Monthly Archive: May 2012

To Foster Quality Conversations, We Need A Much Slower Web

The Information Age is no bed of roses. For all the promise in the Web and genuine excitement over digital connectivity, there’s another sadder story to be told. One where we can’t seem to focus for more than a few moments at a time. This article, for instance, requires a shift to a slower mode — one where reading, reflection and thinking can occur. Yet, everything about the online environment is geared for speed. There are so many dopamine hits competing for your attention at this very moment, my call for A Slow Web — a contrary idea if there ever was one — is almost certain to be only partially heard, and soon lost in the wash.

Plus, speed and agility, the pillars of real-time marketing, are tough contenders. Tim Hayden, Edelman Digital’s senior vice president of mobile strategy, says, “Effective communication is a real-time responsibility, no matter the time of day, location or individual person we are trying to engage or influence.” He also believes lack of a relevant response to events or conversation on social media may “kill an opportunity to drive interest or purchase consideration.”

I agree with the basic premise that brands now have a responsibility to engage. But unless there’s a customer service issue at hand, people aren’t exactly waiting around for brands to talk to them, offer them deals, and so on. When you work inside the MarCom beltway, there’s a tendency to inflate the importance of brands, and real-time marketing does this, consciously or not.

Bottom line, I want to see brands offer immersive experiences. Something that breaks up the chaos and distractions inherent in digital media. In my opinion, advertising that lacks an experiential opportunity is dead on arrival. People need to feel the brand, in order to care about it, remember it and share it. And a strategy that emphasizes lots of little ideas and/or real-time marketing doesn’t provide that.

By immersive experiences and experiential opportunities, I’m specifically calling for offline solutions that close the loop on online leads. But it is also possible to go deep online, it’s just not a common practice. Imagine a brand with the resources to talk with (not to) tens of thousands of prospects and customers each day. That’s one-to-one marketing on a grand scale. A brand that can employ 500 “voices” might be able to log 10,000 engagements per day. I’m thinking Tweet rallies of five-to-ten minutes, and more intimate IM sessions (and video chats) as the relationship grows.

Bottom line, it’s about intention. It’s great that brands are showing up for the social. The next step is to migrate beyond cheap broadcast-style updates. There are plenty of appropriate places for one-to-many, but one-to-one is the most promising approach for establishing purchase intent and brand loyalty. And one-to-one takes time, patience and resources.

If you jumped to the conclusion, dear reader, here it is: A Slow Web makes real-time relationship marketing possible. For context, see above.

Do You Have Trouble Paying Attention? Maybe You’re A Narcissist

“Hi my name is _____ and I am working on a project for my creative strategist class and I was hoping that you could answer these questions please?”

That’s the entire email (sans attachment) that I received from a total stranger at University of Oregon last night. It grieves me to say how common this is.

Here’s another one for reference: “Good morning, David. I am very interested in joining your agency – hence the email!”

I could go on, but I think you can see the problem. There’s no persuasion here whatsoever, no effort taken to earn my attention and no reason for me to care.

Why is this? Are people particularly lazy today? Do people feel entitled? Did we forget to teach people raised on text messaging how to write a letter? Yes to all of the above.

People are also overwhelmed by information, and their mindless conduct shows it. According to a report from the University of California, San Diego, in 28 years — from 1980 to 2008 — our consumption of information increased 350 percent. This is alarming, but it’s high time we adapt to the new reality and learn how best to function in this new info-rich environment.

Writing for Media Shift last month, Aran Levasseur points to recent brain imaging studies that show sections of our brains are highly active during down time. Levasseur goes on to suggest that we teach mindfulness in our schools. That’s a great idea, but let’s begin by practicing mindfulness in our homes (and workplaces).

Howard Rheingold is also interested in mindfulness (or metacognition) as it relates to online behavior. According to Nieman Journalism Lab, “Rheingold says we have to connect our attention to our intention and be more aware of how what we’re actively doing relates (or often doesn’t) to what we need.”

Indeed. If it is a job you need, you’re going to have to work for it, and that means approaching each company, and each person, with the utmost respect. Sending out a one line inquiry says all the wrong things. It says you’re not paying attention to detail, that you can’t be bothered to do basic research and that you have zero clue as to the core elements of persuasion.

Take this site. If any of the job seekers in question simply made time to read a tiny bit of the copy herein, they would have concluded that there are no jobs available. Only projects, which typically go to colleagues that I’ve been working with for more than a decade.

I might add that this problem is much bigger than job seekers taking the fast train to Nowheresville. I’m also consistently pitched by agency search consultants who want me to fill out a Request for Proposal (again, for someone I’ve never met, or heard of), by salespeople selling a wide variety of services and by PR agents who want me to write about their clients.

Unless you can show me that I’m not just another email address on your list, your pitch is nothing to me but noise. Naturally, many brands also suffer from this kind of me-centric behavior. That’s why I am hired to provide an outsider perspective, and help brands find the reason for prospects to care. It’s rarely easy, but it’s the only way forward.

It’s 2012, Don’t Be Afraid To Invite Scrutiny And Comparison Shopping

Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman are managing directors at Harvard Business Review. Spenner and Freeman came up with something they call the “decision simplicity index,” which measures how easy it is for consumers to gather and understand information about a brand, how much they can trust the information they find, and how readily they can weigh their options. The easier a brand makes the purchase-decision journey, the higher its decision-simplicity score and the more likely it is to be purchased, repurchased and recommended to others.

The authors argue that their findings indicate the need for a profound shift from marketers. If simplifying the purchase-decision journey is the goal, it means brands need to do more than convey product attributes. The order of the day is to also provide specs on competitive products. It may seem counterintuitive, but the prospective buyer is going to seek out that information, with or without the aid of the brand under consideration. By providing an honest assessment of the competition, a brand says to its prospects, “we are not afraid of the facts, and we’re here to help you make the best decision, regardless.”

Clearly this approach will scare many brand managers off, but Spenner and Freeman do provide examples of companies on the edge of the new frontier in radical transparency. They don’t point to any brands doing the kind of comparison shopping online that Progressive Insurance is known for, but they highlight companies where customers share tips and insights with one another. J.C. Penney and American Eagle, for instance, have capitalized on the “haul video” phenomenon by hosting unbiased haulers on their sites and in their digital communications. Neither retailer requires that the haulers show only brands purchased at its store, and the haulers are transparent about their links to the companies (Penney, for instance, gives its star haulers gift cards).

I’m slightly freaked out by the haul video concept, but I’m not a digital native, nor a teen girl. Clearly, making video confessionals is common today, and young ladies want to discuss their purchases. So, who am I to judge?

What about the world of advertising agencies? How can business-to-business buyers of marketing and communications services get the scoop on the agencies being considered for a project, or for AOR status? As far as I know there is no place to get this kind of online peer evaluation for agencies and design shops. I guess Chief Marketing Officers still do it the old-fashioned wat — they call their business school buddies and attempt to get a read on a shop’s reputation and capabilities. Should there be an Angie’s List for professional services like advertising and design? Probably. I did check to see if Yelp had any local returns under “Advertising” and it turns out Yelp does. Both Wieden + Kennedy and Leopold Ketel & Partners are listed, and both have at least one review on their Yelp page.

I can’t imagine agencies working to easy the purchase-decision journey for prospective clients by hosting community dialogue on their sites, where current and former clients (and possibly staff) would be encouraged to talk, and perhaps break down what’s right and what’s wrong with the place. Agencies, like all companies, want to protect their image and they don’t want to invite comparison shopping. But it might be time to consider a new way of doing things, because it is impossible to deny that the comparison shopping will go on, particularly for high dollar items. Of course, it is a bit scary to consider, but I believe good things can come from embracing and facilitating the journey prospects actually take.

PR Wants To Muscle In (I Can Respect That)

In my hunt for work, I have visited over 100 different agencies over the years. Last month I paid my first ever visit to a PR shop — Fleishman Hillard in San Francisco. I’ve also been trying to get a meeting with the content team at Waggener Edstrom in Portland and/or Seattle for months, to no avail. Why? Because I’m a specialist in content marketing and many ad agencies have little clue about the practice. I’m not convinced PR agencies are much better, but I want to see for myself before making that call.

With this in mind, Timothy Kane’s guest piece in Ad Age is interesting to me. Kane works for Makovsky & Company, a PR shop in New York City. He makes some bold claims about PR’s reach, but let’s go with it for the moment.

Instead of trying to encapsulate your brand in a strategic statement, try writing a narrative for your brand. That’s what public relations does.

…They’re not your customers; they’re your constituents. It’s been said often, but it bears repeating: People don’t buy brands. They join them. So modern brands must function like political parties, identifying issues, expressing a coherent world view, staging debates and structuring dialogues.

I like his passion, but the fact is we all deal in brand narrative. How we tell our clients’ stories is what distinguishes one agency from another, and one marketing communications practice from another.

Kane suggests that Apple’s success is a win for PR, not advertising. He also notes that Nike is spending a lot less money on advertising these days. I think it’s pretty evident that Apple’s success is the result of superior product, supported by unrivaled branding. Nike’s success, on the other hand, is all about how their brand story plays out on TV. Maybe they don’t need to spend as much on TV as they once did, but that’s partly due to the rock solid foundation they created for the brand on TV.

I know PR shops, like every other type of agency under the sun, are desperate to tell brand stories on the Web today. There’s a lot of money on the line, and we must convey our expertise to clients so they’ll trust us with their most important tasks. And I’m not here to diminish PR, as I said above I want to learn more about the field. But help me understand, if you will, how firms that traditionally influence journalists are better prepared to reach customers and prospects? Ad agencies speak directly to customers and prospects. Granted, the vehicles they use to do so are a bit rusty, but the fact remains ad pros know how to persuade people to buy things.

I’ll conclude by saying that I spent several years working in so-called marketing services agencies. At the time, I may not have appreciated what a solid grounding in MarCom I was treated to in these environments. Now I see. The bottom line is our ability to establish interest over the long term. The interest is created by brand stories and the stories must be told in a variety of ways — in store, at branded events, online, on TV and radio, in the press and so on. Call it what you will, but to my mind “Relationship Marketing” is the roof over all our heads.