Archive for April, 2009

Apr 22 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Published by under KickApps,Social Media

I wrote this post for the KickApps blog.

TechCrunch’s Mobile Crunch blog reported yesterday that Verizon Wireless is now accepting user reviews and ratings of products in their catalog. The author of the post and many of the readers that left comments seem to think this is a bad move on Verizon’s part.

I concede that it may seem strange for Verizon to be opening themselves up for potential abuse, but I see this as not just a brave move but more importantly, an extremely smart one. By doing this, Verizon goes from being just a transactional vendor to providing something that’s potentially really valuable to customers during the buying process. This translates to trust.

Most people have a love-hate relationship with mobile phone service providers (don’t we all feel like we’re constantly being screwed over by them), and this is a great way of saying to potential customers:

“We want to provide you with really helpful information about which one of our products best meet your needs and what better way of doing this than hearing it from people like yourselves rather than us.”

Just as powerful though is that Verizon gets immediate feedback and insight into what customers and prospective customers think of their products. They hear first hand what features they like and want, and dislike and don’t want. Point is, if you listen to what your customers want, you’ll always have a hit. This is exactly what the guys from Threadless have built a thriving business on. Fact is, in today’s world of the social web, any company that doesn’t care to listen to customers will find themselves looking like this in short order:

I know what you brand and media people are saying right now, “I can’t have an unruly mob take over my website and brand!” Fair point. But, there’s nothing wrong with curation, in fact, I’d argue that it’s crucial to the customer experience.

As a consumer, I want reviews that truly help me make a purchasing decision, that inform me about the pros & cons of whether a product will meet my needs. That’s true value. Having to read abuse for the sake of it is not.

Establishing the guidelines for delivering that value is crucial for any brand or web publisher, call it community rules if you’d like (CafeMom and Flickr do great jobs of this). Consumers won’t begrudge you for wanting to make sure that they get real value out of this feature. Someone saying that this particular model’s “battery life is horrible and won’t be good for travelers” is valuable, whereas, “Motorola phones suck!” isn’t. But, you have to be honest and transparent about this. Again, think real value not just fluffy reviews that blow a lot of sunshine.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. User-generated product reviews help establish better relationships with customers that emanate from trust and value
  2. How are you providing more value to customers and prospective customers?
  3. Set the rules of engagement, but be honest and transparent about it. Establish what the feature is for and what is acceptable and what isn’t. Use clear and straight forward language that’s easy to understand
  4. Listen! Listen! Listen! To what your customers are prospects are saying and you’ll always have a hit product

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Apr 14 2009

Advertising, PR, Interactive, Search, Direct…Oh My

Published by under Engagement,My Thoughts

My most recent job has me thinking about marketing agencies and the shift in marketing that has even the CMO of Unilever (not exactly the brand I think of when one talks about the internet or social media) ranting and raving about the impact of social media on marketing.

As I said in an earlier post, I find that depending on who you ask and what type of marketing they do, they’ll tell you that their discipline is the best suited to be the social media answer to all the modern marketer’s woes. To me that’s not even the point. I think that if you’re having a discussion along the lines of social media you’re having the wrong the discussion–I’ll address this point later, but first a rant on agencies.

Seriously, ask a PR agency guy what type of agency he thinks ‘gets’ social media and he’ll give you a hundred reasons why PR has all the answers. They’re the ones that have honed the fine art of reaching influencers after all. Sure, I suppose it makes sense that a social media expert from a major PR agency would NEVER do something stupid like this. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Ask an ad guy and he’ll show you a bunch of commercials they created that they put on a YouTube channel that they convinced their client to pay a minimum of $500,000 for. People really want to watch TV commercials online, don’t they?! (Disclosure: I do this quite a bit actually, I particularly like the Nike ones. Wait…I’m in marketing, of course I think ads are cool. Nevermind.)

OK, rant over.

Marketers should be looking at how they’re engaging with customers. That is, the opportunity for a brand to establish and nurture a direct, lasting and loyal relationship with a customer in ways that haven’t been possible before. Social media to me is just one of the channels in which you can engage with a customer, albeit a very effective one.

On the brand side of the business, I look at all these disciplines as ways of meeting my business objectives. I use a mix of them because they all serve different purposes and when used correctly (by a brilliant marketer), at the right time, in the right ways, in the right mix, you win.

I’m not the first to say that the social web has changed the game dramatically for brands (especially media companies). You might even be so bold as to say that people are in control now–I don’t necessarily believe that to be the case entirely, but I do believe that the dynamics have shifted and there’s no turning back. More interestingly, the change seems to be accelerating (much like global warming).

So, what’s the right type of agency or marketer to deliver this?

In my opinion, it’s one that understands and can deliver a highly evolved offering of PR, advertising, search, direct marketing, content development, programming, events and community management, all integrated into a strategy that flows through the entire backbone of a business, and a deep ability to provide technology solutions to achieve all this.

More importantly, it’s a marketer that gets that all of this requires a fundamental change in the way a company operates, the way it handles customer service, product development, partnerships, etc., and transforms this understanding into engagement strategies and tactics that feed back into a companies business objectives.

Does an agency like this exist? Not that I know of.

Can it? I think so.

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Apr 13 2009

It’s About Engagement, Stupid

Published by under Engagement,My Thoughts

I’ve been scratching my head for a while about the question of where social media should sit in an organization. I’ve learned that the way a person typically answers that depending on his or her background and point of view. A PR person will typically say, PR! (Especially if that person works at an agency.) An advertising person will usually say, ADVERTISING! You get where I’m going with this.

My auto-response answer is: marketing. As I give it more thought though, I don’t think it’s that straight forward. These days I’m thinking that it should live wherever business strategy lives and in the channels where a company delivers tactically against those strategies. Does that mean it lives everywhere? Maybe.

From my perspective, social media enables engagement. To me, it’s much more interesting to think of it as an enabling technology that serves a bigger business objective: a more effective and efficient way to serve customers.

Engagement translates to better communication and understanding of your business eco-system (customers, employees and partners), which results in better products and services, and ultimately happier customers, employees and partners. Social media happens to be a great channel for achieving that.

You have to ask where all of those things matter most within a company. I think most will come to realize that engagement has the potential to impact a company’s business at a fundamental level. I get excited about this because I believe that engagement, and social media as a technology that enables engagement, does this in pretty dramatic ways.

No, I’m not going to say that there’s a revolution at our door steps or anything silly like that. I do however believe that transparency, changes in control of communication mediums & messages and the need for authenticity, represents both a for change from business as usual, but more importantly, a HUGE opportunity for both consumers and businesses.

For me, right now, that means engagement as a business strategy is what’s more interesting, and social media as one of a mix of channels and technology for achieving those objectives is what makes sense.

So, where does it live? Marketing? Customer support? Product development? HR? PR? Partner relations? Yes, yes, and yes.

The real challenge (and opportunity) that I see is how a business integrates engagement into every aspect of its business operations where it makes sense.

One response so far

Apr 04 2009

Who Gets It?

Published by under My Thoughts

About a month ago, I had a conversation with a friend who doesn’t work in the same industry as I do about a phrase that she noticed is quite pervasive amongst the social media set.

“They don’t get it.”

This is used to explain the ineptitude and shortcomings of my brethren in marketing who work at brands, enterprises and agencies or all shapes and sizes, and pertains to their lack of understanding about social media and engagement marketing.

As an outsider, that phrase just sounded condescending, at best, and arrogant and obnoxious at worst, to her.

I tried to explain, as earnestly as possible, the context in which I’ve used that phrase to describe these small minded people. I’m sorry, I mean marketers. There are, after all, so many examples of marketers at brands and agencies that don’t get this new world of transparency and authenticity.  Truth is, even when they try, most attempts at engagement marketing by seasoned marketers are true fuck ups and one can only conclude that they just don’t get it. Right?!

I mean, they just don’t seem to get that the world has changed. They’re obviously just freaked out and desperate to hold on to their old ways of doing business in the same ways that Conservatives talk nostalgically about the good old days of oppression and slavery (well, you get my point).

After awhile though I started listening to what she was saying (usually a good idea in a conversation). It wasn’t whether or not people get it, rather, this industry that I work in seems to be really caught up in its own bullshit. That got me thinking. Maybe I’m living too much in my little bubble of get-it-ness and I’m missing something.

A couple of weeks after this conversation I met a guy who works at one of these ‘don’t get it’ big agencies. This guy is a classic ad guy. Knows the traditional ad business inside and out. He seems to be really good at his job and he immediately earned my respect.

We had a conversation about the transformation of the ad industry. We talked about their existing business and the fact that doing 30 second spots for TV remains their bread and butter.

Wait, hadn’t he and his Mad Men friends heard about what we in the social media industry know to be Gospel? Isn’t TV dead? Aren’t million dollar ad campaigns dead? Isn’t it all about the social web? Ugh, another guy who doesn’t get it.

But here’s the thing, I think he does.

The fact is that any big brand (the ones that my industry cohorts bitch about) are faced with a reality of today’s business. Would you throw away millions of dollars that roll in the door today to jump on a bandwagon that, yes, will become THE way of marketing in the near future but isn’t quite there today? Any executive worth anything would not say yes to that. If they do, they’re idiots.

Rather, wouldn’t you just send your best and brightest out there to learn and experiment as much as they can with these new methods, knowing full well that you’ve got to very quickly develop an expertise in this new approach to marketing?

The measure of that executive is how quickly they understand and act on the balance of allocating resources between maintaining your existing business and ensuring that the company is ready to move in a new direction when the market conditions are right.

This is exactly what my new friend appears to be doing.

So, when I was asked tonight whether I thought he ‘gets it,’ I had to think about it for a second. My answer now is, yes, he does.

More importantly, I think I finally get it too.

No responses yet