Visual Content Widens the Branding and PR Gap

The line between advertising, branding, marketing and PR may appear blurry to some, but I believe clarity has arrived.

Interestingly enough, it is the disruptive visual platforms Instagram and Pinterest that are bringing clarity to the overall communications industry.

In a traditional sense, Public Relations practitioners have been wordsmiths; conveying written and (limited) visual messages to the public. PR pros have mainly used words and text to increase awareness and educate people about products, services, controversies, and causes.

But, 2014 has been a tsunami of visuals and images in communication. This has widened the skills gap between branding and PR. For example, research proves that press releases and blog posts containing visuals have significantly higher open and read rates than content with straight text.

Many PR executives and organizations are inserting video snippets or infographics into their press releases. Their goal is to improve engagement and news pitches to reporters. Visual tours are becoming more commonplace with PR, too. Show, don’t tell.

This is a far cry from branding and the visual web that’s unfolding in our industry today.

Who ‘owns’ a company’s brand positioning?

Not the PR department, the mavens of linguistics.

According to a post on TheNextWeb, photo and video posts on Pinterest refer more traffic than Twitter, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn and Google+ combined.

Storytelling with visuals is driving branding as well. Forty-two percent of all Tumblr posts are photos.

The first commercial camera was introduced in 1873. Today, there are more than 1 billion photos on Instagram.

Welcome to the visual web.

Branding, marketing, advertising, and sales are based on the psychology of influencing human behavior and emotional touch points that convert into revenue.

I don’t believe that students of PR are the most trained, skilled, or experienced  in these areas. This is a far cry from matters such as Crisis Communications, an area of expertise that rightfully belongs within the scope of PR. Public Relations is aligned more closely with media relations than it is with branding. PR has largely owned social media because it’s closely aligned with reputation management.  But the visual web changes all that. Storytelling has long been the role of the Advertising or Brand Agency.

A post on Content Marketing Institute addresses the transformation of brand experience:

Just as Copernicus revolutionized our understanding of cosmology by proving that the sun is the center of our solar system (not the Earth), marketing has gone through a transformation of focus. Historically, we placed our brand at the center of our marketing decisions, which resulted in a lot of wasted effort. Cristina Heise gyro’s Director of Brand Experience points out that we’ve now put the customer in her rightful place — at the center of the marketing universe. “Think about the human at the center and how to make it easier on them. Think about what’s concerning her, what’s troubling her, what excites her, what motivates her, what she wants to accomplish and how you and your brand can help,” she recommends.

The hub of today’s hybrid messaging and modern marketing is the visual web. Analyst Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester says a marketing strategy based around value-driven interactions is vital in meeting customer expectations.

Linguistics and text are a shrinking part of the overall picture.

As the demand for consumer engagement skyrockets, it’s the visuals that show–and tell–our brand stories.

 

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Staving Off the Drama of Net Neutrality

Network neutrality may bring the fast lane to some but it can also lead to a slow and painful existence to advertisers who provide content.

The Federal Communications Commission has approved a first-step towards net neutrality, which would offer a two-tiered ‘fast lane, slow lane’ approach to streaming video online.

Currently, the giant providers such as Netflix, Google, and Comcast are on a level playing field with the rest of us. The Internet is free and available to virtually anyone to stream large amounts of video, ads, and content.

The FCC wants the behemoths to pay for access to the ‘fast lane’ technology which allows content to be available at warp speed without interruption and snags.

If the slow lane is reserved for the rest of us, advertisers, and brands could experience significant changes in how we reach consumers on the web.

Online advertisers and small agencies could be hurt by barely moving in second gear while the big boys are running circles around us on the NASCAR track.

A recent post on DexMedia.com explains it this way:

“This might mean, for instance, that it might take a lot longer to load a video ad than the page content around it, depending on who is paying for the better service. In addition, a tiered system could effectively redistribute audiences, making it more difficult to target them whether via online or digital TV platforms.”

For now, we still have a level playing field and net neutrality remains in place, as it should.

If the FCC is looking to discriminate, I would respectfully suggest Commissioners re-read the U.S Constitution. If the FCC wants to create needless drama, Commissioners should tune into an afternoon soap opera or reality show.

A final thought: I don’t want to be in the slowpoke lane. Do you?

 

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Chasing Facebook: Google+ is Pacing Itself to Top Facebook in Social Media Growth

googleplus logoYou may have noticed that it’s difficult to get a good read on Google+. You either love it or hate it. There’s no middle ground. Is it fair to call Google+ a ghost town when there are 343 million users, making the network the second largest behind Facebook?

Launched to the public in September, 2011, Google+ has been touted as a fertile ground for in-depth conversations. It’s been lauded for its video chat service, Hangouts and photo services.

Patrick King, CEO of Imagine, a Virginia-based website design firm, writes that tech leaders and social media novices have criticized Google+ from its launch. But King is impressed with the network’s broadcast visibility and audience engagement:

“By now, a lot of people have taken a ride on Google’s Hangout tool, which is by far the best videoconferencing tool of any social site. And now that they’ve released Live Hangouts, you practically have your own live talk show, recorded, and open for anyone to watch. With audience engagement, multi-person conversations are much easier, communities are more accessible, integrated and easier to promote than LinkedIn groups, and Google+ allows the second largest image size of any of the social sites, the first being Pinterest.”

An infographic on Social Media Today highlights several interesting stats. One important fact about Google+ is that there is a significantly larger amount of people registered for the site (1.15 billion) compared with the number of actual users (359 million). These figures are based on the last quarter of 2013. During the same period in 2012, Google+ had 435 million registered users and a mere 223 million active users. (U.S. numbers only).

David and Goliath

So what’s the deal with Facebook? Can Google+ catch and surpass this social behemoth?

Marcus Tober, the founder of Searchmetrics, a global provider of digital marketing software and services, has researched the possibility. Based on Tober’s calculations, Google+ can—and will—top Facebook by 2016.

“The Google network is growing at the stage of small to small which therefore is fast. Facebook is growing from its extremely large base to something larger, and is therefore slower, explains Tober. “The remarkable thing is that Facebook is still growing. And that’s why the blue giant appears to be unquestionably ahead of the market.”

Searchmetrics chart google_facebook_prediction_usCritics say there are a few reasons why Google+ hasn’t caught on like other channels, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. First, Google+ is not a social networking destination as it is everywhere. This confuses people. Second, potential users are concerned about privacy issues and Gmail accounts, and finally, Circles requires too much effort and high maintenance.

Will these reasons hamper the exponential growth that Tober predicts?

 

Brands Shift into Online Video at Record Speed

In our media planning and buying practice, the biggest shift we have seen by advertisers in the past year is to online video. Our brand clients have embraced online video and we have seen tremendous success with driving traffic and growing engagement through digital video media buys. Big and small TV advertisers have been shifting a portion of media budgets to online video.

Brands who cannot afford TV are now producing video and buying across the web in a very targeted manner. The results we see are unlike anything we’ve seen previously online in terms of engagement and click rates.

Digital research firm eMarketer says video is the fastest growing form of digital advertising, with spending increasing 46% last year and outpacing search ads and display ads.  eMarketer estimates digital video will be a $4.14 Billion industry this year, doubling the 2011 numbers.

March 2013 comScore online video numbers are impressive, as well:

Consumers watched 39 billion online videos in March 2013, according to a new report by comScore.

  • Ads accounted for over 25 percent of all videos viewed.
  • 84.5% of the U.S. population viewed Video in March.
  • 52% of the U.S. population saw a video ad in March.
  • The average number of video ads per consumer was 82x

Nothing seems to be able to stop the rise of TV as the dominant form of media by advertisers (it is estimated to be a $66.35 Billion industry this year) but online video is growing and gaining a lot of interest and ad dollars from national advertisers. As media buyers prepare to enter the annual television upfront marketplace, digital video has found a respected place among advertisers.