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WOM vs Advertising, or, it’s always been about integration

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As was only a matter of time, a debunker has arisen from the marketing world to take on the "Influencer" theory, which was brought to mainstream consciousness with Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, and is a foundation of current word of mouth marketing. Not surprisingly, there are immediate (and invested) detractors and a lively debate will most likely ensue. I’ve been away from the blog for a bit and had a post started and saved entitled "Apple’s billion dollar WOM success story" in response to a lot of the assertions following MacWorld as to the truly organic nature of the Apple brand story. Needless to say, it seems it’s appropriate to now merge it into this one!

In Sean’s post in response to Watt’s Fast Company article, he says:

Well I’ll be darned. Watts believe that companies can’t will a trend that grows small and spreads large into existence. If Watts then, can explain to be the growth of Facebook, MySpace, Wii, Prius, Starbucks, eBay, Apple, Burton, Jones Soda, Maker’s Mark, Innocent Drinks, Harley Davidson, lululemon and a host of other products that have eschewed mass media and have galvanized a brand community through grassroots experiences and targeting fans, ambassadors and influencers, then I guess I’ll reject most of what I’ve written about in my last 400 posts.

I hate to be a wet blanket on the theories that all the ‘cool, hip’ brands eschewed mass media and are the pure products of influencer word-of-mouth, but, for most of these brands, traditional marketing and advertising was the way they reached critical mass, established their brand identity, and the blended approach they are currently using, in the case of Apple specifically, continues to drive their growth.

In other words:

Influencer cultivation and communication builds long-term and sustainable product loyalty and evangelism.

Brand marketing brings out the over-arching brand essence, reaches a large and diverse audience, and helps discover new influencers.

And the cycle continues.

Let’s take Apple as the classic example of the viral success story… I absolutely agree that a lot of their early success was driven by their niche customer base and that these graphic designers, etc. were evangelists. Absolutely true. But Apple did a lot of TV, print, online, and radio advertising to support their product, because, as a niche product without a wider reaching customer base, it was in trouble. In 1997, Apple, struggling with 3% of the market, received a cash infusion from Microsoft. In a landmark moment Steve Jobs stood on stage at MacWorld, with Bill Gates on the video screen behind him, and said the following:

The era of setting this up as a competition between Apple and Microsoft is over, as far as I’m concerned. This is about getting Apple healthy, and this is about Apple being able to make incredibly great contributions to the industry to get healthy and prosper again.

What a difference 10 years make and a carefully re-crafted brand image and massive amounts of dollars spent in traditional advertising to support the product launches.

When I was in Los Angeles in 1997 – 2001 I distinctly remember the Think Different campaign… it was omnipresent: billboards, posters, TV, Internet… everywhere. And that type of ad spend was replicated in cities across the US and the world. Apple hasn’t stopped using traditional channels since… Mac vs. PC commercials are the latest incarnation and they aren’t only available on YouTube. EarthLink, while I was working there, played off of the edginess of Think Different with their own campaign… they wanted to be the Apple to AOL’s Microsoft. Unfortunately, then Microsoft got in the ISP game and the rest is history.

But I digress…

Even the pure internet (and now name brand) companies advertised through mass channels when they launched, throughout the 90’s and ’00’s – Yahoo! was all over TV and radio with the annoying cowboy spots; eTrade on the SuperBowl, OOH, DM, print; Google out of home ads everywhere; MySpace 100M blast email campaign; eBay was launched with print and radio and added in TV in 2000… and the list goes on. And in so far as Prius goes, sure the celebrities riding around in them gives the campaign cachet, but the classic automaker TV, print, web, OOH, and event marketing certainly helps build the awareness over the long term. I also think I may have seen a few Wii TV spots before the holidays?

Now, all of this being said, word-of-mouth cultivation and, more recently, social media strategies, are hugely important, and are needed to elevate the brand into a true dialogue and value exchange with customers, but it’s not the messiah. It’s about integration and understanding who your brand speaks to, builds products for, and respectfully letting them know about you and finding out how you can help them in their daily lives. It’s about telling a story that is meaningful, making people stand up and take notice, and providing a solid reason for them to do so.

Sometimes that means convincing the high school design geek that Mac’s are cool 20 years ago, only to see him grow up to be Tim Burton and become an influencer to a mass audience.

In the end: Branding still matters. Brand promises still matter. Products always matter. And the influencers and evangelists matter. The lifecycle matters and the integration matters. To do anything in a vacuum, and without understanding the symbiotic relationship between brand and consumer, is a recipe for disaster.

[Photo credit: Paranoid Black Jack via Flickr]

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Change of scenery? Change of community.

change of scenery

Since moving back to Toronto in late 2001 I’ve moved around quite a bit. Part of it was born of a desire to rediscover my hometown after being away for over a decade, and determine where I wanted to finally ’settle’. I’ve recently done so again and am out in a neighbourhood I’ve wanted to live in for way too long to remember.

As I’ve been out and about exploring the new ‘hood, I’ve been consciously aware that although we are all Torontonians, and Canadians, the folks out here roll differently. If I want to get the most out of this community, I have to find out what makes it tick and what the ‘when in Rome’ rules are. Reflecting back, I’ve only gotten enjoyment and fulfillment out of any new community (work, home, play, study) when I take the time to listen and explore vs. bulldoze my way through, oblivious.

The same principles apply online and with social networks. Each network, although they may look outwardly similar, or have the same type of backbone software, is unique based on the individuals who populate it, and, drilling down, those who are its "power users" are, in a fashion, the ‘community elders’ and have more say in what the norms are. Of course, as with everything in life, as new people move in (join), the standards can begin to shift, but this usually (unless it’s a revolt, but that’s a different tale altogether) happens organically from within the network vs. by external pressures.

It’s important to keep the thoughts of your ‘real life’ community in mind while exploring and engaging in the social space online. Just because something worked a certain way on MySpace, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same on Flickr or Twitter. Just because you’d say something a certain way in an opt-in email or on a brand forum, doesn’t mean it works in a Facebook group.

Each community, and each community subset, is just as unique as the folks who populate your neighbourhood, or mine.

[photo credit: gracias! via Flickr]

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Eight online tools I can’t do without (so far)

tools of the trade

.. well, technically 11, but they are housed under the same ‘umbrellas’… :)

Continuing with my theme of 8 and ‘08, I’ve been giving some thought to paring down the number of different types of software I’m using and concentrate on maximizing my productivity with the 8 (or 11) tools I can’t do without. I’ll of course experiment with others and add new ones as the year progresses, but incorporating new tools without sacrificing my time or concentration (and therefore decreasing my adoption rate) should become easier if I’m streamlined to start.

The eight:

1. Desktop email and calendar (work) – Outlook

I tried Thunderbird, but for keeping me on track in my office life, the classic email client still does it for me.

2. Blog publishing & platformWindows Live Writer & Wordpress

After reading Mitch Joel’s review of WLW a while ago I decided to check it out… I’m a big fan: easy to use, integrates seamlessly, ability to embed anything with one click, and you can post offline.

3. MobileBlackberry (no iPhone yet in Canada!)

Yes, I’m a crackberry addict… I’m trying to wean myself of the addiction of the flashing red light. ;) But it is essential when you’re on the go and need to send business emails (or SMS status updates).

[not really an 'online' tool per se, but it helps me connect to the online and wireless world, so I'm including it]

4. Data BackupsMozy

Just started using this service, it’s an online remote storage solution for your documents, pictures, music… with automatic backups I don’t have to worry about remembering.

5. CollaborationBaseCamp & Box.net

I like BaseCamp for project collaboration and use Box.net to share and store large files online.

6. Catch-all email, chat and search (personal) – Gmail

I’m a fan of Gmail and most Google products, but I do limit Gmail to personal and not business use… I’m not comfortable with one company having *that* much information!

7. Organization/ TasksRemember The Milk

I was pointed to this online To Do List by my good friend, and an outstanding project manager, Mark a couple of months ago.. although I still love my pen and paper, it’s the only to-do list tool online that I’ve been able to stick with over the long term.

8. Information AggregationNetvibes & Google Reader

Netvibes is fantastic for keeping me updated on the universe I choose to, and allows me to segregate my interests on different tabs. Weather, Twitter, News, Blogs, Gmail, Flickr, etc. widgets act as my own portal. Of course, with all that info, Netvibes can be heavy loading and isn’t altogether the best suited to consume large quantities of RSS feeds quickly, which is where Reader comes into my daily use.

+++++++

I’m thinking this could be a meme, so I’ll start one! The catch is that it’s voluntary participation vs. the obligatory tag :)

So, what are your 8 essential online / connectivity tools (so far)?

[photo credit: Dan Shouse via Flickr]

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Eight for ‘08

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As we head boldly into this brand new year of possibilities and opportunities for growth and learning, I have eight things that I’m planning on doing this year that I felt worth sharing. A tad eclectic, but all related in a fashion:

  1. Take a new course or learn a new skill outside of business and expand the horizons of communities online and off (I’m doing both – refreshing my seriously degraded abilities in French and learning how to knit by starting with the "Szechwan Scarf" kit I got this holiday… wish me luck, my uncoordinated fingers will need it… there’s the reason I quit piano way back when!)
  2. Commit to becoming a fully active community member of at least one social network or tool (I’m still undecided but leaning towards FB and del.icio.us)
  3. Clean up current RSS feeds and actively seek out and discover new blogs and fresh perspectives (I plan on starting this journey by clicking on blogs I haven’t read yet via my regular ‘must-read’ bloggers blogrolls)
  4. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. — Think Green. (‘nough said, this one’s a no-brainer, but I could improve in my consumption and daily habits!)
  5. Visit museums and art galleries in person and leave the camera at home (sometimes the memory of the piece takes on a whole new meaning without the archived visual cue)
  6. Get involved with volunteering online via a site like – givemeaning.org (not only are you giving back, but you’re involved in a vibrant community of interest and intent)
  7. Think about touchpoints while going about everyday life — how and why are they meaningful to the individual; what does it mean, and how can it be leveraged and added to in the transactional economy? (think integrated)
  8. Unplug completely one evening a week (take time to reflect and recharge)

Wishing everyone a joyous and rewarding 2008!

Are any of these on your list this year? Anything you’re planning to do that trumps them all? :)

[photo credit: p.du.v via Flickr]

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