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.
What's in store for 2009 on the CGM & social media front? Social media expert and thought-leader Peter Kim assembled of group social media passionistas to tee up key predictions for the coming year. You can read his full post here. Somehow I managed to sneak onto this esteemed list, which includes David Armano, Rohit Bhargava, Chris Brogan, Todd Defren, Jason Falls, Ann Handley, Joe Jaffe, Charlene Li, Ben McConnell, Scott Monty, Andy Sernotitz, and Greg Verdino. (All great folks to follow on Twitter, I might add.) A few highlights include:
"Doors are going to close all over the social web. Why? Because the money didn't come the way people thought it would." - Chris Brogan
"The tipping point has not only *not* been reached, but could still tilt *away* from Social Media." - Todd Defren
"Dwindling budgets suddenly make low-cost social media look like the pretty girl at the ball." - Ann Handley
"We're going to develop a set of better metrics to help guide, direct and validate 'commitment'." - Joseph Jaffe
"The movement is rooted in a desire to have quality, not quantity, as people cocoon in the face of the economic crisis." - Charlene Li
"These will be cumulative events and interactions that will build brand loyalty for the companies that pay attention to them." - Scott Monty
"The recession will force revenue results out of social technologies." - Jeremiah Owyang
"Companies that focus on earning love will thrive during hard times, and kick ass when good times return." - Andy Sernovitz
As for my specific thoughts, I focused on three key areas.
Social Media Indigestion: 2009 will see a "correction" in our appetite for friends, followers, and other ostensible perks of social media membership
Service Gets Personal: Real intimacy among friends, or in the marketing process, will dial up in importance. Don't write off the 800 number yet. Emotion powers conversation.
Back to Fundamentals: 2009 will be the year we resdiscover timeless truths: friendship must be earned, fame is fleeting, excess begets backlash, and it always pays to listen, and credibility is our most enduring marketing asset. (The last point is the foundation of "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000.")
My upcoming list of predictions in Ad Age echoes a few of these themes and expands a bit in other areas. That article should drop sometime tomorrow. Here's a embedded presentation of Peter Kim's list. Thanks for pulling this together, Peter (Kim).
Earlier this week at Ad-Tech NY I moderated a "master class" session on "Building Brands Online" which included the NY Times,
Kraft, Intuit, Zappos.com, and 1800Flowers.com, My core question for the panel was very simple, and quite pertinent to this
market environment. If your goal is to sell management on the value of
investing online, and you only had $5 to spend, where would you start! The
answers were telling, and provide critical context to how we think about framing
our value proposition – across all Nielsen Online products. Richard Cacciato, who blogged for Ad-Tech, offers an excellent summary of the panel, and here are a few of my topline notes.
Markowitz, leader of digital efforts at Kraft, suggested he’s take a step back
before tossing money at marketing tactics (e.g. online advertising, social
media), and would invest the money in nailing key consumer insights around
online behavior. What’s the core unmet need; is there something about Kraft’s
target consumer online that might ultimately push a higher level of investment.
Zappos.com, recently ranked by Ad Age as
one of 2008’s top marketers (after the Barack Obama campaign), took a different
tack, suggesting the $5 would best be invested in customer service, call
support, or even employee training. Great experiences, user-experience director
Brian Kalma explained, ultimately
grow the brand on the strength of favorable word-of-mouth – evident across an
expanding spectrum of CGM venues, from blogs to twitter.
Wilder, GM of Intuit’s Product Development/Online
Communities, insisted the money would best be invested in product, although his
definition of “product” encompassed Intuits half-a-million user strong online
communities. The big payout of getting that right, he explained, is that the
users not online drive favorable word of mouth, but act as a de-facto customer
support labor force. Nine of ten questions posed by consumers about Intuit
products and services are answered by other consumers, often the most connected
and influential. Scott also underscored the invaluable insights that emerge
from such “user contribution systems”
Graham, head of customer insights for the NY Times talked more about some of
the efficiencies of spending the $5 on online advertising on increasingly
participatory platforms like the New York Times. Importantly, Graham nicely articulated how advertising in areas rich
with influencers can potentially increase odds of success. Increasingly, consumers are looking to their peers for buying behavior
guidance, he noted, and online advertising models need to wrap around that
Randford of 1800Flowers.com underscored that he’s use
the $5 to feed his already aggressive “test and measure” learning plan, even in
new areas such as mobile, where ecommerce players are increasingly breaking new
ground. 1800Flowers, he explained, is learning in real-time based on
user-interaction, feedback, and even spending patterns, and the key for them is
to invest any incremental dollars into accelerating that learning curve in an
increasingly competitive environment.
Obama’s Digital Effort: Lastly, we couldn’t resist the temptation to
ponder whether the Obama campaign’s online/digital effort represented a
breakthrough or milestone for online investment. While there was broad
consensus that the Obama campaign rewrote the script of successful online
activity, each panelist viewed it slightly differently. One point I
underscored, consistent with earlier commentary on the subject.
the Obama campaign created the ultimate participatory “ecosystem” between
offline and online activity. Their CRM system bordered on science (alerts were
sent moments before major events or speeches…even before the celebrated Chicago victory speech
and the website maximized participation and engagement…at just about every
level. If you wanted to walk the streets at knock on doors, you could download
a kit, complete with numbers. If you wanted to self-organize your own social
network you could do that as well. If you donated money, they’d often play a
“victory lap” video to drive an even deeper emotional connection. More on this later.
The Council of PR Firms recently assembled a video montage of commentary about the future of the PR industry (which includes a short snippet from yours truly) for its Critical Issues Forum. Jonah Bloom of Ad Age kicks it off. Collectively, the video sounds a not so subtle alarm about the role of PR in communications future. Worth a quick view. If you want a deeper view into the fracture in the PR industry, I also recommend BJ Ochman's post on this issue.
If you haven't yet met Susan Bratton, you haven't truly lived in the online advertising and Web 2.0 world. Susan lives right smack in the center of Silicon Valley and has worn a host of high-impact digital "hats," so to speak, in our still-nascent industry: head of advertising for the former @Home broadband play, long-tme chairwoman of Ad-Tech (arguably the largest online trade show in the world), and so much more. Way back when we were just getting P&G's first interactive marketing team off the ground, Susan was an invaluable resource and digital "tour guide," so to speak. Recently, Susan started -- nay, threw her unmistakable energy and passion into -- Personal Life Media, which is essentially a blog and podcasting network covering a host both expected (e.g. online advertising industry developments) and unexpected (religion and spirituality, society and culture, sexuality) topics. Oh, and she's building a great audience. Her husband Tim, no Spring-chicken as web culture goes (he invented Rhapsody), is her partner in this ambitious endeavor. Anyway, this is a long preface to the fact that I had the honor of being interviewed by Susan recently for one of her DishyMix podcast shows, and I must say it was the most fun I've had all year. She's engaging, disarming, and knows her subjects well enough to potentially get them into hot water. (But I say that in a good way!) Credit to Susan, she really got me worked up about the things I love -- in my business, in my personal pursuits related to Web 2.0 (such as building blogs and sites dedicated to my kids), and so much more.
Oh, and we talk lots about my recent book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000 (Doubleday Business), especially around "talk drivers" and what I call "the love spot" (sorry you just have to listen first to know what I'm talking about on that one. ) Click here to Listen Now! Of course, if my pontification bores you (always a possibility), I can assure you that you won't be disappointed with her other interviews, including recent ones of breakthrough advertising thinker Paul Woolmington (founder of Naken Communication), agency pioneer Alex Bogusky, search expert John Batelle, groundsweller Charlene Li, and "Personality Not Included" author Rohit Bhargava.
Time magazing just published a wonderfully positive review of my book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000. (The image to the left is from the article.) Notes reviewer Andrea Sachs: "This book deserves a spot on the desk of every executive who worries about his company's reputational risk." Earlier in the week, CNBC wrote another flattering review in the "Bullish on Book" sections.
“SATISFIED CUSTOMERS” is a great guide for business leaders and marketing officers who want to build a trusting, authentic and lasting relationship with today’s vocal consumer.
Launch Events: The reviews were just a couple highlights of an absolutely incredible week in NYC related to my book launch, and I'm just winding down. In addition to keeping up with my regular work flow, I participated in three successive book launch events: one by my classmates at HBS (thanks, Rick and Jen Lerner and Bill and Daphne Hildebolt or ExpoTV.com), another absolutely incredible of ("amazing" insists my wife Erika) hosted by Nielsen at the incredible Soho loft of Karen Watson (Nielsen's head of Corporate Communications), and the third hosted by the P&G Alumni Assocation NY chapter (big thanks to Tina Adolfsson) held at the breathtaking offices of Marina Maher communications (thanks, Marina). At each event I had a chance to catch up with old friends, talk briefly about the book themes, and answer a questions.
Overall Engagement: We're only a week into the book's official release, but I do sense a real and genuine level of engagement around its themes and issues.
Everyone, it seems, is curious and engaged about the big questions: If consumers are in control, what does that mean for me as a business manager or stakeholder? What is the proper and appropriate protocol for engaging with consumers in this environment? And most importantly, how does my business stay credible in the process?
Final Footnote: The ultimate irony of this amazing week is that it actually kicked off on Tuesday at at event entitled "How Should Research Leverage The Ability To Listen To Consumers In A Web 2.0 World? Joel Rubinson, the new head of research of the Advertising Research Foundation, pulled together a dozen or so industry leaders in the field of market research to vet out this topic, especially around the power of the "unprompted consumer voice." The discussion was deep, stimulating, uncomfortable and breakthrough -- one of the most gratifying sessions I've participated in all year. (Huge thanks to Joel and ARF head Bob Barocci for leading this charge).
If you want to stay engaged on the book or the book themes, here are a few options:
One of the six brand credibility drivers I describe in my upcoming book, Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends; Angry Customers Tell 3000, is affirmation. This
refers to the consensus of
positive or negative truths about a business or brand. For example, I'm affirmed by what you see in the results when you search on my name. I might also be affirmed by the
consensus of commentary that wraps around something I've posted on a blog or
message board or via video. Wikipedia, as I note in my ClickZ column this morning (Ten Things Every Marketer Should Know About Wikipedia) "is rewriting the marketing script, because it's far and away one of the Web's
most potent and powerful affirmation drivers. Once the primary domain of A-list
bloggers and Web 2.0 elite, it's now unmistakably penetrated the online masses."
Here are excerpts of the "Ten Things" from the article: There's also an excellent exchange of comments on my Consumer-Generated Media group on Facebook on this very topic.
Participation. According to a much discussed "Los Angeles Times" article, Wikipedia cranks out 300 million page views a day on a $4.6 million budget. The output is just remarkable given the dollars invested. The site is built on the power and attentiveness of
user passion. Every marketer needs to think long and hard about that untapped opportunity.
Search your brand on Google or another search engine, and I'll bet the Wikipedia entry is in one of the top three organic positions. That's like owning prime eye-level shelf space in Wal-Mart. Such a premium shelf position means it's a big part of what's defining or shaping your brand's early perceptions. Wikipedia's definition, therefore, takes on special meaning. Think about the power of such positioning around a new product launch.
Transparency. There's very little you can't learn about brands via Wikipedia, even a 10-year-old controversy. Facts and otherwise fleeting incidents stick, and if a writer
has taken the brand to task, it's more than likely to show up in the entry, sometimes prominently. The McDonald's entry, for example, links to the book "Fast Food Nation" and the 2004 documentary film "Super Size Me."
Transparency, remember, works both ways -- the good and the bad.
Counter-advertising. I recently led a strategy review for a top brand. To start the process, I juxtaposed Wikipedia's description of the brand's benefits against the
advertised benefits, and the two weren't even close to being in sync. Can you say "equity clash"?
Inquiry. Every year, I've asked the text-mining passionistas in my office to run an analysis of the Wikipedia terms bloggers most frequently cite. I treat it as a leading
indictor of what consumers want or their unmet needs. What people look for and link to on Wikipedia is powerful and can be better than a focus group.
Globalization. The site manages to get you to a different language platform easily and seamlessly -- and never at the expense of the initial interface's look and feel. Marketers should pay attention.
The self-promotion reality check. Everyone has a story about how he tried to put something up on Wikipedia, only to have it kicked back because it was too promotional. Nothing's a given on Wikipedia, and credibility must be earned. Marketers, overburdened by short-term ROI imperatives, usually want preferred copy
overnight, but it just doesn't work that way. Entries with independent
inks, for example, are critical. Again, you need credibility from outside sources.
Unlimited, free legal review. Wikipedia reminds me a bit of my days at Procter & Gamble when the lawyers diligently scoured claims support and positioning to ensure
they could stand any level of scrutiny. Wikipedia does the same thing, but publicly. As the Web morphs into multimedia, the documentation, such as a video demonstrating that a product feature really doesn't perform as positioned, takes on a new level of scrutiny.
Fast turnaround. Marketers are still miles away from a real-time sense-and-respond mindset, but Wikipedia acts like a 24/7 vacuum cleaner that constantly iterates
brand definitions and news. If a brand experiences a recall or a safety violation, you'll see it weaved into the Wikipedia entry faster than you can call your PR firm. This was a big deal during last year's pet food recall. Wikipedia almost rivaled Google News as a quick, trusted reference point for all that unfolded during the recall.
Trial and error. If you haven't signed up yet to be a Wikipedia contributor and/or editor, do it now and start learning its system for adding, editing, and updating
content. You don't have to be an Internet wizard or code head to learn the
Wikipedia way of doing things, but it does take some concentration. If everyone else is defining you on Wikipedia, you should be part of the process, too. If you're not monitoring your Wikipedia entry daily, start doing it. You really need to get early experience on the platform to prime yourself for fast turnaround.
What's missing? Join the conversation here or on the Consumer-Generated Media Facebook group. Dave Evans, Bill Stephenson, Morton Jensen, Zena Weist, Andy Zilch, Charlotte Selles, Pauline Ores, and Vandana Ahuja have already added superb comments on this topic.
"The sting of a bad experience can cut so deep that it transforms an upset customer into an activist no longer interested in just a refund."
As we've probed many times in this blog (see tagged links), and in nearly a dozenClickZcolumns, marketers and business executives have yet to internalize the critical symbiotic relationship between brand/service "experiences" and "media" output (and I'm not talking about paid media). McGregor's piece helps make that connection more obvious and transparent. The propensity to speak out (hence generate CGM or social media) is inextricably tied to depth of consumer loyalty or disloyalty, and its powered by the web's growing arsenal of megaphones that seem to get even more powerful every day thanks to the advent of multi-media (e.g. video, audio, photos) as well as "I second that emotion" community and social-networking capability.
The upside of extreme loyalty and brand emotion might be found in places like Facebook's 40,000+ member Southwest Airlines group or the nearly 70,000 member "Addicted to Starbucks" group (more perspective here). The downside of extreme disloyalty and boiling emotion -- what McGregor describes as "venom-spewed tales of woe" -- can be found in tens of thousands of places on the web's digital trail, from message boards to blogs to YouTube. (As Jarvis suggests, just go to Google and add the word "sucks" to a brand query.)
So What Next? Business Week does a great job diagnosing the problem, and the "winners" part shines light on a host of best practices (Fairmont, Lexus, Trader Joe's, Lands End, Enterprise), but I still worry whether there's a big missing piece of the conversation around "what next." Importantly, are the marketing leaders -- the owners of the biggest discretionary budget, and arguably the most influential drivers of change in large enterprises-- internalizing the message, and translating these new insights around consumer behavior into better "media" models. If "service is the new marketing," as they say, what's the blueprint for re-engineering the marketing department along these lines? How should the CMO -- or the constellation of communications agencies (media planning, advertising, PR, digital) -- be incented to move in this direction? And will there be rewards and recognition for the mostly undervalued (and typically non-strategic "cost center") owners of the call-center, email feedback, and more?
First Things First:
Since 2000, I've attended over a dozen conferences of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals, one of the largest industry group's representing corporations and brands that own the "listening pipe." While not nearly as glamorous as the "new media" or Web 2.0 confabs and conferences, these SOCAP events always hit me like a refreshing cold-shower because they are grounded in the real nuts and bolts of listening, training the front-lines, adapting to an increasingly diverse (e.g. Spanish speakers) and demanding consumers, developing fair and consistent methods for responding to consumers, and navigating impenetrably complex legal barriers (and fear). I have also learned that this department is consistently underfunded and under-resourced, and mostly divorced from marketing. As boring and mundane as their work seems, it's hard not to conclude that if a company can't nail the "basics" of consumer listening they'll never get it right, or be credible, in the far more vexing and volatile social media zone. (Remember, most of the vigilantes Business Week's McGregor highlights initially reached out the company, but those experiences were poorly managed and only made the situation worse.) So you have to start with the source. That said, like the CMO, the consumer affairs and customer relations leaders also need to step up to the plate, a point I underscored last fall in a SOCAP keynote entitled "Wake Up and Listen to Consumer 2.0." If they want more budget, more respect, more leeway to nurture meaningful consumer loyalty -- and hence positive word-of-mouth and CGM creation -- they need to make their case, and do so now at a time when the resource-rich marketers are dotting every third word in speeches and memos with the word "conversation." My book lays out a host of strategies for making such a case, but short of even reading a book (or Business Week's story) business leaders simply need to take a long, hard stare at today's consumer and negotiate a new relationship.
The good news is that there's a growing laundry list of best practices in this area I like to refer to as Listening-Centered Marketing, from Dell's Ideastorm to the 800-number-all-over-the-place Zappos.com. We're also seeing new metrics and measurement protocols (this is part of what I do in my day job) that make it far easier for brands to understand and act upon varying degrees of consumer emotion (the building block of consumer loyalty or even defection) flowing across the CGM landscape.
Final Question: And so I end this post with a simple question: how do we shift from consumer-powered "vigilantism" to company-powered "service vigilance." Business Week's piece fires up that conversation, and I really hope it continues down the right path.
Every month or so Peter Kim publishes a list of top marketing blogs entitled the M20. Somehow I've managed to consistently make the list (which makes me scratch my head a fair amount) but there are a host of other excellent blogs that cover similar themes and issues. This week he was a bit more generous in his link-love, and I've basically lifted his expanded list of highly readable blogs written by marketing executives. See below. More background on Peter's approach here.