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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The Best Way To Kill Your Email List In 2009

Tough economic times increase the pressure on marketers to hit their goals for open rate, click throughs, conversions, and new email subscriber acquisition. Some marketers believe renting email lists is a way to reach these goals.

MarketingSherpa reports in their new 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide that 29% of B2B marketers plan to increase spending on third-party list rentals (compared to 23% planning cuts). In this free excerpt of the report, their experts weigh in on this development:

"Pressure to meet numbers has always been a problem for email. It forces marketers to send too many emails to too many list members - the 'batch and blast' mentality that has eroded the trust of consumers and business[people] over the last 10 years...and that's not necessarily good for the long-term health of the medium."

(If you are interested in this report, you can get more information at the end of this post.*)

And yet, later in the excerpt, they report that 66% of consumers would be much more or somewhat more likely to subscribe to an email list if the company guaranteed not to share their information with other companies.

So, in this next year, we can expect to see businesses engage in an activity that decreases customer trust and engagement with that very business. A lot of marketers could kill their email list in 2009.

List Rental's Influence On Relevance

Let me be clear: companies who use rented lists are inherently and unquestionably going to deliver content that is less relevant than what the subscriber signed up for. Period.

Lowered relevance equals lowered trust. The customer will trust both companies less - after all, one sold her information and the other delivered spam. Unless she agreed to receive third-party emails (and a default checked box does not mean agreement), she will likely unsubscribe and refrain from doing business with either company.

Lack of relevance is one of most complained about email marketing practices. From a recent eMarketer article: "'There is a substantial gap between what marketers believe is relevant to the consumer, and what the consumers rate as valuable,' said Lori Connolly, director of research at Merkle."

List rental is the toxic waste of online customer relations. It poisons everything it touches.

Marketing In A Recession

A recent Merkle study, as reported in that same eMarketer article, said that about one-third of respondents said "they had stopped doing business with at least one company as a result of poor email marketing practices." That's almost the same percentage of B2B marketers who expect to increase their spam through list rental in 2009.

List rentals equal decreased relevance. Decreased relevance equals decreased trust. Decreased trust during an economic slowdown equals a serious threat to your business.

Loren McDonald from MediaPost's Email Insider explains:

"Consumers with a growing concern about the future of the economy and their own pocketbooks with increasingly choose to do business with companies they trust and may be less likely to risk their personal data and inbox space on unknown entities or those for whom trust is questionable."

You can't afford to kill your email list during this economic downturn. But building your own list, building trust, and staying relevant can avert this disaster.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Or do you have a list rental horror story to share? Feel free to use the comments section below.

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(*The Email Benchmark Guides are one of my favorite resources. It's a little pricey, but if you put the knowledge therein to use, you will likely save much more in the long run. Here's a link if you want to purchase the new version: MarketingSherpa's 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide.

Yes, I'm an affiliate, but I was singing their praises long before I signed up and I wouldn't be an affiliate if I didn't believe in their work. Plus, as an affiliate, I can occasionally get you discounts on their reports - yet another reason to subscribe.)

Book Review: Secrets Of Social Media Marketing by Paul Gillin

I read a lot for this blog and I try to pass along the books that I especially recommend. Some are simply must-reads if you're on the cutting edge of marketing and social media.

But it's rare that I quote a book more than a handful of times. If you read about a particular book on this blog more than a couple times, it means that it's a true resource for me - something I go back to again and again for guidance and ideas.

Sometimes these books are heavy on research and statistics (like Groundswell). Sometimes they provide a philosophical direction that keeps me on the correct path (like Join the Conversation).

It is rare, however, that a book is so chock-full of information that I know it will be a resource before I've even completed it. I'm only half-way through Paul Gillin's Secrets of Social Media Marketing and I already know you must buy it.

90% And 10%

Gillin begins the book by introducing the intended audience:

"This book isn't intended for the 10 percent of marketers who are on the leading edge of this phenomenon. It's for the 90 percent who are still trying to figure out how to start."

Since I consider this blog aimed at that audience as well, I commend Gillin's efforts. However, I also respectfully disagree. As a member of that 10 percent, I know that it's useful to other 10 percenters, not just the 90 percent trying to figure it out.

For instance, his outline of search engine capabilities was largely new to me (page 44) and I haven't heard of many of the examples he mentions, including the Twitter Baja 1000-Jim Beam promotion (page 116). Even the most prominent blogger, marketers, and social media enthusiasts will gain something by reading this book.

That said, it's also great for the 90 percent who are trying to figure it all out. They will benefit from other's successes and missteps. Gillin does a great job of walking the reader through a social media marketing campaign from idea to strategy to execution to measurement.

Examples And Research

In my opinion, the two most useful aspects of this book are the examples and the research. Gillin isn't simply spouting off his theories - he is backing them up with real-world intelligence.

Like Made To Stick, this book supports it's premises and ideas with concrete examples and research. The section on CEO blogs featured several business leaders with positives and negatives about their experience. Likewise, his section on customer conversations was supported by influential authors and the facts and figures that inspire trust in his work.

The Gist

I highly recommend that you buy Secrets of Social Media Marketing. (It ships on November 1, but you can pre-order it on Amazon with that link at a third off the cover price.) I think it is a great resource for marketers, small business owners, or anyone who touches social media - and that's most of us.

Regular readers know I will rip into a book I think stinks. But I've been really impressed with Gillin's work and this book, in particular. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below.

P.S.: Gillin did something smart by creating a website well before the book is released: http://SSMMbook.com/. Check it out if you want to know more about his work, read other reviews, and get all of the footnotes in one convenient place.

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I'm F*cking Sick Of The "ROI Of Web 2.0" Debate

I have a confession: I am f*cking sick of the "What's the ROI of web 2.0 or social media" debate.

Not that I don't think we shouldn't talk about it - we should - but I'm sick of convincing everyone that there is one at all. If done correctly, you will see a return on investment. We can debate what the metrics should be, but you will succeed if you are open, honest, and provide something of value.

So can we stop talking about the ROI of web 2.0 tools as though it were an ephemeral mist?

I see a track-record of failure for the naysayers - those who prefer to sit on the sidelines while others take chances (and get the rewards). Here are a few examples from the naysayers:

  • They didn't understand the value of blogging platforms. "Who cares about all the navel-gazers?" That was until Jason Calacanis sold Weblogs Inc. to AOL for $25M in 2005.
  • They didn't understand the value of e-commerce. "No one's going to give up their credit card information online!" These naysayers didn't have much to say about Amazon.com's $476M net income in 2007 though (source: Wikipedia).
  • They didn't understand the value of podcasting. "How does that relate to business?" I don't think Gary Vaynerchuk worried about that though. He created WineLibraryTV.com and increased his business 10 fold to the tune of $45M per year.
  • They didn't understand the value of online word of mouth. "The 30-second spot is still king!" I can imagine their surprise when the marketing team at Warner Brothers told 7 rabid Harry Potter fans/bloggers about their new theme park. The result was 350M people hearing the news, all without out-bound media relations, marketing stunts, or expensive advertising (Source: The New Rules of Viral Marketing by David Meerman Scott).
  • They didn't understand the value of social networks. "Friendster never did me any good." Then in September of 2007, Microsoft valued Facebook at $15B. With more than 50 million users and 200K joining every day, this doesn't look like a fad.
  • They didn't understand the value of Second Life or other virtual worlds. "It's just a bunch of weirdos with time to kill." But engagement speaks for itself. The Weather Channel recently developed SL attractions that engage users for an average of 30 minutes per visit. Drew Stein, CEO of Involve 3D, builders of The Weather Channel's virtual experience, had this to say: "It's not like a commercial, where maybe they watched and maybe they didn't. You're talking about a user actually paying attention, and you can time it. That's hard to replicate in any other medium" (Source: Fast Company).

So seriously, can we stop debating whether social media and web 2.0 tools have an ROI?

The question for your company is not if they have a return on investment, but how you can get that return on investment. That's the challenge for your marketing team. And if they start whining about how unnecessary or unworthy web 2.0 is, prepare to join the other nay-sayers in the gutter of business.

I'm not the only one frustrated by the debate. Geoff Livingston explains why we keep going through it:

Often, companies want to know what they will get for $xxx,000 of social media engagement. What’s the ROI?!?!? And we play the game because we have to justify corporate expenditures in this era. But somewhere the soul of social media gets lost in these discussions.

From what I gather though, the audience of this blog is fairly split between marketers who get it and marketing folks and small business owners who want to get it. Today's post is venting with the first group. In my next post, however, I will address the second group.

If you're in the second group, you feel the wave approaching. You know social media tools are a big thing but you're not quite sure how they apply to your business and how you sell it up the corporate food chain. That's fine - welcome to the discussion and good for you for having the cajones to figure it out.

My next post will give you some ideas about how to think of social media in the context of your business and provide enough web 2.0 ROI for you to sell the idea to your boss. One good way not to miss it is to subscribe.

Update: That next post I mentioned can be viewed on ReadWriteWeb: 5 Ways To Sell Social Media To Your Boss.

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Google, Social Networks, And The Future Of Search

Would advertisers pay more to reach you rather than your mother? How much are your clicks worth?

These are the questions posed by Heather Green in a recent BusinessWeek article: Making Social Networks Profitable. Green lays out intriguing possible scenarios in which Google could redefine advertising through social networks like Facebook and MySpace.

It represents either trivial speculation or one of the more profound changes in modern advertising and PR.

I've developed one theory about Google's possible plans. It seems to make sense given Google's track record and recent trends. But really, I'd love to hear from you - whether you think this theory is guaranteed to come to fruition, completely bunk, or just so-so.

But first, let's examine influence ranking and then go through how Google could use this to revolutionize search and social networks.

The Problem of Influence

Google has a patent pending on technology for ranking the most influential people on social networking sites. Take a moment for the implication of this to sink in.

While intriguing, this prospect and Green's article start with some questionable assumptions. For instance, what is influence?

Two ideas are particularly tenuous. "Well-connected chums make you particularly influential. The tracking system also would follow how frequently people post things on each other's sites." However, we all know from personal experience that just because a person is vocal and has a lot of friends on MySpace does not mean they are influential. Quantity of friends and frequency of interactions are not specifically markers of influence.

Her third and final idea of influence - that of getting your friends to click on articles or videos you send - may be worthwhile. Unlike quantity or frequency of social networking activity, your friends' clicks do indicate their trust. However, as an advertiser, I would be less interested in clicks and more in the resulting purchases. It's an incomplete metric at least.

(Just before I was about to hit "publish" on this piece, I saw Joe Marchese's excellent piece critiquing Green's take on influence and the use of measuring it at all: Google To Decode Social Networks. It's a must-read if you're interested in influence ranking - especially the last paragraph.)

What's The Use?

Green hypothesizes that Google could identify the most influential members of groups and both sharpen and expand advertiser's targeting. She believes they will better target with the same old display ads they've been using.

I respectfully disagree.

The hypothesis of sharpened and expanded targeting is hardly a departure from Google's current practice. Sure, social networkers tolerate banner ads now, but this makes the ads more invasive and especially abuses the most influential ("[Nike] could work with Google to plop an interactive free-throw game on the profile pages of the community influencers").

This course of action would set off twin firestorms from privacy advocates and those concerned about social networking monetization (they aren't getting paid by Nike, after all). Plus, it's not really an advancement. Google tends to make bold leaps, not timid advances into an area they already dominate.

Maybe there are other ways Google can use social network information.

Google Today

So how could Google use a patent that ranks influential people (assuming they can) on social networking sites?

I started sketching out at a very basic level what Google does. This is what I came up with. Primarily, Google organizes and prioritizes information on websites and display ads.

  • Google parses information about websites:

User provides search terms + Google provides search algorithm = SERP

  • Google parses information about search terms:

User provides search terms + Google provides ad serving mechanism = AdWords

Google Tomorrow

This is how the system currently works. But if the next step moves forward as Green describes, the user will tacitly provide social networking profile information rather than a search term. So the equation becomes:

User provides social networking profile info + ? = ?

What would Google provide and what do they hope to achieve?

Well, it seems likely that they will provide some tool to sort data - in this case to determine an influence ranking. If Green is correct about their patent filing, the equation becomes:

User provides social networking profile info + Google provides influence ranking/search algorithm = ?

And what could they serve up? I think it's going to be experiences.

User provides social networking profile info + Google provides influence ranking/search algorithm = Real-life experiences

Experiences?

Right now, Google dominates the web. They have the most robust search and ad serving capabilities. Since 99% of their revenue is derived from advertising, where can they go but into the real world? How else can they provide something worthwhile for their advertising partners?

Imagine this:

I'm walking in my neighborhood, chatting on my new Gphone. At the same time, Mastercard is sponsoring a concert featuring my favorite band just a few blocks over. All of a sudden, I get an ad on my phone with information about the concert and a digital coupon if I can bring along two more friends. I use Google to locate a couple of my friends in the area and we head to the show.

In this scenario:

  • I win: I get to see my favorite band and get a cheaper ticket to the show.
  • Mastercard wins: By delivering uber-targeted messages, they get more brand exposure (along with the residual effect of pleasing the influentials). Plus, they don't get charged for ad impressions that don't result in a ticket purchase.
  • Google wins: They rake in the money for all of the ads served.

This advertising scenario takes the best of what Google does (parse and deliver information) with what advertisers want (targeted messages and accountability) resulting in a very pleased customer.

Influentials could be rewarded by the discounted tickets I described or a number of other ways. Perhaps initial messages go out to them a week ahead of time to build buzz. Maybe their ad reception radius is larger.

Think of all the information contained in a social networking profile. You've got location (ad: the store you just passed is having a sale!), alma mater (ad: another Stanford alum is sitting at the bar!), favorite books (ad: Borders is having a Nabokov sale!), and much, much more.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems possible, if not likely, that Google would take a giant leap to extend their reach. What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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(Photo courtesy of ricki888c via Flickr)

Finding Your Passion And Preparing For Success

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr I recently wrote about the necessity of passion in your blog writing, and got some really positive feedback. It's been great to hear about what you are passionate about.

There are no value judgments when it comes to your passion. A lot of folks consider it strange that I get so excited about online marketing tools and how businesses can act more human. But, that's what I love!

Maybe your focus is model trains or investment theory or green civil engineering - it doesn't matter what it is as long as you are passionate about the topic and want to share that excitement.

But how do you get to that point? What if you haven't identified your passion?

In this post, I will explain some of the tactics I found helpful when I was struggling with these questions. After all, before you can start sharing your expertise, you've got to figure out exactly what your passion is and equip yourself with skills to facilitate sharing it.

How Do You Find Your Passion?

It's easy to talk about ways to share your passion if you've already identified it. But how do you figure that out in the first place?

Here's a secret about your hidden passion: it's likely that you are already doing it. But, a lot of folks discount aspects of their lives. For a long time I didn't realize that my curiosity about the online channel or my belief in social media marketing tools was anything special.

Here are some ways I identified my passion. See if they work for you:

  • First and Last: What do you think about the instant you wake up and right before you drift off to sleep? Real priorities tend to emerge before all the stresses of the day begin and after they are resolved. Your mental guard is down when you're in bed - what aspirations come to mind then?
  • Voice Volume: When you are out with friend, what subjects do you discuss in the loudest tones? An increase in your volume indicates excitement - an important element of passion.
  • Passion's Office: What comes to mind while you're in the shower? For me, lot of these drifting thoughts identified integral aspects of my passion. When I found myself thinking about online marketing in the shower every day, I knew I'd hit upon something.
  • The Millionaire Exercise: How would you fill your days if you had all the money in the world? This is an old goal-identifying exercise, but it does work. I'm one of the lucky fellows who would be doing exactly what I do now, even if I had no money concerns.

It's no surprise that finding a subject you care about is Kurt Vonnegut's #1 tip on how to write with style. Consider this advice from a prolific and endlessly creative author:

"Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style."

Use these suggestions to determine your passion. Be sure to comment below with other suggestions that have helped you in this process.

Preparing For Success

Passion isn't enough. It's tough to accept, but it's true. No one will ever care about your passion if you can't communicate its importance.

Once you've identified your passion and committed to sharing it, there are universal things that will facilitate your success. Here are three that worked for me from both a practical and emotional standpoint (and believe me, I continue to work on these every day):

Practical:

  1. Read Critically: Consider everything you read in a deliberate and critical manner. (Bonus tip: Only read quality materials. If you put garbage in, then garbage will come out.)
  2. Think Logically: Prepare for inevitable challenges with this mental discipline.
  3. Write persuasively: Figure out your passion, share it, but the next element is getting others passionate about it as well. Consider arguments that run counter to your beliefs and practice rebuttals in your writing.

Emotional:

  1. Become Curious: An insatiable appetite for information about your topic will fuel your work. Curiosity has the added benefit of keeping your mind open, as well.
  2. Develop Empathy: The only way to convince others of your passion is to understand their perspective. Genuine caring is a big step in that direction.
  3. Accept Love: Whether you chose to write a blog or use another method to share your passion, it's going to be a lot of work. You must be willing to accept praise - it will get you through the difficult times when you aren't feeling as passionate.

I hope this two-part series has been helpful. I will get back to the usual marketing and social media business blogging now, but I hoped it would be useful to share how I do what I do. The goal is that it will help you find your life's passion and then share it with the world.

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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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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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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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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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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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Around The Horn: Wordpress Marketing Bloggers Network (WMBN)

You will notice a new list in the right column entitled "Wordpress Marketing Bloggers Network." Founded by Rick from eyecube a few weeks ago, the WMBN provides a round-up of the best...well, I think you can figure it out. OnlineMarketerBlog is honored to be among such company. As a means of introduction, I would like to point out a few of the more exceptional posts in recent days:

I hope you enjoy these recent works from the WMBN. We are going to be expanding and strengthening our combined coverage, so watch for great things in the weeks to come.

As always, you can find the complete list of WMBN blogs in the right-hand column.

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.)

4 Reasons Not To Rely On Market Research Alone

I was freezing my tush off a couple of weeks ago at Wrigley Field and inquired to my good friend why he had made the unlikely (in my mind, at least) switch from marketing to insurance. It seemed to me that he was turned off by the manipulative and predictive nature of old-school marketing - as though statistics and market research would tell exactly how someone would behave. Then, just yesterday, I read both David Oglivy's chapter "18 Miracles of Research" in On Advertising and Hank Williams' post Who Needs Market Research. The stars seem aligned to answer a few questions about market research, including: Why can I not rely solely on market research and how can the online channel help?David Ogilvy

Sure, research is helpful to some extent. As Ogilvy said, "Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals. (pg. 158)" But you are making a severe mistake if you expect focus groups, polls, and testing to divine your strategy like a Magic 8-ball.

Market research (especially customer-focused research) must be taken with a sizable grain of proverbial salt. Here are four reasons why:

1. While I think there is some use of market research, I agree with Hank Williams' hypothesis that content and experience are much more important. People cannot articulate an experience they've never had. Focus on producing good content and a good experience - not whether people claim that they understand how they think they will respond to a hypothetical situation. And even if you have the product or advertisement, do you really think people will respond the same way to it during a focus group at the mall as they would in their own homes?

2. Often times, people can't articulate their feelings about a product at all. Malcolm Gladwell has a few intriguing examples in Blink. From Gladwell: "It [the Aeron chair] looked different. There was nothing familiar about it. Maybe the word 'ugly' was just a proxy for 'different' " [said Bill Dowell, research lead on the Aeron]. The problem with market research is that often it is simply too blunt an instrument to pick up this distinction between the bad and the merely different. (pg. 174)"Malcolm Gladwell

Not only can someone not tell you about an experience they have had, they often can't articulate one they have had. (Think about all the stories of witnesses picking the wrong suspect in a line-up.)

3. Market research produces a false sense of certainty. Many businesspeople are cowards (admit it, you've seen them). They want to keep their job rather than do their job, so they spend all day making sure they don't get in trouble (read: take risks).

Listen up, college students: Marketing does not bode well for the risk-adverse. And market research is often the tool of the risk adverse. It excuses the peon's work to the manager, the manager's decisions to the VP, and the VP's guidance to the President.

Gladwell goes on, this time using television shows as an example.

"Viewer didn't actually hate [All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show]. They were just shocked by them. And all the ballyhooed techniques used by the armies of marketer researchers at CBS utterly failed to distinguish between these two very different emotions.

But testing products or ideas that are truly revolutionary is another matter, and the most successful companies are those that understand that in those cases, the first impressions of their consumers need interpretation. We like market research because it provides certainty - a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number. But the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty. (pg. 175 - my emphasis)"

4. People knowingly or unknowingly lie or give the answer they think they ought to. It's an unpleasant truth. Spend any time in politics and you will become a believer too.

From Ogilvy: "Respondents do not always tell the truth to interviewers. I used to start my questionnaires by asking, 'Which would you rather hear on the radio tonight - Jack Benny or a Shakespeare play?' If the respondent said Shakespeare, I knew he was a liar and broke off the interview. (pg. 164)"

In addition to saying what they think you want to hear (as in Ogilvy's example), remember that many people even today carry deep biases. Watch the exit polls after this year's Presidential campaign. I guarantee the exit poll results will be significantly different from the actual voting in favor of McCain. While people want to say they will vote for a woman or an African-American, things change when they're alone in the booth. The same behavior applies to products and advertisements

Why The Online Channel Improves This Process:

People experience websites and the metrics (time on page, pageviews, clicks, bounce rate, etc) prove their interests. You can be certain of this because metrics don't lie.

Despite all this, we have spent decades believing in and promoting the old way of market research. It was to be expected - we had nothing else to go on.

Now, however, web analytics free us from market research. Instead of asking "What would you do in this situation," we can actually measure behavior, with certainty, in real time.

There is no reason to run a focus group at the mall or pay for phone interviews. Almost every demographic is well represented online. The results are more accurate and it costs far less. Why would you do it the old way?

If your company still partakes in these practices, re-read #3. Someone there needs to be assuaged and reassured. They are so uncertain of the product or ad that they cling to something tangible: people gathered, surveys marked in pencil, spreadsheets checked and cross-checked.

Sure, sometimes it is a useful exercise to do the old customer-focused market research. It can sometimes serve a purpose - whether in extracting customer opinion or forcing businesspeople to solidify their positions. But market research ought not be a manipulative tool. You cannot neither predict the future nor truly influence behavior with just market research. My friend from Wrigley understood the distastefulness of this.

Build a relationship with your customer. Listen. Engage them. Foster trust. Develop these skills instead and you'll hit it out of the park time.

Ogilvy vs. Godin: Is The Big Idea In Advertising Dead?

Is the concept of the Big Idea dead in advertising? How much has the internet and Web 2.0 specifically altered the fundamentals of the industry? In his 1983 book, On Advertising, master David Ogilvy held forth on the central tenet to sell products:

"You can do homework from now until doomsday, but you will never win fame and fortune unless you also invent big ideas. It takes a big idea to attract the attention of consumers and get them to buy your product...Research can't help you much, because it cannot predict the cumulative value of an idea, and no idea is big unless it will work for thirty years" (emphasis by the author, page 16).

And yet, almost the very same day as I read this from Ogilvy, I find myself almost stunned off the treadmill as new master Seth Godin holds forth on the big idea in the third disk of his audio book, Meatball Sundae:

"There's a difference between a big idea that comes from a product or service, and a big idea that comes from the world of advertising. The secret of big-time advertising during the 60s and 70s was the big idea...Big ideas in advertising worked great when advertising was in charge. With a limited amount of spectrum and a lot of hungry consumers, the stage was set to put on a show. And the better the show, the bigger the punchline, the more profit could be made. Today, the advertiser's big idea doesn't travel very well. Instead, the idea must be embedded into the experience of the product, itself. Once again, what we used to think of as advertising or marketing is pushed deeper into the organization. Yes, there are big ideas. They're just not advertising-based" (disk 3, minute 48).

Of course, we should probably define a "big idea." As explained, a big idea is an advertising tool to sell products. It stands the test of time. It originates with the company and is distributed far and wide. It is inextricably linked to the product and the experience of the product.

In my mind, big ideas include cut-out coupons. By-mail Sears catalogs and mail-in rebates. Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit. Toys in cereal boxes that had kids begging Mom to pick that one! (Why cereal innovation is on my mind this morning, I have no idea.) Shopping malls. Radio jingles. Anything that fundamentally affected people's decision about whether to buy a certain product or not.

So where do I stand?

I side with Ogilvy. The big idea isn't dead - in fact, it can only be expanded. I don't see Tony the Tiger disappearing from the hills of Grand Rapids. In fact, I would be disappointed if there wasn't a new way to interact with Tony. I want his roar as my ringtone. I expect to see him at Club Penguin.

None of this has changed - the ways companies persuade, coax, cajole, argue, and convince us to buy their products - except for Godin's point about the ideas being provided solely by the company. Of course consumers have more opportunity to interact and suggest to a company and the wise companies listen.

But for Godin to claim that the experience of the product is only now linked to the big idea is folly. Mothers bought a particular type of margarine because of the coupon. We chose Honey Smacks cereal because of the colors, the kinetic energy in the commercials, and the cute, cracked-out frog mascot (again, with the cereal...).

The big idea has always been linked with the experience of the product because the experience has often been more important than the product itself! This is nothing new.

The internet and Web 2.0 only give us more opportunity to riff on that. Big ideas may not have to originate with a company, but they will still likely need to flow from or be enacted by the company. Maybe the new importance in advertising is not creating the big idea, but being wise enough to hear it when it is whispered from the crowd.

Advertising Mistakes - How Your Paid Search Is Hurting You

Most business owners have heard about Google or Yahoo ads and many are participating in these programs. These solutions allow your specific ads to reach your target audience at minimal cost. So what's the down-side? Can paid search actually hurt you and your brand?

The answer is a resounding yes. Done right, paid search advertising is one of the easiest ways to increase knowledge of your product or brand. But done poorly, it can cause your marketing budget to hemorrhage and turn your customers against you.

There are two ways that your paid search could be detrimentally effecting your brand.

Being Where You Shouldn't Be

Online search advertising works because you decide what words are going to cause your ad to appear. If you are a high-end coffee seller, you would not only bid on the word "coffee," but also "Kona" and "Jamaican Blue Mountain." You want to select any relevant word that would lead the right kind of customers to your product.

But most retailers don't use a fairly common feature of search engines that allows you to skip mistaken or misleading search terms.

The image to the right shows a recent page I was visiting on Occam's Razor - the philosophy that every problem can be solved by slicing it down to its simplest incarnation. So imagine my surprise when I saw a Norelco ad in the right column - not the razor I was looking for!

Similarly, the author of the PrettyLittleGirls blog tells how a recent NPR story on African-Americans women with eating disorders featured a Weight Watchers ad directly beside the story. This is a prime example of how an innocuous advertiser damages their reputation. Don't be where you shouldn't be.

Not Being Where You Should Be

Likewise, you miss out on prime opportunities when your ads aren't where they can do the most good. And if you don't think like customers, potential customers, or detractors, your paid search will languish.

When Naomi Campbell danced with lizards in a Super Bowl ad to the Thriller music, Sobe Water expected people to remember their brand name. They didn't bid on words like "dancing lizards" even though that's what customers would remember when they visited Google the day after the game.

If you think potential customers always spell your company's name correctly, you are sorely mistaken. Are you bidding on misspellings or are you letting all of those customers slip through your fingers?

Finally, not everyone is going to love your company (yet). Your best option is to confront this head-on. Bid on phrases like "[your company] sucks" and you can begin converting people from complainers to customers. Don't believe me? Search for any company's name with "sucks" after it. Do you see any company ads seeking to change minds? That is a missed opportunity.

The Gist

Don't waste your money by advertising in stupid places. And don't miss out on opportunities because you didn't think like your audience. It sounds simple, but many companies make these same mistakes every day.

Epic Fail: Customer Service - How Citibank Failed and Why They'll Never Know

Update: I've received some attention from the post below, but I feel as though I should clarify a few things. The email from Citibank was lame, but for a huge company, not totally surprising. However, the arrival of this email does not necessarily negate that the company is listening. Toward the end of the post, I make that connection and most of the time, it's true. In this case, however, I don't think it is responsible to connect one lame email with a company's entire attitude.

That said, the moral of the post - companies who fail to listen will be overtaken by those that do - still stands. I believe that will only become more apparent as time goes on. -End update

To fail may be human, but for a company to fail at customer service these days may well be disaster.

You may remember when I mentioned a Citibank ad last week in a post about features versus benefits in advertising. Their print ad was spot-on when it spoke about how Citibank fit into their customers' lives (plus, who can resist a cute puppy?).

Citibank fail small

Epic Fail

So when I sent them an email noting my complimentary post, I expected at least a quick "thanks!" That's the response I got from Moosejaw (they even promised to send me some schwag which must have gotten lost in the mail...). So imagine my surprise then almost 48 hours later, they reply with a standard "sorry, we can't even respond to your email" email.

The email isn't that important and I don't expect a pat on the back from a multi-national company. However, the time delay tells me that this was not an auto-generated email - some person sitting at a computer was getting paid to send Citibank customers (or fans!) crappy, say-nothing emails. Which means their customer service representative's job is to rebuff customers or potential customers.Amazon small

What It Means To Be Human

Yet, on the same day I received this epic fail, I went to Amazon.com. On the top of the homepage - the very first thing you saw - Amazon was thanking its customers for buying the Kindle, offering special discounts for those who ordered in advance, and relating in a totally human way by showing off the Kindle cake. How different is this response?

Maybe Seth Godin is right (again). About two-thirds through the first disc of the Meatball Sundae audio disc, Godin talks about the difference between companies that sold stuff (meatballs) before the internet and those that grew their business on and through the internet (the sundae). (Incidentally, notice that there are two friendly mentions on the Meatball Sundae Amazon page that tell me the book is available on a Kindle.)

The point of his whole book is that you can't just use the fun new web tools - blogs, wikis, Facebook, etc. - to sell that same regular stuff. These new tools require a whole new business model. And the reality is that it is really, really difficult to do this if you are in the meatball business.

Sometimes you can learn from failure; hell, sometimes it's down-right hilarious. But to fail at customer service these days, when it's as easy and cheap as an email, is ludicrous. Sure, Citibank is the old model, selling meatballs like they have for a hundred years. But it's time to clean the dust out of your ears and start listening to your customers. Either that or you won't have to worry about them being customers for much longer.

It's Online Branding Time

Written by today's guest blogger: This is my first post here on the OnlineMarketerBlog. I was asked by our kind host to share some thoughts I have about online branding. By way of credentials, I work in the marketing department of a large national company. I'm a copywriter by training with internet, print, and broadcast experience. And now for the disclaimer: These ideas which I'm about to share are of course mine, and don’t reflect the ideas of this blog’s host or my employer. I was at work the other day when I came across this Acura landing page. It’s a robust landing page that touts the features of the car. And these types of pages are everywhere. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, GM...they all have them. And they're all really boring. They do serve a purpose. These sites let prospective buyers learn about and price out a car. But they don’t tell a prospective owner anything about the brand.

And then I started thinking…why don’t car companies spend some of their immense marketing budgets on online branding efforts? The car market as a whole is perfect for online branding. Since cars are aspirational, a branded message speaks directly to how people should feel when they buy a specific car. In a lot of ways the brand message is just as important as a car’s features to a consumer. I tried to think back on examples of online branding in the car market and I came up with two, a Scion advergame and two Nissan Rogue videos.

So where are the online branding campaigns? Is it purely that these companies are focused on the active consumer? Someone who is currently researching new cars? Is it because they are scared that they can’t track the value of a branding campaign?

And the answer is…market segments. Scion is geared towards 20 year olds. Nissan introduced the Rogue on the television show Heroes. These brands skew young and marketers think that only younger folk will view viral online videos and advergames.

It is a fallacy that online branding is only for the young and not for the soccer mom driving an Odyssey or the contractor driving a Dodge Ram.

Just remember what BMW did before people had ever heard the term viral video. They created BMW Films an almost perfect aspirational brand message targeted towards their core consumer.

Just leave the talk of how much money the movies cost for another discussion. Sure it was expensive, but how many BMWs do you need to sell to recoup those costs?

Please Ignore This Ad - Features vs. Benefits

BG and I were driving to work on Friday when I commented on a radio ad. She said she hadn't even noticed it and I can't say I'm surprised. It was a car ad from one of the big companies - Ford or Chevy, I think - and it made me think about one of the most important rules of adverting. Features Vs. Benefits

In their book Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath frequently mention the difference between features and benefits. Features are specific details that made the product unique or special. These are the phrases that the guys on any sales floor repeat ad naseum. Benefits, however, explain how the product fits into a person's life or makes their lives easier or better.

If you've ever had a job, you've probably talked about features - we all do it. That's because when we spend 8 or 10 hours a day on something, we like to think it is in some way worthwhile. If you work for Wendy's, you can explain how your burgers vary from McDonald's. If you assemble televisions, you know all the specs.

There is a cruel truth about features though: no one cares but you. It's sad, I know, because we all want our thing (whatever that is) to be the best. But the consumer doesn't really care about how you want to be the best. She wants to know how your product will impact her life.

Chip and Dan give a few examples of the difference between features and benefits. It's the difference between selling "the world's great lawn fertilizer" and selling "the world's best looking lawn." It's the difference between selling drill-bits and telling Dad how to hang his kid's pictures.

When Engineers Write Ads

So let's go back to that radio ad we heard on the way to work. It was almost like they threw out the marketing team and asked the engineers to make the ad. The car industry seems to have forgotten how customers behave: no one compares your truck's payload capacity before buying, no one knows who J.D. Power and Associates is, and no one knows what the hell a "hemi" is (or why on earth they should want one).

In this example, the engineers are speaking one language and the consumer is speaking another. From Chip and Dan: "[T]he moral of the story is to find a 'universal language,' one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete" (pg. 115).

The Good Example

BG dropped me off at the train station and I started reading the March issue of Wired magazine. Just a few pages in I serendipitously found a good example of features vs. benefits. ThCitibank adis Citibank ad shows a real dog sleeping next to a toy poodle. In the 40-odd words to the right of the picture, there's a short story about how Max the dog was depressed. His owners tried everything, but eventually bought Max a toy poodle as a companion. It worked and now everyone sleeps better at night. The Citibank arch links "stuffed poodle" with "smitten dog."

How perfect is this example of speaking in terms of benefits? Citibank's marketing team could have touted any number of features: their financial know-how, their FDIC ranking, their IRA revenue-generating power. Instead, they spoke the customer's language - how your Citibank card can please your pet and help you get a better night's sleep. Bravo, Citibank. Benefits trump features any day of the week.