The Automation Touch

A lot of people understand the brand building value of the human touch; how refreshing it is to talk to a real person, how nice it is when a service employee goes above and beyond to help you with your situation, how human it feels to be addressed by your first name.

But hiring people is expensive. People can’t consistently work twenty four hour days. They require things like clean restrooms and medical plans. And so management searches out automated solutions to drive costs down. And we lose the human touch.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Unfortunately, few people talk about the Automation Touch. The Automation Touch can be hamfistedly clunky. In trying to be personal, it can come off as transparently cloying. And sometimes, the Automation Touch can be just as costly. That’s probably what the management at this erstwhile-global outfit are feeling about now…

Happy Friday.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Building Brands With Small Talk

Back in the day, brand building fell under the province of big television production. You cast some people whose face held light particularly well, spent a few weeks shooting the golden hours of dawn and dusk, then set them all into motion around an inspirational, major-chord track that built to a stirring conclusion. The client beamed, viewers nodded and everyone felt good.

The only issue around that kind of branding was ROI. Did it really work? Did positive feelings really mean that much to brand health, especially given the cost?

Often, the answer was yes. Big companies with global issues need people to feel positively about their presence and initiatives. Public opinion sways policy and markets.

But those kinds of messages rarely translated to say, a stick of gum or a box of cereal. That’s where today’s social media can step in: modern PR that starts online conversations and dialogue is the logical evolution of old-style brand building. Today’s social creates positive opinions around brands through direct engagement and charm.

In many ways, it is closely akin to cocktail party chatter. It’s always nice to meet someone who is easy to talk to, who has interesting things to say and draws you into the conversation.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Those same principles apply to social brand building: it’s less about getting you to try a yogurt right now and more about building positive inclinations to the brand that will drive sales and insure good feelings down the road. The party ends and you walk away with a favorable impression.

Of course, not everyone is skilled at this kind of thing, at keeping things light and airy and shared. Too often, immediate brand needs supercede respecting the proper tenor of the forum. That leads to, well, social awkwardness. Which is pretty much the opposite of social brand building.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

As The Economy Goes, So Goes Advertising. And Inevitably, Groupon Too.

Blame it on the mortgage crisis.  Or the iPhone introduction. Or Barry Bonds’ steroid use. Whatever tripped the market stumble back in 2007, crushed the advertising industry in terms of spend. And according to analyses by four research companies, five years later, the recovery doesn’t look to be hard charging toward recovery. It’s more of a lope. Or a saunter. Maybe an amble.  But certainly no hard charge.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingWe’re definitely doing better than the all-time low of 2009, but at predictions of 2-4% growth, our business can only make the passbook savings sector envious. The real problem is that in tough times, many advertisers abandon proven advertising investments and instead ramp up a snipe-hunt like search for IROI (Immediate Returns On Investment). As recently as a year ago, that dream of new advertising platforms led to the ludicrous–and potentially scandalous–overvaluation of Groupon. Remember those halcyon days when this exciting new platform was going to reinvent advertising? When banks like Goldman publicly agreed with its eighteen billion dollar valuation after the IPO, despite the fact that the company was still not profitable when they filed with the SEC five months earlier? Remember how these daily dealers were going to change the paradigm?

Yeah, no one else does either. Funny how distance and the cold light of day kind of put a dimmer on hyperbole.

Sure, 83.1 million people once subscribed to Groupon’s daily deals. But price promotions, even if wildly successful, are entirely unsustainable. They are the crack cocaine of marketing–fast, intense, and ultimately incredibly unhealthy. Yes, Groupon provided small businesses with a new platform, but that platform was only about discounting, not brand building. Giveaways aren’t something any business can afford to do week in and week out. It definitely attracts an audience of users, but don’t confuse those users with fans. Or god forbid, a brand community.

Not surprisingly, Groupon is nowhere near an eighteen billion dollar valuation today. Not surprisingly, a Raymond James survey of merchants that used daily deal services during the Fall found that nearly forty percent were not likely to run another Groupon promotion over the next couple of years. And not surprisingly, Groupon’s founders have long since cashed out. Because the problem with any IROI is that it is a mirage–a sop to marketers desperate to find returns without the discipline of investment. Yes, there are new ways to go to market. But much like losing that extra Holiday weight, they still require long term commitment to see results.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

One Word Changes Everything…

At our end-of-year Holiday party yesterday, Brian Williams made this point while reviewing the state of the industry, our financial performance and our plans for thriving as we move forward…

“Advertising used to be about building brands.  Increasingly, it’s about building businesses.”

Marketing plans with longterm payoffs don’t really exist anymore.  The notion of building a brand through advertising and promotion is becoming an increasingly quaint and dangerous assumption.

That’s a hard truth for those who’ve thrived in the past.  Then again, it’s a new playing field for those willing to reinvent.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79