Hail To The CMS

On this historic day of the inauguration of Barack Obama, I can not think of a more fitting topic to write about than content management systems. What, you can’t see the parallel?

Ok, in all seriousness, when was the last time you updated the content on your website? 3 months? 6 months? Is this because you don’t have anyone in-house that knows how to update content on the website?

Right now we are in the digital age where content is king and having the same old, stale content on your site for months on end will not win you any repeat visitors. If this sounds familiar, then you are a prime candidate for a content management system (CMS), which allows non-technically proficient people to manage and update content on a website.

There certainly isn’t any shortage of content management solutions out there in the marketplace today, but how can you be sure which solution is best for your company’s needs? The trend seems to be moving towards open-source CMS options like Drupal and Joomla. These are attractive for a variety of reasons, one of the biggest being cost! Because there is no actual cost for the program (with traditional CMS solutions you will most likely pay licensing fees) your only costs are for customization and integration to the website. Also, since these are open-source solutions, there are thousands of developers across the world continually working on ways to make the system better. Think of all that techie brainpower collaborating!

We at 451 Marketing have found that with Drupal, the knowledge base out there on the web at our fingertips is extremely extensive. More than 300,000 user accounts have been created on Drupal.org, and over 2,000 people have signed up for developer accounts. Having this extremely large user base makes it much easier to get help and support when needed. Just Google “Drupal” and you will get millions of results for blogs and other resources.

Drupal isn’t always the best solution for every website. Sometimes it’s more cost effective for a company to have a custom built system that may only manage a couple portions of a website. This may include Career Opportunities, News, Company Bios, among others. This will give them control of areas of the website that would change most frequently without having to implement and customize a system that would control the entire site.

A great resource for comparing CMS features side by side can be found here: http://www.cmsmatrix.org. This includes open-source as well as traditional systems.

So take back control of your website, and take down that press release from 2002 on your homepage!

Couch Potato Predictions

As we all turn a new page and start making plans for the coming year, those of us in marketing may want to reconsider this year’s online video strategy.

2008 was a landmark year for online video. Not only were 75% of the U.S. internet audience watching videos online, but the average online video viewer watched nearly four hours of online video per month. Hulu, one of the most popular sites for watching hit TV shows and movies online, launched in March. Now it’s hard for me to even imagine keeping up with my favorite TV shows without it. Tivo? Who needs it anymore? I can watch the latest “The Office” episode right on my laptop, anytime, and with limited commercial interruptions.

I had the opportunity to attend a MITX panel discussion a few weeks ago, entitled “Planning Your Online Video Strategy for 2009”. What inspired me most was the out-of-the-box solutions the panelists suggested. Online videos are much more than just an advertising venue concerned with logo placement and banner ads. Creating an online video is really about publishing, creative story-telling and engaging the viewer. Some of the most memorable videos of 2008 were either user-generated or created under relatively low budgets. Who can forget the chubby guy lip-synching to the “Numa Numa” song (a clip which later got used in a Weezer music video)? Or the “Where the Hell is Matt?” video of a man dancing across the world? And those are just two of hundreds of viral hits.

Dynamic videos, which have been under the radar until recently, will come full blast in 2009. You may have received a link during the presidential elections where the video plays out as if you were one of the candidates. Your name appears throughout the video on billboards, in the various news headlines seamlessly, and even tattoed on the lower back of an old lady.

By customizing videos in this manner, viewers will be more engaged in the story, and given the right technology, may even be able to drive how the story unfolds. To clarify, recall those decision-based storybooks where you flip to different pages depending on what you want the hero/heroine to do? Now picture that same user-driven approach within an interactive video, and you’ll catch a glimpse of what’s to come. No two viewers will experience the video the same. PermissionTV currently has a platform for creating these non-linear videos.

The MITX panel discussion also revolved around strategies for promoting your company’s videos on a blog, through social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.) and even through other videos. You really don’t need an uber-professional crew of cameramen and actors to get a video done – use the resources that you have in-house and try to get as many online videos out there as you can. [check out this successful low-budget video by HubSpot: “You Oughta Know Inbound Marketing“]

The more creative or funny you can be with the story, the better. I’d also steer clear of creating very obvious self-promotion videos. Online video viewers are very savvy and can smell an ad campaign from a mile away. Interestingly, major corporations like Gatorade, JCPenny and EA Sports, who all launched successful viral videos last year, did so with very minimal branding incorporated. Check out EA Sports’ video response to a glitch caught in their Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 game “Tiger Woods Walks on Water” as well as JCPenny’s “Beware of the Doghouse” video. Both are extremely well done, with little self-promotion – and more importantly – they’re fun to watch while getting the message across.

It’s just a matter of time before every household has an internet-enabled TV set, and once that time comes, you want to be on-board with your own series of cool online videos. So pull out your digital cameras, figure out your strategy – and Action!

It’s Not (Just) Your Kid’s Facebook Anymore!

I recently reconnected on Facebook with the majority of my 6th Grade classmates from P.S. 114 in Belle Harbor, NYC. I graduated from Mr. Domingo’s class in 1986 and, for the most part, have not spoken to these people since then. Facebook has illuminated old faces and rekindled a whole mess of great memories that had been filed away in the far recesses of my mind. We’ve now posted funny stories on each other’s walls, shared old photos, and simply caught up on where life has taken us since we last spoke. There is no way this would ever have happened if it wasn’t for Facebook.

What started out as a place for college kids to share drunken party photos has become a real-time reunion for 30, 40 & even 50-somethings. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook over the past year is the 35 to 54 age group. This segment has created profiles six times as fast as the 13 to 34 group and now represents roughly one-fifth of the site’s 120 million users and rising.

Technically I still fall into that…ahem…younger demographic, but while I was an early adopter because of the business I’m in, it wasn’t until this past year that I fully realized the power that Facebook has for enabling the reconnection of old friends.

As more and more of my old acquaintances join, the more people I receive “friend requests” from and vice versa. Over this past year I have reconnected with people from every period of my life – grade-school & high school classmates from New York, guys I played football with in college in New Hampshire, and old rugby buddies living around the world in England, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa. It’s been a phenomenal experience. In some cases I’ve discovered that old friends are in the same business that I’m in – including publicists & reporters. I even recently placed a story in the Nashua Telegraph for a client, which was written by an old college buddy I reconnected with through Facebook

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1993 Plymouth State College Football Team

The best part of reconnecting via Facebook is the non-committal aspect of it all. You can decide the level of reconnection that you want and you can do it when it’s convenient. The worst part of high school & college reunions is the fact that you wind up telling your “life after school” story over and over again and feel compelled to talk to everyone in the room, when maybe you really just want to hang out with your close friends or an old flame. On Facebook, you can catch up with people on different levels – it can be simply accepting a “Friend Request” or posting a note on a friend’s “Wall”. If it’s someone you were close with, you can send them a personal message and maybe plan a time to grab a beer when you’re both in the same town (Facebook will never replace a hug an a handshake).

While Facebook will always be a place for teenagers to share party pics and plan road trips, the real power of the application is people staying connected with everyone they have met along the way. Never again will Jack opine, “I wonder what Jill is up to these days?” He will already have pictures of Jill’s kids climbing up the same hill they climbed when they were kids.

New Media Expedites The Demise Of MTV's TRL

This past Sunday, MTV bid farewell to one of the most iconic programs the network has ever produced over the course of its near 30-year history. “Total Request Live,” or “TRL”, officially signed off the air for one last time, marking the end of the road for a show known just as well for launching the careers of “diverse” pop stars like Kid Rock and Christina Aguilera, as it was for it’s steadfastly devoted audience of teenagers (whom either spent after school hours glued to the TV set, or frolicking outside MTV’s studios in Times Square).

But whether you liked the show and what it stood for (obsessive admiration over artists, actors, and other “hip” figures getting their 15-minutes of fame), you had to respect the fact that at the height of its popularity, TRL symbolized the power of MTV to shape mainstream American culture.

That’s because while neither Limp Bizkit nor the Backstreet Boys were creating anything of transcendent quality, the appeal of these groups to the young masses, coupled with TRL’s unparalleled ability to let fans vote for their favorite videos and display their popular musical allegiance, did transcend the way viewers consumed music and supported (or gave “props” to) their idols. In essence, if fans kept voting for them, TRL’s most (in)famous host, Carson Daly, would provide viewers with immediate access to their favorite videos and frequent live appearances from the artists themselves. And, over time, fans began to demand this instant access. Band’s started building elaborate websites, albums came loaded with interactive media, and the music video continued the climb (that began with innovative videos like Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer“) to its perch as the most defining aspect of the pop-oriented musician’s brand. That’s right, TRL was transcending the way we interacted with music, while at the same time, was serving as a band’s primary branding tool.

Admittedly, when I was of high school age I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was a lot more concerned with aligning myself with the brands of such “alternative” rockers as Staind and Papa Roach. Did I think they made great music? Probably not. But I wanted to disassociate myself from the “boy bands,” so I went to war on a weekly basis (ok, maybe daily) with legions of teenage girls to support my side of the musical aisle. MTV, and the bands I supported must have loved me. I watched the show, voted for the bands, bought the albums, and even purchased the shirts to spread my allegiance, the old fashioned way.

So if TRL was the ultimate pop-culture, brand-building machine, why did the network just host their last show? I’m think it might have to do with the stunning proliferation of new media. Music fans no longer have to rely on TRL to see their band’s favorite videos; they can just as easily go to YouTube. Want to support your favorite band as manically as possible? Join their Facebook group. In a cluttered media landscape and a constant state of information overload, people have tons of different mediums through which to align themselves with, and enjoy, b(r)ands.

Undoubtedly, MTV came to this realization themselves. These days, music fans are just as likely to track a Twitter feed to discover a new band, and then download their video or podcast, then they are to spend a whole hour of their day watching TRL.

Information is moving at breakneck speed and for musicians and the music industry, hopefully this means that quality and skill will win out over the mass marketing and pop culture spin that defined the TRL generation (for better or worse).

Besides, it’s a lot easier to link to your favorite band then it is to buy their T-shirt.

How did you think of that?

“How do you creative guys get your ideas?” I hear that question a lot and my answer is usually that it’s a process. Sometimes you get the “ah ha!” moment in the shower then pretend to spend all day working on it, but unfortunately those are few and far between. Most of the time we actually DO have to work at coming up with a creative idea and I’ll share some of the techniques that work for me.

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I find being present at initial client meetings helps, that’s obvious, but paying attention to the details can help spark an idea that the client might not realize they mentioned, but is right on target. Taking notes helps, but I find making quick sketches of ideas that jump out immediately is important because when you go to the next meeting or the phone rings those potential good ideas just disappear.

Leave some time for day dreaming. There are usually a few key messages that the client is trying to convey and you need some quiet time to think hard about a creative way to make them come to life. Make sure to write down all your ideas, especially the bad ones. Once you write down the bad (or tired and cliched) ideas you get them out of the way and you can move on to the good ones. They’re there; you just have to dig them out.

Don Draper, the Creative Director character on the TV show Mad Men, once suggested to a colleague to think hard about a problem then just forget about it, then the ideas will come. I totally agree, once you plant the seed and you let your brain go on to something else you tend to have ideas pop up. Just be sure to write them down! It will take a few cycles of hard thinking and forgetting, but you’ll be amazed at what comes up.

Keep a pad and a pen handy by the bed. After a long day of work your brain has been processing all kinds of information with no time to rest and make sense of it all. The only time that it gets a rest is when you sleep. I find that the time just before you fall asleep can be a very fertile time for creative ideas. If you take that time to let your mind wander to your project (in a non-stressful way) great ideas will make their way to the surface. In that time between sleep and consciousness I usually come up with my best ideas. I tell myself that I’ll remember the idea in the morning, but if I don’t force myself to write it down then it’s gone and I spend the rest of the day scrambling to figure out what it was!

Finally, whether you have a pressing project or not, a good habit to get into is to be aware of things around you. Take a close look at buildings, ads, magazines, movies etc. and store them away. There are a ton of great ideas out there if you keep an eye out for them.