What a Long Road We Have Left to Travel

January 14, 2009
Image by Flickr user muffytyrone

Image by Flickr user muffytyrone

There has been a lot of talk for quite some time now in the marketing world about social media. There’s getting to be the full slate of who, what, when, where, why articles just about every day now.

Just about everything I need to know is wrapped up in the fact we still call it social media. I would have thought the distinction would have been made long ago. All conversation has actually been around three distinct topics, yet they are always lumped under one. Case in point – a recent discussion on Social Media found on George Parker’s AdScam. The wary take heed before clicking through. Always good thought but not for the sensitive type.

Social media is actually:

  • Social Media
  • Social Messaging
  • Social Marketing

We have a distinction between mass media/messaging/marketing. Why not the social sphere?

Why not? Because it’s only just starting to be understood. The fact it is still called social media highlights the current thinking. It’s only media. Yet, some of the newest efforts are much further than that.

Social media is like a cocktail party. It only answers the where and what. It’s this place you’ve been invited to. You can show up or not, but you won’t meet anyone new just sitting home on the couch. Sure, you can call your friends on the phone, but you won’t have much interesting to say if you’re home night after night.

Social messaging is the interesting part. This is what people want to hear. The stuff they don’t want to hear is the spam. If you show up to the party and nobody wants to talk with you, you better change your tactics. You know the person I’m talking about. We’ve all had to freshen a nearly full drink or make a trip to the bathroom just to escape. Unfortunately, there are always these people at the party. Social media is no different. There are just more of these people. We may get excited at first, but once the formalities are out of the way, we’re too eager to split and find something more interesting.

Thus, social marketing is the full strategy. It’s always been possible to sell at parties. In fact, some of the closest ties are formed in these intimate settings. However, we know better than to walk into a party and introduce ourself as a salesman from Addidas only to talk about the great benefits of our products and the great discount you can get if you want to place an order right now.

You’ve already seen social marketing work in the real world. You’re talking to somebody about running. They run marathons. You’d like to start. (Maybe you haven’t had this exact conversation.) They are excited to introduce you to their friend Mike. He works for Addidas. You walk across the room, get an introduction and will now be more likely to buy from Addidas when the time comes for those shoes.

Why do we think the social in digital is any different? There’s no grand execution – there is only execution. Perhaps a little more emphasis on the social and a lot less on the media would be a good start. The fact that we still can not separate the two speaks volumes about how far we have left to go.


If Solutions Come First, Tools Will Follow

January 13, 2009
Photo from Flickr user Just Us 3

Photo from Flickr user Just Us 3

Snow means shoveling. Around here, the two go together like hot dish and tater tots.

The recent snow (and my shoveling of) reminded me of something I overheard last winter.

I had been a rather snow filled week. I was taking my son to the Mall of America for rides and play. Avoiding traffic and contributing to his facination of trains, we took the light rail from downtown to the mall.

While riding, I overheard one woman talking loudly on her phone. I make a point to not eavesdrop, but when you speak loudly in public places, everything becomes fair game. She went on in a heavily southern accent (Alabama I learned later) about all the snow they had seen since being in Minnesota.

Nothing new so far. We often hear marvels at the snow though I’ve seen many places with much more. What struck me as interesting was what she said next.

The snow is just everywhere. You wouldn’t believe what they do. They just push it out of the way. There are piles next to the doors of the hotel. Even on the roadways. They just push it to the side and you drive right by.

This made me laugh as I couldn’t think of many alternatives. We could just leave it and wait for it to melt. Or, we could use heat to melt it notwithstanding the impact ice would eventually have.

Thinking back, I find it interesting how something we take for granted was such an amusing solution for someone not accustomed to snow.

Thinking about marketing on the Internet today strikes a similar chord. We spend a great deal of time talking about Facebook, Twitter, social networks and blogging without an adequate discussion on need.

There are hundreds of posts on how to talk to the C level about digital marketing or social media. There are lists and guides for implementing the technology. From the inside, we’ve begun to take the snow for granted.

Each campaign has unique needs. What is used to solve those needs should be dictated by the problems at hand. While digital technologies have provided some great tools, they are never even adequate for all situations. Selecting the right tools for the right problem deserves more attention.

Otherwise, we end up talking about shovels. Our Alabama bretheren will be thinking dirt while we think snow. But that’s miscommunication and rarely happens in this industry.


Top 9 of ’09 – #4 Uncertainty

December 23, 2008

Claiming that uncertainty will reign in 2009 is a little like saying the ocean will be wet. With all economic signs looking a little like the fun side of a ski hill, we’ve been innundated with messages of uncertainty for the coming year. In fact, the words have come out of both the outgoing and incoming president’s mouth.

However, in digital marketing, the uncertainty points to opportunity. You know all those side projects that have been simmering for the past year? They finally have a chance to take center stage. Investments in newer technologies (social media and microblogging) come relatively cheap. They carry the advantage of learning from the market. There’s nothing like being able to speak directly to customers in lean times.

Of course, recent history has shown that building trust and authenticity in these new digital spaces takes time. Whether companies will be patient enough to nurture these investments remains a large question. However, we should expect to see more forays into new digital spaces in the coming year. I expect to see more large brands participating on Twitter and Facebook.

What will this mean for digital marketers? A lot of failures.

However, there will be some success. Pareto’s law almost guarantees some efforts will find success. Regardless of strategies, the uncertainty of the coming year will yield some actual case studies to support future efforts. Expect the first half of the year to be fraught with many versions of false starts. This will yield some intelligent customer strategy in the later part of the year that just may make a large impact when the promised rebound comes along.


Worse than Being Hated – Being Ignored

December 19, 2008

It’s hard to feel sorry for some brands that receive a lot of attention. Dell, Motrin and Enfatico come quickly to mind. Sure, they receive their share of criticism and more advice than anyone would know what to do with. Still, it’s a rather enviable position they find themselves in. They have attention – they have the eyeballs. There is an audience ripe to change perceptions. The brands I really feel sorry for are the ones largely ignored.

I revisited Cluetrain the other day. In addition to being a good read, it pointed to the kiss of death for digital campaigns – being ignored.

Before concerning ourselves with reach, attention and engagement metrics, we should first consider whether anyone cares.

Digital media is not television. We can not count on networks to craft programming that will reach certain demographic segments. We can’t rely on that content to drive eyeballs to our messages. In the digital world, everything else is just one click away.

This is certainly a large jump for marketers. The game has changed. We are now tasked with first being interesting. Without something of value, there is not reason to find our information. And without interest, consumers will punnish us. We won’t be punnished with backlash or negative sentiment. We are punnished with much worse – nothing. At least the Midol Moms campaign was interesting enough to rouse some souls into action. At least Dell’s customer service was bad enough to generate action.

Today, the kiss of death for digital marketers is not negativity. Rather, the dreaded word should be meh.

I started this blog to gain a better understanding of what it takes to provide interesting and compelling content. We all hear that content is king. So what does it take? Solid research? Compelling graphics? Interesting thought?

I wish I could say, but this is still (and probably will always be) a work in progress. As it has only been a short time, a retrospective seems to be a little presumptious.

Yet, I get away from the point. In order to affect customer behavior in a digital world, the first goal should always be to generate interest. Without that, no gates will be open.


Aim Big and Craft Small

December 16, 2008

Most of the great discoveries of our time never set out to be great. They only stumbled upon it. Yet in the world of marketing, everything starts with the big idea.

While logical that we should always strive for something big, the focus is too often placed upon pleasing everyone. As the old adage goes… And it works just about as often.

Digital campaigns provide unprecedented reach and unlimited exposure. If done right. I’ve been arguing that viral efforts truly do not exist. I stand by that. If they did, we would have a sure way to reach the world with campaign messages. In reality, what we call viral is nothing more than seed marketing. We seed an idea and hope it spreads. Can we expect it to spread to everyone (or a large portion of everyone)? Certainly not. However, we can expect that a small seed campaign will spread to the most interested consumers.

Rather than aim for everyone, digital campaigns do best when they aim for very specific targets. Programs and brands and products and services aim for everyone. These are inclusive. Everyone should own a super absorbant shammy or a pet rock. The reasons, however, are highly personal. If viral truly existed, we could craft one message and expect it to resonate with everyone. Rather, the product/service/brand/program can appeal to everyone. The reasons truly are distinct.

The solution – craft inclusive propositions and surround them with exclusive messaging. This is where the internet excels. We can reach individuals that share exclusive goals and allow them to carry the message forward. Not virally but little by little. I know seed marketing doesn’t have the cache of viral or buzz marketing, but results speak loudly.


Top 9 of ’09 – #6 Ownership

December 10, 2008

I’m always impressed by the ideas from Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent. Yesterday, she wrote a piece on conversation. The title sums it up: “Change the Conversation, Change the Game.”

As marketers, we are used to owning the conversation. Brand standard guides exist to ensure every level of communication is uniform and pushes the right levers. Experiential brands remain experiential. Time savers focus on time.

The challenge with digital media has been gaining an understanding on how to own the conversation in new channels. Most brands have retained tried and true methods of communicating while only shifting channels. Print and broadcast are ported to digital channels whether or not they fit the destination. Banner ads have been forced on the web even though they do not fit the medium – doubt it, check out conversion rates.

Digital mediums are prime marketing tools. You have users with expressed intent devoting their sole attention to your brand. They have the ability to take action immediately. Users are able to interact in ways television, radio and print never allowed. It’s now conversation and not messaging.

I expect 2009 to be a turning point in the way marketers interact with consumers online. They will adapt to the conversational nature of the medium and begin to own the conversation again. The biggest hurdle I expect to be overcome is the ability to react to existing content rather than to create.

While consumers have long discussed products and brands in their own circles, a true authoritative voice has been missing. We have already seen the extent a connected voice can have with Dell, Zappos and Starbucks. We have seen the impact of a lack of that voice with Motrin.

Brands will begin to retake ownership again in 2009. However, this will not be done through messaging – it will be dependent on reaction. The ability to respond to niche markets and disparate voices with one unified and authoritative voice will again shift ownership of the conversation from consumers to brands.

Consumers will welcome this shift as participation provides a win-win scenario where consumers retain their voice and gain clarity. Brands retain and win consumers in addition to controlling expectations.

In the end, consumers can learn to refine their expectations while brands can learn to better serve their markets. This will be done by owning the conversation and not the message.


What’s Driving Change

December 9, 2008

It’s been more than ten years now since I sat in a small office at a supercomputing research facility wondering what path to take. Technology was certainly advancing. Or so it seemed from inside those walls that housed massive computer power. I could stay and pursue my dreams of a lifelong education on the cusp of advancing research or leave to pursue the new – but rising – star of Internet technologies.

While I still marvel at the technologies available in that day – Netscape, Pine, Gopher and the ever present Unix shell, I remain more impressed by how far we’ve come. There is no doubt that we live in a special time. We are currently living in one of those moments that history looks back upon. Everything is changing, and what hasn’t is still up for grabs. Culture, politics, technology, education are all shifting. Like the time of the Greeks, Romans, Renaissance, Wild West and Industrial Revolution, our future is yet to be determined – controlled by a handful of smart minds that have yet to craft the attitudes future generations will take for normal. And while this change seems a foregone conclusion, there has been little said about what is driving this change.

As marketers, a greater understanding of what is driving this shift in culture and technology today can only help better market to consumers. Yet, terabytes of data are being devoted to explaining individual technologies and calculating social ROI.

There are two forces at work today – advancing technology and changing customer behavior. Whether technology has changed customer behavior or whether changing behavior has driven advancing technology lies at the center of the debate on what is causing change. While it may seem a little like a chicken or egg idea, an understanding of the root cause of change can help create more successful tactics moving into the next year.

Let’s start with consumers. Consumers today are demanding more from their products and services than ever before. They expect products to be available where and when they are needed. They expect services to fit nicely into the flow of their chaotic life. Consumers value, well, value over all else. A combination of features, quality and convenience compliment price to create compelling propositions. When disappointed, they have plenty of avenues to turn in which to vent frustrati0n.

Or are customers truly more demanding? Has there really been a change in what customers are asking for? Perhaps, digital technologies have just given consumers a broader and stronger voice.

Technology is creating opportunity where none existed. Amazon and Ebay have been able to introduce consumers to products that would otherwise not been considered. Discussion boards and product reviews have changed the ownership of the value propositions to consumers. No longer can a product cast promises on television without digital support to back up the claims. One bad experience can result in a negative post from a consumer. That post can be extended to thousands of networks resulting in millions of bad impressions.

The most frightening aspect of today’s advancing technologies are the simplicity with which they are created. Anyone with the desire can create digital content. Consumers are outpacing brands in both the creation and adoption of technologies. Not only do the customers own a product’s voice, but they also now own the channels through which they are communicated.

So what is pushing change? Is it the technologies or the changing attitudes and expectations of consumers?

Today, it’s a combination of the two. That’s not really going out on a limb and is truly an answer expected from a strategist. However, at the onset, I believe change was driven by consumers. They have always demanded more from the products and services they spend their money on. Technology was only the facilitator early on. As the expectations began to grow, attitudes changed forcing technology with it. Thus, today we have a combination of ever increasing expectations with ever advancing technology driving change at a breakneck pace.

If successful marketing is to be exceeding your customer’s expectations, marketers must embrace digital technologies. Simply keeping up with competitors will not be enough. When a Zappos brand can come on the scene and take significant share, other brands should take notice. It’s no longer good enough to be better than the competition. Today, companies need to be better than their consumers. They need to drive the technology and provide value beyond cost and convenience.

One of my favorite successes is Mr. McGroovy’s. Rather than sell cardboard fasteners, this site sells plans to build exotic playsets for children out of cardboard. Rather than be the best cardboard fastener seller in the market, the site created a new market. You can call it Blue Ocean or whatever other term happens to be hot in literature, but in the end, this site harnassed the power of digital technologies and fused it with advancing customer expectations to create something powerful. It’s only a rumor, but I’ve heard they ran out of cardboard rivets last Christmas.