Prolific Japanese inventor Kazuhiko Nishi believes that there are two types of creativity: the creativity of making zero into one, and the creativity of making one into 1,000. Having helped build and grow a digital media company known for innovative “conversational marketing” programs, I happen to think that the latter is much more difficult.
One of the biggest challenges and opportunities our growing company faced was evolving unique conversational marketing programs into products and services that we could offer to our clients at scale.
Marketing on the Independent Web requires a much different approach – one that’s much more “conversational” than other mediums. In theory, when done right, there’s a harmony of voices between audience, publisher, and marketer. In practice, since publishers are in tune with the tone and tenor of conversations happening on their sites, it makes sense that they’re involved with tailoring a campaign’s message. A more “native” message will play better (and perform better). Side note: transparency with the audience is essential here.
Media companies add value by acting as arbiter of the process and distributor of the message. But here’s the rub: successfully implementing a campaign that’s both “conversational” and “on-brand” requires a new skill set that includes being conversational, creative, and entrepreneurial.
To put a finer point on this, media companies now work with publishers to surface the tone and tenor of conversations occurring on their sites; partner with agencies to customize their campaign assets; and develop processes, products and smart teams with the skills necessary to implement these campaigns at scale.
Sound difficult? It is. But it’s attainable – and incredibly rewarding. Keeping that in mind, here are a few things that I’ve learned along the way:
1. Process is an evolution. Process is most successful when it’s flexible, formed organically, and evolved over time. Forming an initial process involves documenting everything built to date, culminating learnings, analyzing and synthesizing them, and then creating an extensible “user-flow” for teams to follow. I imagine following this process as a road trip – the freeways are fast and efficient, you’re on paved road 98 percent of the time, but teams need to be empowered to take detours (sometimes off-road) and reroute as appropriate.
2. Build SEAL teams. Assemble small, talented teams of integrated, cross-functional generalists (sales development, project management, etc.) and specialists (client services, ad trafficking, etc.); and train them extensively. It seems obvious, but investing in your people and systems with training, tools, technologies, and access to centers of excellence is paramount.
3. Create variable ad products. Develop a product stack that can address 80 percent of your clients’ needs with light customization (such as visual design, content, functionality, and targeting). Give teams the ability to vary these products like building-blocks – stack ’em together, build and iterate, and create variations on themes for the remaining 20 percent of clients that require deeper customization.
4. Develop a fluid portfolio of partners. Create a portfolio of trusted partners with different domain expertise. Partners can help you add rich functionality to programs where you might not already possess the skills to meet campaign objectives. In other words, outsource non-strategic campaign elements where your company is not yet committed to in-house solutions. Examples may include: design, user-experience, talent, content/editorial, videographers, developers, events, and contests.
5. Feedback and prune. Post-campaign analysis, team reviews, and regular “up and out” communication with management and stakeholders are essential to operating in a dynamic medium. Build these steps into your processes with the goal of surfacing and sharing results and learnings, and informing future iterations of products and services.
High-touch campaigns can be not only incredibly challenging but also highly rewarding and effective. Good campaigns that push the industry forward could be commonplace. With many of these lessons learned (often the hard way), my hope is that by sharing some of the best practices we’ve developed, others will find success.
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