Pour Up Some Advocacy - How Whiskey Companies Are Going Beyond Loyalty

I'm more of a walking man than a wax man. How about you?

I was traveling last week (hence the dearth of posts) and had the chance to read a good article in OMMA: Bottom's Up. The article discusses the Maker's Mark ambassador program.

A particular paragraph stood out to me as exemplifying a key differentiator of this program:

"This self-selections process [for brand advocates] seems to have built an influential base, whose value isn't based on how much bourbon they buy, but how they identify with the company [my emphasis]."

At first I thought - is that really that big of a change?

We all have relatives who cling fiercely to their own proclivities. We know Aunt Sarah only puts Bombay Sapphire in her martinis. But Aunt Sarah was never much of a brand ambassador. Knowledge of her preference rarely goes beyond the family dinner table (and rarer still beyond her death-clutch of the martini glass).

Aunt Sarah isn't much of a brand ambassador. But the Maker's Mark program goes beyond loyalty - it's about advocacy. They not only want consumers to buy Maker's Mark - the company is giving ambassadors a reason to tell their friends to buy it as well.

Great, But Not For Me

While the article stirred up admiration for a great program, I was also surprised that it roused some personal brand loyalty and advocacy as well.

You see, for years now, I've been a member of Johnnie Walker's Striding Man Society. I don't know why or how I started, but I've been receiving their emails for several years.

The really odd thing is that I don't drink Johnnie Walker all that much. I make Jack Daniel's-esque paychecks, after all. (However, JW samples will be accepted by mail or in person. Just sayin'.)

But I've become adhered to the brand and I have some ideas why. Here's what the Striding Man Society does right:

  • Exclusivity: Anyone can sign up to join, but the emails always feel kind of exclusive. Design heavy in black, white, and gold give off a luxurious feel and events are often limited to only Striding Man Society members.
  • Active: Speaking of events, there are enough to feel special, but not too many to where you feel like it's another cattle-call (I'd guess maybe 2 per year in major cities). I've been to a couple events and they are a blast. Educational, slick, professional, and usually free. No complaints about any of that.
  • Aspirational: Sure the website and emails celebrate each label, but they've done a good job of positioning the Blue Label as the all-star. I can't afford it now, but you can be damned sure that my father-in-law will some day receive an engraved bottle for Christmas. And that act will make me feel like a true success. That's good marketing.
  • Classy Benefits: Check out the CTAs in the buttons on their "Labels" page. Even the more plebeian Red Label has a clearly defined benefit (versatility), while other labels highlight complexity, intensity, luxury, rarity and balance. It's subtle, but ubiquitous: each label gives the buyer a reason for purchase, something to justify the cost.

Loyalty Is Just Step One

Brand loyalty is often a lifetime association. So, done correctly, it can easily mean millions for the company that does it right. (After all, how much has Aunt Sarah spent on Bombay gin, right? 'Nuff said.)

The Striding Man Society isn't perfect (please don't rely on visuals in email - with images disabled, your emails are useless), but it has fostered some type of adherence, even in this brand propagandist.

More than loyalty, though, it and Maker's Mark are really shooting for brand advocacy. Loyalty is just about your personal brand choices; advocacy indicates loyalty pushed to others in your personal circle. This is truly powerful stuff (and totally apropos in a social media world).

I tell my friends about JW articles in the email newsletters. I bring them with me to JW events. I forward on opportunities for customized labels. In other words, I take this out of just loyalty (my personal buying habits) and into the social space of advocacy (influencing others).

In a way, Johnnie Walker is like my Chicago Cubs. While I can't always afford to get inside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (or that smooth, squared bottle), I still cheer just as loud. Here's to more strides in brand advocacy and more success all around.

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One Of The Best Tools For PR Pros

If you are considering a career in PR, or are just starting out in the biz, you might be surprised by one of the most important skills you need. To find out what it is, watch the video below or on YouTube.

What do you think? Am I so right or so wrong?

I'd love to hear from PR pros as well as folks just starting out. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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5 Under-The-Radar Marketing Bloggers You Should Read

Smiling

It's useful to follow the big dogs of marketing - the Brogans, the Jaffes, the Godins. But there are a lot of young bloggers with some great ideas about marketing in a web 2.0 world.

These marketers might not be well known (yet) but they will be soon. I wanted to share some of the very best of these under-the-radar marketing bloggers.

  • David Mullen - David's blog is called Communications Catalyst and he tweets at @dmullen. David provides consistent insights with just enough personality to make you feel like you know him.
  • Ryan Stephens - I was first introduced to Ryan with his excellent Six Principles of Influence to Increase Your Sales. With over 6K Twitter followers, Ryan is trusted by many to provide the goods.
  • Try Angie's List Today!

  • Lauren Fernandez - Lauren is the type of blogger you feel guilty for not linking too more. Her blogging is prolific, to say the least (but always true quality), and her tweets show her personality's sparkle. You can really tell the difference of someone fully immersed in PR 2.0 as a natural.
  • Len Kendall - Len and I used to be co-workers (hell, I knew him before I even got the job) and I've always been impressed with his insights. He's a day-in, day-out kind of guy, always bringing the goods on ConstructiveGrumpiness and on Twitter.
  • Jacqueline Wechsler - The author of two blogs - Jax Rant and the new UXThink - this Aussie definitely deserves more attention. (Her tweets are great too.)

I hope you take the opportunity to check out these young marketing bloggers. They have some great ideas and I predict that they will be leaders in the years to come.

Who do you think deserves more attention? Please leave a comment and a link to your favorite under-the-radar marketing blogger. The community (and me in particular!) are always looking for more smart people to read.

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5 Reasons To Buy David Meerman Scott's World Wide Rave (And 2 Reasons Not To)

wwr

I'm trying a new format for my book reviews. Instead of a measured, logical summary and analysis, I'm just going to cut straight to the meat of it - here's why I think you should buy this book (or why you might want to skip it).

I recently finished David Meerman Scott's new book, World Wide Rave. I am a big fan of Scott's work - he's an innovator who has the guts to practice what he preaches. (He quit a high-paying job to write books like these, for instance.) You can check out his website at WebInkNow.com or check his Twitter stream at @dmscott.

So here are 5 reasons why I think you should buy his book (and 2 reasons why you might not want to).

[Sidenote: I read this thanks to Amazon's Kindle for iPhone WhisperSync. Hence, page numbers are between 1-2928. Sorry. You can use my citations to give a rough idea of where to find particular sections though.]

Get It

1. He hits on ideas central to social media marketing (and marketing in the future)

Scott emphasizes again and again that we need to think in terms of what we're giving to the community, not in old media terminology. He most succinctly put it as such:

"You've got to think in terms of spreading ideas, not generating leads. A World Wide Rave gets the word out to thousands or even millions of potential customers. But only if you make your content easy to find and consume" (pg. 959).

Tenets like this seem really easy, but they are still a major sticking point for marketers in firm companies. Scott makes it simple to focus on what really matters in a web 2.0 world.

2. He translates theory into language your boss can understand.

Or rather, he confronts your boss' out-moded ideas of how we gauge marketing success. His discussions about the old rules of measurement - tracking "leads" and "press clips," especially - reveal exactly why these markers don't make sense in social media marketing (pg. 1080).

And Scott speaks frankly. ROI obsession is causing your marketing to get boring. Like, soul-crushingly, lawyer-infused, uber-numbingly boooooring. And then he tells you why (pg. 1117 onward). (Try highlighting these sections before gifting this book to your boss or corporate overseer.)

3. Even n00bs can get it.

Scott speaks to the 90% who are still figuring out their online marketing, much less social media marketing strategy. That can be a tad frustrating for the other 10% of us, but hey, if we're meant to be advocates, we need to get off the high horse.

It's good that Scott covers the basics. No matter how new you are to social media marketing, I'm confident you will not get lost in this book. Heck, he even takes a moment to define social media - something that often gets skipped in even the more basic books (pg. 1261, the "Let's Be Honest" section).

4. He makes the case for true content marketing

Content marketing, as I understand it, just means that you garner trust due to the content you put out. It's not direct marketing; you generally build up trust until someone thinks of you when they have a need in your specialty.

Content marketing has its advocates, notably Joe Pulizzi from Junta42 and (to a slightly lesser degree) Rick Liebling from eyecube. But it's pretty rare for a marketer to call this out in such detail. He says:

"A good journalist [someone you could hire for your content marketing] can create interesting stories about how an organization solves customer problems and can then deliver those stories in a variety of ways...Consumers will love it. How refreshing to read, listen to, and watch these products of journalistic expertise instead of the usual come-ons that typical corporations produce [read: marketing schlock]" (pg 2258).

5. He's fun to read and that's rare

Have you ever taken a business book on your summer vacation? Here's how it normally goes: You have the best of intentions, so you drag this tome out to the beach with you. Before you know it, you've dozed off before finishing the preface and your snooze in the sand results in a bright red burn and your vacation is ruined.

That's how it usually works for me, at least.

I'm not saying it's a laugh riot, but this book is engaging. It moves. It has a sense of purpose. It's got a lot of examples interspersed with the philosophy. And that's miles better than most of the other books out there. And I've got the burns to prove it.

Skip It

Nothing is perfect in this world, so here are 2 valid reasons for skipping this book.

1. Lack of evidence

I don't expect every marketing book to be chock full of research, graphs, and charts like Groundswell was (despite how much I love that book!). But, a little supporting evidence wouldn't hurt, ya know?

And it's not like Scott doesn't provide a lot of citations - he does. But I feel like his most salient points are where he drops the ball in this regard.

Take for instance his argument about social media restrictions for employees. He builds up a case where those who have restricted open access for their employees in the past have been haunted by this decision. He provides a reasonable hypothesis of trends relating to computers, then the internet, culminating in social media. He provides all of the theoretical proof you could want.

But his thesis falls short without real-world evidence. Has Microsoft or Starbucks done this? What were the specific ramifications for Business X when they restricted employee access? Which companies have avoided this fate? I admit I was left wanting in just a few instances like these in the book.

2. Same 'ol, same 'ol

I was disappointed at a few parts in the book when examples were trotted out that I'd heard about months (nay, years) ago. It seemed tired. It seemed like something I'd read before. Seriously, I've heard that MailerMailer story 500 hundred times before.

But! (And this is a significant "but.") The reason I'm sick of examples like MailerMailer is because I'm such a fan of Scott's work. So really, this is hardly his fault. He's trying to reach a new audience with this book and it's likely they've never heard most/all of these stories before.

It's only because I have read all of his white papers and many of his blog posts that things like "Where the hell is Matt?" seem trite. If you haven't, then it's new to you.

Final Verdict

This time, I leave the final verdict in your hands. In other reviews, I have ended the post with a pithy thought and recommendation. But that kind of post is boring, to be honest.

This time, I'd like to hear from you. Would you buy David's book from this post? Or, if you have read it, what did you think? Would you recommend it to others? (Better yet, if you read his blog and white papers but haven't bought the book - will you?)

I enjoyed the book and believe I'm a better marketer for reading it. Plus, because Scott practices what he preaches, he gave away the book during the first five days of publication and I essentially read it for free (Thanks, David!). So, while I have no real obligation, if it made me a better marketer, as a gentlemen I damn well better talk about it, right?

So, what do you think? Would you read World Wide Rave? Or did you read it? What did you think?

P.S.: If you enjoyed this review, you might also like my recent review of Paul Gillin’s Secrets of Social Media Marketing; Goldstein, Martin, and Cialdini's Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways To Be Persuasive; and my list of the top 5 gift books for marketers.

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Small Business Owners: Your Customer Service IS Your Marketing!

yakov

Remember Yakov Smirnoff?

He was big in the '80s and used to tell jokes like this:

In America, you can always find a party. In Russia, The Party can always find you!

See the switch-eroo there? Clever, right?

I was thinking about that after I read the Network Solutions report I referenced in my last post about whether social media marketing was viable for small businesses. My riff off Smirnoff went something like this:

Before the internet, marketing hid poor customer service. In a web 2.0 world, customer service IS your marketing!

Not quite as catchy as ol' Yakov, but still possessing that kernel of truth, don't you think?

Where Are We And How Did We Get Here?

The Network Solutions data (PDF) showed that small business owners were largely successful with customer service, but that overall marketing and innovation was ranked the second lowest of six success attributes.

So, in my last post, I took the four lowest qualities in the marketing and innovation category (from Network Solutions data) and compared that with a large study of what social media marketing does well (Michael Stelzner data).

This comparison proved that social media marketing just might help your small business. (If you're shaking your head and muttering "No Duh" as you read this, hang with me.)

So What's The Next Step?

Logic then dictates that we examine just how social media marketing could help your small business.

If you've read Now, Discover Your Strengths you know that your best option is not to obsess about improving in areas you have little skill. Instead, you want to leverage what you're good at. And remember what Network Solutions' data said small business owners succeed in?: Customer Service.

What the hell do customer service and marketing have in common? These days, almost everything.

Here's the secret: Your customer service IS your marketing. If you take nothing else from this post, remember that!

Let me show you. I'll take those four worst attributes of small businesses' marketing and innovation and create scenarios where your customer service becomes your marketing.

A Closer Look

Problem: Finding efficient ways to advertise and promote your business.

Solution: Remember how Craigslist basically crushed the classified ad business? Likewise, don't think of advertising as a huge line item in your budget. Let your good work be your advertisement.

Ask your best customers to put in a good word for you on Yelp.com or Angie's List. Better yet, offer a small discount on a customer's bill - no strings attached - and just mention that you're listed on those sites. Some may not post about their experience, but evidence in Yes! says that a lot of them will. (It's a good book, by the way - read my review here.)

"Approaching the potentially cooperative relationship in this way [unconditional and no-strings-attached] should not only increase the likelihood that you'll secure their cooperation in the first place, but also ensure that the cooperation you do receive is build on a solid foundation of trust and mutual appreciation, rather than on a much weaker incentive system" (page 59).

Problem: Converting marketing leads into buyers.

Solution: Ug, "leads." Could there be a more self-serving term? They aren't individuals or customers or even users, but leads?

What if you could make them come to you? What if you spent less time cold-calling "leads" and more time being the go-to expert?

Become a resource on Twitter or answer questions on LinkedIn. Join an industry group on your favorite site or get active in a forum discussion.

Here's the thing: rather than trying to convince people to hire you, instead convince them about how good you really are. Isn't that the point? You didn't start your small business to become a salesperson (well, most of you). But if you become a resource for a community, you will be the first person community members call when they need help.

Problem: Positioning your organization as having the same capabilities as big organizations in your industry.

Solution: Again, maybe I'm missing something. Why are you trying to make your small business seem big? Why not focus on the benefits of a small business?

Have you been watching The Office in recent weeks? The main character left his corporate behemoth and started the eponymous Michael Scott Paper Company.

He didn't try to convince people he could do everything Dunder Mifflin did. Instead, he focused on what his small team could do: provide real value, excellent customer service, and those 5am paper deliveries in the Korean church bus.

What's the equivalent for your business? Be agile, hungry...and successful.

Problem: Identifying new prospective customers.

Solution: In a sense, you could use elements of the other three problems to attract more customers. You can also create a destination for prospective customers who would be interested in your product.

For instance, let's say you're an expert on high-end coffee beans. Start a blog and go relentlessly after keywords like Kona and Jamaican Blue Mountain. Write posts about the product and show your expertise (just don't be a jerk about it). Prospective customers will search for those keywords and find your amazing posts - Bingo!

Readers who comment on these posts should be of special interest. Sure, they're even more likely to be prospective customers, but they could also be brand evangelists or someone who could teach you a vital aspect of the business.

Convinced yet?

Just yesterday, The Chicago Tribune published a story about small businesses who found success with social media marketing. Here's what Andy Sernovitz, chief executive of GasPedal, a Chicago consulting firm specializing in word-of-mouth marketing and social media, had to say on the subject:

"Because of the viral nature of social media, companies that take the time to communicate are likely to see their goodwill spread. One simple technique for building relationships involves responding to positive mentions by saying 'thank you' and following up on negative mentions with an apology and a solution to the problem, Sernovitz said."

Excellent customer service - even if the product is momentarily sub-par - creates goodwill, positive conversation, and might even improve your business.

Are you more convinced about my Yakov Smirnoff riff now?

Before the internet, marketing hid poor customer service. In a web 2.0 world, customer service IS your marketing!

What a country world!

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Marketing During A Recession E-Book

After many weeks of work, I am proud to release a new e-book: Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities (PDF)

We're all worried about how the recession will effect us and our business. But there are a lot of misconceptions and downright mistakes about how to use marketing during this recession. This e-book draws from expert advice and provides you a path forward in these difficult times.

Please download it or check it out on SlideShare. (It's free, of course.)

I got some great help from Joann Sondy, a designer in the online community - she's the reason this e-book looks so much better than my previous ones. She was great to work with and knew the best design strategy for this particular material.

Consider hiring Joann for your next project. You can check out her portfolio at CreativeAces.com (seriously, have your annual reports ever looked this good?) and read her blog at OutsideTheMargin.biz. Some more information about her work is below:

Joann Sondy has an extensive background creating and delivering corporate materials for financial and investor relations. With more than 15 years, Joann has produced distinctive communications that help IR/PR agencies build audience awareness and confidence. If your strategy calls for a presentation, e-book, white paper, fact sheet and/or annual report, contact Joann today. joann{at}creativeaces{dot}dom or DM her via Twitter: @jsondy.

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7 Ways Authors Can Avoid Being Scammed By Online Book Promotion

book-signing

Online marketing can be very useful, but when does it become a time suck? Are there industries where online marketing is more likely to fail? Or are any potential failures just the result of bungled efforts?

I recently read this article about an author's problems marketing her novel online: One Author Speaks Out About The Bad Side Of Online Promotions. It was interesting to read a post that contained both missed opportunities on the part of the author as well as justified limitations to her online marketing efforts.

The author in the blog post felt as though she had largely wasted her hours of online promotion for a recently published book. I would like to offer the following advice both as a humble rebuttal as well as in hopes of helping other authors think about their online promotions.

Lessons To Be Learned

There are a lot of lessons illustrated in the author's blog post. Here are a few that jumped out at me, along with corresponding quotes from her interview:

"I blogged, guest blogged, blogged at Amazon, podcasted, was interviewed by books bloggers and book review websites, joined Facebook, and Twittered. I also joined several networking sites and writers organizations associated with my genre."

Lesson #1: Don't spread yourself too thin. I'd recommend only participating in the number of social networks where you can provide value. It sounds like the author was spreading herself across the entire internet, rather than focusing on a targeted community and fulfilling a need they had.

"I concentrated all of this effort in the month my book released and the two immediately following."

Lesson #2: Don't wait until the book is out to build community. This is possibly the biggest mistake for any author. Waiting until your book is published before starting your online community building is like waiting to buy flood insurance until after the waters recede - you should have thought of it before the big event. Work in advance to build an audience so you can all start promoting the book once it hits shelves.

"For three months, all the time I normally spent online and more was focused on Internet promotion: 3 to 8 hours a day...This interview, for example, took me 9 hours to write."

Lesson #3: Need to manage expectations and time. Authors should plan to spend a good deal of time with promotion, depending on their motivation, size of potential audience, and other factors. (Good) online promotion takes a real investment of time. That said, 9 hours on a 6 page interview seems way too long to me. If that's a regular occurrence, you should consider honing your verbal skills and complete other interviews orally.

"...I was able to track the outcomes of individual interviews. The results were shocking. After an interview posted on a website claiming thousands of unique visitors per day, exactly one person followed the link to my website."

Lesson #4: Clarify your goals. Earlier, the author stated that the goal of her online promotion was to increase name and book title recognition. If so, then don't judge your success on CTR or web traffic. Determine what you want, figure out success metrics (ask "How do I envision success"), and then execute.

"I know some will say I'm missing the point; that the objective of all this activity is to build the author's long-term [i]nternet presence and establish a brand. But to a newly published author, 'online promotion' is synonymous with 'sales.' It has to be."

Lesson #5: Community leads to sales, not necessarily vice versa. If you only go online for the sale, you will fail; if you go online to provide value/access, you will make the sale. Consider David Meerman Scott - he is active in the community and gives most of his content away for free. Crazy? Nope. He knows that he attracts fans through the free content and he makes his money selling books to this targeted, pre-engaged audience and by speaking to them at conferences. A short-sighted attitude toward sales will kill you online.

"Once content is posted, it doesn't go anywhere. It just sits for awhile, then disappears. By contrast, articles and blog posts made at the major online magazines and newspapers show up at dozens of other websites within minutes."

Lesson #6: All traffic is not the same. Besides showing a somewhat alarming naivety regarding search, this quote implies that all online traffic has roughly the same worth. For most authors, a targeted focus on niche audiences is far more likely to yield interest, buzz, and sales.

"[N]o one even knows if Twittering and social network sites sell books."

Lesson #7: Social networking sites don't sell books. You sell books. Read that sentence again and really take it in. It might be the most important thing you find in this post.

With that in mind, consider that Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff compares the traditional sales function to "energizing" in their fantastic book, Groundswell. Instead of hard-line sales tactics, social networking "[m]akes it possible for your enthusiastic customers to help sell each other" (page 69).

Or, if you're still pessimistic about the power of your online connections, consider this excellent article by David Alston called "Social Media ROI - What's the 'Return on Ignoring'?" Alston makes the convincing, even simplistic, case that doing nothing will result in...nothing.

"But what does "return on investment" really stand for in a business? Roughly translated, it means the value we expect to get out of all the effort we put into something. It's the definition of the output (return) from an input (investment).

But here's the trick: ignoring the input, or doing nothing in social media, will surely guarantee no return at all."

The Right Attitude

I don't want it to sound as though the author was clueless; that's certainly not the case. Throughout the blog post, I marked sections where I thought her concept of social networking and online marketing were correct.

For instance, as an unschooled professional, she taught herself a lot about the importance of search. Despite one or two missteps, she does present search accurately and astutely as a marketing tool. In fact, she may not give herself enough credit for the results she had (which were fairly fantastic).

Readers could also tell that the author had a long history of being online, even if she wasn't marketing herself this whole time. Familiarity with the online channel greatly decreases the learning curve for online marketing.

And finally, she seems to have a good understanding (more than me, certainly) of the relationship between author and publicist regarding online promotion. If she's to be believe - and I have no reason not to - the book publishing promotion world still seems centered on in-store and other offline promotions. On the flip side, she also understands that relying on a publicist for online connections would be a mistake.

Worth A Read

In general, I enjoyed this post because it gave me a lot to think about and showed insight into a field I know less about, though am interested in.

The point of this post is to help other authors avoid the pitfalls she went through. Was this helpful? Or did I skip over an essential lesson? Please leave your comments and suggestions for other authors below.

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Marketing During A Recession: Economic Slowdowns Are Opportunities

People are scared.

Recessions (OK, economic slow-downs) are scary things. Maybe that's why I have noticed a recent theme emerge from some prominent bloggers - a lot of smart people are discussing risk and stability, and they are discussing the role of failure from a business POV.

This week, I will post a series on these topics, drawing from some of the more knowledgeable online marketers and social media types. This series will focus on the role of marketing during a recession and how to manage risk, stability, and failure. My aim is to embolden you, to reassure you that we're all sharing this anxiety but that there is a path to success.

Recession As Opportunity

Typically, marketing is one of the first departments to see cuts during economic hard times. But cutting marketing, advertising, or PR is one of the only sure ways to lose market share during the recession and then really be screwed during the boom time sure to follow.

Here are some quotes from the experts:

"[H]istorically, PR, Marketing and Advertising budgets are the first to be cut; however, that could be one of the first mistakes a business makes in an economic crisis." -WSJ's MarketWatch

"In a downturn, aggressive PR and Communications strategy is key." -Doug Leone, VC, Sequoia Capital Silicon Alley Insider

"This is not the time to cut advertising. It is well documented that brands that increase advertising during a recession, when competitors are cutting back, can improve market share and return on investment at lower cost than during good economic times." -John A. Quelch, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School

"Savvy marketers realize that it is because many marketers cut advertising spending during a recession that a recession is the best and least expensive time to gain market share through advertising...It's well-documented how companies leverage downturns in the economy to effectively market themselves. In the 1970s, marketers like Revlon and Philip Morris increased their advertising to gain market share. Today, companies like Procter & Gamble, General Motors, Verizon, News Corp and PepsiCo all increased their first-quarter ad spending." -Joelle Gropper Kaufman, MediaPost

Clearly, marketing during a recession allows you to retain or grow your market share when your competitors are hunkering down. Maintained visibility translates into recognition, familiarity, and, ideally, trust.

Why Online, Why Now?

The role of the marketer has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Instead of interrupting, we are facilitating two-way conversation. Instead of persuading with subterfuge, we are providing valuable content as a way to get new business.

The online channel is cheaper than other mediums, easier to measure, and only increasing in importance. If you agree with the premise of this first post - that marketing should not be shunted during a recession - then I encourage you to check back for future posts.

I will be posting about the idea of stability during a recession, the role of a marketer in regards to risk management, how failure can be your greatest asset, and why an economic slowdown might push social media tools into the mainstream. Subscribing is an easy way to ensure you are notified when these posts go online.

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Romancing The Blogger By Mo'Luv

Late last week, I was lucky enough to meet Maurice Lovinski, better known online as Mo'Luv. He is an eminent blogger and author of the critically acclaimed "Hard Drive to Sex Drive: The Guide to Blogging for Business or Boinking." I know many of my readers are fans of his.

I asked him to write the following guest post about blogger relations. Many journalists, public relations experts, and businesspeople are still confused about how best to engage bloggers. I hope you find Mo'Luv's post helpful in your own blogger relations.

Romancing The Blogger, With Mo'Luv

Baby.

Let's role-play for a minute. In this sexy scenario, I'll be a big-time author and blogger. Don't worry, this persona is not a stretch for me. And you can be a journalist or PR lady who wants to get my attention. After all, you know what I can do for you, right? I've got that audience you're hungry for.

You wouldn't just pounce on me at the bar, would you? Of course not. You would suppress your animal urges and go more subtle-like. I'm going to walk you through the ways you can seduce this blogger.

First, mix yourself a tall G&T. You ready? Good, I'll begin.

Start Off Slow

While we may seem super-human, a blogger is just like anyone else. You've got to show a little interest.

Start off on Twitter. Look me up, see what makes me tick. Start following me, and if I say something that turns your crank, go ahead and put up a re-tweet. That's when you take what I said, give me a little credit, and send it out to all your followers.

A re-tweet is like a love flare, honey. I'll be sure to see it in the cool night air.

Move On To The Blog

Now we're ready to get into it. Subscribe to my blog and post a comment or two. It shows me that you care, sweetie.

Posting a comment on a blogger's website is the equivalent of buying me a drink at the bar. I'll casually look your way and if I like what I see, that opens the door for more profitable...interactions. You dig?

But be cool, baby. I don't want to hear the same song-and-dance that you'd tell all the other bloggers. Make your comment personal, relevant, and add a little something to the conversation. If you're going to whisper in my ear, make it good.

I don't want to sound callous, but it's all about me right now.

Open It Up

I've seen you, maybe thanked you for the re-tweet, probably looked at your website (lookin' fine, by the way). Now let's have some fun.

If you want more out of me, think about it from my perspective. I'm no shill, after all.

If you do research, send me an early copy of a report. If you're designing a website for a client, ask my advice. If you're an author, offer me an advance review copy.

This is how we start to slow dance, see?

The Pay-off (Or Is It?)

At this point, the ball is in my court. And prepare for honesty, babe - I won't string you along. If your product stinks, I'll give it to you straight.

But if your product is A-OK, maybe I'll blog about it. Maybe I'll send info to my blogger friends (Momma taught you to share, right?). Maybe I'll shout from the rooftops, "DAMN, you've got to check this stuff out!"

I don't make promises because I've broken too many hearts in the past. But I will play fair, darling.

I'm A Man With A Slow Hand

You see, I believe in these muses called The Pointer Sisters. They said it best:

I want a man with a slow hand I want a lover with an easy touch I want somebody who will spend some time Not come and go in a heated rush

That's me, baby, I swear. Go slow with me and I'll return the favor.

So many lovely journalists, so many well-meaning PR ladies have jumped all over me. I honestly don't know if it's the blogger phenomenon, my own pheromones, or just the Old-Spice kicking in. But believe me, it's not cool.

I'm not asking for the world, sweetheart! All I ask - as a blogger and as a man - is that you treat me with a little respect. Don't use me for my blog. I know my audience is one of the smartest and hippest group of cool cats in the world - you don't have to tell me this.

Maybe I'm crazy for asking for a little individual courtesy, I don't know. All I know is that if you want some attention from Mo'Luv, take my advice.

Until next time, honey. XO.

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(Image courtesy of skizoologic via Flickr)

Inspiration courtesy of Smoove B.

Customer Altruism: A Complaint Really Is A Gift

It is against our nature to respond receptively to complaints. At their base, complaints are alerts that we (or our business) are unsatisfactory and often are requests to change our behavior.

People usually don't like being told how bad they suck.

But in business you have a responsibility to please your customers. In this effort, you may do market research, put out surveys, or request exit interviews. But what if you could hear all of feedback without paying for it?

Complaining is the customer's way of giving feedback. It's often difficult to hear about areas that need improving, but complaints can easily change your business for the better.

In this post, I will prove that customer complaints usually emanate from an altruistic place, that their feedback is immensely important to your business, and offer ways that complaints can be turned into a wonderful gift.

It's like lotto: you have to be in it to win it

The first step to turning a complaint into a gift is the ability to listen. Listening to your customers is really online reputation management. The good thing is that your customers are already talking about your business. From Bob Thompson, CEO of CustomerThink:

"You also might find that customers are already telling you what they want on forums or blogs, web site feedback forms or call center agent logs - if you'll take the time to read them. Text mining is becoming a more commonplace way to learn what customers are saying when the volume becomes too high to handle manually."

Power to the people

We also know from Groundswell (my must-read book of 2008) that a full quarter of U.S. adults leave reviews online. And why are customers giving this feedback? Believe it or not, but it's usually because they want to help.

A recent Bavaarvoice survey shows that 73% of respondents say they write online reviews of products because they want to help companies improve the products they build and carry (per MarketingVox). Your customers who review your products online (one feedback/complaint mechanism) are mostly motivated by altruism.

Another reason not to ignore this feedback is because it's likely true. ComScore reports that "[n]inety-seven percent of those surveyed who said they made a purchase based on an online review said they found the review to have been accurate." ComScore also reports that customers trust each other more than you, the professional.

A plan of action

So we know that customer reviews are accurate and trusted. We also know that they give you feedback or complain because, in the end, they want to help you improve. So how can you leverage this feedback?

Psychotactics recommends the following:

  1. Get face to face and let your customers know who to complain to.
  2. Listen to customer's precise complaints, fix them, and then don't forget to woo them back.
  3. Complainers can frequently be turned into the most vocal advocates, if handled properly.
  4. It costs 8 times as much to get a new customer than to retain one your already have. 'Nuff said.
  5. The customer is always right.

What this and other sources agree upon is that customer feedback is incredibly rich information. Your employees need to cultivate this feedback and they need to know that upper management encourages listening and reacting based on customer feedback.

Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller effectively wrote the manual on this process in their book, A Complaint Is A Gift. They write about integrating this into your process:

"Treating complaints as feedback from a most valuable asset, customers, helps create a customer-focused culture...Service recovery takes care of customer, makes them whole, and ensures that the organization lives up to its service promise. Customer complaints provide the information to improve the organization's quality" (page 71).

Have you created a business culture where complaints are valued and acted upon? How have you improved your business through feedback from your customers? Please feel free to leave suggestions and lessons learned in the comments section below.

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(Photo courtesy of pj mac via Flickr)

Is Social Media Passing Your Business By?

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Social media - everything from Facebook to Digg to Twitter to Flickr - has been quickly snagging the attention of small business owners and employees of big companies across the world. The business applications for these tools are being explored and many are finding success.

But is this all hype? Are businesses really adopting these tools and, if so, why do they succeed (or fail)?

In this post, I will give you proof that the use of social media in business is expanding rapidly, illustrate what social media offers your customers, and give you some questions so you can determine whether it's the right strategy for your company.

Social Media: What's The Big Deal?

Some businesspeople scoff that social media is a passing fad. Thanks to a recent study from The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, we have proof that it's not. Social media is becoming more familiar - and more applicable to business - to a much wider audience. From the social media in the Inc. 500 study:

"Just over one quarter of the Inc. 500 reported social media was very important to their business/marketing strategy in 2007. That number has increased to 44% just one year later."

So why the sudden and dramatic increase? I contend that businesses figured out where their customers were congregating online and are learning a new way to communicate with current and potential customers.

Go Where Your Fans Are

In David Meerman Scott's e-book, The New Rules of Viral Marketing, he tells a story about a business finding its customers online and communicating directly with them (which also turns out to be cheaper and more efficient).

Cindy Gordan, VP of New Media and Marketing Partnerships with Universal Orlando, was tasked with promoting a new Harry Potter theme park. She told only seven people, but those seven people reached 350 million potential customers through social media.

What I find interesting is Gordan's insistence that she was compelled to use the social media channels and websites where those Harry Potter fans gathered and shared news.

"'If we hadn't gone to the fans first, there could have been a backlash,' Gordan says. She imagined the disappointment dedicated Harry Potter fans might feel if they learned about Universal Orlando's plans in, say, The New York Times rather than an insider fan site."

Customers expect you to meet them where they are. In overwhelming and still increasing numbers, they are online and frequently reading blogs, checking in with friends on MySpace or Facebook, and sharing what they find online with their friends.

Sure, customers are online, but must businesses join them?

Talking The Talk

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know that I'm a big believer that businesses must communicate more personally with their customers (note that communication is a two-way street). They don't want you interrupting them with marketese, but they are willing to have a chat if your product is good and you are polite.

A recent AdWeek article details this shift in conversation and explains who in business can bring about this change.

"Once thought of as an interesting new media channel, social media is increasingly seen as a catalyst for changing how companies operate. It points to a new corporate structure that favors open over closed, dialogue over monologue, and decentralized power over command and control."

Some people think this new way of doing things is bogus. But as General Eric Shinseki said, "If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less."

The AdWeek story gives examples of businesses getting wise to the change though, including Ford, Pepsi, and Intel. The article seems to advocate, as Joseph Jaffe and I have in the past, the idea of a Chief Conversation Officer. It may seem "out there" now, but don't say I didn't warn you.

On The Other Hand...

I am a true believer in social media for business, but take a long look at your business before jumping in headlong. Focus on strategy rather than cool technology. Consider whether you have the infrastructure to support a social media campaign. Re-read posts on this blog for help with this.

Like Seth Godin says, if your business is selling meatballs, don't slop ice cream on top. In other words, not all businesses need a social media campaign. Don't expect to see ball bearing manufacturers on Twitter - their customers aren't there and it doesn't fit their business model or strategy.

It's true that not every company needs to have a Facebook group or share photos over Flickr. But every business needs to be listening. 99% of businesses' customers are online and many of them are talking about your product. You need to be attuned to what they are saying. Not only can it stave off crises, but researching your audience can only improve your actual product.

Your customers are talking about you. Don't let the benefits of social media pass you by.

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PR Fail: 11 Ways AMC Could Have Avoided The Mad Men Twitter Flap

Image stolen and probably fodder for future lawsuit By this time, you've probably heard about the AMC-Mad Men-Twitter flap. If not, check out Jennifer Jones' SpeakMediaBlog for an explanation and update.

Basically, someone started tweeting as Don Draper, the protagonist of Mad Men - a popular show on AMC. He'd say smarmy things and recommend Scotch in the afternoons (ok, the mornings too). Then we noticed Peggy. Then Joan, Pete, and the rest of the gang. They would disperse bits of wisdom mixed with comments riffing from the show.

And for just a second, you felt like you were part of the show. It was a step toward a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) - a concept coined by WMBN founder Rick Liebling from eyecube.

The only trouble was that the corporate overlords at AMC did what corporate overlords always do: over-react and send in the lawyers. The profiles were pulled and the Sterling Cooper Twitter branch offices went dark.

Or Did It?

Within 36 hours, AMC was dancing the mea culpa at beat the band. Accounts were reinstated and things seemed back to normal. The only thing the exercise in stupidity garnered was a load of bad press. The reaction from the blogosphere was loud and angry - but most often, not helpful.

However, here at OnlineMarketerBlog, we believe in positivity. So, to help AMC and the future AMCs (don't laugh - it could be you next time, buddy), I offer 11 ways they could have avoid the bad press, instilled brand loyalty, and maybe even picked up new viewers in the process. Here is what AMC could have done rather than dispatch the lawyers.

  1. Pay the kid. Seriously. He's already doing your job because he loves it. What better person to have on the payroll?
  2. Register similar names and do it yourself. If he's using @Don_Draper, register @DonDraper (oops, too late again!). If you think you can do it better, the do so.
  3. Hook him up with product placement deals. Have Don hock Scotch and have Joan push push-up bras. Then give him a substantial cut. Everybody's happy.
  4. Secure the SterlingCooper URL before you piss him off. The guy was using SterlingCooperAdvertising.com (which re-directs to AMC's site) before all this started, so he's either smart or sending you traffic. If it's the former and he registered the URL, pay him for it before the shouting starts.
  5. Start up tangential Twitter accounts to serve as a social connector. I'd be sure to follow @SterlingCooperBreakRoom just to see what happened.
  6. Use him to foreshadow. Send this guy early information about the next episode so he can build anticipation among your most fervent fans.
  7. Spruce up his Twitter pages. Send him quality designed images so your product looks as good as possible, even if someone outside the company is doing it.
  8. Test out new characters online. Flesh out the voice of potential characters (and build a following) before introducing them on the show.
  9. Send him shwag to give away. Build his cache and your own by delivering Mad Men martini shakers and Mad Men high-gloss shoe polish. Fans would go rabid.
  10. Set up a job board for advertising/PR/marketing folks. Collect ad money and job advertiser fees to keep the site afloat, then use it to cultivate new advertisers for the television show from companies soliciting for jobs.
  11. Hold contests. For instance, hold a "best line from a character" Twitter contest and then feature the winning statement on a future episode. Tons of people send in free content, you get a lot of good will, and you encourage viewers to take on your character's personas. This equals a brand engagement super-win.

There you have it - 11 ways AMC could have avoided all the unpleasantness and bad press, and given fans something to enrich their experience rather than subtract from it. But, you know what, I'd like to pass along a bonus idea for bone-headed companies: Try talking to the person first.

It turns out the guy behind all the of the profiles and tweets would have been happy to turn over the keys and go on his merry way. I know actually picking up the phone and calling is just a crazy idea to many in business-land, but believe me, you can avoid a lot of hassle that way. Oh, and I don't mean a lawyer calling - I mean a real person.

Don't Laugh Yet

Sure, AMC has egg on their face this week, but that will pass. I don't really mean to be so hard on them - I love the show and have no reason to think they will make the same mistake again (otherwise, I wouldn't be giving real suggestions).

However, remember that any company is susceptible to tone-deaf-ness when they don't pay attention (or at least have a new media consultant, cough, cough). Your company could be next. What are you doing to avoid AMC's fate? Are you listening to your customers and congregating where they are? If not, you likely deserve to get blindsided.

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Journalism At The Crossroads - To Evolve Or Not

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Journalism is at a crossroads, with two distinct groups voicing their opinions.

On one side, many journalists don't buy the trend toward social media and have their heads firmly entrenched in the sand. They believe in their readership's loyalty and claim that social media is a passing fad.

One the other side, other journalists have fully embraced the social media tools at their disposal and go so far as to trumpet the death of journalism. They expect newspapers to close up shop; the death knell of print news is a symphony of tweets.

Aren't the two views mutually exclusive? Which one is correct?

Personally, I believe they are both wrong. Some newspapers will outlast social media and some have already been taken down by it. The basic truth is that some people love getting their news from social media like Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed, while others will never replace their tangible newspaper-with-coffee routine.

This post will explain, however, that newspapers and journalists who use social media - in effect integrate these two seemingly opposing ideas - will likely be the long-term winners. There is no doubt that the old ways are changing. Journalists who refuse to accept that should begin cleaning up their resumes.

But major news networks need not shutter the windows quite yet. Embracing this change could be the key to stopping the newspaper industry's slow (and recently not so slow) slide into irrelevance.

An Industry In Turmoil

You don't have to look far for evidence that the newspaper industry is in trouble, and this has been a trend for several years. The New York Times reported that 2006 saw one of the steepest declines in the newspaper industry ever. In 2007, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported a continued 3% decline across the board. This pattern involves not only newspaper sales, but the related topics of ad sales and job cuts.

So where have all the readers gone? You guess it - the internet. The NYT title says it all: "More Readers Trading Newspapers For Web Sites." Or how about "Newspaper Circulation In Steep Slide Across Nation." Get the picture?

A (Social) World Of Solutions

So, in these tough times, what if there was a way for newspapers to:

  • Create a sense of loyalty to a particular magazine
  • Develop brand advocates (word of mouth ambassadors)
  • Provide more relevant news
  • Link into a network of concerned citizens
  • Increase pageviews and (connected to increased traffic) increase revenue

A recent article by Todd Andrlik about The Chicago Tribune's recent forays into the social media space illustrates a newspaper who has done just that. Here's a quick run-down of the results of their efforts:

  • Traffic: Social media efforts are responsible for an 8% increase in pageviews.
  • Market research: "'Essentially, social media gives us a year-round, real-time focus group to monitor conversations and keep us in tune with what consumers are thinking,' said Bill Adee, associate managing editor for innovation and head of the Tribune's social media task force."
  • More relevant content: The Tribune created a special section on the website about Chicago's O'Hare airport directly based on the conversation they heard on Twitter.
  • A network of citizen journalists: The newspaper recently broke a story about a bomb scare at the Daley Building after being tipped off my concerned followers on Twitter.
  • Positive local and national PR: Serving as a example (and occasionally picking up the tab at tweet-ups) has the tangential benefit of blog posts just like this one and hundreds more online.

Flash In The Pan Or Gem Of A Strategy?

Maybe the successful efforts are a momentary success. After all, despite the success found through social media, I'm sure things are still tight over at The Tribune.

And yet, more and more smart people are figuring out that social media enhances the journalistic work they do. For instance, marketer and author Peter Shankman's "Help A Reporter Out" connects journalists with possible sources. Formerly journalists had to pay for such a service, but Shankman does it all for free. He gets notoriety out of the deal and a little advertising, but the more than 20,000 subscribers seem to think it's worthwhile.

Likewise, MyCreativeTeam introduced a wiki list of journalists who use Twitter to connect PR people with journalists and media outlets. The list has grown exponentially since it first began and you can read more about it here.

One can only assume that the hundreds or thousands of journalists using these services are getting something out of them. Staying connected, developing sources, staying in touch with your community readership, providing more value - don't these sound like smart business goals for newspapers and the journalists who run them?

Final Assessment

Frankly, I don't think newspaper will go away entirely. It's difficult to imagine a Norman Rockwell-esque scene in which Father Dearest whips out his blackberry to connect to the Twitter stream rather than reading his paper by the fire.

However, the journalists and newspapers who deny the use of social media - for themselves or their audience - might as well have targets painted on their backs. Your days are numbered.

But, if you take the route of The Chicago Tribune, Shankman's HARO, and MyCreativeTeam's journalist Twitter wiki, you may reap rewards you never expected. Experiment, have fun, but also measure the results again your business goals and reassess accordingly. Journalists should not - heck, cannot - avoid social media. But if they get wise to the tool, it may become one of their greatest assets.

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What Is Twitter? A Beginners Guide

Courtesy of aaardvaark via Flickr You may have heard of Twitter and be a little confused. Early adopters have been playing around with it for a couple of years, but Twitter finally seems to be making it into the mainstream.

This is a brief users guide for those curious about how it works, wondering about its value, and wanting to get the most from the experience.

What Is Twitter?

Twitter is commonly referred to as "micro-blogging." While this is an accurate description, I've found that it confuses some people (non-bloggers especially).

Imagine it is a post-it note. You don't have a lot of space (140 characters) so brevity is required. When you jot something down on your post-it note, it gets stuck to your refrigerator door, much like you might do at home. However, in this scenario, anyone can see the notes posted on your frig. And you can see anyone else's.

How Does It Work?

Like most web 2.0 applications, the best advice is to just try it out. (You can't do it wrong and you won't break it - just give it a whirl.)

You sign up with a name of your choice. After that, find people you know or are interested in following. Twitter can pull from your email contacts to see if your friends and family already have Twitter accounts.

Twitter accounts are identified with an "at" symbol in front. So when discussing your Twitter account, you would say @YourName. Events use a hash mark. For instance, you can search for all Olympic tweets using #080808.

You can view anyone's notes (or "tweets") and anyone can sign up to view yours. Don't worry - you will get an email letting you know every time someone follows you.

And of course, all of this is free.

Avoid These Common Pitfalls

  • No blatant marketing!: Some marketers will try to market their product over Twitter. Let me save you some time: It doesn't work. If all of your tweets are about your wonderful, fantabulous product which I can BUY NOW, I will know you're full of it. People aren't stupid.
  • Needy: At the risk of offending folks, avoid looking needy. If you follow 1,000+ people and only 2 follow you, I'm going to wonder why.
  • Friends before tweets: Play around with Twitter before you go introducing yourself. Sure, follow people you know at first, but focus on actually tweeting. Get a couple dozen tweets up before you attempt to make friends you don't actually know in real life. It gives them a sense of who you are and what you're interested in.

What Are The Positives?

  • It's fun - you instantly have access to very interesting people
  • It's a good PR tool (after you build a community)
  • It's an ultra-specific source of news

What Are The Negatives?

  • It's extremely addictive
  • Sometimes it can verge on minutiae
  • Frequent downtime

Separation Of Church And State

If you get really into Twitter, you may want to opt for multiple accounts. There's no restriction on this - you just need separate email addresses to link to them. This is common for small business owners who want a distinct account for their business as well as their personal accounts.

For instance, my personal tweets are at @DJFrancis but all marketing/advertising/communications tweets can be found at my blogs account, @MarketerBlog. Feel free to follow whichever account best applies to you. (If you are reading this blog, I imagine the latter.)

I find this an easy separation to make and better for my readers. I recommend only setting up multiple accounts once you are comfortable with Twitter. Also, you may want to consider Netvibes or a similar solution to managing your discrete accounts.

Was This Helpful?

Please feel free to comment below if I missed anything. I hope you found this helpful.

If you try Twitter and like it, here are some other suggestions for those in the marketing and social media world: @chrisbrogan, @copyblogger, @jowyang, @jaffejuice, @mitchjoel, @shannonpaul, @jasonfalls, @drewmclellan, @MyCreativeTeam, and @armano.

For more basic information, check out these articles from Newsweek, PC World, and Fortune magazine.

Please consider subscribing to this blog if you want to know more about marketing in a web 2.0 world (free, natch). I offer both email and RSS options. Also, if you like learning about social media, tune in tomorrow when I tackle StumbleUpon and a few of the other social voting/news sites with a special emphasis on marketing and business.

And please feel free to make one of your first tweets a link to this article, but only if you found it useful. Thanks!

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No One Cares, You Are Doing It Wrong, And That Is Awesome

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Marketers are confused these days. The things that have worked for decades aren't working anymore. Can you imagine if you worked for 30 years in your given vocation and then, almost over night, all the rules changed?

In truth, marketing is only now becoming what it truly should have been - a conversation. Less lies, less spin. Marketers have been shoveling marshmallow fluff down the mouths of Americans and telling them it's broccoli. And suddenly, as quick as you can confuse metaphors, we find that the emperor has no clothes.

I admit I've been frustrated with the old-school marketers. "What is with these guys, and why can't they get it together?" But that's not fair. Their whole world has shifted beneath them. I came to a better understanding watching a recent Robert Scoble interview with IBM engineer Mike Moran. (I highly encourage you to check it out: Robert Scoble's interview with Mike Moran. It's only 12 minutes long and well worth your time.)

Moran gives a cogent explanation of why marketers are having such a difficult time in the new web 2.0 environment. Here is a small sample:

"The change that's really happening is you have to learn how to attract people to your message rather than pushing it at them. You have to figure out how you're going to listen when they talk back. And you also have to watch what they do. Those three things are really critical because once you do them, you have to figure out how to respond.

Those three things are really critical because once you do them, you have to figure out how to respond. When I say 'Do it wrong quickly,' it's not you trying to do it wrong, it's that you kind of admit that what you're doing is probably wrong because it usually is. And then you have to look back at the feedback from your target market to see how far off it is so that you know what to do next. And that's really a tough change for a lot of marketers.

That seems really simple, but think of it: a whole industry has changed in a matter of what, less than a decade? That is pretty outstanding. It's going from monologue to dialogue, from lecture to conversation, from directing to caring, from crossed fingers to metrics.

Likewise, David Meerman Scott had this to say a couple of weeks ago at Podcamp Boston 3 on an edition of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast:

You truly have to think differently than you ever have before, if you've been a marketer or PR person throughout your whole career. So many people have an idea of what marketing and public relations is. Marketing is typically advertising and you interrupt people and you coerce them to do something. And PR is you convince a handful of journalists to talk about your stuff.

Everything we're talking about here [at Podcamp Boston 3] is about creating something interesting that doesn't talk about your product and service - no one cares about your product and service - but gets an idea across."

All of this then reminded me of an excellent post by Josh Klein. (You really ought to subscribe to his blog. Seriously.) He was speaking about roughly the same topic, with a special focus on television. And Josh nails it when he talks about how things have changed with the internet.

"The internet wasn’t built for businesses, it was built to share information, first for the military and later for academics. Business has grown out of this original purpose, but it wasn’t the intention...

The web is not a passive medium. It’s built for engagement.

Why do companies insist on putting up brochureware websites, then wonder why nobody is visiting? Who gave them the right to take up valuable cognitive space without providing anything of value? This brings us back to the line that got axed from my presentation.

'Nobody cares about you.'"

Do you see how these three quotes all fit together into a meme? Moran says everything has changed and failure is good. Scott says you must create instead of interrupt. And Klein says this medium is built for engagement and, to engage, you must focus on the desires of the customer (not yourself or your company).

No one cares about your product, you're doing it wrong, and that is awesome.

No wonder this scares the pants off the old-school marketers - I don't blame them! Everything went topsy-turvy all of a sudden. A type of newspeak has become the norm (i.e. sell by not selling, convince by entertaining, fail to succeed).

Researching all of this has made me a little more understanding; it has made the hand-holding necessary in our industry a little more tolerable. I encourage you - whatever your age or experience - to consider the great shift in marketing when you deal with the old-school folks.

Do you think I'm correct or am I totally off base? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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Sometimes Breasts Aren't Enough, Julia Allison

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr I have been trying to figure out why WIRED's cover story on Julia Allison incensed me so much.

You won't find me bashing Paris Hilton or her ilk on this blog. As someone who barely watches TV, her brand of reality-show insta-celebs barely register on my consciousness. However, I do dwell in the PR world, the internet world, the social media world...and when you screw around in that world, I consider you fair game.

I don't normally do hit pieces. I am usually positive about how marketing/PR/advertising can make the world a better place (no small task, believe me). But the Julia Allison story deserves some response on this blog because it illustrates:

1. How not to do PR

2. How not to use web 2.0 social media tools

3. How not to run a magazine

Here's a quick recap of the article: WIRED portrays the piece as a "how-to," giving advice on the art of online self-promotion. It details how a woman in her mid-20s weaseled into the digital pages of Gawker, Valleywag, and (now) WIRED.

On the splash page before the article, WIRED writes, "She can't act. She can't sing. She's not rich...[S]he's an internet celebrity." In case you missed the underlying message, it's that WIRED just gave a cover story to someone devoid of talent. Here is why Julia Allison is a terrible example of self-promotion, a warning of the missteps of public relations, and why WIRED ought to be ashamed.

How NOT to do PR

There an old quote from PR that any news is good news. But this adage rings hollow in the web 2.0 world, where the relationships we create and the trust we build determines who we do business with.

Here's a tip, Ms. Allison: Page views are temporary. People may show up to see what you do next, but a long-term strategy this is not. You see, one of the words in "PR" is "relations."

Take this quote after Julia visited the west coast:

"'We are all in awe,' one blogger wrote, 'and quite honestly left scratching our heads over how someone, in such a short period of time, could make an incredibly controversial impact - with an entire community breathing a sigh of relief at her departure.'" (Emphasis mine.)

Does this sound like relationship building? Sure, it might get you a mention on a blog, but come on. You are making PR professionals look worse and that's tough to do.

There are no "relations" when it's all one-sided. And when I look at her sites and her persona, I can't hear anything over the shouting and it reeks of the self-obsession that turns off the vast majority of people.

And yet, WIRED claims that Julia's talent - using the term broadly - is self-promotion. Well, if that's her gift, all the shouting must be a great way to garner PR. However, via Shannon Paul's Very Official Blog:

"According to [AdWeek's] Brian [Morrissey], the best thing PR people can do is 'Recognize that media organizations are shrinking while PR is growing.' If you’re in PR and that estimate doesn’t strike fear in your heart, well, it should. What that means is that the old, impersonal methods of pitching won’t work anymore."

How does this relate to Julia? There are more people than ever in PR, promoting themselves or others, and the number of venues is decreasing. Julia's response is to shout louder. That will be one of her un-doings.

How NOT to use social media

WIRED claims that "Allison's trick is to think of herself as the subject of a magazine profile, with every blog post or Twitter update adding dimension to her as a character."

Anyone who has every used a blog or Twitter (or any other social media tool) knows that you will fail if you only discuss yourself. No one is endlessly interesting (especially Julia). Her shtick of constant self-promotion gets old really quick and this is the first rule of social media etiquette.

The way to succeed with social media is to give it all away. The people who succeed (I'm talking about people like Chris Brogan, Mitch Joel, Christopher Penn, and Jeremiah Owyang, to name just a few) are popular because they built a community on quality and promote their network.

Julia employs the folly usually reserved for business people decades her senior: using web 2.0 technology in a web 1.0 way. She might be blogging, but where's the conversation? You can't expect to succeed (especially in PR, if that is your chosen field) in this new era by only talking about yourself. Believe me, no one else wants to gaze at your navel.

How NOT to run a magazine

WIRED, we need to talk.

Listen, man, I get it; I'm down. I was a marketing manager for a magazine. I can rap all day with you about the need to sell these things.

But giving your cover story to this chick? Don't get me wrong, I understand the pressure to make newsstand sales. A cover featuring a pretty girl with her breasts hanging out does affect sales. But if your beat is tech, doing that makes it cheap and hurts your street cred.

Have you read the comments to the story? Your readers think this story is a load of stinking garbage. And again, I know August is the toughest month with everyone away on vacation, but come on. Anything else would have attracted more attention while you retained your self respect. (I mean, there was E3, The Dark Knight premiere, Comic-Con...pick your nerd-fest!)

The Gist

If you garner anything from the WIRED cover story or this blog post, it should be that Julia uses PR as a bludgeon, misuses social media tools completely, and, by associating with her, some of the stench wafted over onto WIRED.

Then again, maybe I'm just jealous. Unlike Julia, I'm not "internet famous" and probably won't become so. Instead of gossipy pre-teen fans, I only have a good job, years of experience, and, there was something else... Oh yeah, my dignity.

*

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Make Money Writing A Blog - Guaranteed!

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Please forgive the link-bait title. But I do have a guaranteed way for you to make money from your blog. (Do I sound like a huckster yet? Stay with me.)

Gather 'round, kiddies, because this could change your life. And this secret is free.

The secret to making money through your blog is: Be Amazing.

Surprised? The inconvenient truth of the internet is that it works the same way as the real world. In order to make money, you have to work hard and be good at what you do. The pyramid schemes are bunk and no one gets rich quick.

Believe me? You should. And if you do, I have just freed you from the shackles of mediocrity. Can I hear an AMEN?!

Mitch Joel runs a blog and a weekly podcast, both entitled Six Pixels of Separation. Here's what he says in SPOS #108:

"Everybody wants to know: How do you make money in this stuff [roughly, the online channel]? ...It was really cool to see David [Usher] and Michael McCardy [from EMI] really take a different stance. And they were like, 'You know what, guys? If you create something really amazing, whether its music...or products or services, people are gonna notice. These channels are gonna enable you to spread these messages far and wide. And because they will, you're going to get more sales than you could ever imagine possible.'"

In other words, don't blame the microphone if you have nothing to say. Mitch goes on to explain his reaction:

"And I sort of sat there and smiled and thought okay. ...I really had that moment where I was like, it's true. Everybody who's going into these networks, everybody who's getting online, everybody's trying this next generation of word-of-mouth marketing and is trying to slam it down people's throats...and are complaining 'How come it doesn't work?' don't realize the power in actually creating something that's so compelling that these channels only amplify and push the volume of it out there...It's so simple, right? Be amazing. Be awesome."

The old way of marketing is dead. If you try to do old marketing through new marketing channels, you will fail. Screaming louder than the next guy does not get you noticed anymore - it gets you hoarse (and disliked, frankly).

So I can't make money writing a blog?

Woah, I didn't say that. But there is only one guaranteed way. Whether you sell ad space on your site, use a subscription model, or just want to show expertise so you can be hired as a consultant, you still must be amazing at what you do.

Um, so how do I become amazing?

That's your responsibility. But here's some good news: there is enough room on the internet for everyone. Someone else out there wants to read your thoughts on hentai, Guatemalan coffee, Persian rugs, or religious texts. And they might actually pay for it.

My advice is to get writing and start promoting yourself (hey, reading this blog helps!). If you are awesome, people will find you; if you aren't awesome, you would not want people finding you anyway.

Why write a post like this?

Is it necessary? My short answer is yes, definitely. Why?

I get a dozen followers on my Twitter page every day who only post about their product. Comments show up on my blog touting the next big thing that has nothing to do with the subject of the post. People buy books and read blogs and join affiliate programs every single day in hopes of striking it rich.

It ain't gonna happen. You're no Zuckerberg, baby. (And even he had to work really, really hard.)

Yet, the collective whine from marketers is deafening. "Why didn't social networking solve all my problems?" Because you were never social on your networks. "Why didn't these so-called friends buy my product?" Because you didn't take time to build an actual network (or your product sucks, either way).

The Gist

Be a hedgehog. Figure out what you can be the best at and go be amazing. Then write a blog about it.

Business blogs are usually a cure for insomnia, but you've read all the way to the end of this post. If I can do it, you surely can too. Do what you are good at and love, and there is an audience out there for you. I guarantee it.

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Are You Outsourcing Your Best Asset?

Are you outsourcing the most valuable aspect of your business? Or worse yet, not paying attention to it at all? Technology has been replacing humans at work for many years. And recently the remaining humans in American and elsewhere have been replaced by other humans in areas that pay lower wages. The result has been a significant deemphasis in the value of human capital in business in America.

Here's The Equation

Web 2.0 amplifies the voices of dissatisfied consumers. And yet, most companies have been subtracting the number of humans period (technology) or humans housed at the corporate office (out-sourcing). Finally, another increasing trend is the face-to-face contact consumers expect from companies (ComcastCares, anyone?).

Increase in personal interaction - humans equipped to handle that interaction + web 2.0 vehicles to spread word of dissatisfaction = potential major headache for companies.

The Good News

Some companies, however, understand the increasing importance of the customer experience. H&R Block set up a Second Life avatar to answer tax questions during scheduled meeting times, in addition to their efforts on Twitter and Facebook. They understood that they were required to go to where their customers were, instead of expecting customers to come to them.

This outreach isn't easy though. The Social Media podcast spoke with Paula Drum, VP of Marketing for H&R Block about this outreach:

"The other big surprise is how much time you have to put in from a human capital standpoint. And we knew that going in, that the trade-off between buying media is going to be the human capital side, but really understanding that human capital side of it and thinking about it from [the perspective that] 'if this is successful, how do you scale it to make sure you can still deliver the same experience.'"

What's A Small Business To Do?

If a huge, multi-national corporation in a highly conservative, regulated industry recognizes the use of social media, what is your excuse? If this business behemoth was able to learn and grow along with their customers, why is your small business still wavering?

While I mention the cost in human capital, there are two important factors for my readers who are small business owners:

1. While time is a cost, most of these social media tools are completely free, including blogging, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, etc.

2. Your human capital costs will be much, much smaller than H&R Block. First, the number of customers clamoring for your attention are far less. Second, you aren't hiring an associate marketing director to oversee this.

Teach your smartest high school employee about what you want to get out of the exercise, what your priorities and expectations are, and what they can handle versus what you need to be alerted to. If they are as smart as you think, I would wager they could effectively handle 95% or more of that traffic.

The Gist

Don't outsource the most important part of your business: the human part! I don't know how human capital became so devalued, but I urge you not to make this common mistake. Create advocates of your employees so your brand will be safe and your company will prosper.

Or am I completely wrong? Am I overstating the importance of human capital or is it simply too expensive an investment? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Bonus Note: Examples Of Companies Ignoring The Focus On Customer Service And Human Capital

In recent years with the advent of web 2.0, stories of the effects of this shift have been circulating at an increasingly rapid pace. Just last week, as though any of us needed more evidence of phone companies' problem with their human capitol, Max Kalehoff and Seth Godin wrote ripping criticisms of Sprint and Verizon's customer service failures, respectively.

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media

Social media like Facebook, Flickr, and Delicious has been around for a couple of years now and companies are starting to dip a tentative toe into the water. While such courage should be applauded, serious missteps have occurred that embarrass the offending company.

And it is not the courageous steps that have been embarrassing, but the sheer level of assholery with which companies have partaken their social media experiments. Because social media is all about sharing, collaboration, and communication, it is little surprise that folks expressed outrage at the heavy-handed or downright immoral dealings of the companies outlined below.

In this post, I will list five of the deadly sins as outlined by Joseph Jaffe's speech at the ANA's Integrated Media Conference and then offer two additional sins of my own.

From Joseph Jaffe:

  • Faking (Sprint): The phone company released ads in which the CEO offered an email address, giving the opportunity for communication. Instead, a corporate shill auto-responder emails back.
  • Manipulating (Sony): The maker of the PSP created a fake blog and attempted to manipulate the conversation. They ended up garnering a deserved "golden poop" award.
  • Controlling (T-Mobile): The phone company sent cease and desist letters to a popular blog for using a color they claim to have trademarked. The blogosphere revolted and T-mobile missed a chance to meaningfully engage with its customers.
  • Dominating (Target): A blogger was ignored by the retail giant because they felt she didn't have the clout of traditional media outlets. After the blogger gained more and more attention, Target claimed that their continued silence was based on a lack of adequate staff.
  • Avoiding (Starbucks): The coffee giant already felt a squeeze from its consumer base, but avoided a fan's desire to visit every store was passed on. The only response to the fan was one of suspicion.

In these cases, the sin is not that the company was just stupid (though there's no shortage of that). The sin is that they failed to engage at a pivotal moment with an active community that supported them with their checkbooks. They refused to join the conversation and felt the ramifications.

Here are my two nominations to round out the deadly sins of social media:

  • Greediness (AP): The Associated Press recently pushed for restrictions on the amount of their content bloggers could cite. In the era of Google juice, link love, and a wealth of online information, the AP chose the path of restriction, as though this greediness would result in keeping all of the information under their roof. It took only 24 hours for the back-peddling to begin and it now appears that they will wisely drop the call for restrictions. They had the opportunity to engage their readership, even empower the bloggers and other outlets who were distributing their content free of charge, but they trotted out the lawyers instead.
  • Cowardice (Dunkin' Donuts and Heinz): Dunkin' Donuts pulled a series of ads after political partisans attacked spokeswoman Rachael Ray's scarf for looking like a terrorist's (yes, you read that correctly - a terrorist scarf). Likewise, Heinz pulled an ad deemed by the small-minded to be "unsuitable for children" because the on-running joke throughout the ad ends with two men kissing (cripes, the explanation sounds racier than the actual spot). Instead of giving their customers some credit or engaging in a conversation about the merits of their arguments (or the absurdity of their opponent's), both companies caved. A conversation was passed up in favor of tucking tail and running.

These examples did not emerge from the company's social media outreach per se, but they do speak to elements in a new social media economy. When companies are scared to engage their customers, it is a bad sign. All of these examples - Jaffe's and mine - are based around fear.

I highly encourage you to read more about Joseph Jaffe's speech and read some of the other sources linked to in this article. Is your company scared to talk to its customers? Are you worried about what you might find out? Or do you have more examples of companies living the old way (dictating brand messages from above)? Let us know in the comments section below.

P.S.: I can't end a post about seven deadly sins without a hat tip to Sonia for writing the 10 commandments of social media. That sounds so much more regal! Her first commandment? "Thou Shalt Participate in the Conversation"...

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Pitching To Bloggers Done Wrong

Last week, I gave an example of the correct way to pitch to bloggers. In this post, I will show the wrong way to pitch to bloggers - learn from this person's mistakes and do not repeat them. Bees and Honey

I believe in positive posting - attracting more bees with honey and all that. Anyone can be smarmy and abusive, but if you are going to do a hit piece, I think you need to have a good reason and do your research.

The thing that really grinds my gears is that I laid out a perfect plan for pitching on Thursday. So when I got this email - not 24 hours later - I was shocked at how poorly virtually every element was handled. Click the picture to the right to read the email.

I thought I was clear the first time at the way to successfully pitch bloggers. But I guess some folks can only learn from "Do Not" instructions.

  • No introduction: If she was able to get my email address, she certainly could have gotten my name.
  • Wrong information: My "Clearcast Digital Media blog"? Does she mean "Comcast" or was she referring to these guys? Who knows? But clearly she does not know me.
  • Marketese: If she'd read my white paper, she would have known that marketese is death. But I'm given a full serving in this email, from start to finish.
  • Bad writing: In addition to the marketese, she's inconsistent with her italics, occasionally writes the authors name's in capital letters FOR NO APPARENT REASON, and also capitalizes words haphazardly. Here's a tip: If you are writing to a blogger who writes about writing, know how to write. 'Nuff said.
  • No seduction: What is my incentive to go to the book's website? I'm promised "great free content and commentary" but why would I believe that based on this email? Weak.
  • Zero relationship: In this email, she had the opportunity to create a connection. Relating the book's content to something I had written about would have been perfect. It would have made the email more relevant, explained why she wrote me in the first place, and showed me that she cared about my work. Instead, epic fail.
  • Too general: The authors are supposedly leading experts, but who says so? Their strategies have resulted in $12B in sales, but for whom and how can I make it work for my business? What about: "Conoco Philips made one change based on these strategies and it saved them $156,723 in one quarter." Isn't that more intriguing?

These are bad mistakes to make in any email, much less one where you are writing a marketing/writing blogger. But to receive this one day after I lay out instructions for how to impress me - wow, way to demonstrate that you could not care less.

Learn the Ways of the Force

While I hate picking on this person who may be a well-intentioned junior staffer or intern, there is someone up that food chain who approved this email copy. Shame on them for not explaining the blogosphere to the sender.

I hope these examples help the rest of you to craft considerate, professional emails to bloggers you want to reach. In my mind, it is really not that difficult. But looking over this email, I guess I might be wrong.

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