Tag Archives: marketing

Marketing in the Face of a Wall Street Crash


Serendipity is an odd thing. It’s as if the future is written all around us on little post-it notes, but we never read them until an event unfolds and we suddenly realize that, just maybe, we might have seen it coming.

A few years ago my best friend’s dad gave me an amazing collection of thousands of books. I’m a writer, my wife’s a librarian, we were like kids in a candy store. It’s taken years to process the books, and we still have 20 boxes in my garage. So a couple of months ago I was down in the garage sorting a stack of books and one book stood out. Because of its cover. Because of its author. Because of its simple title: The Great Crash. 1929.

The Great Crash 1929John Kenneth Galbraith, the influential popular economist, wrote the book in 1954 as “an economic history of the lead-up to the Wall Street crash of 1929”. Given all the concern over the past year about the mortgage crisis, it seemed like a timely topic, so I put it on a short stack to read. I finally got down to reading the book on a trip back east and literally just finished reading it last Friday. That was the day the “extraordinary weekend” started before the 504-point crash on Monday. It’s an understatement to say that I felt like I had just read the history of what is about to unfold before us.

Without overstating the parallels between 1929 and 2008–the mechanisms behind the collapse are undoubtedly different–the pattern is hauntingly familiar, right down to the constant stream of assurances from vaunted economists and elected politicians that “we’ve now seen the worst of it”, “a turn around is just around the corner” and, my personal favorite, “the fundamentals of our economy are still strong”. This is what Galbraith called the collective belief in the power of incantation. I’ll let others argue about the economic comparisons of 1929 to 2008, but the human factor–the wholesale denial of destruction even while it’s underway–is breathtakingly familiar.

I hate to be the alarm clock if you’ve been oversleeping, but it’s time to wake up and get it together. We’re in for a rough ride, and it’s not going to be pretty–especially for marketers. I’ve spent the past year pouring all of my resources into a marketing technology startup. It’s a scary time to look up and realize you’re standing on a small rock in the middle of a raging sea and a gathering storm. But it’s even worse to keep your head down and spout incantations about how it’s all going to turn around real soon now. So here’s my blog-condensed playbook of what lies ahead.

It’s going to get a lot worse before it even starts to get better. We’re only seeing the beginning throes of chaos in our financial system. We’ll see liquidation panic play out over days and probably weeks. The government will make various attempts to stop the bleeding, but eventually they’ll be left to do nothing but call impressive meetings of Very Important People who deliver more incantations. The impact on available cash and credit will force companies to cut spending deeply. Jobs will be lost on a large scale, and just like past recessions, marketers will be heavily over-represented in the RIFs. At many companies, marketing executives and managers will be released and become freelance consultants, marketing associates and directors will take over and run marketing operations primarily as sales support. Lead generation will of course lead everything.

That’s the bad news. And make no mistake, it will be ugly. The good news is, chaotic disruption is a huge opportunity for innovation, though it’s not for the faint hearted. In any system, change can only be accomplished by disruption and reorganization. Instead of looking at the disaster ahead as wholesale destruction, look for the patterns of reorganization–and find the companies that have the intelligence and bravery to share your world view. Look for the opportunities to solve problems and help companies grow when others are running scared. Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg and Chevrolet were companies that invested in advertising during the Great Depression while the vast majority of companies cowered in their caves, and during the worst financial meltdown of our history (so far anyway) they managed to grow and build a sizeable lead over competitors leading into the recovery.

Who are the companies that will be investing in growth as the financial system crashes around them? And what will they be investing in? I know where I’m placing my bets. While much of the Web 2.0 hype will be silenced in the coming months, I’m betting people will go online to connect with peers more than ever before. To share their fears, to relate, to vet anything that anyone is telling them about what’s happening, and most of all, to find opportunities. I’m also betting that the decks will be cleared for a new generation of marketing tools and marketing personnel for whom social media and community isn’t a trend, but a given. This is the transition point.

Seriously. It’s time to wake up. There’s a rough road ahead. Buckle your seat belt and grab the wheel.

Putting the Social Media Pieces Together

Penolope Trunk from the Boston Globe posted a very incisive piece on the proliferation and fragmentation of social media tools, and the implications for developing a consistent brand–especially a personal brand.

It’s clear to me that blogging is best for expressing big ideas. If you can’t convey new ideas on your blog, then you probably won’t get a lot of traffic. And most blogs that do well have a single theme and the audience can depend on the theme dictating the content of the blog. But Twitter is not good for fleshed-out ideas. I see people using Twitter for a lot of stuff, but not for fleshed-out ideas. And Flickr is good for expressing passion. Way better than, say, Twitter.

So it strikes me as really lame that we have such a wide range of media at our disposal yet people are using that range to convey the same aspect of themselves: the personal brand they are creating for social media.

What I love about her post–other than the fact that she’s not a “social media guru” but a working journalist who’s sharing her experience working with Web 2.0 tools–is that she highlights an aspect of social media marketing that I haven’t thought deeply about, despite coming from a branding background. Like many marketers, I’ve been so focused on figuring out the tactical aspects of knitting together all these disparate tools, I haven’t thought too much about the modulation of voice or message to match the medium, even though it’s obvious.

yellow knowsOver the past few months, I’ve been working on the interplay of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and my own blog and business sites. In a nutshell I’m working to create original content in places like YouTube and my business sites, write commentary about the content on my blog, and drive traffic to the content through Twitter, FriendFeed, and SEO traffic. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter help me build networks of people who have a general and hopefully growing interest in the content I’m creating.

It’s a lot like the integrated marketing programs my agency used to produce where we’d use direct mail to drive web traffic to move a product. Except today, the tools are proliferating and evolving so rapidly, it takes some time to figure out what tool works best for what purpose.

But Penelope sheds another light on this complex fabric. Who you connect with, and the inherent mode of communication facilitated by, say, the 140 character haiku of Twitter, has not only a practical impact on what you say, but a strategic one as well. Instead of having a monolithic “social media” voice that you shove into each new medium however well it fits, explore different aspects of your voice that fit different mediums.

So I am playing with Twitter right now, seeing what part of me feels most natural to be in Twitter. This is the same thing we do as we make a new friend. We figure out what combination of the things that make up our personality will be best with this person. That’s why we’re a little different with each person we know.

Maybe this is a little too down in the weeds for many marketers, but i think it’s bringing us full circle with much of the depth of understanding marketers have gained about communication over the past 30 years, and applying it rather succinctly to the tools we’re building in social media. Discussions like this are proof to me that social media is not a passing phenomena. Again, this isn’t a marketer or social media guru pushing a new methodology, it’s a journalist speaking about her own exploration with the modern tools of communication and how she understands the evolution of her craft. That’s powerful stuff.

New Social Media Marketing Adoption Report

Last year my agency, MotiveLab, syndicated a marketing whitepaper with Netline, entitled “12 Essential Tips for Success in Social Media”. We were overwhelmed with the results. Over the course of the past year, almost 3000 people downloaded the whitepaper, with more than 1800 registering and answering a short survey about their attitudes and approach to social media marketing.

Recently we analyzed the results as two separate data sets divided into six month periods, and compared the first six months to the second six months to see any changes in attitudes and opinions. The report is available for free at the MotiveLab Web site, and the results are fascinating.

I won’t rehash all the data in the report, but it shows a clear acceleration in adoption of social media as a marketing practice, and fairly balanced opinions about its value and application, despite all the frothy hype and counter-hype in business reporting. (The whole debate last week about the “failure of online communities” reminds of when we were all debating about whether or not the Internet was a smart marketing investment. I thought Francois Gossieaux answered it nicely.)

One note about the data that I thought was pretty fascinating. Less than 5% of marketers cited PR or Advertising agencies as resources for developing social media marketing programs, despite the fact these companies are making a tremendous effort to add social media to their service offerings. Looks like they need to do a little more week eating their own dog food and connecting with the marketing community to refine their approach.

Following the Flow of Conversation

Continuing on the theme of social media trends and implications.

One of the major themes that social media experts talk about incessantly is the shift in control over the message. In the world of mainstream media where content is created by a few and broadcast to the many, whoever controls publication controls the message. In a world of social media where anyone with access to a computer can put a message into play among millions of readers, the most compelling messages win the day.

There are a lot of fascinating implications in this shift–enough to fill an entire year of blog posts. But the trend I want to talk about right now is the changing role of PR and marketing in the influence of market dialog. Many people say PR and marketing are effectively dead, while others try to recast social media as just another new vehicle for revitalizing PR and marketing. Marketing 2.0.

Let me first say where I come down in this discussion about marketing and PR in the age of social media. The rumors of their death are greatly exaggerated. There will always be a need for companies to advocate on their own behalf–to develop and communicate a compelling market position. How that message is developed and communicated has changed forever. Unfortunately, many marketers haven’t figured this out yet, and until they do marketing will continue to decline until a new generation takes over.

The problem for marketers is that they’ve grown up in a bubble–just like the Internet Bubble that gave rise to irrational exuberance and a general belief that business fundamentals were no longer relevant. Let’s call it the Marketing Bubble. Before the Marketing Bubble, we had more than 5000 years of social media–a world in which word-of-mouth was the dominant form of commercial dialog. As the means of mass communication emerged, marketers naturally adopted new tactics for communicating with a larger market. Print. Radio. Television. Computer. Internet. Mobile.

These continuously evolving forms of communication weren’t cheap. In fact, getting a message out over any of these channels was enormously expensive, which kept control over the message sharply limited to those who could afford it. The Marketing and PR we know today grew up in this world, and  evolved around the power structure of a highly controlled media. PR was never about developing relationships with customers–it was about developing relationships with publishers and reporters in order to influence customers. Marketing may have a slightly more robust claim to customer intimacy, but not much. How many marketing organizations do you know that actually own customer service? The vast amount of marketing dollars go to advertising–another practice focused on the power brokers rather than the consumers. If you can’t shape the message through PR, then buy a message to piggy-back on the stream of media the market consumes.   

This is–or was–the bubble. It emerged with the tools of mass media, but was not a fundamental shift in the thousand-years trajectory of commercial dialog. Just as we had thousands of years of history of consumers discussing products among their peers before mass media, we are returning to that natural state for one very compelling, even Darwinian, reason: consumers will always seek out information from their peers because it provides an economic survival advantage. The Internet has simply provided the means for consumers to elevate their conversation to the same volume as mass media. 

Now that the bubble is bursting, Marketing and PR are mostly blind to the historical trendline; they are inclined to see social media as just another new technology like Web sites, or SMS. This is a huge problem. The Marketing and PR organizations we know today are organized not to listen and engage, but to listen just enough to craft messages and find effective channels to influence the market. Success is measured in the tiny percentage of people who took the bait on your latest campaign, rather than the development of an engaged community of customers–customers who become partners in the development and distribution of more successful products and services.

There’s a lot to drill into on this concept, which I’ll continue to do. But there’s one important concept I want to leave off on today. Companies that are trying to figure out social media are going to their PR and Marketing agencies by default–those are the people, after all, who are supposed to understand how to communicate with customers. But a facility for social media is not an inherent strand of DNA for any marketing, advertising or PR agency–despite the cool case studies and hip 2.0 language. Communicating at customers is not the same as communicating with customers, and if you have any hope of success in social media, you need to understand how to tell the difference.

Marketing in the Age of Conversation

Arun Rajagopal has a great series unfolding on his blog that he’s calling The Social Media Challenge, in which he’s trawling the Internet to parse the meaning and practice of social media with a beginner’s mind. It’s a good roundup of ideas and theories with a lot of good links.

Arun sent me a link and we started a conversation, and I want to bring that conversation into a broader dialog because he touches on a lot of important issues. The one that sparked my interest today was a link he sent to Gavin Heaton’s blog, and a discussion about what marketers need to do to run effective campaigns in the age of social media. It’s a good post. Gavin obviously has a strong grasp for connecting lofty concepts with tactical marketing execution.

But in all this discussion about how marketers need to be effective, there’s an element that often seems missing.

Marketers are striving to understand social media in terms of the tactics and the technology. They’re trying new things, mashing them up with old things, and trying to figure out “what works”. This is all good, however it misses one fundamental point about social media. Its popularity stems from the power people have to easily connect and share ideas based on their interest and passion. It’s relevant to marketing not because of the great opportunity it presents for marketers to more effectively reach consumers. That’s a marketing-centric view of the world, and it isn’t marketers who put this juggernaut into motion. It’s relevant to marketing in large part because it demonstrates how disconnected marketers have come from consumers, and gives rise to the very real prospect that marketers can be dis-intermediated from much of the purchase decision.

In the context of commerce, people are connecting online because they can get much better information from their peers than they can from marketers. As tactically effective as marketers might become at joining those conversations, they won’t be materially effective if they’re joining communities to put the same crap over on consumers they have with Advertising and Direct Response for the past century. It’s the age-old metric driven mentality that led marketers to believe that gaining 1.5% conversion rates was a great success, while dumping the remaining 98.5% over the transom. I don’t know what it will take for marketers to understand that consumers want value, not conversion tactics, and social media gives them a choice.

I often hear social media pundits talk about the importance of "listening" as part of true engagement. It’s true. But we’re not talking about going through the motions of listening. We’re talking about hearing and understanding what your customer communities have to say. I think all of the points that Gavin makes in his post are spot on, but they have an underlying pre-requisite. Before you can carry out any of those tactics successfully, you have to be a member of your community, not a mole. You have to have a real interest and passion that connects you with people in your customer community–not just an interest and passion for converting them into dollars. People have a remarkable capacity to see through marketing. They’ve had a lifetime of practice.

When Security Increases Exposure to Risk

I’ve published the full post of this story at my MarketingRev site. Please check it out. I think it’s important enough for wider dissemination.

I’m a customer of a little company called CountryWide Financial, a holding company of various financial and banking services, including insurance, mortgage, commercial loans and capital markets. Actually, they’re one of the largest financial companies in America, with many thousands of customers who trust them to safeguard personal data. Like many financial companies, CountryWide frequently changes and upgrades its security policy for handling online transactions. But the latest upgrade ensures that I will never use the CountryWide site again to handle transactions, and it’s an issue that has enormous impact for marketers who are charged with safeguarding customer relationships and brand image, if not directly responsible for customer data.

Read the full post.>>

The Role of Business in a Market Community

I’ve finally posted something I’ve been thinking about for a long, long time. A lot of people are talking about the impact of social media on business, and how it forces businesses to play a role as a member of a market community, rather than simply trying to build a fawning circle of customers. The effectiveness of one-way, broadcast communications is changed dramatically in a world where customers have the ability to dialog and compare what you say with what you do. But I’ve been interested in how this actually fits within the historical context of business evolution over centuries. I finally put my thoughts and research down in this post at Unica’s Marketing Consortium. I’m interested in hearing your ideas and feedback. Check it out and weigh in.

Consumer Disgust as Social Media Driver

There’s quite a lot of discussion these days about social media, the, um, New Big Revolution in marketing. In reality, it’s more like a stepping stone on the evolutionary path that continues to define and redefine the relationship between businesses and markets. It wasn’t too long ago that we were talking frothily about "Customer Centricity", and before that personalization, one-to-one marketing, and on the trail leads into the misty past. What’s changed today is that technologies have emerged that allow market participants to network–to share ideas and opinions that in ways that blunt the prepackaged and broadcast messages marketers have relied on since the development of mass media to position and sell products.

I’ll be digging into a lot of these issues over the next few weeks, but for the moment, I want to draw attention to the market drivers that are making social media so important. There’s a lot of focus on the mechanics of social media, the fear that companies have of "losing control" of their message, and how businesses and marketers can change strategies to cope. That’s all well and good. But as we so often do, we leave out of the equation the fat elephant sitting in the corner that explains why businesses are being dragged into this transformational step. In a word, the driver of change is Marketing–as in, spin. As in, hype. As in, manipulation of the truth and exploitation of people’s fears and needs to drive short term profits.

The simple truth of the matter is that people are sick and tired of being sold a bill of goods, and marketing as a profession only has itself to blame, because it has consistently failed to stand up and demand ethics, accountability and transparency–all concepts now fundamentally tied to the buzz of Social Media. Instead of flogging this idea ad nauseum, I just want to put in front of you Exhibit A.

This is an outtake of the movie The Corporation, which came out a couple of years ago. You have to watch it to believe it. This is where we’ve arrived at the pinnacle of professional marketing. No sense of what’s right and wrong, no accountability for horrific decisions to exploit the weakest members of society, and precious little discussion about this issue until the government decides to step up and impose regulations, at which point we cry foul.

This second clip is from the DVD extras. More incredible insights into why consumers want to block marketers out of their lives altogether. It’s such a surprise, this social media groundswell.

What’s interesting is that in the later part of this clip, you can see they finally realized the potential backlash of these interviews, and start backpeddling and rationalizing their behavior. And even then, the rationalizations are patently disturbing.

Now, I don’t want to jump all over Lucy Hughes. Okay, strike that, I do. This is a *parent* for cripes sakes. But I do want to point out that this is not at all unusual, though it is particularly graphic. This is a prominant attitude in business and media–mainstream media are, after all, not only totally complicit in this "game", they exploit it by creating specialty programming to suck kids in.

This is what social media is really about. It’s an early sign of consumers shutting out the spin and exploitation. The question every marketer has to ask himself and herself, is whether their response to the trend of social media is to find new ways to escalate the "game", or to recognize that they are members of a community, and that there are markets to build and profits to be made by engaging responsibly with their markets, and ethicly. 

Falling off the Bandwagon

My wife is
a librarian. If you don’t know a librarian, you should. They remind us of two critical
things in life: we don’t know nearly as much as we think we know, or should,
and the sources we rely on these days for truth are not nearly as reliable as
we’d like to believe. I met my wife when we were both just starting out. She
was on her first gig as a reference librarian at a public library, and I was on
my first gig as a journalist. I was searching for truth, and she new where to
look it up.

In the
seventeen years that we’ve been together, I’ve developed a profound respect for
the library profession. Librarians as individuals are smart,
inquisitive and very well informed. But as a profession, they transcend. They
know the origins of their profession and its evolution over centuries. They
understand their role in society and their value to the community they serve. They
work hard to face the tremendous challenges that technology brings, and to
constantly maintain relevance in a society that often, perilously, forgets
their worth. 

When I look
at the library profession, exemplified at large by the American Library
Association, I see a profession that is fully engaged with society and with
their peers. They don’t always get everything right, but they’re on the ball. And
when I look around, I see other professions and professional associations that
are similarly dialed in, like the American Medical Association. Again, they’re
not perfect, but they’re fully engaged, with a strong vision of the challenges
and opportunities they face as a group.

I don’t see
the same image with marketers, or with the American Marketing Association. We
are a profession that is fragmented and in disarray. Most
marketers have little or no understanding of our professional history. We don’t
fully understand, or admit, our role in society, or the value we offer to our
community. We do work hard to face new challenges, but almost never as a
cohesive group. Instead, we elevate gurus and trade in buzzwords until a
dominant theme emerges, often simply trading one trend for another.

At the
figurative head of this chaos, the American Marketing Association serves less
as a professional body of leadership, than as the leading beneficiary of our
ignorance. Rather than driving dialog and debate over the right path into the
future, the AMA feeds off the marketing community with endless seminars and classes
promising to enlighten us about the latest buzz trend. I get spam from the AMA
that is indistinguishable from any other guru garage, promising to teach me how
to stay one step ahead of impending doom.

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With all of
the significant challenges marketers face in redefining their role in the
corporation, and their relevance to corporate strategy, you would think an
organization like the AMA would find its voice in leading the way forward. Instead,
they are always leading the bandwagon to the top of the bell curve. That’s not
to say the AMA doesn’t have good people or informative programs. But what
marketing needs today in a professional organization is leadership, not
fast-following. I wish we could find that leadership in the AMA.

iPhone = iRrelevant

SorcererI was hoping to make it over to Moscone today to breathe a little of whatever is in the air at MacWorld. In the past few days, I’ve had numerous people tell me with great excitement how great the new iPhone is. I’ve heard people referring to Steve Jobs as a marketing god. I’ve watched the Apple, Inc. stock jump, just as it does almost every January when Jobs throws back the curtain on the latest revolution. Give me some of that kool-aid, because I’m not seeing all the bright colors today.

To be sure, Jobs is certainly a genius. He’s hit more out-the-park home runs in marketing, in more arenas, driving more revenue, than almost anyone. But he also has a fair share of duds, which is only natural, but which everyone seems to forget in January. The latest, before the iPhone, was the MacMini, which was supposed to drive a revolution in small desktop machines.

I still remember back in, what was it, 1999, when the 5-color iMacs were unveiled. I remember seeing the great creative ads, and thinking, what?, the great revolution here is colored computers? And then it hit me like a ton of bricks how mind-numbingly brilliant that was. Yes. Color, style in computing. We all had clunky beige boxes with no pinache, and Jobs made computers cool. And the iPod. Jobs took those clunky MP3 players with no memory and turned them into a simple, powerful and cool device for bringing more music into your day. Phenomenal.

But what does the iPhone bring to mobile phones? Everything the iPhone does, I can already do on my Treo. Sure, the UI looks streamlined and the package is pure Apple sex, but the mobile phone industry isn’t exactly lacking in revolutionary spark–a hot new design from Motorola, Samsung or Nokia comes out, what, every Tuesday? The iPhone won’t even be available until June.

Everyone on the planet with an ounce of interest in this space has been waiting for Apple to merge the iPod with a phone for generations (product, not human) so this wasn’t exactly unexpected. And yet everyone gasped when the iPhone was unveiled. That is Jobs’ true genius. But if Apple was really on its game, they would have had the iPhone ready to ship today. In six months time, it may prove to be the next MacMini instead of the next iPod.