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The difference between forcing a community and finding a community

The last couple of years have brought a shift in social “media” as ad agencies have tried to disrupt the space with clever gimmicks (Real-time marketing) which is what they’ve always done best. Disrupt conversations and grab attention. It’s a perilous game: one misstep and you’ve got an angry mob on your hands. And it doesn’t work to drive much of anything except a couple of articles and some goodwill. Until the next brand trumps it and you’re forgotten. It’s a zero sum game in the end, and one that costs a lot of money to boot.

The real growth is where your value meets a need. There are a few brands who are doing it right. They’re the ones who spend the time getting to know the community of people who could USE their product or service and deliver the value behind it in a way that impacts someone’s life.

The digital space isn’t all about YOU. It’s about how you can help US. Sure, wit and snark will always play a part, but that’s a small part. Customer service? Big part. Relevant content that I can use? Big part. Being there when people are just talking? Big part.

It’s time to get back to basics and start serving the customer, not just looking for the most likes and retweets. Pay attention to the people, they’re the ones who buy your products. Invest in that strategy and you’ll win.

[Image credit Robie06]

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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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“What’s In It For Me?” is not the question in social media

What's in it for me?

In digital marketing best practices one of the key questions any company needs to answer from the visitors perspective in regards to the content they are displaying is “what’s in it for me?” or else risk losing the potential customer to someone who does answer that question for them, and obviously cares about how their product or service relates to that individuals needs.

Inspired by a conversation with Mack Collier yesterday on Twitter about the value and risks associated with “Pay Per Tweet” (another post on another day), and Mack’s assertion that anything promotional must create value for everyone, that  I started thinking about how that simple and meaningful question has shifted with the ability of everyone on the web to be an influencer and use their social currency to help, or hinder brands.

With the new age of social media, any type of outreach efforts must answer two questions to be relevant and impactful: “What’s in it for me?” & “How will it provide value to my network?”.

Failing to answer the question relating to the network may doom any efforts on your part to a budget poorly spent, less than stellar results and a backlash waiting to happen.

Using the social web is a hard-to-resist platform to spread word-of-mouth about your brand, but as many of us “old-timers” in the digital and social marketing world continue to espouse, it’s also not the place for business as usual and repurposing the same “push” marketing messages. While there are many ways to integrate your traditional digital and offline branding into social channels, it must be done with the utmost care and consideration. You must recognize that any type of outreach effort using these tools, or to people who use them, means you are asking that individual to SPEND their social capital by participating with you and spreading your message to their network of friends. That’s a lot to ask if what you are offering is only of value to the person you are asking.

At some point the majority of the top 1000 consumer brands will be using social media, and if the past 6 months is any indication, they will be running contests. These contests will most likely involve mandating that in order to enter you have to a) tweet a message to your followers on Twitter, b) post a link on Facebook or update your status, c) write a blog post, d) upload a photo or video on Flickr or YouTube and promote it. Let’s say that out of the 1000+ people I follow on Twitter 500 of them are actively participating in one or more of a thousand contests… how long before my stream becomes unrecognizable and without any conversational value to me? Perhaps I would enter a few of the contests myself or, more likely, in the long run, I’d move to a different social networking platform to escape the noise generated and find meaningful conversations again.

There will come a time when the pure promotional use of social media will lead to a backlash against both the brands and the people participating if there is no REAL value for the network = information, customer service, input, etc. If you aren’t answering the second question you may end up being burnt when the tipping point comes.

In that regard, if you are using tools such as Facebook or Twitter, what would be some uses of social networks for promotional purposes that could add value to your stream and be a “win” for all considered?

[Photo credit: Bright_Star via Flickr]

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Managing expectations: the passion of ideas vs. the passion for brands in social media

Social media is taking people powered organizing to a new level – the relative ease, speed, and agility with which groups of like-minded people can get together and affect change is amazing. The real life examples of this power continue to roll in and while the case studies are intoxicating, from a marketing and brand standpoint, it’s a good idea to separate the insights from the actions and ultimately to manage our expectations as marketers/ communicators.

A recent example of the power of social networks to rapidly mobilize and pull together an amazing “crowdsourced” event is the #hohoto.ca geek holiday party in Toronto which benefits the Daily Bread Food Bank. This event didn’t exist prior to a week ago and so far has raised over $8k for charity based only on Twitter communications (while the event will use other channels – Flickr, YouTube, etc. the organizing and promotion has happened almost exclusively via Twitter networks) by a group of people who got together and decided to throw a party. The money raised from ticket sales is impressive with over 100 folks signed up to attend, but the small business community has stepped up as well and sponsored the event, and the venue (Mod Club) and ticket agent (Eventbrite) have also waived their fees to help with a good cause. All in all this mobilization and the resulting support has been something to behold – check out the twitter search stream for a sampling of how active and generous the community has been!

(Other recent examples are of course the #motrinmoms recent controversy and the #mumbai tragedy, but those have been well covered, and for these purposes I’m going to focus on what brands can learn from the #hohoto example.)

However, the temptation will be to say this is another proof of concept that social media works and use this as a case study for how brands should jump on board and harness this crowdsourcing. Yes and no. While this does prove in the power of the tools to mobilize and activate individuals, it’s not something brands should *expect* to happen for them just by participating in the social web. There is a difference between passion for an IDEA and passion for a BRAND after all.

Here are a few key insights that companies can learn from #hohoto and what makes it different from outreach and participation in SocMed for a brand -

  1. This event needed influential catalysts – the Mesh Conference team who are well known and liked influencers on the Toronto scene stepped in at the outset and pledged their support & promoted and “re-tweeted” the details non-stop to their network of “influencers” in the Toronto tech & communications community.
  2. It’s the holiday season and geeks like any reason to get out and network in person – throw in a charity angle and you’ve got a winner of an idea.
  3. Low commitment on behalf of the attendees – it’s a party after all, not providing intellectual property for the benefit of a company brand.
  4. Lowered expectations surrounding the implementation – the website and promotion was a work-in-progress by a loose group of individuals. There were some snafus – the website didn’t actually list the event details when it first went up, the date changed after the launch & tickets were sold, and there were spelling mistakes, etc on the site. No harm, no foul, but if this was a “brand” event I expect the reaction would have been a tad harsh to the “launch & learn” approach.
  5. The timeline for the event is tight – it’s being held on December 15th and therefore the constant stream of #hohoto hashtags and promotion is tolerated and embraced. If this were for a brand program I think we may have seen some “cease & desist” snark and comments from the Twitter community when every other tweet is about the event from personal accounts.
  6. The tools are powerful and the “cool factor” of tweet streams, on-site video streaming, twitter DJ requests, etc. etc. are important to extending the reach and motivating this particular community, *but* without the two key IDEAS – holiday party networking & charity – they are just that, cool tools.

For a brand venturing or participating in the space it would be dangerous to expect the same type of response for a purely commercial endeavour. Crowdsourcing can be powerful, but it can also backfire if the right insights aren’t there at the outset. Planning matters and a good idea will still rule.

Participating and building a network honestly is the rule of the day, and ensuring that you’re tapping into the passions of individuals for something they care about will motivate people far more than any shiny tool will.

If you don’t receive the same type of response to your brand, don’t be discouraged, it’s a different experience. Your response is probably just fine for your goals… if they were realistically set to begin with.

See you at #hohoto on the 15th? :)

[photo credit: Derektor via Flickr]

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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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