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So, last week, thousands of lucky advertising industry professionals from every corner of the globe flew, drove, rode, sailed and railed it down to Cannes, France for the 2011 edition of the Advertising Creative festival known across the world as the Cannes Lions. I was there, and since I keep being asked what I thought about the week-long event, this is my very unofficial recap. But first, a few quick thoughts.

What didn’t rock (aside from the €35 cocktails).

The wi-fi. Clichés, clichés, clichés, and more clichés. The fact that the Lions still haven’t gotten rid of “viral” categories in spite of the fact that there can be no such thing. The preponderance of #3 Ralph Lauren polos. The guy in the Audi R8 who tried to take up two parking spots on the Croisette just as I was parking behind him. (Bad idea.) A surprising lack of social media integration savvy or focus. A surprising lack of spelling acumen in regards to banner ads (the kind that airplanes tow over the beach). The mindless retweeting of whatever pre-packaged soundbites “influencers” might deliver on stage, regardless of how poorly thought through they may be.

What rocked.

Cannes in June. The food. The Carlton, Martinez and Majestic hotels. The Haute Corniche. Robert Redford. Patti Smith. Ogilvy’s clever #DO100 campaign. The big book. The ads. The giant kitty. The Croisette and the beaches. Sorbet cassis & sorbet poire (the most perfect 2-scoop sorbet combination in all the world). The parties (although I only managed to go to one). One of the biggest gatherings of the world’s most talented creatives in recent history.  Excellent coverage from several industry insiders via blogs and twitter. Fireworks.

Speaking of coverage, I have to give serious props to the Porter-Novelli team for the job they did both on their blog and on Twitter this year, and particularly Danny Devriendt and Marta Majeska for taking over the #CannesLions hashtag on the twitternets. If Gold goes to Porter Novelli, Silver goes to the Fast Company blog. Bronze can be shared by everyone else.

Some key articles you should look over:

Analysis of conversations at #CannesLions

Applying the Silicon Valley approach to Marketing

Why ad agencies should act more like tech startups

To viral or not to viral is not even a question

Interbrand’s Jez Frampton talks CSR and Cause Marketing

45 Quotes from Cannes Lions 2011

And now, for a  few talking points.

– What viral is and isn’t. Once and for all.

“Let’s agree on something, please, here from the beaches of Cannes: you cannot buy viral! You cannot make viral! You should not sell viral! Period! Viral is something that will eventually happen, if the online public decides it will. There is no magic formula, no guaranteed ways of making it happen. It is, by definition, purely an organic thing. Whether marketers and spin doctors like it or not, going viral is a community driven phenomenon. Seed all you want!

“Buying a gazillion online views and paying for countless banners does not guarantee a campaign to be/become viral. It guarantees views, eyeballs, and opportunities to see. Nothing wrong with that: that is what the job is about. Getting the message to the audience. Simple.

The online world has no need for more viral. The online world has a need for more quality, more skill and more community understanding. As Robert Redford says, more compelling stories. Instead of burning all this useless energy and money in trying to fake something viral, I’d rather see the effort invested in state of the art insights and metrics, strategic choices that drive change, awesome engagement strategies and a flawless execution and delivery plan with respect for the organic nature of the social web.” – Danny Devriendt

Beautiful. Read the rest here.

Fear, misunderstood.

“Fear is the enemy of creativity.” – Sir Ken Robinson

With all due respect to Sir Robinson and the hundreds of people who wrote that down during his lecture, fear is not the enemy of creativity. In fact, fear and creativity coexist just fine. Fear can be a catalyst for creativity. It can also be a crucible for it. Ask any artist about fear, and you will find that it is an integral part of the creative experience. Fear is often also a language of creativity.

What Sir Robinson should have told his audience is that fear is the enemy of execution.

Regurgitate less. Challenge more.

I want to caution event attendees (at the Lions and elsewhere) to occasionally challenge speakers, not just agree with them just because they are on stage or touted as an expert. Listen to what they are saying. Analyze what you are hearing. Digest it before regurgitating it. Not everything they say might be accurate. Don’t just assume that they are right because they are delivering a keynote. Don’t just assume that something is true or accurate or awesome just because dozens or even hundreds of people are retweeting it either.

Since we just talked about Sir Ken Robinson, let’s use his session (one of the most retweeted of the festival, and possibly the richest in soundbites) to illustrate my point. Almost everyone agreed that he was inspirational, charming, brilliant and engaging. No question. Having said that, check this out: (Quotes taken from tweets from the session.)

First, some of the statements that struck me as perhaps slightly less than impressive, either because they were far too obvious or not super well thought through.

“We can’t predict the future but we can anticipate it to make things better in the present.” – SKR

“Creativity is the process of having an original idea that has value.” – SKR

“We have to redouble our commitment to creativity.” – SKR

“We are living in times that have no precedence.” – SKR

“We don’t perceive the world directly. We do it through our perceptions.” – SKR

And then a few that were actually solid (though not exactly earth-shattering):

“It is more painful to restrain creativity than to release it.” – SKR

“Great leaders know their job is to create the right conditions. Not command and control.” – SKR

“Real innovation and creativity quite often happens within tight restraints.” – SKR

All of these statements (the good and the not-so-good) were equally retweeted, equally praised, equally shared. The lesson here: Don’t become a digital lemming. Whether the speaker is Seth Godin, Bono, Sir Richard Branson, Will.I.am or in this case, Sir Ken Robinson, don’t assume that every word out of their mouths is fact, and don’t act as if everything they say is game-changing wisdom, especially when it isn’t.

PS: Thanks, Sir Robinson, for being a good sport. 😉

– “Advertising is dead.” (Again?)

“Ad agencies are yesterday. Agencies that turn consumers into agents/advocates should be the model.” – will.i.am

Yes and no.

Yes: Agencies that play a part in turning consumers into agents and advocates for brands, products and causes will always be more effective and successful than those that don’t. It is the model (and has always been the model).

No: Ad agencies are not yesterday. I just spent some time around quite a few of them and saw their work: Advertising is still relevant, valuable and cool. Hell, when done well it’s fun and it works. So let’s not eulogize advertising just yet.

Where we go from here: Ad agencies have a decision to make: Stay old school and make it work, or evolve by integrating disciplines like PR, digital, mobile, reputation management and social better. The third alternative is to be complacent and fade into irrelevance, but that will be a decision made by individual agencies, not the industry as a whole.

Why am I so hopeful when it would be a lot more rock & roll to throw stones at the advertising industry? Five reasons:

1. I am not in 8th grade.

2. There are new and exciting revenue models for agencies in mobile and social. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure them out and build service offerings around them. Knowing this, why wouldn’t anyone in the agency system not want to go there?

3. Clients/brands are already asking for it. Who wants to be the first agency to tell a major client “no?”

4. Ad agency leaders aren’t stupid. They understand the value of awards like Lions, but they also understand that awards only go so far; they also need to be able to demonstrate results for their clients beyond impressions and estimated media value. With an increasing number of us out here in the world capable of tying campaigns to increases in sales, changes in consumer behaviors (and ultimately ROI), big advertising probably won’t want to be left behind for too long.

5. If ad agencies don’t own new services like community development, digital reputation management and all things social, someone else will. Who in the ad world wants to see a chunk of their clients’ budgets vanish into the hands of a bunch of digital startups? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Speaking of digital startups…

Cultural alchemy.

Agencies need to start acting more like tech startups.” – Rei Inamoto

Yes and no.

Yes: Agency professionals who aren’t technically savvy today (including the upper echelons) need to become literate – no, fluent – in mobile, digital and social. It isn’t just a matter of survival. It is also a competitive necessity.

No (1): Agencies don’t need to become technology innovation engines. It just isn’t what they are good at. They just need to become technology adoption ecosystems. (There is a difference.)

No (2): Since the majority of tech startup seem to follow a “build it now, worry about revenue models later” philosophy, be careful what you wish for. Agencies can’t bank everything on an idea, partner with VCs to develop it, then worry about making money 2-5 years down the road.  Different models = different cultures. Different cultures = different models.

Where we go from here: Agencies simply need to start collaborating with technology pioneers on an ongoing basis. That’s really it. Two reasons: 1. There is no tactical advantage to falling behind. 2. Technical innovation can increase agency capabilities, cut costs, accelerate the campaign development process, and blow everyone’s socks off (consumers and clients). Who wants to turn that down? You?

In other words, agencies whose creatives, account teams and strategists don’t already completely grasp both the potential of social, mobile, gaming, geolocation, and sCRM (for starters) and the way they plug into consumers’ lives, aren’t exactly taking the pole position in their industry.  From Old Spice to BMW to Jay-Z, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the possibilities. Digital isn’t just websites, apps and content. Find a way to mainline technology into your model, even if that means building an internal team whose job it is to manage that for you.

Talk is cheap.

A global campaign will never be successful globally, if it’s not relevant locally. How can you ensure your audiences get culturally relevant messages wherever they are in the world? Involve the locals. Have all communications signed off by a local product manager or marketing manager. Have a local community manager who communicates and engages with the local audiences. Think globally, act locally – I know this slogan has been overused, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

“Speaking a language is not enough. In order to successfully blend into a culture, you must know that culture inside out. And that goes way beyond the language.” – Marta Majewska

The #CannesLions closing gala on the Carlton beach

The power of stories.

“Stories have been around us since the beginning of the humanity. They have been a fundamental part of human communication and the essence of human experience. It is the stories that provide us with context through which we learn, understand and remember.” – Marta Majewska

A good story is something you haven’t known. Something that hits your gut, your heart and therefore your emotions.” – Robert Redford

Yes.

More Redford.

“You can’t be alone in your sandbox if you want success.” – RR

“To be trusted, you need to prove integrity. It starts with authenticity and quality.” – RR

“Nobody votes for a new idea. If you believe in something, you’re going to have to do it yourself.” – RR

“The only thing that really succeeds is change.” – RR

“The first time he came to Cannes, he was broke and backpacking through Europe, and found himself sleeping in the winter cold beneath the famous Carlton Pier. As he huddled in his sleeping bag, he heard the sounds of people above him, people drinking, gambling, wearing tuxedoes, and he wondered what it would be like to be up there in that luxury.

“16 years later, he returned to Cannes, this time for a film. He put on his tuxedo, opened up the doors to his balcony at the Carlton, looked down and saw the pier. “I saw myself sitting under the pier,” he said, “wondering what it was to be like where I was now.” – Jeff Sweat, Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo! Advertising Blog

Class act. I love it when someone has nothing to sell. They always speak from the heart.

On the other hand…

Cliché soup y crouton.

As for statements like “we must take more risks”, “we must embrace technology”, “we must be more creative”, “we must innovate more”, etc. yeah, I think we know. It’s always nice to hear it and all – and it pumps everybody up – but if entire keynotes are going to be based on stating the obvious, please also include some concrete examples outlining how you suggest agencies make that happen. Same with statements like “we should serve clients better”, “we should create more relevant advertising” and “we should build cultures of courage.” Give the audience a blueprint. A game plan. A process. Something. Otherwise, all we end up with is tweetable hot air. And if that’s all audiences want, here is my contribution to this year’s utterly cliché and incoherent #CannesLions twitbites:

“Adopt new technology. The future of now is the future.” – #StepfordTBB

“We really need to organize around the bread, not the cheese.” – #StepfordTBB

“If the mother of invention is necessity, culture is her second cousin.” – #StepfordTBB

“The more authentic our branding is, the more people will trust our messaging.” – #StepfordTBB

“We must re-invent everything.” – #StepfordTBB

“Community management is the new viral.” – #StepfordTBB

“If mobile is the new web, social media is the new mobile.” – #StepfordTBB

“Silicon Valley is the new Madison Avenue.” (Ooops. Someone might have actually already said that. Doh!)

“We will be the first agency in the world to attract one billion likes for a brand on Facebook.” – #StepfordTBB

Okay, I’ll stop here. You get the idea. We can do a lot better.

Originality. Or not.

I didn’t verify this. I don’t know if it is true. But if it is, perhaps the Cannes Lions jury needs more time to evaluate entries. (Source: joelapompe.net)

Speaking of jury mistakes, how exactly does the Cannes jury explain this fiasco? (And I am not even talking about the agency-client confusion. I mean how does the Cannes jury justify awarding a Silver Lion to an ad campaign that uses pedophilia as its narrative?)

A new buzzword.

“Too much marketing messes up the communities. So think ‘communiting’, not marketing,” other wise words by Will.I.am. “Communiting” as a word might not have existed until yesterday, but we like the word and we definitely like the idea that lies behind it.  “Communiting” is about enabling and fostering communities. About facilitating, not dictating. About engaging, not trying to sell. About truly becoming a part of the community, contributing to it and showing that you care. – Article by Marta Majeska

Like I told Marta, yes, the spirit of the thing is great. More community focus is imperative, and ad agencies (and their clients) need to both understand this and live it every day. (Burst the bubble, break down the walls, mingle with consumer communities, and whatever you do, don’t just broadcast). BUT… the last thing we need right now is a new made-up buzzword. So with all due respect to Mr. Will.I.am, perhaps we should take the time to fully grasp what enabling and fostering communities means before we start making up awkward and unnecessary words. Communiting? Ugh.

Tell you what: If you want to adopt Will.I.am’s terminology, go ahead. But first, you have to be able to clearly explain what “enabling” a community looks like for a brand and its agencies. Go ahead: Draw a sketch of the process. Once you’ve done that, outline the process of “fostering” a community. Then and only then, if you still want to, can you get away with using a term like communiting, or communitizing, even.

And please, please, please, don’t you dare create a “communiting manager” role. Community managers are happy with the current nomenclature.

Footnote: Marketing and Community enabling/building/fostering are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. In fact, the more you build your consumer-facing programs in a way that allows different functions like marketing and community management to complement each other and be well integrated with one another, the better your results will be. It isn’t an either/or equation. It’s an and equation: Marketing AND community building. Together.

Source of the discussion: http://blog.porternovelli.com/2011/06/24/think-communiting-not-marketing/

– Spelling is irrelevant.

I can hear it now: “Our guerrilla campaign resulted in 379,000 impressions in 52 countries in less than 76 hours, for an estimated media value of $12,350,480.”

I guess that’s better than “I’m a copywriter, damn it, not a spelling champion!” or even “I didn’t think it was my job to make sure the printing company didn’t screw up the spelling,” or even “I’m in digital, not tow plane marketing!”

Ah, good stuff. And the perfect example to use in your marketing class before discussing the age old question: Is there such a thing as bad publicity?

In closing:

Advertising isn’t dead. Quite the opposite: Advertising is evolving into a richer, much more complex, more intricately integrated discipline. From what I have seen, advertising is still as cool as ever. And yeah, the industry has its share of annoying, insecure, egocentric twats, but even that is changing. People’s backgrounds in the agency world are becoming more diverse, which is one of the best things that could happen to the industry. For the first time since perhaps the late 80’s, the gates are coming down. Agencies are looking for different kinds of skills and backgrounds and abilities. They are experimenting more with their new hires. And with the incredible opportunities open to the agency world in the coming decade, (we might actually find ourselves on the verge of a second golden age for advertising) all I can see is work, work, and more work (really cool work) just waiting to be taken on. That’s pretty exciting. Let’s meet back here again next year and see if that potential is still just potential and pretty talk, or if it is starting to be realized.

Okay, that’s it for me. Congrats to all the winners! If you want to get the official story, check out the Cannes Lions site.  Lots of stuff there for you to look at.

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Oh, one last thing: Social Media Day is being celebrated globally on June 30. Join me in Antwerp for a 1/2 day of social media integration and management workshops & a pretty fly afterparty. (Or send one of your minions if you can’t make it.)

Click here for details.

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One final shot from the Cannes Lions, before they take down the flags:

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Between the video and this link, you will have all the information you need. (Oh, and please excuse the outtakes. After 120+ takes, I decided to leave a few of the “distracting” moments in there. It was either that or losing my sanity. Cheers.)

The skinny:

June 30 is Social Media Day. Events celebrating this most auspicious date are taking place around the world. One of the biggest (I am told it is the second biggest, after NYC) takes place in Antwerp, Belgium. This year’s edition is a two-part event:

1. A half day social media management workshop.

2. A very large party following the workshop.

You can register for the workshop, the party, or both.

To make things interesting, the workshop is broken down into 5x 45-minute sessions, each separated by a 15 minute break. Session 1 is an executive briefing on strategy and integration. Session 2 will focus on Social Media and the new Marketing mix. We will talk about amplifying reach and stickiness, and blending social media with other marketing activities. Session 3 will focus on digital reputation management, real-time crisis management, and monitoring with purpose. Session 4 will focus on measurement. In this session, we will cover financial aspects of performance measurement for social media (ROI) as well as non-financial metrics, and then bring the two together. Session 5 will be an open forum. That’s right, a whole hour of live Q&A. So bring your questions, because I don’t do this very often.

For the full program, click here.

To skip the info and register right away, click here.

Man, these prices are RIDICULOUSY low.  I have no idea how they managed that.

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Read Part 1: Assholes are bad for business.

I know what you are going to say: “Olivier, what’s up with the poopy-words all of a sudden? The other week, it was “assholes”. This week, it’s this. Didn’t your mom raise you to be a polite young man?” Answer: She tried. But sometimes, the polite version of a word just doesn’t do the job. Case in point: I could say “care.” Care about your customers. Care about designing the best products. Care about giving it your all every day. Care about taking your business into the stratosphere.

Care.

Except no. This isn’t about caring. This is about giving a shit, and yes, there is a difference.

When the word “care” no longer actually means caring.

“Caring” about something can mean a lot of different things. I can care about matching my shoes to my belt. I can care about the way my rainbow sprinkles touch the peanut butter ice cream but not the ball of Nutella ice cream underneath. I can care about maybe watching Curb Your Enthusiasm tonight, or waiting until tomorrow or next week. I can care about trying to sound pleasant on the phone, or maybe not so much. I can care about something if the conditions are right, and care less about it if circumstances change. Caring lives along a broad scale, as demonstrated by this awesome home-made graph:

But when you give a shit, that isn’t any kind of passive caring. Giving a shit means caring to the max. It means committing heart and soul to caring about something. Giving a shit is to caring what running a full-on sprint is to jogging. It is the storm to the light drizzle, the bazooka to the cork gun and the bear hug to the friendly nod. Giving a shit means you won’t sleep tonight if you screwed it up. It means you are going to take it all the way to the line. It means you are going to excel rather than settle for average… or mediocre. Giving a shit means you are driven by something more than a paycheck. It means you are driven by passion. And that, boys and girls, is some mighty strong secret sauce. Nothing can crush that. Nothing can get in its way.

When I walk into a store and talk to one of the salespeople there, I don’t want them to “care.” I want them to give a shit. The chef in the kitchen, I don’t just want him to “care”. The customer service guy on the phone, “care” is just the price of entry. You want to make your company kick ass? You have to take it a step further. That politician I just voted for? Guess what: He needs to do more than just “care.” The surgeon operating on my kids, yeah, her too, what I want her to do is actually give a shit.

When you give a shit, excuses don’t work anymore. Falling short (failing) becomes less of an option, if at all. Giving a shit means you’re invested, and that is when I know you are bringing your A-game. You aren’t just there for a paycheck, the dental plan or the free tickets to Wally World every summer. You are there because you want to be. Because you give a shit.

Look, everyone acts like they care when you interview them. “Oh yes, Mr. Jones, I really want to work here!” Right. In six months, that new hire will be spending half his day complaining to their office-mates about you, about pesky customers and their temperamental complaints, about having to work late, and about how poorly he gets paid. When you walk by his desk, you won’t even catch a glimpse of the Facebook tab or the game of computer solitaire you just interrupted. That’s what “care” will get you. And you know what? You’ll be to blame. Here’s why: Because your company culture made them that way.

When I call a company’s phone number and get an automated message telling me “… we care about your call,” what that company has just told me it doesn’t give a shit. And since companies don’t think – people do, namely executives making decisions (like having a computer answer my call instead of a human being), I know that this wasn’t an oversight. Someone made a deliberate decision to communicate to me and everyone else who calls them that the people in charge of building the company’s internal culture don’t give a shit. Way to get things off on the right foot.

The importance of creating “I give a shit” cultures.

None of this is rocket science. If you hire people who aren’t passionate about what you do, about what your company is about, or even people who don’t particularly care about their profession save getting a big fat check at the end of the week, you are going to create a culture of mediocrity. If instead you hire people who love your company, who were fans long before the job ever opened up, you will get a completely different result. Likewise, if you hire someone who is passionate about what they do, they will probably not disappoint.

A few years ago, one of my then employees admitted to me (when her bonus didn’t seem as guaranteed as she would have liked it to be) that she was considering transferring to HR. Puzzled by that admission, I asked her to elaborate. She told me “they just make straight salary over there.” I studied her for a moment, and asked her “Don’t you want to do this? If HR is something you’re interested in, why are you here?” She sighed and told me “I don’t really care what I do. I just want a steady paycheck.”

This is someone whom, if asked, would have told the CEO that she cared about her job, that she was passionate about it, that she loved it. That’s the average value of “care.”

Nb: I made sure my team hit its targets that month and the one after that, and she did, in fact, hit her bonus.

People like this are everywhere. It isn’t that they are necessarily lazy. Some are, but some are just apathetic. Doing what they do is a job. A paycheck. Nothing more. They spend their day watching the clock. They are out the door as soon as their work day is over and not a minute more. This is not the kind of employee you want. I don’t care if you are managing a hospital, a restaurant or a global brand, people like this are poison. They are engines of mediocrity, lackluster service, and lousy customer experiences. And god forbid they should become managers, or worse yet, SVPs or C-suite executives.

Imagine a CEO who doesn’t give a shit, for example. Or one who at least gives the impression, through their actions or words, that they perhaps don’t give a shit? What would that look like? What would be the impact of that type of “leadership” on the entire organization? On the brand’s reputation? On decisions being made up and down the corporate ladder inside its four walls? What kinds of ripples would this create?

Ken Lay of Enron

BP's Tony "I'd like my life back" Hayward

Now imagine a CEO who does give a shit. What would that look like? What kind of company culture would that generate? What kind of profitability and customer experience excellence would that drive?

Tony Hsieh of Zappos

Sir Richard Branson, of all things Virgin

Company cultures don’t grow from a random churn of interactions. They are engineered and designed from the inside out, deliberately, by people who give a shit. Or by people who don’t. The difference in outcomes between the two is typically fairly spectacular. We have all seen amazing companies falter under the direction of this CEO or that, solely based on their degree of giving a shit.

Why am I emphasizing that company cultures are engineered? Three reasons:

1. People who give a shit tend to hire people who also give a shit, and so on. Companies like this tend to hire carefully because they understand the importance of only hiring what you might call kindred spirits. Fans. Like-minds. They aren’t hiring as much as letting the right people into their little tribe of believers. When your entire company gives a shit, customers notice and become loyal. Why? Because they like that you give a shit, and they respect that. Besides, since you give a shit, you treat them well, which is more than anyone can say about companies that don’t give a shit about either their employees or their customers.

2. When customers like you (see 1. above), they tend to do a number of things: a) They love doing business with you, b) they do business with you as long as you keep giving a shit (which could be their own lives), and c) they recommend you to everyone they know, which in turn helps drive your business.

3. One CEO can make or break a company. Just one. Remember what happened to Apple when Steve Jobs left, back in the day? Should I mention some of Home Depot’s ups and downs? Show me a company whose CEO gives a shit, and I will show you a company about to bloom like a flower in sunlight. Show me a company whose CEO doesn’t, and I will show you a company about to race headlong into a very rough patch.

More than anything, customers instinctively know that they will eventually get screwed by someone who doesn’t really give a shit. They also instinctively know they will never get screwed by someone who does. This is important.

Even if giving a shit didn’t generate better design departments, better products, better service, better customer relations and generally healthier businesses, this point alone should catch the attention of CEOs, boards or directors, and investors alike: Consumer perceptions, trust, loyalty, these things matter in the mid-to-long term. Heck, they matter today. This very minute. Every single consumer making a purchasing decision right now is weighing one company against another. One will win. The others will lose. How are you feeling about your chances?

Leadership isn’t all about skills and experience. It’s also about attitude. And giving a shit, boys and girls, is a pretty important component of the sort of attitude we are talking about today.

The reciprocal effect of giving a shit.

Hiring people who give a shit, but not those who don't.

The above diagram illustrates the process of engineering loyalty and positive WOM (word of mouth) by sticking to a no asshole policy (see Part 1) and making sure you hire people who actually give a shit.

Note the jokers in red ink who didn’t really give a shit and are therefore not hired. The fact that they are not invited to spread their apathy and inevitable passive aggressive disdain to their coworkers and customers like a CSTD (Customer Service Transmitted Disease) ensures that your company maintains its edge.

Now let’s look at another kind of organization – one which doesn’t discriminate quite so much:

Hiring people who give a shit, and those who don't.

Note how in this alternate version, a company having allowed such individuals to breach its inner sanctum begin to spread mediocrity across their entire business, and how that trickles down into customer experiences and perceptions.

In short, giving a shit is contagious. From the CEO on down to everyone in the company and outwardly to customers. Positive attitudes and perceptions spread virally through recommendations, discussions and general perception. In the same way, not giving a shit is contagious as well, and it too spreads like a virus across departments, front-line employees, customers, and to their social and professional networks.

This is how reputations are both made and unmade, depending on what kind of culture you decide to engineer.

What are some of the obvious symptoms that a company doesn’t give a shit?

This is important, because these are common red flags. When consumers spot any of these (or several,) they know that perhaps your company doesn’t really care a whole lot about you, your loyalty, or your affection for their products or brands.

1. Customer service is outsourced. (Because nothing says “We care” like handing you off to total strangers working under contract for less than minimum wage.)

2. The recording says “your call is important to us…” which is kind of funny coming from a recording.

3. The company’s employees look at the clock more than they look at you.

4. The CEO, in the middle of a crisis, says things like “I’d like my life back.”

5. Outsourced social media accounts, especially when it comes to customer service functions.

6. When the product fails, technicians will be happy to “look at it,” and repair it for about 70% or more of the value of the product in about 6-12 weeks. This is usually followed by “you could just buy another one” type of “caring” advice.

7. False or misleading advertising.

8. The company spams your inbox, twitter feed, phone, or otherwise valuable channel.

9. The average customer has no idea who the CEO of the company is. Until they see him or her on TV, defending pretty bad decisions.

10. After several interactions with company employees or management, you begin to suspect that everyone who works there might actually be some kind of asshole.

11. Poor product design, characterized by lousy user UI/UX.

12. The manager, in an empty store or restaurant, still manages to blow off his only customers… assuming he is even there.

13. The company sells your personal information to third parties.

14. The CEO’s Twitter account, blog and/or Facebook page – all proof that he “cares,” wants to “engage” customers and feels that social media is “important” – are all managed and fed by a proxy, (or ghost writer) preferably working for an outside firm or agency. (Sorry Mr. Pandit, but you have been advised improperly on this one.)

15. More excuses than solutions, followed by buzzwords and lip service.

16. The CEO spends more time on the golf course than he does listening to customers.

And there you have it.

Three questions.

So the three questions you have to ask yourself are these:

1. What kind of company culture are my customers experiencing whenever they interact with one of my employees, colleagues, bosses, products and services? The kind that gives a shit, or the kind that clearly doesn’t?

2. What kind of company culture should I be building?

3. Once I cast aside the propaganda, tag lines, mission statements and sycophantic reports, what kind of company culture am I really building?

Be honest.  Are you setting the right example? Are you hiring the right people? Are you teaching them to give a shit? Are you rewarding them accordingly?

… Or are you banking on a mission statement to communicate to your employees that they should “care”?

Giving a shit is hard. So is kicking ass. So what?

Yeah, giving a shit is hard. It’s expensive too. It requires all sorts of investments: Financial, cultural, temporal, even emotional. (Perhaps especially the latter.) Giving a shit means that your business isn’t just about balance sheets and incremental basis points of change. It’s about creating something special for and with your customers. It’s about building the foundations of a lovebrand – like Apple, Harley Davidson, Virgin Airlines and BMW. It’s about investing in market leadership, in customer loyalty and evangelism, in your own reputation, and in the strength of your own brand. In short, it means investing in long term success, in stability in tough economic time, and in a demand vs. supply ratio that will always be in your favor. Giving a shit is an investment, yes, and not one that might immediately make sense to financial analysts, but one that pays off every time. It is the genesis of everything that ultimately makes a business successful: Professionalism. The endless pursuit of quality, of great design, of remarkable user/customer experiences.

The moment you lose that, the moment you start giving a shit a little bit less, the moment you start cutting corners, that’s when you start to screw up. When you lose that competitive edge. When you start sinking into the fat middle with everyone else. That’s when you start to lose. Before you know it, you’re stuck picking between BOGO pitches and worrying about price wars with foreign imports. I’ve worked with companies like this. You don’t want to go there, trust me. It’s ugly. It’s stressful. You wake up one morning and realize that even if you tried to give a shit anymore, you couldn’t. There wouldn’t be enough time. It wouldn’t make a difference. It might even get you fired. Everything you’ve worked for all your life is hanging on the edge, and it’s a long, hard road back too the top. Most companies never make it back. I can tell you that it’s a lot easier to never fall than to have to climb back up again, but either way, it’s a daily battle.

In fact, giving a shit is so hard that very few companies do anymore. It isn’t how the game is played any longer. “The customer is always right” is a relic of the past, isn’t it?

Or is it?

Have you listened to what people are saying about your company on Twitter and Facebook lately? Do you know what they are saying about your competitors? In a year or two, do you think companies whose leaders don’t give a shit are going to be able to compete against companies whose leaders do? If you don’t see giving a shit as a competitive advantage yet, as a differentiator, even as a normalizing agent, then at the very least see it as a matter of survival. The age of the “I don’t give a shit” CEO is done. Game over.

Time to make a change or two?

*          *          *

Since it’s June, here are this month’s three quick little announcements:

One – If you haven’t read “Social Media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization” yet, you will find 300 pages of insights with which to complement this article. It won’t answer all of your questions, but it will answer many of them. If anything, the book is a pretty solid reference guide for anyone responsible for a social media program or campaign. It also makes a great gift to your boss if you want him or her to finally understand how this social media stuff works for companies.

You can sample a free chapter and find out where to buy the book by checking out www.smroi.net.

Two – If you, your agency or your client plan on attending the Cannes Lionsfrom June 19-25, I am planning something a little… “unofficial” during the festival. If you are interested in being part of it, let me know.

You can send me an email, a note via LinkedIn, a Twitter DM, or a facebook message if you want to find out more. (The right hand side of the screen should provide you with my contact information.)

Three – If the book isn’t enough and you can’t make it to Cannes later this month, you can sign up for a half day of workshops in Antwerp (Belgium) on 30 June. (Right after the Lions.) The 5 one-hour sessions will begin with an executive briefing on social media strategy and integration, followed by a best practices session on building a social media-ready marketing program, followed by a PR-friendly session on digital brand management, digital reputation management and real-time crisis management, followed by a session on social media and business measurement (half R.O.I., half not R.O.I.). We will cap off the afternoon with a full hour of open Q&A. As much as like rushing through questions in 5-10 minutes at the end of a presentation, wouldn’t it be nice to devote an entire hour to an audience’s questions? Of course it would. We’re going to give it a try. Find out more program details here. Think of it as a miniRed Chair.

The cool thing about this structure is that you are free to attend the sessions that are of interest to you, and go check your emails or make a few phone if one or two of the sessions aren’t as important. The price is the same whether you attend one or all five, and we will have a 15 minute break between each one.

The afternoon of workshops is part of Social Media Day Antwerp (the Belgian arm of Mashable’s global Social Media Day event), and I can’t help but notice that the price of tickets is ridiculously low for what is being offered. Anyone can afford to come, which is a rare thing these days. (Big props to the organizers for making the event so accessible.)

The event is divided into 2 parts: The workshop in the afternoon, and the big Belgian style party in the evening. You can register for one or both (do both).

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

My advice: Sign up while there are still seats available, and before #smdaybe organizers realize they forgot to add a zero at the end of the ticket prices. :D

Cheers,

Olivier.

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Today’s article was prompted by The Now Revolution co-author Jay Baer’s blog post entitled The 6 Step Process for Measuring Social Media. Consider the following 5 sections a complement to the social media measurement discussion in the business world. Bookmark it, pass it on, and feel free to ask questions in the comment area if something isn’t clear.

Let me explain, for anyone who is still confused about it, how to properly think about the integration of social media measurement into business measurement. This applies to the way social media measurement is applied to every business activity social media touches,  from short-term product awareness campaigns to long term customer retention programs.

To make things simple, I will make use of a few diagrams to illustrate key concepts everyone who touches social media in the business world absolutely needs to understand.

Ready? Here we go:

1. Measuring Social Media: Activity and outcomes.

The above image shows the relationship between an activity and the measurable impact of that activity on social media channels. The ripples represent every type of outcome – or effect – produced by that activity, which can be measured by observing, then quantifying certain key behaviors on social media channels. A few examples:

  • Retweets
  • Likes
  • Follows
  • Shares
  • Comments
  • Mentions
  • Sentiment

When social media “experts” and digital agencies that provide social media services talk about social media measurement, this is what they are talking about.

So far so good. The trick is to not stop there.

2. Measuring Social Media: Activity and outcomes beyond social media channels

Now that we have looked at basic “social media measurement,” let us look at it side-by-side with business measurement – that is to say, with metrics that existed long before social media ever came on the scene. A few examples:

  • Net new customers
  • Changes in buy rate
  • Loyalty metrics
  • Word of mouth
  • New product sales
  • Customer satisfaction
  • Increased operational efficiency
  • New online orders
  • Traffic to brick & mortar stores
  • R.O.I. (you knew it was coming.)

In other words, the types of metrics that indicate to a business unit or executive team whether or not the activities they have funded and are currently managing are having an effect on the business. These types of metrics are represented in the above diagram by the black ripples.

To some extent, you can also include a sub-category of metrics not directly related to business measurement but that also exist outside of the realm of social media measurement. These types of metrics typically relate to other types of marketing & communications media such as print, TV, radio and even the traditional web. A few examples:

  • Impressions
  • Unique visitors
  • Bounce rate
  • Cost Per Impression (CPI)

These types of metrics, for the sake of this post – which aims to clarify the difference between social media measurement and social media measurement within the broader context of business measurement – would also be represented by some of the black ripples in the above diagram.

3. Understanding that “measuring social media” is a terribly limited digital play.

 If you remember only one thing from this article, let it be this: Only measuring “social media” metrics, as if in a vacuum, leads absolutely nowhere. Sure, if your objective is to build a “personal brand,” boost your “influence” rankings in order to score more goodies from buzz marketing firms that do “blogger outreach,” then those social media metrics are everything. Chasing those followers, collecting likes and retweets, meeting that 500 comments quota of comments on Quora every day, and religiously checking your Klout score and Twittergrader ranking every twenty minutes is your life.

But if you are a business, that is to say, a company with employees, products, payroll, a receptionist and a parking lot, the role that social media measurement plays in your universe is not exactly the same as that of a semi-professional blogger trying to tweak their SEO and game blogger outreach programs. These two universes are completely different. Their objectives are completely different. Their relationships with measurement are completely different.

Understanding this is critical. Bloggers with no real business management experience tend to have a very difficult time bridging the strategic gap between their limited digital endeavors and the operational needs and wants of organizations whose KPIs are not rooted in Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of social media “experts” and “gurus” – being first and foremost bloggers with experience in navigating affiliate marketing programs, and a commensurate focus on SEO and social media “influence” gaming models in support of their “personal brand” – tend to see the world through that specific prism. The problem however is this: Their focus on social media measurement may be spot on when advising other would-be bloggers, but it is completely off target when advising business clients whose business models are not entirely based on selling advertising on a website and scoring goodies from advertisers in exchange for positive reviews and buzz.

In other words, when social media “experts” keep telling you how to “properly” measure social media – as if your measurement software didn’t already do this for you automatically – consider this an indication that they have absolutely nothing else to talk about when it comes to social media integration into your business. Their understanding of social media activity and measurement is entirely founded on their own experience as a blogger, and not – unfortunately – on the experience of the business managers they aim to advise, whose objectives and targets have little to do with how many fans and followers and likes they manage to collect from month to month.

One of my biggest areas of frustration for the last few years – and one of the principal reasons why social media has been so poorly integrated into the business world until now – has been the ease with which bloggers with little to no business management experience have hijacked the social media “thought leadership” world. Many of them would not be qualified to run an IT department for the average medium-sized business, much less help direct the strategy of a digital marketing department, customer loyalty program or business development group. Their understanding of the most basic, rudimentary business principles (like R.O.I.) is as painfully lacking as their dangerous lack of practical operational experience – in change management, for example – without which social media theory cannot be aptly put into practice. Yet here we are, or rather here companies are – many of which are listed in the Fortune 500, listening to bad advice from the most inexperienced business “strategists” on the planet, and trying to apply it – in vain – to their businesses.

If you are still wondering why your social media program is not bearing fruit, or if you are still confused by social media measurement, this is the reason why.

A metaphor lost in a hyperbole.

The tragic irony of the general state of confusion created by this army of so-called experts is that in spite of everything, social media measurement is not complicated. If you can type a password into a box, navigate a multiple-choice questionnaire and use your mouse to click on a “generate report” button, you too can measure social media. All you need is the right piece of measurement software, an internet connection and a pulse. You don’t even need to know how to send a tweet to do it.

I am not kidding. A monkey could do this.

The sooner business managers, company executives and agency principals stop listening to social media douchebags, the faster social media will be integrated (smoothly and effectively) into everyone’s business models. Don’t limit yourself to measuring social media. Stop listening to business advice from bloggers with no business experience. And don’t buy into the notion that because social media is new and digital, it is complicated. Social media is easy. Social media measurement – by itself – is easy. It takes work and diligence and clear vision, but all in all, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out.

4. Once you get rid of the monkey noises, you make room for the simplicity of the (social) business measurement model.

The above diagram illustrates both the measurable social media outcomes (in orange) and the measurable business outcomes (in black), based on an activity (the solid orange ball). We have covered this earlier in this article. By now, you should understand two key principles:

1. Measuring only social media outcomes (or measuring them separately from business outcomes) won’t get you very far. It’s what you do your first month. Then what?

2. Only by establishing a relationship between social media metrics and business metrics will you be able to gauge both the impact and value (including but not limited to R.O.I.) of social media on your campaigns, programs and overall business.

How you connect social media outcomes/metrics to business outcomes/metrics is covered elsewhere on this blog and of course in the Social Media ROI book, but if this diagram doesn’t confuse you, try to conceptualize the relationship between social media outcomes with business outcomes by observing the intersect points between the orange ripples and black ripples. (See above diagram.) Your investigation of the correlation between the two will always begin there.

5. One final tip: Turning your integrated measurement model into a social media tactical plan.

These diagrams only serve to illustrate how you should think about social media measurement in conjunction with business measurement. That’s it. But if you take a step back and look at the interaction between social media outcomes (measurable behaviors in social media channels resulting from a specific activity or event) and measurable business outcomes (measurable behaviors resulting from a series of activities and events), you can start to work your way backwards from outcome to activity, which is to say from measurable behavior to behavioral trigger.

By looking at the impact that certain activities (triggers) affect consumer behaviors (mentions, retweets, purchasing habits, word-of-mouth, etc.) you can begin to gauge what works and what doesn’t. Integrated measurement of both social media and business metrics in this context – as a tactical real-time diagnostic tool – is far more valuable to an organization than a measurement practice that solely focuses on reporting changes in followers, shares and likes. This illustrates the difference in value between a truly integrated measurement model and a “social media measurement” model. One produces important insights while the other merely reports the obvious.

I hope that helps.

*          *          *

Three quick little announcements in case you are hungry for more:

One – If you haven’t read “Social Media ROI: Managing and measuring social media efforts in your organization” yet, you will find 300 pages of insights with which to complement this article. It won’t answer all of your questions, but it will answer many of them. If anything, the book is a pretty solid reference guide for anyone responsible for a social media program or campaign. It also makes a great gift to your boss if you want him or her to finally understand how this social media stuff works for companies.

You can sample a free chapter and find out where to buy the book by checking out www.smroi.net.

Two – If you, your agency or your client plan on attending the Cannes Lions from June 19-25 and want to participate in a small but informative 2-hour session about social media integration, measurement, strategy, etc. let me know. I just found out that I will be in Cannes during the festivals, so we can set something up – either a private session, or a small informal discussion with no more than 6-7 people. First come, first served.

You can send me an email, a note via LinkedIn, a Twitter DM, or a facebook message if you want to find out more. (The right hand side of the screen should provide you with my contact information.)

Three – If the book isn’t enough and you can’t make it to Cannes later this month, you can sign up for a half day of workshops in Antwerp (Belgium) on 30 June. (Right after the Lions.) The 5 one-hour sessions will begin with an executive briefing on social media strategy and integration, followed by a best practices session on building a social media-ready marketing program, followed by a PR-friendly session on digital brand management, digital reputation management and real-time crisis management, followed by a session on social media and business measurement (half R.O.I., half not R.O.I.). We will cap off the afternoon with a full hour of open Q&A. As much as like rushing through questions in 5-10 minutes at the end of a presentation, wouldn’t it be nice to devote an entire hour to an audience’s questions? Of course it would. We’re going to give it a try. Find out more program details here. Think of it as a mini Red Chair.

The cool thing about this structure is that you are free to attend the sessions that are of interest to you, and go check your emails or make a few phone if one or two of the sessions aren’t as important. The price is the same whether you attend one or all five, and we will have a 15 minute break between each one.

The afternoon of workshops is part of Social Media Day Antwerp (the Belgian arm of Mashable’s global Social Media Day event), and I can’t help but notice that the price of tickets is ridiculously low for what is being offered. The early bird pricing is… well, nuts. Anyone can afford to come, which is a rare thing these days. (Big props to the organizers for making the event so accessible.)

The event is divided into 2 parts: The workshop in the afternoon, and the big Belgian style party in the evening. You can register for one or both (do both).

Register here: Social Media Day – Antwerp

My advice: Sign up while there are still seats available, and before #smdaybe organizers realize they forgot to add a zero at the end of the ticket prices. 😀

Cheers,

Olivier.

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The next date on your calendar, especially if you are in Europe next week, should be this:

May 26: Brussels, Belgium. IAB ‘Think Digital’ Conference.

Among the speakers: Rohit Bahrgava, Eric Phu, Ciarán Norris, Alex West, Kevin Slavin, and… this guy named Olivier Blanchard that you may or may not have heard about.

What will we all cover on May 26? Many of the types of strategies and methodologies that brands and their agencies still need a lot of help with. Here is a short list:

– New paradigms of vertical and lateral marketing: brand evangelism and media-aided word of mouth.

– Understanding how to properly blend and leverage owned, bought, and earned media (again, great for brand managers and agencies that understand bought and owned, but don’t fully grasp the earned piece yet). Very important stuff.

– TV & Digital: The next 5 years. Opportunities, methods, technologies, principles and revenue models for brands and agencies.

– Chinese markets and digital: What is going on behind the Great Firewall, and what that means to you.

– The psychology of happiness as it relates to customer acquisition and retention (deeper impact through social recommendations, and stronger loyalty resulting in accelerated growth).

– The new culture of consumer-brand engagement, and what this means to micro and macro brands.

– Don’t just throw money at it: Converting followers and fans into real returns (ROI) for brands and their agencies. (Outlining the social business process model, and answering the why and the how.)

Think of it as a one-day MBA on digital brand, program and campaign management from some of the brightest professionals on the planet, and part 1 of  2 such events between now and July in Europe (Likeminds: Paris [Update: Canceled by the organizers] and Social Media Day/Red Chair: Antwerp – coming up in late June, right after the Cannes Lions). Social Media Day Antwerp will combine a 1/2 day Red Chair-style series of workshops on Social Media strategy and integration (including a full hour of open Q&A for attendees) and a pretty solid DJ party afterwards to celebrate the global event.

If you can’t be in Brussels on the 26th, definitely share this link with your boss, peers, clients, agencies… or send one of your staffers so they can take notes for you. The sooner companies learn and get comfortable with these concepts and processes, the faster marketing and digital budgets can start yielding solid results for everyone (brand and agencies). Wouldn’t that be superfly?

>> IAB Think Digital Conference – Main Site, Program & ScheduleRegister<< (The most important part.)

See you there.

Oh, and if you haven’t read Social Media ROI yet (every manager, executive and agency strategist should have this thing on their desk by now), check out what people who have read it have to say about it.

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The danger of content-centric strategies in Social Business:

Let me preface this short post with the catalyst behind it – this article by Sarah Shearman for Marketing.co.uk: “Content key to marketing in social media says P&G exec.” Let me throw a few bits and pieces of the article your way, and we’ll get started.

Content is the best currency in social media, according to Usama Al-Qassab, e-commerce marketing and digital innovation team leader at Procter & Gamble.

Speaking at a panel debate at the Social Media World Forum today (29 March) on the role of social media in traditional marketing strategy, Al-Qassab said: “There is a lot of talk about social commerce, but the average person is not yet there yet. On sites such as Facebook, the majority of people do not go there to purchase and still prefer their traditional online retailers. In order to monetise social media, it should not be seen in isolation and needs to be integrated into the wider marketing mix. But unless you have content, there is no point. The content you deliver and the investment behind that is key, much bigger than straight media dollars.”

And this (edited for brevity):

“To grab people’s attention in social media, you need to do something amazing and to do this, [what] you need is a function of how good your product is and how human you appear. The less good your product is and the less human you appear, the more spectacular, giving and generous the thing you do as an organisation needs to be.” – John Willshire, head of innovation at PHD

“There is so much content out there that is great and excellent, [but that] does not mean anyone will be able to even see it. The only way you can get people to see things and talk about things is by giving them a big push. Everything, whether it be business cards, letterheads, the website, the TV advertising, should all drive to one specific thing you want people to do. People don’t talk about things because they think they are great, they talk about them because they think they ought to, or because other people talk about them. Popular things get more popular, as a result of being in the public eye. It is about driving the content and hoping to get additional benefits, when people start getting involved.” – Nick Butcher, global head of social media and digital innovation at ZenithOptimedia.

First, let me begin by saying that I have absolutely no problem with what is now called creative/content, or even a proper focus on it. Content is important. It helps communicate to consumers the value and advantages of buying a product or service. It makes consumers discover, desire, crave, and develop a preference for a product. Now, more than ever, content is easy to share, which ads to its value and power. Content also pulls people to websites, which is pretty damn important if you are trying to keep consumers interested and/or primed to visit websites and click on buttons. For these reasons, content is at the core of all things digital marketing, and great content is worth its weight in gold. You will get absolutely no argument from me there. All of this is true.

But here is where experienced marketing executives around the world – including pretty brilliant guys like John, Nick and Usama – fall into a common trap: Mistaking social media channels for marketing channels.

The problem is simple: Marketing professionals see the marketing opportunity in these powerful new channels – as well they should. Their reflex is to do what they know, which is to adapt their marketing thinking to the social space: shift some of their communications, strategies,creative and content to the Facebooks, Twitters and Youtubes of the moment. It’s their job after all. It’s what they know. “Push” has always worked everywhere else, therefore it will work in the social space as well. (And in spite of what social media purists claim, “push” does work quite well on social channels. Ask Dell and Old Spice, for starters.) The problem, however, is that digital social channels are not solely marketing channels. In fact, they are mostly not marketing channels. They are social channels (hence the nomenclature). As such, they favor dialog rather than monologue. Publishing content and creative might be seen as a conversation starter, but it is not in any way, shape or form a dialog. It is a monologue through and through. And there is the rub.

At the root of the confusion between social marketing and social business are two distinct operational world views:

The easiest way to illustrate the problem is – as always – with a silly picture of old white dudes in suits sitting around a table.

Below is the functional view of social media channels as perceived (and expressed) by marketing professionals like John, Nick, Usama and thousands upon thousands of others around the world, including the majority of CMOs:

The problem with a unilateral functional view of SM channels

This begins a chain reaction of tactical thinking in which “content” – whose importance to the marketing function (on and off the web) is without question – becomes the core component of marketing-driven social media programs: If “content is king” for marketing on and off the web, then content must also be king for marketing in social media channels.

Logical, right?

If you have ever wondered why “content” was such a recurring theme and point of focus in the social space – when it clearly doesn’t need to be, this is why. What you are looking at in the above image, and what you are hearing from John, Nick, Usama and their peers isn’t representative of either social business or a social media program for business. What it illustrates is limited to social media marketing: The traditional marketing function adapted and applied to social media channels. This world view reflects a belief that social media management is primarily a marketing function.

This view point is of course a little too limited to work super well in a social medium, where people value non-marketing interactions at least as much (if not a lot more) than marketing-related ones.

Since social media channels and the social space are not inherently marketing-focused channels, the correct approach for a business looking to see both short and long term results, is one that is NOT primarily marketing-centric, and therefore NOT primarily content-centric. Here is what that more integrated social business model looks like:

Social Business favors multi-functional adoption across the org

The above image reflects the nature of social business. This multi-functional approach to social media, marked by the adoption of social channels by all functions and departments across an organization, stands a much better chance of yielding results in a space that is not inherently marketing-focused (and can be, at times, openly hostile to overtly marketing-focused exploitation by companies that haven’t yet thought things through).

This model does not focus on “content” as the key component of its social media program “strategy.” Instead, the model focuses on creating new types of value for consumers and stakeholders:

1. Pragmatically this is done to gain a competitive advantage, or – because the more value an organization creates for its customers, the more win becomes associated with its reputation.

2. From the consumer side, as long as the organization driving such a program seems to be genuinely interested in improving the lives or the experience of people it comes in contact with, as long as it seems to want to foster a relationship with them that isn’t automated, that is as truly human and genuine as an old fashioned handshake or a kiss on the cheek or a warm and honest hello, this business socialization activity won’t come across as one-sided and self-serving. This is important.

Sometimes, the best marketing isn’t marketing at all. It grows out of the personal connections that happen between the impression and the purchase, the thousand little personal interactions that happen between the purchase and the coffee shop, and the bonds consumers form with human beings around them. These human beings can be fellow customers of Brand x or employees or Brand x, or perhaps future customers of Brand x. For the purposes of this piece, let’s just focus on employees of Brand x.

Thus, having your marketing department push content all day long via Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and Youtube channels basically amounts to executing a simple social media marketing strategy. It doesn’t build anything. It doesn’t stick either. It’s just marketing spend at a lower cost and with a higher content velocity. Not bad, but that won’t get you very far in the social space.

Moving beyond “social media marketing” – A short list of business functions in social media that do not require content to create value and yield results:

We have seen how Marketing, advertising and PR all tend to focus on content in and out of social channels and why. (And again, there is nothing wrong with that.) Now, let us briefly look at a few other functions that can find a profitable home in the social space that require zero content creation, publication or curation.

  • Digital Customer Service
  • Business Intelligence
  • Digital market research
  • Consumer Insights Management
  • Online Reputation Management
  • Digital keyword and sentiment monitoring
  • Digital campaign or program measurement
  • Digital crisis management
  • Community management
  • Digital technical support
  • Digital concierge services

There are more, but you get the idea. None of these are particularly “content” driven functions, are they. Yet… “content” is supposed to be at the core of social media programs, right?

An emphasis on “content” in social media and social communications is simply code for “we think of social media primarily as a marketing channel.” It clearly needs to be treated as far more than that.

Organizations whose executives come to believe that “content” is key or central to social media success, equity or potential are making a grave mistake: Content doesn’t in fact drive engagement, traction or success in social media. “Content” drives marketing and responses to marketing in social media. As important as that is, we all have to be realistic about the limits of this kind of approach.

Realistically, content doesn’t drive customer service, crisis management, reputation management or market research in social media, nor does it drive conversations about customer service, crisis management, reputation, market research or even shopping experiences about a brand in social media. Since these and other key business function are principal building blocks of every successful social media program (for business), you see how an emphasis on content can hobble an organization’s social media program right from the start if its importance is mistakenly overstated.

Content’s relation to old vs. new forms of media:

Old media was 100% about messaging and distribution. Marketing was a monologue, primarily because the media used by marketing didn’t give consumers a voice. Viewers didn’t talk back to brands through their TV. Listeners didn’t talk back to brands through their radio. Billboards, print ads, posters, point of sale displays, coupons and even Web 1.0 websites functioned the same way: You created the message and pushed it out. The channels were basically one-way pipelines with marketers at one end and consumers at the other, the latter being the receiving end.

Social media channels are very different. Dialog rules in the social space. Marketing is at best suspect, and tolerated only if it doesn’t come across as exploitation of the channel by a company. Moreover, marketing in social media is permission-based: Too much marketing, or the wrong kind, and social media denizens will disengage from an offending brand. The wrong approach in these social channels can even do more harm than good for a company that forgets to treat consumers like individual human beings.

Though occasional monologues and messaging can find their place in the social space within a healthy mix of engagement activity, an operational emphasis on any kind of marketing monologue doesn’t work. Put simply, companies need to stop shoving “content” through social media channels like sh*t through a goose for ten seconds, take a step back, and start placing as much – if not more – emphasis on listening to consumers in order to then respond to them and begin a process of socialization. That is at the core of true engagement, and the fuel that will drive companies’ loyalty engines in the social space. The recent emphasis on content creation and publishing isn’t helping companies engage better. Instead, it is creating a wedge between brands and consumers. A wall of noise, even. It has become terribly counterproductive.

Two more things to think about:

1. Engagement and buzz are not the same thing. Pushing content through social media channels to generate buzz is perfectly fine and it can work very well. But don’t kid yourselves: Generating buzz around content or a campaign isn’t engagement. Not by a long shot. So next time someone tries to tell you that content and engagement go hand in hand, ask them to explain the difference between engagement and buzz. Chances are that they have the two mixed up. (Beware: That kind of confusion can send organizations down the wrong road fast.)

2. Saying hello or thank you doesn’t qualify as content. By the same token, having a conversation with someone is not content creation or curation. Responding to customer service requests via twitter is not content either. In fact, the more your communications resemble a conversation or dialogue, the less your communications qualify as “content.” The flip side of this is that the more focused an organization is on content when it comes to its social media presence, the more anti-social it will appear to be.

Strike for a balance. Always. The social space is far too complex and filled with opportunities to put all of your operational eggs in one basket – even the one tagged “content.”

Cheers,

Olivier

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Social Media ROI: In stores now. Available in print and e-formats. (Click here for a sample chapter.)

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So I will be speaking at Fusion Marketing: Brussels – on 23 March. That’s next week.

If you work in marketing or digital and happen to be in the EU next week, I strongly recommend that you swing by the summit, attend all the sessions and come say hi, because I don’t come through Brussels very often.

Here are 6 facts about Brussels that you may not know:

1. I went to high school in Brussels.

2. The food there is pretty fly.

3. NATO has its HQ there.

4. Brussels is the capital of the European Community.

5. Brussels will be the first international city on the 2011 “Social Media ROI” book tour. (In fact, all attendees get a free copy, which I will be happy to autograph while I am there.)

6. This guy is reportedly from there (unconfirmed):

In other words, it should be a pretty solid event, if only by virtue of the fact that it is being held in Brussels.

Other speakers at #FusionMex:

Dave Chaffey – CEO, Smart Insights

Dela Quist – CEO, Alchemy Worx

Gianfranco Cuzziol – Head of eCRM, EHS 4D Group

Richard Sedley – Client Relationships, Foviance

Kath Pay – Strategic email and digital marketing consultant, DM Inbox

Joost de Valk – Yoast.com

Alfred den Besten – IT and telecom watcher

and my good friend Trey Pennington (whom I see only overseas even though we live five miles from each other).

Click here for the schedule. To register before tickets run out, click here.

I look forward to seeing many of you next week. Cheers!

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Social Media ROI: In stores now. (Click here for a sample chapter)

 

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Continuing the series started a few weeks ago with Bette Davis, here are some lessons that a bright dead personality could teach us were they alive today. This week: Gaius Julius Caesar – a guy so successful in his time that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the term “Czar” is a contraction of “Caesar.”)

Here what Julius Caesar might talk about if he could speak at #Likeminds, #Ungeeked and #SxSW today:

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is100%  about momentum. Never forget that.

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