Nail your content strategy with the marketing funnel

There are many takes on the marketing funnel. They go from simple – Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, the classic AIDA model – to very complicated. Some people swear by them. Others swear at them. Still others think the funnel is actually banana-shaped. Not really, I just couldn’t resist putting that in.

The idea is that people move from not knowing about you, on a journey that gets closer to investing in you. After becoming aware, if they like what they see then they’re interested. If they’re interested enough, they put you on a shortlist. And if you’re still a candidate, they’ll act – whether actually buying, or just getting in touch.

I quite like it because it makes sense to me and I use that as a litmus test. If I understand it, then my clients probably will too. I like the simplest version, the AIDA model, but I like putting something underneath the funnel for digital marketing in particular: retention.

I also like the funnel because it enables me to do two important things: figure out which kinds of content work for each stage of the funnel; and measure effectiveness.

Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action, Retention. What on earth am I talking about? Read on and, if you disagree, let me know below. No, really, I want to be told I’m wrong because that’s how I learn…

Awareness: I’m looking for X

This is where you need to move from people not knowing about you, to people becoming aware of you. They will be looking for something and will use fairly generic, industry- or sector-wide terms to do this, such as mousetraps, washing machines, digital marketing.

This is mostly the domain of Google. Sure, there are other search engines, but Google is it. So to make sure you’re top of Google, you need to embark on an awareness programme.

My feeling on awareness? Don’t use social media for it. There is no proven link between social and SEO, with the sole exception of Google+ which is plugged into Google’s results. So when people say they want to use social media to raise awareness, they’re using the wrong tool.

Awareness is all about what happens away from your site. You need to spread your tentacles across the web and make sure people are as likely to find you as possible using those generic search terms. So, for awareness, you need to think about getting as much word-of-mouth out there as possible. This is where PR comes in, with placed articles, bylines and advertorials raising awareness offline.

For online awareness, you need to think about establishing a presence on sites other than your own. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Blogs – Comment on influencers who mention you, our your issues, or any of your content. Also consider blog exchange programmes, where you post on influencer blog and they post on yours
  • Twitter: Retweet influencers who mention you
  • LinkedIn: Interact with industry groups
  • Facebook: Like or comment on pages that mention you

Everything here is designed to establish your voice on third-party sites. In other words, to raise awareness.

How do you measure this? Well given that most of this is off-site activity, you’re looking at how much earned conversation you’re stimulating, that is, how much are people talking about you other than yourself. There are ways of doing this, mainly by building dashboards through APIs.

You can also look at your Google Analytics and see how much search engine traffic is coming to your site. This gives you an idea of how successful your content strategy is in grabbing Google’s attention.

Interest: I’ve heard about you and I’d like to know more

So people know about you, because you’ve raised awareness through PR and canny use of third-party sites. Now it’s time to stimulate their interest and this is really where you can start using your social media. Think about how each of your channels can work with each of these types of content:

  • Events – are bread and butter to social media. Blog before, during and after them. Use Twitter, Instagram and Vine during them. Put your video together for more in-depth coverage on YouTube during and after. There’s plenty you can be doing with events that will make people think you’ve got your finger on the pulse.
  • White papers – are something of a dreadnought of communications, but this content can be great for ‘slicing and dicing’, that is, releasing a small amount at a time, linking to a dedicated web page or microsite. Go one step further and ask for people’s email addresses in return for this premium content and you’re right into the retention level.
  • Press releases – should always be on your Twitter feed and LinkedIn company page at the very least. Consider repackaging them for the blog but remember that your blog should on the whole talk about industry issues rather than shouting about yourself.
  • Educational series – are where you show that you know what you’re talking about, so talk about it on your blog. Even if you think something’s obvious, other people won’t.

To measure this, you’re now looking at how engaged people are with your owned channels. How often do people retweet you? How many comments does your YouTube channel have? How many people are talking about your Facebook page? And so on.

Again, Google Analytics is important. If you’re hosting in-depth content with serious amounts of investment behind them such as white papers, then you need to know how many people are visiting those pages, and how many are downloading them.

You can also use the dedicated dashboards for each channel but I’m not a fan of them. I like metrics that I can compare across channels and competitors, such as reach and engagement.

Desire: You’re on my shortlist

Having gone from awareness out there on the wild web, to interest from what you’re saying, the customer journey is now about desire. They know about you and they like you, and you’re on their shorlist. Now it’s your job to validate their decision to opt for you.

There are three kinds of content that work really well for this:

  • Case studies – are absolutely what you need to convince people that you know what you’re talking about. Prove to them that you understood the challenge, employed the right tactics, and got results.
  • Third-party articles – by which I mean all mentions of you whether bylines, features, blog posts or news. People want to know that you’re being talked about.
  • Awards – as with the funnel itself, some people love them and others hate them. I think they’re very compelling. Whatever the politics behind them (ie a stunning correlation between the companies that win and the companies that pay sponsorship), I think most people regard them as strong endorsement from the industry.

There’s a fourth kind here which can be controversial: comparison tables. They might work well for FMCG brands – “Hey look, you can wipe your bum much more quickly with our Bum-away toilet roll” – but sometimes slagging your competitors off can reflect poorly on your shiny brands.

To measure this you’re looking at metrics such as specific engagement from known influencers – retweets, replies, comments, subscribers. On your site you should also look for downloads of content and visits to pages that host it.

Action: Where do I sign?

This is It. There’s very little you can do with social media here. People have gone from the outer space of non-awareness, to the atmosphere of interest, and have landed on your planet because they have desire. But you can’t make them sign the dotted line. The best you can do here is make sure you have plenty of calls to action. Make it as easy as possible for people to buy, or to call you, email you, get in touch in any way. Marketing’s job is to get people as far down the funnel as Action. From now on, it’s about converting, and this is where marketing hands over to sales.

For measurement, this is absolutely the domain of the website. You should monitor specific page accesses to ‘hot’ conversion pages such as Contact Us or registration pages. And, of course, if you’re selling directly via your site, you need to monitor conversion rates: how many people pressed the Buy button?

Retention: Welcome to the club

Now you’ve got people on board, it’s time to keep them there. Sure, you’ve got your social media channels chugging away happily but everyone can read them. For people who have invested in you, give some of that investment back. This is where you embark on a client comms programme, giving them the inside track on product development, special offers, invites to events and so on. And to measure this, look at the metrics your email system supports such as numbers of emails opened or unsubscription rates.

And that’s it. That’s my take on the funnel, how to match content to each stage, and how to measure each stage. Please tell me that you disagree below, because I like finding stuff out from smart people.

Want PR? Been Penalized by Google? Then lead a campaign.

Campaigns are an often-overlooked weapon in the PR arsenal. And, when conducted properly, social media can really, really help – which is what I’m hoping will happen with the ‘Have I Been Penalized’ campaign.

I spent some of my most creative, exciting and formative years working with Dr. Marc Pinter-Krainer on the Sharepages.com website and then for its parent company, KTS. Marc went into boardrooms and blew people away with the tech (cloud computing to deliver financial information before ‘cloud computing’ had been invented), while I wrote and designed everything, online and offline, that people saw or read.

Since then, I’ve found my niche in online comms. Marc has forged a new business, One News Page, which aggregates news feeds in a cleverly direct, sophisticated and simple way. With one catch: for nine months, his site was penalized by Google, and his web traffic dropped off a cliff. I remember searching for it and not being able to find it at the time, and thinking that was, well, weird.

Now that One News Page is back on Google’s results, Marc is leading a campaign to raise awareness of the penalties, and consequences, for pretty much any business out there. Of course, it hurts more for a purely online enterprise such as One News Page, but it’s a fair bet that any company would suffer if its web traffic dropped significantly.

And Marc’s point is this: that, given the essence of running a business is balancing risk, and you’re not even aware that there’s a risk you will be penalized, then this becomes a major problem. Especially so when the channels for redress from Google are so limited, comprising just one query page that only ever seems to return an automated response.

So I’ve done a bit of Marc’s publicity for him here by writing this post. But what I really mean to say is that campaigns are such a good way to get good PR. If you’ve got the balls to do it, arm yourself with facts, figure out your campaign strategy, then stick your head over the parapet and let rip. Next thing you know you’re seen as a true leader, with a strong brand, and plenty of online copy (and, I expect in Marc’s case, offline too).

It’s the essence of PR. Don’t talk about yourself. People don’t necessarily want to hear you talk about how great your products and people and services are. But they do want to know how issues will affect them. If you can position yourself as a leader in these mission-critical areas, the doors to publicity open wide.

And social media? Well, never has the phrase ‘disintermediation of the web’ rung more true. Create a video, and a site, and maybe a Twitter account, and you can address your audience directly, in a compelling way, engaging in the debate and spreading the word. And campaigns are all about debate, right?

I’ll sign off with a bit more free publicity for Marc. Watch the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ video to find out what the true risk of Google penalties means for you, visit the ‘Have I Been Penalized?’ website to sign up for the campaign email list, or follow the campaign’s progress to address Google penalties on Twitter. I’m watching it with interest, and it could pan out to be a fascinating case study.

Oh, and a final disclaimer: I’m not part of Marc’s campaign. Besides, he seems to be doing fine himself…

2011 social media predictions

So while I have my blogging head on – hot off the news that Delicious is disappearing and Facebook has undergone yet another redesign – I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on the state of the social media nation for the coming year. It’s not all good. Here we go…

Confidence will go down

Social media lives in the cloud (or ‘online’ as we used to say). This is good, in that the cloud is a wonderful thing where you can pool computing resources and readily share information. But its fluidity is a problem. I’ve already written about my dislike of the state of ‘permanent beta’ of such services, and with the recent make-over of Facebook, I remain annoyed. The bigger a site gets, the more we depend on it. The more it changes, the less we like it – not just because we have to relearn it, but strategists have to go back to the blueprints, trainers have to re-do all their materials, and so on. And that’s nothing compared to what happens when sites like Delicious just disappear. How can you invest time and effort, how can you plan, when you don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months, let alone the next year?

Monetisation will continue to be a problem

Yahoo owns the biggest bookmarking service around, and it cannot make money off it. Twitter, as far as I’m aware, still doesn’t have a monetisation strategy. I don’t quite understand how Mark Zuckerberg can be so rich off the back of Facebook. Anyone remember the dotcom boom and bust? Social media feels horribly similar, in that I believe the people who make money off social media right now are the ones who get paid to assess its value. It’s very like the old gold rushes – the ones who got rich were the ones who sold the spades to dig for the gold, not the poor fools actually looking for it.

PR still won’t ‘get it’

I still feel my temples throb when I meet up with digital colleagues at PR agencies, who recount phrases they continue to come across such as “Let’s do some blogging stuff” or “Maybe we should send some tweets out.” Social media is still new, but it’s gone from burbling helplessly in the cot to at least toddling. Four-plus years is enough for PR people to have understood the basics, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that PR people, while they are completely brilliant at issues, are unrivalled organisers and demon communicators, are completely at sea when it comes to the high-level strategy and the low-level nuts and bolts of getting through to people online. I don’t see this changing any time soon.

Freelancers will find it an increasingly tough gig

I admit I haven’t found the past year easy by any means. People rightly want the confidence of an agency behind their programmes in case I get run over by a bus. And if/when you do finally get a client who’s prepared to work with you in the longer term, again they quite rightly want to know your ‘secret sauce’ – and then do it for themselves.

Digital agencies will rise

While I find PR people don’t ‘get’ digital, I do find digital ‘gets’ PR. My prediction here is that, far from PR subsuming digital, it will eventually be the other way around. Digital agencies have the heft of a professional outfit, with a proper team structure and a wealth of expertise that, I think, will be the umbrella model for the future.

Social media curves will continue to go up, but results will continue to disappoint

I still find it astonishing that, for example, in 2010 there was more social media traffic than all years combined (trust me, it’s a valid statistic, but I cannot find the source for that right now). At the same time, broadcast and mainstream media just has those huge exposure figures that social media simply cannot compete with. Dan Sabbagh of The Guardian recently showed us this (and this time I do have a link): of the recent Alan Partridge Fosters YouTube videos he says: “The first episode has racked up 492,000 plays on YouTube at the time of writing, and while the latest episode, 5, has dropped to 135,000, [Henry Normal, the man who “minds the shop” at Partridge actor Steve Coogan’s production company Baby Cow] claims the results are a success, even though a new comedy on Channel 4 would expect to be seen by 1.5m to 2m viewers.” OK, so 15-minute YouTube clips are cheaper to disseminate but 135,000 views is NOTHING compared to 2 million viewers – regardless of trendy notions of ‘engagement’, ‘dialogue’ or ‘the network effect’.

Facebook will continue to dominate

Facebook is a juggernaut and it’s not going to slow down any time soon. This is a pity because the web was never meant to be a single-application platform. It was supposed to be a resilient, open resource through which information could freely – which also means anonymously – pass. One day Facebook will break and then we’ll all be sorry.

Dashboarding and curating will grow

I truly believe that every company should be monitoring what people are saying about it, its issues and its competitors, on a daily basis. Even if they don’t then engage, there is simply no excuse for not listening, especially when marvellous sites such as Netvibes make dashboarding easy as cake, a piece of pie. Set up an internal dashboard monitoring your competitors and what people are saying about them. That’s research. And have an external one showcasing what you say and the areas you want to ‘own’. That’s marketing. Where’s the harm in that?

Social media will only provably work for big companies that have stuff to sell

This is possibly the most controversial point here. Social media only works when it scales up. If you don’t have enough followers/members/contacts, it won’t work. People are the fuel that drives the social media engine. So smaller companies that genuinely want to engage will not see the benefit. However, larger companies that can command a large amount of interest online will see the benefit – and that will primarily be through selling. Take Dell, for example. It has sales that have grown, year on year, from 1 million dollars, to 3, to 6, to 18 million. That’s a steep curve, and whereas it’s peanuts for a company that size, I can see that they can totally point to an ROI that means they will continue to invest in it. Meanwhile your smaller enterprises will give up. This is a real pity because, in the same way the web isn’t meant to be one big application (see my Facebook point above), social media was supposed to give the little man a voice. Again, terms like ‘engagement’ and ‘dialogue’ are nice, but only if you can afford to invest in them without necessarily pointing to an ROI. ‘Selling’, on the other hand, is what the CEO is interested in, and will shell out money for, and you can only do this effectively if you’re big.

So, there you go. What will I do next year? Don’t know really. Maybe I’ll continue ploughing my furrow and see what transpires. Maybe I’ll close shop and go and work for a digital agency. Maybe I’ll set my own up. Maybe I’ll get out of social media altogether (again) and focus on something nice and comfortable, like copywriting.

And you? What will you do? Here’s my advice if you’re thinking about using social media next year:

  • Make sure you’re doing other forms of marketing too. Social media on its own will not cut it.
  • Make sure whoever you work with in social media knows what a strategy is. If they say “We’re all about tactics”, walk away.
  • Really think about monitoring. It doesn’t take long to set up and you will be amazed at what you find out.
  • Be prepared to work in the dark to an extent – you may never really know how much money you make off the back of your investment.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open for changes and closures. No social media site/channel/platform is too big to go under.

That about wraps it up for 2010. I’m going to finish my cup of tea and then work on thawing my toes out, then I’m going to sit by the log fire and stare into the distance for the next two weeks. Toodle pip.

Social media? I wouldn’t bother.

In the 18 months since I went freelance, I’ve spoken to a lot of people and worked with quite a few different companies, including a fair number of PR agencies.

And what have I learned? That the state of social media is pretty much exactly as it was when I first became a social media type, over three years ago. Except it’s worse. So, I’m going to make it all better, right here and now.

When I started there was a vague notion that something called a blog might be quite a useful communications tool. This was before Facebook and Twitter had started to loom quite so large. I told people how useful I thought blogs could be, but no one listened. I made it my job to find out about these developments and eventually moved on to pastures new, where there were tactics a-plenty but no concept of strategy, measurement, value.

Eventually I decided to go freelance so I could do things more how I felt they should be done. I’ve since developed what I would call fairly nifty ways of monitoring, measuring results, developing strategies. But time and time again I come up against the old problems:

  • You develop a strategy that considers all the angles – the people, the message, the brand, ownerships – maps it onto what a business does, sets targets. You’re sure it will work. It’s beautiful. There is a lot of excited waving of hands. And that’s it. Six months down the line, it’s dead in the water. Why? Because, I think, people are too busy to be bothered with it. They got along fine before it, they’ll get along fine after it. They don’t really need it.
  • Clients make unreasonable demands of social media because they’ve heard of it. They want you to do things with it, right here, right now. You want to explain to them that it’s not a tap you just turn on. But they’re too busy to care. So you get unsatisfactory results because you’ve been using the wrong solution for the wrong problem.
  • You find yourself siloed because people don’t want to know. Part of your social media strategy is that people all look after different parts of it. But they don’t because they’re too busy. You just cannot sustain this position because social media is content-driven and you cannot be the expert on everyone else’s content.

Can you see the thread here? People are too busy. They’ve got their heads down working and social media is something they’re prepared to pay lip service to, but no more. It’s nothing malicious. They’re just too busy.

I have a very clever friend who once looked after the marketing for a prominent occupational psychology firm. When I met him recently I asked how things were going. He replied sadly “No one listens to me.” Of course they don’t. They’re too busy for marketing. So it goes, they’re too busy for social media too, it would seem.

But get this: things are worse now because a lot of people have sorta kinda heard about social media. So now they feel extremely smug when they say they’re not sure about it because they don’t know how it generates ROI.

ROI? Gimme a break! How many companies know the ROI of anything they do, let alone comms?

For example:

  • What’s the ROI of your website? How much did it cost you to put together, and how much have you made from it? If you don’t know, then why did you put one together in the first place? What would be the effect of taking it down?
  • What’s the ROI of your PR or advertising? How many leads did you make out of it? What was the value of those leads? If you just increased brand awareness/value/sentiment, how do you quantify this?
  • What’s the ROI of your intranet? Has it reduced development time? Has it reduced time to market? Has it helped retain knowledge? If so, how much do you think you’ve saved on the cost of recruiting and training new staff?

Etc

The real problem here is that people have no idea of how their online efforts are doing because a) they don’t measure them and/or b) they never measured them so they have no benchmark. And c) they’re too busy to worry about this anyway.

So, my advice?

I once saw a programme about some men who spent time in a monastery. After several weeks one of them had what he classed as a spiritual experience. He went a bit ‘funny’ and couldn’t quite explain what was going on. The monk he told this to just said, in a very calm, soothing voice: “I wouldn’t bother.”

It felt nice. Nice and reassuring. Calming, some might say. Absolving, even.

So, if you’re worrying about social media, I wouldn’t bother. You’re too busy. It sounds cooooool but really, if I put a strategy together for you, you won’t follow it because you’re too busy.  So I wouldn’t bother. If you want it to do something for you, here, now, then that won’t work because that’s not how it works, so I wouldn’t bother. And if you’re suddenly overly concerned about ROI – which you never were in the past – then, again I wouldn’t bother because if you didn’t measure anything before, you won’t do it now.

There now. Doesn’t that feel better?

Danger words

Bad words. Click image for source.

Bad words. Click image for source.

When I was a young, naive strip of a lad, I thought everyone used the right words for the right reasons.

How wrong I was. How very, very wrong.

Today, gnarled and grizzled, I’m more aware of what people are really saying when words come out of their heads.

And some of those words should start alarm bells ringing if you’re anything to do with strategy.

I call them ‘danger words’. If I had a little blue light on my head, it would start flashing every time I hear them. They usually mean I’m in for a rough ride.

Here are three:

  • Holistic. You’ll hear this a lot. “Our strategy is holistic.” “We take a holistic approach to communications.” The problem with holistic is that it’s shorthand for ‘we don’t really know what we’re doing. We just sort of throw it all in the pot and see what comes out. Consequently we’re in a bit of a mess Brendan, so we’d like you to sort it all out for us.’ This is fine except it’s rarely followed by ‘Here, have a large sum of money.’
  • Organic. This is another danger word, very like holistic. “We’ve grown our communities organically.” “Our templates have grown organically.” This actually means ‘we didn’t plan any of it. We didn’t actually know what we wanted to achieve and we basically winged it for a while. Now we’re in a bit of a pickle. So we’d like you to sort it all out for us.’ Again.
  • Creative. Is again quite similar in its startling non-specificity. “We believe in creative communications.” Wack-o-the-diddle-o. Usually this means ‘if we surround ourselves with enough chocolate, cake, biscuits, caffeine, plasticine, stickle bricks, lego and flash cards, we’ll come up with something’. The problem is exactly that – you come up with something, but not necessarily the right thing. I’m not usually asked to fix creativity because by the time I come in, it’s usually being classed as holistic or organic.

So there you have it. These are wishy-washy terms that you might hear and, if you’re new to comms, might think they make perfect sense. But they don’t.

They have the devil inside. They embody rigdly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty. They are ‘danger’ words that you should be afraid of. And fear leads to anger. Anger leads to pain. Pain leads to suffering. Be careful.

I’m sure there are plenty more examples out there but, owing to having only three readers of this blog, one of whom is currently having his tonsils removed, I doubt I’ll get many responses. OK, look, I’ll add a poll.

Like This!

To craunch a marmoset, frothy vomit, and other curiosities

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

A marmoset, being craunched, yesterday. Click image for source.

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

So I was going through Epoch PR‘s numbers (I’m their digital associate and am helping them with their online strategy), and this came up: http://seadna.net/301-redirect-the-seo-way-to-rename-or-move-files-or-folders/

To quote the bit that my Epoch PR search must have picked up: “it takes a straws of in good time always and hard hopped to build a skilful epoch PR.”

Do what?

The piece is so weird, it’s inspired. Here are some more examples:

  • “If someone types ‘excise usb drives’ in a search engine punch, your foot-boy shows up on the sooner search results screen”
  • “Google developed a proprietary algorithm that assigns a Page Stinking (PR) to every summon forth”
  • “why can’t you upright matching the page and disenchant type suffer its course”

I think it must be a machine translation of another article or just random text pasted together to get web traffic. The funny thing is that it sort of makes sense, but really doesn’t.

It goes to show – monitoring and measurement is never as easy as it first seems. And there’s never a foot-boy around when you need one.

Further down the search list is a post I can more readily vouch for: http://oldamqvnl.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!D7176E885C76F591!109.entry is a machine translation of my own Epoch PR post from a few months back, so given that I write in English, and that it is also in English, I can only assume it’s via a second language somewhere. Good Lord, is the web really just an eternally self-translating churn of random copy?

Again, there are wonderful mistakes in it: the company name changes from ‘Epoch’ to ‘Era’; they change from a lovely bunch of people to ‘a lovely clustering of people’; and I simply cannot tell you why “I’m no visionary but I do remember my sneaking suspicion that blogging would be important for PR about three years ago” becomes “I ‘m no windy but I make recall my mousing intuition that blogging would be important for Pr about three geezerhood ago.”

This all reminds me of a case once quoted in the ‘The Book of Heroic Failures’, in which someone had written an English/Portuguese dictionary via  English/Spanish and Spanish/Portuguese dictionaries (he knew no English), and came up with immortal phrases such as ‘to craunch a marmoset’. And yes, here it is: the glorious ‘English As She Is Spoke’.

Or, indeed, the catalogue currently describing the latest Saatchi exhibition. To wit: “A nation demarcated where vomit meets surf, geographically encircled by froth”. I would characterise the UK as many things, but vomity, surfy and frothy it ain’t.

Proof that you don’t need machine translation on the interweb to come up with gobbledegook.

Strajectics? Obtagies? How about tacstratives?

gameplanIt’s very probably true to say that Afghanistan is in a bit of a mess. This isn’t helped, however, when I hear people on the radio say things like “The strategy was to get the Taliban out.” That’s not a strategy. It’s an objective. And it probably isn’t even an objective because I doubt it’s achievable.

I keep coming up against this. People don’t know the difference between a strategy, an objective, and a tactic. And yet they apply equally to communications as they do to war operations.

Some people say they’re interchangeable. They’re not. And there are ways of thinking about them that can really help figure out which is which.

Objectives

Objectives are things you want to achieve. Sometimes objectives can be very easily stated – “We intend to place a man on the moon before the decade is out”, for example – and sometimes they are not. Often, in communications, objectives will be along the lines of increasing awareness or, online, increasing links to communities.

Either way, they need to be specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and timely. So it’s no use saying you’re going to place 100 articles in the broadsheets by the end of the month, because while it’s specific, measurable and timely, it’s not achievable, unless you have 100 account executives working on the case in which case it might just about be realistic.

These are all ways of saying the same thing: you need to know where you are now, where you want to be, and have ways and means of knowing when you’re there. So, it follows that objectives necessitate measurement. You set targets and you measure your progress toward them.

To understand objectives, try to visualise what success looks like. From that you can work backwards and see what you need to aim for to get there.

Strategy

This is the top-level way in which you want to achieve your objectives. It’s often stated in a single phrase, so a strategy for getting a man on the moon would be to combine government-funded agencies with contract staff, for example. A strategy to convince people not to smoke might be to persuade them of the positive effects of giving up rather than scaring the bejeezus out of them with pictures of black lungs.

If you want to figure out whether something’s a strategy or a tactic, ask yourself “How would I do this?” If there’s just one thing, it’s a tactic, because you’ve already boiled it down to a single action. If the answers come thick and fast, it’s a strategy, because there are plainly lots of things you need to do to follow the strategy successfully. And these things are…

Tactics

These are the things you do. To land a man on the moon, following the public/private strategy, you would need to start thinking about which companies can help, who has experience, what is the latest state of research, where the money will come from, and so on. These are all tactics. In communications, if you’re going to stop people smoking using positive imagery, you’d get on the phone to medical experts, self-help groups, lifestyle gurus, etc.

Think of a tactic as a step. You are where you are now, and you want to get somewhere else. You need to take steps to get there. Each step is a tactic. Which brings me to the idea of…

Change

Anyone who comes to you for advice generally wants to change in some way. They want to stop doing something they’re doing now, or start doing something they’re not. They want to get somewhere. They want to grow, or consolidate, or acquire. In today’s economic climate they might want to defend their position, which is still change because you’ll be helping minimise their exposure.

Your comms work will help them change, and this is an important point. You’re helping them with processes that roll out over time, not discrete events that just happen.

So, I always try to think of objectives, strategies and tactics as ‘change objectives’, ‘change strategies’ and ‘change tactics’. That is, what are the change objectives that I need to aim for? What are the change strategies I can employ to help me get there? What change tactics do I need to plan out?

Still, as I said, there are lots of opinions out there. These are mine. I’m prepared to have them changed if anyone can suggest a better way of thinking about them…!

We need microchips in this hoover

I was hoovering (ok, vacuum-cleaning – I prefer the colloquial British cos I’m a colloquial Brit) the other day – absentmindedly, which is how I do most things – when I suddenly wondered to myself “Does this hoover have a microchip in it?”

Because I bet it does. When you start it up it idles for a couple of seconds then suddenly it’s like Twister. It grabs hold of everything within reach. The carpet comes up, trees outside bend, the cat runs away on the spot. Ever seen the Jackass Rodeo Firehose? Imagine that, but in reverse.

Then I wondered who was the first person to put a microchip in a hoover. Then, more importantly, who was the second. I could imagine the conversation:

CEO: “We need microchips in our hoovers!”

Technician: “Darn-tootin’ boss! But why?”

CEO: “Er…. I dunno, but the other guys have!”

This would be a neat metaphor for social media. I often come across anecdotes in which people say “We need a blog/wiki/Twitter account”, to which the obvious response is “why?”

Fortunately I’ve found a book which agrees with me – Groundswell, by Forrester. I’ve been following Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang for quite some time – he’s the person I’ve bookmarked the most – and whereas he isn’t credited as an author of the book, the quality of Forrester’s thinking shines through here.

I’ve had several ‘slap-onesself-on-the-forehead’ moments where what I’ve read has made so much sense. One of these has been recognition that the tactics/tech come last in all of this.

So you can say “we need a blog”, but suddenly that brings up so many questions. Much better the other way around, when you’ve established your strategy and objectives and audiences, and the blog is one of the (significantly fewer) answers.

So the next time you, or anyone else, says “We need an X”, just imagine what use a microchip would be in a hoover, and ask that obvious question…