The Buzz is Dying – Is it Good?

January 21, 2009

Ilya Vedrashko displayed some interesting numbers on social marketing hype yesterday. The numbers point to the frustration being felt by CMOs with digital marketing. Gone are the days that we can trot out the 2.0 and social terms. The absence of any action in the past 24 months have created a stigma around these terms.

And good riddance.

After all, terms like Web 2.0 and Social Media don’t really mean anything. They are (and always have been) placeholders for something larger. If you truly believe there is value in a connected web as a platform, it’s time to take action. We don’t need catch phrases and buzz words. We need innovative and actionable thinking around how to market using this new media.

These numbers are a call for accountability. They show a collective CMO crowd standing up and pleading for something of value. The time for playing around with Twitter and Facebook aps are done. Now the exciting part begins. Let’s do something that shows up on the bottom line. Let’s create, target and track. Let’s make this thing better.

In the end, we won’t be talking about Social Media. We’ll be talking about social messaging, targeted networks, micro channel integration and a lot of other new buzz words that actually mean something.

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Be Wary of ‘How Can You Tell’ Posts

January 14, 2009

Yesterday, Amber Naslund of MarketingProfs rehashed the social media carpetbagger discussion from December. Originally, it got a bit of traction. I was happy to let it slide into the night, but it appears that it has some legs left.

Given the video that accompanied it, I had hoped that the post would be taken in some jest. An insider joke that highlights a couple points that make us all laugh. However, as this is being seen as legitimate and could possibly be used by clients as a check list for interviews, the fear began to creep in.

The field of social marketing has only begun. There are relatively few positive case studies and no definitive evidence that any of this is successful. However, early evidence and a strong gut feeling tell us this is the right approach. All the surveys point to the same conclusion – people trust people. Social marketing relies on people to communicate very personal benefits for companies.

According to the experts, carpetbaggers can be spotted when they propose blogging as a solution. While this is rarely the case, I can think of several instances where blogging is an appropriate medium. The Australian Department of Tourism is now promoting the “Best Job in the World.” The requirements are to enjoy and blog. Qualifications for the job don’t include SM expertise, cross channel prowess or any other buzz worthy topic. They ask for only a great communicator.

And they are right.

Social marketing can not be broken down into channels and technologies. There is no secret formula for putting together a good strategy. There are no campaign rules or best practices. It’s about communicating. To paraphrase my favorite wine expert, if blogging communicates with your customers, blog it up.

Evaluating any ideas that involve social marketing should not boil down to a check list and inclusion (exclusion) of buzz words. It’s about the social. It’s about the communication. As marketing professionals, we should have figured that out long ago. Yet, we’re perpetual suckers for the shiny object, the big idea, the messaging strategy, the viral success, …

The job is simple. Communicate value to customers. Get them excited. Get them to talk. Get them to share.

Yet, we constantly strive for that secret formula. What this industry has taught me is that fried chicken has a recipe for success and cars have a checklist for inspection. Communications do not.


Perception Reigns in Auto, Sports and Oprah

January 12, 2009

As dollars get tighter in the coming year, many marketers are looking to stretch the budget. I’ve already been seeing how to better the bottom line using video, mobile, social media and affiliates. The idea – get out there and the dollars will follow.

Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. Say you want to adopt video or mobile. Maybe you want to tackle the mobile video category (frightening prospect for coming out of the gate). Whatever the decision, the same question will remain – what do you put there? Now I know we like process. Thus, you get together to come up with the Big Idea. Something fun. Something viral. That’s sure to settle the issue.

Problem is, Big Ideas and viral videos are not dime a dozen ideas or everyday videos. We are still in need of getting to the heart of the issue. Diving deeper to find something that actually commands attention.

Fortunately, early news from 2009 is pointing in the right direction. Perception is resonating. It’s becoming the key message for multi channel strategies. We’re finding that people will talk. People will talk about the mundane if given the chance.

Take this weekend as an example. AdAge publishes three articles that point to perception being key in this economy. First, they rehash the old Oprah edict (aka Oprah as gospel). Blue chips are bad for you. I’m eating sweet potatos from now on. And what should we expect? Blue chip sales to fall and sweet potato sales to rise.

Second, we find a discussion on Under Armour. How not to compete with the likes of Nike and Addidas? Innovative products that make you better. Now why hasn’t sports marketing thought of this one before?

Finally, Detroit claims the biggest problem with the domestic auto industry is a negative perception. AdAge even goes so far as to poll whether industry professionals agree.

Clearly, perception is important. When we look at the future of digital media, we should be asking how new channels are impacting perception. When we can answer that question, we can start to discuss the Big Idea.


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.


Digital Marketing in Perspective

December 12, 2008

Digital work is rather straightforward. I grew accustomed to hearing “I want a website.” Marketing itself is also rather straightforward. However, there have been challenges bringing the two together. I get to see a good number of the holdups firsthand. To put it in perspective, here are two videos that show a relatively simple look at how both sides perceive the issue.

First, the digital side is looking to gain credibility. Understanding has been key with a good majority of marketers still uncertain how to use new technologies to their advantage.

This video is rather well known. In reality, this gets to the point in digital marketing – the machine is us. Rather, we are the channel, we are the marketing/marketers. This is further underscored by the studies showing that we trust individuals more than brands. Blogging issue aside, haven’t we always?

The second video takes a different perspective. Digital media being used to highlight the ad industry. Every agency goes through the creative process behind their holiday cards. The juxtoposition of Charlie Brown with a number of overheard lines proves comedic.

While these are drastic examples, it highlights just how far agencies need to go yet to fully harnass the power of digital media in marketing campaigns.


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.