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.


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.


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.


Top 9 of ’09 – #1 Drumroll Please

January 6, 2009

And way up on the top of my board for 2009 is:

Perception.

While it may seem like something far down the list today, by the end of the year, perception will be the key to much of digital marketing that will be done.

Where social media, DM and digital properties will succeed in the coming year is driving perception. In fact, social media already excels here. The lack of relevant case studies is now mainly due to a marketers’ desire to drive messaging rather than perception.

Where individuals succeed on Facebook and Twitter is in crafting personas. They create personalities and live them. Often, we can be surprised when meeting someone we only know through their digital presence. They are much different than we had thought. Perception.

Much more on this throughtout the year.


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?


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.