Category Archives: Listening

Two kinds of brands


Many brands are contemplating jumping on the Social Marketing bandwagon. Many should. Some shouldn’t. But, how do you determine if you should or shouldn’t?

It’s fairly easy.

Some brands believe they are successful because they keep their cards close to the vest. They don’t let you in, they don’t make their intentions known. Apple comes to mind. Bill Parcells. W.

These are the brands that should stay away from Social Marketing.

Social Marketing is only for brands that believe they are successful because they have good ideas and desire to communicate these great ideas to people. By listening intently to understand what people really say, what people really think, what people really desire. Brands that are available. Intuit comes to mind. Trent Reznor. Barack Obama.

No matter what you think of politics, Reagan and Obama fit in the same category: Brilliant communicators that give you the feeling they would talk turkey if they only could. Catch them in a bar, buy them a drink and they would tell you what’s really happening in the White House. I never got this feeling from W or Clinton. One was too secretive, the other full of b.s.

Do you think you could ever have a real discussion with Bill Parcells? Or Steve Jobs? I highly doubt it because they operate under the genius principle. And that’s what made them successful. But they would fail in Social Marketing. It’s just not in their DNA.

Only brands that operate under the Communication Principle are a good fit for Social Marketing. Because it’s in their DNA.


We need more leaders, less followers


Image by Mike Monteiro

“Diederich Hessling was a dreamy, delicate child, frightened of everything, and troubled with earache.” That’s how the novel ‘The Patrioteer‘ by Heinrich Mann begins (one of my personal favorites). Decades later, and we still have way too many Diederich’s in this world. They are afraid of everything but they are mostly afraid of taking a stand, developing a unique opinion  that’s not already filtered by the opinion leaders of op-ed pages, blogs and Twitter. And most of them are not only troubled by earache – their spine and brains suffers heavily.

Following opinion leaders blindly has lead to the financial crisis, a deep recession, the Iraq war – the list could be continued for pages. We should trust Greenspan, right? He knew what he was doing. We should trust Paulson’s request bailout package, correct? He should know how to fix the credit crunch. We should trust Colin Powell and his UN speech, correct? He seems so trustworthy and would never fool us, right? The culture in the US doesn’t allow for and most people are not able to tolerate a lot of ambivalence. There are just a few brave souls that publish their opposing opinions and stick to it through attacks. In the Social Marketing field, we still see strong challenges of opinion leaders throughout the discussion of the Kmart promotion but once certain opinion leaders say their piece, the majority falls in line and accepts their opinion as gospel. Frankly, I was almost shocked to see that almost nobody criticized the Panasonic coverage throughout CES . At one point, Twitter felt like QVC: people discussing the awesomeness of Panasonic, their products and all their people. (That’s my only concern with these kind of promotions: You’re spamming me with irrelevant information, tweets of people wanting to get a Sears/Kmart gift card, clogging up a very personal channel of information. You’re doing exactly what advertising has done for year, not adding value to my life.)

The Kmart promotion might be one seminal moment in the history of Social Marketing – suddenly PR excursions are okay because the opinion leaders said so. This is proof of Robert Michels’ theory of the Iron Law of Oligarchy: Democracy leads to Oligarchy. A few tell many what to do.

We’ve seen this attitude of ‘If you’re not for us, you’re against us’, played out in US politics in the last decades. We’ve seen it wreaking havoc on major financial institutions when dissenting voices were shut down very quickly. (Just watch CNBC and see how pessimistic analysts are basically shouted down immediately.) And, in the end, nobody is responsible for anything because the system failed. The model failed. Not the individual failed. Nobody is taking responsibility for anything, it was always the fault of something we fools won’t understand anyway. Sure, there will be a perp walk sometime soon (Maddoff, are you ready?) but the real issues behind the meltdown will be covered by the opinion leaders, blaming it on VAR or other acronyms most of us won’t bother to even try to understand.

Obviously, the Social/Conversational Marketing field is still in the honeymoon phase and I’m happy to see that open discussions are commonplace and democracy still reigns. In order to survive and thrive, Social Marketing needs more leaders, more thinkers, more outspoken personalities, more provocateurs. We need to be able to live with and live through ambivalence. Actually, we should cherish ambivalence as one of the most important values in our continued exploration of this new space. Dissenting opinions should be further explored and not painted over with the broad brush of majority opinion.  This little, nodding and spineless Diederich needs to be defeated. Each and every day.

2009 – the year when everything is going to change


Image courtesy of Maja Sten

I’m not good in predicting the future. (After all, I predicted the Los Angeles Dodgers to win the World Series in 2008. And Giuliani to be the Republican candidate.) But, I’m pretty certain about this prediction: 2009 will be remembered as the year of change.

Let’s be clear: It’s going to be rough. It’s unknown how we’ll get from here to the other side. And we don’t know how the other side will look like. What the new reality will be. Sure, we’ve heard this before: After 9/11 life was supposed to change forever. After the house of cards came tumbling down, we continued to sleepwalk through life until we ended up on this cliff. The abyss of economic, political and societal disorder. Today, a gas price of $1,80 and a Dow of 9,000 might make us feel better and lull us into thinking that the worst is over. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. And, the best is yet to come.

2009 is the year when social discourse, living and experimenting with new technologies, the painful realities of the global economy, new insights into our species and the breakdown of the overall consumer spending umbrella that protected us for decades will force us to change. To rethink everything we’re doing. To rework communities, cities, industries, families. And ourselves.

This year will be remembered by us as the year of change. Just like the East-Germans remember 1989 when everything changed. Or 1439 when the printing press changed the educational system, science, politics, religion. Everything. 2009 will be not the beginning of an evolution. It will be the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one. And the scary part about all this is that nobody has a road map, a compass, any guidelines.

In 2008 we began a journey. Nobody of us volunteered. But we’re all in the same boat. Destination unknown. Keep your eyes open. Listen to others. Learn from others. Trust others. Don’t follow like a sheep. Don’t get caught up in side stories. Stay focused. Keep your head high. Be open to new experiences. Don’t go to bed unless you learned 10 new things that day. Better: 100 things. Don’t be afraid. Stay hopeful. Throw all the old rules out. They don’t apply anymore. Life as we know has changed forever. Just like the explorer that set foot on new territories and encounter the unknown, we’re about to experience the same.

Here’s to 2009.

Brain Overload


Just listened to the the Radiolab Podcast – Choice and was intrigued by one experiment they were talking about: Participants had to either memorize two or seven numbers. Once they memorized them, they had to go to a different room to recite the numbers. On the way to the second room, they were offered two choices: Either a beautiful piece of chocolate cake or a fruit salad. Surprisingly, the participants that had to remember 7 numbers chose the chocolate cake by a wide margin. The people with two numbers to memorize chose by a wide margin the fruit salad.


Apparently, our rational brain can only handle a small amount of information until it’s so clogged that the emotional side wins: The people that had to memorize seven numbers weren’t able to make a rational decision. Instead, the emotional side took over and the chocolate cake with all it’s issues attached to it (Calories, Health, etc.) won handily. When people only had to memorize two numbers, the brain had enough bandwidth to compare two choices and go for the fruit salad. This study has fascinating implications for any kind of marketing: When you’re on a automotive site such as Edmunds or KBB, researching, filling your head with facts, it makes no sense for advertisers to fill up your brain with more info since your rational side is already on overload. Emotional messages would deliver much better results. Or you’re watching a news program, the last thing your brain needs is another fact-filled message. Since most Internet interaction is based on a lean-forward, rational premise, should all online messaging be focused on the emotional side?

This study makes a case for the advent of Social Marketing since it combines the benefits of rational thinking with forming emotional connections. It’s the best of both worlds.

Brands need to deliver value


Coming from a cold country, I’ve experienced extended waiting periods in bus stops during harsh winters. Not something I would recommend to anyone. But many people will endure this situation throughout the upcoming winter and Kraft found an innovative way to combine a marketing campaign with a service that communicates the key benefits of their Stove Top brand stuffing

“In the latest example of a trend that is becoming increasingly popular on Madison Avenue, heated air will descend from the roofs of 10 bus shelters in Chicago, courtesy of the Stove Top brand of stuffing sold byKraft Foods.

From Tuesday through the end of this month, Kraft is arranging for the company that builds and maintains the bus shelters, JCDecaux North America, to heat them, trying to bring to life the warm feeling that consumers get when they eat stuffing, according to Kraft.”

That’s a great step in the right direction. But Kraft could go further: Why not extending this program to many more cities, not limiting it to a month, extending the program till the spring? As Drew pointed out in his post, Samsung didn’t offer the airport charge stations for a limited time or to only one terminal, they showed a real commitment. And, that’s the difference between an advertising stunt and a real social marketing strategy in order to deliver value: You have to be in it for the long run. The current, very limited campaign is more of a stunt, something that will be forgotten quickly. But, a real commitment to bringing warmth to people will put that warm spot for the brand in people’s heart. Kraft, it’s not too late.

In 3 months we changed into a Thanksgiving society


The economic crisis has dramatically changed behaviors: We see it in the airports, on the roads, in the malls, in restaurant. From a society that values consumption over everything, we have suddenly stopped mindless consumption and have come to our senses. It might be temporary but the US society has re-discovered the values that make Thanksgiving to such an amazing holiday: We expect nothing just a good meal, a good bottle of wine, good conversation and a closeness to our loved ones that we crave so much. There are no price tags attached to anything, no expectations, no material disappointments.

For me, Social Media is like an ongoing Thanksgiving: People giving to each other, without expecting to get something in return. This is bigger than just a recession. This is discovering what being human is all about: Small, little gestures, a little hug, a nod. Virtually or in the physical world. And that’s why I consider this a very happy thanksgiving.

Post Media Planning and Buying


We’re seeing revolutionary changes in the media buying and planning business: Media agencies (who were formed to get low bulk rates for their clients) are trying to to add creative services to their offerings, finally  comprehending that media and creative should never operate in silos and a vacuum. Big media companies such as Meredith and Time Inc. are starting to circumvent media agencies and deal directly with brands, offering integrated opportunities minus the commission. Last but not least, brands are starting to eye social media and try to find new ways to connect with people in innovative ways. And that’s where the real issue begins.

Let’s just look at Obama’s media spend, documented by ClickZ:

– $7.97 million was spent on Web ads in ’08 through October – $730k on local media through Centro and Cox, $45k for In-Game advertising, $600k for ad networks, $21k for, Time Warner received $337k, Politico $146k and $100k.

– $539k were spent on social networks – Facebook grabbing the lionshare followed by and MySpace.

Now let’s look at the numbers (They don’t add up, there must be a lot of SEM and other buys that are not documented yet.) Almost $2 million were spent on tradional digital marketing. Take 10% commission and the Obama campaign paid $200 to execute the campaign. Since the creative had to be changed constantly, this seems to be a fair pay for the execution of the campaign. But the real issue is the spend on Social Networks: $539k, a commission of 10% would garner $54k for the whole campaign. And what was expected to be done by the agency in return:

– Communicate with 3,041.593 supporters (and growing)

– Supporting 12 different pages

– Uploading 41 videos

– Writing 1,670 notes

– Creating 15 albums

– Surveying/Responding to more than 526,000 wall posts

All this doesn’t include strategy sessions/design sessions etc.

Now, Obama had thousands of volunteers supporting his marketing campaign. Volunteers that could respond to posts, volunteers that shouldered the majority of the ‘dirty’ work that has to be done daily for the brand. (In his case most likely hourly.)

Obama was a movement, an exception. Brands will look at their agencies to develop strategies/tactics and execute them flawlessly. Insightful brands will add their own voice into the mix but the agencies are expected to shoulder the majority of the work. Unless they find a way to push minimum wage down to $1, agencies are facing severe issues dealing with these new expectations.

Jeff Jarvis coined the phrase Post Media a while ago and it seems to find traction in Social Media Circles. How will the Post Media Agency be reimbursed for their thinking and execution? The commission model makes no sense in the post media world. We will see a much stronger correlation between business goals/objectives and agency fees. And business goals won’t be determined by sales or leads alone, they will be defined as connections and relationships. We’ve seen first steps into that direction but we’ve just begun.

Don’t get me wrong: There will always be a space for monolithic media agencies, basing their business and high volume and low overhead. At one point, Google might take over this part of the business. But the real business and the next opportunity in the Post Media World is outside of buying spaces and time. It’s becoming part of the heart and soul of people.