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Posts Tagged ‘Web 2.0’

Yesterday, a group of us at Element 79 took part in a conference call as part of an Omnicom initiative via the Harvard Business School called The Digital Transformation.  The featured speaker was Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace: a fast-growing social networking company with an enviable client list (that includes, somehow, both Coke and Pepsi–genius).  She took us through her company’s offerings and learnings, which primarily boil down to creating smaller online communities of deeply-engaged opinion leaders selected to provide a sort-of ongoing super focus group that’s allowed insider access to a company with an eye to helping them truly connect with their market.  Breezy and incredibly candid, Diane’s stories of how Communispace developed from a software provider to a leader in the social network space made the hour long presentation feel like sixty seconds. 

Communispace creates bespoke social networks for each of their clients and while their services are not cheap, they do provide truly insightful perspective that a typical focus group could not.  Using social networks to gain deeper understanding of market wants and needs simply makes intuitive sense.  It was all very fascinating.

But the anecdote that leapt out to me above all others was a casual aside regarding Motrin’s Twitter debacle (read this for some background).  Amazingly, among their highly networked, deeply engaged social networks, barely any Communispace power consumers had even heard of the incident.  This big day of reckoning for Johnson and Johnson, the crowning achievement of corporate responsiveness to a Twitter-driven issue proved to be largely a tempest in a very small teapot to the world at large.  Practically speaking, outside of a very narrow band, no one cared.  And that’s very telling…

Objects Online May Appear Larger Than They Actually Are

Objects Online May Appear Larger Than They Actually Are

For all of our obsession about new media, for all of our hand-wringing about the rise of social networking and the profound ways that Web 2.0 impacts both culture and daily behavior, this reportedly seminal moment in citizen-informed activism created barely a ripple on the surface of public awareness.  And yet it fueled countless blogs and online debates about the pervasive influence of Twitter and other new social mediums.  To anyone in those networks, it was big news.

And that is the point: the world of forwards and retweets and pingbacks can create an ecosystem of incredible influence through the sheer volume of the message.  Spark a debate on Twitter or any other leading social network and you will hear volumes of opinion loudly amplified, albeit in their specific closed systems.  This sturm and drang does not necessarily reflect popular offline opinion.  The very insider nature of such closed systems exaggerates the impact of any lightning rod issue.  Micro-blogging platforms acts like a microphone; creating very loud noise, but often in a closed room.  Meanwhile, the larger non-networked, TV-watching crowd continues their obsession over inanities like the travails of Jon and Kate, blissfully unaware of the drama brewing in one isolated social network.

So once again, it is up to an agency to help clients sort out the meaningful from the localized, the truly impactful from the trivial, when it comes to deciphering the impact of various messages among social networks.  Should you react?  Or should you respond: intelligently, cogently and appropriately?

Responding is always the better path.  These days, it takes consideration and prudence; two qualities not particularly emblematic of advertising agencies.  And so once again, the market dictates we evolve.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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The people over at Tribune Media just debuted chicagonow.com:  a new blog network launched two weeks ago after three months in beta as chicagosbestblogs.com.  Aggregating seventy+ blogs that loosely share a Chicago-centric theme, this site aims to attract young, digitally-savvy readers uninterested in their daily paper and fill the widening hole in the Tribune’s demographic mix.

All News (and opinion and jokes and gossip) Is Local

All News (and opinion and jokes and gossip) Is Local

I wish them well, though I’m clearly not in their demographic.  I subscribe to the Trib and until someone comes up with an elegantly-interactive digital crossword, I’ll stay analog.  Moreover, I like the illusion that my news at least postures as objective; the injection of obvious left or right bias in every item both exhausts and depresses me.

ChicagoNow appeals to its nascent audience with a pretty wide variety of News and Opinion, Life and Style, Arts and Entertainment, and Sports blogs–category headings seemingly taken right off their print mastheads.  A quick skim of their content reveals a largely newspaper-like tone, albeit with the amped up personality and opinions of the individual bloggers.  For me, the reading experience was not unlike an evening of Chicago Improv: a few remarkable moments separated by a lot of meandering development.  Then again, the analog version contains a lot of material I skim or ignore as well.

The word ‘community’ appears repeatedly throughout the site’s background pages; something that will prove simultaneously crucial as they pitch potential advertisers and challenging as their biggest potential stumbling block.  The best online communities build organically (for perspective, check out this month’s Wired magazine’s article on Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist).  As Clay Shirky writes, Web 2.0 means we no longer need organizations to organize.  Moreover, the user experience needs to come first and foremost and on that count, ChicagoNow seems to be doing it right.  You don’t need to register to access the content, but it does unlock other features like comments.  The ill-fated, arrived too early, saddled-by-regulatory redtape Bud.tv ultimately collapsed due to those onerous restraints as the hassles to the user outweighed the benefits of the content.

Will ChicagoNow take off and ultimately fill the expanding gap in the Tribune’s audience with new, revenue-generating readers?  It’s too early to say, but as a fan of newspapers, I hope it does.  And if nothing else, good on them for trying.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Yesterday, the rigging for Madonna’s new concert tour collapsed during construction in Marseilles, killing two workers.  By any measure, that’s a tragedy.  However, given Madonna’s lightning rod persona, that horrific accident has become an excuse to deem her solely responsible by bloggers and commenters who intensely dislike her.

This is an ugly downside of our intensely interconnected modern world.  Opinion has a mass channel, and that can work against you with sudden and feverish intensity.  On a far less tragic scale, that’s what happened yesterday to Andy Azula of the Martin Agency.

Andy had a really bad day back on June 18th as he tried to fly with his family from Richmond to Atlanta.  And it truly was really, really bad: forced to wait all day at the airport with seven year old twins, their luggage held hostage on a broken plane so they couldn’t leave or change flights, making him ultimately miss both a paid speaking gig and a family gathering with the grandparents.  It sounded awful.  And quite rightly, Andy wrote a letter to Delta angrily recounting his miseries.

ups-china-to-us1But things turned really awful when he posted that letter to his personal blog (he’s since taken it down).   In short order, people noticed it and passed it along, eventually to a gossipy insider advertising site with a reputation for fanning the flames of outrage amongst the marketing set.  Suddenly, everyone had an opportunity to assess Andy’s complaints and again, those inclined to negativity had a field day, excoriating him for among other things, trying to get the airline’s attention by identifying himself as ‘the UPS whiteboard actor.’  Twice.

It was not Andy’s finest hour.  Our most frustrated moments rarely are.  And yet, his industry reputation is pretty good; by all accounts, Andy’s long been considered a pretty good guy.  Given the legendary Mike Hughes’ low tolerance for jerks, he wouldn’t have his position if that weren’t the case.  But Andy had a bad day.  And in a fit of pique, made a couple of bad decisions.  I’m sure he is currently amazed at just how many people there are in this world and how closely they read his words.

Conventional wisdom says to wait ten minutes and breathe deeply before sending an inflammatory e-mail.  We should probably change ‘minutes’ to ‘months’ when it comes to posting anything similar on the web (those drinking photos on Facebook, that outraged review on Amazon, etc.).

If you wouldn’t want your Mom or boss to see it, don’t post it.  Because they will.  And so will everyone else.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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This morning, an article in Advertising Age landed in my e-mail no less than four times before 9am.  Mike Wolfsohn, the Executive Creative Director of Ignited wrote a strong blog post on his agency’s site outlining his frustration with the Zappo’s RFP process.  He describes how Ignited analyzed the actual time spent with this potential client’s review of their comprehensive response and took issue that it amounted to only five page views averaging fourteen seconds each.Picture 3

The key issue amounts to the trackability of interaction, which Mike understandably views as cursory.  Given Zappo’s hard-earned reputation for outstanding customer service, he believes their consideration to be woefully inadequate.  In Zappo’s defense, they opened up this review to what essentially amounts to agency crowdsourcing. and given their desirability as an attractive roster client, they underestimated the overwhelming response they would receive.  By Brandweek’s estimation, more than 104 agencies responded to their very detailed RFP and the sheer volume of material that reached their small marketing department could probably fill a wing of the Library of Congress.  As it turns out, that estimation was low: in his thoughtful response to Mike’s post, Zappo’s head of Business Development Aaron Magness cited the number of actual respondents as 170.

As someone who has some experience with crowdsourcing, one of the biggest negatives about getting all that freely generated material is the respondents’ need for feedback, which can all too quickly bury the organization behind the effort.  Anyone who gives a brand their time and thinking rightly expects some sort of response for their efforts and when they actually do get it, the work improves substantially.  But it is a very tall order to respond to every submission with meaningful and focussed feedback.  If you’ve ever lived through an all agency creative gangbang, you know the problems.

The simple fact is that our society has recently and powerfully evolved to embrace a Web 2.0 empowered two-way marketplace.  We expect to give and get feedback.  When the demand for that feedback grows too large, the sheer manpower demands to answer chokes most organizations.  This is not simply a Zappo’s issue; this will be a growing issue for all marketers and one that will demand we evolve our organizational structures to answer.  The real convergence today is the rapidly colliding worlds of advertising and word-of-mouth PR outreach.  Marketing organizations need to create mechanisms not just to send messages out, but to prepare for meaningful, ongoing consumer dialogue and engagement.

The outcome of this particular situation remains to be seen.  But as one of the agencies who responded, I want to wish Zappo’s good luck with this challenge.  Of course, I would also be more than happy if anyone there wants to call me for advice.  Element 79 loves that brand.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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Picture 1Last week, a post on iMedia Connection with the incindiary headline “Why Twitter Will Soon Become Obsolete” , caused a bit of a stir. Jason Clark, a creative director at VIA Studio, made a rather compelling argument that despite the hype surrounding this platform, people shouldn’t consider it a final destination as a social network.  Referencing the constant stream of new platforms that have sprung up on the net these past twenty five years, Clark argues that all have been social networks of one form or another, from the late 70’s bulletin boards and usenet groups, to the rise of email in the 80’s and then the increasingly rapid iterations and adoption of blogging and AIM to the more contemporary platforms like Friendster which begat MySpace and eventually Facebook, along with all the recent graphic networks like Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo.  The only constant throughout has been change; as soon as one platform captures the attention of a large group, a technology and needs-driven iteration develops and if it proves useful, the herd quickly adopts it as well.  Or more depressingly, once the signal-to-noise ratio becomes unbearable with marketers spamming the platform and chooching up the interface, people look for something new.  He points to Google’s Wave as a potential next destination.

Despite the pugnacious headline, Clark’s argument makes fundamental sense, even as iMedia simultaneously posted a story on how Nielsen measured Twitter’s user base growth at an astounding 1444% this past year: as of May, 18.2 million accounts had registered on the service.  Marketers now must evolve their tactics to keep up with internet time, creating an uncomfortable cycle of constant reinvention to keep pace with engaged audiences.

Our business challenge now is to sustain a constant sprint, to keep tabs on critical consumer markets that migrate with quicksilver speed in a constant movable feast.  This is the phenomenon guest blogger Tim Mauery wrote about this past Tuesday: today, Fastest/Smartest wins.

The trick however, is keeping an eye on the one marketing goal that never changes: building client brands.  You can lose hours of the workday, surfing the web and social ‘NOTworking’ under the pretense of understanding the market.  But the business of brand building has also become more time consuming, particularly today when the participatory Web 2.0 has essentially provided consumer opinion with a mass distribution channel.

Brands are opinions, and we need to continually shape, steer and improve those opinions with clever, strategic engagement across more consumer touchpoints than ever.  Against our shrinking timeframes, picking which touchpoints to engage given finite marketing dollars will decide who soars and who stumbles.

If anyone has any tips on doing that successfully, the comment board is open.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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The HSBC 'Points of View' Campaign   

The HSBC ‘Points of View’ Campaign

For the past four years, HSBC has run a provocative poster campaign from JWT.  Using a brilliant media buy in high traffic airport jetways, the ads highlight paradoxical points-of-view.  Simple graphics and headlines illustrate the insight that people from different regions, backgrounds or cultures often view the same phenomena in vastly different ways.

More than anything, this campaign demonstrates the fungible nature of opinion; something that’s become all the more relevant with the massive informational and behavioral changes brought on by the pervasive, worldwide adoption of the participatory Web 2.0.  By most any measure, opinion’s recently emerged mass distribution channel makes it far more impactful than TV, print, and radio combined.  We may not think of it as a traditional medium per se, but we ignore it at our peril.  As word-of-mouth experts are fond of saying, as much as 92% of all purchase decisions are driven by recommendation, which is nothing more than vocalized opinion.  More importantly, opinions have never been easier to come by; out culture is literally awash in it.

Google “review of Pixar’s Up” and you get 3.6 million entries in .33 seconds…  Every product on Amazon features buyers’ ratings and other key retailers like iTunes, NetFlix and eBay encourage prominent feedback opportunities.  The crushing volume of blogs and soon the exponentially larger world of Tweets can be simply searched.  We even edit our own networks to match our personal opinions, watching Fox News, listening to Air America, or subscribing to magazines and blogs because they reflect our personal politics.  Opinion is literally everywhere and louder than it has ever been.

All of which threatens the relevance and usefulness of those long-held marketing saws ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth.’  What is ‘truth’ in a wold where opinion holds such dominance?  And whose truth?  Can there truly be a universal product or consumer truth?

Instead of the classic Venn diagram that guided years of integrated marketing by highlighting the intersection of ‘brand truth’ and ‘consumer truth’ we now have one vastly larger, much less uniformly shaped universe of consumer opinion, with all of it’s variants, anomalies and conflict.  Brands are opinions–and so our agency job today is to determine not something as debatable as brand truth, but rather the Brand Authenticity (and yes, Authenticities) within all of that opinion and then help meld and coalesce them into a universally-accepted Brand Authenticity.

Do that, and you bring powerful alignment to the often warring worlds of paid and earned media.

At least, that’s my opinion…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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