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Working in the Cloud!

I know I’ve been a bit cagey about what I’ve been up to the last two months, but the time has come to share the great news!

I’m joining Cloud AdAgents as Managing Director, effective today. I’m thrilled to be running the Toronto shop, working with some fantastic clients, and a stellar bunch of people as we grow the business and continue to refine our new agency model.

So what is Cloud? We are what the name suggests, an agency that taps into the best and brightest talent from anywhere in the world. We believe that you don’t need to be tied to a desk to do your best work. You don’t need to work in a large formalized structure. Sometimes that works, but it doesn’t for everyone – either employee or client.

We believe in the power of ideas; ideas that can come from anywhere. Quite literally, the World Is Our Office ™. Clients don’t need to be limited to getting great work from a single geographic location, or a single type of cultural experience. We believe in empowering entrepreneurs and freelancers and enabling them to work on large client business as part of a larger team. We believe in giving back to the community, and are really looking forward to what we can all achieve together in the coming years.

We have a foundation in digital and social media, but we embrace integration with all mediums, as they make sense strategically. We believe relationships matter: with our clients and with our partners. We are headquartered out of the espresso bar on Queen West where we have a collaboration space (and amazing coffee & snacks), but most of the time you’ll find us using the digital tools to get things done. Skype. Email. SMS. WebEx.

I’m really excited about being a part of this new agency model and seeing where it takes us. It’s daring, it’s challenging, and it is in the cloud.

And … I like challenging the status quo.

Come by, say hi and have an espresso (just ping me first because I may be any number of places!) :)

You can also find us on Twitter: @CloudAdAgents and Facebook: Espresso Bar / Agency and be sure to check in on Foursquare when you drop by, we’ve got a new deal at the Espresso Bar each week!

ps – look for our new website in the coming weeks!

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Setting the stage for Old Spice to own the Internet

[Cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

A lot of ink has already been written about why Old Spice owned the Internet last week, and I don’t want to rehash the various aspects that RWW has covered, and Dave Stubbs has mentioned, among others, but what I feel is missing from the conversation is how it all started. My friend Leigh Himel deconstructed what the brief could have looked like, and I think it’s worth expanding on to describe how the campaign set the foundation for success.

It all started with the insight and a deep understanding of the market and the consumer.

The objective, as Leigh rightly points out, was to re-position and re-invigorate the brand.  To do this the team needed to understand the competitive landscape, the perspective consumers had of the brand, and the territory they had to play in. The market was saturated with female unfriendly AXE advertising, and as women are the primary consumers for male scent gifts, turning that into an advantage would have been mandatory for Old Spice.

With that as the starting point the Old Spice team (with a receptive client) decided to do the obvious: appeal to women without alienating men.

Old Spice cast the perfect actor for the new positioning. A former NFL player, a nice guy, and someone who wasn’t so perfect that men would feel threatened. Genius casting. Based on, I imagine, a perfect casting brief.

The next step was to create a seriously funny commercial that turned all the cliche’s of advertising and film on their heads. “Look at your man, now back at me”. “It’s now diamonds”. “I’m on a horse”. They made a commercial that was frankly better than 90% of the TV shows it appeared alongside. I first heard of it because my partner was watching TV and told me I had to see it. So what did I do? I went to YouTube and there it was. Word of mouth at it’s finest, but it would have been dead in the water if the team hadn’t thought to seed it online first.

They let that roll and roll it did. Everyone who saw the commercial started sharing it, and a character was born.

Now what to do with the follow up? The character was a success both online and offline and while they could continue to let it ride as a TV spot, the proof was there that they could take advantage of how much the spot resonated with the folks online.

The plan was to create a new TV spot, let that simmer for a bit and then pounce. The social media marketers did their homework and decided what the right outlets were to start spreading the character. The fact they took on 4Chan and won speaks volumes about how integrated and on the ball they were. While everyone talks about how they took over Twitter in a day, they really started seeding the campaign before that. They laid the groundwork. And it paid off. Big time.

It came on my radar with @jakrose tweeting that he’d received a video reply early Tuesday morning. “Fry it up and eat it down JakRose. Fry it up and eat it down.” The network effect took over and for the next two days it was all I cared about that was happening online. The social team did a brilliant job monitoring responses and working with the creatives to write compelling copy. They didn’t just target celebrities and “influencers” but responded to comments, Diggs, tweets and blog posts that they felt fit with the character as a whole. They were obviously fully immersed in the language and cadence of the social web because their video responses contained references only a geek would love (or get). They respected all the unwritten rules of the culture and tailored their responses to match the brand, and the mediums they were using.

They embraced the mash-ups and promoted them. They let the community roll with it. They poked fun at themselves (Old Spice responding to @isiahmustafa) And they set a time limit. Any longer than 2 days and it would have become tired. Any shorter and it would have been disappointing. The mash-ups continue to roll in, with the most recent being Mel Gibson calling the Old Spice Guy.

It was brilliance that came from the initial insights and work they did a couple of years ago. And deep understanding of how the social web works.

The challenge will be what they do next and if it moves the needle at the top of the purchase funnel (awareness & consideration). But I have faith, and am looking forward to every moment of it!

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Integration is more than a buzz-word

There are times when it seems everyone is talking about integration without actually looking at what integration truly means. It becomes just another buzz-word used to slap social media or digital tools onto a traditional marketing campaign. Which is sad, because being truly integrated is what provides the most success. Starting to think along those lines can be challenging, but in the end your organization will be the better for it.

What is the driving force behind integration?

Understanding & knowing yourself and your customers.

Your SWOT is more than just a marketing exercise, it should be part and parcel of providing deep insights and a launch pad to developing your strategies. When you layer on analytics intelligence and social monitoring you have actionable data you can start to look at across your touchpoints and develop the best approach.

And that’s where things tend to break down. What are your touchpoints? What are the extensions from those, both short and long-term? Is what you’re doing in marketing relevant and of value? It can be.

Look at your goals and how extending your efforts can enhance them and accelerate them forward. Who are your stakeholders and what are their pain and joy points? Where does your Research & Development come into play? How can you make your customer service more robust and meaningful?

Extend your ideas into where they naturally fit, don’t just accept the same old media buy as the only answer. Take the time to understand your audience and where they live, work, and play. If it doesn’t align to the 30 second spot or a traditional banner ad, don’t waste your time, money and resources there. Big ideas well planned deliver big results.

While we’re looking at where to best allocate our time and resources it’s always a good idea to ask if you have the right people in the right roles. Just because your organizational structure states that this person “does interactive” doesn’t mean they are the right fit to “do social”.

Integration happens by connecting the disparate pieces that should be connected to tell a cohesive, meaningful, and evolving story. Not by one-offs and force-fits.

[photo credit: alto maltes on Flickr]

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Book Review: Join the Conversation

JTC

When publishing “Join the Conversation“, Joe Jaffe decided to take a collaborative approach to it’s marketing (dubbed “UNM2PNM” or “Using New Media to Prove New Media”), to prove that a book could be a success without the huge launch support of most book publishing events. He offered up 150 review copies to bloggers who requested it and agreed to post a review, positive or negative, on their site. Having enjoyed “Life after the 30 second spot” and his blog, I thought I’d take him up on it.

Without further ado, my review:

Joe Jaffe is a passionate guy and it comes through in this provocative call to action to corporations used to shouting at their customers from their ivory towers. Its rallying cry to speak ‘with’ your customers vs. ‘at’ them is a gospel truth for any business in my view. But Jaffe is also realistic and one of the key points he makes is that brands can “catalyze the conversation”.

Joining a conversation implies participating as an equal partner, which is an ideal situation. However, it doesn’t mean that a brand cannot step up to the plate and lead the conversation or attempt to take the conversation to the next level.

I absolutely agree. The caveat is that it has to be done transparently and with actual vs. forced value.

Equally valuable in my view is his addition of 3 new “C’s” to the original new marketing model premise from the late 90’s of the 3 C’s. The original three are: Content, Commerce and Community. Jaffe adds three more to the mix with: Context, Customization and Conversation, and by doing so brings much needed additional depth to the discussion.

Although I feel that the book is absolutely a must read, especially for traditional marketers struggling to come to grips with “Web 2.0″ and “social media”, I do feel that there are a few weak spots that may fundamentally occur by his insistence on separating conversation from communication, which makes some of his arguments appear forced and not fully articulated. Conversation is communication, otherwise it’s a different form of one-way dialogue. The ultimate goal of any conversation, or communication, should be to build a relationship. Jaffe actually makes these same points at various points in his book, however, because of his aversion to talking about “relationship marketing” the basic premise appears forced to become a catch phrase.

His own examples in places can contradict his main point of only a few paragraphs before. For example, in “The Ten Tenets of Good Conversation” he talks about how traditional advertising is built on a web of lies and we are constantly going to market with deficient products that we are lying about to consumers, yet later on in that same section he mentions “Snakes on a Plane” as an unqualified viral success, but states the studio could have done more to drive box office receipts after opening weekend by offering up the stars for interviews with bloggers and such. Perhaps. But after opening day the buzz shifted from how cool the film concept was (and the nostalgia for Sam Jackson as Pulp Fiction character) to how absolutely awful the movie actually was. More buzz online can’t make up for a bad product. With social media/ new media as with traditional advertising; you can’t mask a bad product behind buzz.

I also feel that in many ways the book neglects to truly take technology and historical context into account and provide a deeper understanding as to why some parts of the culture at large are embracing two-way conversation and mashing up their own brand related content (or the Read/ Write Web) at this point in history. And on the flip side, recognizing that an equally large portion of the population has no interest in having a conversation with a brand, or having them insert themselves into their social interactions.

By somewhat disparaging “traditional interactive” (by which I gather he means email, websites, search, online advertising, newsletters, games, etc. etc.) as just as much of a problem as “traditional advertising” Jaffe neglects to recognize how the technology has not only limited, but has also paved the road of experimentation to arrive at a point in time where two-way conversation online is possible. The “conversation” aspect has always existed in the online world that most people know, with email, live help, IM, etc. The ability for the consumer to *start* or change, the conversation with potential strangers and have it exist for posterity is what has significantly changed in my view.

Although it has it’s flaws (as does everything in life!), I absolutely feel JTC is a valuable addition to the marketing conversation and should be a must read in not only Fortune 1000 corporate boardrooms, but is also incredibly valuable for smaller organizations looking to make a difference and engage their customers as a competitive edge.

Give away: I have an extra copy of the book to give away to the first person to leave a comment or email me (addy is on the sidebar and timestamps will determine the winner in case of tie) with the answer to the following trivia question:

Which chapter of Join the Conversation is comprised of thoughts from contributors on the Wiki prior to the books publication?

Update: And the book is gone!

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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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