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10 posts from April 2009

04/29/2009 Viral Marketing in the Time of Pandemic

As If Swine Flu Wasn't Enough, Now an EarthquakeImage by hmerinomx via Flickr

Watching the Swine Flu influenza spread and the reaction to it has got me thinking about viral marketing. A pandemic is the definition of viral marketing: unsuspecting people receiving something they absolutely do not want and doing everything they can to shield themselves from it or cure themselves of it.

As a marketer, that’s the last thing I want people to feel about content or messages I send. I want them to enjoy receiving them and want them to feel generous enough to pass them along. If that’s the case, how did we ever end up with a term like “viral marketing?” I mean, we like viral marketing online, but we hate online viruses. Any one else see a contradiction here?

According to Wikipedia, Tim Draper coined the phrase in 1997 to describe Hotmail’s e-mail marketing. Since marketers and agencies love buzz words, the phrase took off and is now the darling in this YouTube era.

I think another reason the phrase resonated was that it reeks of secret power: marketers as mad scientist, cooking up new schemes to unleash on unsuspecting people and turning them into carriers to infect new people with our ideas. You can almost hear the “Bwa Ha Ha” behind it. The idea of covert control behind this idea is agency aphrodisiac.

If we think that marketing is changing and that it’s now about giving people something they want to have and want to talk about, then maybe it’s time for a new name for viral marketing. Of course, we have to come up with something sexy to sell it. Or maybe not. How many times do we hear clients ask for a viral campaign rather than ask for a content campaign? Which is what viral is all about.

Maybe we need to connect Viral Marketing to Swine Flu so tightly, that no one will ever ask for it again! When someone says viral, we whip out our facemasks and marketing tamiflu and put our clients in quarantine.

We should think of new terms to describe what this is all about. I’m no copywriter and I’m sure others will come up with better terms, but I’m thinking of things like:
Munificent Marketing or maybe Lavish Marketing

Face it; I don’t want any one infecting me with flus or YouTubes. Lavish something on me instead.

Anyone else have a better name for this

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04/27/2009 The Times Are a Changing? Or Steady as She Goes?

Two posts got my attention today one pointing out the huge shift we’re about to see in consumer relationships and the other pointing out how slowly companies and agencies are reacting to those changes.

Forrester’s Jeremiah Owyang and Co. produced a study on “The Future of Social Web.” His report shows that we’re starting to see fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and he provides five steps for brands to start taking this year. That’s right, the future is already here, or it’s kicking off this year.

The other post was a survey on AdWeek that showed how advertisers and agencies still haven’t figured out how to integrate online media, due to a range of reasons, from a reluctance to move away from ingrained habits to people who still don’t get digital and don’t understand how customers use it.

It’s crazy that both of these reports are probably true. What it shows is the huge gap between consumers and brands (and the agents representing the brands). It also shows a huge opportunity for nimble organizations who get digital and social and who aren’t afraid to talk with (and not just to) its customers.

Owyang’s advice isn’t new: transparency, connections, letting go. It’s the opposite of what most do these days: stick to broadcast, one-way, control. The AdWeek report might show that changing still has serious economic hindrances to overcome. Shifting to the social web and connecting with consumers doesn’t pay for media planners and ad teams. It might if you looked at them in different ways or retrained them, but that doesn’t seem to happen that often.

I like to think of this in parallel with our economy in general. I think GM is a perfect metaphor for what’s happening in marketing. Our venerated car industry is about to undergo a huge change, one that will be good for our country and our environment, but bad for our autoworkers, suppliers and corporate auto leaders. In the long run, the people on the short end of the stick will change and find other things to do, but they won’t be happy about it.

That’s what seems to be happening in our marketing world, according to these two posts. We’ll see change that will benefit consumers greatly and will cause lots of pain in old industries. How much change and how much pain remains to be seen.

It can’t happen fast enough, if you ask me.

04/17/2009 The GE Adventure

I’ve been reading the Barbarian Group’s GE Adventure blog for the past month, watching Noah and Benjamin document their discovery of new client General Electric. It’s a treat for us voyeurs: an inside scoop of cool technology through the eyes of people seeing it for the first time.

I think the thing that impresses me most (or makes me most jealous, I’m not sure which) is that this blog probably isn’t the work GE hired the Barbarians for. It’s the prelude to the work, if I understand things right. The Barbarians will ultimately create something cool, engaging and instructive, as is their wont.  This blog is the “Free Prize Inside” as Seth Godin would put it. Totally unexpected and of great value.

But what value is it, exactly? I see three areas where GE benefits:

  • Content – This is rich content, as my organic search specialists would tell me. It puts out lots of keywords combined with GE. That helps GE with both search and blog outreach.
  • Conversation – This isn’t a tech blog as much as it is a marketers discover technology blog. While the level of conversation is high, it aims at laymen (us) as it starts envisioning about how this might affect us. It’s a great model and hopefully one that carries over into the final marketing product
  • Visual – The best thing about this blog is all the videos. I wonder who’s creating the videos, whether the Barbarians have their video guy (or girl) shooting and editing everything or whether it’s one of the authors. I hope it’s the latter. Those video stories bring to life everything they’re talking about in an easy to understand way. It puts GE’s value proposition front and center so you can see it, not just read about it.

Wind turbineImage by hddod via Flickr

From an internal perspective there are other value areas. I’ve never seen any marketing group publish its research as it’s happening. We usually hide this away until, TaDa; we present it to the client. We never share this with other marketers, at least until we’ve made a white paper or case study about it. Instead, the Barbarians show us in real time what they’re up to. Ballsy, as usual.

I’m impressed by the discipline of this. Rather than watching the planner and assistant burrow in with all of the research, the Barbarians have to publish what they find on a regular basis! How great is that? It’s an amazing benefit for the team that will work on this.

If I were working on a competitor (I’m not), I’d be watching this and stealing as much as I could. Of course, it’s not really about data, it’s about what you do with that, so the Barbarians don’t have to worry so much about the stealing. But it’s out there and if the competition isn’t paying attention, they’re falling down on the job.

The only issue I have is that this is pretty guy centric. Maybe that’s GE’s target. But it’s two creative and technical guys, Noah and Benjamin, talking to a lot of guy engineers about technology. I think it could benefit from having a female perspective on this, because things like wind power have to speak to women as well as men.

In the mean time, you’ll find me following the GE Adventure and learning as much as I can about GE and the Barbarian process.

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04/15/2009 Word of Mouth Marketing

Cover of "Word of Mouth Marketing: How Sm...Cover via Amazon

I took advantage of my travel time this week to jump into a book that I ordered two months ago but never made the time to spend reading it. I turned off the TV on Jet Blue and tuned into Andy Sernovitz’ “Word of Mouth Marketing” second edition.

It felt right that Seth Godin wrote the foreword to this book because it seems like a logical extension from Seth’s “Purple Cow” and “Free Prize Inside” to Andy’s “WOMM.”

This is another book that is well written, easy to read, and supplies good examples to get you going. Most importantly, it gets you going of doing word of mouth and not just talking about it. That was one of things Purple Cow did at an old workplace: it got everyone talking about remarkable but no one agreeing on what remarkable was or what we were actually going to do differently.

In some way it feels like the manual to a lot of Seth Godin’s thinking.  And I have to admit that I like it when Andy stops you and points out the key points and reminds you to, well, remember.

The book has two sections: Essential Concepts and How To Do It. The How To Do It section is so full of different angles that it almost feels silly NOT to do try any of these.  Reading this section gave me 5-10 immediate ideas I’ll be talking to my clients about over the next few weeks.

More importantly, it spurred a great idea for my own business. I love it when you see something and it just goes “Pop” and there the idea is. I can’t wait to do this, I hope my clients have as much fun with it as I’m going to have putting it into action.

And isn’t that word of mouth is all about? Generating interesting, creating something fun or unexpected and not being able to wait to tell someone about it?

I think, though, that one of the things that make Andy’s ideas stand out is that he seems to promote what I call “Moral Marketing™.” As he puts it “word of mouth marketing is about being good to people.” If you took out the words “word of mouth” from that sentence and just let it speak to marketing, imagine how different our world and the work we do would be.  Social media seems to embrace this philosophy, when done correctly, which is perhaps why word of mouth marketing now has a platform to flourish on.

So add “Word of Mouth Marketing” to your reading list. When you finally get around to reading it, you’ll be glad you did. It will either reinforce what you now do and spur more ideas, or it will get you to start looking differently at the marketing you currently practice.

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04/13/2009 Use Marketing Budgets to Hire Social Media People.

Companies want to spend more money on social media. Agencies want to sell these services but can’t figure out how to make money from them. Independents and individuals can fill in this void, but the bigger question is: what’s the best way for companies to spend money, responsibly, on social media?

Since social media is essentially human, e.g. you have to have real people on the other end, the question of which human becomes very important. If companies truly want dialogue, then the people running their social media need to know their stuff. Can outside people, like agencies or independents, ever have as great a knowledge as an employee?

I always like hypotheticals; it’s easier for me to work through real examples. If Company A has a $500,000 marketing budget (or a million or $5 million, it doesn’t matter), should they spend most of that on media, production and PR? Or should they spend it on social media? Or both?

I think it would be interesting for those companies to hire one or two social media experts within that budget. They could probably spend $150,000/year (numbers will of course vary with geography and expertise) and find two energetic, social media savvy 20 somethings. They could train these two on company history, policy, and culture and turn them loose to create and manage dialogue on all the social media channels.

The companies would still have 70% of their budget to spend on other media, but I have a hard time believing they’d get a better return on their investment with that marketing compared with its social media marketers.

So what’s the big problem with this? The first is that when you hire outside marketers, you hire them to do the work. If you bring on new employees, you (the company) have to do the work. And now you have to manage two new players. From a company standpoint, there’s nothing easier than running an ad: the agency creates it and places it. You, the company, watch where it shows up. So taking on this marketing is a workload challenge and aren’t people in companies busy enough as it is? Another is that most companies don’t usually use marketing budgets to hire people. Those budgets usually come from some place else. For one client, I led a strategy development where we hired the person as a temp from our marketing budget the first year, and then the company hired her permanently the next year. But it’s definitely a change.

Could agencies and independents take on running the social media dialogue? Maybe, but they’d have to have much more first hand knowledge of the company and access to the right people to make decisions. Speed is key in the dialogue. Outside people can do this to an extent, but ultimately it could break down.

How about if companies used its outside marketing resources to manage the inside social media experts? This seems to be a smart solution. It takes advantage of the strategy and thinking of the outside marketers and let’s them impact the on-the-ground, day-to-day culture of the companies. The inside social media experts have support of the great thinking outside, and the culture and action inside.

Even if you add the consulting fees on top of the employee costs, it still makes economic sense, especially since you have this campaign for at least one full year, rather than a limited number of months.

I wonder if we, the outside marketers, will start recommending this more. I’m sure some of us already have, even though it’s scary to most. But for you CMOs out there, this is probably one of the best and boldest marketing moves you can make.

04/10/2009 Will This Save the Newspapers?

After yesterday’s post about the Associated Press, I saw that The Wall Street Journal had an article this week about True/Slant, a new online news site that combines “real” journalism with “experts.”

According to the WSJ, the site contributors include current and former writers from news organizations such as the Financial Times, the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

Rather than trying to limit access to news, like AP looks like it’s trying to do, True/Slant counts on the writers’ personalities to help draw traffic. The writers have some skin in the game: if the site makes money, they receive more income. While it may not feel like old school journalism, the fact is that news organizations have to figure out a way to make money in the online world, with the fast decline print advertising revenues.


True/Slant tries taking a collaborative win/win solution in a Web 3.0 world of “brandividualism,” a phrase coined by Armano. The writers, the journalists, get exposure and they respond by helping the business grow.

Bringing in outside people to write isn’t anything new. That’s one of the reasons the Huffington Post is so successful: cool “friends of Arianna” contribute regularly and use their own brand to build up HuffPo’s.

What True/Slant looks to do differently is around its advertising model.  Rather than focus on interruptive or ignorable ads, True/Slant will allow advertisers to own entire content pages, pages that look just like the rest of the site, in an attempt to draw traffic through relevant content and engagement.

Sounds like an interesting attempt. It might not be the polar opposite of what AP wants to do with its new site, but the site seems to have a much higher social media savvy than AP.

It’s worth keeping an eye on. At least it starts to look like a new new journalism model.

04/09/2009 Intellectual Property or Intellectual Constipation

The Associated Press is out to protect its intellectual property. Sadly, it reminds me of the silly things going on at my kids’ grade school.

AP took direct aim at Google and Web 2.0 this week when it announced, in best “Network” style that they’re “mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.”

What they’re mad at hell at are Web sites like Google (The Huffington Post and the Drudge Report among others) that aggregate AP news headlines and send readers to newspaper sites when they click on those links. AP sees this as violating copyright law and AP’s intellectual property. What it really means is that AP wants more money.

So AP is thinking of shutting off access to all news aggregators online and, instead, forcing people to go to it’s own news portal online. They’ll take the money they make on the new portal and spread it around to the publishers.

It sounds like AP doesn’t like losing control with all this new media stuff. That's too bad, because it’s only going to get worse.

Now AP has every right to make money from its news product. It needs to pay journalists and photographers all over the world. It’s interesting that AP’s offline stringer model is perfect for online journalism too, but that, somehow, hasn’t made it into the discussion. Moreover, according to a 2006 report, Google already pays AP for proprietary stories and pictures.

Constipation.sm AP’s intellectual constipation comes in to play when it tries to shut down the spread of its news stories rather than encouraging them. The fact that people have lots of ways to get to AP stories on newspaper sites seems a generous strategy that AP should reap benefits from. Instead of looking at new ways of encouraging the spread of those stories, and looking at new, not old, models of monetizing this spread, AP could turn this into a win/win for everyone.

The risk is that online stringer news goes to the CNN type amateur journalists via places like iReport. While there’s a huge value to citizen journalism, society benefits from reading great journalists. You’d think that AP would want to let people read these journalists as much as possible instead of limiting access. It seems like AP is chasing the same doomed model as the record industry did when faced with its own online challenge. AP needs an intellectual ExLax.

It’s the same thing that’s happening with my daughters play at her grade school. The grades 3-5 kids were supposed to put on “Mary Poppins” or “Peter Pan” but it turned out that they couldn’t get the music rights for the Broadway music without paying thousands of dollars.  Yes it’s a good thing that artists make money for things they create and don’t allow people to make money from their work without sharing the profit. But this is a school play. Schools don’t make money, and they don’t have a lot of money to spend. Thank god they’re even doing drama at this level!

So the school ditched “Mary Poppins” and is doing something else that doesn’t cost anything. And what does this do for the artists and producers? Well, think of the money they lose when families and friends don’t buy the music and DVDs. More importantly, they miss a chance to spread and imprint this music into every kid’s head (and the families they’re practicing for nightly). That’s an imprint that doesn’t go away. Talk about lifetime value of a customer!

Surely there’s a fairer way to assess the value of ideas. The one size fits all model is simply arcane.

When intellectual constipation gets in the way of intellectual property things just stop. I can’t see how that helps anyone.

04/07/2009 In Treatment: Marketers as Therapists

I’m glad HBO’s "In Treatment" is back. It was my favorite show last year although it was painful to watch sometimes. I love stories that feel real, as opposed to, say, reality TV. I’ve never been in treatment (yet) but this show felt spot on. And Gabriel Byrne is amazing.

So what does this have to do with marketing? Everything. Gabriel Byrne’s character is a perfect metaphor for good marketers. People always come to you with a perceived problem but our challenge is to dig deeper to find deeper meanings, reasons and measures of success.

Over the years, I’ve heard the following from different clients:

“Our Web site is an embarrassment.”
“We hated our former agency.”
“My wife didn’t like the TV we ran last year.”
“We need to do something new; jazz it up.”

Intreatment.good And just like In Treatment, we need to ask, probe and uncover the, often, painful truths. It’s a tough job and a lot of us don’t really want to do this so we don’t. We end up making pretty Web sites, have beers with the marketing director, make sure the boss’s wife signs off on the creative, and add cool designs to everything.

It usually lasts a year or two, because none of those topical things work without connecting with the actual process of connecting with people, providing them with something valuable and making sure we’ve set up systems that make it as easy as humanly possible to convert or buy.

We need to ask ourselves as marketers: Are we listening to our clients because they pay us, or are we listening to help solve an important problem? That might be the distinction between good therapists or bad therapists. Or it might be the difference between a prostitute and a great shrink.

Make no mistake: It’s hard work. You have to do it together. But the outcomes are so much better than the window dressing.

We marketers can do a better job if we ourselves are more transparent. Such as:

  1. Tell clients how you work – Explain to them your process of listening and why you’re not going to just be a bobblehead. In the upfront stage, clients will probably like to hear this.
  2. Reinforce this along the way – It’s one thing to say this, it’s another to do it in the middle of the process. Keep bringing the why to the table and continually connect it back to the end goals – business growth.
  3. Push the clients – But push gently. Unlike In Treatment, we don’t want big breakdowns, just small breakthroughs. Challenge the clients when you feel the small and personal issues are clouding judgment.

Of course, it doesn’t always works. But, it works an awful lot, in my experience, and it leads to some great work.

And just like In Treatment, we marketers have just as big problems as our clients, especially when it comes to alignment, goals and honesty. Luckily there are great business coaches out there to help us.

04/02/2009 Behavioral Targeting with Incentives

The other day I wrote about Exelate and what it’s up to around behavioral targeting. Well they have company. [Note: Several details are updated below]

BlueKailogoBlue Kai is another new company focusing on making online advertising more relevant to consumers. They, too, buy cookie information but they have a more targeted in their approach. Even more interesting, they’re exploring models that actually give something back to consumers for using their data. I can’t wait to see how far they will go with this.

Blue Kai focuses on intent:

  • Have you searched for something?
  • Have you shopped for something (e-commerce)?

For now they only focus on three verticals: Retail, Auto and Travel. According to Rowena Toguchi, Marketing Strategist at Blue Kai, Blue Kai wants to make sure they have the cleanest data possible. They want to separate people who are reading a blog about Hawaii, for example, from people who are actually pricing out airfares to Honolulu.

Blue Kai does this by only using data from the top five sites in each vertical. One big difference is that data providers only get compensated once and advertiser purchases the data. Once they auction the data off to Ad Networks or Advertisers, they compensate the sellers and the better the data works, the more they receive. This way Blue Kai makes sure that if advertisers think it's good data, they'll buy it again, and put more money back into the system.

They’re big on taxonomies and breaking the cookies into multiple data stamps. You can purchase segments based on departure or destination cities, or length of stays.

It sounds pretty interesting, as long as you’re in one of those verticals. And it seems to work the same way that working with any online ad third party does, like with rich media or multivariate service providers.

I’m very intrigued by being able to target someone with a specific ad who I know is shopping for my destination. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of specific case studies on the Blue Kai site.

Incent One of Blue Kai's big promises is transparency. While Blue Kai also offers controls to consumers to manage preferences or even opt out, what separates Blue Kai from others is that they donate a small percentage of the money they make to the charity of your choice. Right now you can choose between four, March of Dimes, Action Hunger, Reading is Fundamental, or Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

It’s the first step in putting some skin in the game for the people on the other end of those ads: you. Ultimately they’d like to create some type of point system where the more you participate, the more points you get for travel credits, for example.

I for one, hope they do this sooner rather than later. If the customer is in control, then maybe the customer should get a cut in selling their cookies. This is, by far, the best attempt I’ve seen yet.

Blue Kai seems to have a lot of promise. They seem to be growing fast as well. If I end up using them, I’ll let you know what happened.

04/01/2009 Can Selling Behavioral Data Save Online Marketing?

EXelate-logo I spoke with Mark Zagorski with Exelate today. Mark and his colleagues are trying to make online advertising work better by, as he puts it, “making selling data as important as selling media.”

Exelate buys your cookie information from Web sites, for example publishers of auto, parenting or finance sites, and sells that to ad networks and agencies. What it means to marketers is that when we buy that information, we can target advertising to show up on the page you’re browsing if we see that cookie.

It’s like this:

  1. You shop for travel deals to Paris on travel site. Your Cookie = Travel/Paris
  2. Travel sites sells cookies to Exelate
  3. Marketer selling 12 Language Translator Gadget is looking for people planning a trip overseas.
  4. Marketer buys your cookie from Exelate
  5. Marketer buys online advertising on ad network.
  6. You go online = Network sees Travel/Paris cookie and serves up Translator Gadget ad.
  7. Travel site makes money selling the cookie
  8. Gadget marketer gets higher response.

It sounds pretty smart and simple. You can work with the ad providers to get even more granular on a contextual level (only showing the ads on the Travel pages of the New York Times, for example) and I’m sure there’s a great play here with some of the multivariate providers, like Adroit.

One of the big issues firms like Exelate run into is privacy. While no user information swaps hands (no e-mail or IP addresses) there’s still a lot of touchiness in the industry about cookies and personal data.

It’s bizarre, actually, when you think of the amount of data snail-mail direct marketers collect about us and use on a daily basis, compared with what’s going on online. There’s something about online that just freaks everyone out about privacy, sexual predators, and data scams. Yes, we have all of that; it’s just that it’s a fraction of what happens offline.

Exelate lets customers opt out of their network, though, in case they don’t want people to sell their cookie info. Kind of like the do not call list. Only, it doesn’t mean that they won’t see any ads; it just means that they may not see any relevant ads. Exelate let’s people see the data they have on them and you can customize what you want to see.

Right now, from a customer standpoint, Exelate’s main promise is reducing something negative – irrelevant ads. It can’t stop bad creative and it can’t stop the ads themselves. It’s too bad there still isn’t a way to provide consumers with a clear upside, something to positive to gain rather than minimizing something unwanted.

While all of this could be help online advertisers and consumers, the biggest value may be in providing Web publishers an alternate way to monetize its visitors. Rather than simply selling more ad space, they can sell data. If it works, it could make the Web universe more stable for publishers and in a perfect world, might even reduce the amount of interruptive ad space.

It will be interesting to see how Exelate and some of the other behavioral data firms fare in this economy. Will online marketers try it? I know I’m seriously looking at testing this with a couple of clients. The cost difference is pretty minimal.

I’ll let you know what happens.

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