Don Novello: The Lazlo Letters My dad was in advertising, and he would uncontrollably laugh while reading this book that. In many respects, Lazlo was the first "citizen's journalist" or blogger for that matter. His CGM was all about experiences with companies, brands, or VIPs. (*****)
Seth Godin: All Marketers Are Liars I'm a huge fan of Seth Godin, but this one was just OK. I probably read it with a higher set of expectations that the book would be a bit more critical of the marketing industry. It's hard to disagree with the core premise of authentic story telling, but some of his points overstated the obvious (**)
While attending Snowcial (a relatively new conference that fuses social media and snow sports), I had a chance to interview the superb kickoff speaker, none other than MC Hammer. A social media maven since 2004 (long before most of us), he talked about the role of authenticity, relationship building, and the promise and potential of the social media space. In my view, it's not a coincidence that he has nearly 1.8 million followers on Twitter. This was clear even in his post-speech interaction with all the attendees: accessible, friendly, the opposite of pretentious, and highly attentive to the issues, themes, and topics raised by others at this event. This two-minute interview is an excellent social media primer.
Such is the title of my recent column in Advertising Age, and boy has this topic been on my mind for quite some time. If you take a close look under the hood on so many of these word-of-mouth, viral, buzz building, and social media campaigns, the folks with marketing pedigree and credentials are everywhere.
In the blogosphere, there are thousands of bloggers who source directly from the marketing and public relations ranks. Double that for Twitter, which seem to matriculate another hundred "social-media experts" every couple hours. Conduct even the most basic Twitter search on user profiles and you'll find nearly 30,000 Twitter users self-identified as marketers. Nearly 8,500 use the term "PR," and another 8,000 use the term "social media."
Look no further than last week's Skittles brouhaha. Or the Super Bowl advertising buzz that I tracked for Nielsen. Or the Motrin Moms controversy many months earlier. Upward of half of the overall buzz came from the folks with marketing industry pedigree or credentials -- and the percentage conspicuously peaked even higher in the early waves of buzz. Put another way, marketers are complicit in pushing the snowball into a "buzzball."
Is this a bad thing? Well, I hold off a bit on that particular question, but at minimum we at least need to recognize and acknowledge the disproportionate voice of marketers in the conversational stream. Even I'm a bit guilty of over-romanticizing the "consumer voice" when in fact the earliest buzz-building megaphones are being sounded by the folks I regularly rub shoulder to shoulder with at industry conferences. Not to suggest we don't wear both consumer and marketer hats; I'm 100% aligned on what Dan Schwabel's suggesting about Personal Branding or Rohit Bhargava is putting out there about "authenticity" in Personality Not Included and I'm a proud participant in that tango.
That all this moves the needle is beyond question. Just consider the impact of search. In the pre-search world, marketers could critique one another into submission and no one outside our hermetically sealed silo would have a clue what we are saying. In the post-search world, all the marketer talk, fortified by heavy doses of link love, pushes straight to the top of organic Google-search results, meaning consumers are as likely to see our informed, often critical spin before they see the first billboard, display ad or TV spot. That's big.
At minimum, we also need to acknowledge that this curious trend blurs lines, and muddies the water. I call this out not to be righteous but only because I truly believe we marketers need to consistently go the extra distance to keep things transparent, clear, well-disclosed, and of course "open." When the commentators and analysts are becoming de facto media channels (which is clearly happening), we need to dial up the "clarity" levers.
Then again, maybe that's the bargain we've all struck in this Byzantine conversational bazaar we've buzzed up. Social media both softens silos and mucks up the lines. Web 2.0 marketing is de facto research, and feedback-powered research is the highest form of loyalty marketing, right? Lines naturally get blurry, even confusing, when we're both observer and participant. Inevitably, we end up interpreting the very buzz we created or fueled ourselves.
If you buy into this theory, you really have to think hardder about how to build the likes of David Armano, Steve Rubel, Jeremiah Owyang, BL Ochman, Peter Kim, Charlene Li, Chris Brogan and Susan Bratton into your buzz building or launch strategies, or at least have a strategy for "viral sandbagging" their potential negatives or venom.
This is no cake walk. While there's shortage of easy high-fives from the social-media set on anything that smacks of progressive marketing, let's not forget that these folks know all the tricks of the trade, and can smell an imposter, fraud or half-baked campaign a mile away. Indeed, if you look at the digital trail of road kill (especially in search results) from stupid or unethical marketing practice, the marketing experts -- not Joe Consumer -- were the first to throw the fatal daggers. "Et tu, Brute?" indeed!
I toss in a few final tips on the outreach side, but let me close with this observation. However this nets out -- even if the net percentage of marketer-initiated buzz increases -- we must keep the space credible and trusted. Social media is a wonderful thing -- enabling, empowering, rule-breaking -- but at times it blinds us to certain realities. We're a much bigger part of the conversation than we readily concede. As long as we're open and transparent (and maybe even a bit self-critica) about this point, the odds of preserving trust will go up.
The problem...occurs when marketers make exaggerated claims
about a product’s attributes, which may be fine when selling toothpaste
or vacations. Most people probably know that the toothpaste will not
actually make their teeth sparkle or help them get a date.But
when a company says its product will improve the environment, consumers
can sense if the claim is puffed up, Mr. Lawrence said. “This can
really backfire with environmental advertising,” he said.
We see this constantly via unstructured text mining. Skepticism abounds in the consumer-generated media airwaves about companies overstating green claims, and often the commentary will link to evidence, data, or corroborating commentary reinforcing the push-back. This is why I keep pounding away at the theme of "credibility" throughout my book. If the claim, positioning, or ad-message lacks credibility, the "wisdom of the crowds" -- or even just the hyper-attentive minority -- will call out the inconsistencies and disconnects.
I’m incredibly excited to announce today's release of my very first book, “Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in a Consumer-Driven World.” Published by Doubleday Business, the book is now available in most major bookstores as well as Amazon.com and other online venues.
The book’s core question is critically important, and one I’ve been thinking about since testing new feedback models in the California legislature back in the early 1990s (and all the way up through my tenure today at Nielsen Online): how to establish and maintain credibility by being authentic, listening and responding to customers, and forming relationships built on openness, transparency, and trust. The growth of the web, and the unprecedented power and leverage it provides consumers, puts this question in a unique, if not urgent, context. This Q&A from Sunday's Edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer provides helpful background on the book themes.
Ongoing Participation: Beyond just reading the book, I also hope you will participate in a sustained conversation and debate about its themes. Toward that end, I’ve created a website entitled Tell3000.com that provides key resources, open-forums, video reviews, and most importantly, a series of audio-based consumer interviews about brand experiences that I hope to update nearly every day. Here’s the short list of ways you can stay involved.
A much longer list is cited in my book, but an enormous and grateful thanks to all of those who provided support and encouragement, especially my wife Erika (who's featured in this "day before launch" commemorative photo along with my three kids: Liam, Leila, and Sophia.)
What should we make of the Whole Foods admitting that their CEO
posted comments under a fictitious identity on Yahoo Finance stock forums? The exercise that included negative comments about Wild Oats, a company Whole Foods has
been looking to acquire? Writes the Wall Street Journal:
For about eight years until last August, the company
confirms, Mr. Mackey posted numerous messages on Yahoo Finance stock forums as
Rahodeb. It's an anagram of Deborah, Mr. Mackey's wife's name. Rahodeb cheered
Whole Foods' financial results, trumpeted his gains on the stock and bashed
Wild Oats. Rahodeb even defended Mr. Mackey's haircut when another user poked
fun at a photo in the annual report. "I like Mackey's haircut,"
Rahodeb said. "I think he looks cute!"
Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage of
buzz and conversation on this topic. My take: this is a classic Tragedy of the Commons
– and it’s precisely the type activity the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association
(WOMMA) has proactively sought to address through it’s ethics code. But there’s an extra dose of irony in this
particular case study that puts the still evolving case study in far more
conspicuous light relative to other incidents. Let
The Irony of the Agent: First, the agent of the abuse isn’t a
agency, and untrained intern, or even your “usual suspect” unscrupulous
marketer or buzz agency. It’s the CEO of
a publicly traded company. From a talk
value perspective, this puts the incident in an immediate “man bites dog”
The Irony of the Brand: Secondly, there’s irony in that the incident
is sourced from a brand that’s benefited
enormously from unaided -- dare I say "organic" -- word-of-mouth. The story of Whole Foods is one of brand evangelism, fortified by great
experiences, great food, and great “always there to help” people. “In New York
City,” whole foods is like church,” said Dana Weisman of the 92nd Street
Y, who asked me about this topic while I conducted a word-of-mouth marketing
workshop this morning. Indeed,
this should be the last brand on earth that needs an any dosage of manipulation.
The Irony of the "Organic" Label: The
essence the term “organic” – the foundational equity of Whole Foods – is all
about purity, authenticity, sincerity, and all things real. Beyond just “breaking the rules,” the bogus
posting incident compromises if not betrays these ideas. Just read their Declaration of
Interdependence. Imagine if Al Gore
started driving a Hummer to the front of his house just to fetch the newspaper?
All of these factors–
combined with the obvious violation of accepted norms of ethical online behavior rule – have the potential to keep this story
alive. Irony drives conversation.
Mismatches between brand claims and realities typically leads to a digital
trail of word-of-mouth. For the sake of protecting and nurturing your brand, stay transparent!
This week my ClickZ marketing column ("Hey Marketers, Please Don't Tick off My Dad") centers around an issue a bit closer to home than I care to acknowledge: the vulnerability of our senior citizens. We see this issue discussed in CGM venues a fair amount, but the issue is uniquely personal because I've been spending lots of time with my parents this week (along with my six siblings) here in my hometown of Pasadena. My 84-year old father just underwent surgery for early stage cancer, and we're all here to provide support and send good vibes. Spending time with him, as well as my mother (who has early stage Alzheimers), at their new assisted living facility has found me reflecting hard on all the issues surrounding our aging population. Further prodding my consciousness was a deeply moving front page article in the New York Times two weeks ago ("Bilking the Elderly, With a Corporate Assist.") documenting how unscrupulous hucksters buy readily available targeted mailing lists
from respectable firms to lure senior citizens into coughing up
personal identity, bank account information, and more. When I read the story, especially the part about one particular senior who found himself fleeced by scammers who preyed on his need to feel "connected" and to have "someone to talk to," it was hard not to see my father, or my mother, or my now-deceased Aunt Sal, who constantly fell for the plethora of bogus sweepstakes offers that inundated her mail box in her final years. Each of us in marketing has a vested interest in protecting Mom and Dad, figuratively speaking, and those who can't always help themselves, from such abuse. Importantly, we need to be extra sensitive to the potential for our excitement and exuberance over this new "conversational" movement to be turned on its head by scammers. As I note in my column:
As purveyors and ambassadors of the Web 2.0 movement, we
have a vested interest in ensuring our "join the conversation" hoopla
doesn't become another convenient entry point for manipulation, deceit,
dishonesty, and abuse.
And so I offer in my ClickZ article "Ten Strategies to Protect Our Parents from Marketers." I know that may sound a tad ironic -- make no mistake, I'm a passionate marketer -- but at some point we to draw more disciplined rules of engagement, and perhaps even use the power of CGM and social media to drive more accountability. It's not a complete list of advice, but a good starting point. A special thanks to my long-time colleague Sue MacDonald, with whom I constantly trade notes (and sobering stories) about our aging parents, for help with my list. I welcome your feedback.
THE LISTENING POST: Speaking of feedback, I've already received some extremely thoughtful feedback, and I thought I'd share a few comments below. From Joy Loverde or ElderlyIndustry.com
I'm compelled to write and thank you for writing "Marketers, Please Don't Tick off My Dad." Sadly, by the time a reader finishes reading your article, hundreds
more elderly people will have been scammed. We can only hope that you
influenced many family members to take action and check in with their
parents before it's too late.
THANKS. We are the caregivers for an 85 year old Uncle
who falls for every letter asking for handouts. Yesterday he said he
hopes the veterans get the money he has been sending them. He sends
money every week to one group or another- enjoying the preprinted thank
yous- and photos. He displays them thinking they are real- that he is
the only one who helped this...kid, soldier, fill in the blank. We have
his power of attorney- but have not censored his mail. I wish we could
have him on a do not solicit list. He is limited in his income and has
no savings. Thanks, Pete for caring for those who can''t! ...And thanks
for doing something about it!
Today's cover story in Ad Age, "Do Not Market," hits a critical theme all marketers should all be thinking about, and which this blog consistently has sought to address: consumer frustration with advertising and the inevitable consequences of pushing the line with newly empowered consumers. This time the latest salvo from the lines of consumer resistance comes in the form of multiple state legislatures pushing legislation to bring "do not call" principles (and guidelines) to the mailbox. I'm quoted suggested we reached a "perfect storm of consumer power and advertising intrusion," and moreover that we need to think well beyond just "paid media." Easier said than done, of course, but the conversation is absolutely critical, and the major industry groups (ANA, IAB, AAAA, DMA) really need to coalesce around this difficult issue and proactively find a "win-win" middle ground. The reality we're dealing with is perfectly described in the first paragraph of the Ad Age story:
the door- -- just her latest exercise in exerting control over
marketing messages. Having clearly established her ability to bad-mouth
your brand on her blog, TiVo your TV commercials, stop your phone calls
and filter out your pop-ups, now-with the help of the government-she's
trying to stop you getting access to her mailbox.
Tomorrow is the Super Bowl, the biggest ad bonanza of the year, and the shadow of the Boston marketing "hoax" still persists across the web. Big marketers have every reason to hope (and pray) the issue goes away, or at least takes a temporary siesta. After all, who wants divided attention on some other "marketing" issue when you can have full attention. What's clear from analyzing the buzz patterns is that while the Boston issue has reached its peak, it is still driving more conversation than the pre-buzz around the Super Bowl ads. Even on the major video sharing sites, the Boston issue is far more dominant than anything related to the Super Bowl ads. On BlogPulse's video rankings, the Boston issue takes two of the top five video slots, including the #1 position.
As of midnight this evening, it also ranks #1 on Technorati. Quite a few variables are keeping the story alive, from debates over whether the campaign's a success (measured by awareness & reach) to the unrepentent antics of the two guys who ran around Boston putting up the devices. Oh, and then there are all those "new" videos on YouTube offering commentary on the issue. Even the topic of "hair" is driving some of the conversation. While there's no question the issue will fade to the background during the Super Bowl, marketers need to think hard about the event's "latency" effect. Tens of thousands of comments have been posted online about the Boston hoax, most in the context of "marketing" and "advertising." This guarantees that it the issue will live in perpetuity via search results.
The Chiropractic Motherlode:
2007 will be the year chiropractors make a ton of money fixing sore
elbows from the Nintendo Wii Frenzy. Wikipedia will soon have an entry
entitled either "Gamers Elbow" or "Wii Syndrome." Plasma TV sales may
also see a noticeable spike in "replacement sales" due to
Wii-precipitated damage from broken straps hitting the screen Gyms
treadmills will start to feel threatened by "calorie burning" Wii
consoles. (Care to wager?)
From Cable to Internet TV:
Cable deserves credit for pioneering "on-demand" TV, but the Web is
taking TV to the next stage. With YouTube setting the pace, and forcing
(with pleasure) the habit-change, the Web is quickly becoming de facto television.
Yes, we're currently in a world of 5 minute video segments, but that
will change. The upside of Web TV is we can talk and watch at the same
time, but that also has downsides, namely, more rounds of attention
deficit disorder (ADD). Still, can my brand sponsor the next Lonely
Back to (Web site) Basics:
Online video will be among the factors encouraging brands to "return to
fundamentals" with their brand Web sites. Smart digital managers will
recognizing their potential as not only media-rich content channels,
but also as word-of-mouth or CGM amplifiers. Oh, and they're also
critical for SEO. Sites like YouTube will still be part of the mix, but
as Dove demonstrated with Real Beauty's Evolution spot,
world class execution also depends on getting it right in the brands
backyard, complete with empowering feedback loops. In addition, blog
publishing software -- and all their low-cost bells and whistles (and
"widgets") will become more deeply engrained in the typical brand Web
site (at far lower cost), shifting power from tech departments back to
the brand managers.
Creative Darwinism and Disintermediation: Expect many more major brands to outsource creative development to unknown EepyBird-like
upstarts that prove their creative mettle through YouTube popularity
stickiness. Madison Avenue will freak, and fight back with a furry but
in the end, more creative work will outsource virtually or shift away
from higher cost-of-production centers like NY and LA. Local regions
like Cincinnati, drawing from Procter-influence TV copy production
principles, will develop hybrid production models to produce more video
for less, especially for brands that increasingly view their Web sites
as TV channels. Expect to see more "how to" video demos on brand Web
Stars and Scars: The notion of negative GRPs,
an accountability scorecard that factors in negative ad impressions
precipitated by ill-advised advertising decisions or placements, will
finally take root in the ad industry. Dramatically improved analytics
in consumer-generated media(CGM)
will make this possible. If, for example, a TV-campaign backfires and
brand venom spreads across the message boards and blogs, agencies and
media planners will be held more accountable…or perhaps even have
negative impressions deducted from the GRP (gross rating point) reward
model. Similarly, expect more "traditional" agencies to get smaller
bonuses, rewards, or stars on their forehead for the online video
failure to engage.
Mobile Madness: Marketers
will rush like mad to mobile application programs, establishing
dedicated teams to crack the code in this "crackberry" environment of
ever-smaller, ever-smarter mobile phones and PDAs. Plenty of great
services, utilities, and "solutions" will emerge, many of which will be
brand-sponsored. However, much of hype and exuberance will be tempered
by consumer research citing massive turn-off factor via intrusive
More "Free for Me": Expect to see
more free stuff; free phones, free Wi-FI, in exchange for consumer
attention, opt-in profiling, or other relationship marketing activity.
Even at next years big conferences, free iPods preloaded with "selling"
videos and podcasts will be given away to key influencers or high-value
lead prospects. Big advertisers will also start gobbling up all paid
WiFi networks at airports, maybe even Starbucks, to drive goodwill with
consumers and own the start-up page. P&G, Unilever, and L'Oreal
will fight head-to-head to free WiFi enable every beauty spa in America.
Online Spending Up, But "Paid" Media Overall Takes A Hit:
Paid media spending will take a noticeable stumble in 2007, as more
marketers wake up to the attention-scarce economy; money will instead
be redirected to product development, innovation and customer
experience/service. Big marketers will all return to the late 1990s
practice of aggressively promoting URLs on their TV ads and their
packaging, thereby reducing their dependency on "paid" traffic. Media
planners will start to be rewarded to develop and manage customer
service interfaces, and rewarded on the basis of positive CGM and buzz oozing from those practices. Consumer affairs and marketing will finally begin to morph.
Meanwhile, more money will pour into interactive media, because it's
still priced so low. Interactive advertising dollars will chase
social-enhanced media. However, arrogant advertisers will piss off a
lot of people in the process and stir an advertising revolt.
Less Vernacular on Blogs, RSS, Podcasting, Web 2.0:
Most Web 2.0 terminology will soon become invisible to consumers. RSS
and blogs will simply become part of the supporting infrastructure of
the Web. Most apps such as Google Reader, IE 7, and Vista will simply
bake this into the core foundation, and we may even have fewer feedback
buttons on Websites because the subscription process will become
increasingly automated. Conferences that use the term "Web 2.0" will
start testing new terminology.
Regulatory and BBB Closure on Disclosure:Pay to Say
advertising via models like PayPerPost will awaken the slumbering FTC
(and consumer groups like Consumer Alert) into a new wave of industry
regulation. Triggered in part by PayPerPost's overtures to small
businesses, the Better Business Bureau will finally enter the
word-of-mouth transparency and disclosure debate. Expect to see them to
expand and renew the definition of the privacy seal to encompass
principles similar to what WOMMA
has integrated into their ethics code: honesty of disclosure, honestly
of relationship, honesty of identity. BBB's entry will precipitate a
broader and more inclusive discussion among other industry groups who
until now have sat on the sidelines, including the DMA, AAAA, ANA, and
Well, this certainly makes it all quite obvious and clear regarding the FTC's recent ruling on Consumer Alert's late-2005 complaint regarding word-of-mouth marketing. More hints in the WOMMA confab blog write-ups (e.g. Walter Carl, Josh Hallett, Peter Kim)