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7 posts from February 2010

02/22/2010 When it comes to studies on trust, trust no one.

 Social media is ushering in a new era of word-of-mouth marketing where we trust people we know more than ever, right? It’s shifting control from experts and brands to consumers, isn’t it?

Not if you believe a couple of recent studies around trust and word of mouth marketing. And these numbers show a drastic shift from less than a year ago. It raises a question, for me anyway, of what are these numbers really saying? Can we all be so wrong? Or can things really change that quickly?

Let’s start with last year. Neilsen released a study showing that personal connections and recommendations trumped most other advertising. In June 2009, they said people greatly trust online opinions and recommendations from people they know.


Then, in February 2010, Edelman’s Trust Barometer showed that we trust people like us less than we did in 2009! To add insult to injury, a study this week by Opinion Research showed that people trust information from social media, which should include Facebook, Twitter and Blogs, less than anything else.

Confused? I sure am. Especially since the latter survey still says people trust personal advice from people they know over every other category. Which jives with the Neilsen study but not Edelman’s.

As any good statistician can tell you, you can make numbers do just about anything. So it’s important to note the differences (as far as I can tell) in the studies.

Nielsen measured trust in advertising. They include word of mouth and online reviews. Those still rank higher than things like TV ads or other paid media.  They didn’t include earned media (PR). Edelman seemed to talk most about a company’s financial reputation, rather than a consumer reputation. That’s why there were categories for financial experts. And it might make sense that you’d trust a personal opinion about a company’s financial position less than you would an expert.

The last study seemed a little all over the place. And until we see some more data, it’s hard to understand what they’re saying.

Right now there’s a lot of attention on social media. And it’s still growing. Those are numbers few argue with. The best thing to do with all of these studies is to remember a few things:
  • Take them all with a grain of salt
  • Understand that they’re not starting from the same place with the same questions
  • Contradictory information may make sense in the context of each unique study
  • What the studies say and how the media report them is not always the same thing
Finally, to paraphrase the tag line from the X Files: When it comes to studies on Trust, Trust no one.
02/16/2010 Apple and Google

It's certainly been an exciting few weeks! First Apple reveals the iPad, the reverberations of which we're just starting to feel. Then Google launches Buzz. It's too bad you can't by futures on the number of words written about certain products or services. If you could have, you would've made a killing invested in the earned media of the iPad and Buzz.

I'm not going to write about those two products; you can read in-depth articles about them throughout the Web. But as I look at them, they reveal some significant differences in the approaches of the two companies that seemed determined to battle it out for the future of the digital experience.

Apple is the explorer, the discoverer. It looks to change paradigms and unlock new worlds. It doesn't want to simply make the world better; it wants to change the whole world. From the Mac to the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad, Apple creates things no one has successfully done before. It is a true trailblazing brand.

Google is the innovator. It makes things better, a lot better. Google didn't invent search, online maps, mobile phones or Twitter. Instead it took existing services and then made them so much better that they destroy the competition. Google reminds me of the old BASF tagline: "We don't make things; we make things work better."

With the iPad, we're stuck trying to guess whether it will be a game changer or not. With Buzz, we're trying to figure out if it really is better than Twitter and Facebook combined.  The iPad will introduce us to a new way of consuming media (primarily print). Buzz will give us a better way to keep on top our network's information flow.

Both Apple and Google need to show huge improvements over its competitors for people to prefer them. But you need to pay for Apple products, while you simply need to use Google services.

From a brand standpoint, both provide excellent models. Who do you model your brand after, the explorer or the innovator? Just remember that in both cases, incremental improvement won't get you very far.

02/10/2010 Honest Marketing

I spoke with Walter Naeslund yesterday. I've been following him on Twitter and found myself intrigued with his new agency Honesty. I wanted to find out how a marketing/advertising agency could call itself honest with a straight face. According to a Gallup poll in 2008, advertising agencies score just slightly higher in Honesty and Ethics compared with stockbrokers and congressmen.  It's one of the least trusted professions.

So how will Walter and crew be different? A core of what they offer seems pretty standard: Finding the basic story and driver behind a product and service and amplifying it. Perhaps a difference is that if there is no great or relevant story behind a product, they won't try and make one up, they'll change the product. One of the more interesting things with Honesty is that they have people who know how to work on product development. That's certainly a difference between the traditional places.

It seems, with Honesty's focus on bringing digital and metrics to the table first, rather than last, that the real opportunity is the type of people in this new Swedish group. It's a collection of hybrids. Walter has put together a team, each of whom is fluent in several disciplines, like SEO and PR, or product development and copywriting, brand and game theory.

Maybe having hybrids keeps you more honest. It probably means people don't lock themselves into their silos so easily and that they are more open to new things.

The biggest challenge, it seems, is educating clients. Taking the time to explain how Honesty works and having a compulsion to tie everything back to measurable goals means changing the way corporate marketers are used to working.

It was refreshing to hear Walter talk about what he's up to. The business has only been in existence since October, and they've yet to come up against a situation they had to walk away from to keep their principles. I'm sure it will happen, or at least I hope it does.

It's hard being honest. And harder when you're marketing for someone else. In any case, this is one group worth keeping your eye on. You can follow the adventure through Walter's blog. One thing is for sure, though: We need as much honesty as we can in this industry.

Screen shot 2010-02-10 at 8.35.41 AM

02/08/2010 Earned or Deserved Media?

We talk a lot about earned media today. The thought is that with social tools and networks you can replace much of your paid media with earned media. I think that even this simple distinction is not quite so clear. For example, PR tends to fall under earned media even though companies pay the PR firm to get it for them. The difference may simply be that companies don't pay directly for coverage, as they do in ad space, but pay indirectly through PR practitioners. Should we call this earned media or paid media?

John Bell does a good job of taking us through the social media take on earned media, equating it with Word of Mouth. Sean Corcoran of Forrester adds another category, owned media.

Both of these descriptions tend toward conscious actions of companies to help spread buzz by customers or influencers. In a sense, earned is a good term, since it describes a payback on work with a particular intent: to get people to write about a product. David Armano puts it best: Earned media isn't free; you pay for time and resources.

I wonder if there's a third category: deserved media. While many people won't see the difference in the terms earned and deserved, I think there is a critical difference. You earn a paycheck. You deserve a medal. With earn, there's a clear and expected reward for work completed. If you've earned something, you've worked for it.

Deserve, to me at least, is reward without expectation. When you do things because you believe in them, that they are the right things for you to do, you may be deserving of reward. Whether you get it or not isn't the goal.

Let's bring this down to examples. Apple gets attention it deserves. It puts out great products with lots of fanfare, and invites both the pros and cons. But when people get their hands on the products they can't help but talk about them. Apple deserves this media because they focus on making insanely great products. They haven't "earned" the media since they haven't paid for, or focused on getting the attention.

HP, on the other hand, had a successful earned media campaign back in 2008 with their 31 Days of the Dragon where they gave out free laptops and encouraged people to write and then give the laptop away. It earned lots of media attention. Did they deserve it? Maybe, but it was earned in the sense that they paid for it with an expectation of publicity.

Maybe an easier way of looking at this is in the negative. Is negative buzz deserved media? I wouldn't call negative buzz earned. If we accept that companies deserve negative buzz, then we should accept that they deserve positive buzz as well.

When it comes down to it, if you focus your efforts on providing great products and services in a human way, you'll deserve positive buzz. If you martial your marketing team to build relationships with key influencers, you'll earn media buzz.

Even more simply, everything in the former is under your control, except for the buzz itself.
02/07/2010 BTVSMB - The Movie

Well, would you believe the video? Thanks to my friend Seamus Walsh from VAZT, we have Adrian Ho's presentation online. Seamus filmed the first video as well, and he's got a very cool thing going on around online content. If you missed the breakfast, enjoy Adrian's talk; it's a good one.

Personally, I haven't watched myself on video for a while. It's making me realize I have to dust off my presentation skills notes from Pam Erb-Melville! I'm obviously out of practice.

02/05/2010 Disappointing Alice.com

While it was great to see everyone at the Burlington Social Media Breakfast on Monday, and it was amazing to listen to the brilliant Adrian Ho (who tried to deliver twice the value, according to one of his tweets), there was one conspicuous absence: Rebecca Thorman from Alice.com. Rebecca emailed me late in the day on Saturday to let me know she wasn't flying in on Sunday to speak to her Burlington audience on Monday.

It got me thinking about something Adrian Ho said in his talk: People don't want relationships with companies; we want relationships with other people.

He's right. I wrote a blog post about buying $60+ worth of packaged goods on Alice.com because Rebecca asked me too.

Well, right now this is one company I really don't want a relationship with. Here's why:
  • Saturday at 5 PM is late in the game to cancel. We had 175 disappointed people who had been promised an experience they never got. It might be me, but you have to have some very serious excuse to cancel at that point. And if some catastrophe does happen, that's when we see what people are really made of. You know, when the going gets tough...
  • No help in finding a replacement. Even though it was a long shot, I had people helping me in NY, Boston and Burlington to come up with a replacement. In several cases, I barely knew the helpers, but they were willing to do what they could on the weekend. Alice.com did zip. When you have a following of thousands of people, saying "I don't know anyone" doesn't really ring true.
  • Only communicating through email. Despite many attempts, I was refused even one phone conversation. E-mail is a great tool but it's also a great place to hide behind. With all of the planning and publicity for this event, the least I would expect is a phone call for something this serious. If I had ordered toothpaste at Alice.com and they kept sending me hemorrhoid cream, would they keep refusing to talk to me over the phone?
Shit happens. I get that. But by association, I let 175 people down because one speaker couldn't live up to her commitments. If a company can't keep its word, then why would we want to trust it or do business with it?

I'm sure Rebecca would think I'm being terribly unfair and mean, if she ever read this. I can understand that; I can empathize with it. Maybe that's what I expected back. I'm not at issue with Rebecca getting sick either; I'm at issue with how she handled herself afterwards.

And it's not that I'm feeling Faustian in trying to make someone keep a bargain. I'm not looking to get anything out of this. My only hope is that this won't happen again to some other audience.

Sorry Alice.com. All the fancy social media work doesn't amount to a hill of beans if you talk one way, and then act another. I'm one customer who won't be coming back.
02/01/2010 A Morning with Adrian Ho

The February 1st  Burlington Social Media Breakfast featured Adrian Ho from Zeus Jones. Aside from a very last minute cancellation from Alice.com, the event was one of the more interesting talks I've been to. We had a good turnout of about 175 people who came to network, eat the yummy breakfast by Sugarsnap, and to hear Adrian challenge a lot of our marketing and social media assumptions.

He started off by saying that people aren't really interested in a relationship with a brand; they're interested in relationships with other people. If I had a penny for every time I've heard the phrase "we're building relationships" I'd have retired already.  Okay, so if social media isn't about relationships, what is it about? According to Adrian it's about delivering more value. The more value you deliver, the more social you'll be and the more buzz you'll create. It sounds almost too easy.

But that was my big take away from what Adrian talked about. Traditional marketing is about making things harder: We have to come up with the grand insight and then we have to create an expensive and complex campaign. Social marketing (a term he uses more than the term social media) is a lot about looking at how your organization provides current value between real employees and real people, and amplifying that through social media. Of course, Adrian says it much better, and with a better accent to boot, but it boils down to this:

Social marketing is a way to do something for people.

One of the most powerful things about social marketing is that you don't have to spend gobs of money on focus groups to find you what customers want to do. You either have to listen to what they say online, or listen to your customer facing employees. The knowledge exists in the system or in social media; the question is whether you have an organization that can act on that information.

As Adrian says, in almost every category you can figure out what people want.

Here's the tough part for us marketers: we love tools and new things. We want a Facebook strategy or a Twitter strategy. Taking the time to figure out what customers say and want is sometimes messy and unglamorous. Implementing a listening culture internally takes a lot of effort to break through ingrained habits.

But its possible by simply using the same approach inside that you would outside. The quote of the day may be: "If you want to change the way someone thinks, change their behavior first" rather than the other way around.

I think Adrian made a lot of people stop and think. I think a few of people in the audience still just wanted a tool guide to tell them what to do.

But for me, these breakfasts have two purposes: To network with other digital marketing professionals around Burlington, and to challenge us to get better at what we do by bringing new ideas and ways of thinking to the table.

The social media breakfast event with Adrian Ho did both.

And it was colossal fun to see everyone there and to follow the Twitter stream on #btvsmb. What a great way to start February.

P.S. This was the first time Adrian and his family had been to Vermont. It sounded like they were impressed. Big thanks to Trapp Family Lodge for sponsoring.

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