Curation Is The New Aggregation

As 2010 comes to a close I’m betting many marketing communications professionals have had a challenging year hitting their goals. Organizations that I work with all express a desire to attract more customers, members, engagement, donations, etc. in 2011. One strategy that keeps coming up as a means to accomplish this is to bolster efforts to become the ‘go to’ place on the web for all the information stakeholders need about a product, service or issue. What this generally translates to is a bigger, richer, denser website–full of information, media and links, created, collected and fed from around the web.

This is all well and good, but it isn’t necessarily going to help reach the goals listed above, even if the effort is undertaken with more gusto next year. There are organizations that envision themselves as central content hubs, with others providing them funds, attention, time and patronage as needed because of their hub status. The danger of this worldview is that it's at odds with the realities of a society that’s both energized and exhausted by social media and connectedness. As Seth Godin points out in Linchpin, being the information hub is no longer a differentiator because anyone can now find and learn almost everything–and then some–on the Internet. Plus, other organizations are just as busy generating and collecting content based on their own needs and interests; creating a glut of information on the web, much of it overlapping and all of it competing for people’s attention. Web 2.0 technologies have given organizations the ability to collect and share content easily. This can be stimulating, but it can also become repetitive and tiresome.

Smart brands know that they must figure out how to integrate to be relevant in a socially connected world but not overwhelm or fatigue their constituents in the process.

One way to do this is to take a step back and analyze the usefulness of the content being aggregated. Mechanized “more” is not necessarily better–it’s far more powerful when organizations use their expertise to make selective choices about what’s relevant and what will engage their core audiences. This is where the art of curation comes in. If aggregation is about collecting content somewhat indiscriminately, curation––very much a human, and sometimes time consuming, endeavor ––is about choosing content; it’s condensing overwhelming complexity into easily digestible, enjoyable and useful chunks. Or as Tom Foresnki puts it, “curation versus aggregation represents human web versus machine web.”

As the web evolves, people will increasingly look to the people behind the organizations that they have relationships with and trust them to make choices about what content they get to see based on the things they care about and the depth of their interest levels. The organizations that have success in 2011 might just be those that can delight their constituents by being good curators for them. One caveat about curating: the right to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them has to be earned. It's power comes with permission.

Aggregation will still have its place, (any organization that hasn’t developed the expertise needed to set up the automated collection of specific content on their website should make it mission critical for 2011), but to have added value, there should be a layer of curation over it so that it's more selective and customized; as the web evolves, it’s part of what customers will come to know and trust a brand for.

Regardless of whether it’s aggregated or curated, all website content requires a strategy that aligns with the larger organizational goals. It's critical to know why content is being put together, who will use it and how they will use it; whether constituents are able to get it somewhere else; what the internal staffing implications are for managing it and what the potential outcomes might be.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at

6 Ways Holiday Cards Can Be Strategic CommunicationsTools

The holiday cards started arriving in the mail today. For the next few weeks they’ll show up in clusters, hitting peak volume about seven to ten days from now. Even though direct mail spend has been trending down, there's evidence to suggest that people are still very responsive to this type of printed advertising. Judging by the increased activity in my mailbox already, it's clear that holiday cards aren't going away anytime soon and are something that most companies will consider this year as part of their direct marketing mix.

As I’ve written before, the simple gesture of sending a card–whether it’s for the holidays, to acknowledge someone’s birthday or just to say thank you–can go a long way in fostering positive relationships between a business and its customers. Cards show the recipient how important they are and reinforce for them why they do business with a company.

The problem with holiday cards, is that even though they’re a necessary marketing expense, it can be difficult to justify the expenditure of time and money it takes to produce them, especially if they aren’t doing a good job of furthering the goal of helping keep the company top of mind when it’s time to make the next purchase decision or donation. In this current economic climate, when many marketers are opting for smaller mailings to select stakeholders, or even sending e-cards, how can they be sure to make this tool work strategically for them?

Set A Goal
As with any advertising, there should always be a specific goal for the piece. Perhaps it’s to update the organization’s mailing list, for example. If that’s the case, it may be worth the extra investment to use the mailing to get notified of any bounces or returned mail, address changes, etc. Or maybe it's to build name recognition with certain customers that haven't been in contact for a while. The card could then serve as an opportunity to put the business' name out there again, along with the website. Whatever the goal, it should be quantifiable and measurable in some way.


If 'everyone' is sending out holiday cards it makes sense to try and approach the project in a different way. Caldecott Properties, a San Francisco bay area real estate brokerage firm, sent me a “Happy Thanksgiving” card over two weeks ago; a full week before the actual holiday. While their card was fairly standard from a design perspective, the fact that they had the foresight to get out ahead of the pack by sending their card earlier than most, (and choosing a different holiday than most businesses do), made their piece of mail jump out from the usual bills and publications in my mailbox much more than it would have had they sent it this week or next. Try to do something different than everyone else: perhaps a "New Years" greeting would be more appropriate?

Don’t sell, acknowledge
Some marketers recommend placing coupons, etc. in holiday cards. As I’ve said before, I don’t think it’s a good idea to put an ‘ask’ for more business in a card, even if it is indirect and disguised as a benefit. The card should be sent purely to acknowledge the relationship with the recipient. One exception to this could be to offer a small, downloadable gift (not to be confused with a discount offer!) as a token of thanks that could be obtained from the company website, thereby creating a way to measure response rate.

Make it memorable
Cards should be designed to visually appeal to the audience so they don’t just become throwaways. People are more likely to hold onto a piece of direct mail (which it goes without saying should have contact information on it for future reference) if it’s beautifully designed or has some functional value. Another idea would be to use the card to make an announcement (new office? New campaign?) Getting useful information that they might need later gives recipients another reason to hold onto the card.

Use it as an opportunity to partner

Purchasing cards from a charitable organization or non-profit is a great way to do some small scale cause marketing by making a donation that’s tax deductible. Customers like to know that their desire to make the world a better place is shared by the organizations they do business with. This will also potentially help customers feel good about partnerships the business has with other organizations. There are plenty of great looking charity cards available, which, depending on how a recipient list is segmented, could also make the card more memorable or worthwhile. If, for budget reasons, an e-card is more cost-effective, it could be purchased from an environmental organization and positioned as a choice to mitigate negative environmental impact.

Measure the ROI
The emotional return on investment – how warm and fuzzy customers feel about the organization – is something that all organizations should measure whenever possible. Since a holiday card is not technically an acquisition tool there aren't many way to measure its impact aside from the idea already stated above. Businesses who manage to get their cards out in the midst of the busy end of year season tend to come across as organized and timely and these positive feelings might help influence purchasing/donation decisions later. One way to measure this would be to include questions about customer's perceptions of the card as part of larger attitudinal surveys.

Finally, what should a holiday card say?

Start with the truth. Customers appreciate authenticity. They don't all celebrate the exact same holidays so a card going out at the end of the year should most likely have a generic greeting in it. Be sure to check the customs of any international clients: as always, a little research can save on embarrassment.

Natalie Zensius is a marketing communications strategist with experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Learn more about Natalie at