You and Kei

I’ve been a frequent attendee at a variety of marketing conferences and industry get-togethers over the last few years. I’ve spoken at some, been on a panel at others and sat and watched intently at the majority of them. Some of them have been focusing on sports marketing, some on B2b marketing and others on more general marketing topics.

So, quite a variety of people banging on about various stuff. And the major central topic that spans everything is content – content marketing, content creation, content amplification, content on chips with a side order of content.

And a lot of that chat about content is about how the majority of people are still doing it pretty badly. As Katie Canton from B2b agency Birddog points out in this excellent post, content has gone from being the next big thing to being *the* thing, and yet only 42% of B2b marketeers think they’re doing it effectively.

So there is something missing. Marketeers left, right and centre talking about content. Not that many people doing it, and even fewer doing it in a way that they are satisfied with.

So, what is missing?

Katie’s post argues that it is content strategy. And I’d go along with that. But for me that’s the second part of getting yourself on the road to plugging the gap.

I think the first thing that is needed is the correct mindset. I think content marketing (no, sorry, good content marketing) comes first and foremost from the correct mindset. After that it is a content strategy, then it is the implementation.

I think if your mind is stuck in the wrong place, your strategy doesn’t even have a chance to be right – you’ll be too inhibited and you’ll look for content in all of the wrong places.

What do I mean? Well, let me focus on the world of football (for a change).

Great content in sport (and probably elsewhere come to think of it) comes from having one (or two, or all) of the following three things – knowledge, connections or access. Knowledge helps you impart wisdom on those who are receptive to your content, connections help you to signpost people around the web so that others can do the same and and access helps you offer an insider’s perspective on something your audience is desperate for a piece of.

I think that insider access is the easiest thing to achieve in sport. If you work for a club or governing body, you have that access in spades. As long as your mindset is correct. If you think about allowing people that access and it makes you nervous, or makes you think that you should be monetising every single bit of that access, you’re in a place where that mindset (either individually or corporately) will stop you creating great content.

An example of what I mean (taken from the club I support, Middlesbrough, and only because that’s the content I follow most closely, not as a singled out criticism – Boro actually do some pretty good stuff….):

Around a year ago, Boro signed a new striker, Kei Kamara. Now this is a big moment in the life of a football club – a new international centre forward coming in to lead the line. It is something to get the fans excited and something that drives them online to find out everything they can.

In the old world, a club would own the access to this information and feed it to the fans in the traditional ways. This would be a news conference and club interviews, as well as the morsels fed to the local media. Fans would lap it up.

And this was followed in the aftermath of the signing of Kamara. A fan would go onto the Boro website and click excitedly onto the interview with the new striker. To be greeted with this:


Fine. The club believe that this content should be monetised. Personally I don’t. I believe that as a fan I have a right to see that content without paying any more than money for match tickets and merchandise (or in the case of Boro, with tears over the last 30 years).

So in the old world there would be a split between the type of fans who are happy to pay and those that believe the club is unfairly denying them access to the best content.

But things are different now.

Kei Kamara himself is a prolific producer of content. He is active on Twitter and Instagram – engaging and well followed. And as part of signing for Boro, he produced better content that club could on their own. All available for free.

For example – check this out – a new signing using Instagram video to document his first ever visit to the stadium:

Now that is great content. Simple, emotive and unique. Not difficult to produce if you have the access and more importantly the right mindset to do so.

I want my club to produce this kind of stuff for me. When I go through official channels to find out how a player is doing in his rehab from injury, I don’t want a boring, anodyne statement, I want to see more stuff like this:

But using this unique access in official channels requires bravery. Some people will question the impact it will have on enhanced digital membership subscriptions. Some people will question the ability to police it, and the impact that bad publicity around your main players could have on the strategy.

There are tons of roadblocks that could be put in the way. All of which may be valid. But if your mindset is one of producing content that brings fans closer and gives them the access that they crave then you’ll find a way to overcome these hurdles.

When Kei was at his previous club, Sporting Kansas City in MLS, the club actively engaged with him to produce this type of non matchday content. It adds vibrancy and life to their YouTube channel, with very little work other than pointing the camera at someone who’ll be doing this kind of stuff anyway:

I guess the big caveat to all of this is that I’ve never worked in a club. This change of mindset and switch to a becoming a micro-publisher of behind the scenes stuff may be simply impossible. I just don’t know whether that is the case or not. And I’ve not reviewed every club’s output (I know, for example, QPR do some good stuff) to possibly make the kind of sweeping statements I’ve made here, but it’s just my opinion as a fan.

And with that, I’ll leave you with Kei:

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Candy Crushed

Do you find that you’re downloading and playing far fewer mobile games than you did a couple of years ago?

When the smartphone revolution kicked off, it heralded a brave new era for mobile gaming. No more lugging your PSP around with its brittle and clunky cartridge-disk things. No more losing your wafer thin DS games down the back of the sofa.

You would have your primary mobile gaming device on you at all times, and you’d be able to access a steady stream of new games quickly and easily. Sure, there would be issues around the control methods, but we’d all get used to that in time.

And sure enough, the app store brought with it a ton of brilliant games – some remakes of old favourites but also new, quirky, innovative titles like Gesundheit, Plants vs Zombies, Sword & Poker and many more.

You would buy them, play them, complete them, and then buy something else.

Then we all ballsed it up.

As consumers, we forgot that a great video game takes the skill, graft and experience of talented people. We forget that this endeavour has a value that is worth paying for. So we gravitated towards the free games, or the ones that were 69p. We collectively baulked at paying A WHOLE POUND for something that we’d get tens of hours of entertainment from.

And the market responded to this. To be a success, you needed to be downloaded so that you were seen in the charts. To be downloaded you needed to be free, or super cheap. So, the industry had to find another way to get the money they needed from us to keep creating these games.

And in-app micro purchases are the golden bullet. Originally these were add-ons to the core gaming experience. An optional extra for those who were already fully bought in. But it pretty quickly became apparent that this wasn’t enough.

Now these micropayments are a fundamental part of playing a game. Often they are the thing that will allow you to play the game. Sometimes they’ll give you an advantage, or help you progress more quickly.

So we’re being drip-fed an “experience” over a period of time, and paying for the privilege, in tiny amounts, regularly. And this is working for the publishers. They’ve seen a consumer base that has increasingly lost the concept of value and they are having to effectively trick them into rewarding them for their efforts. And the consumers are buying it, figuratively and literally.

The result is that have a mobile gaming ecosystem that is totally broken. Creativity amongst mobile developers isn’t about crafting the best gaming experience, or the most compelling gaming world. It is chiefly about how to slice, dice and chop the game into the smallest chunks possible and how to monetise those chunks over time – ensuring a steady stream of revenue and keeping the app at the top of the charts to keep it visible and ensure it is downloaded.

So we’re all playing Candy Crush. And we’re accepting that we have to wait another half an hour for those extra lives, or we’re paying 69p for the next 15 levels. We’re accepting the fact that our Jurassic Park doesn’t have a T-Rex without either waiting 6 months or paying another 10 quid.

And the end result is that we’re all downloading fewer games and the revolution in mobile gaming that we were once promised hasn’t transpired.

And it’s our own fault. We were all too willing to let a team of talented people graft for months, then moan that they wanted £2 for their output (split 70/30 with Apple of course).

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Building a brand in a world of noughts and ones.

The industry in which I work is a strange one.

Opta and our competitors are essentially selling something completely intangible. Noughts and ones flying down a pipe and ending up on a screen – sometimes a TV, sometimes a laptop or a tablet, maybe even a newspaper.

We collect the data from sport across the world and send it out around the world. Location is largely irrelevant, as long as the final product is accurate and timely. The end users know very little of the process involved between the action occurring and their consumption of it.

This creates an interesting marketing challenge. How do you differentiate yourself in a world where the product can’t be touched, and the differences should, in theory, be negligible between suppliers?

There are ways you can do it with your product, of course – at Opta we believe we collect more interesting and detailed data. We believe that we can deliver it more quickly and in a format that is easy for our clients to use. But I’m sure we’re not the only ones who say that kind of stuff.

We’re a premium supplier. But getting that message across in a way that people understand can be tricky.

This is why, as the guy tasked with addressing this challenge, I try to concentrate on a couple of key things.

Firstly, I massively believe in building trust in your brand through focusing on attention to detail in all areas of your work – the ones that people will see, and the ones people won’t see. The excellent Bryony Thomas calls it “sweating the small stuff“.

You can tell a lot about the final output of a company, or an individual, by the energy, effort and focus they put into other things. This is especially important when you can’t pick up a product and see and feel instantly how well made it is. Attention to detail is reassurance.

The other thing I believe is tremendously important is the power of design. We have two graphic designers within the marketing department at Opta, and I couldn’t imagine running a B2b marketing department without this resource.

Everything we do that is client facing (and a lot of stuff that isn’t) goes through the funnel of our graphic design team. Armed with robust brand guidelines and a fearsome attention to detail, they ensure consistency of output and help us to elevate even the most simple piece of communication into something that helps to reinforce our status as a premium supplier.

Whereas a premium FMCG product can invest in packaging, point of sale or above the line advertising to reinforce their position, we can’t do that. The only thing that really differentiates suppliers of intangible goods (at least at the stage prior to “sampling” the product) is brand.

And I think you can go a long way to addressing this issue by focusing on how you address the other stuff.

It does matter. All of it matters.

Building a brand a series of a million little decisions: take care with each and every one of them.

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The Changing Face of Football Data

I did a piece on how the world of football data has evolved for the newly launched Opta blog.

You can have a look at it over here at the Opta site.

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What the Police Elections and the Wii U have in common

Every week in Marketing magazine they ask the Brand Manager of the Week to define marketing.

The answers are generally something they’ve thought up to try and make themselves sound more intelligent than they actually are. “The art of communicating profitably with customers”, “forming life long connections between brands and people” are such gems. Bollocks, frankly.

Now I’m no stranger to marketing bollocks. I’ve built this “career” off spouting stuff like that at regular intervals. It can serve you well. And I’d no idea what I’d answer if asked to be Marketing’s Brand Manager of the Week (contact details on this blog….).

But for me marketing is nothing more than making stuff simple to understand. What does that do? Who are that company? How will this particular thing help me?

Things and stuff have different levels of complexity. The simplification of some messages may be just showing people how one brand differentiates from another whereas some marketing teams have to get across a very complex message about the product or service first, before brand even comes into it.

Some people call this the elevator pitch. Americans usually. Although “lift pitch” doesn’t quite cut it. Also, I’ve never heard anyone actually speak in a lift, so this analogy needs a bit of work.

Anyway, all of this pre-amble brings me to a couple of examples of what I would describe as a complete failure of simplification. And therefore, in my opinion, terrible marketing.

Firstly there was the Police Commissioner Elections. This is a complicated new position doing a complicated thing at the top of complicated organisations. With varied and complicated responsibilities, depending on location. Complicated.

So the very first job of the people responsible for marketing this election should have been to simplify this. To simplify it enough for people like me to go outside in the dark and cold and go and put a cross in a box.

But every bit of communication I saw about these elections muddied the muddy water even further. The labour chap in our district put a leaflet through the door that started with the promise that he would reverse government cuts. So, he’s a politician? Part of the government? Has Danny Alexander’s mobile phone number?

Who knows? My initial reaction was “no, you won’t” and I dismissed it out of hand.

The local TV news had a feature on the election stating that the new Commissioner would “have the power to hire and fire the Police Constable”. Right, fine. But what does the Police Constable do? And why would you need to fire them? And what are you doing the rest of the time?

Do they just hire and fire a new one every day to keep themselves busy? Like Jesus Gil in a M&S suit.

Every single thing about the communication of these elections was pitiful. Personally I’m surprised they got as high a turn out as they did.

The second example of a complicated proposition that hasn’t been distilled at all by the communications is at the other end of the spectrum, the new console from Nintendo – the Wii U.

This, for the uninitiated is the big daddy to the hugely successful Nintendo Wii. That’s the game console that you control by waving the controller about. And that, in a sentence, explains a great deal of the Wii’s success. You can explain it to anyone within a few words. Or you can show them and they instantly get it.

Anyone of any age can pick up a Wii controller and they know instantly what to do.

Now with the Wii U, Nintendo have added stuff. And they’ve decided to try and compete with the big bad Xbox and Playstation brands. The graphics are better, the processor more powerful.

And then you have a new controller thing. Which looks a bit like an iPad and allows you to interact with games in a variety of different ways. Or play a game on it instead of the TV.

As stated on this advert, the possibilities are endless:

Watch that ad, then imagine explaining what the Wii U does to your Grandma. You’ll get to “and then you can also play on the controller” before you give up.

I wonder if the marketing folk at Nintendo ever considered that “the possibilities are endless” is actually something you avoid saying at this stage of introducing a brand new concept.

I don’t think people want endless possibilities. They want simplified concepts. Especially when trying to play to a wide market. The type of people who walked into Asda and picked up a Wii because they understood what it could do and how don’t want to try and work out which of these possibilities suits them.

I love video games, and new console launches always appeal to me. I may be wrong, and I hope I am, but I see the Wii U as almost dead on arrival. I just can’t see it being a success, certainly not to the levels of the Wii or the DS.

And that is about as simple as I can make it.

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The Digital Olympics – A Game Changer

The Olympics have been finished less than a week and already we’ve had a multitude of blogs, tweets and comments about how the big bad world of football can learn from it.

We’ve had it from journalists and we’ve had it from footballers currently serving massive bans for punching other players.

I’m not going to add to that debate. Other than to say this – maybe, just maybe, you can’t compare the two things. And maybe, just maybe, some of the more unsavoury aspects of football are what make it so compelling week after week. And maybe, just maybe, that if some of our Olympics heroes were given an agent at age 13 and were earning £40k per week at age 16 and had everybody out for a piece of them every single day they would turn out to be just as big arseholes as a lot of the footballers.

But, enough of that.

I do think football can learn from the Olympics, however. But I’m not talking about off the pitch. I think the real lasting legacy that will impact on the Premier League and beyond has come from the off-pitch stuff. I’m talking about the coverage.

In short, LOCOGs digital team and the BBC have done such a good job that I think they moved the goalposts. I think they may have opened the eyes of a lot of the general viewing public.

They have changed “what is possible” into “what is expected”. And I think this could be a difficult thing for top flight football to swallow. During the Olympics I would seamlessly move from big screen to small screen, through all sizes of screen inbetween. There would be no change in the quality of programming that I was watching.

I could choose exactly what I wanted to watch, and when. I was completely in charge. And there was no arbitrary distinction between broadcast platforms. Online was TV and TV was online. All the time, across all of the different sports.

It was a masterclass in how to put the viewer in charge of their own event. The BBC delivered superbly on all counts, and the size of that undertaking should not be underestimated. Every session of every event, in HD, in whatever format you choose to view it, supported by radio and online text commentaries. Really, truly superb.

So the jarring thing for me this weekend was not seeing Chelsea and Man City players kicking lumps out of each other. I quite liked that. And it wasn’t hearing the crowd shouting “wanker, wanker, wanker” at the referee. I kind of agreed with them. And I’m a grown up, so that doesn’t bother me.

What jarred for me was seeing the new season ad for Sky Sports advertising Wigan v Chelsea.

Here you go, take it or leave it.

But I don’t want to be told which game to watch. I want to pick and choose. And I don’t want highlights available at this time, on this platform, through this provider. I want it the way I want it. I’m prepared to pay. In fact, I already do, so give me what I want.

Now there are very good reasons why it is like it is. The Premier League makes a whole heap of cash by carving out the rights across platforms and by dividing up match packs. A free-for-all wouldn’t make a whole lot of commercial sense.

So it is what it is. And Sky’s coverage is uniformly excellent (and with Sky Go they at least let me take my coverage with me on different devices).

But I do wonder how long “consumer expectations” and “making commercial sense” can be at odds with each other. A tech savvy and passionate audience has a way of moulding these things to their own preference.

It happened in music, it happened in TV and now, as we have seen over the last couple of weeks, it can happen in sport.

However long it takes for the impact to be felt, I think the Olympics has been a game changer for football. Just not on the pitch.

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How can Twitter own the second screen?

I first started banging on about second screen viewing in around 2007.

That was when my dwindling attention span and Johnny-5 like desire for more and more digital input started to affect my everyday life. My PC was now a laptop and I wanted to, for want of a better phrase, fart around on said laptop while watching TV.

It lead to the start of the often heard “Oi, I was watching that/no you weren’t you were on the computer” argument in my household. And who said men can’t multi-task, eh?

I wasn’t alone. As computers became laptop and laptops became netbooks and netbooks became tablets, more and more people with diminishing attention spans started flitting between one, two and three screening while watching TV. And this has lead to a proliferation in apps, websites and experiences designed to cater for this can-you-not-leave-your-sodding-phone-alone-for-five-bloody-minutes audience.

I’ve tried them all. From Zeebox to StatsZone. From Squawka to The Million Pound Drop app. There are some really excellent second screen options out there, each offering something different and adding to the experience.

On a personal level though, I’ve still not managed to find anything to match the original second screen experience – that of Twitter itself. When using one of the dedicated second screen apps I tend to find myself flicking back to Twitter itself, eventually often sticking with it.

For filtering the world through the eyes of my interest group, it can’t be beaten. The second screen experiences that cater for a specific market or topic often pull in a social feed, or create one themselves. And that is great, it certainly adds something. But for me, when I’m watching football I also want to know what my non-football followees (just invented that word, you can have it) are up to, and what they have to add.

And from what I gather, providers of other experiences can’t pull in a full Twitter timeline due to the rules and regs. So I’ll have to keep swiping across my ipad from one thing to another, back and forth out of Twitter itself. Or buy another iPad. What?

So, that for me leaves an opportunity for Twitter itself. If you look at the Twitter website, or the app, there is a lot of wasted or underutilised real estate.

So why can’t Twitter go the other way? Why can’t it read what is in my timeline and use that space to serve me some interesting stuff. On my timeline there are always loads of people droning on about football. So, why not send me some contextualised content – stats, info or betting ads, for example.

I won’t mind. Twitter gives me so much value that I actively want it to start advertising to me, if that advertising is contextual and relevant. Why can’t it find out what is trending on my timeline and use that to help to create the ultimate second screen all-in-one destination?

I see a future where there is a Twitter app store of sorts, where brands and companies offer different solutions to improve my Twitter experience. Loads of people on your timeline banging on about The Dark Knight? Come on IMDB, give me some info. Come on Odeon, tell me where I can get tickets.

Maybe it would be too much, and maybe it would ruin the experience. But done well, I think it could create the complete solution.

And maybe I wouldn’t need my lounge to look like a scene from Minority Report after all.

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