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The great viral swindle?

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I was hesitant to weigh in on the latest kerfuffle raised by the recent TechCrunch post, frankly, because I knew all of these black hat tactics were being utilized by those less savory in our field, and the post just confirmed it, but felt I had to do so when I realized that too many people in our industry were surprised (vs. the ‘regular folks’ in the TC comments who were justifiably outraged, if not surprised).

Let’s apply some logic here – the Internet is a huge, unruly place, with millions of people and companies vying for attention. Dollars are shifting online in record fashion and LOTS of service companies want a piece. How do you break through the clutter, prove results and make a buck? By pushing the limits to the edge, as all firms: advertising, marketing, PR, Web 2.0, etc. do? Do we really suppose that we’ve always done things completely ethically? I’d like to say yes, but I’ve worked for too many firms with client expectations and million dollar budgets on the line to ever make that claim with a straight face. I know that I founded my own strategic marketing firm because I grew sick and tired of tactics employed, lack of true innovation, and egos, and I keep a firm grip on how myself and my team execute projects and develop strategies, but that’s just little old Wildfire in a sea of thousands. I also am (speaking of ego) able to better navigate the waters and develop innovative strategies precisely because of my track-record in the interactive space and the focus I’ve always placed on customer relationships vs. pure push advertising. It’s easier to determine how to balance a company’s need for bottom-line ROI while remaining authentic and transparent about the tactics employed: been there done that and seen a lot. For example, I’m particularly proud of the creative concept and integrated strategy I developed while working with TFC for Sharp Canada (Aquos 1080p D82 Challenge) precisely because it was pure branding, social responsibility, and community engagement. It worked on all levels and the bottom line result was good for Sharp and good for the environment.

That being said, why are we surprised? It takes work and a lot of money to be truly immersed in the Internet and social media space, and with profit margins at agencies and companies being pushed further down, is it realistic to expect that any firm can afford that much R&D and people-hours? Folks expect to get paid and brands expect a return on investment that is tangible. The bottom line for all brands is to sell product and satisfy their shareholders (which is why they are called “for profit”). That will not change, and it’s why 30-second spots still work, even if they’re being moved online in increasing numbers (hello, viral spots). And, as consumers get more sophisticated, more people will recognize not to necessarily trust what you read online unless you know the person, or unless it’s independently verified (ala Consumer Reports) like all of us old skool interactive geeks realized about 7 years ago. Everyone has an agenda, that’s just life. We don’t live in a utopia, we live in a capitalist society. Even the old standard, The Red Cross, was less than pure after 9/11. We can change things, for sure, but change takes time; people aren’t a piece of software that we can just upgrade when we discover a bug or want to add a new feature.

Why are we trying to figure out social media ROI at all if we believe it’s all about the long-term relationship? True relationships take years to develop, just because someone joins your community, for whatever internal and external reasons suit their needs at the moment, it’s just as easy to leave when it doesn’t. That’s what churn is. Consumers own their relationships with a brand and for that reason they also own the conversation – trying to satisfy everyone while continuing to make money is the rub of social media. You can’t have an agency built with everyone’s best friend. The participation economy is a reality, but it’s also a fallacy when you step outside of our bubble. Hip Hop artists don’t do product placement in videos and start their own clothing lines (multi-billion dollar industry) because someone wrote a positive review online or added them as a ‘friend’ in Facebook.

Let’s be realistic. How much time do you spend on YouTube scouring the new submissions, rating them up and sending them along? With over 10k submitted per day, my guess is not enough that you could spot “the next big thing” without having someone point you to it. The recent WOM conference in Toronto in April of this year recognized Chevrolet for their “Let’s Go Chevy” campaign as being a WOM success story when the company was blaring the URL in TV spots, banner ads, newspaper ads, etc. etc. Did we complain then (well, I did, but not too many others)? Why is that okay and not the tactics employed by The Commotion Group except for our own expectations of the purity of the space? It’s not. Neither of them is okay. We need to take off our rose-coloured glasses and think in the big picture. I don’t employ the tactics used in the article, but I get the feeling I’m in the minority (and no, I’m not going to share my secrets), and although a shame, we should look at this as a learning opportunity and be prepared to recognize that if we really want to succeed in this brave new world, we have to be honest with our clients about how much time and effort it will take to build lasting success… and what success truly means. We need to stop speaking to ourselves and start exploring the space.

We bloggers even do similar things – link-bait posts that exist solely to drive traffic/ reputation (Lists upon lists of “the top blogs”, posting on your own blog about a controversy instead of responding in the comments elsewhere: just like this post, etc), “calling outs” to stir controversy, speaking to our own echo chamber and measuring success against that, plagiarism, passing ourselves off as experts in the space when we aren’t, whatever. None of us are true angels. No one is completely pure in reality, and that includes the consumers we are trying to reach.

Perhaps this will be a wake-up call, but I think not. Too much money on the line and the easy way out is usually the one people take (especially for products such as movies that have a short shelf life to make a buzz on opening weekend – the majority of the clients The Commotion Group appears to work for). I know that I’ll continue doing what I do, and one of these days I’ll hang it all up and go be a yoga-instructor and run a golf course up north. Until then, I’m not jumping on any bandwagons and I’ll keep learning, experimenting, educating clients, and being a hurricane when appropriate.

But that’s just my opinion – there are a million of them (manufactured or not) out there to choose from.

Update: Tony Hung has a good post on this as well…. a choice bit:

Mike Arrington himself seems a bit taken aback by how honest the post is, but is anyone *really* shocked?

Are your (or anyone’s) sensibilities *really* that delicate?

….

Bottom line is that this post pulls the curtain back on a phenomenon that any rational thinking individual would already suspect.

That is, when there is financial incentive and opportunity to game a system — even when that system has the appearance of being “open”, “transparent”, and built upon the goodwill and trust of its users (how typically quaint!) — someone will do it.

And the best of them will do it in such a way that no one else will even *know*.

[photo credit: daryldarko via Flickr]

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Social Media News Release for a ‘Social Media’-based campaign

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I don’t usually blog about client business, but this current campaign we’re running for AppliancePartsPros.com is an exception imo because of the nature of the “news” itself.

Appliance Parts Pros is a pure ecommerce internet company that has been growing steadily for 8 years now and they have embraced blogging, direct interaction with customers, and search, in all their strategies to date. When Wildfire (working in conjunction with Page Zero Media) was tasked with coming up with a holiday promotion that could extend beyond traditional, the natural fit was to run a blog contest and engage the community outside of a strict online contest structure. We started by looking at ‘who’ AppliancePartsPros is at its core, what makes sense for the brand, their customers, and their community. The result is the “Comforts of Home” Holiday Contest. The promotion was built in two phases: the first was philanthropy and a donation to US soldiers serving overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan by sending 80 “Comforts of Home” care packages out in early November. The second was the contest itself, where not only can participants enter to win an iPhone¬Æ or Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer¬Æ, but, if they have a blog, can also help to build an item in a care package that will be delivered in mid-December. For every 5 blog posts about a holiday cooking horror story, or a text, video, or audio message to US troops, one additional care package will be sent.

Of course, a key part of this promotion is outreach to the community; be they military bloggers, food bloggers, holiday bloggers, or DIY bloggers. We spent a significant amount of time getting to know the space and who might be interested in hearing from us directly. We also prepared a Social Media News Release (I refuse to call it a press release because the people who consume the content may not be “press”, but the item itself is “news”). We used a customized version of the Shift Communications template for the SMNR and so far the feedback from the community we are reaching out to has been terrific and heartwarming. The outreach and interaction is on-going, and is now moving into the news media phase as well. We did not include comments or trackbacks on the SMNR because of the blog posts and comment abilities there (where folks should be heading to enter the contest!), but did include Digg, del.ici.ous, and Flickr links.

I’m proud of this promotion, the SMNR, and having a fantastic client willing to try new things. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the release and the contest, and will share results when appropriate.

On another, related note, I am thrilled to welcome Rebecca Muller, a former client of Wildfire’s and all around stellar interactive pro, to the Wildfire Strategic Marketing fold as Director of Client Service. If you haven’t already, check out her terrific blog – The Direct Approach – which is linked as well from my sidebar. Her contributions to this campaign have been much appreciated and welcome (if you have any questions about military blogs, or bloggers, she’s your woman!).

[photo credit: Appliance_Parts_Pros on Flickr]

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Simple steps to optimize your corporate tagline online

 maximize corporate taglines online

Taglines have always played an important role in distilling a brand’s essence into a short and memorable phrase that hopefully resonates with consumers. The tagline is utilized across all mediums – print, TV, radio, OOH, website, etc. to provide cross-channel reinforcement. As search engines become the norm for distilling information online and social media use becomes more widely adopted, brands would do well to revisit how effectively they are maximizing the reach of their ‘essence’ on the web.

The following tactics will help consumers find your content in ways that are intuitive to them (i.e. not all people remember the brand; many will only remember the tagline or key phrase and conduct a search using that terminology), as well as continuing to reinforce your brand message across a wider platform.

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1. Your website

When looking at your website keep in mind the potential ways you can ensure that all the offline advertising dollars spent on establishing the tag in the consumers mind aren’t wasted by neglecting to continue that reinforcement, not just for the front-end user of your site (the consumer), but with the back-end user as well (the search engine crawler).

A few easy ways to ensure your tagline is integrated:

- Ensure your tagline is readable by the search engines: don’t embed it in a graphic or header without using an image alt tag and description.

- If your tag is an important part of your brand ID (ala: Just Do ItTM) use it within your title tags – this is both front-end branding and back-end context for the engines.

- Don’t stray in your copy from your brand essence. If you are claiming to be extraordinary, make sure your website reads like it. When possible, and when contextually relevant, integrate your tagline within your website copy.

- Incorporate it into your footer information in text format (e.g. © Widget Co.: Make it happen).

2. Social media tagging and optimization

- If you have a blogging, forum, photo-sharing, video-sharing, podcasting, social tagging, or similar social media strategy incorporated into your communications mix, it’s a good idea to decide on a list of terms you’re going to be using regularly as tags for consistency and add your tagline to the folksonomy as appropriate.

- Use it in your RSS feed title if relevant to the content.

3. Search engine marketing

- If search engine marketing is part of your advertising mix, you may want to consider bidding on your own tagline if it is too generic to optimize fully organically. Oftentimes the ROI on this type of bidding can be well worth it. A non-profit client of Wildfire’s used this tactic to successfully drive long-tail conversions for a campaign where the cost to optimize would far out-weigh the benefits.

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Companies who neglect to incorporate their tagline into their search engine optimization, social media optimization and search engine marketing efforts are potentially wasting valuable market equity and failing to maximize the full spectrum of their marketing communications budget, when with a well-developed strategy the tagline can build further resonance and extensibility in the digital space.

Do you have any additional tips for keeping a tagline top-of-mind online? Leave a comment!

[photo credit: dontaylor on 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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