Useful Blog

I’m on a content marketing panel at ad:tech next week, and I thought it’d be useful to talk about what content marketing is, how long it’s been around and how it works.

the-furrowContent marketing is the creation and sharing of useful content to acquire customers. It can be media, a publication, a book, a case study, a how-to or an infographic. Any type of content that answers questions, solves problems or is useful for customers. While the end game is acquiring customers, content marketing is not focused on selling, but on communicating with customers and prospects.

The best return on investment from content marketing results from long-term plays, and this whole content marketing thing is nothing new – brands have been using content marketing strategies since the 1800s.

In 1895, agricultural machinery manufacturer John Deere launched ‘The Furrow‘, a magazine with information for farmers on how to become more profitable. It’s still in circulation today and reaches over 1.5 million readers in 40 countries. It’s revered by farmers and has earned a place on the table in farmsteads the world over.

michelin-guideIn 1900, tire manufacturer Michelin launched the Michelin Guide, a guide providing drivers with information on auto maintenance, accommodation, and other travel tips. Michelin gave away over 35,000 copies before beginning to sell the guide, which today defines the coveted ‘Michelin star’ hotel and restaurant ratings for excellence. Today, the series of over 25 titles highlights more than 45,000 establishments from New York to Paris to Hong Kong.

Content marketing by John Deere and Michelin has been building and developing relationships with customers and prospects for over 100 years. These brands have achieved strong relationships and return on investment through useful content and a long-term strategy.

Content marketing has been going on for a long time, it just hasn’t been called ‘content marketing’. The strategy at it’s simplest is ‘be really useful to customers’. The recent explosion in content marketing is likely a result of content creation becoming cheaper (well, perceivably cheaper). Anyone can self-publish a book or magazine and print it on demand. eBooks can be created in a day. Anyone can make a film with an iPhone.

The technology is easy. The challenge still is, and always will be, creating a powerful brand story and developing useful content that resonates with people enough for them to pay attention, and ultimately buy.

Recent examples of successful content marketing leading to purchase are American Express OPEN Forum and Foot Locker’s Sneakerpedia.

Launched in 2007, OPEN Forum is a small business advice-sharing platform. This award-winning content marketing initiative from American Express led to the Small Business Saturday movement in the US, which became an “official day” in 2010 and is endorsed by Obama and public officials in all 50 states. A movement and official day that will be forever owned by American Express. 85% of OPEN Forum traffic is from non-paid sources.

Launched in 2011, Sneakerpedia is a community–driven sneaker resource powered by Foot Locker. During the beta alone, Sneakerpedia reached more than 6.7 million sneaker lovers online and delivered more than $1 million in free media exposure.

Be really useful first and sell second. The theory is permission, not interruption. I’ll be talking about these content marketing strategies and others at ad:tech. Feel welcome to say hello.

Sneakerpedia’s launch video is below.


Recently while discussing a new website at the Village, the topic of eye tracking came up.

“It wasn’t uncommon for my clientd in the UK to drop $xx on eye tracking studies before we began the build.”

“It’s just not anywhere near as popular here as in the US and the UK.”

“Yes, it feels like we’re behind when it comes to seeing the value in eye tracking.”

“Yeah. Eye tracking. Yeah.”

That last comment was me. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I had never heard of eye tracking. And clearly if I, someone working in the industry, doesn’t know what it is, it is little wonder this useful tool is under utilised by marketing campaigns in Australia.


So after some vigorous Googling I’ve come up with some key facts about eye tracking

  • Eye tracking is basically the measurement of eye activity. It includes what people look at, how long they spend on different elements and in what order. Eye tracking provides accurate, measurable data, which can be used to research behaviour and improve user experience.
  • Eye tracking involves not just where we look, but also what we ignore. Research has shown that we are so used to viewing advertisements on the web, that we ignore anything that looks like an ad (even if it isn’t). This is called Banner Blindness.
  • We generally view web pages in two horizontal stripes (left to right), followed by a vertical stripe down the left side. This is called an F-Pattern and dominates most web design.
  • This technology is not just for market research or user experience testing. Eye tracking technology is changing lives. Leading eye tracking company Tobii Technology has been creating tools to help the lives of people with conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy to communicate effectively for almost a decade.

It’s a fast growing industry where exciting developments are being made.  This technology can help advertising campaigns become more useful by getting immediate, accurate, subconscious feedback. It’s an amazing tool with endless possibilities and I’m kicking myself for not knowing about it sooner.

Canadian airline WestJet performed a Christmas miracle for 250 passengers and captured it on film to create a heartwarming communications piece.

WestJet setup a live Santa Cam where guests could scan their boarding pass and tell Santa what they wanted for Christmas. This alone was a special gesture with Santa engaging the children by name, much to their delight! Meanwhile employees frantically purchased and wrapped each wish list item and surprised travellers with gifts when their flight landed a couple of hours later.

Within four days the video has amassed over 9.5 million views on Youtube.

It is a relatively inexpensive way to effectively share a story about brand positioning and values. The film uses emotional storytelling, but keeps it positive throughout, to build goodwill and warm-and-fuzzies. WestJet establishes themselves as the friendly (and fun!) airline where their internal culture is boosted by the fact that over 80% of all employees are also company owners.

WestJet is often cited as one of the best companies to work for in Canada and the positivity of their team shines through in this film where employees are able to spread some Christmas joy.

In last year’s ‘Digital disruption‘ whitepaper Deloitte pegged the Australian retail industry with the shortest fuse and second biggest bang. That is, of the 18 industries studied, the Australian retail industry will be disrupted first and with the second-largest impact. Sounds fair to us. By “disrupted” Deloitte means “impacted by digital innovation”. Digital innovation includes things like eCommerce, networks, devices and the capabilities they unleash. There’s no doubt we’re headed for an enormous retail shake-up. With shake-up comes opportunity.

IBM’s recent ‘Reinventing Australian enterprises for the digital economy‘ report carries a similar sentiment. Significant gaps will open up between enterprises that proactively transform operations for the digital age and those that continue with business as usual. The important milestones for achieving retail leadership status are transitioning to omni-channel retailing and establishing a “customer-centric” business.

US retailers Nordstrom, Apple and Macy’s are omni-channel leaders across the ditch. We’re on the path to helping some clients make the transition but we’re certainly not there yet. We don’t exactly call it “omni-channel” and “customer-centric” but we’re working towards the same objective of usefulness, everywhere.

While this is the most buzzword-laden post you’ve seen here there’s an important point behind the superlatives. Here’s the point in simple terms: retailers will thrive if they bring their bricks and mortar and digital environments closer together and design the entire experience to be really useful to customers at every stage of the buying journey.

Sounds easy. It’s not. This is a new journey beyond typical marketing, technology and retail initiatives – it’s what brings everything together, seamlessly. The effort’s worth it. Analysing the potential gaps in retail between digital leaders and industry followers to 2025 IBM determined the following. Retailers, it’s time to get moving.



Last month, Google advised advertising agencies on the future of marketing. Google’s advice was “Create useful marketing. Because if we make a difference to peoples’ lives first and foremost, good things will come.” Google was also of the opinion that “digital isn’t upstream enough in our thinking” and “we’re too siloed”.

Like Google, we believe in useful first. And digital is in our foundation; it hasn’t been velcroed on.

Related: For a rare peek inside Google Creative Lab, the internal agency responsible for most of Google’s product marketing, take a look at ‘How Google Creative Lab Links Product to Stellar Storytelling‘.

To encourage dog owners to give their pets the recommended 30-minute daily walk, Pedigree used bus shelters in Belgium to guide dog owners on city walks. Each walk was arranged in a loop covering about 2 kilometers scattered through neighbourhoods in Brussels and Ghent. Pedigree’s manifesto says ‘We’re for dogs‘, which is powerfully and usefully expressed via this outdoor advertising campaign.


We just won ‘Best Web Design of the Year‘ for the Harrys Schnitzel Joint website at the 2013 NEWi Awards.

The NEWi Awards gives recognition to digital excellence and acknowledges the very best digital talent in Australasia.

We’re stoked. ‘Best Web Design of the Year’ is a joint award for The Village of Useful and Newism, our digital design and development partner. We’re proud to have Wayde, Leevi and the team at Newism part of the Village community and we’ll be launching more digital projects together shortly. Can’t wait.

Related: Harrys Schnitzel Joint wins Australian Fast Food Business of the Year


The Royal Bank of Scotland mobile banking app earned a Gold Lion at Cannes this year. Beyond the features you’d expect from a banking leader in experience design, RBS recently launched some really useful mobile innovations that earned the Gold Lion.

‘Get Cash’ enables customers to withdraw money from ATMs without using their bank card. It offers customers an easy fix for lost or forgotten cards, a way to quickly send money to family or friends in need, or a choice of leaving their wallets at home in favour of their mobile phones. Customers choose an amount of cash they’d like to withdraw from within the app, and are then provided with a secure cash code that can be used at any NatWest, RBS or Tesco cash machine. The cash code can also be texted to someone else.

‘Pay Your Contacts’ allows customer to send money to anyone who has a valid UK Visa card just using their UK mobile number.

These innovations – and the Gold Lion – are the result of RBS relentlessly pursuing usefulness. How can your brand be more useful using mobile?


Before I discuss what successful ambient marketing is, I’d better quickly explain what ambient marketing is. Ambient is the name given to a range of out-of-home marketing activities that are considered non-traditional. It goes by other names like Guerrilla Marketing and Stunts. It could take the form of a flash mob or a dinner party happening in a public place or plastic on a statue as in the example above from the Plastic Pollution Coalition – it can be any non-traditional activity that is designed to get your attention and direct it to the company’s product or service.

Ambient can be a very powerful and cost-effective form of marketing. Or it can not be.

The normal rules of marketing apply:

Is it on brief? Is it on brand? Will it get attention? Will it connect that attention to the product or service? Is it targeting the right audience? Is it targeting enough of the right audience?

This last point is a critical one in the world of ambient campaigns because this will greatly determine the ROI. If not enough of the right people see it, it won’t return.

The game has changed dramatically as far as the size of the audience and who exactly the audience is for ambient ideas. It used to be that the audience was limited to those that were the immediate spectators of the ambient activity. Now, more and more the immediate spectators are not the intended audience of the ambient activity but merely form players in a much larger activity.

The passers-by in this little town in Belgium was not the intended audience for this ambient stunt for TNT Channel, they merely formed, albeit unknowingly, players in a ambient activity for a far greater audience. The stunt, when filmed, went to a much larger audience (45 million plus).

There have been a million flashmob stunts done for advertising purposes. These again use the immediate audience to tell the story to a much larger audience giving a great ROI. Here’s one for T-Mobile that reached an audience of 38 million (many of which would be spot on the for the target audience).

Here’s a great way for KLM to showcase their Economy comfort package.

These successful examples rely on the virality of the ambient activity to reach the right audience in the right numbers to achieve the ROI.

When ambient doesn’t work, is when the activity is costly, reaches a small spectator audience and isn’t sufficiently viral to reach a broader audience. Here’s an example of one that I feel unfortunately falls into that category, which is a shame because I think the idea is really good. It’s a specially made vending machine that gives people at gyms discounts on recovery drinks based on their heart rate. More thinking needs to go into how to get it before more people as so far, less than 100 saw it on Youtube and only a couple of thousand saw it first hand (tiny numbers when you consider what the cost of the activity must be).

I love a good ambient stunt as much as the next ad dude. Ambient can be a great way to disrupt, generate PR, move people to action and generate great ROI. But as mentioned before, it can also not be. As always it comes down to the strength of the idea as to whether enough of the right people see it, are moved by it and act on it. If they do, the ROI floodgates will open.


Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, involves affecting the visibility of a website or page in search engine results. When you’re searching on Google the top few results demonstrate “good SEO”; these websites and pages are well optimised so they rank first. Ranking first, or at least in the top 3, can significantly boost a business’ leads, revenue and customer base. Search activity is ubiquitous. Searches represent interested, targeted prospects who are often ready to book, buy or subscribe. SEO is reportedly a billion dollar industry. A billion dollar industry headed for an enormous upheaval.


Google’s forthcoming update, dubbed ‘Penguin 2.0′, will affect search results across most industries globally. It will potentially impact search results for your business. And it will abruptly destroy a long-running snake oil SEO industry. According to Google this dramatic change is a “few months” away.

Listen up. When Google throws the switch search results will dramatically change. Leads and revenue will be re-distributed. For some businesses, this will be like having your product range removed from the shelf at the supermarket and thrown out the back. They’ll no longer be visible to passing traffic. Listen to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, talking about the changes or read on to learn why this change is happening and what it means for you.

Broadly speaking, there are two parts to SEO – onsite SEO and offsite SEO. For the sake of simplicity let’s just say onsite SEO is mainly concerned with the quality of your website structure and content. If your website is well designed, well built and well written for your target audience you’re probably doing a decent job of onsite SEO. Particularly if you regularly publish useful content like blog posts. Offsite SEO can be shrouded in mystery; a black art that involves link building and other tactics.

Agencies and internet marketers who build links for offsite SEO may be using link schemes, which have long been a violation of Google’s guidelines. In Google’s words, here’s a suggestion of what ‘link scheme’ means:

Any links intended to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme.

If you’re buying links, or links are being bought on your behalf, and your site is benefiting from those links, you’re in violation of Google’s guidelines. Put it this way – if you’re paying for links, and you’re being flowed what Google calls PageRank, you’re breaking the rules. It’s been against the rules for years and it’s been going on for longer. It’s about to be strictly penalised. If you’re buying links, it’s time to seriously re-think your SEO strategy before Google imposes these penalties:

We do take this issue very seriously, so we recommend you avoid selling (and buying) links that pass PageRank in order to prevent loss of trust, lower PageRank, lower rankings, or in an extreme case, removal from Google’s search results.

Yeah, you read that right. Removal from Google’s search results. Link schemes have always been against the rules, but link scheme detection and penalties are getting serious. Google’s ‘Penguin’ update in April 2012 made the first move to start penalising link schemes. While it only affected a small percentage of the Internet, ‘Penguin’ and subsequent minor updates gave a strong warning. ‘Penguin 2.0′ is Google’s next major update, and according to Google’s Matt Cutts, it’s cracking down on people paying to manipulate search results.

The days of snake oil SEO are over. If you’re currently paying for SEO, I recommend asking your agency or internet marketer what the offsite SEO strategy has been. You might like to ask: “Can you show me a chart and list of all of my backlinks and linking domains?” (A ‘linking domain’ is the top-level website address for websites linking to you – it’s a good summary). If you engaged them in February 2013 your backlink chart might look something like this. Dramatic spikes are usually bought links:


The above chart is a typical link scheme pattern. Hundreds of links are bought initially, then bursts of link buying – usually in the hundreds – continue to enhance a site’s profile over time. Once a site is performing well in search results, the link buying usually tapers off into a low volume maintenance pattern to “keep the site up there”. Agencies, internet marketers and businesses partial to snake oil have been doing this for years. It’s quick, easy, cheap and until now it’s “worked” to an extent. It’s also been publicised by Google as being against the rules.


Until now you probably haven’t cared where your links are coming from. Hint: if you’ve been buying them, your backlinks are likely to be coming from places including Russia, India, Poland or China. The mysterious black art is being executed by guys like this, jammed into rooms filled with other guys like this  →

It’s time to start caring. There’s traffic and revenue on the line. If link schemes have been the offsite SEO strategy you need to know the size of the damage and start counteracting it. You can work with your agency (or a new one) to prepare for the change and minimise the fallout.

This is a big deal. If you’ve done any sort of offsite SEO activity you need to check the state of your backlinks. High quality directories are within the rules – even if they’re paid. High quality, relevant links are within the rules. Low-quality, bulk link buying is against the rules and people doing it are about to be exposed.

So, what’s my take on all of this? Should Google be penalising people for cheating the system? Of course they should, I’m stoked this change is coming. It’s overdue. Search results shouldn’t be determined by who’s buying the most links and outspending the competition. Google should reward the best websites and results determined by their relevance and usefulness. The snake oil era is over. The Internet will be a better place for it.

Similarly, I applaud YouTube (owned by Google) for stripping Universal and Sony of 2 billion fake YouTube views. I’ll be relieved when Twitter finally penalises people and brands for buying fake Twitter followers. This can’t be far off. Ever wondered how an account has so many followers? Chart it with Twitter Counter and look for spikes and big increases. Spike = buying followers, which is no more ethical than buying links. (The only other explanation for a spike is promoted tweets, which due to cost is mostly the domain of big brands).

Man, enough with deception already. Let’s turn off the smoke, smash the mirrors, and execute genuine digital marketing founded in the power of ideas and utility of brands. I admire Google for taking action. Penalising cheats is true to their “do no evil” mantra. Google is trying to make the Internet a better place.

Back to SEO. Our fundamental approach to SEO for our clients is as per Google’s best practices. Our clients will be affected by this change – they’ll be further rewarded for their high quality websites and might see a few competitors fall away. We employ sustainable SEO entirely within the rules. All digital marketing and customer acquisition at the Village is ethical, sustainable and strategic. The way it should be. And it works.

If your business has been unknowingly participating in link schemes, that sucks. I hope this is a useful heads up. All the best for the Penguin 2.0 update, it’s about to get real. Good luck.