Professional Services at the Digital Crossroads

crossroadsI’ve been watching lots of professional services firms evolve to take on the world of digital.  PR agencies are embracing the evolution of communication to online, unstructured and real-time content.  Marketers are embracing the troves of data available and looking at how to craft effective campaigns, content and platforms to reach audiences in new ways.  Ad agencies are extending “big ideas” to be rooted in shareable social platforms.  Even the big consulting firms are finding their way into the digital strategy arena.

These are exciting times for anyone in the advertising, marketing and communications space.  Career opportunities abound, and CMOs of companies in all industries are looking at their agency rosters differently.  Agencies need to “bring it” with compelling, integrated ideas.  In some ways it doesn’t matter if the agency was born from PR, marketing, digital, or advertising.  What matters most is the combination of the ability to understand a client’s business, the ability to generate stellar ideas based on true insights, and the ability to deliver on those ideas.

I am in the midst of a related career transition and will be sharing more details in the near future.  I’m excited to be sharing and collaborating more with peers who understand this space.  I’m excited to be writing again and getting this blog back in gear, hearing from you about what excites you most in the world of digital.  What I am most excited about is the continued opportunity to work with smart colleagues and great brands in a digital landscape.  Describing it as “fun times” would be an understatement.

image credit: PedjaP via flickr

Micromarketing: Relationship Marketing Through Advocacy

When I got the email asking me to contribute a review (for Chapter 7) of Greg Verdino‘s new book, at first I didn’t think it would be a fit.  I haven’t done book reviews here before, let alone since elementary school.  The first notion that came to mind frankly was breaking out a shoebox, some construction paper and scissors so I could start building my diorama. Yep, here comes that feeling of dread before a big book report is due – late nights, criticism from parents who would do it differently, sizing up my project to those built by friends.  And then I started reading MicroMarketing.  Quickly it became clear that Greg’s outreach team had lined up the right chapter with something I’m passionate about.

First, Some Key Takeaways

When I read a business book I have two simple criteria to decide if it was worth it: 1) Did I learn something new and 2) Is it a book I would want my colleagues to read.  In short, MicroMarketing passed both criteria, with a very heavy emphasis on the latter. Since I have been a social media enthusiast for some time, I have heard about many examples, but I would imagine the typical marketer would learn about a lot of new success stories.   Some key thoughts that struck me while reading the book:

– Greg is very adept at taking social media examples and talking about them in terms that “traditional” marketers will understand.

– The book builds on examples from chapter to chapter, while breaking down what worked well and why it worked… not just spewing example scenarios and statistics.

– The business of social media by its nature has allowed me to meet, virtually at first and in person over time, lots of talented minds.  What also appealed about Greg’s book is that it read just like my Tweetdeck group of smart minds in the biz: Shel Israel, Scott Monty, Steve Garfield, Susan Reynolds, David Armano, Chris Brogan, Stacy Debroff, Katja Presnal, and Shiv Singh all come up in various forms, to name just a few respected folks that caught my eye.

– Throughout, Greg uses many allusions or outright callouts to interactive marketing techniques – SEO, PPC, display advertising, web analytics and measurement concepts, and more.  Marketers need to keep those concepts in mind, since micromarketing doesn’t exists in a bubble.

Chapter 7: From Reach to Relationships

Chapter 7 flips the concepts that traditional marketers are used to; “reach” is no longer the means to drive business results, it’s an outcome.  Developing relationships with a core group of influential customers (or people that fit the profile of customers) is a way to activate “many by resonating with the right few.”  The advocates themselves become what a corporate marketers could never be: willing, authentic, genuine and trusted.

Greg outlines the contrast between mass and interruption-based marketing with several examples of companies that have engaged in deep relationships with a select few.  The letter from a family participating in Panasonic’s “Living in HD” program is liquid gold – it shows a value exchange that went beyong the transaction of enrolling the family in the program.  The letter is an example of the “zen” of advocacy: an evangelist that clearly is introducing new customers to the brand.  I’m guessing that if Panasonic has quantified the lifetime value of a customer, developing evangelists introduced enough new customers to justify the program and then some.

Two other key examples are examined – Walmart’s Elevenmoms program and McDonald’s Moms program.  Each are highly compelling – the former an example of picking highly engaged representatives to forge relationships with, the latter an example of creating a transparent communication channel with “everyday” moms.  These companies are building relationships founded not just on the strengths of ties to people who care, but with an emphasis on continuing to build relationships with people just like them.  The core groups represent meaningful constituencies that ultimately drive brand purchase decisions.

This was the first chapter that started to go deeper on helping marketers start to hone in “how” to do micromarketing.  “Making the shift” to developing communal relationships needs to become a business and marketing objective, achieved through control mutuality, trust, satisfaction and commitment.  How many brands actually have that in their core values?  How many don’t just talk about it, but live it?  This chapter starts to get more at how brands live it.

Some Criticisms

I’d like to see more “how” here – take some of the examples and plot out how the company: developed the concept, devised the plan, achieved C-suite buy-in, developed a program roadmap, recruited the right people, identified internal resources to orchestrate the plan, and measured the crap out of it.

I wouldn’t mind some internal strife along the way – an advocate who said something negative in a Youtube post and how the company responded or failed.  Frankly that’s probably asking Greg and the smart folks at Powered to give away the farm, but as a marketing consultant I found myself looking for more.

Regarding mass interruption vs. deep relationships, I don’t believe it’s an either/or scenario.  There is a middle ground that can compel companies to combine them and ultimately build deeper relationships with many.  As Greg clearly outlines, these corporate examples still have huge media and mass marketing budgets that would make even the largest agencies swoon.

Some examples may have been 100% earned media, but I believe most successful case studies have a combination of paid and earned.  The earned media gives the authenticity and relevant connections, among other things, and the paid media lets more of the right people know about it.  Many are already pointing to Old Spice as a prime example – but the campaign was a Super Bowl ad (does it get any more “paid media” than that?) before it was successful social media content.  If paid and earned media are combined it can be very compelling – companies need to adapt to learn this but don’t throw the paid media baby out with the anti-mass marketing bath water.  Would the Truvia example Greg mentions earlier in the book have been as successful without a $20 million mass campaign that ran first?  I’m not so sure.

Greg discusses a great concept called “microcontent.”  Throughout the book examples are given where content at a small scale had big impact.  I’d add to his commentary on each example that the content was successful because it was awesome (said in both the New England connotation of “brilliant” and any other dictionary definition you like).  Paranormal Activity didn’t succeed solely because it started small – it is legitimately scary and over-delivers on the promise of a horror film.  Susan Boyle over-delivered on talent.  Brands can’t just think small, they need to think awesome – good quality and a customer experience that exceeds expectations are at the root of a winning formula; micromarketing can enable it to resonate with the right people.

My Diorama

Thanks to the Powered team for including me in the review for the book, and thanks to Greg for sharing snippets on Facebook and Twitter throughout the process.  This was quite the opposite of those book reports – the book is worth the read.  Greg gave friends and followers glimpses to the challenging process of writing the book – I have to say, I think that played a role in wanting to read it.  By Jove, I think he just micromarketed to me.  How can I show that in a shoebox?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the evolution of relationship marketing, Greg’s book, his approach to solicit microcontent chapter reviews in the comments, and thanks for reading.

More Chapter By Chapter microMarketing Reviews

Chapter 1/9-20: Aaron Strout

Chapter 2/ 9-21: Lucretia Pruitt, Mitch Joel

Chapter 3/ 9-22: Jason Falls, Toby Bloomberg

Chapter 4/ 9-23: Kayta Andresen, Murray Newlands

Chapter 5/ 9-24: Amber Nashlund, Marc Meyer, Chris Abraham

Chapter 6/ 9-27: Ari Herzog

Chapter 7/ 9-28: Danny Brown, Jay Baer, Becky Carroll

Chapter 8/ 9-29: C.C. Chapman, Elmer Boutin

Chapter 9/ 9-30: John Moor, David Armano, Beth Harte, Justin Levy

Disclosure: Powered and my agency, Rosetta, are good pals and evolving business partners, and I was sent a copy of the book.  (I would have gladly bought one.)

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The Digital Five Tool Player

As the convergence of different marketing tactics takes root in agencies, vendors and marketing departments of companies of all sizes, I’ve started to think about what it takes to ultimately be a “five tool player” in the digital space.  Ed Boches wrote a great post yesterday about labels in creative and digital – and that got me thinking it was time to document these thoughts.  What did I miss?

1. Creativity and Appreciation for Technology

Being able to come up with creative concepts is important for anyone in the marketing business, but taking it to a new level with an appreciation for technology is what is going to make or break success with regard to digital.  I’ll be calling out some other technologies separately below, but understanding and being able to leverage tools available is critical to delivering impact.  One of my favorite examples of this application is the Converse Domaination effort (it’s worth the watch, go ahead, I’ll wait).

2. Understanding the Community

I contemplated using “customer,” “audience,” and even “constituents” here, but community seems to broadly cover business partners, customers, and prospects.  Understanding the needs, attitudes and behaviors of the community a digital player is trying to reach or interact with is a fundamental key to being relevant.  It’s more than just market research, it’s the practical application of it.

3. Understanding of Conversational Technology

Social media is providing new tools, technologies and techniques to identify, engage and activate.   Digital players today need to understand the etiquette, ins and outs of how these tools work and how people use them.  A most recent example for me is a conversation with a copywriter trying to craft the “voice of the brand.”  If that voice isn’t conversational, and they haven’t considered how to be so, an extension of any initiative into social media will be very challenging.  One person who has spent plenty of time studying behaviors and what makes social initiatives work is Dan Zarrella – worth subscribing to.

4. SEO

Another critical area of technology focus is search engine optimization.  A few years ago SEO as an industry was on par with voodoo, but today it’s both art and science to understand how people search online and how to best position digital assets to be found.  Without an appreciation for SEO, a digital player will have a harder time delivering the goods to the community who is searching for it.  One of the best speakers and evangelists in SEO is Lee Odden, always looking to understand and push the digital marketing industry along in this space.

5. Business Acumen

Those who have worked with me before know this is a space near and dear to me.  Perhaps it’s obvious, but to be successful in digital a player needs to understand marketing, the relevant industry (regulated industries have very different expectations and limitations), and how to work with people.  They need to be good team players and good leaders, especially in pushing through ideas that are new.  Honoring commitments, adjusting approach to who you are working with (C-level vs. junior resources), ability to multi-task are just some things I look for in a team player – regardless of digital background.

What other qualities make the most well-rounded digital athlete?  Does this apply to all areas of interactive marketing?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  And if you’re a Digital Five Tool player yourself, I know an agency who would love to hear from you 😉

Photo credit: StarrGazr via Flickr

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I Will Not Write About Old Spice

I will resist the urge.  Already there are too many write-ups about the inspirational campaign from a social media perspective.  I’m going to keep telling myself, “Please don’t write about Old Spice.”

I am not going to share how the social campaign is a brilliant extension of a series of creative and funny TV commercials.  I’m not going to point out that the campaign had awareness and life long before the social media play, or how the real-time authoring of content and demonstrated effects could change the game of how advertisers think – not to mention drive the consumption of their earlier commercials.  No one wants to know there are already rumors of a sitcom for Isaiah Mustafa, or that the wave of parodies (like this one and this one) is going to give the whole concept legs for quite some time.

I can’t imagine anyone wants to hear about integration of paid and earned media again, or how ending the video effort quickly adds to the mystique and likelihood of a successful follow-up.  I’m also not going to call out the people who are asking, “But is it making Old Spice fall off the shelves? Is anyone buying more?” since I’m sure people never ask that about TV commercials the day they first air.  No way I’m going to share how brilliant sharing behind the scenes is, nor how I really think it’s brilliant to mix who they reply to between influencers and “normal people” who barely have any followers.

I also won’t tell anyone how their High Endurance deodorant was the fascination of my fraternity in college as the best working product out there, and how word of mouth made it successful.  This was long before “social media” back in the days when we had to use modems to connect to AOL 2.0.  If I share that I’ll surely date myself.  Now it’s possible to get 61 million views on Youtube.

I sincerely hope that people just sit back and enjoy the brilliant piece of work, and stop giving P&G the link love.  Who’s with me?  (By the way, I’m glad to hear he stopped the oil spill).

Photo credit: khairilfz via Flickr

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Billboard Yourself

Spotted this excellent example of fusing digital, personalization, offline, online, social media and music.  Spot on for Billboard magazine.  I get inspired by the fusion across creative concepts like this.

(RSS feed readers please click through to see the video)

Billboard Magazine video instalation from Marcos Kotlhar on Vimeo.

Two Dirty Little Social Media Secrets

I was intrigued by Marc Meyer’s post about social media marketing being too labor intensive.  He outlines a whole series of activities, from smaller things like creating listening posts and monitoring buzz, mentions and opportunities to bigger initiatives like creating and managing blogs, microsites using social platform providers, and broad community initiatives.  Agencies and businesses alike need to sort out the level of effort and costs required (not to mention roles and responsibilities for maintaining each).  I’m not trying to be a wet blanket, but trying to highlight reality a bit by sharing two topics you don’t hear about much when it comes to how successful social tactics are deployed.

1. More Successful Means More Expensive

As these tactics become more successful, they become more expensive.  These tactics require long term effort and can certainly can do more damage if abandoned.  But it takes more effort to continue to manage, build and grow, and that can mean more costs internally, at a minimum.  The effort can result in more resources, more media, more content – all of which have a price tag unless you believe people are free (in which case I’d like to hire you for my next project).

2. Hope is Not a Plan: Paid + Earned Media

A partner at Accenture I used to work with was king of pouncing on anyone who responded to a question with “I hope…”   His response was a sharp  “Hope is not a plan.”  This applies to social ideas too.  Even the most successful social media initiatives are likely combined with other marketing tactics – especially paid media and email marketing.  I’d be surprised to hear about social ideas that were grounded purely in the “hope” they will go viral alone.  What’s the quickest way for a brand to get fans (likes) on a Facebook page?  Engagement ads on Facebook with a call to action, or emailing customers with a similar call to action.  Companies like Rapleaf can tell you which customers are active in social networks – you can be precise on the call to action, but just building something social doesn’t mean customers will show up.  Li Evans wrote an excellent post recently about how social media marketing doesn’t exist in a vacuum, going deeper on other tactics like SEO and PPC.  Together these tactics magnify each other.

Am I just being Master of the Obvious again? Have an example that contradicts?  I’d love to hear it, and I hope I’m wrong.  Right, hope is not a plan.

Photo credit: movetheclouds via Flickr

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Brand Fusion: Creative, Search and Media

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and talking about the fusion of social media into other areas of interactive marketing (especially how it is being done at my agency, Rosetta).  In some recent discussions I came across this example from Converse, fusing creative, video and paid search marketing (PPC).  For anyone who doesn’t have much of an appreciation for paid search, it will blow you away.  For those in the industry and have an appreciation for using paid search to drive branding campaigns, this will still blow you away if you haven’t heard about it yet.  It’s this kind example that truly exemplifies digital marketing as an art form.  To me it’s an amazing blend of insight, creativity and execution.  It’s not truly social – yet – but I think there could be more life to the content simply adding sharing features in the videos and giving people chances to comment.  Either way it’s still brilliant.

What do you think?  Know of any other examples?  Watch and drop your thoughts in the comments. (Feed readers please click through to see the video, which was shared with me by Jason Tabeling).  You can find the official home page of what’s described in the video at at (again, smart).

Converse Domaination from Ross Martin on Vimeo.