Monday, December 22, 2008

Social Media versus Traditional Media...

...the debate continues.

Well, it's time to end the debate. It's not either or. It's "with"(in the words of Mitch Joel). The whole purpose of marketing through
any channel is to reach out to your audience where they will engage best with your brand. If this is true than the debate should be Media versus No Media. The differences between Social Media and Traditional Media are no different than those that separate Television and Radio, or Newspaper and Billboards. All offer:
  • Different levels of consumer engagement
  • Some form of scalability
  • Different execution strategies
  • Different results
Chris Brogan just wrote a great post on the unique experience that Social Media can (but doesn't always) provide. His story is about the small business, mom and pop shop of the 1930's type of brand experience...."That’s the time to use social media, when you want to reach people on a more personal and more connected way. It’s not always the path to more revenue. In fact, it’s definitely not as easy as just pushing a few clicks and having books sent to the house. But when you need a more personalized feeling, a more human experience, cafe-shaped is what social media does best."

Radio didn't start out with 15 second product dumps and the online space didn't start out with a focus on click through rates. We have created this environment. Social Media is no different.

First find out who you're talking to. Then find out what you want to say. Then explore where you want to say it. Not the other way around.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Why bother with a good design?

Don’t take this the wrong way, but will the design of your webpage, online ad, or any other marketing channel really impact your sales? I would agree 100% that it will impact your brand perception - but when it comes to sales does, sexy design trump the right message and offer?

This is a loaded question and depending which side of the conversation you’re on, will stir up some serious debate. I personally love good design. I enjoy something that is clever and pleasing to the eye. But I also like reviewing ad campaigns, reading and responding to blogs, checking out all things new online, and engaging in topics of interest with anyone willing to discuss them. In other words, I'm probably not the norm. The norm might look more like – I’m busy, I don’t want to figure out why the ad is clever, tell me the value, show me the experience, how easy is it to purchase.

We see poor design going viral - like the Max Motor Guns & Gas Giveaway. We are constantly forwarded to poorly laid-out landing pages from various Google ads or some daily newsletter. We'll even stumble upon cheesy copy that provokes an uncontrollable vomit reflex. There are endless examples of sub-par designs lurking around every corner that [perhaps unfortunately] achieve profitable results.

Without getting into the technical points or a discussion on consumer/brand connections, the basic point here is to avoid the distraction. With all the new media channels and all the discussion about 'connecting to your consumers' and 'consumer conversations' its easy to forget the single truth behind good marketing. A good message with the right offer for your audience will connect with them every time.

I’d love to see it look good, but that’s just me.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A childhood filled with Apple Fritters and Double Doubles

Sometimes a company finds itself in a unique situation. It starts to hear from customers. Not in the “my-customers-service-centre-is-getting-flooded-with-complaints” type of hearing, but the “who-thought-our-company-meant-so-much-to-people” type of hearing. If your company is one of the fortunate few to experience this, wake up and work with it. Drop everything that you’re doing and make the most of it. Then maybe the way you look at customers will change. Maybe the way you market your product will change. And maybe this fortunate experience will become a regular occurrence.

This is the story of Tim Horton’s. For over 45 years, this company has made coffee and donuts for the Canadian public. It turns out that although Tim’s has been busy pumping out caffeine and deep fried carbohydrates, Canadians have been consuming memories, stories, and fostering a deep connection with a brand fighting for its place in a competitive industry. Tim Horton’s is a great example of the accidental discovery of a truly engaged customer base. Although the company’s latest campaigns focus on consumer stories (fully jumping on the social media bandwagon), this direction didn’t occur out of some brilliant insight. Instead, someone at the company stopped making donuts and opened the pile of letters from customers that had been sitting in the mailbox.

It turns out that Tim Horton’s consumers associate a lot of what they do to the brand. The company receives thousands of letters and emails from loyal fans. Letters about friends travelling across the country together and stopping at every Tim’s along the way. Stories about childhood memories and the feeling that going to Tim Horton’s with family provides - thousands of heartfelt, genuine tales of what Tim Horton’s means to each consumer. People actually can’t wait to tell Tim’s how the brand fits into their life.

Think about that.

Involuntarily, your customers decide to reach out to you – the company - in a positive way. You’ve been telling them they should buy your product because it’s economical and different. Now they’re telling you that they buy your product for reasons far bigger than that. It’s a backwards marketing model, but shows how a brands perception and the point of consumption can dictate your company’s success.

Credit: The image above is a photo that was given to staff at Tim Horton's by a loyal customer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

We laugh, we cry, we eat, we smoke….

There have been a few posts about the British Medical Journal’s publication of a 50 year study on human behavior (see here, here and here). Sidenote: They’ve narrowed the effect of happiness down to geography – indicating your percentage of happiness in terms of kilometers from your happy friend.

It turns out happiness is contagious. It turns out most things are contagious.

This isn’t new. It is officially new, but the thought that we act similarly to our peer group…isn’t that what your parents always warned you about? “Just because Billy’s parents let him [insert verb/noun] doesn’t mean you can”.

Also new: how we respond to this information. 50 years ago when this study began there were no blogs, no websites, no computers, no social media. But there were letters, conversations, communities and books. In a time before ‘social networking’ and ‘consumer connections’ what relevance would a study like this have?

A lot.

It proves an inherent need that is part of the human fabric. We’re social. It isn’t Twitter, blogs, the internet, YouTube, Google, Facebook, Digg, and every other form of online communication or savvy ‘social’ marketing. The fact that we’ve titled the consumer human need to connect with other consumers humans with words like “Social Networks” is just another way to repackage what we already know – that people like to communicate with people.

A person’s entire frame of reference is based on the social community that surrounds them. As a marketer, this is the single most important aspect into consumer insight and should be the number priority with any communications strategy.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Seals aren't just furry sea mammals

This is the story of the U.S. Navy Seals. Not the whole story. Just the part about how an organization with polarizing ideology, controversial mandates, and a long history has been able to harness the power of its tribe to find organizational success and continued relevance.

The ideology around tribes is remarkable. For those who are unfamiliar, tribes are similar to the herd mentality, and are based on the thought that like-minded individuals want to connect with each other and need to be led. There's a bit more to it, and feel free to read further here, here, and here.

The U.S. Navy Seals - A classic, and rarely used example of the use of tribes within an organization (and also a great book on tribal leadership). The Seal's have all the goods to be a great tribe:
  • There are insiders and there are outsiders.
  • All the members of the tribes share a common bond that will connect each of them for their lifetime.
  • The organization has a clear purpose.
  • The organization connects with people on a genuine emotional level (both negatively and positively)
Whether or not you agree with the ideology or actions of the Seals, this tribe has overcome the greatest struggle facing tribal organizations today – it has proven the ability to take passion beyond an ‘emotion’, and has made it a life-choice commitment. As a result, the fabric of this tribe has become so tight that it is one of the few ‘corporate’ tribes where a member will give up their life for another member.

Lessons learned?

1. Be the connector - connect people of similar passion and ideology;
2. Be the source of something bigger; and
3. Fuel their passion through leadership and experience.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"The Beautiful Mistake" - an unintentional lesson in tribe creation

A few months ago, you may have come across the story of this guy in the UK who purchased an iPhone, only to find it preloaded with some photos of a girl on the iPhone production line. They apparently were testing the camera and forgot to delete them.

This generated a huge buzz. It was called "the Beautiful Mistake". Forums of people started looking for more info on the story or wondering what happened to the subject of the photos (Fired? Actually no, just given a few days off...).

Is this unintentional community connection or tribe creation? Or was it unintentional community/tribe discovery - where people had an interest and just needed the right environment to connect to each other.

There must be something to this. A colleague of mine, Martin Delaney, was talking about this story and how it is similar to Dole's move to connect consumers to their organic products. The company included a three digit code on its fruit/product labels and allowed consumers to go online and track back to the farm that the fruit came from.

Building stories, or fueling up the community of consumers, is a powerful tool but rarely executed well, or perhaps, intentionally.

Do you think there is any long term value in the "Beautiful Mistake" for Apple as a strategy?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Are your purchase decisions an accident?

I enjoy talking about online advertising. I enjoy it because we are currently at the bottom of the growth/progress curve with online advertising. Our actions today, as consumers and marketers, will determine the path this medium takes many years from now. I've talked about how, as marketers, we are too quick to shoot ourselves in the foot. How the temptation to focus on site statistics, rather than the growth or the health of your consumer base, only solves short-term problems.

Well it seems like these thoughts are on a few peoples minds. In the online space, it would appear there is a strong movement to re-examine online advertising. To build a framework that fits more with consumer expectations and works towards building a tightly knit customer base.

At the same time, we see strong examples of the present day reality. Poorly thought out Adword campaigns, Google Ads, and permission-less email marketing are alive and well. Our impulsive consumer nature continues to motivate un-targeted advertising tactics. When Chris Brogan can make over twice the revenue from a general ad versus a targeted recommendation, what would motivate others like Chris to do anything different?

It comes down to two things: the goal of consumer interest versus the goal of consumer leadership.

Consumers are notorious for impulse decision making. We can easily build campaigns around consumer impulse. We've done it for years with Point of Purchase materials, candy displays in grocery aisles, Instant Win telemarketing schemes, and (more recently) stand alone pay-per-click advertising. This trend shoots marketers in the foot and keeps consumers unfulfilled and skeptical about the products and services being marketed around them.

The alternative is that we lead our consumer base. That we provide consumers with the connections they need to make the best decision as a consumer of your brand. This type of thinking builds brand communities. It builds loyal fans of your brand that will resist impulse decisions and demand better from you and your competition. This type of thinking weeds out the companies that fail to listen. In the long-term, a market populated by this type of consumer will ultimately change the way marketers talk to consumers.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Downside of Social Media, Tribes and Blogs

I've been thinking about the possible downside of the new media and the related focus on communities of consumers, fans, or like-minded individuals. There is a road that many marketers often go down when they attempt to shift their focus from the occasional scream to a steady conversation that connects them to their consumer. We have all seen and heard about this. We can clearly see that these companies/individuals just don’t get it. It’s easy to critique them but it is even easier to fall into the same traps. We can pick out a marketing mistake a mile away, but when it is close to us we fight to defend it. There are a few factors that influence this:

1. In an effort to diversify, we often narrow our focus. We start to look at what appeals to us or our company. We subscribe to blogs and newsletters, we go to conferences and unconferences. We entrench ourselves in the subject of our focus.

2. During our efforts to focus, we are attracted to groups of like-minded individuals, or those of similar interests. We start to use the social tools that allow us to communicate with them and exchange ideas.

3. With all the information that we can have pushed to us through Google, blogs, Digg, etc. we are encouraged to often continue our focus on the things we are comfortable with.

We end up surrounded by influences that reinforce our existing beliefs and affirm our attitudes. We strive to be an expert by following other experts. We strive to build a great lumber business, by following other great lumber businesses. You can see where I’m going with this. We start to conform to the standard. It may not have been the standard when you started out, but it has become the standard as the community has fused together and narrowed its focus. Conformity in industry creates a stagnant environment, which is perfect for breading competitive business.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Making the world a heavy place.

Finally - a website with substance.

The Home of the Whopper has decided to blast crates of charbroiled meat patties in a sesame seed bun to remote areas of the planet that have yet to be transformed by the unsurpassed privilege of Western fast food. But the American fast food chain is not alone in its imperial quest to reach the corner's of the world - it is traveling with a comrade, the rival Big Mac. Together they promise to put an end to the long disputed title of the Western worlds best-tasting-made-in-under-2-minutes-hamburger.

Finally a corporation that is putting aside political differences and reaching out to its global neighbors. Imagine how limited and bland the lives of these targeted villages were before a helicopter landed delivering ...independence? ...economic stability? Nope. How about two patties of ground meat and FDA approved meat filler slammed between two pieces of sugar-laced bread product.

I'm interested to see how this campaign rolls out. I'll admit- its clever. It even has some captivating imagery and a very intriguing countdown clock (who can resist the countdown). It will garner some PR, build a community of new fans, and will probably give one of the companies the title belt. But we saw this with Pepsi and Coke. Nobody really cares which tastes better. Consumers have more reasons for their purchase beyond taste. Besides, if someone wanted a really good burger, I'm sure that they know a local restaurant or an uncle who makes the tastiest. Or if someone wants to be truly refreshed, they would drink a cold glass of water.

In this case, the brand is bigger than the burger.

What would be interesting (let me know if you have any info) is if Burger King has been priming these chosen markets with other advertising or communications and building the brand before the taste test.

Full disclosure: I'm not a vegan, and I do actually eat these products.

Who cares if your brand is online?

Well, apparently many people. More staggering news regarding the state of the newsprint industry in the U.S.

Perhaps the movement towards more engaging media is being facilited by the dip in our economy or the fuzzy line between fact and fiction in some of the world's leading journalistic institutions. Or perhaps the reason lies in that eternal need for human's to connect and own the responsibility to respond to the community that surrounds them. There's a reason why there are more web pages than people on the planet. And there's a reason why there are millions of blogs reaching millions of people (even though some are wondering how many are too many?).

People want genuine relationships. They want to receive genuine information and to interact with genuine people. Media is shifting away from the impersonal one-way communication it used to be. People can boost a brand with a few key strokes. A consumer can speak to (or with) millions with 30 seconds of video. The proclamation that social media is a 'fad' should be reviewed. Perhaps the technology that we currently use is just the current trend, but the urge to connect one on one has been there long before Konrad Zuse and Ray Tomlinson.

This inherent need for consumers to connect and how this translates into brand messaging is a key interest of mine. It is important that we continue to differentiate driving force between the use of social technology and the fall of traditional media. It has far less to do with technology, and far more to do with how the medias have been used and the brands that use them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Easy Way To Shoot Yourself In The Foot

I have an anniversary coming up. So finding a perfect gift has been top-of-mind. I’m on the web reading every ad, checking every review, searching sites for ideas. I’m watching the television and tuned in to each 30 second spot. Then, on my way to work I notice a great sign on the sidewalk in front of an intriguing shop. You know, one of those places you may have passed a million times before, but with your current elevated awareness, its seems to jump at you from the road. It says “Original Gift Items - Perfect for your anniversary”. This is crazy. How did they know I would be driving here? So I take the time to find a parking spot. I get out, and walk towards the store front. The sign takes up the whole store window, and its promise has me thrilled about what lies ahead. With a message like that, I know that what’s on the other side of that door has got to be exactly what I had in mind. I try the door. It’s locked. The sign looks down at me, taunting me with a promise it won’t deliver. This store probably had 200,000 people go through this same experience.

Lots of impressions. No conversions.
Big Promise. No Delivery.

This store probably had 200,000 people go through this same experience. Why would this store/brand/website waste its time and money on grabbing attention and not making sales? An easy answer, but a scenario that pollutes the traditional marketing space and has crept into the online and new media space.

Why do marketers continue to build hype and break trust? Why do marketers continue to degrade every possible way to connect their consumers? Is it any wonder that online ads have become another "branding" medium, while 'old' consumers and companies are skeptical about 'new' media?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Samsung: Testing the true fans

The photographic adventures of Nick Turpin is the latest attempt by a global organization to reach out and let go.

The idea is simple.

Get a guy to use the new Samsung Pixon Camera Phone. Post the picture on a microsite, flickr and YouTube. Make the content easy to share and easy to keep track of through Twitter, email updates, GPS tracking and a few other cool tools. Then ask the tribe to lead the photographer on a 30 day adventure.

Everyday a picture is taken and posted. The tribe goes online and clicks on an area in the picture. The area of the picture with the most clicks determines what the following days photo will be. For the last 18 days, Samsung has managed to build a growing tribe of engaged followers. There are a couple of hundred followers on Twitter and around 1200 people assisting Nick with his adventure.

Nick's comments and his interpretation of the tribes request keep the story building. This only serves to increase the engagement and tighten the tribe. In the process, Samsung is testing their tribe, building a new tribe, and perhaps discovering an existing tribe it has not previously reached.

What I think is most impressive about this idea, beyond the simplicity, is Samsung's dedication to the project. Many companies 18 days into a 'campaign' would be looking for visitation of 'mass' proportions. They would get nervous, edit the positioning to feel more 'mass' oriented and water down the experience. This isn't the case. The experience feels genuine. There are no marketing optics. The momentum is given the room to grow at a natural rate. The results may not deliver the traditional reach of 1 million impressions, but will build a tight tribe of a few thousand true fans.

What's your impression? Any predictions on the long term success?

*Thanks to Martin Delaney for keeping me in the loop on this one... another conversation starter.