your customers and prospects via social media, surveys, customer service teams and other sources.
  • Innovation – Addresses the need for marketing to embrace their role as a “voice of the customer” and proactively partner with R&D and engineering to shape the direction of products and services early in the cycle.

If you’re ready to fail faster in order to succeed faster, we’d love to speak with you. Our team can work with you to build a marketing system that has these principles built-in so that the discipline of “fast feedback” is inherent in your daily marketing operations.