Category Archives: marketing

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The Pundit’s Worst Fear: When Facts Don’t Support the Narrative

All week, anyone who follows the news has been carpet-bombed with punditry informing them that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s defeat was because he supported immigration reform. Yet now, polls on both the right and left are revealing that immigration reform was far down on the list of issues that influenced the election’s outcome. Reporting on a poll conducted by Americans for a Conservative Direction, Politico says, “Only 22 percent of Virginia residents who voted for Cantor’s opponent, Dave Brat, cited immigration as the primary reason for their vote. About 77 percent cited other factors, such as the Republican leader’s focus on national politics instead of local issues.” (Tip O’Niell was, is, and will always be correct.)

I doubt, however, that such polls will change the narrative related to why Cantor lost. That the hubris and national aspirations of Cantor were the likely causes of his defeat, don’t fit nicely into a bigger narrative that works for pundits and analysts. Those are too nuanced and local…and personal, and don’t fit nicely into a national debate over one issue.

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Social Objects, GE & Bonnie Raitt

4_3_2014The 12 readers of this blog will recognize some themes in the essay about social objects appearing in the current Hammock Idea-Email.  Also, thanks to my friend Hugh MacLeod for giving us permission to use his illustration to accompany it. More importantly, thanks to Hugh for introducing me to the idea of social objects several years ago.

Quote:

Social objects come in a wide variety of forms, from cartoons to blog posts to 4-photo tweets. They are the hard currency of the internet, the beginning of a social exchange that creates and fosters conversations that lead to long-term, people-to-people relationships among those who go by such labels as buyers and sellers, shoppers and merchants, creators and collectors.

(Sidenote: Each issue of the Idea-Email contains one 300-400 word essay on an idea we believe will be helpful to a senior marketing executive. You can see an archive of past issues and subscribe to it here.)

What You Think You Know About Anything Is Typically Both Right Wrong

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Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr

(Note: This is a wonkish marketing/media related post. It started out as a comment, but grew into a blog post. If, even after being warned that it’s marketing/media wonkishness, you still want to read it, this post will make a great deal more sense if, for context, you read the essay linked below.)

“What You Think You Know About the Web Is Wrong,” an essay by Tony Haile that appeared earlier this week on Time.com, is one of those counter-conventional-marketer-think items that I typically find intriguing. And I find much to agree with in it. Unlike Haile, however, I do not think the greatest challenge (or, opportunity) to marketing is re-prioritizing web metrics and placing a new label like “Attention Web” on what, at the end of the day, is just another set of web metrics. I think the opportunity is developing a new understanding of the value of media that can correct those things we think about the way markets work  (and not just about the web) that are all wrong. While I think metrics and data will be at the center of that new marketplace, I don’t think the metrics that will ultimately matter will be “web metrics.”

While I agree with him on much, I’ll point out (as he discloses) Haile clearly has a dog in the hunt (he’s CEO of a web analytics company that has traditional publishers as clients), his findings seem to contain a bit of cognitive bias that enable his findings to line up precisely with those his  publisher-clients would, no doubt, love to believe.

Of course, as I’ve said for over a decade on this blog (as a running joke), “I never trust research or statistics unless they support something I already believe.” So I’ll admit that Haile’s research lines up with some of my cognitive biases also. However, unlike publishers with traditional media business models, my primary professional focus has always been on helping companies create direct-to-customer media channels and the type of recurring content that is mutually beneficial to customer and company. It is media that supports our clients’s various business models; not media that is a business model.

I find much to agree with him on the pieces and parts (or, as he describes them, “small signals and changes”) he uses to build a case for what he calls, the “Attention Web.” However, I believe that term and its description merely re-balance the relative importance of factors in the first-wave of web metrics that marketers and media companies have used to create those things we hate about advertising-supported websites (dozens of things to click, intrusive pop-ups, pageview-churning techniques like slideshows).

hammer-nailsHis suggestions that better design, smarter content and understanding how the web works are all great. But as with Haile’s observation that metrics that measure social “likes” and “follows” merely tell you about social “likes” and “follows,” the analytics he points to in the Attention Web merely reveal how much attention the site receives, or how a user actually “uses” the site, not how that attention relates to sales or how customers and brands interact. Advertising, be it on a website or in its various off-line forms and formats, is but one facet of a complex network of decisions, research, interactions, influence, training, support and on-and-on, that must work together to generate the metrics that relate to revenue for the seller and value for the buyer.

It would be so easy if the only thing that mattered in marketing was figuring out where to place an ad on the page to get more people to pay attention to it…but that’s just one tiny part of the journey from potential customer to owner.

Rather than make a case for finding another set of metrics that only matter to those who care about web metrics, I think marketers would be better served to skip the era of trying to game the “Attention Web” and go straight to trying to serve customers who are more-and-more migrating to an “Intention Economy” where buyers and sellers, owners and creators, causes and supporters form new models of web-enabled, mutually-beneficial marketplaces and relationships.

I think web and traditional advertising, and for that matter, traditional media channels and various channels of the web, will all play vital roles in creating such marketplaces. I agree that much of what Haile describes as the Attention Web is important to understand and use. And I fully endorse his findings on what I know also to be true from scientific research: Top Ten Headlines Generate Clicks to Articles That Aren’t Read.

But embracing the notion of an “attention web” is just another thing we’ll one future day think we know about the web that we will discover was both right, and wrong.

Celebrating the official arising of a rise in explanatory journalism

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I’m happy to hear there’s finally an official rise in the number of sites devoted to “explanatory journalism.” It’s official because Gigom’s Mathew Ingram said so yesterday.

Starting in 2009 when I explained how Wikipedia is a great platform for the delivery of breaking news, I’ve blogged extensively about one day in the future when publishers (of all types, new media and old, consumer and b-to-b) would realize that users of their content and media have two understandings of timeliness: (1) The timeliness that is determined by an editor pressing the publish button. (2) The timeliness that is determined by when a person needs a precise nugget of knowledge.

I’ve called these two types of content several things over the years. In March, 2010, I wrote about chronological content and research content. Other times, I’ve used the term we use at Hammock: Know Content and Flow Content. After attending a panel called The Future of Context at South by Southwest, also in March 2010, that included Jay Rosen who is mentioned in Matt’s piece, I wrote a rather long post about my strong belief on the critical lack of “explanatory” content (know content) that is needed to balance our current raging rivers of news content.

In my typical “wish hard and it will happen” prediction, I wrote in 2010:

“Content that explains things, categorizes, organizes and makes it easy to access at the precise time in which it is needed will become an integral part of what will make tomorrow’s new media, new.”

I could continue this link-back parade, but I’ll continue with the narrative.

Since 2006, I have taken a personal (and professional) journey to understand, first-hand, something critical to the success or failure of explanatory journalism: how does a publisher create and manage a taxonomy of explanatory content. As there aren’t a lot of people who sit around and think about this stuff, I’ve traveled to two Wikimanias to hang out with some people who actually do.

Finally, I decided that unless I dove into the deep end of this pool myself, I’d never quite get it. (Adding entries or editing Wikipedia is great if you want to swim in the baby pool at someone else’s home–I was looking for my own pool.) My laboratory for that journey has primarily been the development of the wiki that is part of SmallBusiness.com. It is all centered on a deep belief that breaking news is not the only, nor possibly the most important, type of content the web enables. (I say that, but I tweak daily an RSS news reader in the never-ending quest of creating the “perfect” river of news.) Despite that wiki now having 27,000 entries, it only scratches the surface of what explanatory journalism with a relevant and ever-changing taxonomy and process can be and do. Creating such a wiki will make you marvel at what Wikipedia has done. (It will also make you appreciate what having hundreds of volunteer editors can do vs. a couple of people spending a few hours each week fighting spam.)

Last November on SmallBusiness.com, we began adding “flow” content to SmallBusiness.com–and are still in an early shake-down cruise on that project, but are hundreds of posts into gaining understanding of what we believe works and doesn’t on what we call the “flow side” of the site.

At that time, I wrote on the “About Page” of SmallBusiness.com:

On SmallBusiness.com, we help users gain insight with two types of content: (1) “Content That Flows” and (2) “Content that Knows.”

Flow Content

Content that flows is the type of information that flows past us all day, every day. It’s the information that heads our way whenever an editor, broadcaster, blogger or tweeter decides it’s time to hit the publish or send button. Flow content–news posts, lists and all sorts of information we discover and share from across the web–is found on the front page of SmallBusiness.com. We also feed such content through other channels like Twitter (@SmallBusiness), (RSS and via The Best of SmallBusiness.com Weekly, our email digest that we really, really want you to sign up for.

Know Content

Know content is the type of on-demand content organized and structured to be helpful at the exact time a user needs it, not when its creator decides to release it. While we have a pretty cool search box on every page (click on the magnifying glass icon), that’s not what we mean when we say “organized.”

To us, organized means the use of categories and taxonomies that add structure to information and knowledge. It may not be perfect, but the closest thing we’ve ever seen to a website that does that on a grand scale is Wikipedia. That’s why, in 2005, we started work on the SmallBusiness.com WIKI that now includes nearly 27,000 articles, how-tos, definitions and guides related to an ever-growing array of small business-related topics. While it does not follow all of the conventions and governance principles of Wikipedia, it has been created and is hosted on the MediaWiki platform, the same open source software used to build and host Wikipedia. (Other than use of the MediaWiki software, we have no relationship with Wikipedia, except as admirers.)

I’ll admit: I am (also) committed to explanatory media for a purely professional reason: I think it’s another area where the business models of traditional media will interfere with their understanding of how to create and organize such content in a way that serves the user rather than fits into some type of role like, “generate eyeballs.” (I could name names.) While I believe explanatory journalism can be the foundation of a successful media company, the notion that it’s all about “search advertising” or “native advertising” all miss the mark. Explanatory journalism is, more than any other form of journalism or writing or entertainment, focused first and foremost on helping the reader gain insight and understanding. It’s not about “this guy says this, while another guy says that.” And explanatory journalism can still be journalism no matter what’s the source or what’s the medium or what’s the business model.

Tomorrow, I will post another thought on theme — a look at a website that I believe is a great example of how business-to-business media can blend breaking news with explanatory journalism with a result that can be successful both as media that serves its audience and as a profitable business model.