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.


Top 9 of ’09 – #3 Viral’s Demise

December 29, 2008

For a couple years now, it seems that everybody has been trying to crack the viral code. It’s not uncommon to get requests to create viral content. The problem is that the phrase just doesn’t work. There is no such thing as viral content. Viral is a kind of action. It’s like trying to create gravity. Yes, it’s possible and happens every day. However, the credit is more due to the physical laws we all follow rather than the great ideas.

Viral is dependent on our connected nature. The fact that we have tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube enable this spread. Corporations have tried to create their own walled gardens with little success. It’s becoming clear that we now have to play in someone else’s yard. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t bring the ball. Just because we don’t own the playing field doesn’t mean we can’t own the game.

In fact, viral marketing is not going away. 2009 will find the perceptions of viral changing. Several years ago, Duncan Watts pointed to the idea of Big Seed Marketing as a better alternative to viral. In the coming year, we will see this concept adapted and refined.

In brief, Big Seed Marketing capitalizes on the ability of information to spread without concern for its ultimate ending point. Where viral requires exponential growth, Big Seed Marketing requires spread to any degree.

Until now, marketing messages have been targeted to individuals or to everyone. Thus, viral messages have tried to gain broad appeal. 2009 will find these messages meeting in the middle. Messages will speak to individuals and allow spread to the like minded. The best marketers are now friends and family. Just because a message does not appeal to you in the near future does not mean that it won’t match to someone you know.

Think of the travel offers you receive. If you’re short on time, money or can’t get away, the message is often wasted. However, if it can appeal to someone you know – you’d likely pass it along.

Thus, viral marketing will begin to be replaced by Seed Marketing. Contrary to Watts idea of starting with a large group, even Small Seed Marketing can generate large returns. A single message sent to 100 individuals may result in sales of 5 people (5% conversion). However, allowing that message to be shared and spread may garner another 5 people. Combined with the availability of that message through Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, YouTube profiles and industry bloggers, the same message may ultimately reach many times the original group. While not viral, the effectiveness is usually much better than the single group.

Expect to see seed marketing begin to replace viral marketing for two reasons: reach and cost. Many times the original audience can be reached for the same cost. In these times, that proposition is often compelling enough.

Expect to see seed marketing succeed for one main reason: the messages will most often be coming from trusted sources that know the individual personally. Personalization doesn’t get much better than that now does it?


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.


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.


Top 9 for ’09 – #8 Intent

November 21, 2008
Photo from Flickr user candrews

Photo from Flickr user candrews

There has been plenty of evidence to suggest attention becoming more fragmented. Households now receive an average of 104 television channels. Radio, once confined to an available frequency spectrum has extended to HD, Satelite and the Internet. Our time is split between music, television and online entertainment. This is all pointing to one unquestionable fact – we have less time for more information. As marketers, we are always searching for ways to attract that attention. As we move through 2009, I expect to see marketers embrace the fragmentation and develop strategies that target customers where their attention lies rather than trying to direct attention away from existing sources.

Louis Grey points out how the successful web applications of today are simple to use. Not all people that are online today are early adopters. In fact, the Internet has become mainstream. While there are many locations online and applications online that remain focused on an early adopter niche, the true successes are aimed at the majority of users. Twitter wins out over other life streaming applications due to its simplicity. Facebook beats branded networks through its ease of use.

But what makes Twitter and Facebook easy to use? It’s not only in the interface. The simplicity for web applications comes from the ability to conform to the user. While many brands have tried to create their own social networks (many with poor results), the adoption of Facebook and MySpace continues to grow. What these offer (that brands can not) is intent. Users of these services can craft their own intent. They can connect with friends, share photos, crack jokes and spy on others (one of the biggest unspoken drivers). The intent is to connect. The specifics are largely fragmented. Brands must maintain focus. Users do not. Thus, the success of digital applications is driven by its simplicity in not only use but intent.

We’re already seeing a push toward this in marketing. Guns ‘N’ Roses released their long awaited album on MySpace. Zappos has been able to supply truly PR-able customer service through Twitter. Smashing Pumpkins is releasing the first single from their new album in the Rock Band video game. These are all early cases of digital marketing going to the customers.

For years, digital marketing has revolved around getting customers to your site. This involved creating a site with enough content and value to make customers visit. We added news, networks, games and sales. While we were able to see some success, only the truly motivated were attracted. Others remained on the sidelines. Our efforts to attract them led to banner ads at first and to SEO and SEM as we got wiser.

Search Engine Marketing is only the first step of this new wave of digital marketing driven by intent. It was an understanding that users most often start with search (intent). We are concerned with getting customers to our site when their intent matches something we can service. While promising (and lucrative for Google), this still requires the act of a click on the user end to generate any sales.

Where intent driven digital marketing is heading in the next year is away from the brand site and into the myriad locations users already frequent. We will be seeing Facebook, YouTube and Amazon more like the major television networks – opportunities to reach a lot of customers. The benefit this time is that we can customize the message to each potential customer. No longer do we have to settle for one commercial to appeal to a demographic. We are now able to customize the messages to individuals based on their intent whether it be connecting with friends, thinking about a vacation or wondering what to eat for dinner. The information is there. Customers are open to communication. It only depends on how we choose to interact.


Social Media Needs a New Name

November 17, 2008

First off, I’m tired of defending social media on the Internet. Social is social, and media is media. The two do not mix well. The result of trying to force them together results in poor messages and campaigns like what Motrin ran over the weekend. The interest is justified and the need is well versed as evidenced by a recent article in AdAge. We all want to get into social networks and using social media because of the current popularity. After all, what better place to mass market than where the masses are.

Photo from Flickr user ClintJCL

Photo from Flickr user ClintJCL

The point is clear and the intentions are good. We all want to tap into the market of interested customers eager to recommend our products and services. Clearly, how we accomplish this is anything but clear.

The problem lies largely in trying to bridge the two pieces – social and media. The roots of media lie in distribution while those of social lie in communication. When we try and align the two, we end up with communication centered campaigns with an intent to spread to mass audiences. Or, we end up with Motrin starting a conversation that shouldn’t be started.

As marketers, we may look at this and think we know better. But I’m doubtful as to whether that’s true. Look at the success Dove has had with its social campaigns. Is the Motrin approach any different? Yes and no, but that’s beside the point.

The point is that new media requires new marketing. Imagine if you were marketing products for avid camping supplies. Would you want the guy above speaking as an expert?

The key takeaway here is that new media does not require experts or authoritative voices to succeed. New media stresses connections. Rather than a conversation on why Motrin may be important for mothers, Motrin acted as expert and created a need and dialog where none was required. A similar situation arose last week on MomLogic. One post went up about how a mother could relate to Casey Anthony. Over 200 comments later, it was clearly realized as a poor decision for a post.

Social spaces and media live in different realms. They should be kept that way. That’s not to say that social spaces can be used to enhance and point to media. However, marketing lives in the media realm. The closest kin for social spaces can be seen as PR. There is a new hybrid emerging that combines the marketing with PR. Perhaps most appropriately, the most successful cases have revolved around customer service.

When thinking about what marketing efforts companies can do in social media, make sure they are social first and foremost. Do your homework on what objectives you require from the efforts and make sure the social spaces are right. Your customers own the social spaces. You are an uninvited guest. Thus, make sure your intrusion is welcomed.

Update:

This just came to my attention. Said better than I’m able to. “Who said this is media?