Monthly Archives: March 2008

Praising conformity

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The American culture is in love with nonconformity: Cowboys, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) from ‘There will be blood’, Jesse Ventura, Ron Paul, Eliot Spitzer – the list is endless. The Milgram experiment illustrated the distrust towards authority:

“The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.”

The eroding trust in authorities (Enron, Catholic church, Presidency, etc.) fed the hunger for long wolves. People that do what they need to do because they feel like it. Moral superiority belongs to the loners that create their own rules.

Not so, says David Berreby, author of “Us and Them: Understanding your Tribal Mind”.

In a NY Times piece, he explains that the psychologists Hodges and Geyser took a second look at the Milgram and Asch experiments and came to new conclusions:

“This means that the subjects in the most famous “people are sheep” experiments were not sheep at all – they were human beings who largely stuck to their guns, but now and then went along with the group. Why? Because in getting along with other people, most decent people know, as Hodges and Geyser put it, the “importance of cooperations, tact and social solidarity in situations that are tense or difficult.”

(…) Milgram’s “subjects were not simply obeying a leader, but responding to someone whose credentials and good faith they thought they could trust.” Without that kind of trust society would fall apart tomorrow, because most of what we know about the world comes to us from other people.”

David’s writing reminded me of Mark Earls’ “Herd” book, blog and overall thesis that it is our innate nature as “herd” animals that causes mass movements, not the influence of a handful of individuals.

The traditional church of marketing was built around the belief that humans are lone wolves that want to stand out from the crowd. The problem is that people have a tribal desire to follow the herd and be part of a group. Sure, there are instances when they want to stand out and be considered as lone wolves. But, the rest of the time, the same people want to be part of a group and just fit in.

To leverage the full power of Conversational Marketing, businesses have to change how they think about human/tribal behavior. The advent of Social Networks and Web 2.0 has shown us that humans want to stand out by fitting in. Social Media campaigns have to feed this primal human desire and help people to belong.

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Whoo Hoo

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I went to Washington Mutual today, depositing a few checks. While I was filling out the paperwork, a voice boomed through the Intercom: “It’s noon. Everbody: 3,2,1…” All employees got up and exclaimed “Whoo Hoo”.

Now does that get you excited and don’t you just want to rush out and do more business with Washington Mutual? Actually, I almost closed my account on the spot.

Besides the association with Homer Simpson and a possible missspelling (Homer says: Woo Hoo!), the Whoo Hoo campaign is a good example (Or a really bad one!) for a brand that doesn’t listen. A brand is the most important asset of a business. It tells people what you are, who you are, what you stand for and what people can expect from you when they interact with you.

Washington Mutual explains in a press release that “through ongoing brand tracking, we know we always outperform our peers when it comes to being emotionally relevant to people. Whether it’s been in focus groups or surveys, we hear that WaMu is a bank that truly cares about the consumer.”

How does the new campaign show that they care about the consumer? How does a person feel when they are debating loans or opening business accounts and the employee jumps up in mid-sentence and screams “Whoo Hoo?” How does this brand experience retain or even generate customers? What does “Whoo Hoo” stand for? Does this mean we’re going to have a great time while banking at WaMu?

People have serious business to take care of when they go to banks. They want the best advice, the best rates, the lowest fees and quick service. They want to be taken seriously, want to be treated as important customers. “Whoo Hoo” just shows people how self-indulgent and removed from real people WaMu is. It shows that they don’t care about the needs and desires of people. Instead, they pushed communication out that might have played well in a boardroom but doesn’t connect with any of us.

WaMu should take a hard look at the ING brand. Their brand promise: “a commitment to providing the financial services solutions our customers value.” Their advertising promises the experience they’re providing: Simple, easy, customer-centric. And ING delivers on that promise throughout each and every touch point.

Now that’s worth a hearty Homer “Woo Hoo”.

Stop talking. Start doing.

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Did you hear the song that started to become a hit last year and turned into a monster hit in 2008? That song is played at every conference, Web 2.0 summit and social media meeting of the minds. Nobody knows the exact title but it goes like “Businesses have to stop talking and start doing”. I’m sure you’ve heard that song many, many times.

Most businesses interested in Social Media and Conversational Marketing remind me of people ordering fitness equipment through infomercials: They know they need to do something about their fitness and health. And they order stuff to start talking about really doing it. Yes, they open up the package, are so confused by the instructions that they stop doing anything. Just to continue watching infomercial, still talking about doing something.

People are opening up to the public more and more each and every day. They describe in detail their desires, needs, fears,  anxieties, hopes, etc., etc. Opportunity is growing each and every day for businesses to help these people, build more useful products that tap into these feelings. Have you bothered listening? People tell businesses what they want. Sometimes very clearly. Sometimes not that overt. But they are always telling you what they are feeling.

Business that listen will survive and prosper in this new marketing reality. They won’t see themselves as the hero anymore. Instead, they see people as the heroes and will do everything to expand their superpowers by giving them what they want.

It’ s not enough to think about doing anymore. It’s time to listen and start doing.

Brands will be social movements

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Traditional brands had one goal: make money. They used to live within a commerce and communication environment with the end goal of selling emotions and products to the public.

Modern brands have become movements within a cultural and social environment that doesn’t focus on selling. Rather, modern brands share their passion towards a bigger cause.

Meaning, brands move away from a selfish purpose to the bigger cause of social change by sharing a passion and unifying against a common enemy. In order to succeed, brands will have to play a more cultural rather than a commercial role. This cause has to be serious and permeate the whole brand culture; otherwise people will see through any clever advertising and immediately feel cheated by the hollow attempt to sell. Aspiration as the ultimate goal for brands doesn’t sit well with the changing roles of people: They evolved from consumers to prosumers, journalists, thieves, producers, brand ambassadors. And they don’t buy stuff anymore, they vote with their wallets.

Our old form of communication was about seducing people with flashy stories and imagery. But those times are coming to an end. A brand that understands the passion of people and stands shoulder to shoulder with people fighting for a cause or against a common enemy has a good chance of being seen as a credible partner to enhance the culture and social environment.

The real question is: Will brands rise above the quarterly profit stranglehold of Wall Street? Will they pursue a better culture than a better profit? Global brands clearly have the firepower to change society and culture in unimaginable ways. It’s doubtful we’ll ever get another political ‘Ask not what your country can do for you: Ask what you can do for the country’ ground swell together. But there’s hope a brand will say one day to Wall Street: ‘Don’t ask what this brand can do for you. Ask what you can do for the brand.’

Don’t design Stepford Wives experiences

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As discussed in my previous post ‘The Expectation Economy’, consumers have increasingly high expectations from brands: products, service, brand, etc. While many companies still try overcompensate bad products by spending gazillions in advertising, other companies have started to understand the Service is Marketing idea and how Experience Design can create memories.  And, as David Armano points out in his latest Critical Mass Blog post, many of us have to come to understand that customers should be at the center of our attention:

(…) “it’s probably good to keep in mind that the disciplines of Design, PR, Advertising, Marketing and Technology will all play critical roles. I believe many of these roles are already blurring. And everyone wants to know the answer to this question:

“Who will lead the way”?

Would you believe I have the answer? The customer. Start by exceeding their expectations. Meet the needs they never knew they had. The rest will follow.”

People and their money  will go where the best experiences are, we know this. But how do we define best experiences? Is the best experience a perfect experience? Or is there more to it?

The best travel experiences I ever had were not flawless. They often involved massive amount of bugs, sanitary nightmares, bad schedules and grouchy friends. But, looking back, I had a blast and tons of memories. The most mediocre travel experiences were the ones where everything was flawless: The breakfast was delivered 5 minutes early, the eggs were perfect, the coffee the right temperature.

Flawless doesn’t equal best. People don’t want to step into a Stepford Wives experience. They want a human touch to it, something more than just perfection. An engineering brand should deliver flawless engineering. But if they only deliver that, nobody will remember their name. Adding an irreverent tonality to their communications and conversations might deliver this memorable experience. (Cluetrain #21)

Best experiences should be defined as interactions and relationships that add value to people’s lives and allow them to tell a story. My best travel experiences were so good because they made a great story. Same goes for positive experiences with airlines (Yup, there are some), car dealerships, supermarkets, etc. These stories will stay as memories with people and all the others they told about the experience. Make it easy for people to tell their story through platforms and always remember:

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. -Robert McKee

Don’t homerize your brand

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Everybody is talking about listening: Listen to your customers, listen to employees, listen to your intuition. Listening has become the new buzzword in the marketing world. The whole idea of Conversational Marketing/Social Media is based on the concept of listening. And listening can make or break your business. But if you don’t know how to listen, you might do more harm to your business than you ever imagined.

Remember the Simpsons Episode, ‘Oh Brother, Where Art Thou’? Homer meets his half-brother, Herb Powell, head honcho of the Powell Motors car company, who decides that Homer is the perfect match to design a car for the average American. Homer comes up with a concept that he markets as ‘powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball’, featuring three horns that play ‘La Cucaracha’ and a sound-proof bubble dome for his kids. Powell Motors goes out of business shortly after.

Yes, Herb Powell, listened. But he didn’t listen actively.

No matter in what business you’re in, customers expect from brands to solve their problems. Allergy medicine solves the annoying hay fever problem. Cottonelle for Kids solves a potty training problem. Mac’s solve the virus problem. (At least, reducing it.) Cottonelle for Kids solved a common parenting problem because they asked the right questions. Asking people ‘What do you want?’ will get you nowhere. Asking people ‘Tell me about yourself and the common issues you’re facing on a daily basis.’ will get your creative juices going.

Suggestions by people should not be treated as requirements for the next phase of your product development. Instead, suggestions need to be regarded as problem reflections that you’re tasked to resolve. Does a parent really want a soundproof bubble for their kids while driving long distances? Or do they want ways to entertain their kids safely while they can focus on the drive and listen to radio at the same time?

Businesses need to structure their listening initiatives to ensure they suspend their own frame of reference and judgement while leaning forward and attentively engaging in a conversation. The advent of UGC, Social Networks and consumer participation clearly show that people are growing out of the passive consumption phase. Brands need to catch up quickly. Or they end up with below monstrosity.

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Social Networks Craze

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Remember the 90’s? Portals were all the craze. Each site wanted to become a portal because advertising would pay for everything. Even the sushi lunches and ‘dress-up-your-cubicle-because-we-expect-you-to-work-24/7’ contests. When I hear discussions between media professionals about social networks, I’m reminded of pre-bubble times because everybody focuses on monetization. More importantly, everybody still believes that advertising will pay for everything.

Social Networks exist because people want to connect. They don’t exist to sell eyeballs to advertisers. The whole idea of inviting people into a walled garden will sound absurd in a few years. The Internet is like New York: eclectic, bizarre, fun, annoying, loud, inspiring, tiring. The moment you try to turn it into a gated community, you kill the essence of the Internet Experience.

The reason why we experience monetizing issues with Facebook and MySpace is the underlying paradigm of selling eyeballs. People that frequent social networks don’t see themselves as eyeballs. And they become very sensitive and defensive when they are treated that way. People don’t care about business models. Instead, they expect a useful experience from a social network. Not an interruptive content experience. Brands and Wall Street have to understand this monumental paradigm shift. (So forget about that Facebook IPO.)

Brands that consider social networks as fertile grounds to add value, connect and build relationships with people will succeed. Brands that see social networks as another opportunity to get eyeballs will fail. Miserably.