Brand Communities, Recommendation, and Going To School On The Other Guy’s Putt

If two golfers reach the green around the same time, neither wants to putt first. That’s because it’s always instructive to watch the other player’s ball roll; it susses out hidden breaks and the speed of the green.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThat behavior is not unique to golf; shoppers look to learn from their peers as well. As part of their participation in the Consumer Electronics Show last week, PR giant Weber Shandwick released a study that found the greatest influence on electronics purchase decisions comes from consumer reviews, not professional ones. In fact, electronics buyers value consumer reviews over editorial reviews by a more than three to one margin. Perhaps more importantly, they found that on average, buyers checked eleven consumer reviews before committing to a purchase.

All of this merely confirms the power of recommendation. As Paul Rand, President of Omnicom word of mouth shop Zócalo Group, asserts quite regularly about buyers; “92% say that the recommendation of a friend, family member, colleague or expert is the single most powerful influencer of their purchase decision.”

So it only makes sense for marketers to leverage this phenomenon and encourage reviews. But sales are a competition so there’s always someone looking to bring performance enhancing drugs to the race. Last Summer, Forbes ran an article concerning authors who anonymously pen self-promoting book reviews, or worse, slams on the work of rival authors. Around the New Year, the Huffington Post ran a piece on view count inflation on YouTube music video counts and a subsequent adjustment in those numbers.

People innately seek the opinions of others they respect and trust. And well tended brand communities provide forums for sharing those opinions. Weber Shandwick’s  report even closes with suggestions on how marketers can protect their recommendations’ legitimacy so they stay effective. But as long as there is money involved, some dirtbag will try to Lance the system and scam some bucks.

Yet another reason why authenticity is such a valued commodity these days.

 

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

PING Delivers A Powerful Non Word of Mouth Effort

Actually, it’s corporate public service, a humanitarian outreach to wounded US soldiers. As part of  the discharge process from rehab hospitals for some wounded veterans, Phoenix-based PING fits vets for custom golf clubs: woods and irons in a golf bag embroidered with their name and “wounded war veteran.” They also provide three days of golf instruction.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingPING does not advertise this program. They don’t even mention it on their website. Still, word has gotten out. I learned about it through an email from my father-in-law. And according to leatherneck.com, the US Marine Corps has already honored the company for their engagement with the Wounded Warriors Sports Project. A PING spokesman explained their participation in this program that serves veterans severely injured fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan “They learn to do sports — anything from skiing to golf to rock-climbing. It’s an amazing program…The Armed Forces have done so much to help protect our liberties and help us to be a successful company. The least we could do was to give back to these true American heroes.”

But that and a few random articles in places like Golf Digest is about as much as PING themselves will do to promote their participation. And it is far better that they don’t because they don’t have to. There are thousands of communities filled with people hungry for a good story about corporate decency more than willing to tell that story for them. Through emails. And, apparently, blog postings.

Well played PING, well played indeed.

.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

.

 

In A World of Empowered Word of Mouth, Customer Service Is Crucial

It just makes sense.  As DDB CEO Chuck Brymer put it in his book “SWARM”: “These days, if you have a bad experience at a Burger King, 147 FaceBook friends know about it in five minutes.”  Our ubiquitous social networks allow us, and even encourage us, to share our positive and negative experiences.  Of course, being humans, we’re less inclined to share satisfaction and far more inclined to share outrage.

Dennis Ryan, Element 79, Chicago AdvertisingNow, as is our wont in this industry, someone has gone out and empirically proven this obvious truth.   American Express just released their Global Customer Service Barometer which claims that 91% of Americans consider the level of customer service important when choosing a company to patronize.  Further, they will spend an average of 9% more on companies they believe provide exceptional service.

The bad news is that 28% say that companies pay less attention to good service these days.  And the way people determine how customer friendly a company is?

  1. Personal experience (98%)
  2. Company’s reputation or brand (92%)
  3. Recommendations from friends and family (88%)

Those are classic word of mouth drivers.  Most brands consider this discipline when they’re thinking 360º marketing, but the truth is, no brand can actually afford all 360º.  We’d serve our brands well by moving WOM up to degree #2.

Or risk customers giving us the third degree.

d

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

d

Debating the Rules for Brands in Social Media

In the latest issue of Advertising Age, the memorably-monikered Taddy Hall lays out Ten Essential Rules for Brands in Social Media.  Given the conflicting viewpoints regarding leveraging these platforms, these types of lists now clog every marketing outlet.  As someone clever once noted “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made” and advocates from all sides have leapt into the fray looking to profit.  But as the former chief strategy officer for the Advertising Research Foundation, Mr. Hall is no self-proclaimed spittle-lipped social media expert.  Instead, he drew data from hundreds of brand clients of his company Meteor Solutions to generate this shortlist of actionable insights based in proven fact.

Two of his essential rules really stand out as emblematic of the fundamental mindshift necessary for incorporating social media into marketing.  First is what he calls “The 1% Rule” where a tiny fraction of site visitors drive the lion’s share of total site traffic.  In case after case, his data demonstrates the power of heavy influencers to drive web behavior.  Importantly, that behavior goes beyond simply increasing site traffic to include a higher share of conversion.  For marketers, this means it is critical to identify, engage and reward ‘super-influentials’ when working in social media.  Historically, identifying and enlisting influencers on behalf of brands has been the province of PR.  Now that social media has grown so mainstream, that discipline must converge with general marketing if we want to effectively integrate our efforts.

The second is his “New Media/New Pipes” rule which shows that what consumers say about your brand means far more than what marketers say.  This is more quantified proof of the power of word of mouth and the need for a radical rethinking of how we present messages to the market.  More than anything, it means we must find more and better ways to cede control to consumers.

That’s hard.  Anyone with more than a few years of marketing experience has been steeped in the need to resist even looking at ideas from consumers for fear of legal exposure: brands must be managed, communication must be one way.  Except that today they aren’t, whether we like it or not.  Social media provide a mass channel for opinion.  More critically, that opinion can have more sales impact than our messages alone.  Content spread from consumer to consumer drives purchase intent far more powerfully than content directly from brands.  As an example, Mr. Hall says that brand content posted on a Facebook fan page has far less impact than the same content posted to an influential individual’s page.

The rest of his list makes for very worthwhile reading as well.  So much misinformation and conjecture fills the debate over social media; having guidelines culled from data, not mere experience, make this list actually worth reading.  Thank you for that Taddy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


Anyone Wanna Talk about the iPad? Anyone?

If you watched the news during the late 80’s, perhaps you too wondered “Just when did pitbulls stop biting people?”  We seemed to go through a couple of months there when pitbulls were biting everything: tearing through titanium, ripping children out of nurseries and basically behaving like canine Nazis.

Then, as quickly as the stories started, they stopped and we went on to other lasting things like acid washed jeans and Yahoo Serious.  The ugly truth was this ‘story’ was part of a coordinated PR effort to draw more attention to the American Humane Society.  Unfortunately, it resulted in character assassination for a notably courageous. loyal and yes, loving breed.

But that’s the nature of PR and trends: they burn hot and furious, then die to be replaced by a new flame.  And maybe that explains why it seems like no one is talking about the iPad anymore.  Two or three weeks ago, you couldn’t get away from the thing; every blog, news story, and tweet breathlessly reported some new aspect of this technology that was going to change the way we did, well, everything.

Eventually, cooler heads considered it and asked “1 GB of memory?”  “No camera?”  More damningly, despite Steve Jobs’ bluster about how “Flash sucks,” essentially all web video uses Flash, so without that capability, the iPad will be severely hampered as a web surfing tool.

Yes, someday it will create a viable new category between laptop and smart phone.  Maybe even a version or two from now.  But more likely, much like the Newton eventually begat the iPhone, the iPad will inevitably beget something people actually want for more than two weeks.

You know, something that becomes a brand, not just a Google trend.

In a world where opinion enjoys a mass channel, brands need word of mouth that’s not just positive, but sustainable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

You Might Not Understand Word Of Mouth Advertising, But Chances Are You Practice It

I’m a huge believer in word of mouth advertising.  The power of recommendation to close a sale makes the kind of intuitive sense that renders quantitative analysis expensively redundant.

Particularly when you read a story like the one printed in Section D of yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle.  It outlines how Facebook now directs more online users to content than Google does.  What they refer to as “friend-casting” information makes Facebook a huge force in directing the flow of web traffic, particularly to major portals like MSN and Yahoo.

This simply proves that when we make small talk on social media, we like to share what we’ve recently seen, read or heard (“The “My Sharona” guy from the Knack just died! http://nyti.ms/cuVwxD”).  And since we’re talking to friends who know our interests, we’re likely to click on those links (“Oh my gosh–I didn’t know his brother was Dr. Kervorkian’s lawyer!”).

This constant digital connectivity has created a modern world of easy, fast and omnipresent recommendation.  With a few clicks, we can get an opinion about that movie we’re considering, a review of that book we heard of, a friend’s experience at that hot new restaurant.

Facebook, as an increasingly frequent touchpoint of our every day, provides a very convenient marketplace to trade those thoughts and opinions.  All of which leads some pundits to predict that social media will become the internet’s next search engine.  Maybe, but I think social platforms operate slightly differently, as a conversational dialogue.

Google informs you about what you find interesting.

But Facebook informs you about what your friends find intersting.

That’s social.  And it drives an increasing amount of choices these days.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

So Apparently There’s This CGI Film In Theaters. And It’s Rather Popular.

Fact: Avatar’s first weekend worldwide box office was $242.5 million.

Fact: Avatar grossed $1.3 billion worldwide in less than a month.

Prevalent Speculation: Including marketing, the project represented a nearly $450 million bet.

Tactic: In this week’s Advertising Age, a cover story discusses the way 20th Century Fox marketed the movie: traditionally, with a $150 million ad spend, and big promotional partners.

Conclusion:  Don’t dismiss mass marketing yet.

Krakow, Poland

Yes, we live in radically altered times.  Opinion enjoys new mass channels as consumers actively dis-integrate old mass channels.  And yet, given a good story that piques our interest, raises some classic themes, and gets everyone talking, a compelling mass market message can still drive outrageous success.  It’s just now, when that advertising gets the whole world talking, individuals have places to further the discussion: Twitter, e-mail, even self-important blogs like this one.  When a story captures peoples’ imaginations, they pick up and pass it along for you, expanding the coverage and radically extending the media buy.  Today, if you generate good word of mouth, you get something mass marketing can rarely buy: sustainability.

People who’ve seen the movie, rave about it.  And that drives more sales, as positive word of mouth sways people who were considering seeing it, particularly in the pricier IMAX 3-D.

So Avatar’s wildly successful initial weekend box office results were not driven by social: there was no official Twitter account to follow.  And there was no viral digital experience (those lost favor when the Snakes on a Plane hysteria failed to drive audiences to theaters).

Just a lot of TV–including long format buys and major sponsor support–and some really strong PR.  Clearly, Avatar is a mass brand.  And it advertises that way.  Pepsi meanwhile, has loudly announced its decision to shun the Super Bowl.  Hmm…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79


After A Year, the Collective-Thinking is that Brands Are Opinions: Introducing brandsareopinions.com

SmileBalloon_IMGThis blog began almost one year ago as a repository for thoughts and opinions related to the rapidly-changing world of marketing.  “Collective-Thinking” referred to the cloud nature of modern intelligence; how the thoughts and opinions surrounding our industry exist in an ever-growing, ever changing aggregation online.

The process of keeping pace with our changing industry in order to write about it forced a lot of growth and new thinking.  Perhaps the most fundamentally game-changing realization is how the time-honored notion of ‘brand truth’ no longer holds.  “Brand Truths” are vestiges of a time when advertising dollars could buy a one-way sales channel to consumers.  Because the messages flowed solely from the marketer, the advertising agency could determine and dictate what constituted ‘truth.’

Today, that model simply doesn’t exist.  Opinion enjoys a mass channel, personal recommendation drives the vast majority of sales, and the dawn of broadband and the widespread access to Web 2.0 has eradicated the old one-way channel.  Today, there are more outlets for feedback, more forums for discussion, more places for consumers to provide their perspectives on brands.

Today, Brands must find ways to thrive in a world of opinion no longer dominated by advertisers.  Brands must begin adopting a two-phase process of advertising and word of mouth, of building awareness and empowering advocates, of getting recognized and the getting recommended.  Agencies must work to develop and spread ‘sharable stories’ to influence the dialogue out in the world of opinion.

That will be the way forward for marketers.  At least, that’s my opinion.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

A New Retirement Opportunity for Copywriters: Big Businesses Hiring Professional Tweeters

This recent Yahoo! news item tells the story of Alecia Dantico, a professional Tweeter who is part of a growing trend of large corporations hiring talent to send out messages on that social network.  

Like most creative endeavors, this could be a very smart thing or a small distraction: the results depend upon strategy and even more importantly, execution.  

Strategically, this initiative needs a clear purpose and goals: brandbuilding?  Outreach for direct consumer connection?  A modern update of the old consumer complaint department?  Whatever the reason, this and any marketing endeavor needs to have a clearly-defined goal, otherwise it’s simply another distracting tactic.

The execution must then work to execute this strategy, mindful of the strengths and weaknesses of the platform.  For Twitter, one of those strengths is the immediacy and topicality of a group conversation; the best tweets are often helpful and always engaging.  Comedy, surprise, discovery; the best Twitter feeds deliver those on a dependably regular basis.  In other words, if the brand personality doesn’t engage or worse, if corporate concerns over legal and control issues sanitize and stifle the 140 character executions, the result more likely will be a “Bland Personality.”

Picture 2Which is why this platform provides the perfect retirement opportunity for copywriters.  Office location, 9-5, assignment flowcharts: none of these agency realities matter in the world of corporate micro-blogging.  All that matters is the need to create relevant engagement that serves a strategy.  Our creative enterprise has a well-earned reputation for eating it’s young; here at last could be a way to make good with an ongoing freelance gig that serves both brands and creatives.

It also serves the newer offerings of Word-of-Mouth PR agencies, most of whom already follow this sort of ‘create a strategy and outsource the execution’ type of model.  

It doesn’t however, serve large agency structures.  Considering this article in relation to yesterday’s post which took Weber Shandwick’s Chris Perry to task for laying the blame for Social Media’s slow development as a brand platform squarely at the feet of traditional agencies, perhaps I should rethink.  Particularly after posting yesterday’s blog to LinkedIn’s AdPro group to solicit other points of view and receiving some very thoughtful responses.

Corporations need results from their tactics.  They also need something else: responsibility from their marketing partners.  The cost structure of a traditional agency makes this kind of initiative rather challenging from a creative execution standpoint.  However, the benefits of insuring an integrated strategy and established results expectations make this an easily-adopted new tactic…

Once you outsource to a few talented, interesting, retired writers.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Actually Ad Age, The Reason "Why Social Media Isn't Living Up to the Hype (Yet)" Is Because There's No Such Thing As Social "Media"

In this week’s Advertising Age, Chris Perry–the senior guy in Weber Shandwick’s digital practice–wrote an article placing the major ‘blame’ for social media’s under-performance squarely at the feet of the ‘dated agency model.’  Because social media is so new and so revolutionary, traditional agencies and their clumsy attempts to mainstream it into existing profit structures fail to use this medium to anywhere near it’s full potential.  In short, we’re all doing it wrong.

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Art by Steve Lambert, http://visitsteve.com/

Oh please.  This kind of hand-wringing, model-bashing argument is getting truly tiresome; it’s too much “I told you so” that doesn’t tell much of anything. We’re slapped in the face with the promise of it even though no one has yet to deliver any profits from it.  Garrett’s Popcorn is tweeting now? Okay, I’ll remember that next time I feel compelled to talk to a tin of caramel/cheese popcorn.  Dell’s much ballyhooed two million dollars worth of @delloutlet Twitter sales?  That’s less than one hundredth of a percent of their annual sales.  NBC CEO Jeff Zucker said it best: “Our challenge with all these new-media ventures is to effectively monetize them so that we do not end up trading analog dollars for digital pennies.”  Indeed.  This is, after all, a business.

But all of this is quibbling; fundamentally, Mr. Perry’s argument is flawed because Mr. Perry assumes there is such a thing as Social “Media.”  I disagree.

Social media doesn’t yet live up to the hype because social ‘media’–as agencies and advertisers define ‘media’–simply doesn’t exist.

Call me a copywriter, but words matter.  “Social Media” is an ill-considered term for advertisers.  As an important cultural phenomenon, slapping the label “media” on it creates the impression that clients must put messages there and that’s simply not true.  The explosive expansion and proliferation of social networks is nothing short of a communications revolution, but that doesn’t make them a marketing medium…or any sort of “media” whatsoever.  When my sister friends her long lost high school bandmate on Facebook, she doesn’t consider it an advertising platform–Facebook is simply a way to connect and communicate.  It is SOCIAL first and foremost; it is absolutely not “Media” by any traditional industry definition.  This simple reality drives headlines like this from today’s Online Media Daily: “More Women Using Social Networks, But Brands Not Benefitting.”  The whole conceit of ‘Social Media’ is a sociologist’s invention–using it in reference to marketing unnecessarily confuses the issue.  With the notable exception of Word of Mouth PR outreach, social networks provide an extremely limited forum for selling and driving profit.

Do social networks matter?  Very much so.  Should agencies be focused on them?  They better be.  At Element 79, we believe every one of our clients should be deeply involved in social networks–less as a selling platform and more as a deep, rich, real-time glimpse into consumer sentiment about their brands and categories.  Social networks present an unprecedented platform for real time research that savvy planners can mine for opinion gathering and monitoring. 

In these times when brands are opinions and opinion enjoys a vast media channel independent of the paid media that spurs and sparks consumer conversations, we must start creating metrics around social network conversations as another measure of our communications’ success in market.  Internally, this lays a new groundwork for planner responsibilities: first mining social networks for consumer insights and relevance and later assessing the results of our efforts.  Did our ideas enter the conversations?  Were our strategies compelling, our executions memorable, our messages relevant and persuasive?  That’s all measurable with the vast data engine that is the web.

These new platforms are social networks; rich and vibrant communication ecosystems that advertisers should strive to protect and foster.  Social media however, remains a pipe dream, an ill-considered fool’s errand where marketing messages flounder amidst a social setting that so far, is neither welcoming nor profitable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79