Ted Simon Says

Marketing blog offering insights on brands, strategy, social media, technology, innovation and new products.

Branded Content – It’s STILL Marketing

Rose Image, Shakespeare Quote - Branded Content Marketing-It's STILL Marketing 9-30-13.jpg

One of my favorite marketing minds, Tom Fishburne, has done it yet again. This week’s cartoon from Tom, Branded Content, nails a current marketing issue right between the eyes. Every Marketing professional should take 60-seconds to enjoy Tom’s Marketoon and the message of today’s post.

The Problem Is...

The overall point: most of today’s content marketing stinks. Why? Because many marketers forget that they are marketers, seemingly losing sight of the very discipline and skills central to our profession and for outstanding, breakthrough marketing that achieves intended results.

Tom puts it succinctly in his post: It’s up to marketers to make the content into something more meaningful” (for the consumer). He also cites a great article from Joe Pulizzi, head of the Content Marketing Institute, entitled, Why Most Branded Content is Just Awful. (don't you just love that post headline?)

“The majority of content produced by brands through blog posts, enewsletters, social media posts, print magazines and webinars is flat out awful. In many cases, the content is self-serving, not useful and, maybe the worst, pointless.”

Joe’s diagnosis as to what underlies this awfulness?  Branded content frequently lacks strategy, focus, and accountability, three factors that can hobble the impact of content marketing.

It's STILL Marketing

Ted Simon Says: This is not a new issue for marketing and marketers. It's as old as Marketing itself...maybe even older, if we think about how long people have been telling stories (and how bad some of them have been for centuries).

Bottom line, if a tactic is to be considered as part of the marketing discipline, then the discipline of marketing needs to be applied to that tactic. In this case, the tactic is content marketing. In this instance, missing  strategic fundamental: understanding your customer/audience needs, wants, desires and providing them with information that is relevant and compelling to their lives and needs.

Joe’s quote is very apt for poor branded content. I would also say that his comments are also spot on for ANY tactical form of marketing that fails to apply such fundamental principles. Just substitute the words “TV commercial,” “print ad,” or “display ad” for “branded content”…the shoe fits. This should surprise no one who is a Marketer. And, yet it apparently eludes a great number of us.

Shakespeare is famous for the passage: “…a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Branded content is a hot area and buzzword in today’s world. In our excitement, let’s not forget that by its nature it is still marketing and practice the principles we’ve learned makes for effective marketing. Otherwise, we’ll be able to coin a new phrase: “Marketing that forgets to apply fundamentals stink.”

Does anyone have ideas as to why the fundamentals are so often forgotten or ignored? If so, I'd love to hear your take on the matter.



Yahoo logo blueprint from AdAge.com.jpg

There’s been a bit of kerfuffle in the past week regarding Yahoo! and its “new” logo. A former colleague of mine, Larry Popelka, CEO of GameChanger, wrote a nice little piece regarding this “marketing move” on BusinessWeek.com: Risky Business – Yahoo!’s Logo Redesign. I agree with Larry's ultimate point, i.e., that there is little consumer reason for Yahoo! changing its brand presentation and that this logo exercise is a waste of time. But, I get there in a different way. Here’s what Ted Simon Says…

As a consumer brand and tech marketing executive, I fully appreciate and respect the importance of brand, both strategically and in terms of activation (under which redesigning a logo fits). And, as a strategic marketer, I'll also say that strategy should lead execution (again, a logo design fits in the latter).

The most successful evolution of a brand logo is typically associated with a meaningful strategic initiative or shift in the business. For example, Federal Express shifting to FedEx as part of an overall strategic and operational evolution of their business. That move also acknowledged what many (if not most) customers were calling the company already (shortening the name to "FedEx" to save syllables).

This is not to say that Yahoo! should not redesign their brand logo. I think the key point is that it's not clear how that logo redesign effort reflects any change or shift in the company's strategy. Is there a major move taking place in terms of products/services provided, markets served? Is there a major operational or organizational change taking place that needs to be stamped into the minds of the market? Is the brand hopelessly out of touch with the times and in desperate need of update to remain relevant in the current marketplace (see evolution of Quaker Oats over the years)?

Those are STRATEGIC questions or initiatives that should drive a change in a brand logo. I'm not aware that Yahoo! has any such FedEx-like moves in store, although I will allow that the entire effort to bring Yahoo! up off the mat is a major strategic undertaking. Frankly, that's about the only strategic argument that would hold water at this juncture, and I'm not sure that is even a good argument given the issues facing Yahoo! go well beyond a logo.

I say this because the executions do not reflect anything materially or strategically different.The logo designs being posted look little more than alternative typeface treatments of the long-standing logo. There is nothing compelling, newsworthy or breakthrough in the least. Maybe this is because, as reported in Ad Age, the CEO got involved over a 'whole weekend' and worked with a design team on coming up with different options…yes, a 'whole weekend!' But, that’s another kerfuffle for another time…

If Yahoo! were not using this as a PR and buzz-generating event, most of us would not even notice or care (and I'd venture a guess that most consumers won't or don't care, regardless). And, let's be honest...that's what this is really all about. It's about getting noticed. It's more about getting attention, giving media something to write about Yahoo! as part of a corporate marketing effort to raise the relevance and perception of the Yahoo! brand...and ultimately lift analyst/investor perceptions in an effort to boost share price.

Is there any real consumer benefit or need driving a brand logo change for Yahoo!? Nope. Is there a reason why Yahoo! is doing this? Yes (see above). Is it a good idea? IMO, it feels like a waste of time and energy that would be better directed at making and marketing better products. At the end of the day, that's what will matter most.

So, is it a Yahoo! or a Yahuh?...what do you think?


Splat! - Thoughts on Zynga's 20% layoff

I just finished reading Kara Swisher's article on AllThingsD regarding the huge layoff at the formerly hot game company, Zynga. As a guy with roots in the games industry (I was formerly a VP Marketing at Kabam and Broderbund Software), this really hit home for me. So much so that I had to take just a marketing minute to share what Ted Simon Says on this matter.

It's a sad day for the 500 plus people hitting the street. But, to those who have been in the industry, this is not a total surprise. Much is being said about management issues and such, and it's no secret that this company has been viewed as "questionable" in terms of management style and its approach to business. 

However, I don't much talk here about the failure to properly read the market and create a strategy/plan to adjust to the changing market conditions. Quote Kara: "the fall has been fast and hard for Zynga, as it struggles to cope with a massive consumer migration to mobile that happened faster than its management — or, to be fair, anyone in the Internet business — could cope with."

Mobile growth is part of the issue, but another part of the problem can be traced to the change wrought by Facebook when it introduced its 30% tax on games revenue. Zynga has not effectively extricated itself from its reliance on FB, a platform that went from an extremely profitable platform to barely profitable (or worse).

This sad news for hard-working employees demonstrates a couple thing (at least!):
1) Facebook killed a golden goose by instituting the steep tax on games revenue. It ruined the ecosystem and opened door to mobile as a more attractive path for game companies. This clearly hurt Zynga, who couldn't adapt quickly enough. It will also hurt Facebook in the long run (if it hasn't already).

 2) Some companies think further ahead than others. SuperCell is making a killing by focusing games exclusively for iOS devices and ignoring FB.  Kabam 's push to rapidly move as much of its business off FB as possible, while embracing mobile and other platforms looks pretty smart right about now. (Disclosure: I was at Kabam when this strategic decision was made). 

There's always more to a move like this than outsiders will ever know. That said, in this instance, the tea leaves clearly pointed to a potential train wreck. As others have commented in Kara's article and elsewhere, in instances like this it seems too frequent that those who make the strategic decisions often seem to walk away from the train wreck in one piece while those in no position to impact the outcome go splat.  

That may be a reality, but it's a very sad reality.

Making a Yahoo! Omelet

Cracked Egg Yahoo blog post 2-26-13.jpg

There has been a lot of digital ink spilled over Yahoo!’s announcement to eliminate work-at-home arrangements and have employees come into a Yahoo! office to work, like this article from the San Jose Mercury News, deep in Silicon Valley

Having read a number of opinions on both sides of this Yahoo!-Brouhaha drama (hard to avoid it out here in the land of the latest Gold Rush), I took just a marketing minute to reflect on this topic. Here’s what Ted Simon Says:

C’mon People...
Bottom line, I find it interesting that this is even a news item at all. A newly hired CEO charged with turning around an under-performing company has made a decision that she feels is in the best interest of the company and stakeholders. In this case, it's an organizational decision (I’m sure it’s one of many decisions). It will either improve company performance or it won't...and standing pat, minding the status quo would fall in the latter category. 

That's not to say culture and work force organization are not serious items to consider; such items can and do make a difference. But, as an outsider, I'm willing to give a smart person some credit and think that she/he has thought this through. If that's not the case, then it could be a huge mistake and blow up in her face. Even if it was given careful consideration, it could still blow up. However, that will happen in the real world, within the company and the marketplace, not in the pundit columns.

So, c’mon people…enough with the hand-wringing in blogs, columns and newswires…stop trying to fill your article quotas or build your personal SEO over this.

Ya Gotta Crack an Egg…
I really am agnostic about Yahoo! and its future. I am neither a fan nor a detractor of Ms. Meyer. I just think it is fair to point out she is simply doing what the Board who hired her brought her in to do - change the downward spiral Yahoo! was facing. Pros and cons regarding work-at-home vs. report to the office are tactical side shows leading up to the main event -- whether the company turns around or continues into a death spiral. THAT will be the newsworthy item to follow.

To coin an old phrase: to make an omelet you need to crack a few eggs. And, I might add, you need to then add other ingredients and cook it. This move by Yahoo! represents an egg being cracked. Time will tell how this omelet turns out.

Zynga Games Shut Down - Biz as Usual or Something Different?

The provocative headline in TechCrunch reads - Game Over: Zynga Shuts Down PetVille And 10 Other Titles To Cut Costs. 

This news piece announcing Zynga's shut down of 11 games ran yesterday and of course it will engender a fair share of teeth gnashing and Zynga bashing. 

IMO, this is an example of two seemingly contradictory positions living in harmony: business as usual and disruption of a marketplace. If you will give me just a marketing minute, I'll explain how, in this instance, these two positions are living together.

Business as Usual - Good Games Sell, Bad Games Don't
I'm neither a fan nor a hater of the company. But, I believe any teeth gnashing or bashing is off target. Why? Because all Zynga has done is what game companies have done for years. They shut down games that were not meeting sales goals.

This is part of running a business in interactive entertainment. Hundreds and hundreds of games release every year. Some games sell well and stick, most games don't make it. Or, as I like to say, "good games sell, bad games don't." The same goes for other forms of discretionary entertainment like movies, books, theater productions, music (well, in most cases). 

Obviously, the games Zynga shut down were not performing well enough for the company to merit continuing to support them. It would be irresponsible to shareholders to continue pouring money and resources down these holes.

The "traditional" mechanism for such moves is the market and consumer choice. In the retail world, consumers withhold their purchases from bad products; weak products just don't sell through and retailers ship back returns. 

What's different in this situation is the digital access and business model of Free to Play games. 

Digital Democratization - A Disruptive Force
F2P, cloud-based games distorts the marketplace reality we have come to expect (good stuff sells, bad stuff doesn't sell). These are 24/7 live games with no barrier to entry or requirement of pay to play. This means that anyone can play a game for free, as long as they have access to the web or mobile ecosystem. People can choose whether, when, on what item and how much to pay...or not at all. 

This democratization of distribution and access is part of the appeal and power in F2P, cloud based games. It's why I see this as the most disruptive force in entertainment. The downside is that it may mean easier development and release of games that are just not all that good. In the end, the adage holds, but with a slight twist: "good games perform at acceptable levels, bad games don't." It's essentially the same outcome...games come off the market.

The Same, But Different
However, the issue such outcomes create for F2P game companies is quite different  - instead of having to eat millions in returns of unsold product, they have to deal with existing customers who have shelled out money on their product. Rather than dealing with the inventory issue, they have to deal with a customer relationship issue.

It is unfortunate that some players out there have invested money in their games and now can no long play them. But, that has been their choice. I'm not aware of any contract that exists for a company to maintain a product or other entertainment form in perpetuity. Eventually all forms of software become old and no longer merit support. It's business economics and reality. But, a company still needs to manage its relationship with its customers. 

HOW a company chooses to handle this is critical. On the one hand, companies can communicate their intentions via advance warnings, providing customers with ways to "capture" their memories (or beloved virtual pets) and providing thank you rewards for their loyalty that helps them establish themselves in another game world. On the other hand, they can post a page one day that notifies customers that their game is no longer available. 

I'd venture to say that while customers won't be entirely happy in either situation, the former does a much better job of acknowledging customer value and loyalty than the latter. 

(NOTE: I don't know how Zynga handled these shut downs). 

All in all, this highlights the challenges companies face as try to adapt themselves to the digital democratization of distribution. Score a point for disruption.