7 Reasons To Stick With Agency Smarts Rather Than The Wisdom Of Crowds

Baby in bath

I was catching up with my Beancast podcasts yesterday morning at the gym and found episode 71 to be a real gem.

In this podcast, there is a fascinating story about Unilever's brand Peperami forsaking their agency in favor of a crowd-sourcing/consumer-generated content method (found around minute 53 of the podcast).

As this blog is a celebration of new media and consumer control of brands, you might think I'd laud this as a great move. Surprisingly, you'd be dead wrong.

Before I launch into why I think this is a bad decision, let's get a couple of assumptions down:

  • Yes, I work at an agency. But please presume that I am able to take an unbiased view of this story as (I like to think) I do of anything else I write about here.
  • I don't know anything about Peperami's agency, Lowe. They could have been doing a dismal job, but that's immaterial. The issue of this post is whether the wisdom of crowds (hat tip to James Surowiecki) is better than an online marketing agency.

On the Beancast, the guests discuss how Lowe, the agency in question, created the "Animal" campaign for Peperami which was terribly successful. But, once the campaign was up and running, Peperami felt that the agency was no longer necessary.

Crowdsourcing is really cheap while agencies can be expensive. Crowdsourcing is in; traditional advertising/marketing agencies are hurting.

So why in the world is it smarter to stick with an agency rather than outsourcing your marketing needs to the community?

Just like stage-diving, it's sometimes stupid to trust the crowd. Here are 7 reasons to stick with your agency rather than crowdsourcing your marketing.

  1. Repeatability - Your agency gave you the big idea - You've Got Milk, you'll Just Do It, you're Living Strong. What happens when you wake up the morning after that idea has gone stale? Where does the next big idea come from? Who knows the history of your brand? A 15-year-old with Photoshop? Good luck.
  2. Scalability - As in the Peperami example, let's assume a campaign is already established. What happens when it explodes on a global, rather than just national, stage? Are your servers prepared? Can you translate it? How many banner ads can you create per hour? How many consumers can you help? If your agency's ideas are as good as they should be, consider who manages these tasks when they're gone.
  3. Staffing - Speaking of help, who is doing the day to day work after you fire your agency? It isn't the crowd, believe me. Can you hire developers, designers, copywriters, and anyone else you need, all at a moment's notice? Agencies have experts like these ready whenever you need them. You...don't. (Not to mention needing someone managing the brilliant crowdsourcing experiment too.)

    Consider the Ajira Airways site. This airline doesn't exist - it was created solely as an immersive experience for rabid LOST fans, courtesy of ABC (only noticeable in the footer). That unique experience is simply impossible for a guy in his basement to create while aligning this creativity with business objectives.

  4. The Ruse of Savings - Bill Green, Publisher of Make The Logo Bigger, added this insightful comment on the podcast:

    "It's not that they [clients who drop agencies in favor of crowdsourcing] want better ideas. They want cheaper [ideas].

    Creative has always been the lowest priced - when you're doing TV, they're going to make their money on the TV end of it and the production end of it. You can't tell me that they aren't still going to have to go out and get a production house and buy the media. None of those elements are going to discount their price.

    They're not saving anything by doing [crowdsourcing]. I find it ridiculous to say that 'We'll go out and find a couple of kids just out of art school to come up with our ad campaign.'" (minute 104)

  5. Accountability - If you work for a public company, you probably need to clear this decision with someone. At the highest levels, that's the stockholders. Are you prepared to tell them that your marketing budget (though reduced) is now being funneled to a retiree who won your crowdsourcing campaign? Plus, if it goes sour, you just replaced your agency's head on the chopping block with yours. Have fun with that.
  6. Safety - The agency I worked for previously dealt only in online marketing for rare or orphan diseases. The writers and designers on staff had the experience to keep the clients from any trouble with the FDA or other regulatory bodies. The client often didn't realize this. Like a lot of other good pharma-familiar agencies, it was just a value-add. There are companies in many industries that need this kind of guidance from their agencies.
  7. Decency - OK, this is just my opinion, but I certainly would not work for a client who made such an illogical, but hugely impactful, decision. To make a move to a new, better agency I can understand, but thinking you can handle it all requires such hubris that I'd be hesitant to deal with that company. Ever. If other marketing folks are like me, you'd better pray that this crowdsourcing experiment works out.

Maybe Peperami believed the social media pendulum had swung far further than it has. By that, I mean the strength of the consumer in regards to ownership of the brand.

Wise up. From Mitch Joel:

"The idea that the consumer is now not in control is anathema to what most people think. The general drum-beating is that the consumer is in control, not the company. But it's not true." (page 94)

Someone still needs to guide the strategy. Someone needs to come up with the big ideas, the tag lines that seem so easy your mother-in-law could create them (but somehow, she never does). Someone needs to stay up to date with emerging trends, new technology, and the ever-evolving world of media.

Is that you?

If you're in charge of a big brand, or can't do it all no matter your size, perhaps you'd better take another look at your agency. Maybe it's not the right one for you. Great, change up - it happens all the time.

But throwing the agency baby out with the marketing bathwater - that's just crazy talk.

What do you think? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

P.S.: Brian Sheehan has some good comments about collaboration regarding this story.

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Nothing Funny About A Good Online Video Business Model

Courtesy of gapingvoid In their new September issue, Fast Company magazine features a fascinating story about the comedy web video business and how it's almost impossible to make these websites profitable.

They lay out many of the current business models, but I think an addendum is useful. In this post, I will outline a mindset that hurts that industry, what the current business model is and why it doesn't work, a suggestion to ensure profitability, and the business model that can make an online video site profitable.

First, The Mindset

We tend to think about web videos as a "thing." It is a product. It is content.

Forget this mindset. If you're a video producer, web video might be a tangible thing that comes from tangible people sitting around your tangible office. But it's not.

For your audience, web video is an experience. There's no actual product for the viewer - the video elevates the spirits or gives us hope or connects us to others. It has more in common with a trip to Disneyland than it does with buying razor blades.

So stop thinking of a video as a commodity and start thinking of it as an experience you provide for your viewer.

Second, The Model

As the Fast Company article points out, the prevailing business model is advertiser-based. This has been the case for most things in the U.S. for more than half a century.

However, the advertiser business model cannot support web video. Consider it: the marketplace is fragmented, niche sites have the most loyal visitors, online is still new to many advertisers, audience has a decreased appetite for ads, and the content (at least on the comedy sites) is oftentimes...edgy, to put it diplomatically.

Even off-shoots of the advertiser model don't work, such as product placement and sponsored shows. The huge conglomerates that have the money to invest in these small comedy sites only know these sorts of models - give the product away in exchange for some advertiser time.

No matter how many times you throw money at the problem, this business model still doesn't work.

But that doesn't mean web videos will never be profitable. (Misters Murdoch and Branson, please have your assistants print out the following explanation.)

One Suggestion

First, just a suggestion: keep the suits as far away from the video production as possible. Nothing kills comedy like business people.

You want to appeal to college kids? Hire college kids or recent grads to do the show. Fast Company points out the CollegeHumor.com, a site still operated by the creators, plays well with YouTube and still cleans up at the bank.

"The site has attracted advertisers such as Motorola, Fox, and Subaru and reaped $4.2 million in ad revenue during the first quarter of the year. CollegeHumor is profitable - the only profitable major comedy-video site."

You do what you're good at and hire people to do what they're good at. (This applies to most businesses, not just online video, by the way.)

One Solution

OK, you've been waiting for that business model that will work better than advertising, right? This is how major media companies can succeed with online video.

Here it is, step by step, just for you titans of business:

  • Take all the money you would spend on focus groups and market research.
  • Invest this money into your online video business.
  • (Once the site is up, collect the bits of ad revenue and re-invest it.)
  • Use the website to do all the market research you would have done for your other shows.

Web video sites can be profitable when the "product" is not the web video. Websites are the perfect venue for market research. You can find out anything you want - people are dying to share their opinion for free!

Can't decide between jokes for a sitcom? Film them both and let the website audience vote. Feature pilot shows on your website and only air the most popular ones. The money you save from traditional research and focus groups (much less money lost in terrible shows you would have aired), will more than pay for your video website.

Eventually the website might make money and that's fabulous. Until then, use it as a seed bed. Test out new acts, try out new jokes, ask your audience's opinion, and gauge their interests. Web video sites can have immense value if they are viewed as research laboratories instead of content production facilities.

But what do you think? Maybe advertising just isn't being done correctly for these online comedy sites to become profitable? Maybe a subscription model like The Bitterest Pill podcast would work? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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21 Considerations Before Your Business Starts A Social Network

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Social networks are all the rage and many of my posts at OnlineMarketerBlog recommend social tools for businesses. However, there are potential pitfalls to consider before you facilitate interaction between customers and your business.

Here are 21 things your business should consider before starting a social network:

Internal (Your Business Capabilities)

1. Can you invest the necessary resources to run a social network properly? Can you afford the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to properly create and staff this resource?

2. What is the role of marketing, sales, IT, customer service, advertising, HR, etc.? Social networks often delve into all of these departments and more. Make sure all of your teams are engaged, enthused, and prepared.

3. While the potential ROI of a social network is proven, is this the best investment of your time? If you don't have a unique product or your customers aren't enthused (or your product isn't any good), don't look to a social network to solve your problems.

4. What are your expectations - number of members, amount of content, etc - on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis? Create little benchmarks to ensure you do not go far off course.

5. Will your employees have their own voice on the network? Will they use their full names? This transparency can be daunting, but it can also provide high emotional buy-in from employees.

6. Is the correct employee in charge of the social network? This is often not the highest paid or the most experienced. (It's also likely not the intern - this is your brand, after all.)

7. Which came first: customer need, company strategy, or cool technology? If it's anything besides customer need, reconsider everything.

External (The World You Compete In)

8. Are your audience Joiners? You should read Li and Bernoff's book of the same name, but at the very least check out the free Groundswell tool from Forrester. If your audience isn't likely to join any social network, it's highly unlikely they will join your social network.

9. What value does the community offer your customer? Do not think of the social network as a marketing tool - its primary existence is for the good of your customer.

10. Who are your network's competitors? If someone is already offering the service you want to provide, don't spend time trying to re-invent the wheel.

11. What does your network do better than anyone else? Use that strength to separate your network from imitators and provide a quality service to your customers. If you cannot identify that unique quality, consider piggy-backing on someone else's network.

Before The Launch

12. Who approves interaction or content? What is the chain of command? Is your process streamlined to react to breaking news or is it clogged with a bunch of red tape?

13. How will negative comments be handled? Have you prepared a code of conduct for participants? Will constructive criticism be considered honestly and without pride?

14. How does the social network affect the priorities of your business? In other words, is it clear to your employees when they should opt to work on the social network as opposed to their other tasks?

15. How will you promote the network? Will there be a URL on your print advertising? Should customer service mention the website? Use existing channels to promote this new one.

16. What capabilities will members have? Can they speak to each other, create profiles, or upload files? All of these aspects have their complications.

17. Are there different levels of engagement? For instance, could a member of your social network take on an administrative or editorial role? What are possible levels of engagement and how do members move up?

18. What motivation do people have to participate? What is their incentive?

19. Is your network "sticky"? Is there a reason for participants to tell their friends?

After The Launch

20. What will you do with the community once you have it? Will you have the infrastructure set up to benefit from customer insights, free market research, justified criticisms, helpful customers, etc.?

21. How will you gauge success? While the potential ROI of social networks is great, it is rarely as cut-and-dry as most other marketing. Are visitors more important than commenters? How is beneficial engagement quantified?

The Most Important Consideration

I think one of these considerations is more important than every other one and I will write a post on it later this week. Make sure you don't miss it.

What Did I Forget?

Did I forget anything? Feel free to leave other considerations in the comments section below.

Or, am I wrong about anything listed here? Please let us know!

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ROI Of Social Media For Gen Y Audiences (And How To Convince Your Boss)

Generation Y - roughly those aged 13-29 - are among the strongest consumers and influencers. And while social media like Facebook, delicious, and Flickr have garnered media attention, many businesses are still wary of dipping a toe in the social media water.

I argue that we can gauge return on investment (or influence) for Gen Y by looking at their buying power and online behavior and therefore that it is imperative that (most) businesses participate in social media. Plus, I will give you the research to back up these assertions so you can prove it to your boss.

Flashback: Ohio

Growing up in pre-internet Ohio, I spent a good chunk of my allowance and lawn-mowing money on comic books at the local pharmacy. If they were sold out of my usual books, I was SOL until the following month. Scarcity of goods required that I go where they were (and quickly!) or I would miss out.

Fast-Forward: Today

Now, post-internet, these stories sound quaint. Given a bank account, any kid can get any comic book from anywhere in the world. So what does this have to do with social media and Generation Y?: proximity to resources.

Today, consumers expect businesses to come to them. Long gone are the lazy summer bike rides to the pharmacy - today, young people expect to be able to spend their money just about anywhere. And where are they? Online, in general, and on social media, specifically.

Maybe this shift isn't a surprise to you, but let me prove it with research (easily printable for timid bosses or humbugs).

Gen Y By The Numbers

  • Buying Power: "Among 13 to 21 year-olds alone, over $120 billion was spent in 2007...The group's income is predicted to rise through at least 2017, when it will approach $3.5 trillion." (The Harris Poll and Javelin Strategy & Research via eMarketer.)
  • Influence: "71% have influence over parental decisions about cable, DSL or dish-satellite services...62% have influence over which HDTV set and programming package to buy...70% feel their expectations and demands are far greater than their parents' for rich media experiences...and on-the-go broadband access." (Motorola via MarketingVox)
  • Online Consumption: "The group is very comfortable shopping online. One-half of consumers under age 24 made an Internet purchase between April 2007 and February 2008." (Nielsen Online via eMarketer)
  • Social: "One statistic that jumps out is that young men and women are very likely to be Joiners, with around 60% participation in social networks, more than twice the level of participation of average adults." ("Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, Li and Bernoff, pg. 46)

Simply put, Gen Y are very powerful consumers. Plus, they are more social online than any other group. Facebook isn't a fad. You cannot bury you head in the sand and wait for a return to the good, ol' marketing funnel. That model is gone. Long live the new model.

Convincing Your Boss: Relate It To What S/he Knows And Emphasize ROI And Cost

The change is scary for everyone, but come on - this fits into an old-school model your boss will understand. S/he knows to target an audience and speak their language. S/he knows you go to where your consumer hangs out. The key to pitching a social media strategy to an old-school boss is to relate it in an old-school way.

Here's another leg up on your rivals in the company: with a social media strategy, you will have the ROI to prove success rather than just conjecture. Web metrics and communication being what it is online, it's likely that you will have more information than you can handle about your progress than less.

Finally, social media is cheap. Like, dirt cheap. I have worked in print publication and direct mail. That world is slower, less precise, and loads more expensive. Plus, if things change between the writing and the printing, you are stuck with useless package filler. Online is better.

The Gist

In other words, to convince your boss to partake in social media, speak his/her language. You do it with consumers all the time. Turn your methods inward and go for it.

Sidenote: If your boss still reacts negatively to social media, this is a useful sign that your company is not acknowledging the passing of time. Get off that sinking ship quickly!

While I have fond memories of biking to the pharmacy pre-internet, they are not memories so fond that I want to go back to them. I understand that while those times were nice, the times ahead are probably going to be nicer. Hopefully your boss will too.

Have you convinced an old-school boss to partake in social media? Feel free to suggest other tactics in the comments section. And if you like what you just read please consider signing up for email updates below.

Writing Content In A Web 2.0 World

You've heard all the hype about Web 2.0, but what does it all mean? How will it affect your business? How do you communicate with potential readers and customers in this new era?

My free white paper, Writing Content in a Web 2.0 World, answers these questions and:

  • What exactly is Web 2.0?
  • How should your writing style change?
  • How has online interaction changed and what will this mean for the future of business?
  • What is the secret new currency in this market?

Download the white paper here: Writing Content in a Web 2.0 World

(The white paper is in PDF format. Download the latest version from Adobe here.)

And of course, please join the conversation! Leave comments here with your thoughts and suggestions for this or future white papers.

I considered requiring you to subscribe to my enewsletter to download the white paper. After all, if you were interested in this subject, it's a sure bet you will be interested in my other content.

However, I've decided that this requirement does not fit well with my overall strategy or the community environment found in a Web 2.0 world.

Rather, I would just ask that you consider subscribing via email or RSS. Thanks!

How To Be An A-List Blogger - Study, Study, Study (Part 4)

Update: Welcome Stumblers! If you like this article, please show your love via StumbleUpon. Thanks! In this installment of the series, I will cover all of the books, magazine, websites, and podcasts that you need to become an A-List Blogger. These resources will give you the ammo to be the very best in your field. (And if you think this amount of reading, watching, researching, and learning is impossible, visit tomorrow when I will share the secrets of how to carve out at least 10 hours per week to study.)

Marketing has a funny relationship with education, research, and good, ol' fashioned studying. Maybe it's because the communicative aspect of marketing comes naturally to us that we forget there's a lot of hard work that needs to happen, too. In short, you cannot be a good blogger or marketer without studying your craft.

You Can Study Communication?

From David Ogilvy: "This willful refusal to learn the rudiments of the craft is all too common. I cannot think of any other profession which gets by on such a small corpus of knowledge. (page 21)" Sometimes the flashy new tools or the expense accounts or the pursuit of new clients can all distract us from our responsibility to constantly improve our game.

And while the world around is may be shifting from books to blogs, an A-list blogger or marketer perhaps should think in terms of content or research or media, regardless of the medium. Read, watch, and listen to as much as possible, and think critically about whether the message has value.

Help Me Help You Help Me

Of course, I can only speak from my own experience. But I thought it might be helpful to outline the books, blogs, podcasts, and other forms of blogging/marketing research in which I've partaken during the last year.

This isn't meant to come off as boastful. My main goal is to impress upon you the importance of continual professional education, then see you buy or subscribe to these resources and suggest new resources to me.

Books Read

  • On Advertising, David Ogilvy - Great to see how much (and how little) has changed over the years
  • The Long Tail, Chris Anderson - Required reading, but I just got to it this year
  • Join The Conversation, Joseph Jaffe - Again, required reading; may be my favorite book of the year
  • Niche Envy, Joseph Turow - A terrible screed against marketers; if you must read it, do so at the library so he doesn't make any extra cash
  • Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath - Also a contender for favorite book of the year
  • Meatball Sundae, Seth Godin - Not worth the hype, but good for beginners or to brush up
  • Blink, Malcolm Gladwell - Not a lot on marketing per se, but a quick read
  • The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Rarely have I read a book where the author was so omni-present, and rarely have I found that author so pompous
  • Why Beauty Is Truth: A History Of Symmetry, Ian Stewart - Not a lot on marketing, but very interesting for former science fair kids

Websites

Your best bet is to consult the lists in the right column of the blog. Here is a highly subjective list of my favorites:

  • First, check out the bloggers in the Wordpress Marketing Bloggers Network (WMBN) - this is a new group that I am honored to be a part of (above blogroll on right side)
  • Copyblogger - THE copywriting blog
  • Marketing.AllTop - Like RSS for people who don't want to know about RSS
  • Drew's Marketing Minute - Solid marketing advice from the heartland
  • Logic+Emotion - Fellow Chicagoan puts us all to shame at the intersections of marketing, design, and UX
  • QualityWriter - Phil Dunn spreads the good word(s)
  • THINKing - Harry Hoover and team cover marketing, social media, PR, and advertising
  • Web Strategy with Jeremiah Owyang - The prolific Forrester researcher would risk overkill if it weren't all so damn interesting

Magazines

Podcasts

I've listened to more than my share of marketing podcasts and these are the ones I turn to week after week. (Either use the link for more info or search for these names in iTunes.)

  • Jaffe Juice by Joseph Jaffe - Simply the best
  • Managing the Gray by C.C. Chapman - A little spotty - not surprising considering how much content C.C. produces - but still tops
  • Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel - Like a Canadian James Brown, Mitch is the hardest working man in podbusiness
  • Media Driving by Jay Moonah - Another Northerly neighbor who just started podcasting but is doing it all right
  • Marketing Over Coffee by John Wall and Christopher Penn - Despite sounding a little like the 2 Craigs from the Meth Minute (Channel Frederator podcast), these guys are great too (and their website features time segments marking when they discuss certain topics for easier reference)

Tech

No one is allowed to get by without some understanding of the technology out there. Here are some resources this English major finds helpful:

  • WIRED magazine - The best for the layman, the blogger, and the marketer without a doubt
  • This Week in Tech (TWiT) - By far the best tech audio podcast, and funny to boot (be sure to catch an episode when both John C. Dvorak and Jason Calacanis are both on)
  • Video podcasts: GeekBrief.TV, Webb Alert, CNET videos, and Loaded from CNET (select it from the "tech shows" pull-down menu)

Did you read this far? You deserve a cookie.

What resources did I miss for the up-and-coming blogger/marketer? Are there any sources or mediums I neglected? Please leave a comment with your suggestion.

I hope the items I've listed here help you as much as they have helped me. I'm a believer that whenever you stop learnin', you start atrophyin'. Here's to living and learning together!

(Interested in other ways to be an A-list blogger? Try commenting, optimizing for search, and curiosity. And if you like these articles, please use StumbleUpon to recommend them.)

Social Technographics: Forrester And The ROI Of Social Media

Last week, a lot of you read my guest post about the ROI (return on investment) of social media. There is no doubt that social media is changing the ways people interact online and hence, the way companies communicate with their customers. The thing that is still missing is quantifiable data about these interactions. We're in a theory stage - we know what's right because we have experienced it - but we are still waiting for proof in numbers. Forrester Research made a giant step in the right direction when they introduced social technographics.

Social technographics is an analysis of consumers' approach to social media - not just which ones they use, but understanding how they use the medium in their daily life. You can download the full report on Forrester Research's website (there is a fee) or read the book on the same topic published April 21, 2008: Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. (There is also a ton of free goodies at the Groundswell blog.)

I sat in on a webinar last week where Charlene and Josh expounded on their work. Josh summed up the goal of this work: "Think about what you want to accomplish, not the technology." There is so much fascination about what technology can do that marketers often forget the question is what technology can do for you. The webinar came back again and again with the message to use this data to inform a strategy for your clients. (You can find the resulting Q&A published post-webinar here.)

How's It Work?

Charlene and Josh categorize web users into six sections based on the level of their activity, from Creators to Inactives. I have not seen a clear but simple ranking system like this before and I certainly hope it is accepted as an industry standard. The real value, however, comes from their detailed analysis of each category's activity.

I won't go into all of the details of their work, but they go into serious detail about each group. There are some valuable insights to be garnered from their work. But the research does not get lost in either theory or numbers - there are very specific, actionable suggestions.

What's The Catch?

There isn't one as far as I can see. Charlene and Josh set up a system and fill it with data very valuable to marketers. Forrester is one of the top organizations in online research and analytics (if not the very best), so it isn't surprising to see this level of work from them. I do, however, have two small concerns.

  • One nagging concern is the age of the data (all from Q4 2006). While this isn't grievously old, there have been trends in that time that might change the data somewhat (Facebook opening up, Twitter emerging, etc). That said, I understand the huge amount of work that goes into collecting and analyzing this amount of information, so I can't fault Forrester that much (plus, I think the underlying theories are probably unaffected).
  • The second concern is the wording of the questions. For instance, when asked whether they do the following activities at least monthly, respondents were given several choices, including "Use social networking sites" and "Watch peer-generated video." I wonder how responses would have changed if they offered examples like MySpace, Facebook, Eons, and Gather for the first question or YouTube and Google Video for the second one. (I read a report recently that mentioned a large section of people who claimed not to go online because they did not realize they were online when they logged into Hotmail or searched on Google.)

The Gist

As mentioned before, social technographics should be used to build your strategy. "Rather than pursue Social Computing technologies based on fashion, marketers need to think about how they want to engage with their customers and prospects - and create content, features, and functionality that create a path for participation." 'Nuff said.

If you're going to take seriously the new business model in a Web 2.0 world, you owe it to yourself to be equipped with the best research. As far as I can tell, this is it.

On The Juice

My audio comment was featured on yesterday's new episode of Jaffe Juice, the new marketing podcast. I highly encourage you to go to iTunes and download episode #107. You can hear my comment around minute 7, but the whole episode is quite interesting. (Download information found at Jaffe Juice #107.) If you don't have time to download it, I'll explain in this blog post. Jaffe Juice #107 centered around Sarah Robbins' challenge about taking new media (blogs, twitter, del.icio.us, Flickr, Facebook, etc.) out of the marketing "fishbowl" and making it relevant to business, Middle America, and everyone in between. She contends the following three points:

  1. Web 2.0 technologies are the future of human interaction, but that kind of interaction isn’t new.
  2. One way conversations aren’t acceptable.
  3. The ability for customers to reply is a required sign of respect of the people you’re talking to.

So, guys like me are the evangelists for the change to conversational marketing, but what's this mean to Grandma? Are we just preaching to the converted? How do you convince people of the power of these social media technologies who aren’t yet convinced? How do you reach people who don’t know what they’re missing?

My audio comment on Jaffe Juice provided the following two suggestions:

  1. Metrics (for businesses): The Cherry Coke example from Jaffe Juice #105 proved in no uncertain terms that the MySpace effort was successful. And success wasn’t just how many people saw the ad; it was really how many people interacted with the ad and made it their own. When businesses see the ROI – despite whatever skepticism you have about marketing and ROI – they will be convinced.
  2. Personal outreach: This doesn’t have to be overt. My blog has reached what, 100 people who have never read a blog just amongst my friends and family? And although the blog is about online marketing, they frequently find things that relate to their own lives. For instance, in a recent post about marketing to Latinos, a buddy of mine in a totally different field was able to translate what he taught the college students in his class to what I was saying about online marketing. How cool is that?

We succeed when new media is taken out of the “interwebs” and brought into a person's world by someone they know, through content they can relate to, and with a basic understand of how these technologies make their lives better (whether they realize it or not).

I end the audio comment by mentioning that what we may want to do when we're thinking about spreading all the Web 2.0 goodness to everyone else is change our focus. Instead of what I see as a push to produce - you must have a blog, you must use all these cool tools - maybe we should just encourage folks to be good audience members. We should start by teaching them why blogs are important and let them decide how they want new media to play into their lives.

I hope this makes sense. Thanks Joseph for playing my audio comment! I highly encourage the readers of this blog to check out Jaffe Juice in iTunes and on the web. Feel free to comment on your reaction to my suggestions or throw in a few of your own!

How To Be an A-List Blogger - Commenting (Part 1 In a Series)

"How to become an A-list blogger," indeed. I may be going out on a limb with this series because I am not, in fact, an A-list blogger. However, I do contend that you don't need a Ferrari to know how to get to the grocery store. I'm perfectly happy being the Honda Accord of your marketing strategy. I got this idea from mega-blogger/Web 2.0 pioneer Jason Calacanis. If you've never heard of him, you may have heard of his companies. He started Silicon Alley Reporter, co-founded Weblogs.Inc, then became general manager at Netscape (when they were good), joined up with Sequoia Investments, and founded Mahalo.com. Needless to say, I can't hold a candle to this man.

However, while I was at the gym, I was listening to a months-old edition of the CalacanisCast, in which Jason off-handedly offered two simple ways to become an A-list blogger: show up (fairly obvious) and comment on other (respected) blogs. Here's the quote:

"Well I think there’s this hard working component: like showing up every day. And it’s very hard to do that right? So, you have to basically show up every day, that’s the baseline. And then you have to continually improve and you can’t just sort of phone it in, you know? ...

I mean I could tell you exactly how to become a quote-–un-quote A list Blogger. All you do is camp on TechMeme right? Whatever interesting stories come out, go to each of those places and write an intelligent comment on those peoples Blogs. Then every maybe three days write a really intelligent response to whatever the top stories are. If you do that for thirty or sixty days you’ll be in the A-List. It will absolutely happen."

While I don't do this enough, I can verify that this is a good tactic. Surprisingly, this innocent little comment has been my second all-time referrer of traffic with 48 people being driven to my site because of it (I'm currently on page two of the comments).

And I've had good success with the tech crowd, despite not being an expert. This quote is third on my all-time list of referrer (38 people) and this one on Engadget a bit further down on the list with 7 people. Both of these directed people to my search-engine friendly entry, "Steve Jobs Sucks."

The important thing is that Jason's advice works, at least to some extent. Plus, I didn't stop after writing my post. I commented on other blogs drawing people to the entry, I posted it on Facebook, recommended it on StumbleUpon - there are near infinite ways to promote your blog. And often the promotion takes as much or more time as the actual writing (and that's OK).

More Than Just Eyeballs

Commenting has two other results besides traffic generation:

  1. You get read by the other blog's readers who are in your field and interested in your topic
  2. You can make contact with that particular blogger if your post is especially good and continues a conversation

In my short time blogging, I have made contact with Phil Dunn, Avinash Kaushik, Chip Heath, Rob Walker, Joe Pulizzi, and many others. They can subscribe (potentially linking to your future posts), add you to their blogroll, offer advice, provide content, give comments, etc.

It Takes Time, Precious Time

Remember what Jason said about just showing up? That deserves repeating, especially in the context of all this commenting. I generally spend at least 6 hours per week working on this blog (often more). And I might post 3 times per week? The amount of reading, research, commenting, chatting, searching, and writing is mind-blowing. Not impossible, but if you really want an A-list blog, you must put in the time.

Write What You Know

Finally, I would be remiss without adding a final quote from that CalacanisCast.

"I think it’s your ability to create these conversations, I mean some people define it on the number of links you have coming in you’re Technorati ranking. It’s not really the most important thing. I think your ability to put ideas out there and then have people discuss them and ideas that sort of move the needle."

While you're doing all this writing and commenting, don't forget that your ability to generate conversations - writing about stuff people care about - is your most important responsibility as a blogger. But there are a lot of things involved in becoming an A-list blogger. Because there is so much to cover about being an A-list blogger, I've decided to make this a series. Feel free to comment about topics you think I should cover and subscribe so you won't miss further posts on the subject.

eNewsletter Winners and Losers: Threadless vs. The New Republic

In the inaugural eNewsletter battle, I pitted Moosejaw vs. Cool Hunting. Today, I'm placing two more eNewsletters in a Mason jar, screwing on the cap, and shaking it until only one remains. The winner: ThreadlessThreadless 1 small

Threadless is an online t-shirt manufacturer based in meat-space in my new home, sweet Chicago. They also possess an undeniable cool factor and loads of fun-ness. Here are some reasons why you should sign up for their newsletter:

  • Threadless' business model is based on a Web 2.0 mindset. They have a constant open call for t-shirt designs which are then voted on by the community. The top vote-getters are made into shirts and sold online (and a recently opened retail store). Plus, they've thought through the process from the buyer's POV: even if a shirt is sold out, you can vote for it to be re-made and notified when it is.
  • Because new design are always being voted on and shirts made, Threadless boasts a constantly changing inventory. That means the eNewsletter is always fresh and innovative.
  • They offer incentives tThreadless 2 smallo draw the best designers for their business. Winners make money if their design is chosen. This avoids a slew of "Don't tase me, bro!" knock-offs.
  • Simply put, Threadless gives props. The eNewsletter starts (after a helpful index) with that week's winner (image #1), followed quickly with the four new shirts being printed that week (image #2). This puts the best material above the fold, and creates buzz machines of the featured designers. Plus, it further stimulates the community. Everyone loves feeling like they voted for a winner.
  • Threadless uses what they've got. They turn designs into art and advertise it in the eNewsletter. They get corporations and bands to sponsor shirts (i.e. "Iron & Wine <3s Threadless"). They podcast about, you guessed it, t-shirts and cool stuff.
  • Recently, they have been adding local elements. Image #3 shows a recent art show they held in their retail store. This gets (possibly new) groups of buyers in their store, gives a boost to a local artist, and generates oodles of street cred.
  • While they don't feature it in their Threadless 3 smalleNewsletter, they do offer space for regular folks. T-shirt buyers can post photos of themselves wearing the shirt on its order page. Forget models: these people are hot, creative, and the best possible influencers for the brand.
  • The eNewsletter is an accurate reflection of the brand and tells the same story. In the best of worlds, your outbound communication, website, retail store, brand, etc. all has a consistent tone, message, target audience, etc. Threadless lives in the best of worlds.

The loser: The New Republic

The New Republic (TNR) is a centrist-leftist twice-monthly journal of politics and culture. It's not a bad magazine per se, but the eNewsletter is all types of awful. [Full disclosure: I used to work for a competitor/ally magazine.]

  • It doesn't say anything. Most of the content in the eNewsletter is a list of recent blog posts. However, with the all-too-clever titles, it's usually impossible to discern what a particular blog post is about. What other critical information do they provide? The time and date?! Who cares? Let's assume that it would be a wise business practice to increase your writers' fame. Maybe you should list the author's name next to their post. Then, I could follow along day to day and learn who I especially like. Encourage fans; don't make it more difficult for them.TNR small
  • The eNewsletter suffers from premature erudition. In other words, its info comes too soon. Barely have I finished reading yesterday's edition and another is at my doorstep. Relax. If you publish twice per month, don't feel pressured to bang down my door with your email every single day. I don't want to start taking you for granted, baby. (Don't worry, premature erudition happens to a lot of eNewsletters. Honest.)
  • Ads galore! I would love to see how much space is taken up with ads versus content in this email. I count one banner at the top, two banners along the side, and there was another ad at the bottom that I cut. Add in the masthead and there's not much space left for actual content. Imagine a television show where more than half of the running time was taken up by ads. Would you be more or less enticed to watch it? Cripes.
  • This might verge on petty, but my last point is simply to stop trying to be all things to all people. Not many magazines do well with both politics and the arts and you're not The Atlantic. Being center-left just makes everyone annoyed. I'm a big fan of picking one thing and being the number one resource about that thing. No offense TNR, but you just aren't definitive enough for me. (Oh, and that ship logo is bizarre.)

Is there an eNewsletter that you think is due for some praise or derision? Send me an example at ireallylikerobots [at] gmail [dot] com and it might be featured in the next eNewsletter battle.

Super Bowl Ads Fumble

Hey, remember the Super Bowl and all those cool ads? Yeah, me neither. I could have bookmarked the URLs of company's whose ads I enjoyed or told my friends about cool microsites I experienced, but I didn't because the web was largely forgotten in this year's ads. URLs were printed small and almost always at the end of the ad, there was only one example of user generated content, few (if any) microsites to continue the experience after the game, and generally poor use of search. What a waste of $2.7M.

Michael Estrin of iMedia Connection has a good wrap-up and several interviews of note. The question he pursues: where was the web? From Estrin's article: "It was like we went backwards this year," says Sean Cheyney, VP of marketing and business development at AccuQuote. "It's like we're moving back into silos. I was surprised that companies didn't do more integration. The web was an afterthought for most of the ads."

Beyond the 30-second Spot

AOL's Annual Super Bowl Sunday Ad Poll ranked the Bud Light Dalmation-Clydesdale-Rocky ad was America's favorite, yet it did not even have the requisite web address at the end. Here are a few quick ideas of ways you could have capitalized on this success (call me for more - my freelance rates are very reasonable):

  • Contest to name the Dalmatian and Clydesdale
  • Start a rivalry between Bud and Bud Light (represented by the dog and horse) similar to the Bud Bowls of the 90s
  • MySpace page wraps in spots (Dalmatian) and tough-guy horse stuff (Clydesdale)
  • Facebook app that allows you to send a Bud Light to a friend
  • Advertising tie-in with the new Rambo movie (I imagine there's audience cross-over with Rocky)
  • Jab back at the new Miller Lite spot featuring...Dalmatians and Clydesdales
  • Create a site where you integrate this ad with other Bud Light Super Bowl ads (have the dog breathing fire, the horse flying, etc)

Budweiser, what do you pay these marketing guys? Hire me or any 15 year old and you'll get more web marketing bang-for-your-buck.

Failure to Launch

Any marketer worth their snuff - nay, conscious in the last year or two - knows that search is an integral part of any campaign. So, why this MediaWeek report:

"70 percent of Super Bowl advertisers bought some paid search ads on either Google, Yahoo, MSN – up close to 20 percent versus last year. But just 6 percent of advertisers used their 30-second spots to direct viewers to the Web, and the vast majority (93 percent) failed to buy search ads for alternative terms that were related to their ads, such as their spokesperson’s names, slogans or taglines."

MediaWeek is reporting on a Reprise Media scorecard that goes into more detail. I find it amazing that roughly 93 percent (of the 70 percent who bought ads) failed to think of these ads from the user's perspective. Your uncle Jimmy had knocked back a six-pack and was in the grip of a food coma when he saw Naomi Campbell dancing with a bunch of lizards. When he stumbles to the computer, he is not going to search for SoBe Lifewater. He's going to search for "hot model and dancing lizards." Little surprise that SoBe also ranked as a "fumble" on Reprise Media's scorecard.

I Get By With a Little Help From My...Oh, Forget It

Only Doritos had the cojones to use user generated content. Despite it being ranked near the bottom, I thought the ad was okay. Doritos had a nice intro to the commercial, but I would have loved to see it end with the singer crunching into a Dorito. Cheesy, perhaps, but so is the product. My message to Frito-Lay/PepsiCo (who own Doritos): Don't be rash in firing your advertising company. It is better to work with someone willing to take the big risks and use the medium that appeals to your audience. These are the folks with the potential to blow people out of the water.

Also, not a single advertiser drove viewers to their MySpace or Facebook page - there was zero social networking involved. Believe me, this isn't because people aren't using Facebook anymore.

Fox did drive people to www.myspace.com/superbowlads though, which is a nice way of increasing the ads value with a measurable online component. Of course, for $2.7M, I'd be wanting a little something extra too.

No one is complaining about a game of two huge franchises in the largest media markets where one of the teams has the chance to have a perfect season (and finally shut up the '72 Dolphins). But if you're an advertiser and next year pits the Titans versus the Buccaneers (no offense guys, but come on), you might want to start thinking about your other options. Joe over at Junta42 has some great ideas for how to spend all that cash.

Online Life Game Amalgamations - Marketing To Detectives

Have you ever played an ARG? You might have and never known it. And it could be the most addictive thing in marketing in the last few years. ARG stands for "Alternate Reality Game", as written about in the January issue of Wired magazine. Just this past weekend, I stumbled upon one while trying to figure out what the heck the movie Cloverfield was about (after clicking the link, see the "viral tie-ins" section at the bottom).

First, let's get rid of the name. Alternate Reality? This ain't the mid-90s. Besides, it's not even accurate; there is nothing alternate reality about this process. I propose Online-Life-Game Amalgamations: OLGAs. Besides being more accurate (that these products operate online, in real life, and within a game in tandem), from a marketing perspective, doesn't OLGA present a more pleasant image/sound in the mind than ARG?

OLGAs differ from other marketing efforts because rather than trying to breach the consumer's interest through volume (push), they draw people in (pull). As the Wired article states, "That's why [Weisman, the 'creator' of OLGAs] opted for a 'subdural' approach: Instead of shouting the message, hide it." Thus, the consumer becomes a detective. Much like National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, or anything by the immanent Paul Auster (especially The New York Trilogy), the author becomes part of the story, deciphering clues s/he had not realized were in plain sight, and needing to know not just where to look but to look at all. Again, from Wired:

"These narratives unfold in fragments, in all sorts of media...the audience pieces together the story from shards of information. The task is too complicated for any one person, but the Web enables a collective intelligence to emerge to assemble the piece, solve the mysteries, and in the process, tell and retell the story online. The narrative is shaped - and ultimately owned - by the audience in ways that other forms of storytelling cannot match. No longer passive consumers, the players live out the story. [my emphasis]"

You can read the article for background, examples, and a history of OLGAs, but I would like to flesh out three principles in this emerging field.

  1. Definite entry points: All of the OLGAs I have read about have definite entry points, though ideally multiple mediums would be used. The examples of the Nine Inch Nails Year Zero campaign used multiple websites, a message on an answering machine, and flash drives hidden in restrooms at concerts. The multiple mediums almost act as second opinions - they build off of each other and support the legitimacy of each other.
  2. Seamless integration into life: OLGAs derive some of their appeal from the way the games fit into a player's life. After a threshold of suspension of disbelief, these games feel very real. You are not going to a "puzzle" webpage and "playing." You are solving puzzles in real time with other people online.
  3. Less Is More: OLGAs succeed from a marketing standpoint not only because they do not feel like marketing, but because they do not beat their message into the head of the consumer. In this instance, whispering is better than shouting.
  4. OLGAs must be fair and have (some sort of) a conclusion: OLGAs tap into a primal human desire to solve things. From a dissertation on Paul Auster's novels: "As another version of teleological classic art, detective text is obsessed with closure; the end comes not only as a salvation of the reader but at the same time gives reassurance that the reader is not be wandering in a wilderness of ambiguous signs. Everything that happens in a detective story must be placed under the perspective of a final truth."

      OLGAs are not for everyone: both creating and playing. Companies should realize the immense amount of work involved - from scheming it up, to creating content, to placing clues in the real world, to monitoring players' progress. OLGAs burn through a lot of time and money. Likewise, companies should understand that their OLGA may not reach a huge number of people. Gauge response less on the number of people involved and more on their fervor. Remember that the fanboys are the ultimate evangelists.

      Finally, here's an article from MTV detailing some recent OLGAs. The critic confuses OLGAs with stupid publicity stunts, putting them both under the rubric of unconventional marketing. Truly unconventional, yes; but also in a class all of their own.

      Good For Consumers (And Businesses): Social Media Gets A Glimpse Of Measurable ROI

      We recently had one of the worst weeks ever. It included (but certainly wasn't limited to) taking the car in to replace an insanely expensive hose, losing our heat during a Chicago winter, getting sideswiped by a Chicago trolley right after leaving the dealership, and the subsequent arguing with and lying from the trolley driver to the cop about how she was not involved. Needless to say, there were not a lot of bright spots in the week. But when the dealership tried to squeeze another $470 from us for a CV boot, I did a little research. Yelp.com and a few other sites extolled the virtue of the mechanic right down the street. He did the job in a couple of hours for $188. Amazing.

      What does this all have to do with online marketing? Well, I was not surprised when I read this study from comScore. Not only are 1 in 4 internet users consulting reviews before purchasing offline, but they are willing to pay more if the service is ranked as excellent. It seem that after the year of exuberance that was all about Facebook and twitter, business is finally getting around to answering the question of how social media effects ROI.

      If you have been questioning this yourself, you are not alone. I have seen at least 5 webinars in the past week and a half on this question alone: How do we determine our ROI on social media? And there are two distinct undercurrents in this discussion: 1) a low-lying anxiety on the part of marketers regarding keeping up with current trends and 2) trouble convincing an old-school CEO or other higher-up that this is of value to the company. I am a victim of the former and may blog about it in the future, but relief for the latter is beginning to emerge.

      Among the best of the webinars and white papers discussing social media ROI are those from TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony. Anyone who is trying to convince their fellow employees about the value of social media must read their white paper, Making the Case for a Social Media Strategy. (Just so you know, I'm not connected to the company at all - I just really do like their work.)

      They begin by going through an evolution of digital communications and present research on what people are doing online. They then explain how social media is a blurring of communication and content (the two activities people do the most online) and give salient examples of how struggling industries (especially newspapers) are embracing social media and seeing profits skyrocket. Among the quantifiable ROIs:

      • momentum
      • influence
      • prototyping
      • direct conversion of buzz into sales
      • market feedback/testing
      • crowdsourcing
      • recommendations

      And each of those quantifiable ROIs has at least one example from a major, dynamic company. Consider these:

      • Crowdsourcing: "Intuit created a community with discussion boards on their site so customers can help each other with questions...According to Business Week, this community now has over 100,000 members discussing topics across 50 subject areas." CEO Steve Bennett's 2005 annual report letter to shareholders stated, "positive word of mouth creates a durable advantage for Intuit that translates into sustained revenue and profit growth."
      • Recommendations: "Analysis of [Petco's] web traffic revealed that users that [sic] sort the list of products by customer ratings spend 41% more than users who search with other methods like popularity or price... Emails that feature customer review content receive 50% higher clickthrough rates."

      Helpfully, there are also cases where social media hurt companies, but a fair review notes that it was not the tool that caused the problem, but the poor PR skills of the company. Many are not adept at responding quickly, especially to a crisis situation. These examples serve as a good warning to be prepared for what you are about to take on.

      In the end, social media is just a tool. But this study and others can give you the quick-and-dirty version (with stats) to help convince your more traditional bosses. It's a scary new world but at least we're all in it together.

      Facebook grows up

      It's rough being an internet superstar. For one, no one leaves you alone. If you're swamped in all of the Facebook-centric news of late, this round-up should help: First, every cool new kid has to deal with the most popular kid in school:

      Facebook opens back end to user-developed apps; MySpace responds “Us too!” (Except Facebook apps can sell crap.) Psychographic Ads on Facebook; MySpace responds “Us too!”

      Then the snarkiness ensues:

      MySpace owner Murdoch says Facebook not worth $15B. Experts say Facebook might be worth $10B, but also worry Web 2.0 sky might be falling. More experts resort to questioning whether there is enough space on the web to handle both Facebook and MySpace, despite years of already doing so.

      The cool new kid starts to notice girls:

      Facebook wants to grow up, become LinkedIn, wins popularity contest, declares independence.

      Finally, the girls start to notice the cool new kid:

      Microsoft, playing coy, pleads non-interest in Facebook. But, of course, they are and the two fall in lurve.

      And that, dear friends, is how a company slated to do $150 MILLION dollars of revenue in 2007 ends up being valued at $15 BILLION dollars. Incredible.

      Can the Pros Fall in Love with Amateurs?

      There's an interesting article by NYT magazine writer Rob Walker in this month's Fast Company. Rob makes some good points and it's about time someone took the shine off user-generated content (UGC). However, there are a few points that should mentioned. First, by their very nature, ad agencies are going to be less risky than amateurs. They have to be - they're getting paid to do this stuff while an amateur can do any damn thing they want. Risk is a predicament: sure, most of what these amateurs produce is junk, but the gems are real winners. Agencies can be stalled by message loyalty and an idea echo-chamber; amateurs aren't. (Of course, agencies are the ones actually getting ads on TV/online, but I'm speaking specifically of quality ideas that will provide good ROI.)

      Second, let's face it: user-generated content is inevitable. People are gonna create stuff online, period. By embracing UGC, brands maintain some editing or selection power. Check out the great example from Heinz ketchup. Among the benefits of this program:

      • Sincerely viral effect
      • Consumers engaged with brand
      • Ad made on the cheap (allowing for cost of website development, maintenance, and prize money)
      • Stories the company can use for years to come (read the story about the guy who carried Heinz through World War II Europe and tell me as a marketer you don't start to salivate - quotes from and about this story here)

      Plus, Heinz was left with a small army of citizen marketers throughout the voting process. For weeks, amateur video producers begged their friends to view their video and vote for them online. Wonderful stuff.

      Finally, Rob makes advertising sound like a zero-sum game where it's either the product or the producer that is being promoted:

      And why should this surprise us? Of course we're tired of listening to Mr. Advertiser. But when we get the chance to speak, it's not going to be about brands. It's going to be about us.

      Why can't it be both? In my mind, the popularity of both grow exponentially. In Rob's article, the Diet-Coke-and-Mentos guys were mentioned, but duh, so were Diet Coke and Mentos! Cutting off one's nose to spite the face of the amateur producer isn't worth the time or the effort. As a marketing manager, decide if what your product is getting out of the deal is worth it and, if so, go for it with gusto. Why take away something from the amateur ad producer when it can help your product?