FOUND Friday

A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.


Topic: Use metrics and data to guide content creation and distribution. Create the right content at the right time and distribute it on the channels where your audience is looking for answers to a problem your brand can solve.

Cory O’Brien, Digital Strategist at The Richards Group
Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics


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Erin:  Hey, everyone. Welcome to FOUND Friday. Today joining me, I have a special guest. I have Cory O’Brien who is a Digital Strategist at The Richards Group and, for full disclosure, also my husband. So all fighting is real and will result in someone sleeping on the couch later. I am the COO at GinzaMetrics and I am Erin O’Brien.

I want to kick things off, first of all, by Cory explaining obviously what I don’t understand which is where he works. There seems to really be a role differentiator between in-house and agency and everybody has a little bit different definition of what a digital strategist does. What does that mean for you at The Richards Group?

Cory:  The Richards Group is the largest independently-owned agency based out of Dallas, Texas. I work in the Strategy Department of which there are a couple of different versions. There’s social strategist, digital strategist. We have brand planning, which would fall under the Strategy Department.

But essentially, digital strategy is the umbrella strategy over all things. I’d like to think of it as anything that involves technology and marketing. That falls under the digital strategy umbrella. Within that, there’s social strategy which is certainly one aspect of it. We collaborate with social strategists, but digital strategy typically involves both social strategy and also things like online marketing, content creation, influencer marketing, really the full gamut of ways of interacting with customers.

Erin:  When you leave in the morning and show up at the office, what kinds of things are typically on your plate to do?

Cory:  A lot of POVs (point of views), really putting together research reports for clients, and getting into a client’s goals and say, “These are your goals. These are your marketing metrics you’re trying to reach. Let’s put together a strategy or some tactics that can help you reach those goals.” Initially setting up the strategy and tactics through reporting ongoing measurement just to make sure we set up these goals two months back. We’re in the midst of a campaign to reach those and “Let’s do a check in and see how we’re doing and potentially adjust our strategy based on what the results are.”

Erin:  You mentioned setting up goals, and this is one of the things that we keep seeing to be a real problem for marketers across the board. A recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute from Joe Pulizzi show that what people’s actual goals for content marketing work and how they will measure against the goals are actually two separate things. They would say that the goal of the content was to create thought leadership, drive brand awareness, all this kind of existential goals. But then at the bottom of that list, the last three things was drive website traffic. It’s one of the bottom goals. Number one on how they’re actually measured for doing a good job at content marketing is website traffic. I find this amusing that it’s not the number one goal but it’s the number one measurement.

For what you work with and you talk to clients about set up the initial goal and then creating report and checking in to make sure you’re meeting those. How do you guys decide what the right metrics are to measure the effectiveness of content?

Cory:  The metrics are surely going to be based off of the goals. I think one of the challenges is the ease of setting up measurements. My assumption would be a lot of the reason people default to using website traffic as a metric, as it’s easy to track. You can put Google Analytics or some sort of platform like that in place. At the end of the month, you can look at a nice little dashboard that says, “Hey, we drove 100,000 views this month versus 50,000 views last month,” or “We increased 50,000 views. That’s awesome.”

That said, if you want to get into things like brand building, a lot of that is going to be survey based, research based, and that gets a lot trickier to set up. You really have to understand. It’s both trickier and it’s costly. You have to set up surveys, pre and post so that you can get overall changes in metrics. It’s not as cut and dry as, “We went from 50,000 to 100,000 views.” You really got to be measuring over time. You’re looking at percentage changes. It gets much harder to keep that data clean and understandable.

Erin:  I love that you mentioned the ease of setting up certain metrics and that that’s a default. Specifically we’re talking about the agency and in-house relationship. A lot of times driving more website traffic makes someone look like a hero because they can show 300% growth or whatever it is. It’s like, “Oh, the graph moves up into the right.” Win and then fire it away as “This works.”

One of the things that’s a particular challenge for a lot of marketers, especially people in B2B and B2C places now with all these different channels is: how do you measure end to end the value of what you’re doing if what you’re trying to get to is close? Or if what you’re trying to get to is a sale, a change in revenue? Understanding how an increase in website traffic actually results in more revenue is really complicated.

In the past we discuss this all the time. A client may say, “We want to drive everyone to this specific landing page.” The response to that is, “But from where on the same page? Or how is that going to get them to do X?”

When you guys are talking to clients about what content to create and how that goes, could all sit down making that decision at your particular agency?

Cory:  Everyone, really – it’s strategy, it’s creative, the brand planners, the brand managers. The brand management here is similar to an account manager type role. The strategy and brand planning, their goal is to align the content with the needs of the client and the needs of the brand. Creative is there to make sure that it’s pushing the bounds of what that content could be. But the goal is to all work together with the understanding what the goals are and come to an agreement on what the best ways to get to those goals are going to be.

Erin:  It’s exciting to hear that an entire group of people will sit down and actually discuss this, because oftentimes frustration seems to be that someone decides, “We need some Twitter stuff or some Facebook post, and we’re going to display on the page. There’s going to be sweepstakes form.” Go create that and roll it out. So people get piecemeal out these responsibilities to go create. Somebody has to create this content. It’s an edict that someone has decreed. And then you create this and now that’s on this side of the house. Now you go push it out and then you measure it.

That’s a really hard system to be successful in I think because it means everybody doesn’t understand the how and the why of what should really be created. So it’s nice that it seems like these are – at least at The Richards Group – moving at a different direction.

What are some challenges you guys have in terms of figuring out what content to create? Especially if you’re not really aligned with the customer, if you don’t actually agree with what somebody’s content suggestion is?

Cory:  One of the biggest challenges is the variety of content that can be created right now. If you think back in the day when blogging was popular, it was like, “We could do a blog post. We could maybe do a video series.” Even taking videos. An example, you’ve got Six-Second Vine. You’ve got 15-second Instagram. You’ve got short-form content. You’ve got long-form content. There’s Shoppable Video. There’s interactive video. There are all sorts of different types of content. Those run the full spectrum of budgets of course.

One of the challenges is, okay, we have a story to tell. We know the audience that we’re trying to reach but there’s a wealth of opportunity in which one of those is either going to be the most efficient use of dollars, because there’s always a trade-off. We can tell that story more with a less costly medium but maybe we’re not telling it as well. It’s just trying to figure out the right balance of budget to channel to type of content.

Erin:  Because there are so many different types of content and as things pop up – I think this is back to the challenge of appropriate measurement – when Twitter first came out, people were saying, “Oh, I got X number of Twitter followers.” Then we’re starting to see that there wasn’t really always real value in just having more followers. Or one of the things is getting a certain number of likes or views.

Being able to translate that action into something that a client can actually say, “This really changed revenue for us,” “This increased sales,” or “This had a certain impact,” continues to be a challenge because not only are those blanks not always point A to point B or really cut and dry, but as we move channels, it continued to emerge, we just ruffled off ten different things and some of those have only been around for a short time. It’s used to be just photos and now they’ve added video. How do you measure the value of someone watching the video?

When you guys are sending the reporting to people, or when you’re first setting up goals and discussing why one piece of content or one channel maybe more valuable than another, how do you explain the value of this to someone and say, “Here’s how we’re going to prove that it’s worth it”?

Cory:  A lot of times value is based on proving that the channel is a good match for the target audience. Really getting a clear understanding of what your target is, where they are, the types of content they’re consuming. You can make Instagram videos all day. If you’re trying to reach a much older demographic, it’s not really going to do us much good versus something like a Snapchat. Snapchat is great if you’re going for this much younger audience. But again, if you’re trying to reach an older audience, that’s not the place to go. Maybe it’s something LinkedIn or that sort of type of content. I think really understanding the audience.

There are some channels that I would say just haven’t really matured to the point where they can be reliably reported on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have value. I think Instagram again, using that as our example, Instagram doesn’t have clickable links. Some brands are doing a little bit of a hack or it’s saying, “Click the link in my profile.” It sort of works but that’s not the smoothest interaction.

That said, if you’re looking for branding, if you’re looking to tell your brand story and you can set up some of those other types of measurements, whether it’s survey data or just overall brand buzz, sentiment analysis, you can get to a place where you’re showing value even if you can’t directly demonstrate total number of clicks on a link or something like that.

Erin:  You and I come from very different marketing worlds right now. I’m more the technology B2B side of things. I’ve worked with a lot of people who represent those B2C customers similar to yours at The Richards Group but also you worked with folks who have a longer end game, and even with GinzaMetrics. We are an enterprise software platform, which means it’s unlikely that someone will look at an Instagram picture or read Twitter and then decide to purchase enterprise level software. There’s a slow build on our side of things where a lot of it really is about establishing our relationship, establishing rapport. For B2C folks, I feel like they’ve almost got a little bit of easier time like retweet about sale at the GAP, go buy a new shirt. Reading Twitter about content marketing software does not necessarily create purchase order for $12,000 a year.

We do have some of our own interesting challenges in terms of what happens if somebody has a larger purchase to make. Some of your clients there actually are at times heavier purchasers – not a $1 Diet Coke or something. When you have clients that have bigger purchase decisions to make, what do you think is affected in terms of content mediums right now? What are some of your favorites?

Cory:  I still think there’s a lot of value in video. Video can get tricky because if you’re using something like YouTube video, they’re showing no limit to the size or length of it, so there’s this tendency to just cram every single piece of information into this video, and really that’s probably not the best way to go about it.

Erin:  Do you think that that happens with people, clients specifically? Because they say, “I’m paying for this video. If I’m going to pay for this, I’m going to get my money’s worth. We’re going to shove everything we can for this video.”

Cory:  I think that’s probably a good reason for a lot of long videos, as well. If you’re going to charge X amount for a video, I’m going to give as much of that video as I possibly can. But I think video works you can tell a story in a more engaging way. Sadly, we are much more visual creatures now. You put a ten-page white paper in front of somebody and that’s probably going to get printed out and filed into the I’m-never-going-to-read-this folder on your desk versus if you have somebody who is trying to launch a five-minute video. You’re probably more likely to be able to actually have that happen.

Part of it is the tools catching up with the desire of marketers. We’re seeing Facebook doing some testing where you can actually stage out your messaging. So you can say, “The first five times someone sees a video ad or a banner ad for me, show this ad. Then the next five times, show this ad. The next five times, show this ad. You’re progressing them down the messaging funnel, so that you don’t have to cram every part of your sales process into the messaging. You can start off a very light interaction and then have someone seeing you more and more. You’re diving deeper into your benefits and the reasons that they might want to seriously consider you, which I think is a [16:01 inaudible] about to see more of that from other channels, as well.

Erin:  it is interesting to see Facebook pioneering something like that. It’s the same thing that e-mail marketing started to do about a decade ago, which is this idea of e-mail nurturing and smart automation which says, “If somebody has opened this e-mail but not clicked, this is the next step. If they opened and did click, this is the next thing that they’ll receive. If they didn’t open, here’s the process.” This leading here through the funnels and e-mail automation systems that were originally pioneered, being applied to other marketing channels is a really good win not just for marketers but for consumers because it means that if people that are on the receiving end of the marketing are hopefully getting an experience that’s more tailored to them.

I think one of the first instances of this was YouTube inserting ads and asking whether or not the ad is relevant to you. It didn’t mean that you said, “No, the ad is not relevant,” that they were going to stop showing you ads which I think people thought would happen. It just meant they were going to try something else.

That’s a really fun thing to see happening where it’s almost like your marketing could become a “Choose Your Own Adventure” of how we want to be marketed to. Because we all know that marketing is not going to stop. It’s not going to go away. We call it different things. We’ve got advertorials now, sponsored content, sponsored tweets and all kinds of different things. The marketing is changing form and hopefully trying to catch up to what a consumer really wants.

I think it’s sad that long-form content and the written word is not always readily consumed by people nowadays. I think that there’s something to be said for reading through a few pages of something, whether it’s an instruction manual or it’s a case study or getting started guide. That’s simply because sometimes conveying things through a video is not always the most effective method – depending on where you are, how many people you need to get the message across to, what type of information you have. So, I’m hoping that while the pendulum has swung over a bit far away from writing content that we may get back to it at some point.

Cory:  Part of why we’re seeing this rise – sponsored advertorial and all of that – is it’s hard to write well. For most people, taking dry marketing type things and turning them into something that you actually want to read over the course of a couple of pages, that’s a difficult concept even for seasoned writers to achieve with any amount of success. I think that’s why you’re seeing brands turning that responsibility over to people whose life is telling interesting stories in the form of journalists and online storytellers and saying, “This is the message I’m trying to get across. Here are a couple of the facts that I need to weave in there. Take it and run with it because I can’t make this interesting for the life of me.”

I think that might be one sign that there’s still value in it. It’s just a challenge of – you’re not the best writer, so how do you get that story told in a way that it’s interesting to your audience?

Erin:  One of the things that I find – I don’t know if it’s good or bad or just uninteresting situation – is this idea that people who started making YouTube videos and just video content in general are now making hundreds and thousands of dollars being hired by brands to produce these videos. It’s created a rise of almost a new part of the marketing team, which is hiring these people whose original art form was not considered to be a marketing channel, especially not in the B2B world. But these folks are now an integral part of a lot of brands’ major strategy. I know you’ve worked with people like that.

When you first started this approach by going out in [20:24 inaudible] folks, it seemed from our conversation that there wasn’t a ton of process already paving the way because it was new at the time. How does setting up something like that with a new channel with somebody that’s maybe not used to creating videos for brands and things like that? How does that go and how do you work with the client to assure them that if they handed over $100,000 to some street artist making a video that things are going to be okay?

Cory:  There are a couple of parts to that. What’s interesting is I think a lot of the reason we’re seeing this YouTube people be leveraged by more and more brands is unfortunately, there was an imbalance between the amount of money brands are willing to put towards video content and the amount of money that a lot of agencies and marketing companies wanted to actually create that.

A brand would say, “Hey, we want to do a video and we’ve got $15,000. What can you do for me?”

A lot of times, the agency’s response was, “Nothing. Good luck. Go shop at somewhere else.”

That’s how this YouTube came in and filled that need. If you’ve got $15,000, that’s a whole month of production for me. I’ll make whatever video you want. It started out with brands reaching out to some of these folks directly.

I think it has changed a lot in even just the past couple of years. We’ve seen the rise of multichannel networks, which is essentially taking YouTube kind of personalities and banding them together into almost an agency of sorts. They have representation. They have legal advice. They have all the things so that they can focus on making videos. They can keep the cost of those videos down and then let someone else handle all of the business-y parts of it.

As a brand, it’s a lot easier now because you can work with some of these multichannel networks to streamline that process. There are some added costs there. It’s not quite as cheap as it used to be when you just work directly with that street artist and say, “Here’s some money. Go do what you do.” But there are also some benefits there. There are some guarantees about timing and process and costs and just making sure that at the end of it, your video actually exists and it’s something that you can use. I think it’s changed a lot in the last couple of years.

Erin:  There were a lot of accidental millionaires in that explosion. I was watching a story about a girl who’s 14 and just used to do videos about her favorite make-up and things like that with affordable make-up and fashion. Then she ends up getting a sponsorship from a really huge retailer and now she’s 16 or 17 and a multi-millionaire. I don’t know how we can make a 16-year-old multi-millionaire.

But whenever these channels arise, there’s always this group of early adopters who typically makes a lot of money off of it. And then there’s that second wave of people who feed off of everybody who wants to get involved in it and doesn’t necessarily know how.

We saw a lot of that from Twitter and Facebook who started to have aspects to a marketer’s new brands. I won’t name names but specifically, I remember the real estate industry, there are people charging Facebook users $10,000 to set up a Facebook page. It’s pretty much all done-for-you. You just have to fill in some information.

The idea is there’s always this kind of people out there preying on people who want to use new channels. I think that’s one of the benefits of actually using the marketing agency. You have people on staff like yourself who have major researched this stuff and bring in the right folks. You get this buffer layer.

One of the downfalls of having this buffer layer means sometimes the clients don’t ever really get as educated as they should on the channels that they’re using and don’t really understand the ins and outs of how to use them. This is back to smart reporting, smart goal setting, and education. What are your thoughts on how much a client should be educated on the actual ins and outs of the channels that they’re marketing on?

Cory:  In my opinion, a client should be as educated as you can possibly get them, especially if you’re recommending something that’s new or it’s important to making clear, “Here’s the value of this channel. Here’s why we’re considering this channel and picked that out of a wealth of content. We looked at this giant menu of things that we could create. We picked this one and here’s why.”

Also, helping them to understand the nuances of that channel. YouTube is an interesting example. Like your story of the real estate, a lot of brands had trouble understanding YouTube because they said, “YouTube is free.” I can put a video up there and I can reach the YouTube audience. And you’re not necessarily buying the video. You’re buying the reach that that person has created. They’ve spent years understanding their audience and some of these guys are making two, three, four, five videos a week, which to me seems insane. But they’re creating content over and over and over. What they’re doing is they’re building up their reach. You’re sort of buying not just the video but the audience that person has created.

It’s helping brands to understand that and say, “The reason that this cost so much is because the value of YouTube subscription is so high.” When somebody subscribes to a page, they’re much more likely to see that video and actually pay attention to it than if you tired to just buy your way and run a YouTube pre-roll where you got people frantically clicking the “Skip this Ad” button to see how fast they can get to the video that they’re actually trying to watch. When they’re watching a video on a channel they’ve subscribed to, they’re not trying to escape, but they’re actually trying to settle back in and enjoy the video.

So I think education goes a long way towards explaining why the cost is something – it is what it is – and what the value is and the reason that you’re actually maybe leveraging a third party versus trying to do it yourself.

Erin:  You mentioned earlier – something I want to circle back to – you tell clients that you’ve got this menu of different things that you can do. You mentioned that matching the channel to the audience and the brand in there, making sure that this channel is a viable way of trying to connect with their audience. If you’re suggesting something new and the client isn’t 100% on board of that and it doesn’t go right – let’s say that you find out the channel isn’t a good fit but you’ve already spent thousands of dollars invested in this trial. How do conversations go? What’s the next step? I’m sure the conversation goes terribly. But what’s the next step to say, “We tried out this channel and it really doesn’t seem to be performing correctly. Now we want to try X,” or “We’re really sorry. Here’s your money back.”

Cory:  First off, it’s making sure the type of client that’s doing a newer and less proven channel is a client that’s willing to invest in trial and learning for a newer and less proven channel. There are clients that – whether the size of their budget or just the audience that they’re trying to reach, it’s better to stick with what’s safe and what’s proven already. That said, there are companies that are out there and part of what they’re trying to do is show that, “Hey, we understand what’s cool and what’s new,” and so there’s value in going after a new cool channel. Even if maybe the numbers aren’t there yet or you’re going to end up investing more than your return might be on a more proven channel.

Snapchat is a good example that we’re seeing. A lot of brands are experimenting with Snapchat. Snapchat doesn’t publish a ton of stats. There isn’t really an established “What should I expect when I invest in sort of Snapchat?” That said, there are a lot of brands who, by just being on Snapchat is part of the appeal and showing, “Hey, we’re not that stodgy old brand that you thought. We’re trying to do some cool new things.”

Sometimes just being there and experimenting with it is benefit enough or you can say, “This didn’t work but we tried it. Now let’s take some lessons from that. Apply to the next thing that we work on.”

Erin:  Do you think that marketers sometimes push their clients into new tools because they want to win an award for a crazy new campaign or they want to experiment? I’ve been on the receiving end of that at times and I’ve also worked with agencies where we really did want to try something new outright. The proven thing to do is to say just because you want to try it doesn’t mean that you need to experiment on your clients and use them like guinea pigs.

But at times, you really don’t know if something will work until you give it a roll. I think you’re absolutely right. Some clients are really open to experimenting with your marketing mix a little bit. Others, specifically those in highly regulated industries – the healthcare industry, the finance industry- are probably never going to play when it comes to Snapchat or mostly anything. That’s a different industry.

I want to wrap it up. As our closing statement, what I would love to hear from you is who do you think is doing a really good job right now in terms of digital content? This is an opportunity for you to show us the [30:20 inaudible] clients, but be honest.

Cory:  Man, you put me on the spot. It’s a campaign that’s playing out on digital though I don’t know that you would think of it necessarily as a digital campaign. But I think the “Share a Coke” campaign, that one is big budget. It’s Coke. It’s not something underground. I’m sure a lot of people have seen it. But I think it’s well built for today’s audience that loves talking. It’s the era of “me.” “I want to talk about me. I want to post selfies. I want to talk about how cool I am. Hey, look at this can. It’s got my name on it.” That is an offline campaign that’s built for digital sharing.

We saw this sort of viral video breakout this week with two people who are expecting a child and made that announcement through these Coke cans. It was really clever. As far as I’ve seen, that was not a paid promotion but hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people are going to see that. That’s an interesting example of something that really was designed for the creation of content by the consumers even if you didn’t have to force it. It had a very natural flow from cool idea to cool execution.

Erin:  It is an interesting campaign. It’s one of the few examples of where you could say that something like this actually does drive sales. Because when you find one of those Coke cans with your name on it, you want to buy it because it’s very rare. For the record, I have not found one with my name on it yet. So, Coca-Cola, please send me a pallet of Diet Erin Cokes. Actually, Coke Zero is really my thing. I’ll take some of those.

It seems like you need really smart ideas to probably be able to show revenue numbers or something like this. I like that it’s playing out in digital – as much as I hate selfies in general, specifically anything food related and Instagrammy. This is a really smart like Coca-Cola. Good call on that one. They’re not like you’re so [32:32 inaudible] from you to Coke.

Alright, that’s the end of the show. Cory, thank you for joining me. I’ll see you later. We will catch up soon.

Cory:  Thank you.

Erin:  Bye.

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