I received my first Lenovo News email last week, telling "Dear Sir/Madam" that "information can be 'the' critical factor in establishing a competitive business advantage,"so I could look forward to having "a direct pipeline to the latest Lenovo and hottest PC industry news."
Only the email doesn't contain any news. It's spam. CRM gone amok. A sales message sent without even the presumption that the recipients are anywhere near even considering the possibility of buying.
What a missed opportunity.
With the endless online blather that equates a muffled burp with political insight or business analysis, the world actually needs better, more thoughtful and agnostic perspectives. We've celebrated the destruction of journalistic authority and credibility, and swapped imperfectly fact-checked reporting with the gibberish tirades of opinion. So we mostly get infinite content that is endlessly useless, unless it's entertaining.
Why couldn't brands fill the gap? There's a content publishing model here that could be far more meaningful and sustainable than tweeting CEOs, nonsense social media campaigns, or CRM spam claiming to be news:
- Pick a subject worth owning. Lenovo can no more be the source for "compelling PC news" than it could predict the weather. I don't know what its brand intentions might be, but I'd guess it has an interest in selling/supporting localized systems, whether in Bangladesh or Boston, so there must be some pithy way to conceptualize and present that business. Define it with a white paper and give it an acronym; go to town creatively. But pick a subject worth owning.
- Hire real journalists. Journalists are curious and critical in ways that marketers aren't, no matter how otherwise literate they might be. If Lenovo wanted to publish authoritative content on its subject, it would need to build a reporting team (or at least hire the person) who was qualified to research and write the reports.
- Set transparent standards. This is the biggie, since we all know that the standards for reporting at the mainstream outlets are falling to match those of our favorite bloggers (or anonymous posters). Establish clear and consistent rules for what gets covered and why, and share them with the world. Pay special care to how references to Lenovo would be handled, and make sure everyone knows the deal on that, too.
- Pay for it with marketing, not by exploiting readers. The funding engines for news media going back to broadsheet newspapers were subscriptions and ads; this means that headlines have always been written to prompt both, sometimes with more of an eye toward that attraction vs. the actual substance of the reporting (see "standards"above). Imagine reporting under no such conflicts or pressures. It would be like public radio, only without the subscription drives.
- Use it internally, too. An ongoing, authoritative analysis of the substance of Lenovo's business would be a useful tool for educating and involving its employees. Skip the silly social media campaigns, and use this as a platform for exploring new ideas, dealing with problems, etc.
I don't think that such a publishing model would be limited to the subject areas at the center of particular brands; it's about providing meaning, relevance, and utility to people so, for instance, why couldn’t Budweiser decide to publish the authoritative news on local sports? It would probably cost far less than its multi-million dollar experiment hosting an Internet comedy channel (bud.tv). It might also be a lot more credible, which would mean people might want to see it.
But don't sent me anything called "the hottest news," especially when it isn't.