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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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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I’ve just about had it with iTunes

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Yes, I am speaking "blasphemy". I am sick of iTunes and am seriously considering going back to using Windows Media Player as my default player, regardless that I regularly purchase music from Apple and have an iPod. The usability sucks. For a company that’s supposedly all about elegance, usability and ‘thinking different’, iTunes is, umm, not there.

First of all, do I really need to update my software every week? Can they not bundle the updates and release when there really is something that needs upgrading, vs. a cool little feature that helps their sales? Inevitably this "upgrade" also means re-installing the entire platform, finding it on my system again, and losing access to it from my toolbar. Nice.

Of course, since I’m on a PC, they aren’t "integrated" (supposedly) with my desktop environment and "lose" songs from the player whenever they feel like it. No rhyme or reason to it, I haven’t moved the albums from the same folder they’ve been in since I started using iTunes, but for some reason iTunes "can’t locate that file". As of right now, after having done absolutely nothing to any of my music files (except for purchase a new song via iTunes), I have 86 missing songs that were perfectly fine yesterday.

Is iTunes sophisticated (designed well) enough to recognize that if an entire album is missing and I click that little "find on your hard drive" button and go through the motions to find the first song, they could actually scan that same folder for the remaining songs from that album? Of course not, why do with software that I could do manually and take an hour of my time to do so?

It’s interesting that they never "lose" the songs I purchased from them vs. burned onto my system from a purchased CD.

I used to love the Apple TV spots and think they were genius. The wonderful pokes at how slow and cumbersome, and corporate MSFT is. How they make you jump through hoops to get your system working. Now? Guess what? I may be one of those folks "downgrading" from Vista to XP… whoops, I mean "downgrading" from iTunes to WMP.

</rant>

[photo credit: tantek via Flickr]

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10 steps to start the strategic marketing innovation process

10 steps to start the strategic marketing innovation process

We all know the feeling – a new product or service, an exciting pitch, the need to breathe new life into an existing product, etc. – the path towards marketing innovation can be laden with distractions, the status quo, knowledge gaps, tight deadlines, and lack of budget to name a few hurdles. What I‚Äôve personally found has developed organically for me over these years is 10 concrete steps that I take before embarking on developing a creative strategy and plan. I‚Äôve tailored these steps to fit within the current climate I’m operating under, but each one is always included in the process (behind the scenes or centre stage). One of the benefits that I have found is that after taking the time to research and allow outside-the-box thinking I have a clear picture of the way forward, with many of the details, challenges and opportunities already fleshed out. No matter the project size or scope, having a clear understanding of all the various pieces has been crucial to success.

When I started out in business, I spent a great deal of time researching every detail that might be pertinent to the deal I was interested in making. I still do the same today. People often comment on how quickly I operate, but the reason I can move quickly is that I’ve done the background work first, which no one usually sees. I prepare myself thoroughly, and then when it is time to move ahead, I am ready to sprint. ~ Donald Trump

1. Get to know the company and product beyond the SWOT:
Who are they? What do they stand for? What do their employees think? What are their long-term goals? Are they set up for rapid change or are they slow and steady? Are they progressive or traditional?

2. Get to know what their customers (and former customers) think:
What do their customers say about them? What is their USP (perceived or earned)? Who do their customers believe them to be?

3. Get to know the competition and their customers:
Who else is in the market? What types of products are they focusing their efforts on? What is their USP (perceived or earned)? What do their customers (current and former) think about the brand and the products? What type of marketing channels do they use?

4. Revisit previous campaigns:
What types of mediums did they use? What was the messaging? What visuals did they employ? Did they receive any press coverage? Do they have metrics on results? Was there any follow up?

5. Seek out the developed and developing trends in the space:
Which way is the wind blowing with consumers, the competition, the media, technology, etc.? What is hot right now and what is next?

6. Free associate:
Use the company, the product, the image, the brand, the vision, to free associate connections; large and small. Be creative. There is no box. Let your mind roam.

7. Think of the future:
Are you building a brand? Launching a product that will become iconic? Promoting an existing product? Announcing a sale? Put it in context.

8. Examine what’s related:
What is related to your product in your customer’s life? What other products or services are related? What are the connections between them?

9. Notice the cultural landscape:
Are there cultural trends beyond those in your market that may impact your strategy?

10. Visualize the touchpoints:
How does your customer or prospect interact with media channels? What are they looking for in each interaction?

Not all steps can be as fully researched as Trump may undertake before inking a deal, but they can be customized and scaled based on needs and realities. I also try and keep in mind that if a project is so large or complex that it requires all of these steps be done in depth but the time or budget isn’t there, it may be a set up for a Dip down the road!

[photo credit: Ozyman on Flickr]

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Building effective WOM: One Size Doesn’t Fit All

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It was great being at SES Toronto this year and Andrew did a fantastic job as Chair! Lots of juicy tips, tactics and strategies for building SEO through social media.

The talk I gave on Day 2 (the last speaker even!) was slightly off the beaten path from the other presentations which focused on specific tools and tactics for spreading word of mouth online. I went back to basics and spoke about the fundamentals of building true and long-term WOM, planning and ensuring you find the strategy that fits for your brand. My presentation, for those interested, can be downloaded here. My fellow speakers, Rand, Helen and Neil had some valuable tactics in their ppt’s so if you can track down copies of their decks I would recommend it!

If you were at the conference and attended either the Site Clinic session or the “Get Dugg” session, I’d love to hear your feedback… is there something you wished I had expanded on? Or scaled back?

I’m looking forward to next year already! :)

[Photo Credit: John Cohen on Flickr]

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