Hey, Media buyers! Over here!


Very cool little graphic (props to MIT Adlab for the heads-up) that shows that no matter what you may have heard or read about the demise of newspaper advertising, it's still worth its weight in... well, paper. Green paper.

What does this graph tell us? Simply that TV and Magazine advertising are overrated, while newspaper and internet advertising are waaaaay underrated. (At least for auto manufacturers.)

The post I ripped this from also contains a link to a great article published recently in strategy-business.com entitled "The Future Of Advertising Is Now." (Subscription required.) Here's a taste:

"After a decade of denial, both mainstream media companies and major marketers are now accepting the facts: The methods by which consumers absorb information and entertainment — and the ways they perceive, retain, and engage with brands and brand messages — have changed irrevocably. As marketers take notice, their decisions are reshaping the media environment. Magazines are losing advertising to the Web (with total ad revenues declining about 2 percent per year since 1998); radio broadcasters are losing listeners, talent, and revenues to satellite upstarts and iPod playlists. Television networks also see the writing on the wall, as the penetration of digital television heralds the rise of video-on-demand, video downloads, interactive game networks, Internet TV, and other broadcast- and cable-busting enterprises. Broadcast advertising revenues declined in the upfront markets of both 2004 and 2005, according to the Jack Myers Media Business Report — the first-ever decrease in two consecutive years. In spring 2006, pundits predicted a third straight year of upfront price reductions. And the broadcasting CEO who seemed so confident about being the “only game in town”? He no longer has that job.

"Does that mean gloom and doom for the rest of us? Hardly. These can be glorious times for media companies and marketers that are capable of change. And they know it. Interviews with more than 50 senior marketers and media executives, ongoing research conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA); and analysis of data from a score of research services — all gathered from 2005 through early 2006 — support the observation that the prevailing attitudes among marketers have shifted. Most have come to accept the signal lesson of what is coming to be called the “nonlinear and engagement-focused” media environment: Marketing communications must be reborn as a consumer-centered craft."

Christopher Vollmer (vollmer_christopher@bah.com) is a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton based in New York. He focuses on strategy development, consumer marketing, and advertising sales in media, entertainment, and consumer products.

John Frelinghuysen (frelinghuysen_john@bah.com) is a vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton based in New York. He specializes in strategy development and implementation for clients in media, entertainment, and consumer products.

Randall Rothenberg (rothenberg_randall@bah.com) is the senior director of intellectual capital at Booz Allen Hamilton, a media and marketing columnist for Advertising Age magazine, and the author of Where the Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994).

Read the entire thing here. (It's ten e-pages long, but it's worth the three minutes. ...and yes, I am a speed-reader.)

Tip: If you don't feel like taking the time to subscribe, try this sneaky little time-saver.

Here are a few more interesting tables from the piece:

Poor Exhibit 4. Does it actually say "lock in customer loyalty?" Oh man. See, Deepu? This is why I have to keep repeating myself. ;)

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i-Toast, airpod, and a tiny Technorati update.


Ooops... forgot two more impressive entries from the i-nnovation contest we looked at earlier today: i-Toast, and airPod.

Technorati update:

Ah, Technorati... I may never understand you. But today, I broke past the 15,000 mark for the first time, so I'm kind of happy with your flawed metrics. And I'm back in the Top 25 Branding blogs (21, actually), which is a nice little surprise.

To my ever growing group of core readers, thank you. You guys rock. :)

(And to the guys who hacked Technorati to make it happen, the check's in the mail.)

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i-nnovation: Apple fans have fun with co-creation.


I don't always remember to visit Forbes' Business Innovation Insider blog, and that's too bad because it's one of my favorite sources of info on... well, innovation. (And since Deepu wants a break from the whole WOM thing, I thought we could talk about something else, for once.)

So here we go. Today's post was about a very cool contest put together by Apple-Discounts.com, in which regular people could create imaginary Apple products. The results were stellar (as you can see from some of the entries posted on this page).

Put simply, the contest was set up as follows:

The Apple Imagination (with a touch of photoshop)

The Apple rumor mill is abuzz with talk of iPhones, iTablets, wireless iPods, "ultra-portable" computers and more. Given the devout Mac fans that we are, we're just drooling for the next innovation – the next big thing, that "insanely" great idea.

So what's it going to be?!? We want YOU to tell us!

That's all it took. I won't say anything about how maybe word-of-mouth was instrumental in spreading the word about this contest - in what Evan would probably call Apple-cult circles. I won't say anything about how evangelism might have had something to do with the time and effort it took for so many users of Apple products to come up with these killer designs. I also won't say anything about how huge co-creation could be, based on the success of this simple little contest. And , no, I won't say anything about the need to incentivize customers to enter contests like this one either. (The prizes weren't a new iMac or iPod. They were very, very, very small amounts of cash - some nowhere near the cost of an iPod.)

So... enjoy these fantastic examples of how brands can inspire their customers to participate not only in the discussion, but in the direction of their product development strategies. These are all solid concepts with solid design elements and impressive curbside appeal.

My favorite: The turntable... but does it also come in white?

Scroll down to see some of my favorite entries, and click here to see them all.

(A men's version could be pretty hot.)

Mac would have to finally get into the gaming... game for this to work.

A plug-and-play wireless projector for parties and presentations? Yesssss!!!

And this one can even double as a fly swatter! No visible latch though, so I'm not sure it would stay closed.

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WOM: From Discovery to Evangelism.


Remember this post? And this one? This is a follow-up.

We've already talked about the difference between advertising-generated WOM and user-generated WOM.

We've also talked about how WOM and peer-to-peer recommendations drive purchases, while advertising doesn't (or at least, not much).

And we've talked about how the combination of great products and great marketing can create amazing results for most companies.

So far so good. This post is sort of a clarifying recap of all of these topics, more specifically as they relate to the three principal stages of customer "acquistion". (Ugh... the ugly word!!! Yuck. I only use it because I can't think of a better one just this second.) Please feel free to suggest a better term.

Okay. Here's the nickel overview:

Discovery: PR, Advertising, etc.
In most cases, Advertising, PR, and other "agency" WOM initiatives are still the best drivers of Discovery and Brand Contextualization. You want to get the public's attention? You have a story to tell? You need to carefully position your brand or product? Call your agency or professional services firm...

Beware, though: There is mounting evidence that they don't have much to do with purchasing decisions, so don't expect exposure and buzz around events and promotions to drive sales for very long, if at all.

Purchase: Peer to peer recommendations and WOM.
Peer-to-peer recommendations drive purchases. Period. If you don't believe me, start looking at some of the data being aggregated by WOMMA and its partners. We base our purchases on what other people do. (Even if they're complete strangers - albeit famous or well-respected strangers... which you might call "influentials".) If our favorite celebrity wears Ray Ban aviators, guess what? We soon will be too. If our best friend recommends a restaurant, guess where we'll be having dinner this weekend? If our colleagues sing the praises of a new PDA? Guess what we'll be adding to our panoply of e-gadgets? We go see movies based on the recommendations of peers. We buy music, electronics, cars, clothes, shoes, food, and video games based on peer recommendations. Their influence on our purchasing habits is a whole lot more powerful than advertising and positioning.


It's just in our nature to recommend great stuff to people we interact with. Offline, that's friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers, peers, etc. Online, it's everyone who reads your blog, drops by your Myspace page(s), reads your posts on message boards, or reads your emails. Depending on who you are and what you have to say, you could influence the purchasing decisions of anywhere from 1 to 120,000 people per day.

And as a bonus, our peers also play a huge role in the "discovery" process as well.

Evangelism: User delight starts with exceptional design and execution.
User Delight breeds Evangelism. It's that simple. Blow our socks off with great products and services, with great design, with great ideas, with great execution, with great ease of use, by just doing everything right (and then some), and everyone who touches your products will become an evangelist.

Ironically, although this is the third stage in our little progression, its roots are firmly anchored long before #1 is even a spark in your creative department's hive-mind. Every successful brand starts and ends with great products. There's no way around it. Without great products, without something to actually create exceptional user/customer experiences, this whole thing - including the creative - is just a house of cards in a windstorm.

Great products and experiences are the foundation for all of this. The trick is... You don't always get to find out just how great your creation is until it's in the customers' hands.

So: Three stages = three toolsets = three distinctive ecosystems. At its most basic core, that's it.

Any questions?

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And on the eighth day... (A WOM Genesis Primer.)


Okay, here's roughly how you create WOM out of thin air:

Step 1: Create or do something great. Not good. GREAT. (Seth Godin would call it remarkable. My kids would call it awesome. Some of my triathlon buddies would call it sick. Fred would call it rad... but he's... well, Fred. Or Barney. Or something.)

It could be a widget. It could be a dish. It could be a work of art. It could be an act of rebellion or courage... or both. It could be a book or a song or a speech. It could be the way your customer service reps answer the phone, or how quickly your technicians can fix a problem for your customers. It could be new packaging for ketchup or a new all-natural zero-calorie sweetener. It could be a smart and edgy TV show. It could be a completely selfless act. It could be nothing more than a simple, subtle, five second memorable experience at a drivethrough or at the checkout or when you walk into a public restroom. It could be a new flavor, or an old, forgotten one. It could be a social program. It could be that extra smile or one percent effort. It could be anything... as long as it is remarkable. Awesome. Sick. Rad.

As long as it is better than anything else that remotely comes close to its category - assuming there is one yet.

As long as anyone who gets to experience it is so amazed, pleasantly surprised, or otherwise affected by what it did for them that they'll get excited about telling their friends all about it... and the cycle will repeat itself over and over and over again.

The more unique it is, the better. The more iconic, the better. The more revolutionary... um, okay. You get the idea.

People don't get excited about boring and mundane and same-as-always.

Safe, good enough, okay and not bad don't live in WOM's zip code.

Step 2:
Oh... wait. That's it. Never mind. There is no step 2.

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What drives purchases: Word-of-mouth, or Advertising?


I should have taken better notes... Grrr... But as I recall, it was during a presentation given by Dave Dickey (Sprint), that WOMBAT 2 attendees were treated to a fascinating graphic that showed the top 20 purchasing drivers relevant to the wireless service industry. (Think Sprint, Verizon, Cingular, T-Mobile, etc.)

If memory serves right, #2 was word-of-mouth.

Where was advertising?


(Hey, but by all means, keep making those Catherine Zeta Jones commercials.)

When Dave and his fellow panelists were asked what percentage of their respective companies' marketing budgets were dedicated to Advertising vs. WOM, the answers were... well, in short supply. (Which is okay. They really don't need to be divulging all of their companies' financial secrets.)

We did nonetheless manage to squeeze a halfhearted answer from the panel: Compared to advertising, WOM was virtually nonexistant in terms of funding and infrastructure. The most candid answer was something along the lines of "far less than 5% of our marketing budgets..." or efforts... I can't recall exactly. For the purposes of this discussion, the two are interchangeable.

So... wow: WOM ranked #2. Advertising ranked #19. Logic would dictate that a hefty chunk of Marketing resources would start to be shifted to the development of broader peer-to-peer networks and away from advertising... but it isn't happening. (Or, to be fair, isn't happening very fast.) #19 on the list still gets all the love... and the cash... and the prestige, even though it clearly doesn't get customers much beyond discovery, and #2, despite pretty telling statistics, is still marginalized and ignored by top execs.

Not that you can compare the relatively low cost of developing the kinds of channels that foster WOM against the very high cost of Advertising, but you get the idea: WOM is still the "whut?" line-item in CXO discussions.

How do you change a fifty-year-old marketing culture overnight?

Well... I guess you don't.

Good thing that by the end of 2006, more solid numbers and statistics will be in. If they consistently indicate that WOM and peer-to-peer recommendations outweigh more traditional marketing methods, get ready for some pretty wide-sweeping changes in the way that products are brought to market in the coming years.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the role that specific marketing tools play in getting customers from shopping to discovery, and from purchase to evangelism. (Yep, there's a cycle, and each step has its own tools.)

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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Photos from the session:


There is a HUGE difference between these two questions:

1) Are Advertising and Word-of-Mouth diametrically opposed marketing tools?

2) Are Advertising and Word-of-Mouth mutually exclusive as marketing tools?

The answer to (1) is yes: Advertising is the epitome of the top-down model. It's a monologue. It's a sell. The advertiser has a story to tell, and the ad tells it. This is not where dialogue lives. Advertising is a billboard on the side of the road, on the side of a building, on the back cover of a magazine, during 30-second spots in the middle of your favorite show, between songs on the radio, on T-shirts, on the backs of programs, at the top of maps, and just about everywhere customers live.

Word-of-mouth, on the other hand, is a lateral model. It is the lifeblood of peer-to-peer networks. Word-of-mouth is about dialogue. It's about trust. It's about truth. There's no selling here. No ulterior motive. Just users recommending great products to other users out of sheer excitement and empathy.

But are they mutually exclusive? No way: Black and white. Yin and Yang. Heads and Tails. Laurel and Hardy. Beef and Strogonoff. The two can exist alone... but shouldn't.

Think about Apple products. Absolut. BMW. VW. World of Warcraft. Publix supermarkets. Nintendogs. Jaguar, even. All spend a whole lot of money on advertising and promotion. All also benefit from strong WOM chatter. These are examples of brands that have managed to merge both the produced monologue and the open dialogue beautifully. So yes, both can co-exist... but there's WOM, and then there's WOM, and then there's WOM. (I'll try to clarify that in a minute, but first, let me backtrack a little.)

I was fortunate enough to find a free seat at WOMBAT 2's session on Advertising and WOM, last Wednesday, when Jamie Tedford of Arnold Worldwide, Ryan Berger of Euro RSCG, and of John Bell, of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide spoke about making WOMM work for advertising agencies and PR firms. (You can read all about it here.)

To be frank, I was really curious about what was going to be said in that room. And you know what? I was pleasantly surprised... Though not in the way that I expected to be. I went in that room half expecting ad agencies to try and add WOM to their services: "Hey, you want WOM? Here's what it'll cost ya." Nope. There was none of that. What I heard instead was a sober, smart and very agency-specific way of generating WOM:

Make a big splash.
Get people talking.
Use this momentum to bring people closer to the brand.
Make them want to interact with it.
Make them want to share their experience.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Actually, to help explain the angle of agency-driven WOM, here are a few telling words from Ryan Berger (Euro RSCG):

"Buzz is harnessing the energy between consumer life and pop life."

"The power of an idea is now as much about how it is delivered as it is about the idea itself."

"PR is about activating media. Buzz is about activating people."

"When done right, buzz helps validate an advertising message."

Valid statements, all. And absolutely 100% in tune with what agencies are there to do for their clients.

But I have to be honest: What struck me the most about all three presentations, including Ryan's, was that none of these agencies seemed to be doing anything new. Other than the fact that buzzwords like "buzz marketing" and "word-of-mouth" were used a lot, agencies don't seem to be doing anything they weren't already doing five, or even ten years ago, back when WOMM wasn't even a topic of discussion. What I heard about for 45 exciting and well-packed minutes were presentations on little more than simple promotion.

Case in point: Jaguar has a great new car and wants to make a big splash. Agency comes in and creates a phenomenon for them. A new image. A new story. A new culture. A whole new identity... and to give it all traction, to give it momentum and wings, it generates buzz: Cool new enigmatic ads, followed by stunning cinematic ones. High-end event sponsorships. Celebrity endorsements. A perfectly executed media blitz now known as "Gorgeous."

As cool and effective as it all is, as WOM-worthy as it may be, it's still just... promotion.

Verdict: The game hasn't changed. The methods haven't changed. We've just added a few new terms to our professional vocabulary to make it look like we're ahead of the curve.

It's clear to the best of the best in this business that word-of-mouth was always an essential component of any good campaign... But this isn't exactly the kind of WOM that we have been talking about for the last year. (The 100% free, product-centric, user-driven kind.)

Luckily for Ogilvy, Euro RSCG and Arnold, their clients produce great, WOM-worthy products, and as firms/agencies, they continue to produce wonderful WOM-worthy campaigns for them. As long as that balance of excellence is maintained, this system will continue to work: Exciting products backed up by engaging marketing. The perfect combination.

But my question is this: When the money dries up, when the client turns off the tap, when the agency decides to move on... when that multi-million dollar budget-intensive marketing machine is taken out of the equation, what happens to the product? To the brand? To what people say to each other about either? What will be the WOM then?

Can advertising's flashy brand of WOM truly be compared to true WOM? The kind that is generated by users, out here in the real world? The kind of WOM that drives universally positive reviews of great products... and turns them into purchases? The kind of WOM that took James Cameron's flailing "Titanic" over the top and then some? (Advertising didn't get people in the theaters. Word-of-mouth did.)

Ultimately, WOM comes down to a simple question: Is this product so cool, so great, so fun, so valuable, so exciting or so unique that people will want to tell everyone they know about it?

That's WOM.

Don't get me wrong: There are plenty of seats at the WOM table for ad agencies, PR firms, and other marketing companies. Their brand of WOM-involved promotion is absolutely vital to most brands (especially when superbly done)... but I would caution that there's WOM, and then there's WOM, and then there's WOM. Not all being created equal. Agency-driven WOM is the visible part of the iceberg. Spontaneous, user-generated WOM is the hidden part of the iceberg. The huge part. The core.

(And no that was not an intentional "Titanic" reference.)

Tomorrow, we will look at the role that advertising plays on purchasing decisions... vs. the role that word-of-mouth plays on purchasing decisions. (I might even have a table or two to share with you, which will shine a whole new light on today's discussion.) Which one do you think is most effective? Which one do you think costs the least?

Have a great Monday, everyone. :)

Note: All of the case studies presented by the three speakers were astonishing. From the revival of the Polaroid brand to the creation of Jaguar's "Gorgeous" campaign, I was absolutely spellbound. Despite my somewhat lukewarm response to their WOM presentations this time around, these guys absolutely rocked and completely restored my faith in the value that big agencies that "get it" bring to the table.

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Hooked on WOMMA


As you all probably know, I just got back (albeit a day late) from WOMMA's second Word-of-mouth basic training conference (WOMBAT 2) in San Francisco, where I got to be a blogger, an attendee, and a proud nobody (see photo above).

So... the question that begs to be asked is "well, what did you think?"

The answer is simply this: I can't wait for the next one! It was great. I loved it.

I'll be talking in more detail about some of the things I learned this week, as well as some of the ideas that being in a roomful of very bright, creative and forward thinking stirred up... but that won't be today. Today, I only have time to thank WOMMA for inviting me to blog their great little event, and particularly, Andy Sernovitz - whose engaging "call to arms" speech Tuesday morning was inspiring -, Michael Rubin, who was kind enough to invite me in the first place and kept the conference sessions running like clockwork, and the entire WOMMA staff, who made sure that everyone had a great time and got the most out of these two very fast-paced days. They pulled it off wonderfully.

I also want to thank every speaker for taking the time to share their thoughts and experience with the rest of us, especially Jackie Huba and Emanuel Rosen, whose lunchtime presentations were nothing short of stellar. I will write a little something about every speaker I was lucky enough to meet or listen to, so stay tuned. (Just because the conference is over doesn't mean that my coverage of it has ended. On the contrary. It's only just now beginning.)

If what you're looking for is a quick evaluation of WOMBAT 2, here its is:

"Worth the money?" Every penny, yes.

"Worth the time?" Every second.

"Even if we aren't an agency?" Especially if you aren't an agency. Here's the deal: Ad agencies, identity companies, PR and market research firms, consultants, buzz drivers, and anyone providing marketing services, listen-up: Bring your clients to WOMBAT 3. Introduce them to word-of-mouth. Get them involved in the process. They need to be there and learn about this at least as much as you do, if not more so.

And if you haven't had a chance to attend WOMBAT 1 or 2, plan on attending 3. Trust me, you won't regret it.

For you veterans out there who found (at least day 1) a little redundant, contact Andy, Mike, Scott, or just about anyone at WOMMA and talk to them about creating separate WOMBAT 101 and 201 tracks (for beginners and veterans, respectively) for future WOMBAT conferences. Geno Church, of Brains On Fire brought up that idea at the after-dinner party Monday night, and I think it's a great one: Offering something new on Day 1 to those of us already familiar with the basics will give us a greater incentive to keep coming back every time and help this movement grow.

Before I run out of here, I also want so say a special hello to Joy Daniels (Senior Marketing Manager at CNET.com), Willow Baum-Lundgren (cofounder, Small Planet Partners), Jeff Goodman (Account coordinator, Moses Anshell Public Relations), Jonielle Schmidt (Program Specialist, Information Technology Program at USC Viterbi School of Engineering), Amie Ley (Public Relations Account Manager, Ten United), Nicole Sampson (Assistant Account Executive, Deep Group), William Mosher (Director, Echopinion), and my fellow bloggers Jennifer Nastu and Marianne Richmond. I couldn't have asked for a better group of folks to hang out with during this conference.

Thanks again to everyone for a fantastic conference, and stay tuned for more commentary on what I saw and heard at WOMBAT 2, and what seems to be the state of WOMM today. You'll probably find what I have to say... surprising.

Until then, have a great weekend, everyone. ;)

Full disclosure: I am not a member of WOMMA. Though WOMMA covered the cost of my hotel and conference registration, I have received no payment in exchange for my coverage of this event. The opinions expressed in my blog posts on the WOMMA, Brandbuilder and Corante blogs are mine, and not dictated or influenced in any way by anyone associated with WOMMA.

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United Airlines: A Broken System Report


Before I get back to my post-WOMBAT 2 conference coverage, let me share some quick thoughts about my experience with a broken system:

You see, it just took me 22 hours to get from San Francisco, CA to Greenville, SC, thanks to United Airlines. Yep, United Airlines. Write this down, everyone, and file this under "negative word-of-mouth."

It's too bad that none of the hundred or so travelers I spent the last night and day with don't have blogs of their own. It's okay though, they'll surely be telling everyone they know about their horrendous experience flying with United Airlines for weeks, hopefully months. Maybe even for the rest of their lives.

If they can help it, they'll never fly United again... and neither will anyone who hears their stories.

22 hours - give or take ten or twenty minutes, just to bridge three little time zones.

It only takes about 9 hours to fly from New York to Paris.

Maybe 16 to fly from Boston to Madgascar.

Today, it took me 22 hours to fly across the United States.

I've flown with shady 3rd world airlines that were more efficient than this. Crates of live chicken bouncing around in the aisles. Unmarked cargo being picked up by heavily armed guys with thick beards during unscheduled"refueling stops" in airports you've never heard of. Oh yeah. Even those airlines managed to get us where we needed to be on time.

I think that at this point, we can say that even F.E.M.A. is probably more efficient than United Airlines.

So thank you, United Airlines, for wasting an entire day of my life. 22 hours worth. At the rates I usually charge, that's a whole lot of coast-to-coast round trips I could have banked today. But no. All United gave me was a food voucher for $5. Nice.

Too bad the cheapest lunch dish in the terminal was $6.25.

Thanks a bunch.

As for the automatic rebooking process, as cool as it may be not to have to wait in line to beg for a seat on a later flight, it's a patch, not a fix.

A fix would be to find a way for United to get a significant number of its flights back on schedule. Or a way to keep the flight overbooking problem to a minimum, so that its employees don't have to spend every shift managing angry customers (at least at their Dulles hub).

A company cannot function in crisis management mode every day of the week, 365 days per year, and hope to still be in business in five years. It just can't. This is the second time I have been stranded at Dulles by United. They're batting 2/2 here. 100% failure to deliver on their promise to get me where I need to be in a reasonable amount of time. There will not be a third. I feel pretty confident that most of the folks I traveled with today will also never fly United again if they can help it.

But since I'm all about constructive criticism, here's a free piece of advice for United:

Dear United Management,

Until you are able to get your planes to take off and reach their destinations on schedule, grab some petty cash from the accounting department's pizza budget, and equip your terminals with free Wi-Fi pods. (If I can do it in my house for under $40, if the Greenville-Spartanburg airport can do it, if every $49 per night motel in the country can do it, I'm sure you can spare a few thousand dollars to create hot zones in your terminals, especially in an airport as busy as Dulles.)

Giving stranded passengers the opportunity to at least be productive while they wait beats the hell out giving them crappy $5 food vouchers, and it would be a great way to bring customers back to the disaster you call an airline.

Here's what I saw everywhere today: A good third of the people waiting for late, rebooked connecting flights took their laptops out to try and get some work done pretty much as soon as they reached their gates. Everyone of us went through the wi-fi hunting dance. Everyone of us came up empty-handed and even more frustrated than we already were. Not only were we stranded, we were also pretty-much useless.

I could have posted more of my notes on WOMBAT 2 today. I could have gone through the hundreds of emails that I just don't have the energy to tackle tonight. I could have sent email updates to clients. I could have done any number of things that would have made my day somewhat productive.

But no. Instead of providing us with Wi-Fi, United forced me and the passengers of five flights to airports in the south-east to sit and wait by a gate with a faulty alarm that kept going off every ten minutes or so.

Imagine the most annoying alarm-like electronic screech ever devised by man. Pump it up to 180 decibels. Trust me: As good as your imagination may be, you're only scratching the surface.

That was my experience today. No wi-fi. A broken, eardrum-splitting alarm going off every ten minutes or so. Wild-eyed passengers with airport hair and red-eye breath glaring at each other from their caved-in, ass-numbing seats with the same spaced-out, "I'm going to kill something" look.

After 16 hours, people who didn't expect to waste almost 24 hours of their lives between delayed and cancelled flights either start to laugh at their situation, or they start getting aggressive.

This is not the kind of experience you want to be known for.

This is not the type of psychological environment you want to be responsible for.

Look. It's 2006. We've mapped the human genome. We can send billionaire tourists into space. We can grow low fat avocados and make pigs glow in the dark. I live in what is supposed to be the wealthiest, most powerful, most technologically advanced nation on Earth, but today, I couldn't connect to the internet in two of its busiest airports. Today, it took me 22 hours to do something as simple as fly from one coast to the other. I would love for someone to explain to me how this is even possible.

Better yet, I would love for someone at United Airlines to come to the next WOMMA conference and explain it to all of us.

That would be swell.

Don't give us food vouchers. Don't give us extra baggies of salted nuts. Don't bore us with ceiling-mounted monitors spewing Headline News or Bloomberg TV. Give us free Wi-Fi! Let us be productive. Let us entertain ourselves while we wait and wait and wait... and wait for you to finally get your act together.

On the positive side, perhaps the most interesting thing about my experience today is that United's employees had nothing to do with the problem. They were visibly stressed out by it as much as we were. Pilots, cabin crews, terminal personnel, they were all victims as well. We were all, customers and employees trapped together in United's endless cycle of crap. In its broken system. In the complete operational breakdown that has apparently become a staple of the United Airlines experience. Yep, United's human touchpoints were all friendly, professional, and as helpful as they could be under the circumstances. They tried. They really did. But the broken system they tried to cover for was just too far gone for them to be able to make the slightest bit of difference.

This, boys and girls is the most flagrant example of a broken system that I have run into since... well, the response to hurricane Katrina.


Note: If you ever get stranded for 9 hours in Dulles, here's what you do: Go to the main terminal (baggage check), head downstairs and grab yourself an airport shuttle. (Don't forget to schedule a pickup too.) You're looking at $55 round-trip, but it's worth it. Ask to be dropped off at the ultra-posh Willard Intercontinental at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue. There, drop your carry-on(s) with the concierge, grab a map of downtown DC from his desk, and go check out the sights. You'll be within walking distance of the White House, the war memorials, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and a dozen other cool spots. (If it's raining, grab a quick cab ride to any of the amazing museums waiting for you just a few blocks away.) If you don't have a camera, you can buy disposable ones near most of the monuments. And if you don't feel like going outside, having tea at the famous Willard Room doesn't suck.


Thoughts From WOMBAT


It's been a long day, and I've opted to put aside my session notes for now and post something else. (Don't worry, I'll be posting about WOMBAT all week, so we'll get back to the stuff that went on today.)

The truth is that I took a few hours once the day's sessions closed to relax, meet some of the finest people you'd ever expect to run into in the Marketing world, enjoy some good food, well mixed drinks and... unfortunately, some horrendous music to let all of the day's discussions kind of settle a bit and take on some kind of coherent thread.

I'm glad I did. By the time stamp on this post, you can tell it's late. (Even for a night owl like me.) And the events of the evening alone could fuel a few dozen posts of their own... from the conversations I had with Corante's Francois Gossieaux to the ten minute debate about deceptive Word-of-mouth tactics I just had with some homeless guy trying to convince me to donate money to his child rescue fund. (Don't ask.) This isn't the post in which I will tell you about the new dance moves I learned tonight by watching what may very well be the best damn accidental kung-Fu breakdancer the world has ever known. This isn't the post in which I will tell you about what an adventure it was to walk the thirteen or so blocks to the private after-party that took us right through some of San Francisco's poorest streets. This isn't the post in which I will tell you about what so and so said or did or presented today.

Nope, this is the post in which I am about to tell marketers who are still holding on to their illusion of control, that the game is up. That it's time for them to open their eyes and join the rest of us who have already let go of what we thought was true of our profession.

Yeah. It's going to be one of those posts. Another manifesto. Another diatribe. It was way overdue, and you know it. At any rate...

If surrendering your brand message to your customers scares you, don't worry. That's a perfectly normal reaction. (I would be worried if you weren't at least a little scared.) Marketing has been about command & control, top-down message crafting and delivery for as long as you've been earning a paycheck. Maybe even longer. You've just never really had a reason to question any of it until now.

The thing is... it's all been an illusion. Sure, you can tell people great stuff about the products you're selling. You can tell them how five blades will shave better than four, since four blades shave better than three, and three blades shave better than two, and so on. If the features aren't enough, you can bring a really cool looking guy into the mix and show him using the razor. You can make him look happy. Content. Perfectly satisfied with his perfect five-blade shave. You can make him look at his razor once his chin has been weaned of any semblance of hair in confident amazement, as if to say "dang, this thing really does work!" If you're clever, you can even bring in a really pretty girl into the frame so she can run the back of her hands against the guy's jaw and be even more impressed by how clean shaven he is. By how handsome he looks, what, with his five-blade-shave and all. That shave made him so desirable, she can't keep her hands off him.
Wow, aren't those five-bladed razors cool and sexy and indispensable? Can you believe how much you've been missing all this time, shaving with a mere four-bladed razor? How did you ever live without them? Tsss...

You can convince people that torque and horsepower is what they need in a pickup truck. You can convince people that your new rust-colored Tibetan goat wool sweaters are their wardrobe's final missing puzzle piece. You can convince people that they're hungry and that they need a triple-decker bacon cheeseburger right now. (Hey, it's only $1.99 too! What are they waiting for?!) You can talk and talk and talk, and you can sell and sell and sell, but you'd better get ready because that's all you'll be doing for the rest of your lives, and it's only going to get harder.

Your customers, they're being bombarded by hundreds of pitches a day. No, thousands. Billboards. Storefronts. Street signs. Radio and TV commercials. Print ads. Articles. News features. Product placement in their favorite shows and movies. Direct mail pieces. Their neighbors' T-shirts. Their neighbors' trash. The packaging in their own cupboards. Your customers, they can't go an hour without getting a faceful of brands. How do you expect to compete against everyone else? By creating better ads? By being in their faces more than the other guys?

By being the loudest advertiser in the room?

By spending more dollars on advertising and awareness campaigns?

Do you really think that consumers, people, with their busy schedules and their tolerance for the brand carpet-bombing they fall victim to every single day, do you really think they care about your message? About what you have to say?

Do you really think that the control you have over your precious "message" and its delivery has anything to do with how they truly perceive your brand? Your products? Your customer service?

Do you think any of them would like you more if they were gently massaged with your mission statement and then body-wrapped in your growth doctrine haiku?

Do you really think that you have even an iota of control over what they say about you, how they say it, and who they say it to?

Do you really believe you ever did?

Since the dawn of time, since people started communicating, they have been sharing their experiences with one another: These blue berries are good. These red berries taste like cow dung and will give you terrible bellyaches (among other things). Hey, if you let the deer meat sit over the fire until it turns brown, it tastes pretty good and it's easier to chew. The water's cool, but once you're in, it feels great. Don't stand out in the rain like that; you'll catch a cold.

Fast forward to 1239 BC. Fast forward to 501 AD. Fast forward to 2006 AD. We're still talking about our experiences. In fact, that's almost all we talk about. All day. Face to face. On the phone. On the internet. We talk about what we like. What we don't like. What our favorite TV show is, or our favorite band, or our favorite restaurant.

What the worst customer service we've ever experienced. The worst tasting cola. The worst hotel in Paris. The leakiest faucet. The mp3 with the shortest battery life.

Not only do we share these experiences, but when we find people who have similar stories to tell, we instantly form a bond with them. Meet more than one, and you have a community. What we now call social networks. And now we use these social networks to share our feelings, our experiences with each other. On our terms. Whenever and however we want.

We talk about music. Politics. Religion. Brands. What we love and what we hate. What we wish companies would do to make our experiences better.

Now... again, I ask this: Do you think that your message has any bearing over how we experience your products? Over what we talk about when your brand comes up?

Do you really think that you ever had any control over any of it?

If so, think again.

Accept that your customers are in control of your brand's reputation. Accept that the message is nothing compared to the conversation that is already taking place out here in the real world. There's nothing to be scared about. There's nothing to let go of. Nothing to risk losing. You have been holding on to an illusion.

The truth is that your customers have been talking about their experience, not your message, and there has never been a time in human history when this wasn't the case.

So let go. It's okay. What you need to focus on is right over here, and it's this: Your product. The delivery on your promise. The thing that your customers actually get in their hands and/or interact with. Focus on the experience that your customer is going to have whenever he or she interacts with any part of what you make available (whether it's your customer's interactions with a website, a human touchpoint, or even something as simple as your product's user guide). Focus on turning your customers into empowered and passionate users.

It isn't to say that the message isn't important. There's context to define. There's information to share, There's positioning to establish. These things are important. Let people know you're there. Tell them what you'll do for them. Do so with style and panache and class. Entertain. Engage. Seduce. Win over. But above all, deliver.

Listen to what your customers want, and then give it to them. If they complain, fix the problem. If they don't, find ways to make their experience even better than it already is. Ask them what else they want, and then deliver that too. Listen. Learn. Create. Deliver. Become part of their dialogue. Part of their culture. Part of their everyday lives.

Word-of-mouth can't be bought. It has to be earned. If you want to be WOM-worthy, you have to create experiences that are worth talking about. The best shave in the world. The yummiest ice cream. The coolest customer service reps on the planet. The most hassle-free wireless plan ever put into action. At long last, the one laptop that will always interface perfectly with any projector, anywhere in the world, the first time you plug them together. The most engaging consumer-generated-content campaign you've ever seen. Whatever. Something. Anything. Whatever defines you, your product and your brand. Whatever sets you clearly apart from the rest of the guys spending millions of dollars trying to get your customers' attention for just thirty seconds. Twenty. Ten. Maybe five. Whatever they can get.

You want to be authentic? You want to be transparent? You want to be part of the WOMM game? You want your customers to love you and give you the kind of publicity money can't buy? Don't outspend or out-yell. Instead, outshine.

Yeah. It really is that simple.

It's really late. I'm going to bed. Tomorrow's almost here already, and it's going to be insanely long.

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WOMBAT - Day 1: the AM sessions


Hi everyone, I am blogging live from WOMMA's WOMBAT conference here in sunny San Francisco. On the agenda this morning:

"What is Word of Mouth Marketing? The Essential Word of Mouth Toolbox."
Paul Rand, Global Chief Development and Innovation Officer, Ketchum
Gary Stein, Director of Strategy, Ammo Marketing.

"Practical Word of Mouth: 40 Word of Mouth Ideas You Can Implement Tomorrow for Not Much Money."
Jim Nail, Chief Strategy & Marketing Officer, Cymfony

"Practical Ethics: Implementing Ethics and Making It Work."
Gary Spangler, Platform E-Business Leader, DuPont
Ann Moravick, CEO & President, Rowland Communications Worldwide
Andy Sernovitz, CEO, Word of Mouth Marketing Association

"Stats, and Data, and Numbers, oh my! All the facts and figures about word of mouth that you can eat."
Ed Keller, CEO, The Keller Fay Group
Greg Wester, VP, In-Call Network, VoodooVox
Ann Green, SVP, Marketing Solutions, Millward Brown

And as a treat, check out the photos, huh? Oh yeah. It's not just about wordsmithing anymore, is it?

Check out the full feed on the WOMBAT blog, but don't worry, I'll be back with some photos from the afternoon sesisons and a full recap of the day's discussions later this evening.


Destination WOMBAT!!!


WOMMA has invited me and two other bloggers to cover their WOMBAT conference in San Francisco this week, so if you happen to be anywhere near the vicinity of the Golden Gate Bridge, definitely come by the conference and say hello. (I'll even let you buy me a beer if you want to meet and chat after we adjourn.) In case you don't know what I look like, I'll be the guy sporting Chico the chihuahua (the brandbuilder mascot) on his name tag.

FYI: I should be cross-posting from the WOMMA blog through Wednesday (maybe even Thursday for a WOMBAT wrap-up), so if things here take on a slightly less editorial tone here, it will be because I will need to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short amount of time. Everything will be back to normal before you know it, but definitely take advantage of the front row seats I'll be sharing with you this week. :)

Full Disclosure: I am not a member of WOMMA. Though WOMMA has agreed to cover my hotel and conference registration, I will receive no payment in exchange for my coverage of this event. The opinions expressed in my blog posts on the WOMMA, Brandbuilder and Corante blogs will be mine, and not dictated or influenced in any way by anyone associated with WOMMA.


Staying Connected


I just wanted to say a special hello to the person who just accessed the BrandBuilder blog from the Mongolian railway commercial center.

(Yeah: In Mongolia!)

I have a reader in Mongolia! How freakin' cool is that?!



Progress vs. Innovation


Yet another reason why Kathy Sierra rocks. Read this now, or regret it later.


Two perfect un-pitches.


Last week, I received two very cool books in the mail: One was Jack Hayhow's "The Wisdom of the Flying Pig", and the other was Tim O'Leary's "Warriors, Workers, Whiners and Weasels."

Now, I rarely read business books, (I would much rather read articles, studies and blogs,) but I tore into these with both pleasure and ease. Especially since they were free.

Will they change your lives? Probably not. But they both have the particularity of not being the usual 10% substance wrapped in 90% fluff. And they have great little tidbits of advice like "Managers don’t get paid for what they do, they get paid for what their people do." Pow.

Definitely check them out.

Other than the books themselves, the way they got to me was kind of cool:
1) I wasn't really expecting them, so they were a nice surprise.
2) They were free.
3) They were accompanied by handwritten notes (yes, real ones) that referenced specific things about my blog. Both camps took the time to know me before they sent me their book. I like that.
4) "The Wisdom" came with a way cool battery-powered flying pig, which I thought was a very nice touch. (It'll be patroling the skies in my new office very soon.)

All in all, two great books, two very cool and well-executed un-pitches, and two class act authors.

Word of caution: If you take this post as an invitation to send me free copies of your book(s), please understand that -

If I don't like them, I probably won't mention them here at all.
If I hate them, I may say negative things about them.
If you pitch me too hard, I may say negative things about you.

But if I like them, you can bet that I'll say something nice about them.

Jack, Tim, thanks a bunch for the books. :)


Enter the code breakers


My friend Ernie Mosteller, whose blog has been a regular feature on TheBrandBuilder is leaving the very cool Houston-based Tangelo Ideas to become VP and Creative Director of Blattner Brunner's Washington, DC office. (Congrats, Ernie!) The piece below is something I found on his blog a few days ago that I really like. (Why? Because it reminded me of this post I wrote several months ago. Go check it out once you're done with this one.)

I don't think it's become crystal clear to business leaders yet, even in the Marketing industry, that as Marketing's tools, tactics and increasingly diverse roles evolve, so must the types of people who form the teams that will make them successful. Operatives for Marketing's new age should be a lot more versatile than they have been in the past. Instead of being specialists in only one specific field, they should have one core (deep) skill - like copywriting, graphic design, media planning, etc. - and a bagful of broad, cross-functional training such as cultural anthropology, sociology, product design, improv, concept ideation, project management, psychology, pattern analysis, etc. as well as talents like the one Ernie mentions here:

Code breakers are observers, first and foremost. They seem to have a sense of what makes people tick. Interestingly, the very best salesmen are pretty good at it, deciphering which of seventy possible product attributes might entice a particular buyer the most - based solely on interaction in a short face-to-face sales call. Being a good code breaker is simply a personality trait.

Right now, this function within an agency is most closely related to the planner. And maybe it is the planner. But it's a planner with an innate talent - the ability to observe and listen firsthand, and come up with insight no research study will ever reveal. There are trendwatchers, and there's Faith Popcorn, and to an extent these are code-breaking / future-predicting services. But it strikes me that a good code breaker is something more. It's someone who can read all the research that's ever been published about insurance salesmen and cell phones, but then insists on spending time hanging out with or around those salesmen to observe. And when she returns from her observation, she brings you insight and information about what's really happening, what the real problems and opportunities are - not just an aggregate trend-guess compiled from those who decided to answer the survey questions. A good code breaker can deliver insight that takes an idea from ok to spectacular.
Here's a word of advice, however: Hire talent, not characters. Hire curious generalists before formula-driven specialists. Hire folks whose experience makes for interesting conversation at parties. Hire anyone who isn't afraid to ask a lot of questions and have both the guts and the imagination to look for answers in unusual places.

IDEO has been experimenting with cross-functional/cultural project teams for years now, and with tremendous success. Most of IDEO's people have one deep skill and a panoply of broader, adaptable skills that allow them to negotiate any kind of project, challenge, hurdle or environment with relative ease. Here are descriptions of some of the new funtions that they pioneered:

Human Factors specialists apply their knowledge from psychology, anthropology, biomechanics, and related fields to enhance people's experience through design. As interdisciplinary design team members, they employ a range of observational and empathic techniques to understand the issues people face. They use this knowledge to frame design opportunities and to create scenarios and "experiential prototypes" to explore, test, and refine opportunities in context.
Business Factors specialists help clients identify and implement opportunities for innovation, and facilitate critical decision-making throughout the innovation process. This includes defining the innovation challenge, and identifying relevant assets and competencies that can be leveraged to achieve success.

Industrial designers concern themselves with the tangible experience of seeing, desiring, obtaining, and using a product, ultimately defining the user's emotional connection to the object. They are involved with a project from the initial strategic and conceptual design through to the detailed implementation of production, integrating the essential aspects of business factors, human factors, and technical factors identified by the client and design team.
Interaction designers concern themselves with complex user experiences that unfold over time. They have broad knowledge and diverse backgrounds in areas such as interface design, product design, information architecture, graphics, cognitive psychology, software engineering, and computer science.
We're pretty far from the old single-function (copywriter/engineer/product manager/PR Manager, etc.) model we know all too well, but if being a market leader is one of your principal objectives, that's a good thing.

Don't hire for "the job". Hire exceptional talent. Create new positions, or modify existing ones to capitalize on your new Marketing commandos' skills. Let yourself drift away from the old single-function model. Throw out the old titles and functions if need be. Partner with code breakers. With thought leaders. With innovators. With answer-seekers. With rule-breakers. Partner with anyone who stands out and has something exceptional to offer.

Do it now, or someone else will.


Grassroots vs. The Volcano


Ripped from Corante's editorial page:

On Grassroots and cracking the notion that power influencers drive product acceptance in the market:

"Why have Google and Apple done so well in the last three years? Cause the grassroots loves them. That's the powerroot of the industry. Ideas here don't come from the big influencers and move down. No, they start on the street and move up. Anyone miss how Google got big? Not by throwing a press conference." - Robert Scoble, via Johnnie Moore's blog.

Before I side with Robert, let me throw in a little word of caution: I know that the conversation has been geared in this direction for a few years now, but looking at cause:effect / influencer:influencee dynamics as a top-down model only seem fairly limited in scope. "Influencers" (whether they are "key" or "big" or "power" influencers) aren't just at the top of their respective subcultural family trees. Sometimes, the masses themselves can be the power influencer. This is an element of the discussion that has all too often been neglected... so that even Robert Scoble - and most of us - tend to naturally divorce top-down influencers from bottom-up (or lateral) influencers. Big mistake. While there are differences between them, they are very much part of the same very short equation: Influencers are influencers. Period. No category of influencer should ever be cast aside or taken for granted. The moment you do is the moment you drop the ball on reaching (potentially) millions of customers / users. It's easy to favor bottom-up influencers over their top-down cousins (or vice-versa), but it is an terribly myopic way to reach out to your customers.

When it comes to bottom-up and lateral influencers The street has always been a source of influence on culture, fashion, musical tastes, language, and political change. Urban fashions didn't start on a runway in New York or Milan. The "gangsta" look wasn't designed in a Soho creative studio and then packaged and sold to rap superstars. It came from the street and was then commercialized. The same is true about punk rockers, skateboarders, surfers, and just about every "culture" or "subculture" you can throw a cat at, from triathlon, to amateur photography to the country-club lifestyle.

Appealing to a grassroots base - which essentially consists of recruiting your 1-percenters to drive your campaign and influence their own peer networks has always been incredibly efficient. Politicians know this, which is why they are essential to the success of every campaign. Grassroots programs are militant in nature. They're infectious and viral in the true sense of the term. They feed on momentum and quasi-exponential growth. They may very-well be the most virulent form of Word-Of-Mouth movements you'll ever encounter. If you're reading this and aren't so sure you agree, that's okay, but consider this: Every revolution in our history was the result of a grassroots movement. Every single one. Look at the American Revolution. The French Revolution. The fall of the Berlin Wall. More recently, thanks to the availability of cell phones, text messaging, and the organic nature of social networks, the 2001 revolution in the Phillippines and the 2002 presidential elections in South Korea. Grassroots movements hold a power inversely proportional to the attention most marketing campaigns

For many of us, influencers aren't just celebrities or the visible (or outspoken) upper stratum of a subculture. The way we become participants in the growth of a trend or the success of a product isn't necessarily tied to product placement on Lost, CSI, or Superman Returns. We don't necessarily buy Gap clothes or Oakley sunglasses because Jessica Simpson or Tom Cruise are sporting them in an interview. Influencers can also be our neighbors. Our best friends. Our co-workers. Our parents. Our kids. They can also be familiar strangers or a mob of people demanding the same thing you always wish you had the power to ask for yourself.

It s human nature to find (and seek) safety, familiarity and validation in numbers.

From a corporate standpoint, large crowds also tend to hold more power than a handful of insightful thought leaders:

"(Analysts) watch what grass roots are saying. The wisdom of crowds. It drives a lot of buying decisions." - Scoble.

We could go off on a major tangent here, but we'll have to come back to it some other time.

However powerful "grassroots marketing" may be, you cannot, by default, dismiss traditional media and the more widely accepted concept of the key influencer. I get a little nervous when that suggestion is made. Not every product or brand should put all of their eggs into the WOM, viral, or grassroots basket. As a matter of fact, very few companies should focus exclusively on new media to promote themselves or their products. These would be those rare few companies whose products are so revolutionary, so well designed and so culturally vibrant that they almost sell themselves. (How often does this happen? Not very.) Everyone else should instead strive for a balanced approach that takes into account top-down strategies (like advertising, PR, and traditional marketing) AND bottom-up (or rather lateral) strategies like grass-roots initiatives, co-creation, WOMM, viral campaigns and blogging. For some, the mix might be 60/40. For others, it may be 20/80. Every company, product, objective and situation is different, which is... well, part of the fun, and the most exciting thing about the way the field of Marketing in general is changing before our very eyes.

If you're Gucci, Coca Cola, Macintosh, Oakley or Vespa, you still need to rely on product placement and endorsements to stay relevant and drive your brand forward. If you're Google, Microsoft or Squidoo, however, your strategy will have to be completely different. Forget about product placement and Superowl ads. You need to live, breathe and bleed blogs, WOM, co-creation and online forums. Your product has to be easily accessible and fun to use. It has to engage and create value for its user as soon as he/she starts interacting with it. It has to work better than every product in its category. This is what will generate the kind of discussion and buzz that will attract more users. Customers. Friends. Evangelists. Whatever you choose to call them. Be that as it may, without a focused PR program, without some kind of engaging identity for your product, and without well-articulated product release, customer conversation and crisis response strategies, you'll be like a sailboat without a rudder.

Just as most successful companies have accepted that a certain level of customization is necessary to attract and retain customers, marketing has also become much more customizable and user-friendly. Look at it this way: Each company requires its own specific recipe. What works for Dell won't necessarily work for Sony. What works for Oakley won't necessarily work for Rudy project. In light of this, PSF's (Professional Services Firms) like ad agencies, PR firms, and design studios need to realize that a) the menu of options when it comes to marketing tools keeps growing, b) that it's a good thing, and c) that in order to create the best recipe for their clients, they need to not only know their way around the marketing kitchen, but know how to formulate the perfect mix of ingredients in order to create consistently delicious and buzz-worthy recipes. PSF's that do this (and their clients) will reap the rewards of their wise ways. Those that don't will spend a whole lot of time arguing about the notion of old marketing vs. new marketing, and defending what side they unwisely decided to adhere to.

My advice: Don't fall into the New Marketing vs. Old Marketing trap. You can't afford to limit yourself to being a supporter of either one camp or the other. If you do, you'll always be missing a big (and crucial) piece of the puzzle for yourself, and for your clients. Grass Roots, key influencers, advertising, blogs, product placement, PR, it all works... and works best when used in concert. Robert Scoble is right: Microsoft missed the boat when it failed to gain (and perhaps even seek) grassroots support. That being said, his dismissal of press conferences might be a little short-sighted. The combination of the two would most likely produce a much better result than either one on its own.

In the specific case of Microsoft, (since it is the subject of Robert Scoble's post,) while the success (and traction) of its CRM and People-Ready programs is obvious, Vista still hasn't yet found its voice... or its audience. This may be because the public still hasn't been given a clear answer when questions like "what will Vista do for me again?" "What's the point?" "Is this all it does?" are asked.

Exciting products are always great at generating grass-roots support. Products, on the other hand, whose value can't clearly be articulated or understood, tend to rely more on loads of advertising and messaging to reach their intended audiences. On the street, nobody is talking about Vista. Nobody is excited about it or disappointed in it. Most people I run into haven't even heard of it yet, which may be symptomatic of bigger problems... but that will have to be a topic for another day. The point is that Microsoft hasn't done a very good job of building value for its new platform yet... which may be why it hasn't enjoyed much ground-level buy-in.

This is a perfect example of how using traditional and new marketing tools in concert would probably yield some pretty impressive results: Old - Hold press conferences. Present the product at high-visibility venues. Create great ads for it. Put it in people's faces and make it impossible for us to go a week, a day, even, without at least thinking about it once. Make us want to try it. New - put it in the hands of users (influential or otherwise) and help them become power users / evangelists. Gain widespread support from users. Drive the discussion on blogs and forum sites. Make users want to recommend it to their friends, and non-users recommend it based on "what they've heard".

... Assuming, of course, that Vista will be able to wow its users, which remains to be seen. (That may have to be the topic of yet another discussion sometime in the next year.) Lucky for you, Corante's Nevlille Hobson already got a head-start on the subject a few months ago with this post, so definitely check it out.

Okay, I've rambled long enough for one afternoon. Have a great Thursday, everyone. :)

(And feel free to tell me if you disagree.)


Beers With The Practitioner.


I finally got to meet fellow blogger and Corante member John Moore today. John is spending a couple of days in the deep-ish South, and he was kind enough to make time to have a couple of beers with me.

It's always nice to realize that folks whose blogs you enjoy are the types of people you also enjoy hanging out with... even if it's to talk mostly about Marketing and Branding. :)

Cool stuff.


The Facts aren't always the point.


Overheard on fellow Corante member Tom Asacker's blog this weekend:

"Most (organizations) obsess over the "facts" - the features, attributes and quality of their offering, while ignoring the “truth” - the feelings of their audience. They focus on the rational and measurable, and disregard the emotional and ethereal. But a product or service is never more than a means to an end. And that end, that truth, is always a feeling. It’s the feeling that draws an audience in. They want to get lost in your marketing. They want to feel the importance and meaning of what you offer - for themselves, in their guts - rather than having it be overt and obvious. They don’t want to be objectively convinced. They want to subjectively believe!"

"The key to success in business today is to forget the language of logic and arguments, and become proficient at the language of feelings and beliefs. Discover and appeal to your audience’s why . . . their truth. If you focus on the facts, you’ll believe that your mission should be to convey those facts. Wrong! The truth rules. Everything is subjective. Every decision is driven by what is inside someone - memories, images, stories and feelings - not what’s on the outside."

Look at product packaging. Software specs are on the back or the side, or even the inside of the box, not the front. Same with music CDs. Same with DVDs. Same with books. Same with gum and cheese and cigarettes (though not necessarily in that order). Look at print ads. Sure, the facts are there somewhere. Probably in fine print, framing the bottom of the page.

Facts can sell. Like... "0% APR until 2008", "120 gigabites Hard drive", "17.2 megapixels", "0 to 60 in 6.38 seconds", "1 calorie per serving", "complete with wheelset: 15.2 lbs", "$519 round trip to Paris", "kills 99.9% of germs on contact". The list goes on. There is a place for facts, when the facts are... well, the point. And when branding isn't.

But what sells Tylenol PM, the video iPod, the Macintosh G4, the Starbucks cup of coffee, the Porsche Cayenne, the $1.2M spec house at The Cliffs, Cervelo's fully loaded $7,000 P3C, the Ironman triathlon entry fee, the G-shock watch, the liter of Coca Cola, the Canon DSLR, the Philips flat screen TV, the pack of Camels, the bottle of Absolut Citron, the Loreal conditioner, the bottle of Yoplait drinkable yogurt, the Crest toothpaste, and the Club Med cruise isn't facts.

Facts are a list of the things that your product does. That's it. Important, sure, but boring.

What Tom calls Truth is your customers' vision of how your product will enrich their lives. Truth is context. Truth is the projected inner voice behind every successful Marketing conversation.

What turns people into customers lives in the space between what your product does and what it can do for them.

Think of it all as being on a lind date. Will your date want to go out with you again if all you do is talk about yourself (what you do, how much you make, how much you can bench, how fast you can run a 5K, how white your teeth are, how many degrees you have)? Probably not.

What if, instead, you listened more than you spoke, were genuinely interested in what makes her/him happy, made your conversation more relevant to her/his interests, and made plans to go do something fun or exciting together?

Hmmm. I don't know... Let me think...


The Coca Cola Socioeconomic Index.


Could Coca Cola consumption truly be an indicator of wealth, health and freedom? That's what a recent report published by The Economist claims:

"There is a loose but clear positive relationship between Coke consumption and wealth — perhaps not surprisingly. Even clearer is the relationship between cola and an index developed by the United Nations to show general quality of life (as measured by wealth, education, health and literacy). Coke consumption takes off at the upper end of the development scale. Finally, democracy goes better with Coke. Consumption rises with political freedom, as measured by Freedom House’s seven-point scale.

Have a cola, North Korea."

images courtesy of The Economist.

Makes sense.

Note: The suggestion is that Coca Cola consumption is an indicator of weath... not one of its contributing factors. ;)

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