Learn how to discipline your story to serve your digital transformation

Here are the steps to define, create and protect your story so that it measures up to the same quality as the products and services you sell.

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A digitally transformed organization is a content organization. You now manage a continuum of experiences across an expanding range of digital customer touchpoints. And all those experiences need content constantly. The good news (besides the data that comes from such a continuum) is that you have a lot of opportunities to bolster your story. However, with the increase in velocity of both content and consumption, it gets cacophonous out there. And the best shot to get your message heard and understood in all the racket is to keep your story focused, clear and consistent. To arrive at that kind of story, you need to define, create and protect your story.

1. Define what a story is

This is an easy stumble out of the gates, and it’s mainly a marketing and business problem. We are surrounded by stories today. Inundated by them. Movies, television, books. We know what a story is because we experience them multiple times every day.

But, when it comes to business and marketing stories, we tend to forget all the ideas we know about character and plot, conflict and resolution. Marketing stories are subjected to far less scrutiny inside the marketing department than the latest Netflix series is in the organization’s cafeteria. We also seem to weaken the idea of a story to elevator pitches and messaging houses.

That means you need a detailed definition of what a story is in your organization. Defining story has been a cultural exercise for millennia, and definitions range and disagreement abounds. But there is plenty of material out there from story experts that can be adapted and refined into that detailed definition.

2. Develop a process for arriving at a story

Defining a story doesn’t guarantee that you can create a good one. That takes a process (and practice). Great stories are crafted. They’re researched. They’re plotted in a way that each piece relies on the piece before it. They go through multiple drafts. They’re put out for feedback. They’re tested. Every novel in your Amazon cart represents a rigorous process that an author and publisher went through to arrive at that book. And that should be true of your marketing story.

For instance, without a process, your message to the market could have plot holes. It might be based on the wrong assumptions. In might be incoherent. Lack empathy. It could focus too much on your organization and not enough on your audience. The most likely pitfall for a story in an organization, however, is that it might be boring and have nothing new to share with the audience it is trying to engage. The way to catch and correct those story issues is to submit it to a formalized process, one that should start with research and end with validation, but whatever points are in between should be documented and rigorously followed.

3. Deliver that story in a protected format

The process for your story should yield a hard output – a document. One that should be protected under glass that you break only when it’s time to change the story. This document is an internal one that nobody outside the company will see. It’s the story bible in the writer’s room of your favorite long-running television show, crafted so that multiple people in the organization have the freedom to own the story without deviating from it. Made so that any new hires that come aboard can quickly get up to speed and tell the story themselves.

And, while nobody outside the organization will see that document, everybody will see a version of it. Every piece of collateral, from a tweet to a one-sheet should reflect this narrative.  In many ways, the story document acts as a brand guideline as it keeps everyone consistent, on point, and gives a unified, recognizable look to the organization. It’s also what the organization rallies around because it represents what it believes for the market and how we can help our customers.

4. Designate someone in charge of that story

The previous three points in this article are moot if nobody’s in charge of the story. And I mean an individual, not a department. Managing and protecting the story is a full-time job in a digitally transformed company. Not only does it entail writing actual collateral, but it also involves reviewing and editing everyone else’s collateral to ensure the story is being appropriately told in all formats across all channels. It also involves tracking the success of the story and adjusting it when needed.

The person who assumes that role needs to be passionate for the story and needs to believe it. They may or may not have been involved in its creation, but they do need to buy in. If the story is not safeguarded in this way, it will get ignored, misinterpreted or misused until it doesn’t exist anymore, at which point your organization is just introducing more noise into that cacophonous market. In the end, the story needs to be a priority for a digitally transformed company.

Sure, disciplined storytelling has always been important in commerce. Products and solutions are complex; markets are complex; organizations are complex. But digital transformation has raised that complexity to the point that your story needs to be as quality-controlled and customer-relevant as the products and services that you sell.

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Why brands need to take ASMR more seriously

A little bit of data on the latest trends can help brands create strategies to connect to consumers in new ways – but pay attention to the details.

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Slime. It’s the biggest crafting craze of 2018 and a rising video sensation. There were nearly 25 billion slime video views last year. Big box retailers are reporting glue shortages across the country.

Crafting brands are getting into the game, sponsoring content and making last minute products like sparkly glue to jump on the trend. That’s great. But, more brands need to look more deeply at trends like slime and its cousin ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Both offer an opportunity for brands to connect to consumers in entirely new ways, on video and in real life.

Are you taking ASMR seriously?

Visually stimulating slime videos are a part of a growing category of wildly popular videos that are being labeled ASMR. These videos offer little controversy and provide consumers with a calming time-out from real life. A small set of brands like IKEA and Dove created viral ASMR videos already. Michelob went so far as to create an ASMR Superbowl commercial.

These one-off commercials are not genuine attempts to be part of the trend but rather were created as tongue-in-cheek cultural references. Similar to slime, real ASMR videos are largely the domain of influencers, and they’re banking billions of video views with long engagement times from viewers that take the content seriously.

With such a trend that is mostly new content, with an unknown amount of staying power, most brands will see bigger rewards by advertising against the content rather than creating their own. Across billions of views, slime videos average 1.5x the engagement of YouTube’s average. To do that well, brands will need to reset their approach. Influencers are not impressed with advertisers to date. This ASMR influencer even created a video to try to teach brands to tone down the volume to better assimilate with ASMR content.

The glue that binds

The different slime video types appeal to different audience segments, which is good for a host of brand categories like beauty, retail and even fitness. The influencers creating content offer deeper audience insights that can help brands select the right type of content for their target audiences, and then create a retargeting strategy to further expand their scale. Broad targeting against the latest craze can be an ad spend black hole, but, for trends such as ASMR and slime videos, a little bit of data goes a long way towards creating a strategy that sticks.

Brands often see great success buying media against influencers in the beauty and fashion space with a growing category called “Get ready with me” videos. Brands are often able to specifically identify the demographics engaging with that influencer and get a read on the universe of other content by that creator who has similar watch times and engagement within those same demographics.

Staying on top of slime

Such new and varied trends like slime or ASMR need to be watched carefully. When content views skyrocket around particular events or themes, there can be serious brand safety risks if brands try to ride the wave without adequate monitoring. A recent focus on the role of comments on YouTube shows that even innocent content can contain elements that brands will need to review and refine regularly, especially when parts of the category appeal to kids.

Trending content like slime videos will attract new content creators nearly every day, who can take the genre in new directions. These new videos are nearly always brand safe, but may not be brand suitable, and so it’s still important to keep a watchful eye. For example, Some slime videos include makeup or branded toys like Play-Doh, which an advertiser might not want to advertise against for competitive reasons.

The magic of YouTube is that brands can connect with consumers on very new content topics and themes, well before most linear and traditional digital content creators catch on. Viewers and influencers both take the category seriously. It’s time for brands to do the same.

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What a year’s worth of publisher responses can teach you about digital PR

It’s important to understand the topics each publisher wants to cover – and then how to pitch that content – to earn the best response.

The post What a year’s worth of publisher responses can teach you about digital PR appeared first on Marketing Land.

Most marketers agree that if you can get your content in front of the eyes of journalists at mainstream online publishers, it has a good chance of being shared widely across the internet. Journalists hold the power of the press, but getting their attention is more competitive than ever, with a nearly 5:1 ratio of PR people to journalists.

Crafting a perfect subject line and getting the journalist to open your email pitch is the first step. It’d be great if we got a reply from every email we send, but that’s simply not the case. That’s why when a writer does respond, it’s important to pay attention to what they say. Our team at Fractl records every response we receive from journalists verbatim so we can identify trends and improve our outreach. We analyzed all the publisher feedback we received in 2018 and here’s what we learned.

Methodology: For this internal study, we analyzed all publisher feedback we recorded from 2018. Along with a language sentiment API, we aimed to determine whether or not the language journalists used in their feedback was more positive, neutral, or more negative. As you’ll learn, all of the assets show feedback on a positive scale – the closer the sentiment score is to approaching one, the more positive it is, the closer it is to approaching zero, the less positive it is.

Takeaway #1: The higher-tier the publisher, the more rigorous the  editorial standards

Our analysis found that the higher the Domain Authority of the publisher, the less positive the journalist’s feedback was likely to be. For PR pros that have even the least experience, this makes perfect sense.

What do the New York Times, CNN, TIME and The Washington Post have in common? They’re all top-tier publishers (with a Moz Domain Authority of 90 or above) that we have placed our clients’ content marketing campaigns with directly in 2018.

These top-tier publishers lead the way when it comes to media companies that have been awarded the most Pulitzer Prizes. Campaigns pitched to journalists at these extremely reputable and competitive publishers must be authoritative, methodologically sound and newsworthy even to be granted a reply by a journalist.

As a standard, we use Moz’s Domain Authority score as a way to categorize publishers as top-tier, mid-tier and low-tier. While the debate about DA is contentious among SEOs and digital marketers, we find it useful for our digital PR team because it gives a good overview of the trust and authority of publishers relative to each other.

According to our study, when journalists at these top-tier publishers do respond, they’re much more likely to ask about the methodology or the source of the content. Often, data from a campaign needs to be backed up by an expert in the field for it to meet their editorial guidelines, so they want to make sure any data-driven content is methodologically sound.

When we analyzed feedback from websites with a Domain Authority of less than 89, the top feedback we received from journalists were focused on complementing our work. We speculate that this occurs because lower-tier publishers have less stringent editorial guidelines and therefore are quicker to give praise on content they receive for their coverage.

Takeaway #2: Who you pitch matters as much as what you pitch

What is the difference between a staff writer, an editor and a contributor? If your first thought is “not much,” you may want to reconsider. Knowing the difference between these three common roles for publishers can both inform your list building process and give your digital PR team a stronger knowledge base when approaching publishers with content.

Staff writers are typically salaried employees that write around a specific beat. They can come up with their own content but have to pitch it to their editors first for approval.

Staff editors still write stories, but they publish their own work with much less frequency. Pitching a staff editor has the added benefit of reaching directly to the person that decides whether to assign a story or not.

Contributors are writers that work on a freelance model and have to pitch ideas or fully-written articles to editors for approval, typically every week. They are usually paid per word or per finished piece.

In our analysis, we found that contributors are likely to respond more positively than staff editors and staff writers. This may be true because they are not constricted to a specific beat and receive fewer pitches than members of the editorial staff do. While they respond with the most positive feedback on average than other roles, they ultimately have less deciding power when it comes to determining their publication’s editorial calendar.

When it comes to writers with a specific beat or vertical, we found that feedback from travel writers offered the most positive feedback on average, while finance writers were less favorable in their responses.

Takeaway #3: Feedback type and sentiment are related

Unsurprisingly, compliments on our work were the most positive Feedback Type, on average.

Other categories of feedback that ranked second and third most positive on the sentiment scale were “Timing/Editorial Calendar is Full” and “Wants Expert Opinion.”

For our team, this ranking makes perfect sense. Often, a journalist will provide very complimentary feedback on the campaign, only to decline because of issues with timing or their editorial calendar. We’ve heard it dozens of times: “I’d love to cover, but I’m booked for the week. I’ll keep it on file.”

In the case of wanting an expert interview, a response that requests for additional commentary basically guarantees a placement is in our future. If they’re asking for an expert quote, they’re probably already writing the article!

The least positive responses came when the journalist thought the content was not newsworthy, had questions about the source, or had just covered the same topic recently.

Katie Roof, a journalist writing for the Wall Street Journal, explains this perfectly with her tweet:

While it’s important to research your contact in advance to make sure they cover the content topic, targeting, in this case, may have been too good. To avoid getting blasted on the PR wall of shame for this offense, it’s important to offer a fresh perspective or an otherwise unexplored angle on their topic area when pitching to a journalist – otherwise, it can seem inauthentic and as if you’re just looking for a link or press mention for your client.

Tying it all together

After six years of pitching journalists from every corner of the internet, our team has developed a deep intuition for understanding the kinds of content that publishers want to cover and how to pitch those topics to earn the best response.

For example, if you find that journalists like one content type more than another, or that travel writers prefer informal pitches and finance writers prefer data-heavy pitches, adjust your strategy based on the data and you will see response rates, and placement rates, soar.

With competition for press more fierce than ever, informing your outreach strategy with your own internal data can give you an edge over other PR professionals.

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