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Web headline lessons from The Onion

Lots of us here at Tendo read The Onion, the fake newspaper with the funny headlines. (The link to the online version is included, but frankly, the print version is better.) We’ll ask, “Did you see the headline in The Onion this week?” and then repeat whatever grabbed our eye.

And therein lies the lesson for anybody writing headlines for the Web. You have to get your audience’s attention. Yes, the content below the headline is important. But if you don’t get the click, nobody sees your content.

And The Onion understands this. According to a recent episode of This American Life (which you should listen toit’s great), the writers at the Onion come up with 600 headlines each week and narrow them down to the 16 that end up in the newspaper. Then, once those 16 headlines are chosen, they develop the story that goes with the headline.

This is, of course, almost the complete opposite approach to how most companies generate their Web content. Somebody writes content and then comes up with the headline last. I suggest an opposite approach: Write your headlines first. While the headline may not be as funny as The Onion, it will force you to define the value proposition and come up with a reason a person would click on your article before you invest the time in writing. John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

March 30, 2008 Posted by | Content Strategy, John Kovacevich, Web Content | 2 Comments

I want my online TV

For once in my life, I’m an early adopter. Like a growing number of people, I consume much of my television via my laptop computer, rather than my television set.

Sure, the image quality’s a little less crisp than real TV, my connection is sometimes slow, causing the viewer to skip or freeze, and I can’t fast-forward through the commercials as with a DVR. But still—instant, free access to stuff I want to watch whenever I want to watch it is pretty nice.

I can say definitively that I now watch more TV and regularly keep up with more shows than I ever did before. And that’s saying a lot since I rarely watched TV at all before I could access it online. My TV consuming habits have changed significantly based on now available technology. My case is probably more dramatic than most, but I don’t think this trend is going away.

Will the TV networks take advantage of this change in the wind? Or will they stubbornly resist it and try to snuff out the freedom the new technology allows, like the music industry did? Based on the current state of CD sales, which the music industry still depends on to measure success, I’d hope TV networks would choose the former option. The old way of doing things isn’t going to work here. Continue reading

March 11, 2008 Posted by | Content Strategy, Content Syndication, Multimedia, Selena Welz, Web Content | Leave a comment

How much is your content worth?

There’s a terrific piece in the March issue of EContent Magazine by Ron Miller called “How Much is Your Content Worth? – Measuring Website Content ROI”

(I’d love to include a link to the article…but it doesn’t exist on their website. For a publication that has such good content on this topic, it’s ironic that their own web experience can be a little frustrating.)

The piece talks about how many companies still generate web content with little concern for how effective it is. There’s a great quote from Phil Kemelor, VP of strategic consulting at Semphonic:

“I think companies are still only just getting the message that web analytics are the key to controlling costs in web development and analyzing and marketing your content. It seems companies have been comfortable spending money on developing content and they don’t know if it’s being read or not and if it’s really contributing to their bottom line.”

I found myself nodding in agreement, having had versions of this same conversation with most of our clients over the years. On the web, if you’re not clear about what you want them to do and how you’re going to measure success, don’t do it.

But I disagree with one quote in the piece (not from Miller or Kemelor): “I don’t think content matters. You have to distill it down to the business objective. What they are trying to do: save time, make money and so on.”

The point is valid—web content must be in service of some larger business objective and you need to be crystal clear what that is. But to say that “content doesn’t matter” is silly. The right content moves your target closer to that business objective; the wrong content is an obstacle.

Content isn’t just a bump on the road to your business objective—it’s the critical element that motivates the desired action you want from your customers. In that sense, the right content is worth a lot. John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

February 28, 2008 Posted by | blog, Content Strategy, John Kovacevich, Metrics/Web Analytics, Web Content | 2 Comments

Keys to viral marketing success

Brian Morrissey has a good piece in ADWEEK’s January 7 issue called “The Rules of Viral Web Success, at Least for Now.”

He says it’s all about the three S’s: simple, self-expression, sharable.

Recent successful viral Web campaigns, such as Burger King’s “Simpsonize Me” and OfficeMax’s “Elf Yourself” took these guideline to heart.

It doesn’t need to be complicated or even use the latest technology. If it’s fun and you can customize it and share it, you’ve got a winner.

Don’t be afraid of the simple idea. Think of all the things you received in YOUR inbox over the last year. What did you spend more than a minute with? Did you pass anything on? If so, why? John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

January 18, 2008 Posted by | Content Strategy, John Kovacevich, Web Content | Leave a comment

Making your content modular

Travelling this week, I finally got caught up on some reading, including EContent magazine’s annual EContent 100 issue. In it, I was struck by how many of the columnists were singing versions of the same tune:

Steve Smith: “ …one of the big stories of 2008 [will be that] everyone finally pays serious attention to content sharing, viral media, widgets, and downloadable media (Podcasts and vodcasts.) From the TV networks on down to trade magazines and B2B events, the task at hand is finding out how to fragment your own content and make it as portable as possible.”

Bob Doyle: “Now more and more content is ‘single-sourced.’ Meaning that it feeds not only the Web, but traditional print materials like advertising, market collateral, and documentation: multichannel publishing and in multiple formats.”

John Blossom: “Long gone is the era in which print, online, audio, and video media formed distinct publishing markets, as is the time when enterprise firewalls defined the boundaries of where professionals discovered professional-grade content.”

Web content creation does not live in its own silo—the walls are coming down. Content is becoming more modular and forward-thinking companies need to approach content in a new way.

One of the exciting areas we’re working on here at Tendo is the development of customized tools that allow a company to strategically manage its content assets. This is not the old “content publishing system.” It’s more than just getting stuff to appear on your website.

It’s about using collaboration tools across the enterprise to give greater visibility into content creation. You can target content toward specific business objectives and leverage it as broadly as possible. You save money and time and increase ROI. Who doesn’t want that?

Ironically, we’re talking about fragmentation as a way to do more integrated marketing. By boiling content into its most modular elements, you increase flexibility and make sure that your messaging is consistent across different communication channels.

If your Web publishing teams are working in isolation, creating content on their own, it’s time to make plans for the new reality. – John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

December 4, 2007 Posted by | Content Management Systems, Content Strategy, Custom Content, John Kovacevich, Web Content | Leave a comment

Are you inducing content coma?

I love Thanksgiving. It’s not so much the gathering and appreciating our lives together that makes me love it, although that does play a role. It’s because I’m a classic glutton. I love to pile my plate way too high (extra gravy) and eat my way into a happily self-induced food coma. I trust I’m not alone here.

I’ve been invited to indulge my gluttony at a huge Thanksgiving feast hosted by some dear friends. Rather than the traditional, run-of-the-mill dishes, they’ve decided on a Latin-themed menu: Yucatan style turkey with achiote, orange and pineapple marinade; cranberry, jalapeño, and tequila relish; pearl barley and levain stuffing with corn, dried cherries, and cilantro; roasted garlic and Yukon gold mashed potatoes…I could go on, but I don’t want to brag (well, maybe just a little).

This is an exciting twist on the traditional Thanksgiving menu. Sure, the typical roasted turkey with giblet gravy would match my expectations, but that wouldn’t excite me like this menu does. This menu surprises me. It’s memorable. I can visualize it. All of the expected components are there—turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing—but they are presented in an original way.

Is your website copy serving up the same tired menu? Are you blindly following tradition because it’s what you think your guests are expecting? Much website copy is woven with the typically meaningless marketing speak that proliferates all over the Web. And why? Well, because that’s how it’s done. That’s what makes it sound “professional.” But that’s what also makes it sound bland, generic, and completely unmemorable. That’s not the kind of coma you want to treat your guests to.

Maybe it’s time to spice up your menu a bit. Consider the messages that you need to deliver, and find a unique way of presenting them. Give your visitors a reason to pick your dinner invitation over the many others. Serve them something memorable.

On that note, enjoy your holiday feasting! —Selena Welz, associate managing editor

November 21, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, Selena Welz, Web Content | Leave a comment

Three takes on customer engagement on the Web

Yesterday, two colleagues and I started the day at BtoB Magazine’s NetMarketing breakfast down the street here in San Francisco.

The event featured three high-tech marketing executives who spoke about how they’re engaging customers on the Web. Aside from a sponsor’s painfully long pitch at the outset, which ironically led to quite a few people suddenly spreading out their free copies of the New York Times, the well-attended event was worth checking out.

Speakers included Scott Anderson, VP of customer communications at HP (our very own client and by far the most impressive); Martyn Etherington, VP of worldwide field marketing, Tektronix; and Stephanie Dillard, global media manager, integrated marketing group, Intel. While they didn’t have time to outline their entire Web marketing strategy, it was interesting to see the differences in each company’s approach. They each shared more than a few nuggets of good information. Continue reading

November 19, 2007 Posted by | Bill Golden, Content Strategy, Customer Care, Web Content | Leave a comment

NY Times abandons TimesSelect

A few years ago I moved into a new apartment building and quickly learned about the kindness of strangers—one of my new neighbors was snagging my newspaper about once a week. After a few unsuccessful attempts to solve the problem and/or embarrass the thief, I gave up and canceled my subscription. I decided that it was easier and cheaper to read the New York Times online.

So when in 2005 the Times introduced its TimesSelect feature, which cost about $50 a year for non-subscribers, I was bummed. Certain articles, including op-ed columns by Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, and others, were deemed “Select.” Translation: pay to read the juicy stuff. I missed reading the good editorials, but I never seriously considered paying for TimesSelect. And while 227,000 online-only paying customers apparently didn’t mind, the TimesSelect experiment is officially over as of midnight tonight. Score one for the democratization of the Web.

According to the Times, the online landscape has changed (it took them two years to figure this out?). “Readers increasingly find news through search, as well as through social networks, blogs and other online sources,” says the Times in a letter to readers. “In light of this shift, we believe offering unfettered access to New York Times reporting and analysis best serves the interest of our readers, our brand and the long-term vitality of our journalism. We encourage everyone to read our news and opinion—as well as share it, link to it and comment on it.”

Also worth mentioning: Online advertising is on the rise, so the paper has found other ways to cash in on the Web.

But whatever the reasons, I’m a big supporter of the shift to openness and greater accessibility for all on the Web. Here’s hoping the Wall Street Journal soon follows suit. —Julie Jares, managing editor

September 18, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, Julie Jares, Web Content | Leave a comment

5 content considerations when implementing Web 2.0 strategies

1. Capability vs. strategy
Just because you CAN deploy a certain Web 2.0 technology doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Use of Web 2.0 techniques should be driven by the larger communications strategy for the customers. Web 2.0 is a MEANS to achieving your communications objectives, not a strategy in and of itself.

2. Web 2.0 content is about giving up control
Most Web 2.0 techniques “democratize” access to the Web and give more control to your users. When implementing any Web 2.0 techniques, it’s important to make sure that the company is ready and willing to cede some control to the users BEFORE it engages 2.0 tactics. (To pull back after the fact will expose the company to charges of censorship, which you want to avoid.)

3. If you build it, they may or may not come
Just because you create something doesn’t mean anybody is going to use it. (And if an element is not used, it may send a negative message to your users—that nobody is using your site.) The launch of a new Web 2.0 element must be supported by its own marketing effort, it must be supported broadly and over time, and it will require extra “care and feeding” in its first six months if you want it to take root.

4. Content creates value and builds the community
If Web 2.0 techniques are about building community, you have to create something that will draw that community. The Holy Grail is a self-sustaining community with user generated content—a true dialogue among users. But that won’t happen overnight and in the beginning, you need to supply content that “seeds” the turf and makes it attractive to other users. Blogs and Wikis in particular require a concentrated content development effort in the early stages.

5. How is YOUR company unique?
How can you use Web 2.0 in ways that no other site can? What is the unique value you can offer to a community of users? It is better to create a highly targeted pilot program that utilizes 2.0 techniques, generates a small, committed group of users, and delivers great value rather than try to mimic a large, existing Web 2.0 site. (Somebody is already doing THAT, but only you can do THIS.) ―John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

August 6, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, John Kovacevich, Web Content | Leave a comment

Explain things to your users

Lots of websites use so many acronyms and “inside” language that you need your own special glossary to decipher what’s being said. Sure, you can create a sense of community by developing a common language, but don’t just assume that your users know what you’re talking about.

One of my favorite recent examples is RSS feeds. Many websites refer to RSS feeds as if everybody understands and uses them, but LOTS of people still have no idea what RSS feeds are, how to use them, and how helpful they can be in sorting through Web content.

That’s why I love this video by commoncraft.com—a good, simple explanation of RSS that even my mother could understand. (And a great example of video explaining a concept and delivering value; it’s the perfect medium in this case.) We’ve included a link to it on our site next to our “Get the Tendo RSS Feed” button so that readers can figure out what it is before clicking. ―John Kovacevich, VP, marketing services

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Content Strategy, John Kovacevich, Web Content | Leave a comment