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Posts Tagged ‘Word of Mouth’

This recent Yahoo! news item tells the story of Alecia Dantico, a professional Tweeter who is part of a growing trend of large corporations hiring talent to send out messages on that social network.  

Like most creative endeavors, this could be a very smart thing or a small distraction: the results depend upon strategy and even more importantly, execution.  

Strategically, this initiative needs a clear purpose and goals: brandbuilding?  Outreach for direct consumer connection?  A modern update of the old consumer complaint department?  Whatever the reason, this and any marketing endeavor needs to have a clearly-defined goal, otherwise it’s simply another distracting tactic.

The execution must then work to execute this strategy, mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of the platform.  For Twitter, one of those strengths is the immediacy and topicality of a group conversation; the best tweets are often helpful and always engaging.  Comedy, surprise, discovery; the best Twitter feeds deliver those on a dependably regular basis.  In other words, if the brand personality doesn’t engage or worse, if corporate concerns over legal and control issues sanitize and stifle the 140 character executions, the result more likely will be a “Bland Personality.”

Picture 2Which is why this platform provides the perfect retirement opportunity for copywriters.  Office location, 9-5, assignment flowcharts: none of these agency realities matter in the world of corporate micro-blogging.  All that matters is the need to create relevant engagement that serves a strategy.  Our creative enterprise has a well-earned reputation for eating it’s young; here at last could be a way to make good with an ongoing freelance gig that serves both brands and creatives.

It also serves the newer offerings of Word-of-Mouth PR agencies, most of whom already follow this sort of ‘create a strategy and outsource the execution’ type of model.  

It doesn’t however, serve large agency structures.  Considering this article in relation to yesterday’s post which took Weber Shandwick’s Chris Perry to task for laying the blame for Social Media’s slow development as a brand platform squarely at the feet of traditional agencies, perhaps I should rethink.  Particularly after posting yesterday’s blog to LinkedIn’s AdPro group to solicit other points of view and receiving some very thoughtful responses.

Corporations need results from their tactics.  They also need something else: responsibility from their marketing partners.  The cost structure of a traditional agency makes this kind of initiative rather challenging from a creative execution standpoint.  However, the benefits of insuring an integrated strategy and established results expectations make this an easily-adopted new tactic…

Once you outsource to a few talented, interesting, retired writers.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
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In this week’s Advertising Age, Chris Perry–the senior guy in Weber Shandwick’s digital practice–wrote an article placing the major ‘blame’ for social media’s under-performance squarely at the feet of the ‘dated agency model.’  Because social media is so new and so revolutionary, traditional agencies and their clumsy attempts to mainstream it into existing profit structures fail to use this medium to anywhere near it’s full potential.  In short, we’re all doing it wrong.

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Oh please.  This kind of hand-wringing, model-bashing argument is getting truly tiresome; it’s too much “I told you so” that doesn’t tell much of anything. We’re slapped in the face with the promise of it even though no one has yet to deliver any profits from it.  Garrett’s Popcorn is tweeting now? Okay, I’ll remember that next time I feel compelled to talk to a tin of caramel/cheese popcorn.  Dell’s much ballyhooed two million dollars worth of @delloutlet Twitter sales?  That’s less than one hundredth of a percent of their annual sales.  NBC CEO Jeff Zucker said it best: “Our challenge with all these new-media ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies.”  Indeed.  This is, after all, a business.

But all of this is quibbling; fundamentally, Mr. Perry’s argument is flawed because Mr. Perry assumes there is such a thing as Social “Media.”  I disagree.

Social media doesn’t yet live up to the hype because social ‘media’–as agencies and advertisers define ‘media’–simply doesn’t exist.

Call me a copywriter, but words matter.  “Social Media” is an ill-considered term for advertisers.  As an important cultural phenomenon, slapping the label “media” on it creates the impression that clients must put messages there and that’s simply not true.  The explosive expansion and proliferation of social networks is nothing short of a communications revolution, but that doesn’t make them a marketing medium…or any sort of “media” whatsoever.  When my sister friends her long lost high school bandmate on Facebook, she doesn’t consider it an advertising platform–Facebook is simply a way to connect and communicate.  It is SOCIAL first and foremost; it is absolutely not “Media” by any traditional industry definition.  This simple reality drives headlines like this from today’s Online Media Daily: “More Women Using Social Networks, But Brands Not Benefitting.”  The whole conceit of ‘Social Media’ is a sociologist’s invention–using it in reference to marketing unnecessarily confuses the issue.  With the notable exception of Word of Mouth PR outreach, social networks provide an extremely limited forum for selling and driving profit.

Do social networks matter?  Very much so.  Should agencies be focused on them?  They better be.  At Element 79, we believe every one of our clients should be deeply involved in social networks–less as a selling platform and more as a deep, rich, real-time glimpse into consumer sentiment about their brands and categories.  Social networks present an unprecedented platform for real time research that savvy planners can mine for opinion gathering and monitoring. 

In these times when brands are opinions and opinion enjoys a vast media channel independent of the paid media that spurs and sparks consumer conversations, we must start creating metrics around social network conversations as another measure of our communications’ success in market.  Internally, this lays a new groundwork for planner responsibilities: first mining social networks for consumer insights and relevance and later assessing the results of our efforts.  Did our ideas enter the conversations?  Were our strategies compelling, our executions memorable, our messages relevant and persuasive?  That’s all measurable with the vast data engine that is the web.

These new platforms are social networks; rich and vibrant communication ecosystems that advertisers should strive to protect and foster.  Social media however, remains a pipe dream, an ill-considered fool’s errand where marketing messages flounder amidst a social setting that so far, is neither welcoming nor profitable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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In his post on Advertising Age’s Small Agency Diary, Marc Brownstein offers some thinking on ‘free media’ and whether or not it poses a threat to advertising and media agencies.  Despite the soaring popularity of social media, do brand efforts in these media advance the strategy and differentiate the product?  Can a fanpage create enough attraction on its own without an introduction via a TV commercial?  Is the platform even viable for self-promoting sales messages?

What?  All You Got Is A Hammer?

What? All You Got Is A Hammer?

In the end, Marc gently and tactfully demurs, his answer boiling down to “possibly, kinda, but not really…’  I’ll be more direct; absolutely not.  There is simply no way ‘free media’ will usurp paid media. First of all, the entire notion that there are ‘free media’ is flawed.  The placement of brand messages within social networks may not have an associated cost the way a spot does, but the time required to create bespoke responses to each individual inquiry/complaint/compliment/request for more information can be staggering.  For most companies, the current means of working social media amounts to little more than a new take on the old department store complaint office; you create a human face for the brand that allows people to talk and engage directly and conveniently.  But that requires staffing.  And man hours.  And training.  None of which come free.  I far prefer the title ‘earned media’–and savvy companies that commit to that investment are very likely to earn meaningful media placements in this emerging space, if for no other reason than there efforts will be have a strategic foundation.

Second, advocates love to trot out a few high profile examples of success in these arenas to demonstrate the emerging power of social media.  While a few efforts merit our attention, even those require a bit more sober assessment.  Yes, @DellOutlet is a notable success story for social media with it’s Twitter-exclusive offers and 600,000+ followers.  Its growth has been phenomenal, earning two million in annual sales in less than two years.  All of which is remarkable.  But it’s chicken scratch compared to the company’s total 2008 revenues of $61 billion.  Twitter sales represent maybe .003% of total Dell revenues, which makes me think it’s a bit premature to toss aside the traditional media powered sales channels and throw everything into free media.

And lastly, do consumers really welcome brands as active participants in these spaces?  They are, after all, social networks; the ‘social’ notion comes first and foremost.  Some brands can navigate this challenge, offering enough interesting content to keep people engaged, but that requires consistent, steady effort to insure your exchanges mesh with the brand’s strategic voice.  Treating social media as a separate silo will inevitably create dissonance between brand messages.

I believe every brand should engage with social media because brands are opinions and social networks let marketers assess ever-shifting consumer opinions of their brands in real time basis. Since social networking provides opinion with a powerful mass channel, marketers must take steps to actively influence brand opinion in that channel.  This is why we see such powerful convergence in the form of advertising and word-of-mouth.

If you truly want to integrate your messages, you can never rely on simply one tool.  You need to use you entire toolbox in thoughtful, strategic concert to build a truly great brand.

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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It may seem like so much facile wordplay, but the fundamental need for advertisers to move from the dated notion of ‘integrated marketing’ to the more contemporary concept of ‘integrating marketing’ makes sense for a number of reasons.  First, it’s active.  ‘Advertising’ must be thought of a verb: an active pursuit that demands ongoing care and engagement.  Given the constant stream of opinion that fills and influences the content streaming over social media, brands and their agency protectors can ill afford to fall into the old habit of ‘set it and forget it.’  Today, brand advocacy demands a deeper commitment to insure their ongoing health; we always have to be doing something.  Because brands are opinions.

Picture 1Another upside of re-imagining our job as ‘Integrating Marketing’ is that it encourages a broader view that incorporates both paid, earned and even ‘drive-by’ media like Twitter and brand review sites.  The messages we produce and introduce to the marketplace create movement and impact, but they are hardly the last word.  With purchase intent so driven by recommendation and word of mouth, agencies need to monitor and ideally, impact, every available platform for widespread opinion sharing.

Ultimately, the real reason to reorient ourselves toward ‘integrating’ marketing is that our market is continually disintegrating.  Through technology like DVR’s, Hulu and YouTube, the market continually expands away from one common location.  To reach these far flung micro audiences requires a constant process of ‘integrating’ them back into a larger group around a common bond.

So, are you integrated?  Or are you integrating?

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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Picture 5SocialVibe President and prolific new platform pundit Joe Marchese’s most recent blog entry on MediaPost presents a simple, 21st century update on Marshall McLuhan’s original marketing mindblower “The medium is the message.”  In a few paragraphs, he presents the case for “People are the medium” and his thinking is genuinely compelling. Most notably, he cites how people will spend over three hundred and thirty million hours this year on Facebook alone, creating and sharing incredibly vast quantities of consumer generated content.  To McLuhan’s point, this personal stewardship of content and commentary, the highly human context of all these ideas, inevitably influences how these messages are received.

Marchese believes marketers must reconcile themselves to this new truth and respect the revolutionary notion that people are the medium before they can truly work effectively in social media.  Given that our industry currently lacks the infrastructure resources to do that on a large scale, social media could remain broken as a marketing platform for a long time.  At least as far as Facebook is concerned.

One marketing medium that does recognize people as the medium is the rapidly-expanding specialty of word of mouth.  Today, almost all marketing professionals recognize the increased role recommendation plays in purchase decisions and so word of mouth has exploded as an offering, with agencies, PR firms and specialists all jumping in to set up shop and claim expertise.  Our friend Paul Rand at Zocalo Group got into this space early with the balance of assessment and direct engagement required to change mere observation into actionable influence.  Without participating in the discussions out there, word of mouth remains a game of chance, and no one can afford that these days.

Historically, corporations have proven awkward at connecting with people on a personal level.  As we charge headlong into an increasingly hyper-connected future, we will have to address that.  

If we don’t, we will lose one very valuable medium.  And billions of potential consumers.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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