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At New Narrative we’re increasingly being asked to write about sustainability as businesses improve their efforts in the area and recognise the importance of sharing best practices. But even though the concept has been around for some time, the ideas and objectives are constantly evolving as governments, NGOs, companies and consumers become better educated on the issues and demand more action. We take an in-depth look at some of the newer ideas that are at the forefront of conversations.

Circular economy

It’s well known that many of the manufacturing processes we rely on today create a lot of waste, generate high carbon emissions and are dependent on resources that will one day run out. This traditional approach to manufacturing –  ‘make, use, dispose’ –  is what is now coined the linear economy. In contrast, the circular economy is an attempt to cut waste, reduce carbon footprint and better manage the resources linked to manufacturing.

The idea of the circular economy goes much further than recycling products at the end of their life. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization says the circular economy “works by extending product lifespan through improved design and servicing, and relocating waste from the end of the supply chain to the beginning—in effect, using resources more efficiently by using them over and over, not only once.”

It’s worth noting that the language around the circular economy does not tend to focus on less consumption. It recognises that modern innovations have given people access to goods at affordable prices and that it will be difficult to ask consumers to give up innovations that improve lives. Instead, the circular economy is about getting companies to rethink the way products are designed and created so that any waste can re-enter the value chain and be used as a raw material for the next product cycle.

As well as the environmental benefits of reducing waste and reusing materials, the new system is expected to support economic growth and help governments tackle many of the social and health issues they are facing. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates the circular economy will produce a 48% reduction in global carbon emissions by 2030 and deliver a 47% reduction in traffic congestion in Chinese cities, among other benefits. And with the world facing a shortage of resources, companies that rely heavily on raw materials will eventually need to look for alternatives whether they subscribe to the idea of the circular economy or not.

 

Diagram on the key stages in the sustainable circular economy

 

Blue economy

The blue economy is about using oceans in a more sustainable way that supports economic growth and social development, and also protects their delicate ecosystem. The health of the ocean is closely related to efforts to stop climate change given that the ocean supplies around 50% of the planet’s oxygen and absorbs about 30% of the world’s carbon dioxide. At the same time, the ocean also plays a key role in the world’s economic growth: it is a source of transport for 80% of global trade, and by 2030 the ocean economy is expected to employ around 40 million people and add some US$3 trillion in value to the global economy.

Part of the reason the health of the ocean has come into sharp focus recently is because of the BBC documentary Blue Planet II which showed the impact that plastic is having on oceans and marine life. According to some estimates, each year at least eight tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean — equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean per minute — with Asia responsible for 80% of that leakage. The so-called ‘Blue Planet Effect’ has seen a number of countries and corporations commit to taking action. For example, in February 2019, Taiwan announced that it will ban all single-use plastics such as straws and utensils by 2030, and in April this year the 28-country European Union voted to ban plastic consumer items by 2021.

Picture of how the blue economy supports trade, employment and helps prevent climate change

 

Science-based targets

The Paris Agreement was seen as a landmark event in the effort to tackle the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Some 195 countries, including China, the European Union and the United States (though the US has since withdrawn) agreed to limit the rise in average global temperatures this century to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.” However, despite the intentions, scientific evidence from the United Nations makes clear that countries are not yet doing enough to reach that goal.

Science-based targets are an attempt to close that ‘emissions gap’. Focusing on the corporate sector rather than governments under the scheme companies set targets that can be shown to be in line with the level of decarbonisation required to keep global temperature increase below the 2°C threshold based on the latest climate science.

The Science Based Targets Initiative is a collaboration between CDP, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), World Resources Institute (WRI) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). According to the Initiative’s latest statistics, more than 500 companies have committed to or implemented science-based targets. The arguments in favour of companies adopting science-based targets include increased regulatory resistance as governments increasingly look to regulate for climate change policies, strengthened investor confidence, and improved competitiveness and profitability.

The world with a thermometer showing the 2 degrees Celsius target for global warming

 

Impact investing

Although the term was coined in 2007 (and this method of putting capital to work has been around for much longer), it’s only in the last few years that the concept of impact investing has come to wider prominence. Put simply, impact investing is providing capital to businesses that have a measurable social or environmental impact.

In its early stages impact investing was largely the preserve of private equity funds given that it requires direct investment and the ability to accurately assess companies and measure their outcomes. But in the last few years it has started to attract the attention of a broader set of investors such as hedge funds and asset managers. In part this broader interest has been driven by the launch in 2016 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which clearly set out 17 areas of focus to end poverty and protect the planet.

In addition, investors are recognising that impact investing does not necessarily mean sacrificing returns. Indeed, many funds are ‘return-first’ – they are driven by generating a competitive financial return by investing in companies that create an impact. In contrast ‘impact-first’ funds will accept below-market returns.

The volume of impact investing assets under management, which the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) estimates was USD502 billion at the end of 2018, has also led to an effort to create a commonly accepted definition. Efforts in this area include the International Finance Corporation’s set of principles for impact investing which were published at the end of 2018. These were followed in April 2019 by GIIN’s Core Characteristics of Impact Investing.

The spectrum of ESG, sustainability and impact investing

 

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As New Narrative’s Head of Digital, part of my job involves scouring the internet to find out the latest trends and developments in digital marketing. Having read hundreds of blogs, listened to numerous podcasts and signed up for dozens of free trials, there is certainly plenty of information out there.

But for my first blog post I thought it was worth going back to the basics. My goal is to walk you through what I consider to be the core components of B2B digital marketing.

1. Strategy

i. Content Strategy

Creating content is no easy task but whatever your end goal, you need to start with a content marketing strategy. A good content strategy will set out how you intend to use various types of content, media and distribution channels so that they deliver your desired outcome.

According to the Content Marketing Institute, 63% of B2B marketers don’t have a documented content strategy. This is surprising as a documented strategy not only avoids duplication and wasted resources, but will ensure that all stakeholders are aligned on objectives, responsibilities and accountability.

Understanding that a lead generation campaign requires a different content strategy than one focused on content amplification is why you should always start by identifying your commercial goals first and work backwards. Meanwhile, a competitive content analysis, also known as a content audit, can help you discover what your competitors are talking about (too much or too little), their tone and approach, as well as how and where they’re promoting their content.

With your content strategy in place, your next step should be an editorial calendar.  Calendars are extremely useful to get you thinking ahead, staying on track and mapping out topics, dates, formats and channels.

Check out our previous post on a content strategy in 5 steps for a more in-depth look at this topic.

 

ii. Digital Strategy

Likewise, having a digital marketing strategy will help you meet your objectives through using online marketing techniques such as SEO, content and social media.

The strategy should start with an analysis of your current capabilities (a SWOT or SOSTAC analysis is ideal), setting out your goals and KPI’s. Next, using the SMART objective technique will help ensure you have clear, defined and measurable objectives. Then you need to think about how your value proposition, audience personas and content can all work together in relation to your strategic goals.

Personally, I find the digital capability framework an excellent starting point when planning a B2B digital marketing strategy:

Once you’ve gone through and applied the framework to your organisation, you might want to repeat the exercise again on a micro-level, applying the framework to the individual components such as: social media, content and measurement.

For a step-by-step guide to the digital capability framework, check out Target Internet, an online learning portal on digital marketing.

 

2. Measurement & Analytics:

Once you have put your strategy in place, you’ll need to know if it’s working. The only guaranteed way to measure success is to look at the numbers: good data will help you understand where you started, where you are, and where you’re heading.

For most content marketing and thought leadership campaigns, one of the primary objectives is to create ongoing engagement with your audience and have them come back when new content is published. A metric like “New vs. Returning Users” tracks if it’s a user’s first time on your website or if they’ve visited before. Alternatively, a lead generation campaign should focus on the number of leads generated and converted. This can be measured by tracking the number of contact forms completed, free trial registrations and of course revenue generated.

Below I’ve listed some metrics and what they track to get you started.

 

Once you have your data, then comes the fun part – the analytics. The real value of marketing analytics is uncovering what’s behind the numbers: how your content, SEO and even offline events contributed to that spike or drop in pageviews and click-through-rates. For example, are you getting an increasing number of hits from your Japan-based readers? If so, this could be an opportunity to produce more Japan focused content and grow that segment.

i. Tools

There is no shortage of tools out there. For instance, I googled “marketing analytics tools” and I got 398,000,000 search results. So, before you drown in the endless lists, reviews and free trials, here are my suggestions for some core tools that I have tried and tested, and should be your first port of call:

    • Web Analytics Tools: Full suite marketing analytics tools link to your website via a code, tracking metrics such as pageviews (a user visiting a page on a website), acquisition channels (where your visitors are coming from i.e. social media or organic traffic). Among the most popular tools are Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics.
    • Social Media Analytics Tools: If you’re using social media, such as YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter you must always keep your eye on your engagement rates, and how different posts, content formats (video vs. text) perform. Luckily these tools are built into the platform and are generally easy to use. For the advanced user, tools such as Sprout Social, Buffer and Hootsuite can integrate all your social channels into one combined dashboard.

 

3. Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short, is the practice of optimizing your website for search platforms such as Google, Bing or Baidu to allow them to better understand your website and match it to the relevant online search queries. The goal of SEO is to generate more organic traffic to your website. Organic traffic is when a user finds your website as a result of an online search for a product or service that you offer, or a topic mentioned in your content. Among the benefits of organic traffic, is creating more awareness of your brand, your products or services. Ultimately, it can become a lead generation mechanism for potential clients.

With ever-changing algorithm updates — Google for example has 200+ ranking signals  — it has become a complex and full-time job to optimise your pages and content for maximum results. However, the beauty of SEO is how it now requires a holistic approach rather than a check-list of to-dos. While there still are must-do optimization techniques, the emphasis is now on the quality of content and how useful, original and most importantly how well it satisfies the reader’s intent. The more your content fulfils the reader’s question and informational need, the more useful it is deemed by the search engine and the higher it will rank.

i. SEO Tools & Techniques

Some of the well-known techniques of SEO include a keyword strategy (keywords your target audience uses to search online), optimizing your website for speed and acquiring backlinks. A backlink, the digital equivalent of a literature citation, is when an external website links to one of your pages either as a reference or a resource. The more backlinks you acquire from a selection of high-ranking websites the more likely you’ll benefit from an SEO perspective.

There are various ways to approach keyword research, some of the most popular tools include SEMRush and Ahrefs both with large keyword databases. You can supplement your research with  Google Trends or Answer The Public to find out what topics and queries are trending and how people are searching for them.

Acquiring backlinks is longer-term process, that usually centres on outreach efforts to site owners:  building a rapport, introducing your content and the value it brings to their site. Other techniques include getting links from online directories and resource pages. Backlinko, a popular digital marketing website has updated their definitive link-building guide, which is packed with ideas, data-backed insights and case studies.

It’s important to remember that if your content doesn’t provide any value, you are limiting your chances of getting backlinks. So, focus on your content!

 

4. Social Media

With everyone (even pets!) on social media, it needs to be part of any content strategy. The most important thing to understand is that different social media channels cater to different audiences. It may seem easier to create an account on every social media platform, however it’s much more effective to do some research into which one fits with your brand and objectives.

For example, B2B businesses in the finance industry will typically focus on a professional network like LinkedIn as that is where their audience expects to engage with industry news and content. While a technology business might want to opt for visual content, targeting a channel like YouTube that can provide them the space to discuss at length their product capabilities and features.

Popular B2B Social Media Channels:

    1. LinkedIn
    2. Twitter
    3. YouTube
    4. WeChat & Weibo (China focused)
    5. Medium

 

i. Social Media Strategy

Part of a successful social media strategy is understanding where your audience is, how they use the network and what you want to accomplish. Research and a social media audit can help you answer these questions. A social media strategy should be part of your content strategy.

ii. Social Media Policy

A well-defined and documented social media policy is critical for any B2B organisation, although often overlooked. The policy serves as an operational framework, governing behaviour, delegating responsibilities and outlining an escalation process in the case of social media emergencies. This database of social media policies compiled by SocialMediaGovernance.com allows you to explore how organisations in different sectors guide and govern their social media usage. Waiting for a social media crisis to happen to draw up a policy can cost you your business, just as these brands found out the hard way. Having one in place early on, will most likely minimize the risk of a crisis and if it does occur, you’ll know how to react and who to turn to for support.

iii. Social Listening & Media Monitoring

Social media listening and monitoring, is a technique employed by both B2C and B2B organisations. Tools such as BrandWatch and Mention allow you to create and track triggers for brand mentions, keywords or hashtags (or a mixture of all) on different social media channels, online forums, blogs and news sites etc. Tracking this information will make you better informed of how your audience perceives your business or service.

For B2B businesses, it can be a great resource to conduct market research on what their industry and customers are discussing, identifying perceptions, both positive and negative that can be used to inform a content marketing strategy. Although I must warn you, that you will need to spend a decent amount of time extracting these insights and the work will involve wading through spreadsheets!

 

5. Paid and Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing is an online advertising technique that allows marketers to bid on selected keywords and have their website listed in the search results, when one or more keyword is part of a search queries. The example below shows paid ads for a search for “Hong Kong apartments to rent”.

 

For a B2B organization, search engine marketing (SEM), is best used for brand awareness and content reach amplification.

Brand awareness is all about creating familiarity and a visual connection, triggering an association with a product, a service or even certain values. Display network campaigns are usually a good fit for this purpose, just avoid pop-ups at all cost!

To help maximise your content’s exposure and online reach, you can launch a paid search campaign that targets keywords that are relevant to your content. Alternatively, you can opt for social media marketing, using promoted tweets on Twitter and on LinkedIn, that can help you target the right audience based on geography, industry and expertise.

 

Wrap Up

I hope you find this guide useful. There’s a lot to consider but if you do your research, have the courage to experiment and of course use data to guide your decisions you should soon find the right mix to suit your organization’s culture and goals. Good luck!

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After our fifth-year anniversary event in our hometown of Hong Kong, we thought it was about time to celebrate in another place that’s very important to us – so we rang in New Narrative’s sixth year with cocktails and canapes on the breezy rooftop of the Scarlet hotel in Singapore’s historic Chinatown district. Many thanks to the clients and friends who came out to celebrate with us, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of the Lion City in the very near future.

 

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Whether you call it the new oil or the new gold, since the The Economist declared data the world’s most valuable resource way back in 2017, its value only seems to have risen. Like most of our peers in marketing and the media it’s certainly become more integral to what we do as an organisation. Virtually every project we take on now involves an element of data measurement and analysis. At the same time the near-perpetual excitement surrounding data and the emerging technologies it fuels, like artificial intelligence, has caused even its biggest advocates to warn we’re in a time of “data gluttony.”

I wouldn’t dare claim to be a data scientist, but it’s quickly become clear to me that both the skeptics and the data champions are right. In many fields, including marketing, data can be an immensely powerful tool for targeting audiences and measuring outcomes – one global study from consultancy Bain, for example, shows leading marketers are more likely to refresh the data they use and consistently factor it into decisions. But there’s also plenty of evidence of data failing to deliver the desired results, or steering companies in the wrong direction.

What it comes down is that getting data is no generally longer a problem; extracting meaning from it is. With so many data sources and metrics at our disposal, trying to process information into something that can be acted on is often the mental equivalent of trying to drink from a firehose. In this kind of environment it’s no wonder people crave simplicity and jump at any clear conclusion they can get – which can fuel some pretty questionable decisions.

Bigger isn’t always better

As an example one recent project had us delving into the Twitter traffic on a certain topic to see who was effectively leading the conversation on it. One organisation seemed to be clearly in the forefront with almost everything they posted garnering a truly exceptional number of retweets – surely a sign they were doing something right? Until we dug a little deeper and noticed the vast majority of these retweets were from just one or two sources. Their closest competitor may have been a distant second in terms of sheer numbers, but its shares came from a far more diverse base – a much stronger indicator of credibility in our view.

In addition to the obsession with volume, data analytics (as many marketers practice it) is excessively retroactive. AI-powered predictive analytics is starting to make some impressive inroads into marketing, but in general the majority of analysis concentrates on results.

The fact is, by the time the data tells you conclusively something isn’t working, it’s too late – whereas a degree of analysis before a campaign is launched might prevent you from going down an unproductive path in the first place. Applying the right tools, there’s an incredible amount you can learn from what (and where, and how frequently) peers or competitors are publishing on a subject that can then be factored into your plans – whether on the themes that strike a chord with professional networks or what phrases risk putting you in the jargon danger zone. Our head of digital will be sharing more on those possibilities in the weeks to come.

Whatever light it sheds on audience engagement or the topics of the day, to me it’s only become clearer that data needs to be examined from a number of angles, and filtered through the lens of good old-fashioned human inquiry and cynicism. That’s why even as our practice becomes more ‘digital,’ I’d prefer to call it data informed, rather than ‘data-driven’ – no offense to our future robot overlords intended.

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It’s no secret that large corporations have a tough time recruiting for internal editorial positions. And even if they get lucky and find the right candidate, retaining the newcomer for the long haul is often even more of a challenge.

In fact, some of n/n’s clients readily admit that they first approach us simply because they are unable to build an internal editorial team of their own.

Why is this the case? After all, some estimates proclaim content marketing will become a US$400+ billion industry by 2021, up from US$195 billion in 2016. If ‘content’ is now so important, and consuming ever larger chunks of marketing budgets, why is the discipline so hard to hire for?

Here’s our two cents on this issue, given what we’ve seen over the years from our perch as one of Asia’s largest specialist content agencies. Every situation is different, or course. But according to what our clients tell us, the following patterns have emerged as relatively consistent across a number of organisations.

1. RESOURCES

Content creation is hard – and takes more than one person
Editorial production is a team effort, and very time consuming. That’s why top newsrooms are staffed by numerous specialist journalists and editors.  But in corporate life, the ‘content team’ is sometimes a team of one reporting into a larger marketing department — which is also responsible for many non-editorial initiatives, such as event planning and sponsorships.  Problems quickly arise when business leaders make competing content demands on one content executive. For example, the Head of Greater China wants a 5,000-word overview of Belt and Road investment opportunities, while the Head of Debt Capital Markets wants an op-ed series on the evolution of risk pricing in China. Both business heads want the work finished in just two weeks.

The result? Frustration all around. The content executive throws his or her hands up and says it can’t be done – the deadlines are unrealistic.  The business heads are frustrated that their requests are denied; and the marketing team wonders if they’ve wasted their money hiring the content executive in the first place.

2.TALENT

Top editorial talent is often in the newsroom — or working at an agency
Often times those who have dedicated their lives to content want to be in the centre of the action – and that means they want to work for the world’s most prestigious newsrooms, whether that’s the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal. They dream of Pulitzer prizes, shaping WTO policies with brilliant analyses, and taking down corrupt politicians with hard-hitting investigations. The corporate life simply can’t offer the buzz of a newsroom – or even the workflow variety offered by a top agency, for that matter.

The result? Corporate hiring managers are often left with slim pickings, as they are unwilling to pay enough to attract senior editorial professionals. Those willing to take the internal corporate job often don’t have the skills or experience to shape editorial strategies and marshal sufficient resources from the ground up.

3. WORKFLOW

Lack of diversity (and controversy) in the work itself
Corporate content managers are required to think about the same entity everyday: his or her employer. The topics may change, but the end product is always the same – i.e. this is my company’s views on X and this is my company’s views on Y. Just compare that to life in a newsroom, where there is a never-ending buffet – refreshed daily — of projects on offer. On Monday you’re covering a shareholder scandal in a technology company; and on Tuesday breaking news on an industry changing M&A deal.

The result? Boredom sets in. The corporate content executive feels underutilised. S/he struggles to exercise news judgement because that judgment is always constrained by other corporate priorities and plans. Meanwhile, a range of internal actors – from business heads to compliance officers – seek control over the editorial agenda to manage legal risks and protect commercial interests, exacerbating the content executive’s feelings of powerlessness.

4. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE

Writers and other ‘content creators’ need ample amounts of alone time 
Although editorial planning and production requires a team, getting down to work on a white paper or infographic or video script is often a solo affair. Door shut, phone off, and headphones on. The problem is corporate life doesn’t really support such solitude. Executives at every level are often required to join teleconferences and group meetings – and those that refuse risk being branded a stubborn outsider.

The result? The content executive grows tired of asking to be left alone; while his or her colleagues wonder what the big deal is and why they can’t join the team lunch like everyone else.

—–

So, what to do? Give up and stop searching? Not necessarily. But at n/n we think it’s best to keep the following principles in mind:

  1. RESOURCES
    Allocate enough budget so the editorial leader can hire a small team for support – either internal employees or an external content agency. Explain to business leaders very clearly and without apology that quality editorial production is hard and time consuming: a tiny team simply can’t produce the volumes produced by large newsrooms.
  2. TALENT
    Accept that you pay for what you get. If you want the Wall Street Journal’s former Beijing Bureau Chief, you must entice him or her away from that exciting life with substantial incentives and rewards.
  3. WORKFLOW
    Allow the editorial executive to utilise his or her core competency – news judgement. That means they get to significantly influence the editorial agenda. Also, accept that they’ll likely recommend topics that are ‘controversial.’  While you can tone down these topics to suit your corporate strategy, the fact remains that asking editorial professionals to churn out corporate pablum won’t work if you want them to stick around.
  4. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE
    This one is self-explanatory: let the content executive get on with it — and accept that they aren’t likely to have the time to participate in every teleconference or team building event and exercise. If they absolutely must join each of those activities, ensure they have external resources on call to produce the work while they are pulled away from their desks.

That’s it for now – I’ll leave you with the Content Marketing Institute’s guide to building a content team, which includes far more tips than those outlined above. Happy CNY to all, and best of luck building your content teams in 2019 and beyond.

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If you’re anything like n/n’s editorial team, by the end of the calendar or lunar year you will have had a mental list of the most well-used thought leadership topics in your field. For core B2B sectors like financial and professional services, this list might include AI, cyber-security, sustainability, and, inevitably, digital transformation (again).

With many firms in the region still firming up content calendars for the new year, the temptation is to stick to these safe fields, especially given the anxiety over geopolitical and macroeconomic risk. (Indeed, saying anything about China is proving a real challenge, now references to the macroeconomy, trade, or outbound investment are often deemed too controversial for many compliance teams to approve. This is arguably the first time in a generation that the underlying narrative to China’s macroeconomy hasn’t been that the country is getting richer, fast.)

Yet the trick to effective thought leadership is the second word of that somewhat overused phrase: leading the pack by coming up with something novel. It’s not “thought followership”. Of course, we know that coming up with entirely new umbrella topics is not always realistic. The fact that the year is porcine rather than canine has no bearing on what matters to our clients (or, more crucially, their clients), or on what it makes sound editorial and commercial sense to discuss.

What is required is a new take on an underexplored or emerging sub-issue that will pique readers’ interest. The greater focus in 2018 on AI, for instance, was an evolution of the overarching fintech theme that has been running for some years, gaining mainstream relevance as once-limited technologies found broader commercial application. (Consultancies like McKinsey, as might be expected, were ahead of the curve here: ideally the topics you highlight today you’d like everyone to be talking about tomorrow.)

With that in mind I canvassed our team to find some B2B angles that we thought were underexplored (at least in the Asia-Pacific context) and ripe to feature more in the Year of the Pig. Consider them n/n’s thought leadership thought starters, perhaps…

  1. The ethics of AI: the dominant narrative last year was about how AI could help companies cut costs and deliver better service to their clients. The hot debate now is about its governance and ethical application – in everything from loan applications to help-request chatbots. Can we be sure that AI won’t incorporate the biases of its programmers, leading to problems down the road? Most B2B businesses that want to use AI (i.e. all of them) will also want to know how to protect themselves against making AI mistakes.
  2. Cross border data ownership and governance: Banks in the UK and EU are opening up their data up to third parties, creating “ecosystems” of service providers; the same is happening (with regulatory encouragement rather than coercion) in plenty of Asia-Pacific markets. Not enough analysis has been done on what this means for cross-border businesses in one of the world’s most fragmented regions. How can firms be prepared to be responsible data managers (and what commercial impact will initiatives like Australia’s Consumer Data Right have if adopted more widely)?
  3. A corollary of this is What will B2B tech ecosystems look like? Thanks to China’s digital behemoths you don’t need much imagination to see how consumer-focused tech platforms in the region can evolve. But what about the prospects for B2B ecosystems, involving fintech, insurtech and a whole raft of professional services? Sure, there are plenty of discrete innovations in the region, from trade and SME finance to new approaches to professional services, but who will bring them together? Speaking from painful experience, a one-stop shop for SME professional services would be a major boon…
  4. How will an ageing workforce affect APAC’s B2B companies? To date most commentary on ageing (in APAC at least) has been by hand-wringing actuaries or wealth managers warning about insufficient pensions. But actually ageing will affect every sector, and B2B employers are in prime position to lead on the issue of how workforces can make best use of their experienced, knowledgeable and not-ready-to-retire experts. Who’s ready to make ageing a bigger diversity & inclusion issue?

Naturally the more you drill down into different B2B sectors the more ideas bubble to the surface, but in the interests of brevity I’ll leave it there for now. Here’s hoping we see some ambitious firms ready to lead thinking on these issues in the Year of the Pig. In the meantime, Kung Hei Fat Choi!

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Not a week goes by when some of the New Narrative content team isn’t writing about fintech. So we know how tricky it can be to keep up with all the lingo and understand what new terms mean. With that in mind we’ve put together a fintech jargon buster that explains some of the ideas that are most discussed but often least well understood — such as blockchain, opening banking and initial coin offerings — while also examining some of the current discussions and developments around each topic.

Sandbox

This may seem a strange term to use about regulation, but it’s actually a helpful metaphor. A child’s sandbox creates a defined, safe space to play in, while a fintech sandbox provides allows companies to test out new technology and services under a controlled but more relaxed regulatory environment. Regulators have been keen to set up fintech sandboxes to promote innovation in financial services while also giving innovators the chance to figure out any regulatory issues that might arise. It’s also a way for regulators to ensure that they keep-up-to-date with the technological changes which are likely to affect future rules.

For firms, the advantage is usually that they get a chance to test their services using real market data and information, while being in dialogue with the regulator. It should mean their service is quicker to market and has a better chance of success. In Asia-Pacific, countries with a fintech sandbox include Australia, Japan, Hong Kong Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

fintech regulatory sandbox
Regulatory sandboxes provide a controlled environment for fintech innovation

Open banking

Open banking describes the process by which banks share data with third parties with the aim of improving the financial services and products available to customers. In many countries, such as Australia, Hong Kong and UK, banking services are dominated by a few major institutions which can limit choice and competition. The idea is that open banking solves this problem by getting banks to share their data with non-banks, which are then in a stronger position to launch new products.

Many banks are embracing open banking and creating platforms for third-party developers to offer new innovations to their existing customer base. In that way a bank can be seen to be offering the best range of products and services while also retaining the customer relationship. For customers — business and retail — some of the oft-discussed benefits include having a single application that contains information from multiple bank accounts in one place, easier switching between bank providers, and quicker payment methods.

It’s not always up to the banks, though. Many countries have created open banking regulation that compels them to share data with other regulated providers, as the authorities seek to encourage competition and innovation. Key regulatory initiatives include PSD2 in the European Union, CMA Open Banking in the UK, Open API Framework in Hong Kong and Open Banking in Australia.

The sharing of data is usually achieved through an application programme interface (API), essentially a way for two systems to communicate with each other and share data. In some publications the term API is used interchangeably with open banking, even though this is not strictly correct. APIs are also not a new technology — well-known examples include Google giving access to its Maps data to use in the Uber app, or a flight search website communicating with airline websites to provide a list of flight options — but the term has come to greater public prominence with the push towards open banking.

Robo-advisors

This has been one of the most discussed themes in wealth management over the last few years. While the name conjures images of androids telling people which funds to buy, it is probably more accurate to speak of greater automation of wealth advisory services. In most cases this means using algorithms and artificial intelligence to guide clients to the best investments through a series of questions and options (a process that also in theory makes it easier to work backwards from desired outcome to optimal investment strategy). For now, it is rare for robo-advisors not to be used in conjunction with some level of human input.

The advantages for both the wealth manager and the client are that robo-advisors are more cost-effective than humans alone, and can often provide better outcomes as they are capable of crunching more data. But like any automation technology, it is only as good as the information that supports it, and the algorithms that provide potential solutions.

robo-advisors
Robo-advisors are more cost effective

Blockchain

It can be easy to get terms Blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) confused as they are often used interchangeably. Blockchain is the most well-known example of a type of DLT. Part of the reason it is so high profile is because it is the technology behind Bitcoin.

Blockchain works by allowing users to enter information — a stock trade for example — into encrypted electronic blocks known as ledgers, with everybody in the chain receiving updated information at the same time, which speeds up transaction processing. This means there is no central database or record, and once information is entered it is immutable. This is why is it often viewed as a way to reduce fraud and prevent cyberattacks in financial transactions — you will often hear people talk about ‘a single source of truth’.

In financial services, most of the focus has been on so-called private or enterprise blockchains. These are blockchains that are only open to participants that are invited to be part of the platform. The underlying technology remains the same but they tend to be limited to regulated institutions and be more structured than public blockchains.

blockchain how it works

Initial Coin Offerings (ICO)

ICOs are a way for companies to raise funds for projects. They are often likened to initial public offerings (IPOs) and while they do have some similarities, there are some key differences including the fact that ICOs are not issued on a regulated exchange and do not have the same investor protections. ICOs can also be sold directly to investors without the requirement to go through a licenced intermediary.

So how does an ICO work? A company that wants to launch a new product or service will publish a whitepaper that explains the project and how it plans to use the funds from the ICO. The company will then issue and sell a set amount of crypto-tokens to investors, much like the shares a company issues during an IPO. The capital raised is used to fund the new product or service, and investors look to make returns from the rise in the value of the token. Like shares, the value of tokens can fall as well as rise.

In most countries, ICOs operate in a regulatory grey area. The sharp growth in ICOs (see chart), means regulators are taking a closer look at the instrument. Some countries, including South Korea and China, have banned ICOs, and the sector is likely to face stricter oversight in major markets in the future. The crypto-industry is also trying to meet the challenge presented by greater regulatory oversight by evolving the product. One potential answer is Security Token Offerings (see below).

For more on ICOs, check out the excellent Investopedia page.

initial coin offering volumes

Security Token Offerings (STO)

Security Token Offerings are a response from the crypto-industry to the need for a better regulated method of fundraising. Unlike ICOs, STOS are classified as securities (at least by the US Securities and Exchange Commission; China has already banned the instrument) and so must adhere to securities regulations. This means they offer more investor protection but correspondingly are more expensive for companies wishing to issue them.

As well as being regulated, STOs can be and are often backed by a tangible asset such as bonds, stocks or property. By ‘tokenizing’ these assets, they can be traded using distributed ledger technology (see blockchain section above). 

 

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If you are an experienced writer and an ambitious self-starter looking to use your skills in the exciting space emerging between media and marketing, we would like to meet you.

New Narrative, Asia’s leading content consultancy, offers unmatched opportunities for advancement and a chance to shape the future direction of a young business at the forefront of a rapidly expanding regional media and content marketing industry.

You will be part of a diverse and global team of professionals with decades of combined experience in journalism, digital media and publishing, creating agenda-setting content campaigns for the world’s biggest companies across a range of sectors.

Also on offer: a highly competitive base salary, commensurate with experience, benefits such as a company medical plan and paid holidays, and a flexible and progressive work environment that puts a premium on work-life balance.

 

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With 2018 already practically in the rear-view mirror (just where did it go, anyway?), thoughts inevitably turn to plans for the New Year – or will turn, once the equally inevitable gluttony and good cheer of the holiday period have been dispensed with. It’s a time when financial targets and strategic priorities are set for the months ahead. Many marketing teams will be going through a similar process with their publishing and content goals for 2019.

At a lot of organisations, these plans will take the form of a content calendar. Whether cradled in a visually dazzling PowerPoint or slapped up in a spreadsheet, this will lovingly detail all the amazing things the company plans to publish over the next twelve months. In the first few editorial meetings of the new year relevant teams will rally around the document with a deep sense of shared purpose, working around the clock to bring that next video interview or op-ed to life.

And then, something happens. Or to put it more accurately, nothing happens. The editorial meetings slow down. Maybe one or two tasks listed on the calendar are skipped or put off when people are busy dealing with other things, or priorities change and the business wants … something else. Soon enough, the calendar is banished to the dark corners of a desk or Intranet and the team is back to scrambling to produce things on an ad-hoc basis.

Given the amount of time and effort that can be put into these documents, the untimely demise of a content calendar is a real shame. From what we’ve seen, it’s also often the result of a few common mistakes. Following are a few tips to help your editorial calendar stay alive (and relevant) well into the new year.

*Be realistic. The misstep we see most often is the tendency to get overly ambitious in the planning stages. Setting out ideas for a bunch of polished videos with no clear idea where you’re going to get the production resources, or assigning a series of opinion pieces to a stressed-out senior executive who’s constantly on the road, sets a calendar up for failure by making execution next to impossible and calling the entire exercise into question.

*Get the experts involved. Publishing meaningful work is often highly dependent on the insight of in-house experts – yet marketing teams often cook up content plans on their own and present them to the rest of the business as a done deal. Make sure the people whose views you’ll need to draw on are deeply involved in the calendar’s development; this will not only help define key ideas and themes, but also help get their goodwill and buy-in for the entire process. They’ll also often be the first to tell you if that plan to have them crank out a LinkedIn post a week might be too demanding (see “Be realistic” above).

*Be versatile … to a point. Established wisdom rightly dictates that content calendars should include a mix of themes and formats (articles, graphics, videos, podcasts), to serve various audiences and purposes. But this is another area where planning can easily get carried away. Not every enterprise needs to do it all; a certain amount of consistency in topics and formats builds focus, makes it easier to keep going, and helps teach your audience what to expect.  As we’ve said before, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself or repurpose material now and then. Constantly creating new intellectual property from scratch is a time-consuming and exhausting business (which is exactly why a lot of organisations seek our help).

*Be flexible. While it’s good to stick to a blueprint whenever possible, be ready and willing to embrace a certain amount of change based on market or industry developments, and business needs. A commentary that speaks to a recent news event will almost certainly find a wider and more receptive audience than whatever you planned six months ago. It’s also important to look how what you’re publishing is being received and to apply what you learn to future plans on the calendar – even if it calls those plans into question.

With that, the team here at n/n wishes everyone the best for the planning/holiday season, and the new year. May all your publishing dreams be happy ones.

 

 

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Let me start with a short anecdote.

The scene? A Japanese restaurant. Location? The Dubai International Financial Centre.

This was the tail end of 2014. Pre-Trump; in the early years of Xi Jinping’s reign. n/n was just over a year old. There I sat across from a senior marketer representing a global asset manager. His employer was investing in a Middle East expansion, he said, and they wanted to publish insightful commentary to strengthen their brand across the region.

While we scanned the menu, he explained the myriad ways capital markets across the Gulf were changing as they attempted to become more attractive to international investors.

I nodded and launched into consultant mode. There was the issue of regulation, not to mention the nuances that distinguish each Gulf market, from the UAE to Qatar to Kuwait. There was the tussle between Islamic finance and global finance. His firm could get ahead of each development with a distinct voice and potentially ‘own’ the story. White papers, infographics, videos, conferences, op-eds – the works.

He put up his hand. “Let’s first see how the market perceives these reforms,” he said.

On the face of it, this approach made sense. Best to let events evolve and then find one’s unique niche inside of the story. But it soon became apparent that what he really meant was something very different: his employer wanted to follow – rather than lead – the conversation.

In other words: We will let others stick their necks out and comment first. Then we’ll decide what to publish so we don’t offend anyone.

A Common Refrain

This story isn’t unique. At n/n, we frequently hear companies say in the same breath, (1) they want to publish cutting edge thought leadership, and (2) they also want to ensure that anything offensive or controversial is deleted before publication.

These contradictory motivations are especially strong in markets such as China and in the Gulf States, where falling afoul of regulators and policymakers – or uttering views deemed politically distasteful – can carry consequences.

To be sure, in the real-world companies have to weigh interests, just like individuals. They must balance their interest in publishing insightful commentary with a whole host of other considerations – compliance and legal constraints chief among them.

Think of it this way: when your friend asks if you prefer his new hairstyle to his old one (and you really don’t), common decency kicks in and to spare his feelings you are likely to pretend that you do, or at least find some other creative way to dance around the issue. Most of us readily accept that this particular truth simply isn’t worth the cost of delivering it.

Companies employ a similar calculus to self-censor all of the time, but on much more important matters. And therein lies the problem: All truths aren’t equal.

For an example, the Hong Kong office of a global bank may conclude that pointing out the flaws in China’s domestic credit rating system isn’t worth the risk of being seen as ‘anti-China.’

But the reality is the cost of ignoring – or at least failing to address – such an important matter is higher over the long term: investors and other stakeholders will wake up to the fact that such a bank is in the business of publishing hot air and bumf, not insightful commentary. In other words, the market may eventually turn on such companies for keeping their mouths shut.

An Excess of Caution

All of which means when it comes to thought leadership campaigns, companies – especially large, bureaucratic ones – are frequently their own worst enemies. Many not only preemptively self-censor – they also overdo it. What usually happens is this:

The marketing team has a bold idea – say, a compelling series on the real risks of investing in a cross-border infrastructure project linked to China’s Belt & Road Initiative. Work starts off with a bang: they compile lists of failed deals; they identify and attempt to interview frustrated investors.

But then, a rotating carousel of internal stakeholders gets its hands on the campaign.

First, the business heads cut out any material that could be ‘perceived as negative’ to protect the firm’s positive image with clients.

Second, the compliance team cuts out anything that could be ‘perceived as legally problematic’ to mitigate legal risks.

And then, finally, the marketing team looks at the content again – and, in an attempt to prove that they aren’t taking any chances – make another round of ‘just-to-play-it-safe’ cuts.

The result?

What was once a compelling, nuanced and insightful research paper is now a bland commentary that serves no specific audience or particular purpose. It’s as if the Hollywood machine picked up an edgy and utterly original screenplay only to dumb it down into a mediocre we’ve-seen-this-movie-a-dozen-times sequel.

What Can We Do?

With this in mind, how can you avoid ‘death by a thousand cuts’ with your 2019 content campaigns?

Here are a few tips:

  1. Before embarking on a campaign, devise a coherent content strategy and put it all down on paper. The key is to be as specific as possible: This is exactly what we want to say, and importantly, why we want to say it.
  2. Once the strategy is devised, obtain full buy-in from internal stakeholders, from business heads to compliance, before work begins: Make it clear that watered down content results are nothing but wasted effort and expenditure.
  3. Accept that some external audiences will almost certainly disagree with your views: Take that as a compliment and cough it up to the price of being a genuine thought leader. Strong opinions should elicit strong responses.
  4. And finally, if you are too constrained to say anything compelling and insightful, don’t say anything at all: It’s simply a waste of money to fake thought leadership.

At the end of the day, if you refuse to take a risk and say something meaningful, one of your competitors will. And they will walk away with not only the thought leadership crown, but eventually, the other things that go with it: More trust from clients, a stronger voice in the market, and inevitably, more market share.

The good news is there’s plenty to comment on. Trade tensions are escalating. US treasury yields are rising. China continues its ascent while navigating painful contradictions. A populist has emerged victorious in Brazil

Let’s get to work.

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We are delighted to announce two new additions to our fast-growing team over the past few weeks.

Kale Law has joined New Narrative as Business Development Executive. Previously Kale was at Thomson Reuters, where he led the growth of the Eikon messenger community in Hong Kong, enabling portfolio managers and traders to connect and trade with financial professionals around the globe.

Prior to that, Kale worked with the Economist Group, where he supported the business development efforts of the group’s integrated solutions team in Hong Kong; and Asian Private Banker, where he expanded the publication’s events and advertising business among private banks and asset management firms.

In his new role at New Narrative, Kale will contribute to business development initiatives across our growing client base of global banks, asset managers, and professional services, healthcare and technology firms. Kale holds a BA in History from the University of Toronto.

Separately, we’re pleased to welcome Jourdan Ma, who has joined New Narrative as a Content Executive. Jourdan will play a key role in the development of content for our diverse roster of clients across a range of formats, from infographic concepts to social media and event coverage. She will also support the in-depth research that informs many of our consulting engagements and content campaigns.

Jourdan, who holds a degree in English from the Education University of Hong Kong and a master’s degree in international journalism from Hong Kong Baptist University, joins New Narrative from Hong Kong daily The Standard, where she was a features reporter.

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Stuck in a marketing conference or planning meeting? Fed up of hearing the same buzzwords and platitudes? Then you need the New Narrative B2B Marketing Bingo card. It might not be a ‘game changer’ or make you more ‘agile’ but at least you can reward yourself the next time you hear that ‘content is king’.

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Coming fresh off a handful of events that didn’t lack for the latest industry jargon, and despite our decidedly mixed feelings about the use of buzzwords, it is easy to understand marketers’ need to dabble with them. These terms resonate with a wide audience (even if not everyone entirely understands their meaning) and signify a grasp of the latest trends.

Of the terms we’ve heard the most in recent weeks – blockchain, crypto, deep learning, fintech and natural language processing – the last one stands out in this context. This is the technology that informs the algorithms of online search engines – the agenda setters of our day – parsing through millions of lines of text to decide what’s most relevant and channelling it to the right eyeballs every time someone keys in a word or phrase.

This is where search engine optimisation (SEO) comes in – the science (some might call it the art) of getting your content to the top of millions of search results, and front and centre of users searching for information on a topic.

A good SEO strategy, as this post notes, involves everything from understanding the workings of a search engine’s algorithm to figuring out the right keywords to weave into the copy, getting those title tags, meta descriptions and even photo captions just right. While all this may sound intuitive enough, it can be challenging to put into practice, especially when one is regularly churning out content across a range of formats.

So, here are a few quick tips to get it right:

*Keyword strategy: Identify a primary keyword – one that best describes the main topic – and use it in the headline, lead paragraph, the URL, and throughout the article. Next, pick a handful of secondary keywords that are related to the subject at hand for use in the article where relevant. But, avoid ‘keyword stuffing’.

*Using links: Make sure to include links to external sources (always a good practice to attribute) as well as internal links encouraging users to click through to other content on your site.

*Optimize your site: SEO is not limited to just sprinkling the right keywords in an article. It is important to have an organized, mobile-friendly website that is free of broken links, and easy to navigate with a seamless user experience and fast-loading pages.

*Social media: Share posts on relevant social channels with the right hashtags to maximise exposure and shares.

*Quality content: Lastly, it’s useful to remember that good content is more powerful than any SEO tactic. Useful and relevant content will generate organic traffic and help improve your website ranking. And, as other websites begin to link back to yours, that can do wonders to site rankings and online presence.

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I learned a lot from the B2B Marketing Leaders’ Forum Asia 2018, held in Singapore in September, particularly about how tough life is for the typical B2B marketer. As is the custom of our times I jotted down some “key takeaways” on the day and sent them out tout de suite on LinkedIn. Having (two weeks later) found some time on my schedule, I think it’s worth revisiting and expanding on those, as they get to the heart of the issues facing anyone trying to reach and impress a rarefied B2B market.

– B2B marketers are deeper in the trenches than their B2C colleagues (“using sniper rifles, not shotguns”)

The pithy description of the B2B marketer’s arsenal given by one speaker captures the wholly different nature of many B2B campaigns from their B2C counterparts. This speaker, from a global financial services consultancy, revealed that they had fewer than 40 target enterprises across the region and created content with them exclusively in mind. What use, then, are flashy brand campaigns of the type so beloved by the Cannes crowd? B2B marketers have to show a much deeper understanding of their targets’ businesses, and the challenges their clients face, than is possible with a 30-second Superbowl ad. Credible content is a huge part of the solution.

– B2B marketers must manage stakeholders in every part of the business – and often do so facing a “trust gap”

I met a ton of talented, motivated and razor-sharp people at the event, with diverse backgrounds – from audit and accounting to programming to development economics. Yet I got the sense that the B2B marketing function often battles a lingering and unwarranted inferiority complex compared to the revenue generating side of the business (again, not something that troubles many Cannes Lions partygoers, I’d imagine).

This was aptly summed up by Thomas Barta, keynote speaker and author of “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader”, who pinpointed the problem as a matter of how the rest of the business can perceive the marketing team – illustrated on this slide (apologies for the low-quality photo).

Funny though this might be to some, battling the “trust gap” can a daily problem for B2B marketing departments, unless they can get to grips with the next two points:

– B2B marketers are held to tough standards of accountability by the business

– They need multiple skillsets, not least the ability to prove ROI by marshalling the torrents of data at their disposal

Much of the conference was given over to the problem of how to prove ROI on marketing campaigns. As Barta put it: “If anyone says you’re a cost centre, change it – or leave. Get in the revenue camp!”

Naturally this applies to B2C marketers, too, but their B2B counterparts are more likely to have to account for every bullet fired from their sniper rifles. The metrics by which campaigns are judged obviously vary depending on their aims and how far towards the top or bottom of the sales funnel they are positioned – and, as we’ve noted before, must be signed off by the business well in advance. Hit those metrics, thereby demonstrating value, and the trust gap disappears.

Partly this means speaking the right language: C-suite execs don’t really care about social shares, brand salience, or other marketing buzzwords. But educating the rest of the business is also crucial to changing perceptions. Branding campaigns might not have metrics as easily linked to revenue as those aimed at delivering qualified leads, but are nonetheless crucial for B2B firms too. As one speaker said, “Brand is the reason the sales team gets in a client’s front door. But no one on the business side wants to pay for it.”

– The tools B2B marketers need must be highly specialised and targeted, across geographies, sectors and audiences

Given the specialised nature of the audience B2B marketers are trying to reach, expertise in certain sectors (especially when it comes to content) is a sine qua non for agency partners. Picking the right channels is also crucial – because as several people pointed out, quoting Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed, “Content is King, but distribution is Queen – and she wears the pants.”

Speaking of which, among the pearls of wisdom there were inevitably some oft-repeated quotations, platitudes and buzzwords, as there are at any conference (even at those run by my former employer, which strives to set the bar pretty high for live discourse). I recommend keeping yourself amused next time you are at a comparable event by playing “Marketing Conference Bingo”. Here’s the card I put together in between moments of insight at the event. Enjoy!

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At n/n we have a love-hate relationship – okay, mostly hate – with buzzwords (and buzz-phrases for that matter). Judging from some of the client workshops I’ve been involved in recently, we’re certainly not alone.

This struggle is rooted in a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, it’s important to publish content that’s relevant to the key themes of the day, whether the rise of Southeast Asia’s consumer class or the adoption of artificial intelligence in financial services. Using the right vocabulary shows you’re abreast of, perhaps even advancing, the dialogue on a pertinent topic. When a word is sweeping an industry, people are eager to learn more about it, which means whatever you’re publishing is more likely to find an audience, get picked up and passed (or commented) on.

On the other hand, after the conversation reaches a certain pitch and density, fatigue begins to set in. Words that formerly drew interest cause eyes to glaze over. Concepts begin the long, cold journey to the buzzword graveyard, depicted so aptly in this cheeky cartoon from the New Yorker.

Exactly what constitutes a buzzword at any given point in time is an always-rich source of debate. Personally, we share the Guardian’s doubts about disruption and blockchain – and the wanton use of ‘digital’ as a prefix causes the hair on the back of our necks to stand up. We’d also agree with most of the New Yorker’s choices, with the glaring exception of ‘bacon.’ Like it or not, bacon will endure and inspire content for generations to come.

Thus any content creator is left struggling to strike a balance. In the workshops I was conducting, there were a lot of questions around how to demonstrate you’re up to date without publishing platitudes. When does a word galvanize and when does it start to sound, well, a bit lame?

Unfortunately there are no definitive answers. It’s not always realistic for organisations or marketing campaigns to avoid buzzwords completely. But they should, at least, be handled with caution. Here are a few questions to consider when publishing on a topic that’s in the buzzword ‘danger zone’.

*How late am I to the party? In other words, how much have I seen peers/competitors publish on the same word, phrase or topic, and for how long? If it’s dominated the media you read and your e-mail inbox for what seems like an eternity, and you’re sort of sick of hearing about it yourself, there’s a good chance a lot of other people feel the same way.

*Am I an actual authority, or just jumping on a bandwagon? Much like overprinting a currency, overuse of a word eventually distorts its meaning and diminishes its value (‘disruption’ is arguably a good case in point). Consider whether you understand the original meaning of a term and are applying it in that way – and whether you have a legitimate claim to knowledge on the subject. Some borderline buzzwords – sustainability, say – cut across a wide range of industries and functions, so can plausibly be used by a lot of people in a variety of contexts. Others are probably best left to the industries they sprung from. ‘UX,’ for example, makes a lot more sense in software than in sales.

*Am I saying something new? Using a buzzword risks your content drowning in the tidal wave of material on the same topic – making it especially important to assess whether you’re bringing something new to the table. Before writing that screed on sustainability or blog on Belt and Road, it’s a good idea to conduct some judicious Googling – or better yet, embark on a full-scale content audit – to ensure you’re not simply repeating what’s widely understood and has been said before. On the other hand, publications that contravene conventional wisdom or zero in on a relatively underexplored aspect of a much-discussed phenomenon will turn a lot of heads – even if those discussions have been going on for a while.

Perhaps the best way to think of buzzwords is the verbal equivalent of junk food – quick, easy, good to turn to once in a while. But under no circumstances should they make up the bulk of your diet. Which means the New Yorker may be on to something with the bacon reference after all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Can your company be an agenda-setting ‘thought leader’ if it practices self-censorship?

Answering this question has taken on an increased sense of urgency in recent weeks, following news that Google is re-evaluating whether to launch a censored version of its search engine in China.

The blogosphere, as expected, is boiling over with criticism of Google and its secret China-friendly project, codenamed Dragonfly. Meanwhile, more than a thousand Google employees have signed a petition condemning what they believe is the tech giant’s abandonment of core principles.

Given Google’s history, the outrage is understandable. Only eight years have passed since Google co-founder Sergey Brin led the vaunted search engine’s much publicised exit from China, citing his extended family’s first-hand experience of living in the Soviet Union. And then there’s Google’s infamous motto “Don’t be evil,” – a clever and memorable way to articulate the company’s belief that technology should always be a force for good.

Sure, you say, but this is Google’s problem – what does it have to do with my company’s content campaigns?

Thought Leadership Requires Consistency

Put simply, Google’s dilemma is the same dilemma that every organisation planning a thought leadership strategy faces – and that is: How do you balance your organisation’s thought leadership ambitions and positioning, with the rules and expectations of tightly controlled markets (not to mention a whole host of additional interest groups such as shareholders and compliance officers)?

Here at n/n we ruminate on this problem daily.  We spend our days devising thought leadership campaigns for some of the world’s largest companies – campaigns that cut across multiple jurisdictions such as New York, Dubai and Shanghai. Our job is to help our clients do the hard work of parsing strong and true ideas from stale and false ones, and to remain consistent in their messaging in all of the markets they operate in.

And so, our view is an emphatic NO – thought leaders don’t self-censor. In fact, just the opposite: thought leaders drive conversations forward by uttering pesky and uncomfortable truths – and they don’t censor their views for certain markets.

On that basis, Sergey Brin’s decision to abandon search efforts in China in 2010, and his statements about his family’s experience in the Soviet Union, were in many ways the ultimate demonstrations of thought leadership.

Here’s the proof: the outcome of Google’s brave move. Even though they gave up search in one of the world’s largest internet markets, they are still – eight years later – the undisputed global leader of search technology. It’s such moves that arguably helped knight Google as the head of the tech pack.

Of course, many of the world’s leading companies have chosen to remain in China and adjust to China’s rules, arguing that (1) it’s wise to play the long game and (2) the benefits outweigh the costs and some exposure to China’s massive market is better than none.  These companies certainly have a point. And such declarations – if made consistently, without apology, and backed by data – also qualify as thought leadership.

The point is this: Thought leadership requires companies to abandon the premise that they can hold a certain view but soften its expression so no party is ruffled or offended.  That means if Google has changed its stance on China since 2010, it needs to come out of the dark and clearly say so – and own any fallout that follows. Only then can it regain lost ground and possibly retain its crown as one of tech’s most trusted thought leaders.

Being a thought leader does not mean courting controversy for the sake of it. But it does mean articulating clear views on major issues – and, importantly, either holding your ground or openly admitting to a change of heart when external forces pressure you to change your mind.

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How long should an article be to ensure maximum readership and engagement, and how many words does it take before eyes glaze and readers keel over? The ideal word count question is one that marketing professionals (and journalists) wrestle with all the time.

The bad news is there is no magic number, and several factors need to be considered to gauge the ideal length of an article – such as the intended audience, subject matter and the ultimate objective. But we’ve pulled together some data to help marketers address this issue and navigate the constantly shifting online content ecosystem.

If the aim is to provoke a discussion, snappy posts of 300 words or less are ideal, according to this guide. But, if readers are to be encouraged to share a post widely, it needs to be longer – between 1,000 to 1,500 words. Word counts between 300 to 750 are deemed to be a workable compromise for garnering a respectable number of online shares with some engagement. To maximise shares across platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google, some estimates show that articles ranging from 3,000 words to as much as 10,000 fare best.

This post compiles figures from several sources to propose subject-specific word counts that do justice to the topic at hand while helping with social media shares and high page rankings. Articles on finance are estimated to require between 2,100 to 2,500 words while technology-focused write-ups are best limited to around 1,000 words. The ideal length for posts on real estate is deemed to be between 1,800 and 1,900 words while marketing or advertising-related articles work well when they are close to 3,000.

Some research focuses on the time readers are most likely to spend on a given article, which according to one estimate works out to seven minutes. Which brings us to the question of why longer pieces seem to be in vogue at a time when fewer people are reading articles in their entirety. This could be due to the frequently changing search engine algorithms at Google, which tends to have an outsized influence on what users see when they search for online content.

Past research has shown that lengthier articles ranked higher on Google’s search results, with the average length of content that showed up on the first page of Google’s search results pegged at 1,890 words. These metrics make a significant difference in a world where search engine algorithms determine the content presented to readers and how they consume it. How many of us click through to the second page of results after typing in a search word or phrase?

Getting the word count right is crucial. That part is not up for debate but it’s also true that quality usually trumps quantity. If an article is unreadable its length becomes moot. It’s best to get the content right before worrying about hitting that magic number.

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It’s been just over one year since I ended my 15-year financial journalism career to enter the content marketing industry. Plenty of former colleagues are surprised when I say I have not once regretted making the move, but I’m willing to admit that the transition has not always been easy. So for those of you thinking of making the jump from journalism into content marketing, here’s what I’ve learnt along the way.

You know more than you think

As journalists, we spend our days gathering information — from research, interviews, events and so on — that can often be complex and technical in nature and then sifting through that information to turn it into a clear and compelling piece of writing. The result is that we often underrate how rare and valuable that set of skills is.

But since moving into content marketing, I’ve realised that the ability to interview someone, take that information and turn it into something that people want to read is a specialist skill: one that’s hard to come by and one that companies view as valuable. Add in the ability to meet deadlines, juggle multiple projects and build a rapport with people (especially with those who aren’t comfortable being interviewed), and those skills that seem normal in the newsroom become something that marks you out as an expert.

You know less than you think

Expert journalist you may be, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have lots to learn. Certainly for me, with a background in fast-paced financial trade publications, content marketing required me to adjust my writing style: less focused on getting down the facts and more focused on the narrative (hence our name!)

Plus, before this job I’d never written video scripts, put together an infographic concept, written a sales proposal or closed a deal (maybe less relevant if you take on an inhouse job or a less senior agency role), all of which required me to learn new skills.

And as with a move to any new industry, I’ve had to wade my way through a new set of jargon with all the bewilderment that entails. Pet peeves include ideation, marketing funnels, and omnichannel.

In addition, the dynamics of writing as a service provider rather than an independent journalist are very different, which brings me onto my next point…

It’s fun on the dark side

There’s no getting away from it: writing for an agency on behalf of a client can be quite different from being a journalist. I know it’s an area that many journalists struggle with when they change to the so-called ‘dark side’.

As a service provider, some of the autonomy you enjoy as a journalist is gone. That said, most clients understand that content marketing should be about sharing their insights and expertise and not about pushing a corporate message. The result is that I still get access to the top experts in their respective industries and to distil their insights into a piece of content I can be proud of. And as a consultancy, an important part of our role is advising clients on the best strategy for their content, and that inevitably means ensuring that a piece of written or visual content delivers market intelligence rather than a corporate message, ultimately helping the client reach their audience more effectively.

Have I had to write pieces of puff that are more advertising than thought leadership? Yes, for some stubborn marketers who don’t get it (and refuse to listen to the experts!) and no doubt I will have to again, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

Variety really is the spice of life

Content marketing has given me the opportunity to write on a greater breadth of topics than I ever did as a journalist. Even with New Narrative’s focus on finance and professional services, in the last 12 months I have written on subjects that include blockchain, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, ESG, digital payments, family offices, healthcare technology and even K-pop.

The formats have ranged from white papers and blogs to videos, infographics and social media. And for each client you have to strike the right tone, complexity and message for their brand and their target audience. The result is that I am a sharper and more confident writer than before.

So what are my key tips for journalists wanting to make a move into content marketing?

  • Go for it! It’s a great career
  • Don’t forget the basics: journalists have all the skills and more needed for content marketing
  • Be prepared to have to rethink the way you approach writing (and to not get it right straight away)
  • By-lines and scoops will be a thing of the past. You will need to get used to seeing your work assigned to someone else
  • Finally, expect journalist friends to be amazed (and a little bit jealous) that you are enjoying yourself!
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For a medium that’s been declared all but dead dozens of times, print is proving remarkably spry—even in the marketing arena. No less a digital behemoth than Facebook recently launched a decidedly old-fashioned bespoke quarterly magazine (er … we’re sorry, “thought leadership platform”) to connect its clients to cutting-edge ideas.

Judging by the book projects we’ve been involved in, and the amount of beautifully glossy publications we’ve seen distributed and admired (or at the very least flicked through) at some of the events we’ve attended recently, print still has a place in many an organisation’s heart. And why not? When well-executed, it’s a beautiful, tactile thing of joy, not only more physically present than words on a screen, but scientifically proven to outperform digital in terms of engagement and lodging in the memory.

So is this where we advise every business to rush off and start publishing a magazine of its own? Well, not exactly. Doing print well is incredibly resource-intensive, with questionable return on investment. It’s also not realistic for the many companies who struggle just to update their own websites or coax commentaries out of their senior executives, let alone conceptualise, design and produce an entire publication on a regular basis. That said, there’s no shortage of success stories from the firms that have taken what must have seemed like a reckless first step, from the venerable McKinsey Quarterly to lesser-known publications like Rockwell Automation’s Journal, pored over by engineers for its insights (and apparently entirely self-funded through ad revenue).

… or not

When producing a journal is out of reach, print is probably best deployed selectively. It may not be worthwhile (or particularly environmentally friendly) to produce and distribute something with a short shelf life in print format—an agenda for a half-day event, say—but content that is less time-sensitive, destined to be savoured and returned to, whether an illustrated history of an industry or or collected lessons from the CEO on the things business schools can’t possibly teach, may just warrant the print treatment.

And even for organisations that can’t print so much as a canteen menu, there are a few best practices from the print medium that apply equally well to the digital context. Such as:

*Act as if space is limitedbecause attention spans, appetite, and tolerance are. Print publications come with only a limited number of pages and column inches, so a lot of careful thought goes into what gets included and what doesn’t make the cut. Websites and social media provide a limitless publishing platform in theory, but that’s no reason not to apply the same rigour, and give serious thought to whether an article or infographic would make the grade if you could release just one or two a month.

*Think visually. Many organisations invest heavily in website design … but then confine the articles they publish on their websites to words on a screen. Take a cue from magazine designers, and think about subheadings, pull quotes, graphics or callout boxes to break the visual monotony and drive key points home, even in online format. Fast Company and The Verge are good examples of design that engages without veering into the visual equivalent of a deranged shout.

*Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Arguably the best-loved features of magazines and newspapers are the columns that appear like clockwork (just ask Abigail van Buren). When considering a publishing strategy, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel with every release or new quarter. Developing a feature or column that is published regularly helps build a consistent identity and voice, and to cultivate a loyal audience. Having a few gives you a de facto template, so when deciding what to create you’re never facing a completely blank slate.

In other words, it doesn’t only do a much better job of filling bookshelves—print has a lot to teach us even in an entirely digital environment. That alone should ensure its new lease on life lasts decades to come.

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Those of us in the content marketing industry like to claim that “Today, clients, investors and consumers expect major companies to act like publishers.”

Heard that one before? Given that you’re currently reading an article by n/n, I’m certain you have.

You’d be forgiven if, upon hearing such a declaration, you concluded that it’s simply something content marketers say to justify their work – akin to a donut hawker recommending the regular consumption of donuts.

But alas, I’m afraid that a few recent campaigns demonstrate it’s not just another corporate slogan. For evidence of this, look no further than the Mercedes Benz mini-film, ‘Tough Conversations.’

For those in need of a brief summary, this corporate campaign follows punk rock icon Henry Rollins across Australia as he interviews everyone from famous surfers to local tattoo artists, focusing on the issue of ‘toughness’ – what the concept implies, and how its definition differs for each individual.

Of course, Mr Rollins is driving an X-Class Mercedes pick-up truck throughout – and the video is full of shots that linger on the iconic Mercedes logo gracing the steering wheel, with Mr Rollins’ heavily tattooed arms framing the screen. The message is simple: Mr Rollins is ‘tough,’ and in its own unique way the Mercedes pick-up truck is too.

The camera also lingers overhead and behind the well-built machine as it speeds gracefully down open roads across Australia’s dusty and majestic outback.

Neither Mercedes, nor Mr Rollins for that matter, need further introduction. But it’s safe to say this campaign crosses the proverbial Rubicon. Why? Well, it’s a stark example of a new era in which major companies are making media that resonates well beyond very specific interest groups.

Until a few years ago it’d be slightly unimaginable that someone with the cultural cache of Henry Rollins – punk rocker, author, spoken word artist, and talk show host – would ever align himself with a corporate campaign of this nature.

By the same token, until a few years ago it’d be slightly unimaginable that a corporation such as Mercedes – which sells expensive cars to the global upper class – would ever align itself with someone like Mr Rollins.

And lastly, until a few years ago it’d be safe to conclude that buyers of Mercedes’ cars would be unlikely to “get” or appreciate the campaign. In fact, they might’ve been turned off by the brand’s association with Mr Rollins.

And that just proves the point, doesn’t it? For better or worse, we’re now in a world in which everything is jumbled. There are no clear corporate or cultural demarcation points. That great media democratiser – the Internet – has erased those boundaries, and it looks like they will never return.

Companies are commenting on culture. Cultural heroes (heroes for some of us, at least) are partnering with companies. Corporations are making short films that newsrooms used to produce. And some newsrooms, though they are often loathe to admit it, are producing corporate media under a different name (usually called ‘sponsored content’).

Put another way: Mr Rollins, like many adults, is not above providing his cultural commentary in exchange for a healthy paycheque and high-profile publicity. And Mercedes desperately wants to be ‘cool’ and ‘tough’ so it can sell more X-Class trucks. In this way, they are perfect bedfellows. We can scream heresy if we want. Or we can just dedicate ourselves to producing quality media, regardless of how it is financed.

Mercedes recognised this much when it dumped a whole lot of money into the ‘Tough Conversations’ campaign. I’d wager that many more companies, sensing their new role as publishers, will follow suit with similar productions.

Up next – Johnny Rotten and BMW?

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Job title: Content Executive

New Narrative, Asia’s leading content consultancy, is looking for the newest addition to its editorial team. Full job details are below. Interested parties, please email a CV, cover letter and two examples of your writing to careers@new-narrative.com.

About the role

We are looking for a dynamic and ambitious content creator who will work to deliver written, visual and digital content across a variety of media, for a range of blue-chip clients.

As a core member of a dynamic and fast-growing editorial team you will be responsible for researching and producing top-quality content, from articles to infographic concepts to social media copy.

The appeal of the job lies in its constant variety: no two client briefs are alike. One week you might be researching a blog series on blockchain; the next you could be crafting tweets live from an asset management seminar in Shanghai; the next developing a social media strategy for ground-breaking European healthcare research.

This is the ideal role for an ambitious self-starter keen to develop their content creation skills in the new territory emerging between media and marketing.

About New Narrative

From our offices in Hong Kong and New York, New Narrative creates agenda-setting content campaigns on behalf of the world’s biggest companies in diverse sectors, from financial services to technology to healthcare.

Our clients rely on our unwavering dedication to editorial quality and our deep understanding of their businesses – and what resonates with their target audiences – to help them publish world-class research and thought leadership.

New Narrative’s management team has decades of experience in senior editorial roles in leading international media organisations. By joining our team you will get the chance to learn rapidly and work on high-profile campaigns in a fast-growing, vibrant and welcoming environment.

Skills/Experience:

The successful candidate should have:

• Experience or demonstrated interest in a journalism, marketing or research role, ideally with a focus on financial and professional services

• Experience producing content across a range of formats to tight deadlines

• Knowledge of the digital and social media aspects of publishing

• Strong research skills

• Impeccable English language skills; other languages (particularly Cantonese and Mandarin) preferred

What we offer:

• Unmatched opportunities for advancement, to develop new skills and to shape the future direction of a dynamic young business at the forefront of the rapidly expanding regional media and content marketing industry

• The opportunity to exercise and showcase your creativity on high-visibility projects for industry-leading clients

• A highly competitive salary to the right candidate, along with benefits such as a company medical plan and paid holidays

• The chance to be part of and learn from a diverse and global team of professionals with decades of combined experience in journalism, digital media and publishing

• A flexible, progressive environment where work-life balance is a priority

New Narrative is an equal opportunities employer.

Interested parties, please email a CV, cover letter and two examples of your writing to careers@new-narrative.com.

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While statistics can make content more credible or help make a point in fewer words, it is tricky getting numbers to tell a story, and developing actionable insights from data is among the top challenges for marketers. By considering these key factors you’ll be off to a good start.

The Message

To keep the story on point, try to summarise it in a single headline or tweet, as this post in the Harvard Business Review suggests. Select one or two key data points or insights – the more unique the better – that support this core message and lead with them. Also resist the urge to cram as much supporting data into a piece as you can; few things provoke as many yawns as a sea of numbers and just a couple of strong statistics can add more weight than dozens of middling ones. Any data you leave behind can always be used in the future.

The Sourcing

Especially when working with external data, take extra care to ensure its provenance. Always look for original sources and vet their reliability. Databases of governments and world bodies, research agencies, industry associations and renowned think tanks are good places to start. Also make sure to be transparent about where your data came from and how any conclusions are reached. Attribution is key, especially when working with third-party data, as it burnishes a campaign’s and the organisation’s credibility — whereas failing to attribute data properly does quite the opposite. Read more about that here.

The Analysis

To cut through the jumble of data, make comparisons and look for trends, patterns and relationships to coax out relevant findings. However don’t overstretch in the desire to make connections, and make sure you’re comparing rough equivalents. Contrasting the economic data of cities with vastly different population sizes, for example, is unlikely to yield anything worthwhile. Most importantly, look for (and test) findings that are genuinely counterintuitive or run against the grain, which are virtually guaranteed to attract attention and provoke debate.

The Narrative

To paraphrase behavioural economists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman: No one ever made a decision because of a number. They need a story. Data-driven stories are as much about the narrative as they are about the numbers. So, it’s necessary to step into the audience’s shoes and ensure a piece flows logically from one data point to the next. Keep it simple, avoid jargon, and include anecdotes and real-life examples that will help the audience readily relate to the information. Here’s an example from the South China Morning Post that weaves a compelling narrative about the Belt and Road Initiative through interactive charts, maps and graphs.

The Presentation

Given that the numbers are the story, make the presentation as visual as possible to break down complex findings and drive home the message. Research has shown that the human mind can’t process numbers beyond a certain level (read more about that here) so it helps to provide visual aids. Charts, infographics and interactive tables, used with a strategic combination of colors, can convey the data in a striking yet easy to digest manner. This selection from the New York Times provides a good overview of the various ways data can be presented.

The Engagement

Considering that the entire exercise is aimed at engaging the audience, make sure to create an opening for interactions. Invite, encourage and drive discussions around the story; guide the audience to information that complements the material at hand; and, seek feedback. Gathering statistics on what your audience likes and dislikes can provide you with fresh data to inform the next stage of your publishing plans.

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Amid all the comment about Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the most commonly heard complaint was about the flood of spam from companies who realised, a little late, that they needed people’s “freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous” consent to keep receiving their emails. (NewsCred has a good explainer on the impact on marketing here.)

I’m sure like me you deleted most of these “Don’t Miss Out on Our Bumf!” emails with nary a second thought – the first thought often being “I didn’t realise I was even on your mailing list.” (The ones I received may have sounded more plaintive than those sent to people who aren’t EU citizens: requirements obviously differ outside the EU, but the rest of the world won’t be far behind in legislating data protection.)

More interesting perhaps is the jolt of alarm I felt about the prospect of not receiving something I actually valued or relied on. I had that a few times and didn’t mind the extra steps of confirming my interest or re-entering my details.

This raises the question, what was the crucial difference between the two reactions? It all boils down to quality of content.

In the information economy there is plenty of content you need and are happy to pay for: reputable news sites and data feeds have all but stopped giving away content regularly in exchange for advertising reach. They needn’t worry about GDPR-related complaints from loyal readers (assuming they’re not over-using the privilege and flooding their inboxes): nothing screams informed consent like giving up your credit card details.

But paid content is still a minuscule sliver of what’s coming into your inbox. Email, for all its faults, is still a great means of receiving regular digests of news and comment from informed sources. Most companies rely on it to reach their best customers and hottest prospects and will need rapidly to work out how to keep doing so.

What GDPR has brought home is that if you’re giving away content in the hope of building a willing audience, it had better be as good as the stuff people are paying for. Because if someone signs up for “free” content with an email address and explicit consent for you to use their information, they are in fact paying for it – with their data, rather than their money.

The upsides to this are twofold. For the recipients, it should mean pure dross won’t get through: marketers will have to raise their content games.

For companies forced to get to grips with their audience, it offers the opportunity to find out at a more granular level what they’re interested in (and prepared to sign up to receive). This means that if companies can deliver it, their content will be all the more likely to help them achieve their commercial aims.

Of course, getting to professional-standard content isn’t easy. Which is why we’re here to help companies reach a bar that’s getting raised all the time. With GDPR, it’s even more vital to make the jump.

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It’s right that truly original ideas are celebrated. That’s because they are exceptionally rare: it was said of Einstein that he only had two new ideas; they just happened to be the Special Theory of Relativity and the General Theory of Relativity. One of the most famous original thinkers before him, Isaac Newton, acknowledged that he got his ideas through “standing on the shoulders of giants” (though this might have been a mean dig at a short rival).

In business it’s often a struggle to identify more than a handful of ideas without precedent. Steve Jobs was a genius for launching the first phone with a touchscreen and apps? Nope: IBM got there fully 13 years earlier. Today’s dominant ETF providers, BlackRock and Vanguard, popularised an idea conceived first by the Toronto Stock Exchange. Even Henry Ford, according to his contemporary at Ford Motor Co, Charles E Sorenson, wasn’t the father of assembly line production, he was just the sponsor of it.

The same is true in just about any field of human endeavour (particularly creative ones). For most of us, there’s not much point wringing our hands about not being geniuses. When it comes to publishing and content marketing, we can all be sponsors and developers of others’ good ideas and, in the process, create arresting and useful content that burnishes our brands. After all, what most people mean when they talk about original thinking (or thought leadership, if you like) relates instead to original modes of expression or exposition.

These are obviously crucial. You can’t go plagiarising other people or repeating exactly what you said yesterday. You can, though, pay homage to other people’s thinking – if it is worth repeating, and assuming you give them due credit – and reiterate points you made yesterday that remain valid today. Both can lead to good quality content if they are expressed with clarity, brevity and perhaps a modicum of wit.

It’s important to recognise this point when planning a content campaign. At the broadest level your competitors are likely to be talking about the same topics, and you are likely to encounter the same issues time and again. That doesn’t mean you should stay silent, even if you don’t think everything you publish is staggeringly original. After all, the internet has a (very) short memory.

And when you do have something to say that no one else can (because it is truly original) or will (because it is brave or contrarian), then make it work doubly hard. So you invested in a lot in a truly ground-breaking study last year? You can come back to it again and again, focusing on slightly different angles each time. So you called the crash when everyone else was piling in? Keep referring back to it to remind your audience of your perspicacity.

Of course, judicious editorial judgement is required. But if you are used to reading the op-ed pages of respected newspapers (which had to fill pages for many decades before the internet came along), you’ll see that repeating yourself is hardly a cardinal sin – unlike not publishing anything.

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It wasn’t so long ago that ‘brand newsrooms’ – in-house publishing operations that companies staffed with armies of keen journalists, editors and producers to crank content out around the clock – were all the rage. And indeed some of the model’s early adopters, from Marriott to Alibaba, still maintain the kind of publishing resources that would turn most newspapers green with envy. But no one seems to want to use the term anymore; it’s a lot more fun to dismiss it as a  “myth” or one of the “most lampooned marketing buzzwords.”

That might be for the best. Having come up in real newsrooms we’re wary of any attempts to equate what brands do with actual news operations, or to obscure the lines between marketing and journalism. Newsrooms also aren’t a realistic goal for most companies: they’re massive, complex and hideously expensive to maintain, populated with a rotating cast of prematurely world-weary cynics migrating bleary-eyed between hangovers, the coffee pot and the next big scoop… okay, maybe that was just my last job.

For all that, it would be a shame to throw the idea out completely, because there’s so much newsrooms can teach other industries about effective publishing. There’s a reason virtually every publication adopts an editorial ‘chain of command’ that since the dawn of mass media has remained largely unchanged.

In newsrooms, while journalists may collaborate on stories, they’re rarely produced ‘by committee’, and the number of people with a say on any given piece is strictly limited. Content also moves through a strictly defined process, from production to quality control through to signoff, simply because there’s rarely time to do things any other way. Companies may not be dealing with breaking news-variety deadlines, but there’s a lot to be said for newsroom-style structure in enabling anyone to produce articles (or graphics, or videos) in an efficient, consistent way. Let’s look at some typical newsroom roles, how content progresses from one to the next, and how this structure might apply to other environments.

Journalist/reporter: The content writer/designer/creator; in many companies this will be someone on the marketing team. Bigger publications (and firms) may have dozens. They occasionally tackle pieces together, but in general have designated ‘beats’ (areas of specialisation) that they cover in-depth and independently to cultivate sources and develop expertise on a topic. It’s their job to build relationships with sources in their areas of specialisation (in the case of companies, these will be internal subject matter experts), checking in with them regularly with an eye to their next story. Reporters may have to consult with editors on what they have planned, but are given a high degree of autonomy on the assumption they have an ear to the ground and knowledge of their topic. In the words of one of my former editors, “nothing kills the creative impulse, or more good stories, than meetings and micromanagement.”

Subeditors: Once the reporter produces a story (or graphic, or video), it will be reviewed by a ‘second pair of eyes’ — the subeditor, who’s responsible for fact-checking and poring over the piece for spelling, grammatical and/or design errors, as well as general sense and flow. In most firms this would be a senior member of the marketing team. Again, several subeditors may get involved in a larger story, but most newsrooms will control this, conscious of the old adage about too many cooks. The subeditor may have the authority to publish the piece then and there, or it may go to the managing editor for a final review.

Managing editor/editor in chief: While they will sometimes get involved in day-to-day publishing matters, the managing editor’s real responsibility is to set the overall direction and drive the editorial agenda. The managing editor may want to see everything prior to publication, or review only the most high-profile content — either way, they have the final say. In the corporate context, this could be the role of the CMO or head of branding/communications. The complexities of contemporary business can make a single point of sign-off difficult — at many companies legal or compliance may need to get involved — but if the editorial process is working well this should be largely a formality.

Editorial lessons

Even if a firm doesn’t formally establish editorial roles or titles, there are some valuable takeaways from the newsroom blueprint:

*Content is born from on-the-ground research and relationships — someone has to be thinking about it regularly

*It helps to give people areas of specialisation — it creates a sense of ownership and builds their expertise, meaning what they produce just gets better

*Content should flow through a formal process overseen by people with defined roles. Be open to cooperation and other views, but don’t attempt to involve everyone or collaborate your way to production; very likely nothing will get done

*Everything, no matter who produces it, should be reviewed by someone else

*The buck has to stop somewhere; some decisions can’t be made by committee

Call this if you will, ‘newsroom lite’, or perhaps newsroom discipline — just don’t use the dreaded ‘brand’ word.

 

 

 

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HONG KONG, Apr. 24, 2018 — New Narrative Ltd., Asia’s leading content consultancy, today announced that Arjun Kashyap, former Hong Kong Bureau Chief at S&P Global Market Intelligence, joins the company as Managing Editor.

Kashyap will help the Hong Kong-based firm expand its growing business producing strategic content for leading financial institutions and corporations in Asia, the Middle East and beyond.

Kashyap, an analyst turned journalist, has over 15 years of experience at publications in the US, India and Asia. As a correspondent he has reported from around the globe, interviewing investors in New York and Washington, technocrats in Silicon Valley and Bangalore, central bank officials in Mumbai and Nairobi, and women entrepreneurs across rural India, among others.

As an editor, he has led coverage of major business and geopolitical news from around the world, with a focus on Asia and the Middle East. Among other initiatives he helped launch and scale up audience engagement platforms for Thomson Reuters and overhauled IBT Media’s newsroom operations in India.

Kashyap’s work has appeared in various outlets, including The New York Times and CNBC. He has also been an invited speaker, panelist and moderator at numerous industry events.

Kashyap holds Masters degrees in Journalism from Michigan State University and Columbia University, and a Masters in Management Studies from Mumbai University.

“As Asia’s importance as a driver of the global economy grows, New Narrative, with its deep content expertise, is perfectly placed to help companies raise their brand profiles in the region,” Kashyap says. “I’m very excited to be part of such a great team.”

About New Narrative

Founded in 2013 by former financial journalists, New Narrative works with leading professional and financial services companies to give them and their executives a distinctive voice. New Narrative helps them communicate their views to clients, employees, investors, governments and regulators through sustained, compelling content campaigns in a variety of written and visual media.

Press enquiries:

Joseph Chaney, Partner:
joseph.chaney@new-narrative.com
+852 9411 7441

 

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Those of us in media businesses are surrounded by freelancers. In fact, many of us at one time or another have chosen to be freelancers ourselves, until other opportunities arose (or the need for job security got acute).

Whereas freelancing was once seen as a risky decision, today it is a major feature of the ‘gig’ economy. Many new firms aim to link freelancers with clients: Upwork and Fiverr are just two that come to mind.

In the gig economy, the view of freelance life has changed: it’s now less about going it alone, and more a celebration of individuality, flexibility and the entrepreneurial spirit.

(Full disclosure, n/n – like most businesses — hires freelance contributors on a project basis from time to time. But the issue is knowing when and where to use them.)

One crucial area of media work not suitable for the ‘gig economy’ is the task of developing a coherent, detailed and cutting-edge content strategy for large companies. This takes more than one freelancer – or even a group of them.

It takes a unified team of media consultants who are able, and willing, to formulate an overarching publishing program that is aligned with the client’s messaging goals over a long time horizon.

At n/n, we find some marketers assume that whomever is writing the report or designing the infographic should also formulate the vision behind it. They ask a writer to guess what works, without a coherent strategy in place before writing begins.

This is the proverbial ‘throw something at the wall and hope it sticks’ approach. It’s a waste for everyone – a waste of both the writer’s and client’s time, when, after four weeks of drafting a 5,000-word white paper (or whatever), the client decides it’s not what they wanted.

This isn’t how professionals create good content. When you walk into any newsroom you will see there are journalists cranking out the stories and bureau chiefs and other news planners driving the broader agenda.

The same should apply to companies aiming to make an impact with their content. The business heads, working in collaboration with marketing and editorial consultants, should formulate the broader agenda before the writer or designer works his or her magic on the blank page.

The first step in devising a high-impact publishing program is to conduct an ideation workshop in which campaign stakeholders identify key campaign goals, analyze what’s already been published to see what has worked (and what hasn’t), and try to carve out a unique voice in their sphere of influence. Only then will a long-form campaign have a chance at succeeding in the marketplace of ideas.

Without a doubt, some of the greatest journalism is produced by freelancers, as they are mostly (and blissfully) free of the office politics and corporate constraints that inevitably shape the work of full-time employees.

But the fact remains: effective content strategies can’t be worked out on the fly by a team of disconnected individuals. Rather, such work requires the sustained effort and consistent analysis of a unified team, whether that team sits in-house or out.

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“I know half my marketing budget is wasted. The trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Any marketing professional will have come across that quotation by Philadelphia retailer John Wanamaker. Or it might have been said by Henry Ford, JC Penney, or any other of a half a dozen early twentieth century titans of commerce.

Its dubious provenance is only part of the problem I have with it: its superficial folk wisdom doesn’t bear much scrutiny (as WPP’s Jeremy Bullmore wrote in a thoughtful essay on the sentence in 2013.) Its biggest problem is that it is has never been true. There has never been a good excuse for marketing expenditure to be “wasted”, as long as campaign goals and metrics are defined in advance.

In Wanamaker’s heyday (or Penney’s, Ford’s, whomever’s) it would have been a straightforward job to establish the impact of a marketing campaign, especially since most such pre-mass-media spending was geographically isolated. By taking the gross sales for a defined period after a campaign, subtracting the pre-campaign average, and dividing the difference (hopefully, a positive figure!) into the marketing dollars spent, Wanamaker could work out, say, whether billboards in Harrisburg did better than those in Wilkes-Barre, or if radio spots in either city beat print ads. Of course, other factors might have played a role in sales performance over time, but Wanamaker wouldn’t have been flying half-blind in calculating the return on marketing investment.

Maybe the quotation bemoans the fact that many people who saw the billboards or ads, or heard the radio spots, would have been unmoved to buy. That’s not really the point, though. Other things being equal if, after a campaign, sales went up, the marketing expenditure would have been amply justified.

Made to measure

Today it’s doubly more pointless to wheel out this maxim as a get-out-of-the-CFO’s-office-free card, for the simple reason that you can be much more targeted in your marketing—and since our bread and butter is B2B content, I’ll stick to that—on platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, together with old-fashioned media.

There are also many thousands more ways to measure the impact of that expenditure, through numerous engagement and brand impact metrics—as well as the plain old top line. Of course, too much choice isn’t exactly helpful here. That’s why for all content campaigns, marketers need to establish the precise business goals and what kind of measurements would constitute success, before pulling the trigger.

The key thing to remember is that every campaign is different. Among our clients, for instance, a tech firm selling a specific solution to a specific decision-maker in a specific industry measures the impact of their content in terms of its power to earn marketing qualified leads, benchmarking the marketing budget against their average cost per lead.

A major bank, meanwhile, seeking to raise the profile of its senior staff among corporate treasurers in a certain country, prefers to track LinkedIn engagement as the most important figure to focus on. Select other social media stats are used as supporting evidence, along with brand awareness studies.

It’s important to get the buy-in of the budget decision makers on these metrics in advance. Otherwise, when it comes to talking about the impact of your content, the temptation is to wheel out every stat under the sun to justify its success—which won’t win you any friends among time-poor senior management. And they certainly won’t accept the excuse, given with a shrug, that half the marketing budget has always been wasted, so what are they worried about anyway?

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New Narrative recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and though we’re still not quite sure where the years went, we decided to mark the occasion with an evening of drinks, canapes and good cheer at LOT88 in Central, Hong Kong. Some photographic highlights from the event are below. A massive thank you to our clients, colleagues and friends old and new who took the time out to join us — we couldn’t have done it without you.

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Last time we checked, the New Narrative headquarters were staffed by an entirely human team of writers, editors and other creative types … which is why recent research showing a third of marketing teams in Asia Pacific are already using artificial intelligence (AI) to create content — well above the rates in North America and Europe — made us a touch uneasy. Most of the media’s biggest names, of course, have been experimenting with automated news writing for a while. The tech gurus at Gartner predicted a while back that a full 20% of all business content this year will be authored by machines.

Never ones to back down in the face of competition, we decided to put these pesky robots to the test. In this case that meant experimenting with AI Writer, billed as a service that’s able to research and write an article for you from scratch — all it needs is a few keywords. Better yet, trying it out is free of charge.

Choosing a relatively straightforward subject close to our (and our clients’) hearts, we asked for an article on “investing in Asian emerging markets.” Just a few minutes later it arrived in our inbox, as promised.

The first thing we noticed was that ‘AI Writer’ apparently doesn’t do headlines. Score one for the humans. Bracing ourselves to be sucked in by a riveting lead paragraph, we read:

Strategists at multinational corporations can draw on a rich body of work to advise them on how to enter emerging markets, but managers of local companies in these markets have had little guidance.  

Hmm. We were thinking investment in asset markets, but fair enough. Keen to find out more, we read on.

Like Bajaj, most emerging market companies have assets that give them a competitive advantage mainly in their home market.

Wait, where did India’s renowned maker of auto rickshaws come from? And isn’t the fact that companies tend to enjoy a home-market advantage, well, not much of a revelation? But lest we be accused of robophobia, we indulged our circuit-based scribe a little longer.

As protectionist barriers crumble in emerging markets around the world, multinational companies are rushing in to find new opportunities for growth.

But … don’t we get to hear more about Bajaj? And protectionist barriers crumbling? Evidently this robot thinks it’s 2005.

It sort of went downhill from there, with the conclusion of the article cheerily informing us that Taiwan is one of the four markets “that are part of the acronym TICK.” Has anyone else heard of this, or did the robot make the whole thing up?

It’s worth pointing out that AI Writer was nothing if not rigorous in its sourcing — it cited the article created on our behalf to Harvard Business Review and Nasdaq, among others. But proper sourcing is a legally delicate process that again argues for some degree of human oversight.

All that said, we admit AI Writer appears to be able to trawl the web for views or factoids on a topic with uncanny speed. So perhaps expect to see more AI-assisted research powering content, AI-informed approaches to areas like content distribution and analysis and perhaps more AI-authored content that’s heavily data-based or follows standard formats — earnings reports, for example. Okay, okay, we’re biased, but we came away from this exercise confident generating genuinely insightful ideas and analysis will be the domain of humans (like us) for some time yet.

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When searching for an effective thought leadership strategy, many of our clients ask us: “Where do we begin? How do we know what to publish?”

That’s a fair question. Publishing with impact is hard no matter who you are.

And then there are those clients – admittedly far fewer in number – who have the exact opposite problem: they simply publish too much. That’s to say, they saturate the market with commentary on every little development, trusting that volume alone will win the battle for more influence.

What these clients forget is that discernment and balance are also vital factors in any sound publishing strategy. We all know that friend who talks too much, much to the annoyance of his fellow dinner guests. After a while you begin to nod mindlessly at the sound of his voice – or tune him out completely.

Another parallel is found in the world of luxury travel. Five-star service is not only knocking on your door at evenly spaced intervals to inquire if you need your shoes polished or desire another complimentary fruit basket. Five-star service is also about knowing when to leave you alone.

These same principles apply to the world of thought leadership publishing. If you don’t publish at all, well – you can’t become a thought leader. If you publish too much, clients and consumers will tune you out.

So, at risk of talking too much and ignoring my own advice, here’s a few tips to help you find that elusive balance.

1. Clean your internal publishing pipes
Clients who publish too much often suffer from the same problem: they lack a formal publishing process and everyone internally – from VPs to MDs – wants a piece of the action. They simply turn on the tap and hope what flows out is good enough. This results in too much content from too many voices – much of it mediocre at best.

Solution: Identify who internally owns which pieces of your company’s editorial output, and give them the authority to set the tone. Have the confidence to say no to those who shouldn’t be publishing – and also resist editing everything you publish via committee. The more editors involved, the more you water down your output.

2. Allocate clearly-defined content budgets
Knowing how much you have to spend on thought leadership (as opposed to other types of marketing) encourages you to make strategic decisions and take a structured approach. It also helps you figure out what’s possible with the budget you have, forcing hard decisions about expenditures and desired ROI.

Solution: Mark the budget at the beginning of each year (or the beginning of each quarter) to establish a clear view of the potential size – or limits – of your publishing programme. And then work backward to define and shape your editorial calendar.

3. Be honest about what you’re qualified to talk about
Let’s be honest – no one is an authority on everything. Take Amazon for example. The e-commerce giant can easily talk about literary trends, because it has the sales data to back up its observations. But it’s better qualified to talk about e-commerce, or internet book retailing in general. More traditional publishers are better positioned to talk about literary trends.

Solution: Be honest about where you stand in the market and pick your sweet spot. Be confident enough to let others – even quasi competitors – to lead a conversation that you aren’t uniquely qualified to speak about.

4. Know what else is out there
Far too many aspiring thought leaders don’t know their place in the public conversation simply because they aren’t aware of what has already been said and what needs saying.

Solution: Read up on the best out there – whether that’s on Bloomberg, Reuters, or in the Financial Times – and do so frequently. That will give you a better view on the value of what you’re saying, and how it is likely to be received in the marketplace of ideas.

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Earlier this week fellow n/n Partner Lorraine and I gave a perhaps ambitiously titled talk at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about B2B Content Marketing”.

After we’d finished, a former journalist colleague approached me, perhaps remembering what we’d said about being careful with statistics, and said that although it didn’t quite deliver “everything”, it covered at least 84.6% of what he wanted to know. (Unfortunately he didn’t tell me what the missing 15.4% was…)

We’d be happy to share the entire talk of course (watch this space for a webinar) but one part in particular had most of the audience reaching for their smartphone cameras: this diagram, which set up the rest of the talk.

B2B Content Marketing Decision-Making Flowchart

This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating. If content marketers follow this flowchart – with each step ranked in order of priority – and get buy-in on each decision before they embark on a campaign, then they are much less likely to go wrong (in terms of strategy at least; as to actually producing quality content, that’s a different matter.)

Everything flows from the business aim of the campaign, whether this is broad brand-building at the top of the sales funnel, lead conversion at the bottom, or anything in between. That decided, the next most important decision is the audience: nowadays you can be very precise indeed about specific “personas” you might want to target and, of course, which channels are suited to reach them.

Only then should marketers think about the type of content to produce. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s crucial to remember that this is subordinate to those first three decision points. In our experience, content campaigns that don’t follow this decision-making hierarchy are far less likely to succeed.

This brings us to the last decision point: how will you define success? Since the commercial aims of a campaign may vary, so too do the means to measure ROI. There are hundreds of thousands of potential KPIs to choose from (not least metrics from social media) but this doesn’t make the job easier, since budget decision makers won’t be impressed with a disordered jumble of stats.

That makes it doubly important to agree on this in advance. Of course, you need the flexibility to adapt, especially in a long campaign. But getting stakeholders’ buy-in on all five points from the outset should get you at least, I estimate, 84.6% of the way to success.

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Content marketing remains a nascent, if growing, industry in Asia so it’s always great to have to chance to hear the opinions of other professionals working in this area. That was one of the pleasures of a recent panel discussion I attended in Hong Kong (as well as the complimentary wine…) In addition to providing plenty of insight, it brought into sharp relief some of the miscommunication common between marketing teams and the agencies that serve them.

So in the interests of bringing greater harmony to Asia’s content market industry, here are some of the main talking points from the night and New Narrative’s assessment.

Budget or no budget in the brief?

This question produced the biggest divergence in opinion on the night. The agencies speaking at the event felt very strongly that clients needed to provide a budget when commissioning a project. If not a precise figure, then they needed at least to give a range or upper limit to give some sense about what the agency should be aiming for.

Marketers, though, were quite opposed to the idea. In part, this was borne out of their previous experience of agencies far exceeding the budget limits given to them. It also came from a feeling that agencies would inevitably pitch a solution that used up the whole budget regardless of whether it was justified.

New Narrative’s take: While an unscrupulous agency might be looking to squeeze their clients dry at every opportunity, the best ones are trying to build long-term, strategic partnerships. As part of that, they want to understand a client’s needs — and that includes budget. Having a budget allows agencies to recommend the correct mix of content at a price the client can bear. Otherwise they are left guessing, which means their proposals might be rejected multiple times before they meet a client’s requirements, leading to frustration all round.

Clients need to trust agencies to come up with the right solution at the right price. Likewise, if a budget is available up front, agencies need to accept that not every project needs to max it out to succeed. Of course, trust on both sides needs to be earned!

Information vs instruction

How much detail is the right amount for a project brief? A lively discussion on this was prompted by a question from the audience. For the agencies, it was felt that having as much information as possible about the context for the campaign meant they were able to present better ideas to the client.

More information doesn’t necessarily mean more instruction, though. Marketers and agencies agreed the key was for a client not to be too prescriptive in which ideas could be put forward. In addition, both sides viewed the process as one of evolution, where ideas can be discussed, adapted and revised until the best outcome is reached.

New Narrative’s take: Generally speaking more information is better, but let our creative juices flow! That’s what you’re paying for, after all. On top of that, we always advise clients not to view a proposal as the final say, but rather as the beginning of the conversation. As a strategic partner, we understand a client’s need for a flexible and collaborative approach and it’s also how we prefer to work.

Trust me, I’m an expert

Finally, during a discussion about pet peeves, one frustration clearly voiced by agencies was not being treated like the expert. This was less about ego and more about asking clients to recognise they had hired an agency for its expertise (and, as mentioned, its creative talents), and should listen to the offered advice rather than force through bad decisions that weaken rather than strengthen campaigns.

The marketers took this on board but didn’t look happy!

New Narrative’s take: This is one of the biggest challenges for agencies and marketers. At New Narrative, we always advise clients on what we think is the best course of action and will be clear if we think a decision will undermine the project objectives. This is especially crucial when it comes to creating a credible editorial voice, an issue content marketing (as opposed to plain old marketing) always has to grapple with.

But we also understand that marketers have internal relationships and pressures to manage that sometimes no amount of good advice can overcome. And we are always willing to help marketers craft a convincing argument to use with internal stakeholders to get the best outcome.

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2017 was a year of expansion for New Narrative with the launch of our New York office and three new team members in Hong Kong. And we’re continuing this growth into 2018. We are pleased to be hiring for a talented financial writer and editor to join our team. Full job details are below. Interested parties, please email a CV, cover letter and two examples of your writing to careers@new-narrative.com.

JOB DESCRIPTION

New Narrative, Asia’s leading financial and professional services content marketing agency, is expanding and looking for a talented financial writer and editor to join its growing team in Hong Kong.

From our offices in Hong Kong and New York, New Narrative delivers compelling content to the world’s leading banks, asset managers, law firms, fintech companies, consultants and others. Our clients rely on our unwavering dedication to editorial quality and our deep understanding of their businesses–and what resonates with their target audiences–to help them publish world-class research and thought leadership.

New Narrative’s management team has decades of experience in senior editorial roles in leading international media organisations, reporting on major events and producing commentary and analysis for an audience of senior decision-makers in the financial and professional services sectors.

Role: Editor, Financial Services

The company is looking for a dynamic and ambitious writer and editor to create content across a range of media for discerning and demanding clients. The role calls for a motivated and confident writer and editor with experience of covering financial markets, and the ambition to show what they can do at a young and fast-growing company in a new and rapidly evolving industry.

As Editor you will be responsible for producing content on a range of topics, in a range of formats, and to a range of deadlines. One week you might be writing a blog series on blockchain; the next you could be crafting tweets live from an asset management seminar in Shanghai; the next setting down to write the agenda for an event on the economics of the Belt & Road Initiative. The appeal of the job lies in its constant variety: no two client briefs are alike!

Skills and Experience Required

The successful candidate should have:

— A minimum of three years’ experience in an editorial role at a major publishing business

— Experience producing high-quality content across a range of formats, including long- and short-form written content, infographics, video and other digital formats (NB: we are looking for editorial quality; graphic design and video production skills are not required)

— Experience writing about the financial and professional services sectors for audiences of senior executives (samples of both unedited and published work will be required)

— Knowledge of the traditional, new and social media communications strategies of financial and professional services firms

— Impeccable written English skills and a commitment to editorial quality in everything you do, from text messages to tweets to treatises

— A network of contacts among marketing and communications decision-makers in these industries would be a distinct advantage

— The right to work in Hong Kong

— The willingness to travel overseas for work

Salary

The role offers a generous base salary, based on experience.

Other benefits include medical insurance, paid holidays and a company mobile phone.

Why work at n/n?

New Narrative offers a progressive working environment. While the hours don’t always fit easily into 9-5, we actively pursue a policy of work-life balance for all staff.

As a small but fast-growing company in a nascent industry in Asia, we offer unmatched opportunities for advancement. The right candidate can help shape the future direction of our business and the region’s content marketing industry.

New Narrative is an equal opportunities employer.

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Over the past few years both marketers and media companies have become more focused on sponsored/branded content (or native advertising if you prefer), the former as a new way to connect with audiences, and the latter to replace revenue lost with the decline of traditional ads. This a trend we welcome, both for the obvious commercial reasons and because we sincerely believe content marketing at its best—i.e. an organisation sharing genuine insights backed by data or thoughtful research—is far preferable to the shouty, saturation-based approach to marketing that dominated in decades past.

That said, having emerged from the media world, there are aspects of the sponsored content explosion that give us cause for concern, chief among them the difficulty sometimes of distinguishing between articles that are honest journalism or opinion, and the paid-for variety.

To be clear, we’re not calling out Forbes or the PR firm in question here; Forbes is an old hand at the sponsored content model and its branded content is typically clearly labelled as such. The views in the article (since apparently removed) may well have been genuine. But the fact it attracted scrutiny is troubling enough. There’s no shortage of other examples of the lines between editorial and advertising being blurred, from the merely questionable to the sanctionable.

Too many of those examples, and media outlets will find themselves completely discredited by audiences convinced they’re bought and paid for. Companies, meanwhile, will see most of what they publish crashing against a brick wall of cynicism. And of course, eventually audiences themselves will lose out, as a revenue/publishing model that has every shot at being sustainable breaks down and more publications close. Not a good situation for anyone, in other words.

So while we couldn’t agree more that brands need to start thinking, and publishing, more like media companies, it’s also vitally important that the ‘walls’ between brand and media don’t disappear completely, and that all sides practice complete transparency—especially at a time when the highest powers are only too happy to call the media and what constitutes truth into question.

At the very least that means clearly and visually distinguishing paid from editorial content, via unique logos, altered formats, even different colour schemes or backgrounds.

Ideally for media companies, it also means ring-fencing editorial and commercial staff, and limiting the participation of journalists in commercial projects (a practice we know some of our former employers have adopted).

In the end, there’s little to be lost from this approach. Few people will dismiss well-reasoned, credible views or intelligence from commercial sources. After all, journalists contact companies for their perspectives on industry or market issues all the time. And (we hope) no one would begrudge a publication the opportunity to earn the kind of revenues that will allow it to pay its journalists a living wage. In the media/ad business at least, honesty really is the best policy.

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One of the most dispiriting things about political discourse these days is the readiness of some people to shout “Fake news!” when confronted with facts they don’t like. Misinformation and propaganda are as old as human communication, of course, but there is such a thing as a credible source of information–as well as plenty that don’t qualify.

Using credible sources is crucial when it comes to creating content that will impress a discerning audience (the aim of all of our clients). n/n founder Jon Hopfner recently set out how data alone isn’t enough to get your message across, and I’d underline that with the point that using any old data won’t do, either. At a minimum you have make sure you can trust where it’s coming from.

Trust…

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious who has the right stuff. For economic, social and demographic data you can’t beat the resources and diligence of multinational NGOs like the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, OECD and the like. (OK, so extreme conspiracy theorists would say these guys have some nefarious agenda too, but let’s assume you’re not interested in trying to convert flat-earthers or David Icke fans.)

Stats from news sources with long, hard-earned editorial credibility (think Reuters, the Financial Times, New York Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal etc) you should also feel comfortable quoting. They typically go to great lengths to ensure the reliability of their data, and they have fact-checking quality controls without which their brands wouldn’t have gained the cachet they have. (OK, they make mistakes; to err is human. But to wheel out an old maxim, you should never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.)

…and verify

We admit to some bias here: n/n was founded by two former Reuters journos, and I was an editor at The Economist Group for 10 years. Being aware of potential bias is of course crucial when judging the credibility of sources, especially if you’re looking for a stat to help prove a point you want to make.

I could tell you, for instance, that 70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert. How credible is this? I found it midway down a (frankly intimidating) infographic from “Point Visible”, a Croatian marketing agency. They’ve included sources at the bottom, but none actually has that stat in it (and some merely cannibalise other cited sources, including a hefty CMI study.) Googling “70% of people would rather learn about a company through articles than an advert” reveals that the same stat was used in a 2013 blog by someone at inboundmarketingagents.com, but the source they give leads to a 404 error. I could go on, but my patience has already worn thin.

There are credible sources on marketing out there: Edelman and LinkedIn’s survey of 1,300 senior executives, for example, has an impressive sample size and clear methodology. Just using one stat from that study–that 9 in 10 respondents think thought leadership is important, for example–carries much more weight than a shotgun blast of factoids with no or dubious provenance.

So it goes for statistics in any content. Be judicious and transparent in sourcing your stats and they will work much harder in your favour.

 

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There are reams of material written about the importance of content marketing for brand development. Unfortunately, most of it is not aimed at the people that need the most convincing.

These days most marketing professionals are alive to the advantages of thought leadership, but at New Narrative we have plenty of conversations with clients who have to work hard to convince ‘the business’ that it’s worth their time and effort.

This is especially true in financial and professional services, where support functions such as marketing and communications can be seen by front-line staff as a cost centre.

It’s quite common to hear reports of marketers being told by fee-earners that they resent having to spend time on something they don’t see as contributing directly to the bottom line. In some ways this isn’t surprising, as the fee-earners’ performance is measured in financial terms. But it’s also a mindset that has to change if a custom content plan is going to succeed.

To help, we have compiled our top tips for marketers looking to win over the cynics:

Engage early and often

One of the regular complaints we hear from finance professionals is that the marketing team only reaches out to them when there’s a deadline approaching and they are expected to drop everything to write an article.

As a marketer, you will be effective if you involve thought leaders and experts early in developing a content calendar. It’s then important to check in with them regularly to find out the ideas they are talking about with clients. This should help you develop a better relationship with them and should mean last-minute requests are less likely to be met with silence. It will also help improve the marketing team’s industry knowledge, which leads us on to our second point…

Do your research

As former journalists, at New Narrative we understand the importance of research before an interview. All it takes is single comment that shows an ignorance of the subject matter for an interview to go sour. It’s the same when engaging with your thought leaders.

As part of the in-house marketing team you will have a good understanding of the firm’s strategic goals but it’s also important to understand the specific business or practice area of the person you are talking to. This does not necessary mean hours of research, but a few questions based on the latest article in the business press or the most recent piece of research on the topic will get you off on the right foot. And it will also help with the third piece of advice…

Be specific

Nothing is more likely to infuriate your experts than asking them to write something where your topic suggestion is too general. For example, asking for an opinion piece on China will give the impression of a lack of industry knowledge within the marketing team and is also likely be met with a degree of frustration. But asking for something targeted — such as an article on the significance of China opening its financial markets or the impact of a rising renminbi on capital outflows — will encourage greater engagement.

Minimise the workload

Even with the best will in the world, there will be time when your expert will not have the time to generate the content you need by the deadline. But if she can’t spend an hour writing a blog post, maybe she can spare 30 minutes for a phone call? Or 15 minutes putting the main arguments in an e-mail? These can then be used as the basis of an article to be written by the marketing team or content consultants and reviewed by her later.

Use empirical evidence

It always helps to have some statistics up your sleeve to prove a point. This could be in the form of engagement metrics for a previous campaign. Alternatively, there are plenty of surveys on the effectiveness of content marketing. One of New Narrative’s favourites is the recent survey from Edelman and LinkedIn that asked 1,300 business leaders and C-suite executives how they viewed B2B thought leadership. The results include the fact that over 60% of the respondents think thought leadership is one of the best ways to vet an organisation and understand the caliber of its thinking. Armed with stats like that it should be easy to convince even the cynics that producing thought leadership is time well spent.

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