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White Paper: Beyond Chatting with your Toothpaste: Ten things you can do with social media

April 15, 2011

In an ideal world, social media gives your customers a forum for declaring their love for your product. But that’s just the start. You can preview and share good news,  host an ongoing conference, implement a low-impact loyalty program, enable brilliant stunts, create custom creative in real time, get a sense of your customer’s issues, broadcast product demonstrations, gather real life stories, and  just ask people what’s on their minds. For details, download this white paper: tensmapproaches

What running a literary magazine taught me about marketing

May 19, 2010

I’d worked in agencies for years, but an important lesson hadn’t really stuck.

I was convinced that my literary magazine was such a good idea that people would immediately subscribe. It was a good idea, widely praised and broadly welcomed. And some people did subscribe. But not as many as I thought and not as quickly as I’d hoped.

And that’s how I learned, in the deep way that failure teaches, that the basic marketing challenges don’t change: how do you get distracted people to notice your product, how do you get skeptical people to consider your product, how do you get thrifty people to buy your product, how do you get people who presumably have a life to champion your product.

These challenges exist in all markets because they are rooted not in the nature of media but in the nature of humanity. They dictate a marketing process, which goes something like this:

Awareness>>Consideration>>Action>> Loyalty

With sufficient charm or money or diligence, you can accelerate this process.

But you can’t ignore this process. Yet I keep seeing people who think these rules don’t apply in social media. Some of these people, I’ve been told, hold very senior marketing positions.

In my experience, social media users are prey to two distinctive mistakes.

1.  They compile zillions of contacts but then don’t proceed to consideration. Rolodexes don’t buy anything. I think consideration can take the form of symmetrical conversations (most of us) or asymmetrical streams (Roger Ebert), provided the content of the latter is rich enough.  But it needs to happen.  In some ways, this is even more true of some facebook self promoters who do nothing but add friends and fan pages.

2, They go directly to purchase, without building any relationships.  Calls to action are important, but so are calls to awareness and calls to trust.  This is especially important in the arts. I want people to buy my book, sure. But there’s a useful prayer exercise:  pray that others receive what you want for yourself.  When I engage in that exercise, I realize I don’t want to have to buy the books of everyone I encounter on twitter. I am willing to consider the books written by people I know on twitter. At some point, the product needs to be the closer.

Where I Learned Generosity

November 24, 2009

I see generosity practiced every day on twitter. But social media didn’t teach me professional generosity (assuming I’ve learned it.)  I’ve spent my career in a remarkably gracious professional culture: Minneapolis advertising and design.

When I entered the business, Bill Miller at Fallon McElligott—best known as the writer on Rolling Stone’s Perception/Reality campaign– took the time to look at my portfolio on three separate occasions. Agency principals such as Tom Weyl at Martin Williams and Jack Coverdale at Clarity Coverdale were generous with their time and advice.

Judging from my fellow juniors at the time, we were not pure of heart. If we had spent any more time envying Fallon McElligott, it would have been a time sheet category. But while we were not pure, we were passionate, and I think it is passion that is the true engine of generosity.

I’ve recently been reminded that that adamant love of craft continues to thrive.

The great art director Sue Crolick has found a second career giving back some of that joy.

Little and Company has started a series of literal conversations about design, in which they ask industry leaders two fascinating questions. What inspired you most? What design challenge would you most want to take on?

And the Fallon offshoot Barrie D’Rozario Murphy has created a facebook page which does not feature the agency’s remarkable work. Rather, it showcases the passion that leads to great work.

I am sometimes taken aback when social media professionals say, in effect, that they are disturbed to learn that businesses want to sell things. Really?  But I learned early on that the best businesses also want to make things––cool, useful, crafted things (and experiences). That passion to add to good in the world keeps the good of ambition from becoming that evil of greed.

From the first day I worked as a professional, I was surrounded by people who were as loyal to their craft as they were to their company.  How can I not be thankful for that?

Middle managers should write more books: Thoughts on James P. Othmer’s Adland

August 24, 2009

AdlandJames P. Othmer’s Adland is a humble book and you should buy and read it precisely because it is a humble book.

In its humility, it is an absolutely essential antidote to much of what currently passes itself off as thought leadership. It is the opposite of guru speak.

You can’t swing a dead paradigm these days without hearing advertising being dismissed. The problem with this isn’t that advertising isn’t guilty of any number of sins– ranging venality to inanity–which could plausibly justify its dismissal. The problem is that the people who feel the need to dismiss advertising also feel the need to distort advertising to the point of parody.

A recent blog post which otherwise seriously attempted to discuss the viability of the advertising concept of the Big Idea in the age of small media invoked Don Draper as a representative of contemporary advertising. To restate: a recent blog invoked a fictional character from 1961 as representative of actual advertising in 2009. This is a little like someone attempting to enter the health care debate by referencing Doc on Gunsmoke.  (The sad thing is, I think there may have been a point beneath the parody.)

Here’s the deal: if I don’t trust your descriptions, I don’t trust your prescriptions.

I trust Othmer’s descriptions. It is not that Adland paints a happy picture of advertising.  The industry Othmer describes features a sadly recognizable mix of foot-dragging and bandwagon jumping, ethical queasiness and intermittent inspiration.

The triumph of Adland is that he writes about his own experience in large old-line agencies with honesty and detail. In these passages, he writes as what we used to call a “do-ru”–i.e., as someone actually responsible for doing work.

He switches from memoirist to  journalist, making a valiant effort to talk to the actual people doing the actual work that is contemporary advertising. He gets out there into the trenches. Is it his fault that the trenches in this case are conference rooms with lemon fizzy water and really good bagels?

He writes about a 2000 pitch in which Y and R –venerable or vestigial, depending on your perspective–scrambled to keep an account in the-then nascent digital age. He writes about what it is like to do a big commercial shoot on the beaches of Normandy and in post apartheid South Africa. He describes the feeling of trying to please a roomful of vulgar millionaires who have made their millions selling fried chicken. He takes the now received idea that the average consumer is bombarded with three figures worth of messages a day and catalogs his actual experience as a recipient of messages over the course of twenty four hours. He visits Leo Burnett, the people who gave us Jolly Green Giant and the Pillsbury Dough Boy; he also visits the people who gave us the Subservient Chicken and the amazingly successful viral campaign for Trent Reznor.

In its humility Adland does precisely what George Orwell said writing should do in Politics and the English Language.  He refuses slippery, self-serving abstractions. (Some readers may wish for Othmer to tease an ethical system out of his experience. I didn’t.  For that. there’s John O’Toole’s The Trouble With Advertising.) He insists on language that describes recognizable, compromised, nuanced, sometimes cheery reality.

You might still dismiss advertising.  Othmer did. He quit the business to become a novelist and journalist.

But you will dismiss the industry as it actually exists, not as the punchline at a social media conference.

Available Sept 15.  Shout out to @commongoodbooks for the Advance Reader’s Copy

How Social Media Sold One Book

August 20, 2009

I sign onto Facebook and notice a friend of mine is a fan of Nick Hornby.

I realize: hey, I’m a fan of Nick Hornby, too!

When I click on his fan page, I further  realize he has issued a third volume in the awesome Believer series of collected reviews/columns; this one has a rocking title:  Shakespeare Wrote for Money.  Having been completely sold on this by the previous volumes–holy smokes: a literary brand . . . a series with a distinct identity–I resolve to buy it.

On the way home from the grocery store, I stop at common good books (@commongoodbooks to you) and buy a copy.

There are all sorts of implications swirling around this, but I like to bring marketing down to moments because that’s what marketing is: a series of successful moments.

Three of those implications:

1. Social media is great for the arts, because people naturally talk about books and movies and music.  They naturally become fans of authors.

2. This transaction, which took less than a day, was the culmination of a whole bunch of work on the part of Nick Hornby and the Believer. The brand–by which I mean a set of credible promises about quality and values signaled by smart graphic design–had spent years building in my head.

3. Would I have bought it at Common Good if they hadn’t been on twitter? Yes. They are my neighborhood bookstore. But twitter has somehow knitted me closer to them. I’ve gone from customer to champion.

“Will you please stop shoveling dirt on me?” On the Death of Advertising

July 28, 2009

Advertising needs some PR.  It’s been described as a tax on mediocrity and a sign of failure.  I miss the good old days when I was just a prostitute.

Since we’re dismissing entire industries, a definition seems in order here. I define advertising as controlled messages in controlled media.

But I don’t think this is what the advertising-is-failure contingent is talking about.  Google sells advertising, and I don’t think anyone would claim they sell failure. Geek Squad sprays its logo onto anything that moves and, as a part of Best Buy, promotes itself through television ads.

When people rag on advertising, they seem to be talking about what Luke Sullivan called hold-the-product-up-and-smile TV commercials. And that kind of advertising does seem to be in trouble, helped along by the recession.  The print habitat of other ads has vanished.

For now, the web slogs along with a combination of what Jeff Jarvis usefully calls “goodwill content,” what I’ll call display window content (look at my thinking), branded entertainment, inspired amateurism, venture capital, and generally lousy ads. Mousy classifieds. Twitchy banners. Inert logos.

But I don’t think advertising is dead.

At some point, if we want magazine-like content, or if we simply want to keep the servers running, we either have to accept ads or pay for content.  As with TV, we’ll do probably do a little of both.

And despite its promise, social media isn’t ready to replace advertising and, for deep structural reasons, I suspect it never will be.

Social media can be anti-social.

Like all media, social media has its drawbacks.

What I high mindedly call “the conversation” is the aggregate of blogs, blog comments, customer-generated reviews, social media status updates, forwarded videos of cats having bad days, chat rooms, user forums, and tweets. Some of this is an authentic back and forth between a brand and its customers. And some of the above is mean-spirited, banal, clueless, sub-literate, off-brand, outlying, spammy, covertly paid-for, of dubious provenance, and self-serving.

True word of mouth has its own problems.  The “awesome doesn’t need advertising” model ignores the difference between high engagement and low engagement products. Going on about search engines may or may not be a sign of boorishness.  Going on about toothpaste pretty much always is.

Such critiques also ignore the real function of advertising which is not to pour a good sauce on bad meat but to distill a brand essence and accelerate awareness.  This role is perfectly compatible with energetic word of mouth and high product quality. Just ask Apple.

Less a paradigm shift than a paradigm nudge.

Advertising isn’t dying but it is changing.

Sought advertising is already becoming more powerful; bought advertising will become less powerful. And this isn’t just about YouTube. In the forthcoming Adland, James P Othmer talks about networks measuring how many viewers drop off during a commercial—and adjusting the price to reflect the ad quality.

Social media looks like it is forcing ads to be less puffy.

However flawed, “the conversation” can yield testimonials, insights, and, yes, engagement.

The possibilities are ridiculous: short films, custom games, cross media scavenger hunts, interactive narrative arcs, tweeted events, all sorts of branded grooviness.

The real message is not an obituary, but a challenge: be remarkable, be honest, be attentive, be thoughtful about media.

Well. If I must.

Thanks to Glenn Hilton for pointing me to the study cited above. For a great review of the possibilities of our new media world look at Othmer’s book or Juicing The Orange by Pat Fallon and Fred Senn.

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now: Thought Leadership in a Recession

July 21, 2009

Something has changed in the past months:  I don’t suffer gurus lightly.  Catch phrases catch in my throat.

Pronouncements such as “Advertising is a failure” and “Information wants to be free” get me agitated. And when I get agitated, I know it’s time to ask myself: what’s really going on.

After all:

Free is neither new nor radical. Any 50s housewife who sampled the latest TV dinner at the Supermarket before going home to watch the Texaco Star Theater could have told you that.   I am writing this essay for free.

After all:

Fallon was calling out the big advertisers for their failed imaginations and inflated budgets in 1981. Twenty years before that,  Bernbach insisted  that good advertising made bad products fail faster.

Some business authors have always nonchalantly tossed around ideas.  In the 90s, every business was expected to emulate Starbucks and provide a semi-theatrical premium-priced retail experience.  If you whined “but we make widgets and compete on price,” you were soundly thwacked.

And yet I’m still mad.

Here is why:  We are in a recession. I have never had so many friends out of work.

So when a blogger insists that the New York Times decision to charge for online content is a “devolution,” I think: how is a country which thinks journalists shouldn’t be able to pay their mortgages more evolved?  Who pays the rent on that African bureau?

When Jeff Jarvis announces that “advertising is a failure,” I think of friends waking at four in the morning hoping there won’t be more layoffs.

I don’t want happy talk. If anything, it’s even more important to say what is broken.

In other times, I would regard many of our current memes as sloppy but suggestive.  Advertising is failure?  Yes, a world in which sought messages compete with bought messages is an improvement. Yes, advertising has been nudged to the awareness end of the marketing spectrum as forums and sites occupy the consideration space. That’s a far cry from failure, though.

I am less patient these days. Now, speaker-fee-inflating, book-promoting, blog-ready aphorisms just feel reckless.

Notes: I cannot for the life of me locate the blog post which referred to the New York Times decision to charge for online content  as a devolution.  I hope I imagined it, although hallucinating blog posts would be a new low.  And tip of the hat to @jmctigue who suggested in a tweet that the responsibility of thought leaders at the present time might be an interesting topic.