Real Time/Social Media is making us spoiled – time for the ‘long idea’

In the old world, the one before the Internet and social media, we got our content when they gave it to us.  It was akin to three square meals a day if you were lucky.  Newspapers flopped onto driveways, radio stations paused at the hour to bring us news and the family (well the parents) sat down to watch the evening news.  These content outlets created funnels through which we got our news, views and perspective.  All that changed when the Internet arrived.  We could now get what we wanted when we wanted.  Well sort of.  Google and Yahoo! served up huge amounts of previously inaccessible content in ways that changed the world forever.  We quickly got used to being able to get news headlines and perspective at our time and place of choosing.  But with this change in behavior came a change in expectations.  Because we can now get news on a subject 24/7, we now want news on that subject 24/7.  If there is no news to report then we are disappointed.  We are, it seems, the spoilt kids when it comes to content. This creates a challenge for brands because you never want to disappoint your customers.

A quick study of top consumer brands show they re all struggling with this challenge.  Whether they are conscious of the challenge is debatable but many are trying to engage more frequently with their customers and partners online to avoid going dark for a few hours.  Think about that.  A decade ago a brand could go dark for days, even weeks and nobody had a problem.  Today we expect our brands to be talking to us, introducing us to their friends, entertaining us and of course keeping us informed every hour of the day.  Big brands, it seems, are being pushed to behave more and more like media outlets.  But constantly creating compelling content is only part of the solution.  Brands need to learn more about how and when their customers want to engage.  They need to plan the engagement cycle rather than the news cycle.  For many this requires a wholesale rethink of how they structure communications and marketing so that they focus less on how to get the news out and more on how to drive engagement on a consistent basis.  That word ‘consistent’ is critical.  Brands that engage around a new campaign and then go dark are the ones that create the largest expectation gap with their customers.  Avoiding going dark requires a rethink of the ‘big idea’ approach to marketing and instead a focus on what the guys at our Bourne agency have termed the ‘long idea’. After all, today’s world needs ideas that drive lasting engagement by creating a series of conversations, not just one.

I challenge you to look at the frequency with which your brand or your clients are creating a reason to engage and then compare that with the competition.  While pace of engagement isn’t everything it is rapidly becoming a key measure of a brand and its value.  So if you are trying to drive brand value, take a long hard look at how frequently you are engaging with customers, stakeholders and partners.  In today’s world, it’s not the only way to drive brand value but it sure is a crucial one.  Oh and while your are at it please make sure to feed my insatiable appetite for updates, insight etc.  In todays’s world can you engage too much?  Let’s leave that topic for another post.

Later.

 


EBAY IS A MEASURE OF BRAND VALUE

There are lots of ways to measure brand value.  For marketers it’s a very important metric, which is why they often end up spending large amounts of money trying to measure it.  It occurred to me yesterday that, while not perfect, eBay provides a very good way to measure the value of a brand.  This thought sprang from the fact that the Blackberry Playbook is already being sold at a discount on eBay.  For a product that has only just been launched this speaks volumes for the current state of the Blackberry brand.  Indeed eBay can give you a very accurate read on consumer sentiment towards the ‘value’ of a brand through this kind of price analysis.  eBay can go further though.  The site gives you a clear sense of the popularity of a product both by the volume of products being sold and by the number of bids on each product.  Lastly it gives you a measure for the reliability of a brand.  Search on digital cameras and you will find a host of ‘broken’ items.  If you were to tally the number of broken items as a percentage of those for sale by brand you would a) demonstrate what a sad geek you were and b) get a read on how reliable that product was.  I’m sure people with more brainpower and time than I have could come up with a host of other eBay metrics that would help derive the value of brands.  At the very least though, I would highly recommend that marketers scour eBay to get a sense of the competition and of the community around their or their clients’ products.


Should PR agencies hire experience or raw talent?

The race is on for agencies to build their digital assets.  Get it right and PR firms will grow faster than they have in decades.  Get it wrong and they’ll have a struggle on their hands.  So as agency heads look at their talent base and their potential new hires, they have a tough question to answer.  Do they hire experienced marketing professionals who have some digital skills or the typically younger, more digitally literate who have only limited experience?  Sadly for the more experienced group, the answer appears to be that agencies are trending towards hiring younger digerati, rather than grey hairs.  This in turn is reshaping agency structures, product offerings, and pricing.  To twist an old saying, we are who we hire.  With agencies moving from a classic pyramid model towards something that looks more like a coat hanger, the opportunities for today’s experienced professionals are becoming fewer by the day.  Is this fair?  Probably not but this drive to hire younger, cheaper talent is in part the result of another force, not just digital.  Client procurement departments have acted like sand paper on PR budgets for years and have increasingly made it more desirable to hire doers over strategists.

Most agencies are racing to build a ‘new’agency on top of their existing one.  While they do need some experience to prevent the thing from collapsing in heap, what they need most is staff that can get on and ‘do’ at a price point that makes the investments the agencies are making viable.  This effectively forces agencies to hire lower cost staff.  These of course tend to be kids from college who have no real experience but can tell you anything you want to know about Facebook and Twitter.  For this generation, SEO is a form of grammer and html was a choice alongside Spanish and French at school.  Given a brand is now defined by the size and strength of its social network, it’s hardly surprising that many agencies will value these skills over someone who has known the editors at a business publication for a decade.

So is it all doom and gloom for us oldies?  Far from it.  We can start and build these new agencies, they do after all need some adult supervision.  We can also explore the boundaries of owned, earned and paid media.  These are the places where real value lies and where experience can really come to the fore.  But we cannot assume that because we have decades of experience that our futures are secure.  We have to bring something of value to the transition to digital.  Identifying what this is is crucial and could yet save the careers of many.  We are in an era of marketing where the value of experience is trending downward.  In years to come that will of course change as digital becomes the norm but for now the digital natives are set to become the new leaders.  That may not be what people want to hear but our industry is, like many, Darwinian.  In our case the fittest are the digerati.


Online PR isn’t just about conversations

In the last few years, PR people have rightly stopped talking about stories and started talking about conversations.  The idea being that brands can start or join conversations that their customers are interested in, or are already having.  They can do this by contributing news, perspective, insight and raw content.  This shift is both important to the way PR is carried out and to the role it plays in the marketing process.  It opens new doors and new budgets for an industry that has long believed it deserves a bigger slice of the marketing pie.  But I’d like to remind PR people about something advertisers have known for a long time.  Getting our attention doesn’t necessarily mean engaging in a conversation with us.  My daughter’s laptop can often get her attention without any information being exchanged.  She simply enjoys watching entertaining content, or playing some mindless game.  She is no different from any of us in this respect.  We all have parts to our day when we simply want someone to take over our brains and let us escape.  Advertisers have figured this out to the extent that during some computer games, such as a car racing game, you will see billboards advertising products.  They recognize that the brands that ‘sponsor’ escapism are as important as the brands that sponsor educating us about the important issues of the day or the decisions we have to make.

Now the idea of creating content that helps people escape isn’t something you hear a lot in PR meetings.  PR meetings tend to be all about getting the message across in an increasingly noisy market.  But what if you created content such as a game or a video that was just so darned entertaining that people WANTED to watch it AND they knew your brand had sponsored this little mental vacation?  Wouldn’t that be just as powerful as that major news item you were hoping to get someone to blog about?  I’m not for a minute suggesting that we all ditch conversation management and move to entertainment.  I’m simply suggesting that digital channels open the doors for PR to much more than just conversations. Try this on for size in your next PR brainstorm.  Oh and happy 2011.


Is Digital PR different for B2B than B2C?

The short answer is: yes and no.  Very helpful I know.  Before I explain, let me first say I am an unashamed fan of digital.  I think the way that it has transformed all forms of marketing is exciting.  After all, it offers brands a whole new way to create markets and sell products.  But I fear that little attention has been paid to differentiating the use of digital for reaching consumers versus business decision makers (BDMs).  Indeed it’s as if digital makes everyone a consumer and therefore regardless of whether you marketing shampoo or web servers, you should offer customers the same broad strategies and the same types of tactics.  I take issue with this.  Consumers have different reasons for buying your products and or services than BDMs.  When you market to consumers you are trying to get them to buy your products and feel good about your brand.  When you market to BDMs you are, more often than not, trying to convince them that your products will help them sell more products.  Perhaps the best way to help people think about this divide is to imagine a consumer campaign and then a B2B campaign.  If you were doing digital comms for a consumer brand such as a car you might:

1.  Monitor the conversations taking place around that type of car and decide if you wanted to join these conversations or start your own.

2.  You would create content (blogs, podcasts, videos etc) that created an emotional and or intellectual connection between your brand and consumers

3.  You would build car enthusiast communities that connected your consumers to each other and to your brand (you would also join existing communities).  This is where Facebook and Twitter etc come in.

4.  You would optimize all the content you’d already produced and were producing so that it was easy for consumers to find and so that it helped you drive people towards a place where they can purchase the car that was after all at the center of the campaign.

In a B2B world all of the above apply.  However, if you now imagine that the product you were trying market was headlights that go into that car, then you create very different content, join radically different conversations, build different communities and so on.  This is partly because the communities you are dealing with are a lot smaller but also because, quite clearly, the people you are trying to reach are interested in very different things.  Of course good B2B campaigns also try and reach the end consumer to create some pull for their products through the channel.  This is called ingredient branding and is an approach Intel has used for years, with its Intel inside campaign.  Companies that run these kids of campaigns can easily utilize digital as a channel and people like Intel do just that.  I guess the difference that digital makes is that it’s actually possible for people to run ingredient branding campaigns using digital at far lower costs than they would have in the old world.  Intel has spent many millions (many, many in fact) on this campaign over the years.  This helped them lock out competitors and build market share.  But they were/are a rich company with a lot of cash to throw at this challenge.  Small companies can’t afford Intel-like ad budgets but they can afford to create their own podcasts, content for the web, YouTube video and host a Facebook community aimed at the end-consumers.  Put another way, they are less budget constrained and more ‘make it interesting’ constrained.  After all, if you are  a maker of car headlights, you may need to get pretty creative to make consumers love your brand or your products.  But if creativity is the only challenge, I know plenty of PR agencies who’d say:  “bring it on.”


Is brand loyalty real?

It’s every marketing chief’s goal: brand loyalty.  Achieve this and you have a revenue stream for life, even if your next product isn’t quite as good as your last.  Some brands achieve this status for periods of time but few can sustain it over more than a few years.  Apple has it right now, Ford used to to have it, Coke has had it for decades.  It’s arguable that Coke has been able to maintain such loyalty because it hasn’t really had to change its core product.  They tried to and it almost cost them that loyalty.  Instead, they’ve tinkered with the packaging and played around with the distribution.  Outside the food and drink category, it’s hard to find products that have endured and brands that maintain loyalty.  This is because innovation constantly threatens brand loyalty.  But does it?

While watching the world cup, you couldn’t help but notice the immense pride people have in their nations.  The painted faces and died hair, the regrettable tattoos and the silly costumes all demonstrate a level of national loyalty most brands can only dream of.  Indeed, I can’t think of a brand that has ever manged to get thousands of people to dress up, paint their face etc without being paid to do it.  In short, we show unwavering support for our nations and are prepared to even die for them (well some are) even though they have given us little more than a birth certificate, passport and a tax bill.  Indeed it would seem that national loyalty is real loyalty. It isn’t paid for by the nation, it is simply given by its citizens.  If this is real loyalty, then what is brand loyalty?  Brand loyalty it would seem is just a current infatuation.  It is a kind of love affair that in most cases ends with all the inevitability of a high school romance.  Looked at it in this way, brand loyalty becomes a very different challenge.  To keep a love affair going is very different to simply maintaining a relationship.  Love affairs are all about passion and romance. They require you to constantly think of the other person, to be creative and spontaneous.  So next time you are in a meeting and the conversation turns to brand loyalty, be sure to show your passionate side.  It may well spark a really good conversation.


Do trade shows still make sense?

Let me be clear – I’m one of those people that hates trade shows.  I’m not good at small talk, I hate all the hassle of trade shows, the lines, the crappy gifts, wearing a name tag etc etc.  Indeed I hate them so much that I’ve been predicting their death for years.  Yet as the big consumer electronics (CES) show gets underway in Las Vegas  this week, it’s clear that these trade shows have a role in their industries.  They create a deadline by which companies have to make decisions, they create meeting places where collaboration on future projects start; and they create a showcase for the introduction of products both good and bad.  In short they are a good way of getting people to pull their fingers out and get stuff either done or started.

In general I know the trade show business has been through years of decline.  Apple doesn’t even attend Mac World anymore and once famous shows like COMDEX have vanished.  For those of you who weren’t around for the COMDEX madness, hotel rooms were like gold dust and cab lines in Vegas were routinely over an hour long.  But they did have great parties.  Even without shows like COMDEX there are still plenty of major shows around.  What seems to happen is that someone either evolves the content of the show or the format (or both) to stay in lock step with the way the industries they serve are evolving.  That said it is somewhat inevitable that trade shows will get smaller.  With social media tools now so prevalent, many of use don’t need to attend the show to get the news and feel like we were there.  Indeed the only part we really miss is the networking.  And let’s be honest, not much truly valuable networking takes place at these shows that couldn’t take place elsewhere.

I therefore confidently, without any hesitation whatsoever, formally predict that trade shows will carry on existing.  They’ll just be different from the way they are today.  How’s that for a stunning prediction?  More seriously though I think the really successful shows will be smaller and more focused and their format will evolve in ways it’s hard to imagine today.    COMDEX crashed and burned after it opened itself up to the public.  That turned the show from a must attend event into a must avoid event.  At the same time conferences such as TED and D appear to be flourishing.  This shows that people still crave the content and the connections.  They simply want to consume them in a smaller, more exclusive environment.

Trade shows are by definition, for the trade.  So unless your trade is so big that you really do need 200,000 people to attend your show, then an event that pulls in a small fraction of that number seems destined to be a better route.  Long live the specialist, awfully small trade show, that I’m not invited to.