Learfield InterActive: Crafting Content for the Long Tail
What do we do?
We help clients build relationships with their unique audience by giving the audience information it wants and values, in place of the traditional corporate blah, blah, blah. Our clients don't just advertise. They educate, entertain and inform.
Anyone who attended the 2005 Missouri Governor's Conference on Tourism knows Learfield has seen the potential in blogging big events. To see what it looks like, go check out the blog yourself. The value's pretty obvious once you look at all the material that's included in the blog, compared to the amount of information available on the static webpage.
The Marketing Diva agrees. She'll be talking to folks who put together big tradeshows about the reasons they need to be blogging their events. You can check out her thoughts on the subject here. For what it's worth, here are three reasons I believe every major event should be blogged:
1. It creates an archived record of the event for your organization to refer to later.
2. It more fully involves the participants -- speakers, exhibitioners (not exhibitionists), and attendees by asking their opinions and allowing them to feel like they're helping to contribute to the experience of the group.
3. It conveys a feeling of "being there" that you just can't get from other media. A brochure or a 1-page summary of the event will explain what happened, but if you want to help people experience the event, nothing beats referring them to an audio link of a speaker's presentation, or a short interview with the guy selling his wares in booth #174. That's a recruiting tool for future shows.
The big question everyone's asking is, "how do I make money by sending out information via an RSS feed?" Scott Gatz tackles the question with some good insight. Especially this:
The Golden Rule: Your feed IS ALREADY an ad
Just like an email subscription, or a direct-mail piece, your RSS feed allows your brand name, your content, your services to be delivered right into people’s “homes”- their home pages, their email box, or their RSS reader. If you are blogger, your feed is an ad for you, your thoughts & skills - if you are a bigger company - it makes sure that people see whatever it is that you are good at, on a regular basis.
Don't miss the subtle distinction. Gatz is not saying, "Your RSS feed should be an ad." He's saying it's already an ad. What's the difference? An RSS feed that's built as traditional advertising, full of marketing-speak, will not earn a customer's attention. The feed has to be full of information that's interesting to your audience first. Concentrate on the content of the feed. The advertising aspect will follow without your having to worry about it.
RSS in mail makes perfect sense for a few reasons: 1) people already
spend a lot of time in their Mail experience, why shouldn’t personally
relevant content be there too 2) While you read RSS you are probably
gonna want to forward good stuff you find 3) Hundreds of millions of
users use Yahoo Mail, so if we want to reach the masses, we need to go
where they are.
It makes perfect sense. The big guys like Yahoo! are racing to be the primary source for large-scale RSS feeds from all sorts of different sources. They're going to find a way to make this work, and they're going to do it in a way that's invisible (and simple) to the casual user.
The ad:tech blog reports on its just-finished conference. You can read about it in detail at the blog, but one thing stands out, after a cursory glance. It's here, noted by Maria Mandel of Ogilvy Interactive, who noted three themes:
1. We're moving to all on demand. Consumers want it when they want it.
2. Entertainment. We need more creative advertising to connect to consumers.
3. Community: help consumers build community and then connect your brands to them.
Number three especially gets my attention. Marketing is, more than ever, a participation in a community. I wrote a proposal today for a marketing project for a tourism market that has a lot of promise, but has often been overlooked because of its proximity to a bigger destination. The director of the the convention and visitors bureau has some great ideas for reaching out to a specific target audience. The area has a ton of hiking and biking opportunities, so I proposed putting together a blogging/podcasting package that would cater to that market. Forget about talking up the destination for its own sake. Reach out to people who can benefit from what you offer (hikers and bikers) and give them content that they can use. Establish your authority by putting someone enthusiastic and knowledgeable in charge of the whole shebang, and marvel as people develop trust in you -- then marvel further as they choose you as a location for day-trips and longer vacations.
Help consumers build a community. Then, connect your brand to it.
This gorgeous photo was taken somewhere along Rt. 66 -- I'm pretty sure it's in Missouri. It was also taken by photographer Mike Williams (a.k.a. Dr. Mike @ flickr). So why's it here? Well, first, I just think it's gorgeous. Second, think about how this kind of photo could be used to promote tourism. (See my earlier post on the subject.)
What if a tourism agency took 10 photos like this from their "area" and compiled them on a blog -- then challenged people to find the locations. Call it a scavenger hunt, and give away prizes. (My friend Steve suggests a vintage Mustang or TBird for the winner of a Rt. 66 scavenger hunt.) The free media attention alone would pay for the car. Imagine the interest from travelers. And it could all be done with user-created content.
Of all the areas where social communications and marketing makes the most sense, I think tourism is at the top of the list. Flickr and the blogosphere are full of people talking about their vacations, sharing stories, and posting photos of the great time they had. Tourism marketers are absolutely missing the boat if they don't seize this opportunity to pull together this great content and use it to tell stories about their destination! Check out the photo above from "Dr. Mike" at flickr -- and most importantly, click on the photo to read the story that accompanies it. The photo and story put you right on the Current River in southern Missouri. This single item, found online and produced by a satisfied "customer," does more to sell a destination than 1,000 slick brochures.
You know how everyone is suggesting that CEOs should all be blogging? Well, that's great, assuming the CEO can write, and sort of knows what he's doing. But we all know, deep in our hearts, that if most CEOs try to blog, it's going to end up looking like this: "What the Hell is a Blog?"
That being said, that post might be my favorite one, ever!
The Social Customer Manifesto blog has a great discussion of how businesses must work to get customers' attention. Christopher Carfi breaks down the millions of words written on this subject to a simple equation:
People's attention spans haven't really decreased. Rather, they have more things competing for a share of their limited time. So when we want a customer's attention, we're really just asking for some of their time. Carfi has suggestions on how to convince consumers to invest that time with us:
Provide real value (in the form of information or insight)
Provide content that is creative and/or entertaining
Provide a venue and the opportunity for prospective customers to connect with others who have similar views or needs
We've recently had some discussions about a better name for this division than "Learfield Creative." The word "active" seems to be a front-runner (but if you wait 10 minutes, that's likely to change). I personally like the name Learfield Active Communication, because it speaks to the form of communication we're providing. This is not a one-way street. It is an effort to actively seek out what the audience wants, and give it to them. Engaging the audience is the only way to win a time investment. And a time investment is the only thing that ultimately will lead to a monetary investment.
Web 2.0 is a catch-all term that often refers to newer Internet tools like blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, and other ways of fostering interaction between users, or aggregating user-created content. There's some really cool stuff going on in that area, but there are hurdles to get over, too. Francois at Emergence Marketing doesn't understand why folks who are excited about these new tools are so quick to retire the old tools (like email, for example). He closes with this point:
In general, and for the web 2.0 tools to find broader acceptance, they will have to have much better UI's, more depth, and be much more robust...
I agree. It still takes too many "steps" for the average person to subscribe to an RSS feed the first time. (Once that initial hurdle is cleared, RSS is so easy and valuable that I think most folks embrace it.) On the other hand, as I said here, the Big Daddies (Google and Yahoo!) are staking a lot on their ability to get a large number of people to accept and use RSS. And they're in competition to grab that market share -- sooner, rather than later. Considering the rate of innovation in these areas, and the incentive for big companies like Google and Yahoo! to make it work, I'd be very surprised if most people online weren't using Web 2.0 tools by this time next year -- probably without even realizing it, because the tools will be invisible on the user end.
Traveling Hope is a project for people who've suffered from cancer. It's a really nice project, but I'm linking to it here because it's based on a fundamental assumption related to a lot of the work we're doing: the new Internet environment is primarily a means of two-way communication between people.
The idea is to send several journal notebooks out to people and have them each enter a journal entry in written words or pictures (or both). Then each journal is sent off to another person and it continues until each journal is full, at which time the journals are returned. The Traveling Hope Project is open to those who have been touched by cancer: survivors, caretakers, family members, medical professionals, etc. The intention is to create a traveling exhibit to bring awareness to cancer.
I'm convinced this project would never have happened if not for the blogosphere. It came about simply because hundreds of people have written about their experiences with cancer, and thousands of others have sought out that writing for support and comfort. This is what blogs do. They pull together like-minded people and allow them to communicate and build relationships. It's not just cancer survivors, but recovering drug addicts, or people who love IKEA, or fans of a beloved but obscure actor.
So blogs have started to draw people together. Now, the Traveling Hope project is an attempt to build on that. People who've come together on the Web wil make a more physical connection in the "real world."