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Where Will Brands Show Up This Year?

Posted by admin on January 6th, 2010

Last week, after a conversation about end-of-the-year type stuff, Katie Morse forwarded me an article that crystallized (for me at least) the divide that has begun to evaporate between the “traditional media” and “social media” worlds over the past few years.

The article was about the digiday:TARGET conference last month, and a conversation among several executives about the way “brands are showing up online.”  I wasn’t there, so I can’t offer the full context of what appeared to be a pretty interesting media buying debate.  However, the real tension – the most captivating point – and the thing that made me stop was the idea of “showing up.”

What does it mean when a brand shows up?

Well, it used to mean that you were looking at research, perhaps a list, or some piece of syndicated data on who had spent media dollars.  You might have seen brands listed as having advertised in print or on TV or radio. They might have shown up on a list of good brands or bad brands, but did they actually do anything other than make a cursory appearance before the page was turned, the commercial skipped or the channel changed?

That’s the way I used to think about it.  But not anymore.

Today, my first reaction is to laugh, because when you talk about brands “showing up” now, it’s not about traditional media.  You mean social marketing.  The phrase has a new context; the bar has been raised, and most marketers playing in the online media sandbox realize that there’s a new set of rules.  For them, “showing up” means participating in people’s lives – and not just as a tool, product or service.

The social web is what changed that.  Interpersonal communication is not always face to face anymore.  It happens via web sites, through text messages, and comments and photo  and video uploads and more.  When you consider the way people use the web now – relying on it to connect and share with others – you begin to think of the web as something other than an advertising medium.  Something altogether different than other marketing channels.

For many people, the web is just plain integrated to the way they live.  For some, their most intimate relationships are with those whom they connect online.  Yes, people still “visit” web sites, but their motivations and expectations are much greater than even a few years ago.

That’s the difference (and the difficulty) in showing up now.

When brands show up online now, they are actively participating in people’s lives. Marketers have the potential to create experiences that are as inspiring (or not) as the daily interactions people have with their brands.  And inspiring people is what creates word-of-mouth, the most desirable and trusted form of communication.

This makes the online marketing mix an interesting place – one where the brand imagery truly has to fit with the brand delivery.  In addition, research isn’t something you do before and after you communicate; it’s something that happens while you communicate and within the medium.  Show up in this medium, and you’d better not just be lobbing in messages about how you’re better than the competition.  You’d better be real, authentic, transparent, (insert next social buzzword here).  That’s the fact, though.

A lot of brands have shown up this year.  Fan pages, Twitter accounts, and iPhone apps are among the places where they’re done it.  Many of them have even shown up on a list of the Top 100 Social Brands (according to Vitrue).  It’s a list that is dominated by brands that have traditionally inspired people with their marketing and product delivery.  Many of the usual suspects, you might say.

But next year, that should change considerably.  Because in 2010, a lot more brands are going to show up.  Will you be one of them?

Preventing Ad History from Repeating Itself

Posted by admin on December 18th, 2009

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the iMedia Agency Summit, a gathering of over 400 online advertising and media executives in Scottsdale, AZ. Although I was kidded by both family and colleagues alike about the good fortune of a December trip to Phoenix, it was 50 degrees and raining most of the time. Seriously.

Nevertheless, it was worth it.

I walked away knowing that this conference was another microcosm of the thinking, the tension, and the overall “history is repeating itself” dynamic of the online ad business right now. A lot of people are struggling with the effects that social technology has brought to their world, much in the same way that marketers and ad agencies struggled with the origins of the Web back in the mid-late 90’s. Back then, the establishment of standard units by the IAB became a critical milepost in developing what’s now a $12 billion industry (one attendee threw this figure out there; I’m not sure if it’s accurate).

There was a vibe during the social media discussion that gave a distinct impression that some people are looking for standardization in social media and social marketing. Put it in a box so they can buy it, deploy it and measure it. I’m not one of those people.

The 7 C’s of Social Marketing

My presentation to the group, in partnership with Chris Andrew of Digitas, was dubbed, “The 7 C’s of Social Marketing.” I preferred our original title, “Advertising Doesn’t Work in Social, and Facebook Isn’t a Strategy. What do I Do?” but I’m actually grateful to Nancy Galanty of iMedia for changing it. It was an easy-to-digest series of cases that John Durham of Catalyst SF told me set the tone for the Town Hall discussion that followed.

That talk was partially defined by the question, “How can we collectively insure that social media doesn’t become the next banner ad?” And it was all about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be done in the online ad business to deal with social.

Let’s start with what doesn’t work: Thinking of “social media” as a thing or a product. Instead, try thinking about it as the socialization of media (not my phrase, but I’d credit to someone if it could actually be pinpointed). That mindset puts you in a place where you can deal with the dynamic changes going on and setting a vision for a long-term media/marketing strategy. You’re no longer reacting to the flavor of the month or the shiniest new object. Yes, some of these things are important, but they are only ingredients.

You also begin to see why campaigns don’t necessarily work and why they have to be continuous. People don’t turn their lives on and off, so marketers cannot afford to turn their relationships on and off. In this social mindset, clicks are not the most important measurement, but they become a part of a larger ongoing series of measurements.
With this mindset, you begin to see what does work. This might seem obvious, but “social” is about conversation. And those conversations tend to go very deep into what people really care about. For marketers, this can uncover a tremendous amount of insight, and those are measurements that tell me a lot more than the cost-per-click. (I know; that’s a cheap shot).

What needs to be done?

The simple answer is, “Continue to think creatively.” That solution works in marketing all the time, but that answer gets interpreted (and misinterpreted) all the time. It’s not about more creative ads or better direct marketing. The team at Ad Age said that nicely recently. Don’t put conversations in a box try to standardize them. The value of conversations is in their content and context, not necessarily their sheer number.

Surely, it will be important to measure and (to some degree) count the conversations that are happening. But smart marketers will be setting objectives and looking at the mosaic of conversations to see what people are telling them. They’ll find ways to connect and participate in thousands of little conversations happening among their customers to create relationships. They won’t just head to the great big place where they’re hanging out this week.

And ultimately, that’s what will work. Because connecting 1,000 little things on the web will always work better than having one big thing.

We’re Addicted to Our Friends

Posted by admin on October 7th, 2009

Sometimes, you hear something and you know it’s absolutely right. You don’t need proof, because it simply makes sense.  Done.

Sometimes, all of a sudden, you find proof.

This thought crossed my mind when I came across a research report on eMarketer, compiled by Beresford Research, covering “Use of Online Social Networks”  The title sure ain’t all that sexy, but this is what struck me:

When asked to compare online social networking with several offline activities, social network users only found going out with friends more important. That put social networking ahead of real-life activities such as playing games, reading, watching TV and playing sports.

So, ask yourself, what do you enjoy more than being with your friends?

graph for blog postThis small data point offered me some proof to what I heard back in the spring from Tim Young at the Inbound Marketing Summit in San Francisco.  What Tim said is something that I’ve been repeating ever since.

Tim is Founder & CEO of Socialcast and a very smart guy.  His gave a short speech in SF about Collective Creativity and Generation Y, and here’s the sound bite that struck me:

Young people aren’t addicted to Facebook, we’re addicted to our friends.

Think about it.  He’s right.  (And now he’s got the research to provide it).

For marketers looking to engage on Facebook, I think that creates a (maybe not so) small hurdle, because what users are there for could be just about anything.  Therefore, marketers may have a hard time being relevant.  But that’s a story for another day.

Today, I’ll look to hear something smart from Tim, because he and I are both speaking at the Inbound Marketing Summit in Boston.