Friday, July 23, 2010

What if Corporate America Actually GOT Word of Mouth & Social Media Marketing?

Plus - a few thoughts about Mad Men, Apple and some other exploits

By Alan Brody

As co-sponsors of Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Supergenius event on July 21, I finally get a chance to weigh in on a number of issues that have been weighing on me for a while

Social Media is hot, most players are making very little money out of it but it does provide low cost advertising if you don’t mind doing the work and more importantly, reinventing who you are. That’s the part that gets me and it really showed up at the Word of Mouth summit because WOM is about the idea and not the medium, which is what Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all those social media are

The reason these media can be so annoying is because most people are using them poorly. It's as if the New York Times offered all comers free ads. The average person has nothing to say except "Hey I’m going to the beach and I love cotton candy.” Actual marketers go hey, we can do what we did for free and they find ways to spam you. Most realize they have to give something away, and so they organize games, offers and promotions – which is something they understand and that definitely works, but only for a while

Only the really smart understand they have to be something different That’s where the gurus kick in. Be lovable. Be outstanding. Be honorable. Be a cult. Be a linchpin and so on.

Now for the fun part. How many of these corporations could actually do that? How many popular products are remotely outstanding? Even if the conference attendees get it, imagine the conversation when they get back to the board room. You want us to what? We can get sued. We don’t want to talk to the consumers. We aren’t like that… B-school never trained us to give up control to the customer and so on

This leads me to Mad Men because, as a student in 50’s advertising research I can tell you that corporate America was similarly shook by a cultural shift when Madison Avenue was introduced to the unconscious It wound up with the kinds of odd interactions you see in Mad Men. Except there, the client just had to OK an ad and hold on. With WOM/Social Media, they actually have to change.

So here’s a quick breakdown of this cultural gap as evidenced with our Supergenius interactions

1.   Tony Hsieh and Zappos.  Use your customers as your advertising by indulging them – with the money you save on customer acquisition, you can afford to indulge them, thus attracting more customers True and Tony is an amazing exemplar of the CEO who lives and breathes his mission Hard to imagine BP following this (they should). One secret advantage about the shoe business – as my 50’s motivational researchers pointed out “To women don’t sell shoes, sell beautiful feet” In other words if you want to wrap your feet in a bargain you go to Payless but if you want to indulge your foot beauty fetish then the unique people at Zappos are there to oblige. And no one in their right mind asks their fetish master for a discount. Except Elliot Spitzer - and look what happened to him!

2.   Who really knows what they are doing? PR Exec talks about creating stories – that sell WOM is not just about telling stories – it's about telling stories that make you want to tell other people. That drives them toward an action that leads to becoming a customer of some kind. So my reasonable question is – you’re an agency, how do you test which story ideas will work. Answer: we don’t - if Henry Ford asked farmers they would have told him they wanted a faster horse. My answer is yes, and that horse is called a Mustang. Research is not the answer - it is guidance for your creativity.

      Gevalia reinvented itself in Social Media because its affiliate marketing program made it look like a spammer Many companies are probably viewing Social Media as a cheap ad or ethical spam machine. Gevalia did the right thing and got their customers in on the action – made them heroes, part of a club that even helped named their product. It also happens to be extraordinarily good, if expensive coffee. Now, could you imagine if Kraft or General Mills or Hormel went up that warm and fuzzy route. Wanna blog about Kraft American Cheese, PopTarts? Join their fan group. Read their labels?

4.   Culting of Brands.  Wiley was all over this conference with their Social Media Marketing Books so this is ground zero of who buys and arguably, reads these books. Flip the Funnel (spoil your existing customers and stop chasing for more and more prospects at their expense) or the Marketing Lessons of The Grateful Dead (acid sells!), Ignore Everyone Else and so on are read and paid attention to here. But imagine if you tried to turn Exxon into a cult. Or Chrysler. Or General Mills.

Steve Jobs and Apple come up a lot So here’s the memo: the word cult comes from the Latin “cultus deus” - the care and worship of gods. So unless you are willing to deal with life and death (most cult brands have come back from the dead, overcame some amazing obstacle or represent people who did - and don't forget the Grateful Dead) don’t waste your time. Settle for fickle fans. This way you go home at 5 and have the weekends with your families. PS there is no second coming for BP or Napster. But they can try.

5.   Be a linchpin.  Right – and get ready to lose your job. Companies hate irreplaceable people and if you are one, they will spend a lot of time thinking about how to replace you. Not only that, but you become a target for all the other company wannabes. Not that you shouldn’t strive for this but without the accompanying book on how to protect, conceal and generally keep the linchpin status in an unassailable spot, this is dangerous information. Ask Carolyn Kepcher, who looked too big for Donald Trump and so on. Usually, linchpins are hidden or look deceptively ordinary. And they definitely don’t give it away for art on the company’s dime. That would make them a lynch pin.

Look out for more on my Mad Men rant and advertising from the 50’s in my book and radio interviews on Cigarette Seduction (why does President Obama smoke Marlboro and why is he unlikely to quit until we exit Afghanistan) and other ideas you really hadn’t thought of lately

Next iBreakfast on July 28 – Exploding eBooks & iPad Market

If you are interested in the Word of Mouth/Social Media issue and how corporate America is really responding, tell us - and we'll have an iBreakfast.

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