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Interview with David Alston – The Influencer Series

David Alston is the Chief Innovation Officer at Introhive, an advisor to multiple startups, a director at ScribbleLive, an advocate for kids coding and the transformation of the Maritime economy to one underpinned by tech, and supporter of alternative energy approaches.  He also wears a cowboy hat, sings Johnny Cash songs and is one heck of a photographer…oh and just another tidbit, he has been consistently named as one of the Top CMOs on Twitter by Social Media Marketing Magazine.  @DavidAlston Influencer

I had the privilege of working with David, so I can honestly say that his passion and conviction are contagious.  His knowledge and expertise in marketing and innovation are phenomenal.  I was so pleased that he agreed to be a part of my Influencer Series.  So, let’s get to the questions, cause I know that you want his responses.

The Interview:

MacLean:  Marketing continues to change and evolve.  What do you see as the most important skills for people to have to meet the demands of today and the next year?

Alston:  Content marketing is now as commonplace as community engagement. You also have to be tracking and understand all of numbers behind each online property & digital campaign. In order to stand out, you need to be able to successfully blend the art of marketing (creativity and relationship building) with the science of marketing (analytics and cross referencing multiple sources of data).

MacLean:  What has been the most significant change you have seen in marketing over the last two years and why?

Alston:  Marketers have become publishers. Of course that’s also created a lot of noise for customers to sift through and thus just publishing the same kind of stuff you were publishing three years ago probably won’t cut it. Taking a stand on issues, being bold with creative content, unique partnerships and infusing marketing directly inside products and services are now a must.

MacLean:  Community Management was all the talk a few years back, but it seems to have taken a backseat.  Do you think that people have lost sight of the value and/or that it is just an oversight and will re-emerge because of the true value that it can bring?

Alston:  Hopefully for companies where it’s disappeared it’s because it was absorbed into the roles of any employee that would typically be in contact with customers – PR, sales, customer service etc. Companies that ignore people in social channels completely, will pay the price today just like they would have two years ago.

MacLean:  What advice would you offer businesses in terms of hiring marketing professionals?

Alston:  I’ve always been a proponent of investing in marketing early on when it comes to startups.  Marketing is as much about strategy as it is about brand and collateral. Marketing should also have a seat at the executive table early on because it’s about building a market/demand for a product or service, getting marketing/sales into the offering, strategic positioning vs competitors, and creating content and influence in a space you want to be a leader in. Translation – you need to focus on adding someone with the experience on how to get this done. They can build out the team with more junior staffers for specific functions later.

MacLean:  What do you think will be the next big thing in marketing?

Alston:  Real-time marketing! The idea of creating engagement experiences using real-time content and looping potential prospects into the traditional sales funnel, similar to how marketing automation does it for non-real-time. (Full disclosure – I am on the board of directors for ScribbleLive).

MacLean:  Finally, you have been very active in innovation and getting kids into coding, what can marketers learn from collaborating more with this side of the business?

Alston:  Much of the success around progress with kids and coding has been tapping into the existing communities supportive of the cause and utilizing the act of documenting the cause on video, as a way to fan the flames of the movement. There is nothing more powerful than an idea who’s time has finally come.

As always, David offers great insight and ideas and I sincerely thank him for taking the time to answer my questions.

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Marketing Challenges of 2014: The Influencers Weigh-in

If 2013 taught us anything, content marketing is not going anywhere.  Nearly all leading companies finally have content strategies.  With this in mind, tactics have had to change.  What do brands do to stand out in a sea of content that flows freely in every digital space that can possibly exist?  Good question!    Thankfully you have come to the right place!  I asked 5 of the top influencers what brands should be doing in 2014 to stand out. Let’s see what they have to say:

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1.  The Return of Good Writing (Tweet this)

@marketingprofs’ Ann Handley thoughts focus on the words you use and how you use them.

“Next—in 2014 and beyond—content grows up, and with it comes the notion that good writing is the foundation of all good content, whether that content is a 140-character tweet or the product pages of your website or your content marketing infographic…..Increasingly, organizations will realize that words matter. Your words (what you say) and style (how you say it) are your most cherished (and undervalued) assets. In other words, good writing is the basis of good content that gets noticed, no matter what form that content ultimately takes. What’s more: For businesses, good writing is a mirror of good, clear, customer-centric thinking.”

2.  Being Uniquely Creative While Being Authentic (Tweet this)

Radian6 and IntroHive Co-founder David Alston (@davidalston) knows from experience that in order to stand out, you need to be unique.  After all, Radian6 did this with their Community Strategy and won the hearts and minds of a fantastic community.

“Content marketing and social media are mainstream so the big thing in 2014 will not be if you use them, but how creative your brand will be. Just using each no longer let’s your brand stand out. How you string them together and how you tie them into other platforms and processes creatively will help make your brand shine in a sea of noise.”

3. Focus on the Customer First – Before the Technology (Tweet this)

Influence Marketing Co-Author Danny Brown (@dannybrown) believes there needs to be a return to actually understanding what our customers want.

“…without understanding what your customer wants, and at what stage of the buying cycle they’re at so you can prime your message for that exact moment, it doesn’t matter how cool the technology is, or the channels we use, or the implementation of a tactic. We now have linguistic mapping tools that allow us to segment customers, who they connect with, what they’re looking for, and archival history with our brand’s core business or competitors. 2014 will see us, as marketers in the social space, truly take advantage of that technology and deliver on the ROI approach that 2013 saw us begin to implement.”

4.  Become Superior Short Form Storytellers  (Tweet this)

Digital Veteran and HBR contributor, David Armano (@armano) believes that if you want to be successful in standing out, remember that people have short attention spans.

“Short form storytelling in the form of Vines, Snaps, Instavids etc. and short stories on YouTube [will be key]. Brands need the ability to tell a meaningful “story” quickly, sometimes in seconds or other times through a series of images. Stories that have “sharing power” built into them or where you can become a part of the story (think hashtags on Vine where people do their own Ryan Gosling video etc.). So in other words, small is the new big and short is the new long.”

5.   Become More Effective – Rather than More Intrusive (Tweet this)

The Age of Context Co-Author, Shel Israel (@shelisrael) believes that for the first time in decades, marketing and communications professionals will focus on effectiveness and finally concede that being intrusive is not working.

“This will be accomplished by using the contextual technologies outlined in my recent book with Robert Scoble (@Scobleizer), where we talk about how mobile, location, data, sensors and social media converge to allow sellers to understand where people are and what their intentions are. So marketers will begin to be able to just make offers to people who might actually be interested in what they are being offered. We call it Pinpoint Marketing.”

And what do I think?  I agree with all of these thoughts.  I would add that mobile continues to be a significant challenge and opportunity. With the increase in mobile adoption , as Marketers we need to embrace mobile and make it easy for our customers and prospects to purchase via social.  After all, I believe that 2014 will be the year of mobile.

What do you think?  Will content marketing change?  Will it be replaced by something else?  What is the next “thing”?