Web Strategy Firms are the New World Order

Times are changing faster and faster everyday. As technology evolves faster  than we can breathe…and as it evolves, we need people to help us with it, understand it, and sell us a strategy to implement.

Web strategy of 2010 has evolved into business communication strategy. Creating and monitoring revenue streams as we create and monitor conversations…well actually the technology that distributes these conversations and messages.

I think back to when I was in undergrad at Clemson. My freshman year (1992), no email and the only knowledge of the World Wide Web was this thing called Gopher. I remember I could use it to find my girlfriend’s class buildings at Appalachian State University. By my sophomore year, I had email and the WWW became a new idea on Clemson’s campus. By my junior year, Clemson was teaching web design and development classes. While I was in college, major AD & PR agencies were building strategic communication strategies and the computer geeks were creating webpages.

Now…here we sit in 2010, the new age AD Firm is the web/new media agency: building business models around web strategy as a communication plan that drives revenue. It started out as going paperless to save money, but now communication strategies are sold to drive revenue not only for the organizations that buy the plan but for the firms that are selling the strategy.

Why the discussion…I have been studying and trying to understand the evolution of the new media business models. Watching and researching the retainer models for web and new media firms that are not only creating an updated web presence but also building relationships with C-Level executives for long term ROI.

I have been talking and visiting with companies everyday who are caught in similar positions. They are staffed with creative professionals that handle all the graphic design and communication planning for their communication strategies. These companies are staffed with “traditional” media execution but scrambling to create and implement web and new media strategies. Many companies staffed with seasoned professionals trying desperately to get up-to-date with these web, social, and new media concepts. These same companies are staffed with interns that are training professionals how to evolve and adapt practitioner concepts into new technology.

Web strategy companies come in with big retainers and big ideas…visions of solving problems capitalizing on the current deficits in knowledge in many mid to large size organizations…”how can we make our web presence better and drive traffic to our message.” The new age AD Firm is today’s Web Firm….staffed with Presidents/CEOs, project managers, business development professionals, designers, developers and a board of directors. These board of directors made up of investors and visionaries capitalizing on the new wave of messaging.

It is a new world order…we are buying iPad’s and Androids as fast as we consume information. We sit and watch HDTV on our couches while we sit and surf the Internet with our Mac Book Pros and posh laptops. We are texting as we drive down the road while answering phone calls and listening to Pandora. Information velocity has a new derivative…information velocity. It is a new world order. And what is the next evolution? Hmm…Mobile Media Firms will take over and create the new strategies as business communication strategies with brick and mortar offices in every city.

How will we as practitioners stay relevant though this accelerated evolution of business and technology strategies. Hmm…maybe just keep on telling stories. BTW…I realize I might be one of these groups I am talking about…taking part in the new world order.

Pubs are great places to find stories!

I was in Columbia, SC last week doing some work…and going to a conference. I was staying downtown at the Hampton Inn, and as I was finishing up an email when my stomach started the “I want food!” growl. So I thought, I will just take off out the front door and see where I will end up. A half of a block later, I found the Liberty Tap Room…neet bar and restaurant atmosphere. I entered through the side door, and as I made my way through the tables with families, friends, and various people laughing an chatting…I spotted the bar off in the distance. My destination, a quality brew, a small appetizer, and maybe listen for a few stories.

As I climbed up on the bard stool…I noticed the remnants of renovation, innovation.  This old building was transformed into a gathering place, once of industry…now a place to bring industry together for after hour food and spirits. After my first Mighty Arrow, I ordered a plate of chicken nachos to fix the fussing of my inner growl.

After the first brew…it was time for a change, so I asked the waiter for the beer surprise. Give me a pale and do not tell me what it is…but it’s your choice. I have no idea what she brought me…but it was damn tasty. Right as she laid it down in front me, a lady made her way beside me…placing an indecisive order for a drink and a beer. She wanted a cocktail and her friend (her husband) wanted a manly beer. They were looking at this fresco sculpture behind me, commenting on the detail and craftsmanship.

After a few minutes of listening, I piped up and said hello. I noticed they were somewhat quite yet looking around almost like they felt out of place. What did I learn, after three kids and running a small tile laying business, this is the first time they had been out alone to have dinner in probably five years. This was their five year anniversary. They were lost without their kids, their business, and the other things in their life. So I bought them a round of drinks and we talked…well they talked and I listened. These two were totally in love, with each other, their life, their kids, and most importantly, their Clemson Tigers.

I thought I hit the jackpot in Columbia, SC…we were surrounded by Gamecocks. My bar companions that night re-affirmed with everything that was right with the world. Being a small business owner, the desire to have children, having a lovely wife, and our Clemson Tigers.

You never know who you will meet? You never know what connections you will forge. Sometimes it is fun just to go grab a beer in a place where you have never been before, and let the listening ear guide you. It was nice to meet this couple. They had a story to tell…it was fine by me if I meet them again.

Everyone has a story to tell…are we listening?

How political candidates use video to tell their story!

New media is a great new tool that has helped political candidates reach out beyond the traditional outlets, and tell their story. We witnessed history as the first African American ran for the highest political office in America, and he used the power of new media to reach his target audiences…his masses.

He engaged with YouTube, email blasts, Twitter, and other means to distribute his message. He coordinated this video message with television advertising. Then he used all of this connection points to bring the masses to watch a one hour television special from the eyes of his audience, telling their story. He was the host.

The one thing I have noticed when he used online video messaging, it always came from him looking directly at his audience. It was not these taped interviews where he was looking off camera, submitting to q&a from media outlets and pre-produced interview sessions. He had a script, it was well crafted, short and obtainable in one sitting, it was phrased in active voice, and he looked at his audience directly eye to eye, face to face.

He distributed these video messages with that same strategy that they were crafted. He used email blasts with embedded images that gave the illusion that someone was going to click the video and it opened up a landing page where the video would rest. Lots of times it was a place to sign-up to donate, sign-up for a newsletter, or commit to attending a rally or function.  He made this process easy…his team programmed and planned for the user interface to be easy and mindless.

He drove traffic to his YouTube site which housed all of his messages, this done by embedding the YouTube video within the landing page. This helped with SEO and creating digital connection points so that the keywords (the issues) where found easily when people used Google to find information. He created the illusion of the digital conversation.

We as business owners can learn a lot from this campaign, this practice, this initiative. People want to here from us, our story! They want to see us say it. They want to know what we look like, our expressions, our emotions, our passionate delivery. If you have listened to the critical analysis’s of his presidency, they spend a lot of time talking about his expressions. This conversation comes from digital penetration…he has made all of his emotions available but showcasing them on a regular basis for the world to see. Wouldn’t we be so lucky to have the same effect? These tools are out there for us to use! What is your story?

Building a campaign using the “Red-String” of Storytelling

So what is the Red-String when it comes to telling a story? Hmm…well it is the underlying theme that connects all the layers within a story. Bob Dotson of NBC’s American Story talks about telling a good story. A good story is one that is memorable…one with layers. Layers of individual stories bound together by an underlying theme or story-line, hence the “Red-String.”

Think about the best book you have ever read, or one of your favorite movies. It is a bigger story built around little micro-stories connected together by a “Red-String.” Each little scene or story is placed ever so appropriately at the right place, at the right time, in the right sequence to build and “argument” or thought.

Let’s take a look at the “Red-String,” as it is shown here graphically. This is the only way I know how to explain this concept.

As you notice the relationship is somewhat of a linear relationship between the audience’s engagement and time. Over a period of time, the story-line is moving along as the audience engagement increases during each micro-story or plot. As the story-line moves along, the audiences engages with some intensity during the rising and falling actions of each plot. As the story progresses through each plot, from one to the next, it is held together and connected by the “Red-String.”

At a specific point, at the right time…the author brings all the plots together with a reveal or rising action. This is where the “Red-String” ties the knot bringing all the story-lines together reveal the bigger picture, the main plot-line.

So this translates directly to any marketing campaign. It is my opinion that any effective marketing campaign capitalizes on building relationships with target audiences, delivering small messages over time. These messages build to a bigger “reveal” or “call-to-action.” These messages are little stories, micro-stories connected by the underlying theme of the campaign, or the “Red-String.” The point where the main “call-to-action” is placed is at the right time when the “Red-String” ties the knot.

Social Media Technologies are just another technology that is added to the bag of tricks; but what they really are….they are just distribution points. Some professionals refer to them as connection points, a point that allow users to interact with distinct audiences. Social Media outlets are just a bit different because they carry one inherent value that closely relates to word of mouth marketing, they use relationships as driving force. To build engagement, your must build trust…to decide to become a “friend,” “fan,” or “follower.”

The “Audience Engagement” axis is extremely important part of this discussion. Lots of professionals create Social Media “accounts” and immediately start marketing the goods/services. Unless you are “Hot” brand…you need to spend time building audience engagement before implementing an effective “call-to-action” campaign.

This is where the idea of “listening” is so critical. As in any relationship, trust has to be gained and the relationships have to be forged. As the trust builds, and the conversation increases, the audiences grow. And slowly over time, the stories can be distributed to create an awareness for the campaign. This is where the true effectiveness of the “Red-String” ties the knots of the stories, the campaigns, the message.

So in the world of storytelling, are you telling those stories that are connected by the “Red-String?” Is your campaign relevant or just a bunch of little messages with no direction, purpose, of relevant placement. What is the “Red-String” in your campaign?

Listening…the lost art?

When is the last time you went to dinner or went to grab a drink by yourself to listen? You know, take the time to walk down to the ole watering hole and enjoyed a good drink to listen? Sat down with the sole purpose of listening to the stories around you? There are so many stories to be shared at the local watering hole. People enjoying conversation, ole times, catching up, beating their chest, war stories…ones that connect and make us feel real.

Listening…the lost art.
Sometimes while on trips, I like to find a bar, pick a stool in the middle, order a brew, and listen. Instead of facing straight ahead or looking right at the television, turn sideways and engage in a new conversation. How do we listen? We read body language and listen to the stories that we can relate.

Asking questions…inquiry.
The easiest way to listen is to find someone you can relate and ask questions. Empowering your audience to share. Putting the people you can relate in a position to share and empower you. Asking questions provides connection and willingness to engage.

Stories from questions…empower our audiences.
Questions come from listening and listening comes form questions. We all like to learn and we as humans are social creatures. We connect with those willing to share the stories and that inspire emotion. Quality questions come from those who listen to their audiences. When we want to hear rich stories, we ask, we inquire, we explore, and we search for the red-string that connects our stories to theirs. This empowers our relationships.

When is the last time you have gone into a public place, a bar, a meeting, a networking event…and spent more time asking questions than answering? When is the last time you have inquired about others experiences than filling the void of the conversation with your own? It is amazing who we can meet, what we can learn, people we can empower, and relationships we can build.

Storytelling is not a lost art!

Storytelling is the art of listening…to tell others stories. Our stories get old after a while especially when we have told them so many times they get to old to find the new iteration to make people engage. Telling others’ stories is lot more fun when we listen and tell others stories. Are you a storyteller or are you one that just tells your own story? Our own stories gets old after a while…take a few minutes to listen.

The desert really does flood!

When I worked for KPHO-TV in Phoenix, Arizona…I never knew what story I might be covering on a day-to-day basis. It could be anywhere in Arizona, Mexico, California, or even across the US. We were the flagship station for Meredith Corporation and you never know where the story would take us.

I remember it vividly. I worked Sunday to Thursday…so the page would come at 10am Sunday morning preparing me for my 2:30 – 11pm shift. At that time, we communicated using alpha numeric two-way pagers and mobile phones. As I would wake up to the bright Arizona sun, the pager would hum across the bedside table bearing my assignment for the day or even for the week.

It was required for me to keep a week’s worth of clothes in my full size blazer along with enough video tape, cable, and water to cover the story. I have been in an FBI standoff in the middle of the Arizona desert heat that reached 120 degrees. Dehydration was a reality. As photojournalists based out of Phoenix, we were also required to be trained by Phoenix Fire Department…how to cover stories in the heat, wildfire blazes, and structure fires. Covering stories was more than collecting sound bites and broll, edit, then put up the dish and get on air by 5pm…it was about understanding and adapting to our environments. It was about making the most of what we had and finding ways to work smart and efficient to collect, complete, and distribute compelling stories effectively and efficiently.

This hot morning, the buzzing pager gives me the message…heading to western Arizona to find a town underwater. Not sure when I will return. Hmm…I am in the middle of the freaking desert. A town under water? Is the assignment desk speaking in tongues or are they playing CYA since we have burned all of our helicopter hours for the month and they want to know if what the scanners are saying are true.

Out of the shower (better take one since this sounds like I might not get one for a few days), grab the camera and batteries, and off to Wenden, Arizona. When I get there…this what I found. Needless to say, I was out there for four days, slept in the Blazer and captured and produced dozens of stories of destruction and loss. I worked closely with a great writer and reporter Laurie Raymond.

So many stories, so many visuals, so many lives changed…including mine. I never thought I would see a desert town underwater.

Listening for those rich stories…they are out there!

What stories are you going to tell this week? What stories are you going to encounter? Are you listening to your clients, your constituency bases? Are listening as the stories that need to be told are unfolding right in front of you? How can we be aware enough to look deep into the organizations and find rich stories that attract those listening ears?

  1. Look within the “funding” sources and marketing goals for real people.
  2. Define the mission of the organization and let the mission provide a frame work  for the stories.
  3. Understand the target audiences and allow them to guide you to the palatable stories.
  4. Look past subject matter as a story position, find people with stories that can be told through their eyes and not with a “narrator.”
  5. Use the 180 degree rule…when you find a good story that is in the midst of happening, turn 180 degrees and look at who is watching the story unfold, tell it through their lens.
  6. Find stories that are in the midst of the action, let the action and reaction paint the picture…stay away from stories that have to be re-told after the fact.
  7. Go into the story idea with a loose outline but be willing to let the storytelling process create the final outline and story-line!
  8. Do not let technology restrict your ability to tell a good story! Use it as a means to capture and distribute the story to the appropriate audiences. I have captured and told Emmy Award winning stories using a $300.00 video camera. No matter if you have an $80K video camera, a $200 laptop, or even a $50.00 recording device…let it enable you not detract you.

Be passionate! Find those stories…find rich content that your audiences are craving to connect with on a daily basis.

Here is a funny little story I found one day in Arizona when all I was asked to do is get a few shots of the Renaissance Festival….this guy cracks me up. Proof, if we open our ears, the stories can pop out of nowhere and it can replace the pointless copy that could be written about the festival.