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Time to Ask What, So What, and Now What? [The Weekly Wrap]

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And that’s a wrap of the week ending April 24, 2020

This week I’m thinking about three questions: What? So what? Now what? I share my fresh take on the reveal of Amazon platform changes that expose publishing’s weak points (again). I talk with The Content Council’s chair Jacqueline Loch about the challenges of developing messaging and stories in the COVID-19 era. And I take you back to the future with content marketing predictions for 2020.

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Our theme this week is “What now?” (There is only what was and what is – what might have been is just a distraction.)

Let’s wrap it up.

One deep thought: Reflecting on “Now what?” vs. “What’s next?” (3:25)

As we start to come out of this global crisis, many marketers are wondering what to do.

Before we do anything else, we should reflect.

Almost 20 years ago, a professor of nursing at Swansea University published a helpful framework for self-reflection and communication in the book Critical Reflection for Nursing and the Helping Professions: A User’s Guide.

The approach is based on answering three simple questions:

  • What? Answering this question helps us describe what happened, focusing on consequences, responses, feelings, and challenges the situation raised.
  • So what? This reflection helps us to process what we’ve learned about ourselves and leads us to develop models, attitudes, and changes to improve.
  • Now what? In this step, we identify what we need to do in the future for better outcomes and to develop our learning.

These three questions mirror a progression many people work through during disruptive experiences. But in the moment, it’s hard to see anything other than what’s staring back at us.

You can see this in the COVID-19 crisis.

In the early days of the pandemic, officials shared definitions and forecasts of the ramifications of what we were facing. These definitions influenced the so what ­– the models of how to respond, recommended remedies, and many people’s attitudes toward the crisis.

As we enter the now what stage, lessons learned and forecasts for the next (or new) normal are coming in. These now what discussions tend to claim either that we’re through the worst of it (so let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming) or that things will never be normal again.

But the three-question exercise was designed for reflection after an event or experience ends. I talk about how asking “Now what?” isn’t the same as “What’s next?”  – and why this difference matters.

“Now what?” isn’t the same as “What’s next?” says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

A fresh take on Amazon Associates news and the perils of rented land (11:10)

A recent article in Digiday illustrates a change that the pandemic may have accelerated but didn’t cause. It’s like when an earthquake causes a weak retaining wall to fail – it was always going to fail, the earthquake just made it fail earlier.

The article’s headline rings familiar: ‘This is Exposing Our Weak Points’: Amazon Changes Teach Publishers – Again – Platform Dependence is Risky. (Have you heard the one about not building on rented land?)

The author opens explaining how publishers came to depend on Amazon after a series of devastating changes (for publishers) to the Facebook algorithm in 2017: “… (O)ne of the brightest spots of diversification – tapping into affiliate programs with shopping guides and other product recommendation content – was for many publishers just another form of platform dependence. But this time, the platform was Amazon (and to a lesser extent, Walmart) rather than Facebook.”

Then the author shares the April 14 news that Amazon would dramatically cut the Amazon Associates’ commission rates by half to nearly two-thirds in many categories. Amazon Associates, as the author writes, is “the affiliate marketing program that serves as the unofficial foundation of media’s growing commerce operations.”

On reflection, I think most publishers will agree they should have seen this coming.

I’ve talked about how BuzzFeed’s new model uses brand extensions through its Tasty brand portfolio for all kinds of new products. And then it uses content to promote those products through its e-commerce channel. BuzzFeed is using content to send you to its own store instead of someone else’s store.

I talk about how the lesson to take from Amazon’s announcement isn’t to never build on rented land. The lesson is to build a value chain and platform that can withstand the changes Amazon, Google, Apple, and Facebook throw your way.

This week’s person making a difference in content: Jacqueline Loch (17:11)

My interview this week is with Jacqueline Loch, executive vice president of customer innovation for St. Joseph Communications, a wonderful content marketing agency that specializes in developing content and content strategies for businesses all over the world, including some of Canada’s most iconic and celebrated media brands.

Jacquie is an expert in content strategy, media integration, SEO, and direct-to-consumer strategies and she chairs the board of The Content Council. She’s a frequent speaker on branded content solutions and has created award-winning multiplatform content strategies for clients such as Dior, HBC, Coty, L’Oréal Canada, Walmart, Air Miles/LoyaltyOne, Canadian Tire, and Rogers Communications.

Jacquie and I had a wonderful talk about the challenges of developing messaging and stories in the COVID-19 era.

Here’s a sneak peek at one of Jacquie’s insights into the wild ride of content strategy now:

Companies (are) being forced to shift from that ‘big-voice’ corporate messaging that’s kind of at an arm’s length, that holds you back (we’re here for you but don’t come near us) to that ‘little-voice’ messaging, which is more about demonstrating that you know your customer. You’re talking with them, you’re talking about things that are relevant at that time and on that day … and getting away from that tactical broad messaging into real service content that ultimately does make them feel good, but really demonstrates that you’re there for them.

Little-voice messaging demonstrates that you know about your customer. It shows you’re there for them. @jacquelineloch via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

Listen in to our conversation and learn more from Jacquie:

One content marketing idea you can use (32:05)

The post on CMI’s site I’d love for you to take another look at might not make any sense at first glance: Back to the Future: 90 Content Marketing Predictions for 2020.

CMI’s General Manager Stephanie Stahl curated these predictions about content marketing way back in December 2019. (Doesn’t that feel like ages ago?) But I’m amazed by how many of them are still relevant – and maybe more relevant ­– today.

I’m struck by this quote from Henry Rollins, a keynote speaker at the 2019 Content Marketing World event: “We are not going back to anything… not dial-up, not anything ancient. The old must give away to the new, and we must come with intensity and innovation.” Wow, was that a prescient prediction.

With the lens of everything we’re dealing with today, I found this article to be interesting and helpful as a way to reflect on things we may still want to change on the other side of this crisis.

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The wrap-up

Join me next week when I’ll share one rubber thought that might stretch out my career. I’ll grill up one news item for you that shows what’s at steak. And I’ll share one content marketing tip that’s like Marty’s DeLorean – it can help you from time to time. And it’ll all be delivered in a little less time than it takes to find out that Belgravia is definitely not Downton Abbey.

I hope you’re all not going stir crazy and you’re safe, warm, and socially distanced. And I really hope you’re digging the show. I’m having a ton of fun making it and doing a ton of writing and reflection.

If you have ideas for what you’d like to hear more of on our weekly play on words, let us know in the comments. And if you love the show, we’d sure love for you to review it or share it. Hashtag us up on Twitter: #WeeklyWrap.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute