Firebox Blog

We spend the better part of our days listening to the opinions of others. At least once a week, we hope others actually want to listen to us. This is our take on just-launched ad campaigns and ways to get even closer to your customer.

Nov 21

It is About Time Content Marketing was Brought to the Table

This past week I decided to go hear a speaker on content marketing at a Cleveland American Marketing Association event.  The topic initially struck me as something likely beyond my knowledge base and interesting as seemingly everything we create these days is considered content.  It would be difficult to sit and count how many times the suggestion “become a resource for your industry” has been made to a client. 

The guest speaker was Joe Pulizzi (@juntajoe), founder of the Content Marketing Institute in Cleveland, published author and one of the original industry players to use the term content marketing.  The title of his discussion was Your Brand as Publisher – Should Content be the Center of Your Marketing.

The following eight bullet points are in Joe’s words Things That I Would Be Doing Right Now If I Were You:

  1. Tackle one big goal, fix something broken or make something better with content.  For many brands the opportunities to create content could seem endless.  The most effective way to implement a content marketing strategy is to tackle one goal at a time.  Ideally the first goal should be the one that fills the biggest need or has the greatest impact on consumers.  The most important question should be - what do we truly do for the buyer community?
  2. 10 to 1 content.  Re-imagine.  Since recent Google updates, social media sharing has become more important for being found in search engines.  Customers are also in complete control with how they engage in content.  These are forcing markets to re-imagine how content will be shared and interacted with in 10 different ways, 10 to 1.
  3. Take the visual content audit.  How often do the people behind the brand actually step back, lay all of the marketing materials out on a table and take a look at the broad perspective?  It is likely that most will find that their current content is all about them.  The customer is not nearly as concerned with you, you, you as they are with me, me, me.   Focus on the consumer.
  4. Clearly identify roles.  Clearly define content creation roles within the organization.   A typical content marketing team will have roles like content creator, managing editor, content producer, chief listening officer and chief content officer.  Anyone who commits to a content marketing strategy should have someone internal who listens to externals conversations about the brand.
  5. Test a niche to become the leading resource for your customers in that area.  Joe made the statement, “Anyone can dominate a niche market by creating the best content in that niche.”  Take advantage of content opportunities in niche related to the brand’s industry.
  6. Partner if you have to.  Do not try and do everything internally with staff that is not trained or capable of executing a content marketing strategy.  Content creation is about the writing.  Think journalism, not advertising.  Which is something that marketers are said to have trouble with.  It is also better to look outwards for help than expecting even the best of marketing departments to go from 0-60 on a full-fledged content campaign in addition to previous marketing tasks.
  7. Or buy the leading trade media company.  Primarily intended for medium to large companies, it could be a better solution to purchase and incorporate a trade media company with the desired content capabilities than attempt to create them internally with inexperienced marketing staff.
  8. Reach out to content creators and influencers.  Thinking about the point of socially shared content becoming more searchable, focus on referral traffic and relationships with outside influencers that can boost the attention on the brand’s content.  There are also two types of sites that can be beneficial – an influencer content site based on an unfulfilled topic and a site putting the consumers in the spotlight, leveraging the power of larger communities.

The goal of Joe’s eight points is to get marketers thinking like a publisher.  The keys to changing frame of thought are knowing what the audience really needs to know, sharing better stuff than anyone else, always making the story about the customer and understanding roles in creating the content.

Nov 2
Jockey Furthers Brand Through Retail Communication
I received a shipment from today and a blue envelope inside the shipping bag with the goods I purchased.  The contents of the envelope were pretty standard for an online order these days - a coupon off the next order and the purchase receipt.  What made this image worth posting is the envelope itself.  Blue, branded and detailing the first name of the Jockey employee with packaged the order. 
An impressively subtle but personal touch that while it does not necessarily “wow” anyone, it does build a sense of caring and concern for the customer’s level of satisfaction.
  - Adam, Firebox Brand Planner

Jockey Furthers Brand Through Retail Communication

I received a shipment from today and a blue envelope inside the shipping bag with the goods I purchased.  The contents of the envelope were pretty standard for an online order these days - a coupon off the next order and the purchase receipt.  What made this image worth posting is the envelope itself.  Blue, branded and detailing the first name of the Jockey employee with packaged the order. 

An impressively subtle but personal touch that while it does not necessarily “wow” anyone, it does build a sense of caring and concern for the customer’s level of satisfaction.

  - Adam, Firebox Brand Planner

Oct 12

The Evolution of Social Media

If there were no other evidence that social media sites had progressed beyond the fad stage, the $3.8 billion in revenue from advertising that Facebook is expected to bring in this year would suffice.  Interestingly enough, just a few years ago critics insisted that Facebook would fail in its pursuit of advertising.  Today some of the critics are likely wondering just how far Facebook can go.  Perhaps in the near future some ad agencies will include Facebook along side of television, radio and digital?

Whatever the aesthetic outcome, when looking towards innovation of the future it is important to analyze the path of past evolutions in order to understand the changes in human involvement.  The past can provide a narrative for future evolutions.  In order to look forward, it is important to first look back.

A brief history of the evolution of social media:

  • 1971: The first email was sent between two side-by-side computers.
  • 1978: The first dial-up Black Board System (BBS) was brought online.  Originally, there could only be one user at a time and the BBS were hosted by personal computers (PCs) forcing users to dial in through the host PCs modem.
  • 1978:  Usenet, an early bulletin board, distributed the first copies of web browsers.  Usenet was also the birthplace of Flamers and Trolls, those who incite hostile interaction with other Internet users.
  • 1988:  Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is developed for communication and link and file sharing.
  • 1994:  Geocities is founded, one of the web’s first social networking services.  The concept was for users to create their own websites, categorized by different city names like Hollywood, SiliconValley, Colosseum, CapitalHill and Paris. 
  • 1995: gave their users the ability to personalize their online experience by interacting with others and publishing their own content. later posted a record IPO of $850 million. 
  • 1997:  AOL launches the first real time dialogue exchange with Instant Messenger.
  • 1997:  An early social media service called launches, allowing users to “friend” other users and create profiles.  Purchased for $125 million in 2000, shuts down in 2001 but claims one million users at its peak.
  • 1999:  Blog service, Blogger, launches and is purchased in 2003 by Google.
  • 2000:  The Dot Com bubble bursts causing the stock market to crash sending web entrepreneurs back to the drawing board after years of a growing Internet and early social media sites.
  • 2002:  Friendster, the first social site pioneering the online connection of real world friends launches and reports three million users in its first three months.
  • 2003:  LinkedIn, the web’s most popular corporate social networking site launches and becomes the first such site dedicated to business networking.
  • 2003:  MySpace is launched, first conceived to be a clone of Friendster.  MySpace became the most popular social network on the web in 2006 after News Corp purchased the site the previous year for $580 million.
  • 2003:  Several other social sites also launched this year were Hi5, Second Life,,,, Jaiku and Netlog.
  • 2004:  Facebook is launched with the intention of connecting college students across the United States.  More than half of Harvard’s 19,500 students join the site in the first month and 799 more colleges by 2005.
  • 2004:  Google launches a failed attempt at social networking called orkut. 
  • 2005:  YouTube launches as the first major video hosting and sharing site.
  • 2006:  Twitter is launched as a text-based social media service that now counts over 200 million users. 
  • 2006:  Yahoo offers $1 billion for Facebook but the offer is declined.  By the end of the year Facebook is available to all users over the age of 13.
  • 2008:  Facebook’s popularity on the web overtakes that of MySpace in the unique visitors per month.  Users are spending over 700 million minutes on the site per month.
  • 2009:  Facebook makes changes to its terms of service and are forced to reverse the changes 12 days later after coming under incredible pressure from the user base.  Facebook membership hit 350 million.
  • 2010:  Google launches a social networking and messaging tool called Google Buzz that is integrated into Gmail and allows users to share links, photos, videos, messages and comments.
  • 2010:  Facebook is valued at $50 billion based on private market transactions.
  • 2011:  News Corp sells MySpace to a digital media company, Specific Media, for $35 million, a $545 million loss on the purchase price just six years prior.
  • 2011:  Starbucks exceeds 20 million “Likes” on Facebook.  Facebook advertising revenue is expected to top $3.8 billion in 2011 as the site implements more functional changes to increase ease of ad positioning.
  • 2011:  LinkedIn climbs to #2 in the U.S. among social networking sites in total monthly unique visitors.  The site goes IPO and shares double in the first day.
  • 2011:  Twitter celebrates its five year anniversary, touting more than 350 billion tweets per day.
  • 2011:  Google launches Google+, the second attempt at a social networking site in a closed beta format.  In just more than two weeks more than 10 million people have joined, sharing about one billion items per day.
  • 2011:  Spling is launched and proves to be one of the fastest growing social media sites ever to launch.  Within the first four days it has generated more than one million hits, five thousand unique visitors and 125,000 page views.

After analyzing the past, one thing we can take from the timeline is that content is king.  35 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute.  350 billion tweets are posted to Twitter each day.  As Google is attempting to capitalize on the combination of content and social connections with Google+, Facebook is countering with its own compilation of content and friends.

The future is likely to be content and connections, in real time.  No waiting and no working for information that can be at the fingertips. 

  - Adam Daugherty, Firebox Brand Planner

Sep 30

The Online Generation

Recently we worked on a web-usability study for a major industrial manufacturer who makes parts for OEM manufacturers.  The target audiences for two of the three usability sessions were what you would expect:  Design and MRO engineers and technicians.  But the third session was unusual:  College students in a range of degree programs from engineering to accounting to history and psychology.  The idea for the student audience was to learn how the students would view the company as both a potential employer and as a brand in the community.  The results were fascinating.

Like the engineering audiences, we asked the students to visit the web sites of two key industrial competitors of the client, and to basically do the same online tasks:  Explore the site, learn about the company, find some products and try to buy or order something. It was interesting to watch the non-engineering/non-business students work their way through the tasks, as they were as motivated, diligent and interested in the sites as their engineering and business student counterparts.  What was surprising though, was the conclusions that the students drew about the companies based upon their experience with the websites. 

First, they interpreted the artistic design of the site as an indicator of the “modernity” of the company.  Beautiful sites meant a company that was modern and desirable.  Second they focused on the information architecture, interpreting navigation and content to be the focus of what the company wanted you know about it.  They also looked to see if the company structured the site to make it easy to learn about it and find information and importantly, did it have a page dedicated to the societal sensibilities of the students such as sustainability and community responsibility?  Third, they focused on the functionality – did the company “get it” in that their generation was interested in conducting business online and not interested in picking up a phone and calling unless they had a question? Finally, they focused on the links – did the company have a link to social media sites such as Facebook and Linked-In?  Was it socially connected to the larger community, not just the industrial community?  They followed these links to the social media sites to see how many friends the company had and what people were saying about the company.

The most surprising result was their interpretation of the whole and what it meant about the company.  Based on their experience with the company websites they estimated that one company – a 100+ year-old industrial manufacturer that was the global leader in their field – was the upstart that was taking on the entrenched, long-standing competitors.  Why?  Because the site was youthful and energetic (though yes, it had a lot of room for improvement) and because the company talked about itself not as the leading supplier of industrial widgets but about how it was growing and how it was working to provide value to its customers – and to make the world a better place.

In retrospect the least surprising finding of the study was that the industrial audiences – the engineers, designers and technicians – mirrored the students.  The younger members of those groups looked at the sites pretty much the same way the students did, only with knowledge and typically actual experience with the companies as suppliers tempering their view of each company as presented online.  In addition, they looked for apps for their smart phones and used many different devices to access the company sites to obtain information or place an order while at their desk or on the factory floor.  The older people?  All they wanted was a phone number they could call to talk to someone.

  - Michael Schiller, Firebox Managing Director

Sep 28

Facebook Changes with Marketers in Mind

The controversial topic in the marketing world (or the world period) has been the changes implemented by Facebook.  As a researcher and all-around inquisitive professional I wanted to look into the changes and learn why they were made.

It is not surprising that the Facebook community would come under an uproar after changes to features and interface have been made, that’s as predictable as death and taxes.  Instead of participating in the disconcerted approach of most users, I would like to discuss the two majors changes made by Mr. Zuckerburg and the good people of Facebook.

The first change is a new feature called Timeline.  Timeline transfers each user’s list of status updates, check-ins, etc. into a “scrapbook” of their entire history on the site.  It also ads that cool little box in the top right corner of the news feed that everyone loves so much, allowing any actions performed on the site to be shown in real time.  Facebook says that this gives users more power to share content.  As David Fischer, VP of Global Marketing Solutions for Facebook said, “It suddenly gives users the opportunity to share what business you’re in, the products you’re using or buying and sharing that with your friends.”

These changes are affecting the function of user pages, but have yet to cause any changes to the brand pages controlled by businesses.  Fischer says they will not look like the timeline but will have a similar look-and-feel. 

The second change is the addition of new tools for interests like music, recipes, TV shows and news, causing the most immediate impact with marketers in the entertainment segment.  The new class of apps that function with the Timeline will allow marketers to promote when someone has an interaction with the brand online.  This is a huge change for brands because as Gokul Rajaram, Advertising Director of Product Management states, “Marketers want to promote stories about the things they’re affiliated with but don’t always own the apps.  Now you can promote stories from any app about objects you own, not just from the page owned by the marketer.”

Not necessarily just real-time updates about what users are doing on Facebook, but other sites that are connected to the user’s Facebook profile as well.  The assumption is that it will give the user’s friends the opportunity to watch content from a friend versus content suggested by an algorithm. 

Zuckerburg’s goal for the Timeline and new apps is to make using Facebook a “frictionless experience.”  “If your goal is to just add lightweight activity, you’ll never have to see one of these prompts (permission pop-ups) ever again.”  Apps currently slated to participate are DirecTV, Hulu, IMDB, MetaCafe, Mog, Netflix, Rhapsody, Songza, Spotify, and Vevo, with Hulu and Netflix offered as “canvas apps” that allow the user to open content on top of the Facebook window.

The clear point (other than Facebook not knowing what they are doing) is that they are trying to increase engagement because that will drive up their own advertising revenues.  But I see something else coming that will have a an even more substantial impact. 

User data.  It appears the plan is not just to increase engagement and grow ad revenue, but also to increase the amount of obtainable user data with information about likes, dislikes, preferred content and purchases.  What they may actually be creating is the opportunity for marketers to speak to an audience of one.  Amazon has been attempting to do this for several years, but are only able to obtain data dealing with the shopping experience.  Facebook will be able to access data personal to the user’s behavior and personality.  And that type of data is invaluable.

 - Adam Daugherty, Firebox Brand Planner

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