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Yesterday, the above infographic popped up on my radar (thanks, V. Harris). At first, I thought “here we go again: another crap social media ROI infographic.” But then I took a closer look and I got it. It’s actually not bad. Well… up to a point.

Part 1 – Showing that basic business literacy is still lacking in the digital marketing space:

Verdict: Good.

Here’s what this part of the infographic tells us:

1. Marketers still mistake metrics like net followers/fans, web traffic, and social mentions (all essentially reach metrics) for ROI. Less than 30% of them consider sales to be an element of ROI. Still.

2. 73% of CEOs think marketers don’t understand basic business terminology and objectives.

3. Is it any surprise that CEOs think that marketers are essentially dumbasses and that social business is bullshit?

If that part of the infographic doesn’t perfectly illustrate the urgent need for an infusion of actual competence on every level of the social business management scale, I don’t know what does. This situation is absurd.

The silver lining: Over 70% of marketers still haven’t read my book, so we still have a lot of potential sales there.

Okay, all kidding aside, the fact that over 70% of marketers still qualify followers and fans as a measure of ROI is… shocking. Seriously. Web traffic? Social mentions? Here’s a fix: Send these people back to school. It’s almost 2013. We should be over this by now. Anyone who still thinks that way needs an intervention. It might have been acceptable in 2008, but not anymore.

Part 2 – Showing some financial outcomes that can be tied back to social media activity (and budgets):

Verdict: Good.

Here, we see examples of social media activity having a direct impact on sales. The cool thing about it is that if you go back and look at how much that social media activity cost (man hours, technology, etc.), you can assign a specific cost to it. If you have the gain figures and the cost figures, you can calculate ROI.

Thumbs-up. More of that, please.

Part 3 – “Last Touch Conversions” and the problem with last-click attribution models:

Verdict: Last click attribution is too limited a model to illustrate the full impact of social media activity on sales.

Here’s where the infographic runs into a wall. We’ve talked about this: It isn’t so much that last click attribution is wrong in assuming a cause and effect relationship between clicking on a link and making a purchase. Clearly, there’s a strong connection there. There’s intent, if anything, and that’s important, so we need to track that and put numbers to it. But focusing too much (or at all) on last click attribution is a lot like looking at consumer behaviors through a simple, robotic, kind of binary lens that only accounts for a very small fraction of the customer journey. It completely ignores the dozen (if not hundreds) of other triggers that led a consumer to eventually click on that link and decide to make a purchase.

Last click attribution doesn’t take into account the full scope of discovery (that is to say, how a consumer found out about the brand and/or product). It doesn’t take into account the impact of advertising, marketing, PR, media exposure and word-of-mouth recommendations. It doesn’t take into account the months, weeks, days or hours of research done by the consumer before clicking on that link. In other words, the entire decision process that takes place before a purchase (discovery, research, preference and validation) is excluded from the last click attribution model. Months of social interactions: gone. Customer service experiences: gone. We’re down to attributing a transaction to the very last thing a consumer did before pulling out a credit card. That’s a lot like a military unit attributing a victory in battle to the last bullet fired. Focusing only on the final few minutes of a long and complex customer journey is terribly-short-sighted, and that sort of methodology (and mentality) drags us into a ditch of assumptions as to cause and effect that generally leads to poor consumer insights and ultimately investments in the wrong types of activities.

Last click attribution is easy, sure, but since when does easy trump smart or relevant? The truth is that it’s a lazy mode of thinking. That’s right, I said it: It’s lazy.

A couple of weeks ago, we looked at how Ohtootay helps companies move beyond last click attribution (and last touch conversions) to map how consumers actually behave – that is to say how they shop. It’s a good start. We need more of that kind of thinking and more of that kind of insightful application of technology. The objective for businesses and marketing teams has always been this: to understand consumer behaviors and how to affect them in a way that leads them to notice, want, buy and ultimately recommend products. Last click attribution doesn’t do that. It’s a snapshot of the final step in a long transaction funnel. That’s all. You want to measure ROI? You want to know what’s working? You want to fine-tune the way your traditional marketing, social channel activity, customer service, product design, packaging, retail experience and competitive landscape work together (or don’t)? Great. Then you’re going to have to work a little harder to figure out how all the pieces fit, and how to make them fit even better.

Personally, I think that’s half the fun of the marketing profession: figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and why, solving those kinds of problems, fine-tuning and then fine-tuning some more… That’s what marketing is about: making it work. Understanding how to move all of those needles so your company or product team gets what they want, and your customers do too. Do it right and everyone walks away happy. That’s the goal. Happy customers, happy product managers, happy investors, job creation on the back end… That’s the big picture, one piece of the daisy chain at a time.

So a word of caution: If you’re not into asking questions, doing research, or caring enough to bust your ass to do real work, hard work – sometimes tedious work – to kick ass, maybe you shouldn’t be in the marketing business. There’s a reason why 73% of CEOs think that marketers lack business credibility. It’s because of laziness and apathy. Every marketing pro who still hasn’t learned how to explain the relationship between ROI and social media contributes to that credibility problem. Every marketing pro who still uses last click attribution as their go-to metric to gauge the effectiveness of a social channel contributes to that credibility problem. Every marketing pro who isn’t working in concert (hell, in tandem) with a product group and a sales department contributes to that problem.

Give that some thought. And if that isn’t enough to give you pause, maybe this will: If you work in marketing, 73% of CEOs right now can’t figure out why they’re paying you. And you know what? They’re looking for someone better.

Fix that.

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Digital Crisis management is hard work. It’s complicated work. But it’s also not rocket science once you understand the mechanics of the process. Today, let’s break down crisis management into five simple components (or phases) and briefly explore the structure of each one. Understanding how to break down a digital crisis management model that way, looking at what types of tools to use and how,  and going through a few general observations in regards to best practices will hopefully arm you with helpful guidelines should your organization ever find itself having to deal with… an unfortunate circumstance involving a lot of very angry people.

To illustrate how this works, we will look at screen shots of what @KitchenAid’s recent PR crisis looked like on a basic Tickr dashboard. If you aren’t familiar with what happened and what the crisis was about, you can catch up here (just remember to come back). Hang on… before you go anywhere, let’s start at the beginning:

… (Continue reading).

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Oh, and while you’re here…

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese, Italian and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Yesterday, I promised you a post that would help hiring managers identify key skills and abilities needed in a prospective hire looking to fill a social media manager role. Note that we are talking about management, not just content creation or community relations. Before I get into it, a few considerations:

1.  This list isn’t complete. It is meant to help guide you and point you in some key directions, but you’re going to have to add a few requirements of your own and ignore the ones that don’t apply to your specific needs.

2. Every company has different capabilities and objectives. Every company will also look at social media’s role in a  completely unique way. Some will see it merely as a digital marketing function while others will see it as a fully integrated component of an organization-wide communications ecosystem. Because every company is unique, every social media management position’s requirements will also be unique. Keep that in mind.

3. Are you hiring someone who will help you build a social media program from scratch, or are you hiring someone who will manage an existing social media program? Because the requirements for each won’t be the same.

4. Are you a small, medium, local company, or are you a global consumer brand? Because again, the degree of complexity (internal to the org and external to the org) will require completely different types of resumes.

5. Are you looking to fill a strategic role or a tactical role? Strategic = more vision and planning oriented. Tactical = more day-to-day, operationally oriented.

6. Are you a niche or specialty brand in an obscure industry, or an international superbrand? Because again, the req is going to look different based on that.

7. Is your social media program purely internal or are you working with one or five or twenty agencies as well?

8. Is your social media program focused on lead generation and fan acquisition, or is it also focused on customer development, customer retention, and/or organic WOM? Again, huge differences in skill-sets and abilities to consider there.

9. How many departments will this role be working intimately with? Mostly digital marketing, or also HR, Customer Service, Product Management, Technical Support, PR and R&D?

10. Is your brand a challenger? A rebel? Conservative? Academic? Irreverent? Political? Apolitical? These things matter. Hire someone who understands who you are and will fit within your culture and brand ecosystem.

Right off the bat, you kind of have your work cut out for you. Building out a req for your social media management role is going to require a little more work than just throwing together some bullet points and filling the blanks on a standard x years of blogging experience bullets. This is not an exercise in generic job req design. There is nothing generic about this hiring process.

Here are a few bullets for you:

Basic skills & qualities:

  • Applicant has had a continuous professional presence in the Social Media space (via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Ning or other platforms) for at least two years.
  • Applicant has managed a business blog and/or business community for a minimum of one year.
  • Applicant has built or managed a community for longer than one year. (This could be as a product manager or customer service rep, for instance.)
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the Social Media space, including usage and demographic statistics for the most popular/relevant platforms as well as a few niche platforms of his/her choice.
  • Applicant demonstrates a thorough understanding of the nuances between Social Media platforms and the communities they serve.
  • Impeccable communications skills.
  • Applicant understands the breadth of tools and methods at his/her disposal to set goals and measure success in the Social Media space. (Applicant’s toolkit is not limited to Google analytics.)
  • Applicant has been active on Twitter for more than two years.
  • Applicant knows who Scott Monty, Frank Eliason, Jeremiah Owyang, Porter Gale and Christopher Barger are, and can explain why these names are important to the social media profession.
  • Applicant can explain succinctly why buying followers and fans is both unethical and counterproductive.
  • Applicant demonstrates a high level of proficiency working with popular Social Media platforms and apps such as FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Ning, Seesmic, YouTube, FriendFeed, WordPress, Pinterest and Tumblr. (As applicable.)
  • Applicant is capable of mapping out a basic Social Media monitoring plan on a cocktail napkin.
  • Given 5 screens to play with, applicant can build you a social media monitoring control center in just a few days.
  • Applicant can cite examples of companies with successful social media programs and companies with ineffective social media programs. He/she can also argue comfortably why each was either successful or unsuccessful.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year working in a customer-facing role, preferably customer-service related.
  • Applicant is more excited about engagement, building an internal practice and finding out about your business’ pain points than he/she is about firebombing you with the awesomeness of their personal brand.

Advanced skills & qualities:

  • Applicant has developed and managed marketing programs before. Not just campaigns but programs. Find out about them. What worked? What didn’t work? Lessons learned?
  • Applicant has at least two years of experience managing projects and working across organizational silos. What worked? What didn’t? Etc.
  • Applicant has managed a brand or product line for more than one year.
  • Applicant has demonstrated a strong ability to forge lasting relationships across a variety of media platforms over the course of his/her career.
  • Applicant understand the difference between vertical and lateral action when it comes to customer/community engagement – and has working knowledge of how to leverage both.
  • Applicant has managed national market research projects.
  • Applicant is comfortable enough with business measurement methods to know the difference between financial impact (ROI) and non-financial impact. He/she also knows why the difference between the two is relevant.
  • Applicant demonstrates the ability to build and manage a Social Media practice that works seamlessly with PR, product marketing, event management and customer support teams within the organization.
  • Applicant has managed a team for more than one year. He/she was responsible for the training and development of that team.
  • Applicant has spent at least one year in a project management role outside of an ad agency, PR or other Marketing firm.
  • Applicant has been responsible for managing a budget/P&L.
  • Applicant already has the framework of a Social Media plan for your company before he/she even walks through the front door, and thankfully, it doesn’t involve setting up a fan page on FaceBook.

Enterprise & Global CPG skills:

  • All of the above, but with 5 – 10+ years of experience instead of 1 – 3.
  • For everything else, scale up.

What you shouldn’t waste a whole lot of time worrying about:

  • The applicant’s age.
  • The applicant’s Klout or Kred scores.
  • The applicant’s number of followers on Twitter or fans/likes on Facebook.*
  • The applicant’s SxSW or blogworld stories.
  • How many Top 10, 15, 20 or 100 lists the applicant is on.

* Less than 1,000 Twitter followers is suspect. Unless they are a media celebrity, more than 75,000 Twitter followers is suspect as well.

All right. You still have some work to do, but that ought to get you started.

Other sources:

Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your OrganizationParticularly Chapter 6 (pages 73-82).

The Social Media Strategist: Build a Successful Program from the Inside Out – by Christopher Barger

Smart Business, Social Business: A Playbook for Social Media in Your Organization – by Michael Brito

I hope that was helpful.

Cheers,

Olivier

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization was written specifically to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now available in several languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

Read Full Post »

I told you I would bring back this post regularly. Here it is again, until the day when everyone understands how simple this is. Okay, here we go:

If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding social media R.O.I., chances are that…

1. You are asking the wrong question.

Do you want to know what one of the worst questions dealing with the digital world is right now? This:

What is the ROI of Social Media?

It isn’t that the idea behind the question is wrong. It comes from the right place. It aims to answer 2 basic business questions: Why should I invest in this, (or rather, why should I invest in this rather than the other thing?), and what kind of financial benefit can I expect from it?

The problem is that the question can’t be answered as asked: Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. The social space is an amalgam of channels, platforms and activities that can produce a broad range of returns (and often none at all). When you ask “what is the social media or ROI,” do you mean to have Facebook’s profit margins figure in the answer? Twitter’s? Youtube’s? Every affiliate marketing blog’s ROI thrown in as well?

The question is too broad. Too general. It is like asking what the ROI of email is. Or the ROI of digital marketing. What is the ROI of social media? I don’t know… what is the ROI of television?

If you are still stuck on this, you have probably been asking the wrong question.

2. So what is the right question?

The question, then, is not what is the ROI of social media, but rather what is the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media?

To ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. Here’s an example:

What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011?

That is a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media. Here are a few more:

What was the ROI of shifting 20% of our customer service resources from a traditional call center to twitter this past year?

What was the ROI of shifting 40% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?

What was the ROI of our social media-driven raspberry gum awareness campaign in Q1?

These are proper ROI questions.

3. The unfortunate effect of asking the question incorrectly.

What is the ROI of social media? asks nothing and everything at once. It begs a response in the interrogative: Just how do you mean? In instances where either educational gaps or a lack of discipline prevail, the vagueness of the question leads to an interpretation of the term R.O.I., which has already led many a social media “expert” down a shady path of improvisation.

This is how ROI went from being a simple financial calculation of investment vs. gain from investment to becoming any number of made-up equations mixing unrelated metrics into a mess of nonsense like this:

Social media ROI = [(tweets – followers) ÷ (comments x average monthly posts)] ÷ (Facebook shares x facebook likes) ÷ (mentions x channels used) x engagement

Huh?!

Equations like this are everywhere. Companies large and small have paid good money for the privilege of glimpsing them. Unfortunately, they are complete and utter bullshit. They measure nothing. Their aim is to confuse and extract legal tender from unsuspecting clients, nothing more. Don’t fall for it.

4. Pay attention and all the social media R.O.I. BS you have heard until now will evaporate in the next 90 seconds.

In case you missed it earlier, don’t think of ROI as being medium-specific. Think of it as activity-specific.

Are you using social media to increase sales of your latest product? Then measure the ROI of that. How much are you spending on that activity? What KPIs apply to the outcomes being driven by that activity? What is the ratio of cost to gain for that activity? This, you can measure. Stop here. Take it all in. Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper and work it out.

Once you grasp this, try something bigger. If you want to measure the ROI of specific activities across all media, do that. If you would rather focus only on your social media activity, go for it. It doesn’t really matter where you measure your cost to gain equation. Email, TV, print, mobile, social… it’s all the same. ROI is media-agnostic. Once you realize that your measurement should focus on the relationship between the activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes a detail. ROI is ROI, regardless of the channel or the technology or the platform.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model and determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, take your ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving these outcomes, and each particular type of activity within their scope, then add them all up. Can measuring all of that be complex? You bet. Does it require a lot of work? Yes. It’s up to you to figure out if it is worth the time and resources.

If you have limited resources, you may decide to calculate the ROI of certain activities and not others. You’re the boss. But if you want to get a glimpse of what the process looks like, that’s it in its most basic form.

5. R.O.I. isn’t an afterthought.

Guess what: Acquiring Twitter followers and Facebook likes won’t drive a whole lot of anything unless you have a plan. In other words, if your social media activity doesn’t deliberately drive ROI, it probably won’t accidentally result in any.

This is pretty key. Don’t just measure a bunch of crap after the fact to see if any metrics jumped during the last measurement period. Think about what you will want to measure ahead of time, what metrics you will be looking to influence. Think more along the lines of business-relevant metrics than social media metrics like “likes” and “follows,” which don’t really tell you a whole lot.

6. R.O.I. doesn’t magically lose its relevance because social media “is about engagement.” 

If your business is for-profit and you are looking to use social media in any way, shape or form to help your business grow, then all of your questions regarding the R.O.I. of investing in social media activity are relevant. Any social media consultant who tells you otherwise is an idiot.

Concepts like Return on Engagement, Return on Influence, Return on Conversation are all bullshit. Nice exercises in light semantic theory, but utterly devoid of substance. First, they can’t be calculated. Second, they bring absolutely zero insight or value to your business. In fact, they pull your attention away from legitimate outcomes. Third, they are not in any way shape or form substitutes for Return on Investment.

Fact: If a social media “expert” tells you that ROI isn’t important, he (or she) is a hack. Remove them from your organization immediately.

Fact: A social media “expert” who doesn’t know how to calculate ROI properly (or teach you how to do it) might just be an expert at blogging, and not social media program management or social business integration.

Note: Integrating social media and business requires more experience than just making it look like 100,000+ “people” follow you on Twitter. Anyone can become a speaker nowadays. Anyone can publish a book and make themselves look like an expert. Unfortunately, at least 9 out of 10 social media speakers/experts/gurus/authors couldn’t effectively manage a Fortune 500 social media/business practice if you infused their brains with an extra 100 points of IQ and enrolled them in an executive MBA course. Be very careful who you hire, whose blogs you read, and whom you elect to influence your business decisions.

“Digital Influence” does not necessarily reflect competence. Always remember that. Some of the dumbest and most dishonest people in this business have enormous followings on Twitter, blogs and G+, and very high Klout scores to boot. (They spend an enormous amount of time making sure they do.) Conversely, some of the most brilliant, competent, ethical people in this business aren’t all that visible. Why? Because they are too busy doing real work to focus all of their efforts building personal brands and better mouse traps.

There are other litmus tests, but the ROI bit is a pretty solid one: A so-called expert who skirts the issue or fails a simple ROI problem/test from your CFO probably isn’t as qualified to advise you as his or her Klout score might have suggested. 😉

7. … But R.O.I. isn’t relevant to every type of activity.

Having said that, not all social media activity needs to drive ROI. As important as it may be to understand how to calculate it and why, it is equally important to know when ROI isn’t really relevant to a particular activity or objective.

Technical support, accounts receivable, digital reputation management, digital crisis management, R&D, customer service… These types of functions are not always tied directly to financial KPIs. Don’t force them into that box.

This is an important point because it reveals something about the nature of the operational integration of social media within organizations: Social media isn’t simply a “community management” function or a “content” play. Its value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likesfollowers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value. Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y, or from a boost in customer satisfaction after a contact with a CSR to the attenuation of a PR crisis.

In other words, for an organization, the value of social media depends on two factors:

1. The manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective.

2. The degree to which specific social media activity helped drive that objective.

In instances where financial investment and financial gain are relevant KPIs, this can turn into ROI. In instances where financial gain is not a relevant outcome, ROI might not matter one bit.

Knowing when and how ROI matters (or not) will a) help you avoid costly mistakes and will b) hopefully help you make smart decisions when it comes to assigning precious resources and budgets to specific social media/business programs.

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By the way, Social Media ROI – the book – doesn’t just talk about measurement and KPIs. It provides a simple framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs in partnership with digital agencies or all on their own. Check it out at www.smroi.net, or look for it at fine bookstores everywhere.

Click here to read a free chapter.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Every doctrine has to start somewhere. Even this one.

Want to boost your repeat business, get tons of free referrals, acquire bunches of new customers and get lots of positive buzz for free? There’s a pretty simple way to do it that doesn’t have to cost you a whole lot. Can you guess what it is?

Simple: Purge your company of assholes.

In fact, let me share item #1 in my Better Business Doctrine with you real quick. Are you ready? Here we go:

The customer-facing organization with the fewest assholes wins.

That’s it.

A simple example, from the friendly skies.

Does this seem like common sense? Of course it does. And yet here we are, routinely forced to endure a passive-aggressive or plain argumentative jerks who would rather exercise their “authority” than provide customers – even stressed out customers – with pleasant experiences. Why is that? Let me answer that question: Because companies are still hiring assholes.

Let me give you a few personal examples:

1a. The Continental flight I was on a few months ago

Flight Attendant (sternly) to a passenger in the process of turning off their iPad, just not quickly enough: “SIR! I need you to turn that off right now!” (Stares angrily at passenger until the device is turned off, and walks away, visibly annoyed.)

This probably happens to flight crews 20+ times per day. Every time a plane pushes off from the gate and prepares its approach, passengers in the middle of a song, of a paragraph, of a game of Angry Birds or Brick Breaker take an extra 10-30 seconds to “comply” with the “please turn off your electronic devices at this time” announcement on the PA. I get it. It probably gets annoying after a while. But guess what: You’re a flight attendant. Asking people to turn off their electronic toys comes with the job. You don’t have to be an asshole about it. Case in point:

1b: The Delta flight I was on the following day

– Flight Attendant (with a smile, jokingly) to a passenger so absorbed by what he was reading that he missed the “turn off your electronic devices” announcement and kept his Kindle going: “Good book?”

– Passenger, sensing that he was the object of the flight attendant’s attention, looks up from his device: “I’m sorry?”

– Flight Attendant, nonchalantly points at the Kindle: “Good reading?”

– Passenger, smiling back: “Yeah. Very!” (Gets it. Laughs. Starts to look for the “off” button.)

– Flight attendant: “You can turn it back on as soon as we’re on the ground.” (Walks away. Stops. Turns around.) “The book. What is it?”

Passenger answers. Flight attendant repeats the title as if to remember it, nods as if interested, and returns to his station.

The difference between the two isn’t training or pay. It isn’t corporate policy or procedure. It isn’t even company culture. The difference between the two occurrences is this:

One of these flight attendants, at some point during the course of her day, week, month, year or career, decided to let her asshole flag fly. The other one didn’t.

The basic impact of an asshole on your customers

How every asshole on your payroll affects your brand equity and impacts your business on a daily basis.

The impact of just one asshole’s behavior in a customer-facing role doesn’t stop with the one customer they treat poorly. Ten rows of passengers witnessed the exchanges on both flights, and I can guarantee that the ten rows on the Continental flight (30 passengers) were not impressed, while those on the Delta flight surely were. The ramifications of this are simple:

Whatever shot Continental had at influencing these 30 people to develop a preference for flying its friendly skies, for being more loyal, for looking to book future flights with them first, just flew out the window, not because of price, not because of delays, not because the plane was dirty. The price was great. The plane left on time and was impeccable. Continental did everything right except one thing: Someone there allowed an asshole (and probably more than one) to take on a key customer service role. Delta, on the other hand, scored some points.

And just to be fair, I’ve run into my fair of assholes working for Delta too. Few domestic US airlines seem immune to this phenomenon these days, except for perhaps Alaska Air, whose service and hiring practices, to my knowledge are still impeccable.

That said, my experience with Delta flight crews recently has been stellar, and not just because of this little anecdote. (Expect another post about what else happened very soon.) The difference between the two airlines for me was limited to my experience, as it is for all of us. Before the recommendations and the word-of-mouth and the marketing, our own experience shapes our bias.

Every positive experience creates positive associations with a brand, while every negative experience creates a negative association with a brand. More positive than negative = positive bias, preference, even loyalty. Consistent negative experiences (especially those that repeat themselves, like frequent delays, rude employees, apathetic managers, or being talked down to by an unprofessional asshole) = negative bias, preference for your competitors instead of you, and cynicism towards your brand.

The wheels of this mental equation – more emotional than empirical – start turning every time the thought of your brand comes up, and you need to understand it isn’t linear. The way we process the negative and the positive isn’t as balanced as you might think. For whatever reason, until you have grown into a loyal fan of the brand, the equation tends to be heavily weighed towards the negative: What you did right six months ago – or for the last thirty years,- doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you did wrong yesterday or just last week. That’s part 1 of how the mental math of brand experiences work. Part 2 is this: People will easily forgive incidents and accidents: Lost luggage, no available upgrades, long lines at the counter, mechanical problems, etc. Those things are out of your control, and once the anger and frustration subside, they’ll get it. Those negative impressions will evaporate. But one thing customers won’t forgive of any company: Being deliberately treated badly by an asshole.

Just as being an asshole  is a choice, – especially when dealing with a customer – hiring an asshole and keeping them on staff is also a choice. Because of this immutable fact, every company bears its part of responsibility in the hiring and promoting of assholes. Customers instinctively understand this, which is why when they run into one of your company’s assholes, they don’t blame the asshole for treating them poorly, they blame you. They blame the brand. The negative association they take home with them isn’t with that person (whose name and face they will forget inside of a week), but with you. Your assholes are faceless. All customers remember is the context: You. Your company. Your brand. The asshole just goes on being an asshole day after day, happy to have a job that pays him – even rewards him – for being a complete raging asshole all day long.

At the end of their shift, what you have to understand is that assholes in your employ don’t lose customers. You do. You spend your resources bringing them to the cash register, and every asshole on your staff spends all day making sure they never come back.

For this reason if none other, choose and evaluate your employees carefully.

The impact of just one asshole - amplified by social media

The real cost of letting assholes poison your brand from the inside.

If you are in business and have employees, let me be VERY clear about this: You are always only one asshole away from losing your best customer. The more assholes you have on staff, the faster and more often this will happen.

Not only that, but assholes tend to turn off, not only the one customer they happen to be unpleasant to, but everyone within earshot as well.

And today, ladies and gentlemen, “within earshot” isn’t just the ten rows on the plane or the ten people in the store waiting to check out. It is also potentially the hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter users who might get a glimpse of that negative experience and be turned off in turn. Even millions, for that matter. (See previous 2 images, inspired by David Armano’s “Influence Ripples” theory (Edelman), below:)

David Armano's "Influence Ripples" (Edelman)

Let me give this a financial angle for you: Over the course of a year, one asshole on your staff, just one, can invalidate every dime your company has spent on advertising, marketing and PR. That’s the real liability of assholes. For small businesses, an asshole might only cost you $10,000 in wasted marketing, messaging or brand positioning. If you’re a bigger company, the same asshole (or a whole army of them, which is more likely) could cost you hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted marketing and brand management dollars.

That was part 1 of that equation. Part 2 is measured in lost revenue from disappointed customers taking their business elsewhere (your competitors thank you), lost revenue from all of the net new customers delighted customers would have recommended you to (but didn’t, because your assholes chased them away), and so on.

As a result, the higher the proportion of assholes to caring professionals a company has on staff, the more likely it is to have to spend more and more on marketing (with increasingly diminishing returns), while customer retention falls flat and even starts to dip into the red. Assholes aren’t just bad for customer service or your brand’s image. Assholes are bad for business. They are a counter-current to your hopes and dreams. They are the cancer that first weighs you down, then eventually makes your brand begin to fail, then wither, then die.

So let me repeat today’s lesson: The customer-facing organization with the least amount of assholes wins.

Don’t believe me? Ask Zappos. If you have never heard of Zappos, they sell shoes on the internet. That’s it. Well… LOTS of shoes. So many in fact that Amazon bought them for a pretty penny. Not only that, but Amazon decided not to make any major changes to Zappos’ leadership or culture. They left Zappos alone because the model works well just as it is. What’s Zappos’ secret? The customer experiences they create are stellar. Why are they stellar? Because Zappos pretty much has a “no asshole on staff” policy. Their hiring practices focus on this, and for good reason: They know that a happy customer is a loyal customer.

The simple truth (and we all know this) is that happy customers are good for business. In fact, no. They are GREAT for business: The happier a customer is, the more likely it is that they will come back, spend more, spend more often, and recommend you to all their friends. This is what you want. This is what makes businesses insanely successful. This. You don’t have to invent the iPad to be a huge success. Zappos just sells shoes on the internet. Virgin Airlines just flies people from airport to airport. Intercontinental Hotels (disclosure: client) are basically just… hotels. We’re not talking space walks or time travel, here. Your favorite restaurant, your favorite coffee shop, your favorite mechanic, none of them necessarily reinvented the wheel, right? They didn’t win a Nobel prize for revolutionizing their industries. No. What they did was this: They figured out that a happy customer is good for business, so they focused on that. They earned your trust, your respect and your loyalty. Want to know how they did that? By giving you theirs.

Let me let you in on a little secret: An asshole doesn’t think that way. An asshole doesn’t think about happy customers. He doesn’t care about happy customers. An asshole only thinks about himself: His own mood, his own frustrations, his own personal dramas, his own power trips. An asshole doesn’t give anyone their trust, respect or loyalty. Assholes just don’t think that way. And that is precisely the rub: No matter how well you pay them, you can’t make assholes give a shit. And that is bad for business. Very bad.

A fork in the road for every organization:

Do you know one way to make sure your customers are always happy? Only hire people who want your customers to be happy too. People who want to be helpful, who want to fix problems, who take pride in making someone’s day better instead of worse. People who genuinely want to see the company do well. People with pride and self respect and ambition beyond their own bank account or advancement. Do you think this is too hard? It isn’t. Just hire better.

Want to guess how to guarantee that your customers will not be happy? Hire assholes to take care of them. (It works every time.)

That’s your choice: Door A or Door B.

Door A: Hire super nice, helpful people and your business will soar.

Door B: Hire assholes, and your business will forever struggle to stay afloat.

Every time you run into one of your employees (or candidates) and he or she acts like an asshole, I want you to think about that. I want you to think about how much harder you want to have to work to make your business successful once they start pissing off every customer and client they come in contact with.

Taking a step back so you can see your entire business now, how many assholes do you really want on your payroll, and how many customers do you want to put them in front of? Pull out a piece of paper and write down a number. Do it. Write it down. How many assholes do you want on your payroll?

Next to that number, write down how many assholes you have on your payroll now. Go through your mental org chart, and start counting them in your head. When you’re done, write down how many assholes you know are in your company right now. If that number is higher than the first number you wrote down, you have some cleaning up to do.

In closing, let me leave you with the top 5 ways to make sure that your company starts becoming asshole-proof.

Top 5 ways of asshole-proofing your company:

1. Don’t hire assholes. They are bad for business, and they breed inside organizations like weeds.

2. Don’t promote assholes. The only thing worse than an asshole is an asshole with authority (including the authority to hire and promote assholes when you aren’t paying attention).

3. Give your current assholes the “opportunity” to go work for your fiercest competitor. Do this immediately. Make sure the door doesn’t hit them in the ass on their way out.

4. Once removed, replace your former assholes with nice, smart friendly people. (They’re out there and they want to work for you, but your assholes probably already turned them down. Go find them and invite them back.)

5. Reward all of your employees for NOT being assholes.

That just about takes care of it for today. Any questions?

Inspired (in a good way) by conversations with Julien Smith, Geoff Livingston, Keith BurtisChris Brogan, Kristi Colvin, Tyler Durden, Jeffrey Jacobs, Peter Shankman, among others.

*          *          *

And in case you haven’t picked one up yet (or your favorite client seems to be having trouble figuring out how to bring social media into their organization), you can pick up a fresh copy of Social Media ROI at fine book stores everywhere. If you have sworn off paper, you can also download it for iPad, Kindle, Nook or other e-formats at www.smroi.net.

Tip: Leave it sitting conspicuously on your desk when your boss does his rounds. It seems to be a good conversation starter.

(Click here for details, or to sample a free chapter.)

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This week, I had the pleasure of being interviewed on #mmchat (episode 68). We talked about social media (social business) integration, which is a pretty crucial topic. Pushing content through social media channels and setting up monitoring practices is the easy part. Making it all work and flow across an organization is where the real difficulties arise.

For almost every company adopting social media, the biggest challenge is not a lack of great ideas or social media expertise, but rather a lack of change management planning and execution. (Theory, presentations and case studies are great, but making someone else’s stories actually work for a business, that’s where the rubber really meets the road – or doesn’t, for the most part.)

Here were the questions:

Q1: So our topic tonight is on Social Media Alignment in organizations, can you describe your view on what this means?

Q2: [In reference to social media] what are some of the negative consequences experienced by organizations that are not aligned?

Q3: How should organizations begin when it comes to aligning their social media efforts with the rest of the business? Who should lead this initiative and how?

Q4: Are there specific steps required to align social networking within organizations?

Q5: Once alignment is achieved, can it be easily scaled or are there suggestions you can male to facilitate this process?

Q6: Are there different challenges & solutions for trying to align around the world in global organizations?

Q7: How does a company know when they have succeeded in the alignment quest? What are some of the major signs and benefits?

Because of the short amount of time allotted to the chat and the limited 140-character format, my answers and ensuing discussion don’t get super in-depth, but that comes with an advantage: They are VERY accessible. Even if you are still unsure how to effectively plug social media into a company so it doesn’t end up being just a marketing add-on, you will understand the fundamental principles covered here.

To access the chat’s full transcript, click here.

For a far more in-depth look into how to actually plug social media into a business (large or small), grab yourself a copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson).

It isn’t a “social media” book. It is a management book that focuses on social media for business. Big difference. If you aren’t sure that it is for you, download a free chapter here, then make up your mind.

Very special thanks to @thesocialcmo and @karimacatherine for hosting the #chat.

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If you are still having trouble explaining or understanding the intricacies of social media R.O.I., chances are that…

1. You are asking the wrong question.

Do you want to know what one of the worst questions dealing with the digital world is right now? This:

What is the ROI of Social Media?

I know. Coming from me, the guy who literally wrote the book on “Social Media R.O.I.” this might seem like a strange thing to say. But hear me out. It will all make sense in a few minutes.

It isn’t that the idea behind the question is wrong. It comes from the right place. It aims to answer 2 basic business questions: Why should I invest in this, (or rather, why should I invest in this rather than the other thing?), and what kind of financial benefit can I expect from it?

The problem is that the question can’t be answered as asked: Social media in and of itself has no cookie-cutter ROI. The social space is an amalgam of channels, platforms and activities that can produce a broad range of returns (and often none at all). When you ask “what is the social media or ROI,” do you mean to have Facebook’s profit margins figure in the answer? Twitter’s? Youtube’s? Every affiliate marketing blog’s ROI thrown in as well?

The question is too broad. Too general. It is like asking what the ROI of email is. Or the ROI of digital marketing. What is the ROI of social media? I don’t know… what is the ROI of television?

You’ve been asking the wrong question.

2. To get the right answer, ask the right question.

The question, then, is not what is the ROI of social media, but rather what is the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media?

To ask the question properly, you have to also define the timeframe. Here’s an example:

What was the ROI of [insert activity here] in social media for Q3 2011?

That is a legitimate ROI question that relates to social media. Here are a few more:

What was the ROI of shifting 20% of our customer service resources from a traditional call center to twitter this past year?

What was the ROI of shifting 40% of our digital budget from traditional web to social media in 2011?

What was the ROI of our social media-driven raspberry gum awareness campaign in Q1?

These are proper ROI questions.

3. The unfortunate effect of asking the question incorrectly.

What is the ROI of social media? asks nothing and everything at once. It begs a response in the interrogative: Just how do you mean? In instances where either educational gaps or a lack of discipline prevail, the vagueness of the question leads to an interpretation of the term R.O.I., which has already led many a social media “expert” down a shady path of improvisation.

This is how ROI went from being a simple financial calculation of investment vs. gain from investment to becoming any number of made-up equations mixing unrelated metrics into a mess of nonsense like this:

Social media ROI = [(tweets – followers) ÷ (comments x average monthly posts)] ÷ (Facebook shares x facebook likes) ÷ (mentions x channels used) x engagement

Huh?!

Equations like this are everywhere. Companies large and small have paid good money for the privilege of glimpsing them. Unfortunately, they are complete and utter bullshit. They measure nothing. Their aim is to confuse and extract legal tender from unsuspecting clients, nothing more. Don’t fall for it.

4. Pay attention and all the social media R.O.I. BS you have heard until now will evaporate in the next 90 seconds.

In case you missed it earlier, don’t think of ROI as being medium-specific. Think of it as activity-specific.

Are you using social media to increase sales of your latest product? Then measure the ROI of that. How much are you spending on that activity? What KPIs apply to the outcomes being driven by that activity? What is the ratio of cost to gain for that activity? This, you can measure. Stop here. Take it all in. Grab a pencil and a sheet of paper and work it out.

Once you grasp this, try something bigger. If you want to measure the ROI of specific activities across all media, do that. If you would rather focus only on your social media activity, go for it. It doesn’t really matter where you measure your cost to gain equation. Email, TV, print, mobile, social… it’s all the same. ROI is media-agnostic. Once you realize that your measurement should focus on the relationship between the activity and the outcome(s), the medium becomes a detail. ROI is ROI, regardless of the channel or the technology or the platform.

That’s the basic principle. To scale that model and determine the ROI of the sum of an organization’s social media activities, take your ROI calculations for each desired outcome, each campaign driving these outcomes, and each particular type of activity within their scope, then add them all up. Can measuring all of that be complex? You bet. Does it require a lot of work? Yes. It’s up to you to figure out if it is worth the time and resources.

If you have limited resources, you may decide to calculate the ROI of certain activities and not others. You’re the boss. But if you want to get a glimpse of what the process looks like, that’s it in its most basic form.

5. R.O.I. isn’t an afterthought.

Guess what: Acquiring Twitter followers and Facebook likes won’t drive a whole lot of anything unless you have a plan. In other words, if your social media activity doesn’t deliberately drive ROI, it probably won’t accidentally result in any.

This is pretty key. Don’t just measure a bunch of crap after the fact to see if any metrics jumped during the last measurement period. Think about what you will want to measure ahead of time, what metrics you will be looking to influence. Think more along the lines of business-relevant metrics than social media metrics like “likes” and “follows,” which don’t really tell you a whole lot.

6. R.O.I. isn’t always relevant.

Repeat after me: Not all social media activity needs to drive ROI.

Technical support, accounts receivable, digital reputation management, digital crisis management, R&D, customer service… These types of functions are not always tied directly to financial KPIs. Don’t force them into that box.

This is an important point because it reveals something about the nature of the operational integration of social media within organizations: Social media isn’t simply a “community management” function or a “content” play. Its value to an organization isn’t measured primarily in the obvious and overplayed likes, followers, retweets and clickthroughs, or even in impressions or estimated media value. Social media’s value to an organization, whether translated into financial terms (ROI) or not, is determined by its ability to influence specific outcomes. This could be anything from the acquisition of new transacting customers to an increase in positive recommendations, from an increase in buy rate for product x to a positive shift in sentiment for product y, or from a boost in customer satisfaction after a contact with a CSR to the attenuation of a PR crisis.

In other words, for an organization, the value of social media depends on two factors:

1. The manner in which social media can be used to pursue a specific business objective.

2. The degree to which specific social media activity helped drive that objective.

In instances where financial investment and financial gain are relevant KPIs, this can turn into ROI. In instances where financial gain is not a relevant outcome, ROI might not matter one bit.

*          *          *

By the way, Social Media ROI – the book – doesn’t just talk about measurement and KPIs. It provides a simple framework with which businesses of all sizes can develop, build and manage social media programs in partnership with digital agencies or all on their own. Check it out at www.smroi.net, or look for it at fine bookstores everywhere.

Click here to read a free chapter.

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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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Judging by the close to 200 pages of comments left by readers on my last post, I guess we’ve hit on a pretty hot topic this week: That of “social media certifications.” (Who knew?)

So okay, let’s talk about it.

1. Do we even need Social Media certification?

To be completely honest, I hadn’t really given the subject much thought until a few days ago. To me, it seemed far too early in the game, not just from an academic standpoint, but from a practical one: Even if we happened to need certifications or accreditation for social media practitioners, there are no standards as of yet. No agreed-upon best practices for every business function and specialty that touches Social Media. There are no PhDs in the subject. No twenty-year veterans to teach anyone the ropes. In other words, there exists today no mechanism through which a social media “practitioner” might find himself or herself truly “certified” by anyone in any truly legitimate fashion, like, say, a PR professional, attorney, nurse, or even a hairdresser are able to be certified.

Part of the problem at hand can be summed up in the following two questions:

A. A “social media certification” would certify you in what, exactly? Your ability to create a Facebook fan page? Basic blogging techniques? Twitter usage? Social media measurement? Optimizing a LinkedIn profile? I could go on and on. So the question again: Certified in what, exactly? Some kind of general “Social Media expertise?” What does that even mean? (We’ll get back to that in a bit.)

B. Who would offer these certifications/accreditation and how? Accredited universities? Business schools? Professional organizations? Guilds? Private certifying companies? State boards? Software vendors? Consulting firms? Anybody with the ability to sell an online webinar? And who would develop and teach these courses? Academics with no practical social media experience? Internet consultants? Superstar bloggers? Who decides?

Check out this video and we’ll get the conversation started afterward:

If the video doesn’t play or open for you, go here.

2. A training certificate and a certification are not the same thing.

So, first of all, it’s important to understand the distinction between a Social Media certification and Social Media training. While training is… well, just training, a certification tends to be more structured. Standards have to be applied. Testing administered. Certification is a little more complex than just sitting through training. More often than not, certification is synonymous with accreditation.

To keep things simple, I hopped over to wikipedia and find this about the word accreditation:

Accreditation is a process in which certification of competency, authority, or credibility is presented.

Organizations that issue credentials or certify third parties against official standards are themselves formally accredited by accreditation bodies (such as UKAS); hence they are sometimes known as “accredited certification bodies”.[2] The accreditation process ensures that their certification practices are acceptable, typically meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, and employ suitable quality assurance.

One example of accreditation is the accreditation of testing laboratories and certification specialists that are permitted to issue official certificates of compliance with established standards, such as physical, chemical, forensic, quality, and security standards.[3]

The whole purpose of certifications and accreditations isn’t for social media practitioners to learn how to be social media experts. (You aren’t going to learn that by sitting in a class.) Rather, accreditation/certification is a process by which you are tested against specific industry standard and either proven capable/qualified or not. It’s a weeding out process.

And kids, that process has nothing to do with self affirmation. What it has to do with is separating professionals (with experience that can be demonstrated through an accreditation process) from people with no experience, no skills, and lacking the necessary qualifications to take on a social media management job, no matter how many fans they have on Facebook.

In other words, if certification/accreditation truly is needed in the social media world, its purpose is solely to help companies with very little understanding of the space get some notion of whether a consultant or job applicant has a particular skill level required for the job.

If you want to distill this down to its simplest form, think of this simply as third-party testing: Having a reputable certifying body vouch for the fact that you actually know how to do something. Period. That’s it.

Note my emphasis on the word “reputable” because this is an important point we will revisit.

Note: A certification/accreditation is not a substitute for real experience, demonstrable results or professional references. But it can help validate a candidate’s skill-set, which isn’t all bad. And it can also help ensure that an individual has sat through x hours of best practices training and demonstrated an ability to apply their training to the experience they’ve already acquired in the real world.

3. Social Media Generalist Certifications vs. Professional Certifications: Rebooting the model.

Where things get a little iffy is with the structure of a social media certification. What exactly should it look like?

Currently, many “certifications” tend to look at the social media “profession” as a form of general mass of quasi-expertise ranging from how to manage a blog, start a facebook fan page and customize a twitter account to how to measure ROI and manage online communities. (Pretty big and dangerously amorphous range, from my perspective.)

What seems more logical is a slightly more operational approach to both social media training and social media certifications/accreditation: Instead of looking at Social Media as some sort of broad ranging field of study with an endless list of applications, look at Social Media as a skill-set that applies differently to each function within a business. In other words, give social media training and certs specific professional focus.

Consider that a Public Relations professional and a Customer Service professional will probably use social media (professionally) in radically different ways:

While the PR professional will probably want to be trained in online reputation management, digital brand management, online monitoring, digital crisis management and some assortment of publishing best practices, their customer service counterpart will want to be trained in online keyword monitoring, digital customer relationship management, crisis management and some light community management. Will there be some overlap? Sure. But what we are looking at here are very distinctive tracks, leading to very distinctive certifications. In other words, a social media certification for a PR professional shouldn’t look at all like a social media certification for a customer service professional, or an IT professional, or a business development professional.

The specific nature of the jobs dealing with social media requires both specific training, and specific certification/accreditation – both in specifically relevant sets of social media competencies.

No more over-arching cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all social media certifications, please. If we’re going to get serious about this (and we should), let’s get serious about it.

4. The difference between established, reputable certifying bodies and… well… the other kind.

Okay, so in light of the fact that a certification process could now be geared towards specific types of roles as opposed to some vague “social media specialist” notion, let’s look at certifying bodies that might (at some point) be able to offer these types of certification for professionals. Is it possible that perhaps an organization like PRSA might be better equipped to certify Public Relations professionals in something like digital public relations management, maybe? As opposed to, say, a newly assembled social media certifying body trying to adapt its general certification to the PR profession? Something to think about.

Something else to think about is the fact that a certification/accreditation from a reputable organization or institution is pretty crucial here. Organizations like PRSA, AMA, and others of their caliber can’t afford to do this poorly. They HAVE to take it seriously in order not to tarnish their reputations. In sharp contrast, the social media space is filled with opportunistic individuals who would have nothing to lose and a lot of potential cash to gain. All you need to start certifying unsuspecting marks is a website and a Paypal account. Just create a social media certifying body out of thin air, create a series of webinars about whatever you want, charge a registration fee, and you’re in business. These types of operations are rampant in the US already.

So the point I am trying to make is that it would be great if the AMA, PRSA and other established and respectable professional organizations that already offer certifications for their members started moving in this direction – if only to ensure a pattern of legitimacy and accountability in the social media certification/accreditation process.

We could go on and on and on with this, but this is a good place to pause and get some feedback from you guys. The comment section is officially open. Agree? Disagree? Somewhere in the middle? Let’s hear it.

Cheers.

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roby's war

photo by Roby DiGiovine

Solid piece by John Bell over at Digital Influence on the relatively new and ever evolving PR discipline of digital crisis management this week. This is pretty timely as I keep running into PR departments and firms just now starting to get comfortable with the notion:

It’s almost a joke amongst communication pros. The first step isn’t the YouTube video response. It isn’t evaluating whether the Twitter uproar is gaining velocity or dying out. It isn’t even pulling your comms team together for a crisis meeting internally to figure out what to do. The first step is, of course, preparing for the crisis before it ever happens.

Bingo. John goes on to list a simple 4-step plan to get your organization (or client’s organization) up and running:

1. Get a Listening post program in place immediately. If you are not listening to your public across the entire Social Web – blogs, Twitter, Social networks, opinion and review sites – then you are at risk.

2. Get the C-suite smart about social media as a communications phenomena and channel. Any significant crisis is going to bubble up to the CEO of President to make decisions. Sure, s/he will look for advice from the VP of Communications, legal teams and more but that CEO will want to make their own decision. If she doesn’t understand the power of the social Web, then s/he may make a bad decision.

John suggests creating a training session specifically designed for the top executives, setting up an RSS feed for them and reviewing it weekly (showing them how to add and remove feeds on their own won’t hurt), and inviting them to your regular Social Media training sessions and discussions.

Great advice. PR and Social Media shouldn’t be treated by executives as some distant dominion of legal and coms. Today more than ever, executives need to learn to take ownership of this particular skillset, particularly CEOs. Business leaders are expected to comment and intervene in times of crisis, and waiting until the proverbial fit hits the shan to get a C-suite exec ramped up on all of this is ill-advised, to say the least. Start a program now, make it digestible and convenient, and plan to help your C-suite’s practical grow over time. This doesn’t stop with introductions and cursory overviews. This is monthly training for the rest of their tenure.

Here’s more:

3. Build a list of likely scenarios. Chances are your communications team already does this. What if our product or service fails and injures people? What if an executive is caught doing something shady? What if a video portraying some terrible act in our stores is published to YouTube? What if a growing collection of customer bloggers start talking about a customer service-nightmare together? What if detractors organize online and begin to use social media to attack you or your client? You can’t imagine every scenario, but if you identify the most obvious ones including the platforms online where they could manifest you can start to imagine the responses necessary.

4. Create your digital crisis management procedures and integrate into your larger playbook. Two simple ideas here: A) Plan your use of social media to respond and B) make sure you integrate with your other means of response (e.g. traditional media, outreach to stakeholders, internal communications).

The idea being that having an actual plan, having run your department through crisis response drills even, and establishing a procedural framework will help you respond faster and better than not having a solid plan at all. Common sense? Sure! But how many companies have well-thought-out, current crisis response plans in place today?  Quick: Whose responsibility is it to manage your social media channels? Do you know who the influential bloggers are in your industry? Which ones can you reach out to for help and which ones will turn on you? How will you respond to conversations and questions on Twitter, Facebook and the blogosphere? Who does what and how?

This isn’t something John suggests in his article, but consider running your communications team and your organization through drills. You know, like fire drills. Create a mock crisis scenario and test your company’s response to it via traditional media, social web, internal communications, HR, IT, customer service, etc. Observe, find out what works and what doesn’t, note how disruptive (if at all) responding to a crisis is to the organization (as this is good to know) and conduct a post exercise debrief to help everyone absorb all of the lessons learned. Then make the necessary changes and repeat until you are satisfied that your crisis management procedure is tip-top.

Drafting a document that clearly outlines crisis management procedures for your organization – defining roles, steps to be taken, channels, tactics, timelines, etc. – will be extremely helpful in the event of a real emergency. Best practices in this area may warrant recruiting representatives of all departments and forming a crisis response committe that meets regularly to review crisis response planning, division of roles, internal training, and interdepartmental collaboration. (Companies that place the full burden of crisis management – digital or otherwise – on their PR departments usually find out pretty quickly that a PR department alone cannot handle most crises on its own. Companies that plan for crises, however, rarely have to worry about them when they do occur.

Why is this relevant to Brands? Because some day, your taco or soft drink might make someone sick. Your car may have faulty wiring that will cause injuries and deaths. Your delicious nougat chocolate bar or seasoned potato chips might cause unexpected allergic reactions in children. Your dog food will kill thousands of family pets. Your laptop batteries will explode and start house fires. Your yard chairs will collapse without warning. Your medication will turn out to cause severe internal tissue damage when taken with alcohol. Your product will become the principal target of environmentalists. Your CFO will be arrested in Argentina with tens of millions of your investors’ dollars. Your principal supplier will be featured on 60 Minutes for operating illegal sweat shops in thirteen countries.

The impact of these types of situations on a brand, your brand, can be severe. Not having a plan in place (and a solid plan at that) puts you in a terribly vulnerable position, and could sink even the most respected company’s image. (Think back to Tylenol scare in the 80’s, Nike’s sweat shop allegations in the 90’s, and Taco Bell’s decision to remove certain food items from their menu when e-coli and salmonella outbreaks in the US threatened to undermine the public’s faith in their food’s safety.) So take another look at these four steps, and put together a crisis response plan that involves digital media and the social web. The benefits may not be immediate, but someday, you will be glad you took the time to do it.

For John’s full article, go here.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. 🙂

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Some recent discussions I have had on Twitter have directed me back to the relationship that brands have with archetypes. This isn’t a topic that has received quite as much attention as it should unfortunately… Ind I say “unfortunately” because the secret to creating dominant brands may very well lie in a brand strategist’s ability to combine anthropology, the human brain’s hard-wired need to interpret the world through symbolic imagery, and the relativity of relevance. Let me frame this: Whether we like it (or understand it) or not, the human brain needs symbolism and metaphor to function properly. The creation of archetypes helps us classify and make sense of aspects of our lives that would otherwise be too overwhelming or confusing to deal with on a conscious level.

Every ritual we have, every religious ceremony, and even every iconic figure, product or brand is tied to the hard-coded subconscious need to map and make sense of the world around us through the help of easily identifiable metaphors. These are complex systems, with simple interfaces which remain remarkably similar from age to age and culture to culture.  We use these metaphors as vessels for everything from love, passion and mercy to hatred, war and evil. This helps us put a face to values which otherwise be too complex to define and redefine on an ongoing basis: The Romans and Greeks had gods for every human trait. Christians have their patron saints. We have pop culture and brands… among other things. Pop culture idols (movie stars, musicians, sports heroes) are all vessels for us in the same way that Aphrodite, Hercules and Zeus were vessels for the Greeks. Same need, same structure, different packaging. Brands have now become part of this value-mapping system.
Filling The Contextual Void:

Ever since a friend convinced me to read Robert Johnson’s “He,” I have been fascinated by the role that archetypes play in the genesis of mythology, relationships, personalities, pop culture, and even brands.Given my profession of choice, perhaps especially brands.
I was reminded of this connection a year ago when I happened on John Howard Spink’sUsing Archetypes To Build Stronger Brands.
As John himself notes, surprisingly, not a lot of work is being done on this front. Knowing what I know about the role that mythology and archetypes play in cultural identity, it surprises me that very few brand strategists and Marketing thought leaders have made the connection between archetypes and brands – or at least that most have not worked to incorporate the notion of archetypes in their operational brandbuilding methodology.
Per John:

Though the development and management of brands is central and fundamental to everything we do, are the tools we use up to the job? Or do they do more harm than good? Brands are complex, abstract and difficult to pin down. However, in endeavoring to define them we often forget this. With techniques such as brand pyramids,we take something wild and untamed and attempt to constrain and control
it. Rather than trying to understand brands in their natural habitat, we put them in a zoo. I recognize that pyramids, onions and similar techniques can be useful internal disciplines. But do they really help define the unchanging core values of a brand? We spend weeks debating the nuances of synonyms, performing
semantic gymnastics to prove that Brand X is different from Brand Y, and agonizing over whether something is an Emotional Benefit or a Brand Value – a distinction we struggle to understand in the first place. At the end of the day, what does this get us? More often than not, a pile of disconnected words that
looks like nothing less than an explosion in a bombed thesaurus factory.

Unfortunately, having built our pyramid and agreed that our brand is contemporary, stylish, relevant, inclusive and other usual suspects, we fall into the trap of thinking our job is finished. Usually though, we are no closer to articulating ‘core essence’ than when we began – even if that particular box
has been filled in. What should be rich, complex and, by definition, hard to articulate ends up neutered and subjected to death by a thousand adjectives. Ironically, our supposed unchanging brand template is reduced to a fluid selection of meaningless or un-differentiating words that even those close to the
process interpret in different ways.

The result, to quote Shakespeare, is a brand which is ‘…a walking shadow; a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more: a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.You may feel this is harsh, but ask yourself how many walking shadows there are out there, and if we struggle to find meaning, think how consumers feel.

Amen.
Enter the archetypes:
There are certain basic characters and storylines that appear regularly in myth, fairytale, literature and film; archetypes that represent core aspects of the human condition, and tap deep into our motivations and sense of meaning. When we encounter these, they resonate in powerful ways that transcend culture and demographics.
This is why, when penning the original Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas turned to Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to help him understand the archetypal narrative structure and characters found in these mythic stories, and why these three films enjoy such strong and enduring appeal. Whether Luke Skywalker, The Man With No Name, Red Riding Hood, Harry Potter, or real people such as JFK, Princess Diana or Marilyn Monroe, there is something primal in archetypal characters and situations that stirs our emotions, stimulates our memory and sometimes changes lives. In developing and managing brands, are we really so different from George Lucas or a budding Barbara Cartland?
Ironically, in this postmodern age when people are supposedly no longer interested in meta-narratives with common understanding, brand development is nothing short of creating a story that people want to be part of; a character with values that have deep resonance which our target audience want to emulate or be associated with.
This is why a Harley-Davidson marketer can say: ‘what we sell is the ability for a 43-year old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him’ Or why Scott Bedbury, in his time head of marketing at Nike and Starbucks, believes that: ‘a brand is a metaphorical story that … connects with something very deep — a fundamental human appreciation of mythology … Companies that manifest this sensibility … invoke something very powerful’.
Bingo. Right from the horses’ mouths.
What seem like “intangible” elements of a brand are really very precise sets of contextual values, emotions, aspirations and projections that can easily be not only identified but plotted, graphed, and inserted into a brand’s identity. (All you need is the key – the actual archetypes – and a clear understanding of the role they play in the psyches the folks whose culture you are trying to intertwine your brand with.)
This is actually VERY easy to accomplish. Some brands even achieve this without even realizing it. They instinctively tap into something primal and culturally relevant without really knowing or understanding why or how they did it.
Take Nike, for example: The Nike brand appeals to the “champion/hero” and uses sports as the medium for its allegorical language. The very choice of names – “Nike” the Greek Goddess of victory – has immediate Archetypal implications:
A) Nike is a Goddess. A creature straight out of Mythology – in which every character, god, human and everything in between is the embodiment of a specific human archetype.
B) Nike symbolizes victory. Victory typically comes from bravery, sacrifice, courage, strength… all being the attributes of the brand – or rather, the symbolism that the brand aims to help consumers project onto itself and every product it stamps with its sexy little swish mark.
Once the brand takes on the attributes of the desired archetype (or two, or three), then people begin a sort of projective identification dance. They first project their wants and needs onto the brand, in effect using it as a vessel for the qualities which they cannot articulate or completely manage on their own. They then become patrons of the brand in order to possess these attributes in a form they can understand, use, and express. Once a brand has achieved this type of relationship with the public, it becomes alive. It becomes part of pop culture. It becomes relevant on a level that surpasses traditional marketing, messaging and business-speak. It becomes a power brand.
Understanding archetypes and using this knowledge to build powerful brands is kind of a no-brainer… but still, very few agencies, marketing firms and brand boutiques use this simple tool. Strange.
I’m glad to see that John has tapped into this, and I hope that more of you will as well. Aside from the books mentioned in his piece, I also encourage you to read Robert E. Johnson’s “He.” It’s a quick read (less than 200 pages) that will help you not only understand the roles that archetypes play in our everyday lives, but also understand human behavior (particularly in the Western world) in a way that no other book or university course can. It is pure genius.
The Messaging Crutch:
About two years ago, I found myself having a conversation with a couple of self-professed “branding experts”. We were chatting about projects that I had worked on, and I sensed that the methodology behind the successes that I’d had in the last few years wasn’t clicking with them. Three or four times, they asked me about messaging.
“Yeah, but… what about the messaging?”

You might have thought they were asking me “where’s the beef?
“Messaging”… Hmmm… It hadn’t occurred to me until I was asked the question that “messaging” had stopped to be all that important to my process in quite some time. Messaging. Yeah. In truth, messaging seemed almost superfluous. I explained that with every single project I had worked on since 2004, messaging had been secondary at best. In most cases, when dealing with branding projects and even most effective marketing campaigns, the strength of the product, brand or idea was easier to understand viscerally than when articulated. The clever taglines, the tight copy, the words on the page or the poster or the screen were almost completely irrelevant.
What I found is that the strength of a brand often lies in its power not to have to be explained or articulated. In a way, defining a brand too well may actually hurt it.
No, forget that. Replace may with will. Does Apple need a tagline? Does iPod need messaging? Does Starbucks? Does Nike? Does Porsche? Does Halliburton? Does PowerBar? Does Disney? Ben & Jerry? Staples? Ferrari? Cartier? Target? Heineken?
Many PR pros will argue that they do. The reality is that they don’t.
If the brand you create is powerful enough – inside and out – then messaging is barely frosting on the cake. Heck, it’s little more than the colored sprinkles on the edges. The messaging is nice and it dresses things up a little, but… if you create a power brand or a love brand, it might as well be an afterthought.Using archetypes in your brand development process can help you tap into the raw nature and identity of a brand better than any brand pyramid, onion, pie chart or whatever cookie-cutter technique you are currently using. It’s okay if you don’t believe me. But… for your sake (and more importantly, that of your clients), at least look into it. It might be the one thing your practice was missing. At the very least, it will become a great new tool to add to your brand-building toolbox.
Breathing Life into the branding process:

I’ll let John make one last important point before we close the book on today’s topic:

I find it more exciting to think of myself as the author of eternal brand stories than as someone who writes strategy documents and brand pyramids.

Well, um… yeah. I can relate. I hope we all can.
Truth: Brands live out there, in the collective ocean of pop culture that we all share, swim in, and contribute to. (Wait… that sounded kind of gross. Sorry.) Where brands don’t live is inside agency meeting rooms or in the heads of creatives living in the ad world. They don’t live inside your market research or on pie charts or inside brand pyramids. They don’t live in your taglines or in your copy or in the dialogue of your spokespeople. Your brands live in the same world as Darth Vader, Ronald Reagan, Brad Pitt, Hercules, John McLane, Rocky Balboa, John F. Fennedy, James Bond, Paris Hilton, Rintintin, Britney Spears, Spiderman, Godzilla, Jack Bauer, Cinderella, and Tony Soprano.
Maybe it sounds like a stretch to some of you, but if you look into this a little more closely, you’ll start to see it. Some of you may have to look a little more closely than others… but it’s well worth the extra effort.
Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 😉

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