120 Years of Social Media

“We live in a time when technology is more disruptive than ever before in history!” This is a favorite exclamation of many but particularly those of us in the advertising industry. This comment is often followed by a declaration of how much we must change to “keep up.”  Yes, the tools consumers use to gather information have changed drastically, and because of that, the consumers’ expectations have changed as well. However, just as important as what has changed, we must not forget what has not changed. And, believe it or not, this will help us address with the rapid changes we’re facing.

One thing that has persisted is a simple model, called the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model. It was created by Elias St. Elmo Lewis in the late 1800s. Think about that, the most important concept in advertising, is nearly 120 years old. At that time there was an even greater tech revolution underway than we are experiencing today—about 15 years earlier Karl Benz build his first practical gasoline-engined car. About ten years before AIDA Tesla, the man, not the car company, had patented alternating current, the electrical system we use today. A few years earlier the Lumiere brothers had invented their camera and opened the first movie theatre. About three years later Marconi sends the first radio signals across the Atlantic. And only five years later, the Wright brothers fly at Kitty Hawk. 

We think we are living in the most disruptive times ever but the core concept of advertising was birthed in a time that was far more disrupted by technological advancement. And yet, consumers must go through the same pattern from initial awareness to action. And while consumers tools have changed, so have ours. Social media has afforded us unparalleled ability to first understand what will move the consumer through the purchase funnel and then activate the consumer. 

Using the online conversation to understand the consumer.

The universe’s largest focus group is always in session. Social media allows us to get a deeper understanding of the consumer than ever before, if we are willing to go deeper than a surface understanding. We use something called the The Conversation Echo Map to help us get there. We start by searching terms directly related to the category or brand. Nothing new there. The results give us a view into those areas of conversation that are focused on the category. We call them Category Echoes

The shame is, often, this is the ending point of social media research. It should be the beginning. 

Often Category Echoes are functional in nature and not very compelling. A search related to laundry would yield terms like scent, fashion, routines, wrinkles, stains, etc.

If we were to stop there, we would have the expected results that would give us little or no insight into the lives of our consumers. We would not understand the emotional context of the category or our brand in their lives. We would miss opportunities to connect with the consumer in a visceral, emotional way. 

We must go further into what we call Life Echoes which are the conversations that take place in the social space that focus on the meaning behind the Category Echoes. In other words, beyond the category, what does fashion, scent, color and stains mean in the lives of consumers?

Let me give you an example.

The Tale of Two Stains

Think about it this way. Imagine two stains on two different children’s pants. One is just another grass stain, not really remarkable. All dad wants to do toss it in the laundry and get the stain out. However, there is another kind of stain, one that represents a major moment in life. It’s a blood stain on the knee of a pair of ripped jeans. His daughter got this when she fell while riding her bike without training wheels for the very first time. As he looks at that stain he sees his little girl growing up, becoming independent and he can’t help but see the smile of delight as she struggled to master this new skill. 

You see, from this, we learn not all stains are created equal. Some have an emotional context that allows us to create connections and communication that is meaningful.

Whether your brandis duct tape or dog food, there is a conversation taking place that will facilitate your connection with your consumer. 

If social media is a dialogue it means we should listen as described above but we can also communicate.

Using the online conversation to engage the consumer.

The online conversation does more than give you insights into a consumer. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue. It’s a conversation, not a speech. While each brand faces it’s own, specific strategy for using social media to connect with consumers, there are four principles that can help create a framework for that connection, outlined below:

4 Key Principles

Transparency: 

In a world of massive amounts of information, trustworthiness becomes to single most important commodity. The emerging consumer has lived in a world of Wikileaks and Snowden. While the old world order questions whether this or that piece of information should have been leaked, the emerging consumer asks, “Is there anyone I can trust?” Becoming a brand that invites scrutiny, seeks to have an honest relationship and quickly takes responsibility when mistakes are made, endears that brand to today’s consumer. 

For example look at what Southwest Airlines is doing. 

For Southwest Airlines, “Transfarency” is a commitment for the entire company. Customers are treated honestly. Here’s how Vision Critical described it in their blog.

“Being a low-fare airline is at the heart of our brand, and the foundation of our business model,” says Kevin Krone, the VP and chief marketing officer at Southwest Airlines, “so we’re not going to nickel and dime our customers.”

Together with the campaign hashtag, #FeesDontFly, the airline uses the campaign to showcase its value proposition of no hidden fees or extra costs. 

The campaign has generated a ton of social media activity and has set Southwest Airlines apart from the competition and earned the trust of customers.

Authenticity:

Closely related to transparency is authenticity. To be truly authentic you must understand your brands higher purpose and how it connects to those Life Echoes described earlier. For example, take the campaign from Dixie plates. The “Be More Here” campaign taps into the desire to have deep interactions with loved one. The band, Dixie, just becomes a facilitator of those deep interactions but removing concern over the dishes. Add to that the hashtag they developed #darkfordinner and they take it a step further, asking their consumers to disconnect from technology for dinner. This is all true to their higher purpose and comes across as an authentic place for them to play. 

Responsiveness:

The online conversation helps brand to be more responsive to the in-the-moment- needs of their consumers. I would say it goes beyond “realtime marketing” to realtime relationships. For example, the folks over at Buffer, a social sharing app, tell of JetBlue’s responsiveness. 

“During a four-hour flight, Esaí Vélez’s seatback TV gave him nothing but static – while the rest of the passengers had normally functioning screens. How did he respond? He tweeted a complaint to JetBlue. Nothing inflammatory, but he was clearly disappointed.

How did JetBlue respond? While they could have made an excuse or even ignored his tweet, they didn’t. They took his side and empathized with him.

“Oh no! That’s not what we like to hear! Are all the TVs out on the plane or is it just yours?”

After he confirms that it was just his TV that was out, they respond:

“We always hate it when that happens. Send us a DM with your confirmation code to get you a credit for the non-working TV.”

Not only do they imagine his frustration, but they also offer him a credit for his trouble.

What was the result? Just 23 minutes after his complaint, he tweets: “One of the fastest and better Customer Service: @JetBlue! Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving””

Inclusiveness:

Perhaps because we sometimes feel like a number, today’s consumer has a distinct desire to be included, to be embraced, to be special. Maybe that explains some of the popularity of Facebook but the emerging consumer looks for the opportunity to be an insider. 

Using social media to, first, identify ardent brand fans then to connect with them in a unique way will move them down the purchase intent funnel described over a hundred years ago. 

Joining this conversation, not just posting to it, will build stronger brands and more effective campaigns. Sure, in the last 120 years a lot has changed but even with all the changes over the last century, Mr. Lewis would recognize that as good marketing.

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4 Reasons a Startup Should Not Hire an Advertising Agency...Yet

I realize this article is going to make enemies within the industry in which I’ve worked for the majority of my career. That’s okay. 

A couple of words of explanation. In this article, I’m not saying agencies are terrible by any means, although it has always amused me how many people in advertising seek to say they do something other than advertising. I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in, drinking copious amounts of Diet Coke and discussing how we are so much more than just an agency. Although, to be honest, that was rarely a true statement. 

There are four key reasons why hiring an agency for a start up is problematic:

1. Most agencies don’t do “minimal viable.” 

If you’ve read Lean Startup no doubt you realize the startup world is all about “minimal.” First and foremost, an entrepreneur thinks in terms of minimal viable product—that is to say, creating the simplest product that would effectively fulfill a core objective with no fluff and no muss. 

However, agencies think in terms of “big”: big ideas, big impact, big budgets and big campaigns. Trying to mix “lean” with “big” leads to frustration and disappointment. While the agency is thinking in terms of a Big Idea the startup, depending on the stage it is in, is often focusing on surviving till they get to the next stage. 

2. They don’t have skin in the game. 

The advertising industry has become deeply commoditized. It’s a time- and material-driven business. As an industry that gets paid for each hour it works, there isn’t a motivation to be efficient. I know, it’s hard for those of us in the business to hear, but the truth is the longer it takes us to complete tasks, the more money we make. I’m not saying we intentionally drag our feet, I’m just saying we are not highly motivated to do only what is absolutely needed. Because of that it’s in our nature to “go big.” We talk about the Big Ideas, campaigns and making a splash. We are taught how to grow an account, meaning convincing them to do more and more work. As a matter of fact, often account managers get a negative employee review if their accounts have not spent more this year than last. 

3. Their pace is inconsistent with startups. 

It’s not that agencies are slow. Agencies are designed to operate at the pace of a typical client. A typical client is an established company that is seeking to either move a current ad campaign forward or create a new one. If it takes a few months to go through a discovery and then a few more to move into a strategic process, their client will not cease to exist. However, to a pre-revenue startup, a few months could mean an end to the dream. 

4. Pivoting isn’t their strength. 

Agencies are process driven. They often use their process in a pitch as a differentiator. They train their staff in the process. They hire project or traffic managers to make sure the process is followed. But a pre-revenue startup is in constant flux, looking for the sweet spot that will ignite growth. This is an uncomfortable situation for an ad agency. 

So, what should a startup do? 

First, be intensely aware of the stage your startup is in. As a startup moves from pre-revenue to revenue to rapid scaling to sustained growth each of these phases requires differing levels of marketing support and should be approached appropriately. 

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Lesson's Learned

One of my favorite words is "vestigial." I find myself using it almost every day. My staff will often here me say of something that's leftover from previous efforts, "Oh, that's just vestigial." What I mean by that, If I'm using the word correctly, is it was relevant at one time but now it's not. 

I don't want to be dismissive of the past, but I think it's important to understand that it should be held onto like an egg. You don't want to grip it too tightly or the results are pretty messy. Conversely, if you grip it too loosely, you drop it and still have a mess to clean up. 

Last night, I started looking through old photos. Sure, I saw our dog when she was a pup, I saw friends I've lost touch with and I saw myself, 30 lbs. lighter. I realized, hey, maybe I should be a little more disciplined about my diet and activity leve. I'm not pining for the past but the past reminded me of a lesson I had learned. 

Brands have to do the same thing. Learn you lessons fast but move on. Occassionally get out the photo album and reflect but don't wallow. 

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Trust, It's Earned Not Given

I think there's a pervasive misunderstanding about trust. I've heard the question asked, "Do you trust me?" But, there's a far more important question to deal with, and that's, "What have you done to earn my trust?" Trust is not something that's given. It's something that earned. It's earned through clear, consistent action. It's critical to understand those three little words. So, over the next three posts, this one included, I will chat about each of them. Interestingly, at least to me, these concepts can apply to personal relationships as well as to the trust between a brand and its consumers, and that's what I will focus on.

Clarity

I may have said this before but I love something I heard about Ernest Hemingway. He said the greatest story he ever wrote was only 6 words long. 

For sale. Baby clothes. Never worn.

I love this for it's brevity. It seems to me that brevity is the key to clarity. When we are forced to strip away all the marketing stuff and simply talk like human beings, with few opportunities for bloviating, we get crystal clear about what we are trying to communicate. I think that's why Twitter has become such a compelling communication medium.

In the past, positioning statements have served to help us to focus our message and value proposition so that we could communicate effectively. However, the classic positioning statement has become longer and more complex over the years. For example, look at this one:

For existing Nuance customers, Nuance Recognizer v9 is the best-of-breed speech recognition software that drives higher business performance by dramatically increasing the efficiency of your self-service solutions.  By combining the natural conversational capabilities of OpenSpeech Recognizer with the administration and maintenance resources of the Nuance 8.5 engine, Nuance Recognizer v9 provides unparalleled levels of accuracy, reliability, and ease of use.

I still believe the classic structure of a positioning statement has value, but I would propose a key step before you get to the point of writing a positioning statement. That step is writing  a very, very short statement using normal human language, about what your brand stands for, what it means and what's important. Here's one approach.

The Brand Tweet

Here's the drill; write a 140 character description of what your brand stands for or what's important without using a single marketing term. Here are the words you must avoid: consumer, marketplace, cutting edge, equity, revolutionary, out-of-the-box, paradigm and any other terms you commonly hear in your conference rooms. For example a brand tweet from Volvo would look like this.

Volvo, a slightly pricey family car that offers the best safety possible.

That's 73 characters that states the brand, the price point, the category and a benefit. Yes, perhaps a classically structured positioning statement gives more information but notice there isn't a single marketing term or business buzz word in the statement above. It also reflects alot confidence. It says, "Yes, we know we are a little expensive, but there's a reason why." While this is an internal statement, it can become the starting point of real clarity in how you speak to your customers. 

Next time, I'll talk about consistency.

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