April 04, 2008

Age of Conversation 2


Social_bum_rush_2


I know it's been a long time, but I haven't gone belly up. Just dark on the blog scene while I contemplate the utility of my pontifications.

No matter, I will be starting it back up slowly, but I wanted to get this up and going because I think it's important. If you haven't read the first Age of Conversation, do it. Buy it here.

We thought it was time to introduce you to the 275 (yes...275!) authors of Age of Conversation: Why Don't People Get It?

Adam Crowe, Adrian Ho, Aki Spicer, Alex Henault, Amy Jussel, Andrew Odom, Andy Nulman, Andy Sernovitz, Andy Whitlock, Angela Maiers, Ann Handley, Anna Farmery, Armando Alves, Arun Rajagopal, Asi Sharabi, Becky Carroll, Becky McCray, Bernie Scheffler, Bill Gammell, Bob Carlton, Bob LeDrew, Brad Shorr, Bradley Spitzer, Brandon Murphy, Branislav Peric, Brent Dixon, Brett Macfarlane, Brian Reich, C.C. Chapman, Cam Beck, Casper Willer, Cathleen Rittereiser, Cathryn Hrudicka, Cedric Giorgi, Charles Sipe, Chris Kieff, Chris Cree, Chris Wilson, Christina Kerley (CK), C.B. Whittemore, Clay Parker Jones, Chris Brown, Colin McKay, Connie Bensen, Connie Reece, Cord Silverstein, Corentin Monot, Craig Wilson, Daniel Honigman, Dan Goldstein, Dan Schawbel, Dana VanDen Heuvel, Dan Sitter, Daria Radota Rasmussen, Darren Herman, Darryl Patterson, Dave Davison, Dave Origano, David Armano, David Bausola, David Berkowitz, David Brazeal, David Koopmans, David Meerman Scott, David Petherick, David Reich, David Weinfeld, David Zinger, Deanna Gernert, Deborah Brown, Dennis Price, Derrick Kwa, Dino Demopoulos, Doug Haslam, Doug Meacham, Doug Mitchell, Douglas Hanna, Douglas Karr, Drew McLellan, Duane Brown, Dustin Jacobsen, Dylan Viner, Ed Brenegar, Ed Cotton, Efrain Mendicuti, Ellen Weber, Emily Reed, Eric Peterson, Eric Nehrlich, Ernie Mosteller, Faris Yakob, Fernanda Romano, Francis Anderson, G. Kofi Annan, Gareth Kay, Gary Cohen, Gaurav Mishra, Gavin Heaton, Geert Desager, George Jenkins, G.L. Hoffman, Gianandrea Facchini, Gordon Whitehead, Graham Hill, Greg Verdino, Gretel Going & Kathryn Fleming, Hillel Cooperman, Hugh Weber, J. Erik Potter, J.C. Hutchins, James Gordon-Macintosh, Jamey Shiels, Jasmin Tragas, Jason Oke, Jay Ehret, Jeanne Dininni, Jeff De Cagna, Jeff Gwynne, Jeff Noble, Jeff Wallace, Jennifer Warwick, Jenny Meade, Jeremy Fuksa, Jeremy Heilpern, Jeremy Middleton, Jeroen Verkroost, Jessica Hagy, Joanna Young, Joe Pulizzi, Joe Talbott, John Herrington, John Jantsch, John Moore, John Rosen, John Todor, Jon Burg, Jon Swanson, Jonathan Trenn, Jordan Behan, Julie Fleischer, Justin Flowers, Justin Foster, Karl Turley, Kate Trgovac, Katie Chatfield, Katie Konrath, Kenny Lauer, Keri Willenborg, Kevin Jessop, Kris Hoet, Krishna De, Kristin Gorski, Laura Fitton, Laurence Helene Borei, Lewis Green, Lois Kelly, Lori Magno, Louise Barnes-Johnston, Louise Mangan, Louise Manning, Luc Debaisieux, Marcus Brown, Mario Vellandi, Mark Blair, Mark Earls, Mark Goren, Mark Hancock, Mark Lewis, Mark McGuinness, Mark McSpadden, Matt Dickman, Matt J. McDonald, Matt Moore, Michael Hawkins, Michael Karnjanaprakorn, Michelle Lamar, Mike Arauz, Mike McAllen, Mike Sansone, Mitch Joel, Monica Wright, Nathan Gilliatt, Nathan Snell, Neil Perkin, Nettie Hartsock, Nick Rice, Oleksandr Skorokhod, Ozgur Alaz, Paul Chaney, Paul Hebert, Paul Isakson, Paul Marobella, Paul McEnany, Paul Tedesco, Paul Williams, Pet Campbell, Pete Deutschman, Peter Corbett, Phil Gerbyshak, Phil Lewis, Phil Soden, Piet Wulleman, Rachel Steiner, Sreeraj Menon, Reginald Adkins, Richard Huntington, Rishi Desai, Beeker Northam, Rob Mortimer, Robert Hruzek, Roberta Rosenberg, Robyn McMaster, Roger von Oech, Rohit Bhargava, Ron Shevlin, Ryan Barrett, Ryan Karpeles, Ryan Rasmussen, Sam Huleatt, Sandy Renshaw, Scott Goodson, Scott Monty, Scott Townsend, Scott White, Sean Howard, Sean Scott, Seni Thomas, Seth Gaffney, Shama Hyder, Sheila Scarborough, Sheryl Steadman, Simon Payn, Sonia Simone, Spike Jones, Stanley Johnson, Stephen Collins, Stephen Cribbett, Stephen Landau, Stephen Smith, Steve Bannister, Steve Hardy, Steve Portigal, Steve Roesler, Steven Verbruggen, Steve Woodruff, Sue Edworthy, Susan Bird, Susan Gunelius, Susan Heywood, Tammy Lenski, Terrell Meek, Thomas Clifford, Thomas Knoll, Tiffany Kenyon, Tim Brunelle, Tim Buesing, Tim Connor, Tim Jackson, Tim Longhurst, Tim Mannveille, Tim Tyler, Timothy Johnson, Tinu Abayomi-Paul, Toby Bloomberg, Todd Andrlik, Troy Rutter, Troy Worman, Uwe Hook, Valeria Maltoni, Vandana Ahuja, Vanessa DiMauro, Veronique Rabuteau, Wayne Buckhanan, William Azaroff, Yves Van Landeghem

Behold....the authors of Age of Conversation: Why Don't People Get It?

October 23, 2007

Positive Illusions

I have a friend who has an excessively deep passion for BMWs. There is just something about a BMW – over any other car that drives him (pun intended), and I don’t understand it. In fact, to me his passion seems inflated to the point of distortion – where he believes a BMW’s performance is far beyond its true ability. Is this bad?

There is an interesting phenomenon in close relationships called “positive illusions,” which is generally defined as an individual having an idealistic distortion about their relationship and/or partner. In other words, someone might report that (1) their relationship is actually in better shape than it truly is, and/or (2) that they have inflated positive views of their partner. For example, in marriage, most people report their relationship as better than average, and their partner as better than the average partner. Individuals also underestimate their chances of divorce, compared to the population divorce likelihood (contact us for references).

Are these positive illusions in relationships misleading – guiding individuals down the wrong relationship path? Not always. In fact, these illusions can be adaptive and often serve a relational maintenance function. By thinking that your relationship and/or partner is better than it actually is, you are more likely to invest more in the relationship, stay committed, report being satisfied, and engage in pro-relationship behaviors – this all in turn can influence your partner to respond in kind. Things are best when both members in the relationship experience positive illusions – where they each feel they got a great deal.Bmw_obsession_3

So let’s get back to this BMW passion – is it unfounded and unhealthy? Not necessarily. My friend’s positive illusions about BMW help him deepen his commitment in a relationship that he deems important. Additionally, if BMW experiences positive illusions about my friend and their relationship, BMW will likely engage in pro-relationship behaviors (e.g., maybe a periodic call to check in with him), which will in turn make my friend feel more satisfied with and committed to the relationship.

On the other hand, my friend’s passion becomes unhealthy when it is placed on a relationship and friend that fails to reciprocate, and does not share similar feelings. In this case, my friend will ultimately realize that he doesn’t get what he thought he did in his relationship with BMW, and he will begin shopping elsewhere.

So what’s the punch line? Companies and brands need to think relationally. For example, companies run a great danger when they overly focus their attention on expansion, growth, and new business. By doing this, they can fail to recognize the already existing, and potentially mutually beneficial positive illusions experienced by current partners, and they run the risk of losing those relationships. BMW must embrace my friend’s idealistic distortion and make it a reality. This requires BMW and other companies to know their partners and friends – to understand their thoughts and feelings. This requires communication, contact, and shared intimacy. By companies doing this, they themselves will develop mutually beneficial positive illusions. And with this, both company and partner can dodge that oh-so threatening divorce rate, and live happily ever after.

by Michael Reiter

October 16, 2007

Quantifying Creative

Is this how your focus groups go?

A group of creatives over at Arnold were sick of their focus groups ending like this so they took one of the more legendary spots ever produced and sent it back through the system. Ed Cotton over at Influx Insights traded a few e-mails with the guys behind the video to understand what drove them to this point.  It's something, I believe, creative industries will always struggle with; the need to quantify creative products. Some clients simply want to cover their asses should something go wrong while others are looking to reassure themselves and ensure sales.  But this isn't the role of focus groups, nor has it ever been!  While I must admit, I've never been a huge proponent of research, through my years in the ad world have come to understand the value of well-planned qualitative.  Here's just a few quick thoughts;

1. Negativity isn't Bad: Brandon wrote a little while ago about belief driven marketing which is what good advertising should be. If you're going to stand for something, some people aren't going to like it.  The think about strong beliefs is sometimes they're polarizing.  It means you have a backbone.  That's a good thing.

2. They're not Referees: Don't treat people in focus groups like creative referees.  Set up a group as a space for them to judge creative work and that's the role they'll fulfill. See them as friends trying to understand the relationship better puts them in a different place.

3. Understand the Relationship: Which brings us to the last point.  Use groups to understand relationships people share with brands. Think of them as a therapy session perhaps.  Google clinical psychology theories and you'll be surprised by how much of what you find is applicable to marketing research.

 

October 15, 2007

Bring the Love Back featuring "The Couple"

Sent to me by a Smith Wyckoff at 22squared, this falls into the category, "I wish I'd have done that!"   And it's certainly  certainly caught the agency world's attention garnering 120,000 views and more than 60,000 visits to its blog.  It's a viral promotion video for Mircrosoft Digital Advertising Solutions.  The amazing  video is that so plainly points out everything that's wrong with the advertising industry but gives a simple solution to the problem.  We have a simple philosophy on this blog and at the agency I work at...Market brands the way people make and maintain meaningful friendships.  That means using marketing communications as a way to be a friend to the consumer, so they'll in turn, see you as more of a friend then a sleazy date trying to con your way into their lives.  One very simple way for agencies and marketers alike to start adopting this habit is to treat every communication the way the video so eloquently does, like a conversation between friends. Nicely done Geert.

by Brandon Murphy

October 10, 2007

Exploitative vs. Exporatory Innovation: Is there a balance to be struck?

Balance_of_innovation


A recent AdAge article by Barry Curewitz called want_products_that_get_noticed_change_the_process got me thinking.  Besides discussing a rather obvious piece of research concluding that marketers are reluctant to invest in true innovation, he discussed the difference of exploitative innovation and exploratory innovation.  Exploitative innovation is about launching me too products to take advantage of an already exposed need.  Exploratory innovation is about uncovering an unmet need, developing new platforms, changing the game, offering new solutions and creating value in the customers life.  His big point is that most organizations aren't willing to make the financial investment necessary in exploratory innovation, because there is a longer-term payoff with few guarantees. 

I agree with his assessment that the six sigma culture is crushing the creative instincts of companies.  And as Martin Calle observes, CPG's have no exploratory innovation in them because the quant jocks who rule the companies cannot "measure success into existence."  Marin also makes an interesting point about insecure executives not wanting to allow other up and coming executives to innovate a better way of doing things.  It seems that many companies today aren't willing to make the sacrifice to truly innovate, and that the culture of fast returns, efficient management, corporate inertia and easy money are the main drivers of this lack of creativity.

Plenitude_2 Sadly enough, you can see the same dynamics at play in an industry that supposedly exists to sell its creativity.  The ad industry is full of big agencies, beholden to the P&L's of even bigger holding companies, who cannot find ways to help brands connect with people because they're so busy making advertising.  So the problem is epidemic, and the fallout is what Rich Gold refers to as "The Plenitude."  In his book, the late Mr. Gold outlines the problem of too much crap that ads absolutely no value to our lives.  As an innovator, he provides philosophical solutions to the excess of insignificant things ending it with a quote that should ring true to us all, "We should be careful to make the world we actually want to live in."

In his article, Barry Curewitz suggests that the responsible choice for marketers to make is to strike a balance between exploitation and exploration; to balance short term gain with long-term potential.  Considering the very real business and cultural barriers to exploratory innovation, I don't think this approach will ever really work.  Exploratory innovation has to be something the company does, breathes and lives.  Companies like Apple, Google and Method are innovating to change the way things work.  They operate on principle.  A principle that says there is a better way to do things that are both better for the customer and more profitable for me in the long run.

Companies who run on principle are the ones who are most equipped to innovate.  Similarly, companies who believe that they should be adding real value to the lives of customers are the ones best equipped to actually do so.  I believe that marketers should be adding value to people's lives through their communications.  To do that takes innovation, the exploratory kind.

By Brandon Murphy

October 02, 2007

The value of Word of Mouth, and how to create it

Hbr_wom_2


I read an article in the October issue of HBR entitled “How Valuable is Word of Mouth?” and found it worth commenting on. 

Download R0710Jp2.pdf

I admittedly looked at the mathematical formulas within the exhibits and felt like the dumbest person on earth (sometimes it doesn’t take much). 

Through a regimented CRM test, they illustrated the value and importance of creating champions for brands.  They do an amazing job of quantifying the value of referrals and making the case that marketers should be looking for ways to create “brand champions” because the most efficient driver of revenue and profit comes people recommending brands to people.

They advocate using the “Customer Referral Value” (CRV) over “Customer Lifetime Value” (CLV) to determine whom to target with marketing messages and incentives.  It’s an approach that Fred Riechfeld lays out in his book “The Ultimate Question” where he advocates that the most valuable customer isn’t the one who buys the most, but the one who is the most influential on other potential customers.

But this rigorous quantitative analysis suggests a detrimental approach to creating brand champions.  It is my hope that marketers don’t read this and think that all they have to do is formulaically pay-off customers to recommend their brand.  While it may work in the short-term, it’s not a good practice for building advocacy, nor is it sustainable.  While I respect the CRM approach to targeting people that could become brand champions, we can’t take this micro-test that was done in a vacuum and apply it to how we market brands are a larger scale, like the article suggests.

Here’s 3 reasons why:

Nationalists

The most valuable brand champions aren’t purchased by discounts and incentives.  They aren’t “mercenaries” paid to do battle in the marketplace.  They are emotionally committed and motivated “nationalists” who believe in the brand they are promoting.  They have a relationship with it that is the basis for their advocacy.

Earned


The only way to create brand champions in a sustainable way is to EARN their advocacy.  And by this, I don’t mean buy it; I mean earn it by acting more like a friend then a salesperson.  By offering them incremental value, giving them something to believe in, inspiring them, helping them and being as committed to them as they are to you.

Buying_advocacy

Buying advocacy is not sustainable. Training customers to act when paid is a dangerous business.  It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where customers only act when paid to act instead of acting on their own set of convictions and beliefs about a brand.

Don’t get me wrong, I applaud both the premise of the article and the way they measured CRV.  The premise of targeting people who have the greatest potential to be brand champions is right on.  In fact, it’s the same underlying premise about my earlier post “flipping the funnel upside down.” But I’m a practitioner with a POV grounded in both experience and research on the relationships between people and brands.

There are two, smaller things I also would challenge the authors to think about:

1) The value of a brand champion isn’t just in their direct referrals.  Much of their value is in their influence and positive presence in amidst the marketplace of perspective customers.  Word of Mouth is the most trusted source of marketing.  And with social media as an outlet, brand champions are given a much larger, more influential voice that creates a string of impressions that far surpasses that of advertising and direct marketing.  So it would be ideal to factor into the CRV, the voice a champion has in the marketplace.

2) Emotional attachment and commitment to brands are not the privilege of high-involvement categories as this article suggests.  While the relationships are different, emotional attachment and brand champions can be found within almost any category.   So while the article was based on the telecommunications and the financial category, I would suggest that the results would be similar for low involvement categories as well.

At 22squared, we fielded a research project designed to look at brand relationships across 22 different categories.  We included a) the number of strong and committed relationships a brand has with it’s customer base, b) the number of promoters a brand has among it’s customer base and c) the ability of the brand to maintain a strong relationship with its customers without letting it stagnate or terminate.  We call it the Friendship Factor.  When ranking the 128 brands we studied, both low involvement CPG brands and high involvement brands (automobiles and retail) were in the top 20 and were evenly distributed through the rest of the list.

My perspective in a nutshell:
Word of mouth is the most valuable way to market a brand.  The goal of marketing should be to create brand champions.  The best way to do that is for marketers to befriend consumers.


By Brandon Murphy

September 28, 2007

Comcast Inside-Out

So the Comcast Jihad continues and it appears to even be picking up a bit of momentum as we're seeing employees begin to speak out about the company's deplorable behavior. The rants are escalating and perhaps there's even a chance Comcast will be forced to respond. With employees starting to speak out they're entering into a new world of hurt.  But they can choose to respond differently. Here's what I think their options are;

Scared Friend: Do what they've been doing, ignore it and hope it will go away. Probably the most annoying type of friend in the long term because nobody knows what they actually believe and instead of confronting the issue it'll simply fester.

Bad Friend: They could, and I suspect this is what they might do, just be a bad friend that decides to plead not-guilty. Working with a big-old PR firm (who is probably still telling them that any PR is good PR), they'll construct a meaningless public response with poor explanations and empty promises to "look into" and "find solutions" for these problems.

Bad Friend making an Effort:Maybe, just maybe, Comcast will decide to man up and stick their toe in the shallow end. Perhaps they'll show some transparency and acknowledge what they've done wrong while subsequently make an effort to spend time with people and taking some baby steps in the right direction.

If Comcast decides to dip a toe in, they need to start from the inside out.  Friendship isn't a shallow external thing and to create (and recreate) relationships with people they're going to have to start from the center.  To start building friendships they can't just craft new communications, they have to truly look within.

Comcastcircles_3

First and foremost it starts with believing in something. Before Comcast can begin to truly befriend people, they have to figure out who they are and what they wish to offer. Brandon wrote a post a few days ago about belief driven decision making in which he discusses how important it is for a companies to put a stake in the ground. I'm not sure what Comcast believes and I'm not sure they know what they believe. Do they believe in entertainment or is it communication or maybe even community? Ultimately, until they can throw a stake in the ground they'll never be able to move concentrically outward, developing each other element of the friendship.


Employees
are the next step.  Once you've got a belief, you have to get employees believing.  This post is so traumatic not because of what it reveals (I don't think any of us expected there was a grave amount of information sharing and we all suspected they were handling business in these sort of fashions) but because there are now dozens of employees adding their two cents. Employees should be ambassadors and need to embody company beliefs because they're the humans actually building the friendship.


Product
is a vital piece of the friendship. It's the day-to-day interaction and something Comcast doesn't seem too interested in.  If, lets say, Comcast were to believe in giving people control they might want to spend a little effort on a better DVR. If you search Comcast over the past few months, some of the most positive commentary surrounding them is the rumored relationship with TiVo. It appears that has fallen apart. They need to pull things like that back together, develop a more user-friendly remote, easier installation processes, easier recording, better functionality.  Friends have to continually deliver and evolve, not establish and stagnate.

Experience goes hand in hand with the employees and product. As a friend, Comcast needs to find a more connected experience. This employee indicates that divisions of the company that would seemingly be operating hand in hand can't connect over anything but e-mail. Can you imagine a group of friends who used different mediums to connect with each other...lets go grab a drink, but I'm going to be on the phone with my buddy Jim who's going to conference in with Sally through e-mail. It doesn't make sense.  Conversations should be fluid, employees should be friends and make people feel like they're part of the loop.

Lastly we come to Communications & Advertising. I commend Goodby on the work they've done by creating compelling creative without any sort of belief system coming from their client. The communications works really well to create a more attractive brand, but unfortunately doesn't extend beyond that.  There's little consistency between the creative and the experience, it is a disconnect and more importantly none of the inner-circles reinforce it.  The employees clearly aren't "Comcastic" neither is the experience or the service.

Comcastic is a great creative concept, but Comcast still needs to figure out what being Comcastic means. What is a "Comcastic" friend?  What is a "Comcastic" employee?

September 25, 2007

Stop Calling Me A Consumer

680076065_aacdb2d0fa_o In a stroke of genius, Adam Crowe developed a script for FireFox that eliminates the "cword" and replaces it with people/person.  NIcely done.  He also has a network on Facebook dedicated to the cause.  Now we just have to start treating them as people and change our approach to communicating with them.  It's right in line with our philosophy here at cword.org.  First we admit that they are really people, then we start to befriend them.  It's the new purpose of marketing.

by Brandon Murphy

September 21, 2007

Being more than an "acquaintance brand"

Last week Mike Reiter (our social psychologist friend), talked about the importance of maintaining a relationship.  He pointed out that marketers tend to act in a self-centered way, communicating only when they want something or when something goes wrong.  That's typical behavior, but its behavior that must change to be successful today.  The purpose of this blog is to have open discussion about strategies, ideas and ways to befriend consumers, because thats what we believe will make brands successful.  Bob Garfield recently spoke at an event in London about how advertising agencies need to change.  I'm paraphrasing, but he says that agencies need to re-frame what they do from creating advertising to connecting brands to consumers.

I completely agree with him, and to connect brands to consumers, brands have to start acting more like friends and less like slick marketers or stalkers.  So how can they do it?  What can they do in that period between attraction and alienation that can create a meaningful connection.  Here's a few rules of thumb:

1. Expand your role in their life: First, you have to understand what role the brand does play in a customer's life.  That's an entirely different post, one that I'll get to soon.  But the point here is to expand your involvement in their life in a positive way.  A way that benefits them.
2. Be an inspiration to them: It's true that people want brands that reflect their lifestyle, worldview and personal values.  But nurturing a friendship goes beyond reflection.  Brands have to add a dimension to a person's life that they don't have without the brand.  They have to motivate them to be better or different in a way that makes people feel better about themselves.
3. Provide more than just an exchange: The goal of befriending consumers is to create advocates, people who feel as if they own the brand and will actively evangelize it to others.  To do that, brands have to move beyond an exchange based relationship into a commitment based relationship.  The customer has to feel like it's getting more than just the product or service that they're paying for.  They have to feel like they're getting value above and beyond their purchase.
4. Establish a routine dialog: Perhaps the biggest key to maintaining and deepening friendships with consumers is to establish wanted, routine communication.  That doesn't mean stalking them with sales messages.  It means bringing something of value to the table with communications and letting them provide feedback or engage you in a conversation.

A great example of this is TESCO, a supermarket chain based in Great Britain.  It's diet program is a perfect example of engaging the consumer with helpful and inspiring content on an ongoing basis. Take the tour.  It solicits conversation with the customer and  offers value to them above and beyond buying groceries.  While you pay a small fee to belong, it's probably one of the brightest ways I've seen a grocery store create an ongoing dialog with a customer outside of the store.

A bad example is amazon.com.  It's not that I have anything against the TWINSUMER trend and collaborative filtering, but Amazon is a stalker.  They email frequently hocking products without bringing you any incremental value.

Bottom line: brands have to be proactive about finding ways to intensify friendships with consumers and further integrate themselves into their lives in meaningful ways.  Sometimes that means product innovation, but many times, it means offering value and inspiration through communications.

by Brandon Murphy

September 16, 2007

Comcast Intervention

Nobody likes them. They're the company we love to hate...they just make it so easy. Yet maybe that's an issue; we've all been complaining about Comcast for so long, but has anybody tried to help them?  Ultimately, if we all band together, declare corporate jihad, and sink the company doesn't somebody else just as bad come along?  Take a second and acknowledge, as hard as it may be, that you've had some good times with Comcast -- when it's working, the content they deliver is great and you've probably spent quite a bit of time enjoying it, the internet is fast enough to let us all get online and complain about them. Now don't get me wrong, i'm not defending them, I've had as many issues with them as the next customer but I think there may be another way for all of us to approach it. I think the question it comes down to is this;

Personally, we over at the Cword think what they need is an intervention.  Instead of trying to kill the brand, perhaps we can use the newfound collective consumer power to resurrect it. Comcast is an brand addicted to bad habits and desperately in need of an intervention. They need a collective mass not to try and bring them down, but to help them figure out where they've gone wrong and how it can be corrected. Remember, the relationships we share with brands are a two-way street and perhaps it is time that we band together to help Comcast elevate above a utility and become the service provider they could be. We'll be updating this space over the next few days as we develop a Comcast Intervention site and challenge anybody out there who would like to find solutions to get involved.

Comcast, this is also an open invitation to you to get involved. We're sure there are enough people out there with great suggestions and ways to help you become less of an antagonist, but you've got to embrace it. If you're reading this, get in touch and get involved.

Relational Maintenance

Much talk goes on about how brands can attract new business, or how to “save” brands when things go wrong. In truth, these are real concerns. But what do we do when things go well? Do we stick to the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” Perhaps, but in a relationship both parties must actively behave in ways to maintain the relationship. Relationship scientists have termed this behavior “relational maintenance,” which is broadly defined as individuals keeping a relationship in existence and maintaining the relationship’s current state or condition (see Dindia & Emmers-Sommer, 2006).

Identified strategies to maintain relationships include: “positivity” – having pleasant and cheerful interactions; “openness” – direct, open communication; “assurances” – implicitly and explicitly reassuring the other about the future of the relationship; and, “sharing tasks” – shockingly, this refers to actually doing things together. Again, we know from 16 years of relational maintenance research that these behaviors are ingredients for healthy, lasting relationships.

Relational_maintenance_strategies

So why don’t companies use a “relational maintenance” framework? Imagine an organization where the focus was to ensure positivity with people in all interactions, from the store, to the phone, to advertising. Imagine the organization whose priority it was to assure individuals of their lasting relationship – e.g., that they would not unexpectedly go “belly up.” This company would also be open and forthright in communication, and will actually figure out ways to spend quality time with people.

If an organization made decisions using relational a maintenance framework to guide behavior, their relationships would be life-long relationships. I also propose that companies actually TELL people that this is their framework (openness). Doing things in a relationship that you think will help the relationship works a lot better when both parties are aware of why each is acting a certain way.

The fact is that relational maintenance does not just keep the relationship from “going south,” but it actually helps deepen one another’s commitment to the relationship. Companies that lose business do so by making poor choices, but they also do so by not actively maintaining those relationships that are already good.

By Michael Reiter

September 12, 2007

Applying Pressure

Hsbc009


There's nothing new about rant sites.  Sites where people who have been wronged by specific companies, and/or vehemently disagree with the behaviour of the company, rant and rave about how much they hate them.  Just google the name of the company + sucks.com and you'll find them.  Here are two:
ihateverizon.com
http://youtube.com/comcastsucks

I've rarely seen any of these actually work up until now.  A group of college students banded together on Facebook in London to persuade a HSBC bank to reinstate a benefit they were eliminating.  The power of the mob rises up and a business not only listened they acted.  Kudos to HSBC for acting.  Many businesses would have resorted to a PR tactic to avert the negative press and preserve the cost savings of the action.  Instead, HSBC recognized the danger of broken relationships and chose to take corrective action to preserve it.

Here's the story:  http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6970570.stm

by Brandon Murphy

September 11, 2007

K-I-S-S vs. Complexity

As an Account Planner, I've always been schooled to "boil it down to the simple essence."  Because brands should stake out their turf and defend it, right? Because creativity begins with a single-minded proposition, right?  And because consumers like it simple. 

The K-I-S-S principle (Keep it Simple Stupid) is a substantial part of our culture, including marketing.  Just to show you, there are 34,911 books associated with the term "keeping it simple" on amazon.com.  Sorry for the Kama Sutra book on the front page...who knew?  And before the Internet revolution, marketing was pretty simple.  It was really easy to reach a hundred million people with a sales message...expensive too.

Enter web 2.0, the empowered consumer, the abundance of good products, the fragmentation of consumer interests, the proliferation of content and the scary influence of social media.  Now, the message is "embrace complexity." 

So which is it?  Simplicity is key, but complexity is reality.

Albert Einstein suggests: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler."

You know, that guy is pretty smart.  Doubt if he had any intention of effecting how we look at marketing brands, but then again, he had little intention of effecting half of the things he indeed did.  As marketers, we have to embrace complexity, but keep it simple because that's how people are naturally behaving.  Consider my kindergarten-looking chart below:

Scan002_3


I know it's complicated (ha) so I'll walk you through it...

1. BRAND:  Simplicity in thought and purpose is and will continue to be really important.

Here at the CWORD we believe the goal of marketing is befriending consumers.  Ever try to befriend someone you really can't put your finger on? Someone who's complex, confusing and downright difficult to understand?  Well, it works the same way when brands try to befriend consumers.  Brands have to be clear and simple about who they are, who they serve, what they do and what they believe.  Great brands are simple in purpose and meaning: they solve a specific problem or meet a specific need and they have a point of view that people can buy into. 

2. PEOPLE:  Embracing complexity, fueling conversation and letting go are the new credos of marketing

Marketing today = more.  More distinct people groups, more conversation and dialog, more technology, more avenues of communication and more experimentation.  The one thing there is less of is control.  This is where marketers have to embrace messiness and put their brand into the hands of their friends and advocates.  Gareth Kay, a planner for which I have much respect and admiration for, does a masterful job at giving inspiration to those who need to embrace the complexity. His advice is "do lots of stuff, learn, and do lots more stuff" and "create brand energy." 

This advice reflects natural human decision making called "herd behavior", which is fueled by the explosion of social media and web 2.0.  Mark Earls reviews our natural tendencies to not make decisions in a vacuum, but to get the advice, perspective and approval of our respective social groups.

Many marketers look at this complexity and short circuit.  Here's the thing, you don't manage it, you participate in it.  Great brands become one of the people in the conversation, putting all of their intuitive knowledge to work when it comes to talking WITH people and befriending them.  A great example is a recent post from Greg Verdino on Saturn.

3. CUSTOMER:  In the end, it has to be simple for the individual

Despite embracing the complexity of marketing in today's fragmented/conversational environment, brands must produce a simple and compelling advantage to the individual.  Simple to understand, to experience, to buy, to relate with, to feel, to integrate into your life and to talk about with others.  If the product experience is complex, if the buying experience is complicated or if the brand produces a diluted/convoluted feeling, then it will likely be cast aside for one of the many other options available to the customer.

So, branding and befriending consumers today means keeping it simple at certain times while embracing complexity at other times.

by Brandon Murphy

UPDATE:  Check out this post by Russell Davies.  His seventh point addresses the tension of simplicity and complexity head on.

 

September 10, 2007

The Business of Human Nature

OK, so we believe in, ‘marketing brands the way you make friends‘. Seems like a big ‘Duh!‘ right? So why do so many companies (including my beloved Apple) screw it up so badly? Why do they need people like us to come in and provide ideas to deepen the relationships they have with their customers? I guess the reason is the same one that explains why the self help business is over 10 billion/year. As human beings, we often resort to immediate gratification; we fall back on bad habits, we start having that one extra glass of wine and before you know it the 10 pounds are back on, or in the case of brands, customer satisfaction levels begin to decline and brand affinity begins to erode. It’s not rocket science, in fact it’s quite predictable and has been forever. The fact that business‘ feet are now being held to the fire, requiring they be far more transparent and accountable, doesn't change the facts.
You are in a relationship!

If you treat the person who‘s shelling out their money well, they will tell their friends and your business will grow. If you take them for granted, they will eventually leave you (unless they are in a forced relationship which always leads to a real healthy dynamic).

There are no shortcuts. The_secret_copy
There are no exceptions.

But why, in the business of branding, are those that do it the exception? Southwest Airlines has a myriad of books written about its culture and the loyalty that results. And while I wish they would take that culture and integrate it more into their other points of contact, ultimately, they get it…from the inside out. They leveraged the relationships at every level of their company so that they are naturally doing the right thing.

No magic elixir
No secret pill.

It’s just eating less and exercising more—no easy way out.
Companies have to fundamentally make the decision that it‘s in their best interest to keep doing right by their customers and the money will come, not the other way around. And until they decide to embrace that lifestyle, no amount of self-help reading will be of any consequence.

By Karen Evans

   

September 07, 2007

Earning Forgiveness (and Brand of the Week)

Two of the hardest words for any person or brand to say are "I'm sorry" especially when they're genuine.  Even more difficult is demonstrating those two words.  I don't think there's anybody out there who would disagree that Apple has established itself as a great friend to a great many people, which is why their little iPhone price drop came as such a surprise.

Does it shock you when you sign up for a cable/internet package and get a mailer two weeks later with a promotion offering your services for half the price, which of course is only available to new customers. Sure it makes you angry, but then again you've come to expect it.Appleapology

Out of the 128 brands we just researched, Apple finds itself squarely within the top 10 most valued friends and showed us why yesterday. Good friends aren't infallible, but they always know how to earn the right to be forgiven. This open letter from Steve Jobs to the entire Apple community (we've found around the offices here that non-iPhone owning Apple lovers felt betrayed by the act) is transparent, honest, and genuinely apologetic.  Unlike Mattel's recent snafu, it doesn't simply ask for forgiveness but offers a (rather costly) gesture.

Apple friends everywhere are now proudly saying "Apple is great.  They make the world a better place, now if only every company cared for its customers like this..." Yes, that's an actual quote, and there's many more like it out there   This week Apple showed us why it is so important for good friends to know how to earn forgiveness.

September 06, 2007

Surrounding vs. Stalking

During my time in the ad-business I've seen a pretty rapid onslaught of connections/engagement/contact planning. So too has a new vernacular developed over the past couple years, and I imagine at this point it is rare to go through a communications briefing without some sort of conversation about how to "surround the consumer."  In its essence, surrounding the consumer was borne of intelligent thinking on how to better reach people and deliver a message.  But all too often now it ends up looking something like this:

Untitled001_2

Sure in our heads it's a happy person because we're connecting with them in exciting new ways with an 'integrated campaign' but to a lot of people it might actually feel more like this:

Untitled002_2

That's right. Lets even assume the creative execution is fantastic. No matter how great a friend is, there's a limit to when and where you interact with them. At some point you cross the line from "surrounding" and plow right on through to "stalking."  Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for integration of mediums, but reaching somebody on their TV, phone, e-mail, newspaper, magazine, websites, and so on can get a bit overwhelming for people.  None of us like it when we're on the receiving end.  Unless we're gravely concerned about them, when we've got something new to tell a friend we don't call, e-mail, send a postcard, and then call again.  We choose the most appropriate route based on our individual relationship with them, how close we are and what we know they're comfortable with.  Viewing ourselves as friends, here are a few things to think about when developing a connection/engagement/contact plan;

Ask Them: So few companies do this and when they do it is usually under the guise of "would you like exciting new updates about our products..." Use accounts online, physical experiences, somewhere they're already engaging and simply ask them how they'd like you to get in touch with them.  I think you'd be surprised what some people say, especially if you've established a bit of trust with them in the past.  If they say "NO" to certain (or all mediums) that's okay, you've just saved yourself money on a piece of communication that was otherwise useless.  It also doesn't mean you can't leave communications available for them to PULL DOWN if they hear about something they're interested in, just don't push it, if they don't want it.

Look at their real friendships: Different psychographics will gravitate towards different types of communications vehicles. The best thing you can do is look at where they're most comfortable reaching out to their flesh 'n blood friends. Understand which groups of people are most comfortable using IMs, E-mail and which ones use the phone.  That's not to say you have to mimic a flesh friendship, but use it to inform and understand the mindset they're in when receiving communications in different channels.

Exercise Restraint: This is a tough one, but it has to happen. It can start out as pestering, but end up losing you credibility and trust in the end.  If at first you don't succeed, don't try and and try again. If people aren't responding to certain mediums let it go, for now.

It's all 1 Brand: Remember that no matter how different the content or messaging is people will connect it all back to the brand that's delivering it -- that can be a good thing if executed with restraint and insight, but can also land you in the stalker camp if you're not careful. Even if you've got totally different content in 8 different places with the same underlying message (so it's a brilliant integrated campaign) people could end up feeling stalked by one brand in 8 places.

TV is OK: We've heard this argument a few times; "My friends aren't on TV so this thinking totally casts TV aside. TV doesn't build relationships." Your friends probably also aren't multi-national multi-billion dollar companies (if they are, have them give me a call). TV still plays an important role in many cases here, and when used right it can serve to begin and even deepen friendships. Friends entertain each other and TV can certainly fill that role.  Additionally, TV is a dramatically underutilized medium when it comes to deepening relationships and sharing a worldview (one of our key tenets of friendship); the most recent "i'm a Mac, i'm a PC" ads did so brilliantly.  Generally eschewing the need to visualize product, they developed a message that truly connected, with a wink and a nod, to Apple fan-boys everywhere.  Then there's this (thanks to Ed Cotton over at Influx Insights for the initial find);

Quality Time & Value: Which brings us to the last bit (and two more of our key tenets for building friendship).  Spending quality time with people and delivering something of value.  This Cadbury's piece is completely random, but that's what makes it great. It lets people take a little bit of time out of their day to have a laugh with Cadbury's, a bit of quality time. Any, and every, piece of communication should be working with the other to create a sense of quality time and deliver something of value.  It isn't enough to utilize one medium as a value driver and everything else to support that, they all have to work in tandem to provide true value, one can be entertainment another product.


Integration and contact-planning are fantastic, but it's become really easy to end up using them to talk to ourselves and sell in 'bitchin ideas.'

Make sense?  Think i'm nuts?  Other thoughts on contact planning?

-Evan

Whoops? Was that dishonest?

Anyone heard of Marie Digby?  You know, the underdog singer who was discovered on youtube?  If you have, you're not the only one.  Trouble is, she's not that much of an underdog and "we" didn't really discover her, she was promoted.  Who cares right?

Well, I think people care.  Check out this article in WSJ uncovering the misleading tactics of Ms. Digby and her record label Hollywood Records.  Ms. Digby is a new, up and coming artist.  She recorded some simple videos, just her and her acoustic guitar, on youtube and became a big hit. 

Suddenly, she was interviewing at a Los Angeles radio station, her song "umbrella" is available on itunes and she appears on the Carson Daly show.  All parties were singing the same tune...that a 19 year old girl who liked to sing and could play the guitar was discovered on youtube and is now a big success.

She made many fans, and I'm thinking many of those fans probably felt like they knew her because they had a hand in discovering her.  Here's the problem.  Hollywood records signed her 18 months earlier, and this was a brilliant and elaborate plan to promote the young artist.  Carson Daly booked her appearance through the record label as did the LA radio stations.  The song on itunes was a professionally recorded studio version.  And her youtube videos were recorded on the computer Hollywood records supplied to Marie with some instructions.

Aptly put by Ben McConnell at churchoftheconsumer, "Young singer-songwriter Marie Digby is, after all, a real person but launching a promising career (or product, or company) with such careless consideration for authenticity demonstrates remarkably poor judgment about the nature of word of mouth."

In the end, will she fail?  Perhaps not.  But I do think many people will feel duped, and that's the worst feeling ever.  A couple of lessons that marketers need to learn as they use social media to promote brands.

1) Transparency and honesty are the cornerstones of befriending consumers.  If you expect people to spread the word about your brand via social media, you have to be honest with them.  Remember, they're acting as your advocates.

2) Don't mess with the great American archetype of rooting for the underdog.  Even though we are a world power, this nation was built on being an underdog.  We root for underdogs.  Love stories about underdogs and fancy ourselves as such.  Ms. Digby positioned herself as an underdog with enthusiasm.  And while she may be in some respects, she is playing with a powerful sentiment in America....remember lonelygirl15?

3) Social media offers the power of discovery.  For people to feel like they have ownership in something.  That's a powerful thing.  But it has to be done on an honest platform or people will feel betrayed.

4) You don't own social media.  It's not a place to manipulate people.  And unlike a television commercial where you can slickly position something and influence people's perceptions, social media has significant recourse.  As quickly as you use people to market your brand, they can turn around and do the opposite if they feel betrayed.

Will Ms. Digby succeed?  Maybe.  She does have a lot of support behind her.  But there are a lot of people with egg on their faces.  And it's likely that they won't apologize or even act like they did anything wrong.  So we'll see, right?

Here's Marie Digby's youtube site http://youtube.com/user/MarieDigby.  She's actually pretty good.

by Brandon Murphy

September 04, 2007

Dysthymic Brands & Expert Intro

As part of our philosophy that companies should be marketing the way people make friends, we have built a strong connection to the world of psychology. Mike Reiter is one of our closest psychological experts that has been helping us build our thinking while keeping it grounded in the tenets of friendship. Fairly regularly Mike will be chiming in with psychological terms and theories that connect to branding, and Karen, Brandon and I will build some direct connections to the marketing world.

The concept of Dysthymic brands is one of the more interesting ones we've come across in the past several months. How many brands can you think of that are in trouble with reputation or sales, but not in quite enough trouble to drive action? How many executives acknowledge problems but avoid embracing a realistic solution?  That's classic dysthymia.

So why is this important for marketing and branding? Because marketers typically look for the true depressive situations, the crisis indicators to solve with a major campaign. But minor chronic issues are just as important and costly for a brand over time yet can be addressed early on with a shift in thinking.

September 03, 2007

Relational Glossary Term: Dysthymic Brand

The Psychological Background:

The term “dysthymia” comes from Dysthymic Disorder, a mental disorder that affects 5 to 6 percent of all persons in the general population (Sadock & Sadock, 2003). Dysthymia is a mood disorder in which an individual chronically reports a mildly depressed mood for at least 2 years, in addition to other symptoms. However, this is distinct from Major Depression, which is characterized by a severely depressed mood for as short a time as 2 weeks (also in addition to other symptoms).

Those with Major Depression often seek treatment due to great emotional pain, a sense of hopelessness, feelings of isolation, and disturbed eating and sleeping. While individuals with dysthymia are also not “happy,” the “pain” is often not so great that they feel the need to seek treatment. As a result, they might go for years feeling “sub-par” without doing anything about it.

The Application:

Do you have a Dysthymic Brand? By this we ask, does your brand experience continual sub-par depression, or does it continually just lack that connection with people? Like with people, the danger with a Dysthymic Brand is that the perceived “pain” is not so great that brand managers see the need to do something new, when in fact, much needs to be done.

Tell us about your Dysthymic Brands.

by Michael Reiter

August 30, 2007

Belief driven decision making

Being in the agency world for quite some time, I've been blessed enough to work with lots of companies.  But in the end I can separate them all into two basic buckets based on how they make decisions and think of consumers as people.  The first bucket are those companies who cannot and will not make a decision until "research" tells them to make it.  Many hide behind the mantra of being "fact-based decision makers."  Fact is, they base their decisions on business logic, bottom-lines,  legacy and the fear of being wrong.  The second bucket are those companies who make decisions based on a belief.  A belief that people can get behind and benefit from.  Think about the companies who are changing their respective categories, befriending consumers and enjoy the fruits of brand advocates.  Here are a couple:

Method.  They believe that the home is like a second skin, and that the products you clean with should be good for you, good for the environment and look good in your home.  You think Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry (founders of Method) wait for evidence before they act and innovate?  I doubt it.  They act on their belief.  They learn by doing.  In doing so they've started more then a cleaning products company, they've started a movement people want to be a part of.

Southwest Airlines.  They believe that flying should be fun and relatively inexpensive and that elitism is overrated.  We all know that air travel is wrought with bad experiences.  Problem is, most airline people aren't equipped to make the best of them.  But Southwest empowers their employees to deal with problems, and makes sure they have a good sense of humor to make it more fun.  They often make the best of a bad situation, turning a potentially negative experience into a good one.  That's why they have more people running around singing there praises and bringing new customers into the brand.  Want some data?  Check out this post on churchoftheconsumer.  We also did some more recent research at 22squared that confirms these findings.

Companies like IKEA and Target, are motivated by the belief that good design should be available everyone.  That guides their decisions on product innovation and designers.  Doubt if they're waiting on much research evidence to act on those decisions.  What would the Nordstrom's shopping experience be like if a sales associate had to go ask a manager for permission every time they wanted to accept a return, send out a gift card or provide over-the-top service?  I know what your thinking, it'd be more like a car dealer experience.

Wonder if IKEA copy tested this ad?   Doubt it.  It's a big hit on YouTube. 

And by the way, IKEA is a big hit with consumers.  In our research, they have more friends and brand advocates than any other large scale furniture retailer in the U.S.  That's saying a lot considering what you have to assemble your own furniture.

 


So here's what all the companies in the first bucket can learn from companies in the second bucket:

  • You won't have brand advocates working to evangelize the brand unless you believe in something they can believe in too.
  • Once you have that belief, act on it frequently and do what you believe in instead of waiting for the evidence to validate it.
  • Learn more by doing and less by testing. Sure you'll make mistakes, but learning through structured experiments is much faster and productive than waiting for research evidence to act.

by Brandon Murphy


August 28, 2007

Expectencies - A Key to Relational Healing

One of the most influential movements in psychology in the past forty years has been that of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). What is CBT? It’s the theory that one’s thinking (cognitions) influences their behavior, and visa versa. Perhaps the most interesting application of CBT is with close, intimate relationships.

The posts below *scream* CBT from a relationships perspective. Let’s take Karen’s “Great Expectations and Broken Promises” experience with Target. Karen hit the nail on the head! People come to all relationships with what relationship scientists term “expectancies,” which are defined as “predictions about the future status of the relationship or how the partner is likely to behave” (see Epstein & Baucom, 2002). Karen had an established set of expectancies about how her good friend Target would behave, and when these were challenged, their relationship experienced distress. To be fair, Target too, has a set of expectancies about Karen, and when these are challenged (e.g., she doesn’t come to their sale), the relationship again experiences distress.

And thus, a relationship impasse ensues. However, this occurs not when partners have different sets of expectancies, but when they cannot effectively communicate with one another about their shared differences, and establish mutually agreeable ways of behaving in the future (we know this from 40 years of relationships research). Karen and Target MUST sit down and explore one another’s expectancies for how each is to behave in their relationship. Only then can they better understand their current and future behavior. This communication will not just help heal prior “transgressions,” but will help further deepen their commitment to one another.

The magnitude and influence of one’s expectancies cannot be understated, and are further illustrated by Evan’s “Consistency & Expectations” piece below where he comments on a restaurant’s inconsistent behavior with patrons, “The problem is that I now expect it [a phone call from the restaurant], and when the call doesn't come, I feel let down.” Again, expectancies influence how we think about our relationships and how we behave – it is unlikely that Evan will return to this restaurant due to a belief system he has established.

And how do we change these belief systems? Through friend/partner communication. YES, I propose people and brands actually speak about expectancies for one another’s behavior. Pick up the phone! Ask to meet with a manager! Ask to meet one another at a coffee shop! Hard to imagine? Perhaps. But it is the way to heal and deepen a relationship

What are your expectancies?

by Michael Reiter

August 24, 2007

Soulmate or Enslavement Brand?

AppleattSure, Apple is a soulmate brand. Just ask George Holtz. And while many of us want an iphone because of how we feel about the brand (and the fact the product itself is sexy as hell), the fact is that the iphone brand, in its current form today with ATT as its sole provider, has a slightly different relationship than that of Apple in its purest form. What could have been a best friend or soulmate relationship has morphed into one that feels more like a forced or enslavement relationship that I don't necessarily want to enter into, despite the beauty and functionality of the phone itself. It's like when you get to go out to dinner with a great friend you have an extremely close relationship with, but have to put up with her boorish husband. You may put up with it, but the overall experience and relationship is ultimately compromised. Apple may have had to initially limit their options but they certainly need to understand the impact of their decisions to the Apple brand. Hopefully they will decide to remove the handcuffs, freeing the people who love them to revel in the product with whatever provider they choose....until that time and since I don't know how to solder, I'll decline the dinner invitation and stay with my friend Blackberry.

By Karen Evans

Consumer Take Over

Artiphonehandafpgi Really interesting example of consumers taking ownership of the brand, and in this case the product!  Apple and AT&T tried their best to create a closed system by which to "control" the use of the iphone.  All it took was a 17 year old and a couple of his blogger friends to hack into the iphone and enable it to work with any service provider, including international ones.  And kudos to George Holtz (17 yr. old genius) for wanting to keep the instructions so simple that any user could do the modification.  He says, "That's exactly, like, what I don't want," Hotz said. "I don't want people making money off this."He said he wished he could make the instructions simpler, so users could modify the phones themselves."But that's the simplest I could make them," Hotz said.

Apple continues to design people-friendly, inspirational products that change the way people use and interact with technology and with each other.  As they continue to do this, they continue to forge a "soul mate" like relationship with consumers who will go to great lengths to use their products and even make them available to a wider audience.  That's the definition of advocacy.

Read the CNN article here: http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/ptech/08/24/iphone.unlocked.ap/index.html

Here's the youtube video:

UPDATE:

Another case of consumers seeking to take control of the same situation:

A class action lawsuit has been filed in NY over iphone SIM card lock-in and international roaming rates.
While it seems that the plaintiff may not have a super strong case, it does show that people are growing less tolerant of the practices US phone carriers use to retain their customers.  It just seems that its taken a product as innovative and desirable as the iphone to finally jolt consumers into taking action against cell phone providers and the exclusive relationships they use with cell phone manufacturers to enslave their customers.  In addition to lengthy contracts, cell phone providers seem to use cell phones as another way to "lock" customers into a relationship with the brand.  I think this is a failing business model that will eventually end; either by consumers banning together to force change in the industry, or by a provider coming in and changing the way things are done.  At any rate, it seems that a common platform and cross provider phones would benefit the consumer and require the cell phone providers to provide better service and more value-added features to keep customers happy. 

In the end, while the iphone is the catalyst for this type of consumer action, I don't think that Apple will suffer as AT&T, and perhaps even the other cell phone providers who hold their customers captive.

by Brandon Murphy

Great Expectations and Broken Promises

“What are you doing here?” Admittedly I was stunned. “At the top of Rockefeller Center, you must be kidding?” I had been taken so off guard that my reaction had been an involuntary (and audible) one, leaving various and sundry German, Russian and Irish tourists looking askance at the emoting American. I ignored them. You didn’t belong there and I knew it. And most importantly, I thought you knew it.  Frankly, that is one of the things I admired about you, and had since we first met. You had a true sense of who you were, and didn’t aspire to be anything more, just better. As we became friends, I must’ve seen you at least once a week and sometimes found myself using the smallest excuses to see you. Now, I just felt this weird sense of disappointment. Not anything I couldn’t get over, not a full-fledged betrayal others had experienced in their relationships, but the type of thing that leaves you wondering…and questioning the relationship as a whole. So I stood there, as the flashing lights and neon assaulted my sensibilities amid the spectacular natural view of New York City on a perfectly awesome summer day. The fact it was red target icons that had so taken me aback, was more surprising to me than anyone else.

Rockefeller


As a matter of course, I am not that fanatical consumer who spends all my free time bitching to companies. I do however, believe in the power of brands. The power to create communities, as Harley Davidson does and to inspire a sense of optimism, as Life is Good does. We all have unique relationships with brands. Some are close friends, like Target and me. And as such, we had an unspoken contract I felt they violated, leaving me questioning their overall values. Fortunately they have enough deposits in the bank that I will likely forgive them their transgression and move on, but I do feel a bit more guarded and thinking, “Do they just love me for my money and will they go to any lengths to get it?”

by Karen Evans

August 23, 2007

Befriending consumers from the inside out: Part 2

Keystrokes_flatfinal

With the power of conversation, both good and bad, marketing now has to begin from the inside-out.  We have a saying at the agency, "it only takes 25 keystrokes to tell others about a bad experience."  Like it or not, the brand experience is the most important thing, and it's where marketing should begin.  How the company delivers the brand strategy is even more important than how marketing and ad communications delivers it.  Marketers will have a growing influence on how the brand experience is delivered.  While it may seem like a slow transition, progressive companies are looking at the product experience as they're biggest medium and are experiencing success.

As Eric Ryan, founder of Method put it, "we are a products company, not a marketing company."   He was contrasting Method with P&G, Unilever, SC Johnson and the like.  Meaning that Method's marketing is through its products, not for its products.

Here are some things to consider:

The power of empowered employees
There is much evidence that companies who give their customers a sense of ownership in the company tend to provide a better experience for the customer.  But even beyond stock ownership, companies can provide the autonomy to employees to serve the customer by principle and not just policy.  Southwest Airlines is a great example of this.  As far as befriending people, Southwest has done the best job over time in the airline category.  One big reason is because their employees are empowered to deal with situations and delight the customer.  They turn typically bad situations into positive  situations, where other airline employees are helpless and exacerbate the problem.  Anyone who's experience a ticket agent who pecks away at their hidden computer for 20 minutes, looks up and says, "that's the best I can do" knows what I'm talking about.

Selling a belief, a philosophy and a culture
Don't just provide products or services.  Provide a belief that people can identify with and be a part of.  Target does a great job of this.  They sell the idea that great design is for everyone.  And they make it possible for people to experiment and purchase great design easily, without much consequence.  Things like offering limited quantities of international designer merchandise like their Keanan Duffty line for guys.  Or making it easy for those coupon clippers to save money on everyday and fashionable items with the clipless coupon. 

Hiring people, not positions
The success of delivering a great brand experience starts with the people you hire and the culture they represent and create.  That means hiring the right kind of people.  For instance, Publix is one the biggest privately held supermarket chain in the US.  They differentiate themselves largely on providing a better shopping experience.  The way they maintain a service culture is by hiring people based on their interpersonal skills and personality instead of their retail experience.  Having people who deliver a brand experience that comes naturally to them is the most important thing.  Many times, skills can be taught and developed, but personality and social aptitude cannot.

Establishing ongoing communications to foster culture

C4_2


The most important target audience a brand has are its employees.  Companies must use communications to facilitate the brand culture.  In the past, Starbucks has done a great job at this.  The Green Apron book is often referred to as the Bible.  And electronic newsletters are used to recognize employees, foster creative and artistic expression and share best practices.  Having an ongoing communication plan helps keep the brand culture going. The Green Apron Blog is a perfect example of this, a site encouraging best practice sharing and examples.

Rethinking the role of communications
Part of befriending consumers from the inside out is re-examining the role of communications.  As I mentioned in my first post, my Honda Element brand experience was equally shaped by the dealer's ambivalence as by the loyal community of owners.  So facilitating community with your marketing will likely be the most high-impact and efficient use of dollars.  Eric Ryan at Method recognizes the value of igniting its loyal users.  Considering they are by far the youngest brand in the category, you'd think they'd be focused on trial.  Not so.  They focus more on cultivating loyalty and producing brand advocates with they're communications, and according to Eric, will continue to do so even more.  Check out the online version of their latest creation of helpful content: detox your home.

I'm sure there are more...feel free to add!

Befriending consumers from the inside out

I'm an account planner in the world of advertising.  But I'm the first person to admit that it's ownership experience that is any brand's most powerful asset.  It's not just a powerful asset, it's a makes or breaks two very important things: 1) the loyalty of the customer and 2) the customer's willingness to participate in a positive conversation about your brand to others.  So I felt compelled to share a personal ownership experience I have with my Honda Element.  Here's the thing, I love my Element.  Really, for a whole host of reasons.  And Honda has done a really good job at creating a brand with values and meaning that people like me can buy into.  It's quirky, practical, highly useful and its always a vehicle that people ask you about.  I can't count how many times someone has asked me, "so, do you like your element?"  It's like they can't decide if it's cool or not, but they are intrigued by the possibilities of it.

Check out the spots (props to the agency)


Most importantly, the Element is the basis of a social network (hondaelementownersclub.com).  Not many brands can say that, but many want to achieve it.  They have over 20,000 registered members and quite an extensive forum.  So you feel as if you belong to something and the advice you get enhances the ownership experience...

and then you go to the dealership.  This is where it all falls apart.  The Element has been successful at marketing itself as a expressive brand that consumers love and feels expresses their core beliefs and lifestyle.  But all of the genius and elbow grease that went into creating that relationship with the customer and the social network behind it is for not when the biggest representative of the company (the dealership) doesn't care about fostering a relationship.  I swear every time I leave a dealership I feel I need to take a shower.  I feel lied to, conned and stolen from.  Things like  a $400 "maintenance" check up at 30K, where you leave saying, "hey, what did I just pay for?"  Then, a month later and 3 months outside of your warranty, the air conditioner goes down (not cool in Florida).  You go in and they make you feel like they're doing you a favor by covering part of the cost.  Since when is an air conditioner fail before 32K miles?  On a Honda!

So, despite my having a 3 mile, 4 stoplight conversation with a fellow Honda Element owner the other day, who was giving me props for my wheels and advice on how to get the wax off our plastic quarter panels, I'm contemplating buying a Toyota FJ Cruiser. 

Next post, I'll suggest some simple rules that marketers should be using to ensure they are building a friendship with consumers from the inside-out, instead of outside-in.

by Brandon Murphy

August 20, 2007

Consistency & Expectations

Just a quick thought after dinner out Saturday night.  Sure all brands think about consistency and expectations. McDonald's ensures with an encyclopedic operations manual that their french fries taste the same in Dallas as they do in Dubai, Whole Foods ensures their fruit is always clean and fresh, BMW that their cars can run in the neighborhood or the autobahn, and so on.  But that's brands thinking as companies, not friends. If we can convince brands to start thinking about befriending people, the concept of consistency and expectation changes.  It isn't simply about the product you produce, sell, or service but the signals and messages you send before during and after.Rawnewyorkstriploin_07724202

Back to dinner to help make this a little clearer. In the mood for a big ol' steak,     I decided to give Chef Kevin Rathbun's (whose main restaurant is one of my favorites) newest restaurant Kevin Rathbun Steak a second try after a less than overwhelming meal a few weeks back. The problem wasn't the food (which was sub-par), or the service (which was mixed--half hour late to seat a reservation, but a fantastic waitress).  After my last visit, which was a slightly higher expenditure, a colleague who had made the reservation received a call the day after thanking him for his visit. They made him feel valued and provided him with something unexpected. The problem is that I now expect it, and when the call doesn't come, I feel let down.  As a "consumer" I may simply feel sated by a decent meal, but as a friend I feel disappointed.

Being a friend means going beyond delivering a solid product or service, it means understanding what people consistently can and are expecting from you.

August 18, 2007

Bad Friend of the Week

Devil_3  This week's a doozie. Between Continental holding people hostage, Johnson & Johnson suing charitable organizations and Mattel not apologizing for trying to hurt babies, it was difficult to pick just one bad friend.  Then Blockbuster sent me this e-mail.

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Hang with me here.  On first glance it doesn't seem as bad as brand homicide, kidnapping, or charitable villain, but sometimes it isn't the grandiose gestures that make the worst friends. J&J and Mattel have betrayed old friends in a significant way, but are largely isolated acts that they can (if handled as a friend) make up for and work through.  Blockbuster, on the other hand, is that annoying old friend that just doesn't listen. The one who never cleans up after themselves no matter how many times you ask them to put their glasses on a coaster or close the lid on the toilet. 

People pay Blockbuster for their services, for the enjoyment they provide...it isn't a privilege, it's a choice. The overdue fiasco several months ago still sitting poorly with people, they've now proudly announced that all of their "preferred" (read existing) customers should be grateful that they don't have to pay the increased rates, yet.  Instead, subscribers are held hostage to their existing plans and threatened that if they change them, they'll be subject to what everybody else pays.

Instead of spinning a nagging increase in price to people as a privilege, Blockbuster should have been honest and exhibited some transparency.  Give people the facts and ask them how they feel about the options. Let people know it has to happen to keep the business running.  People will understand.  What I don't understand is why I feel good about the privilege of not paying more while knowing that any friends I refer to the service are getting shafted with higher rates. They're like the prankster roommate from college that announces they've pulled pranks on everybody else on the hallway, but don't worry, they won't do anything to you. Signed "Your Friends at Blockbuster."  Well, you're not my friend and you're also not getting another dime of mine.

by Evan Slater

August 17, 2007

Brand friend of the week - Green Dimes

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Re_generation


Each week here on the C-word, we'll be highlighting a brand that is setting the standard for befriending consumers as well as a brand that has shown us all what NOT to do.  This is our first week and its sparked some good discussion.  Unfortunately, there were too many bad friends to choose from and not enough good friends.  We'll have to work on that.

For the good friend, it was a toss up between Green Dimes and Virgin Mobile.  Virgin Mobile will surely win new friends by its latest altruistic effort to encourage what they call "armchair activists."  This term came from their Director of pro-social initiatives.  Does Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon or AT&T even have a position like that?  They also have a program called the RE Generation where 5% of their profits from ringtones, applications and graphics goes to helping young people in need.  Virgin Mobile gets big points for doing what they believe is right and using their company for the greater good of people.  And I'm sure that it makes their customers feel better about themselves.  Good friends do that for each other.

But the biggest props go to Green Dimes.  Green Dimes is the organization behind the national "do-not-mail" petition.  Now, I hate the gads of credit card offers I get in the mail as much as the next guy, but that's not why they get the nod.  They get the nod for sticking with a vision, and choosing to be of greater value to their current customers instead of gouging them for more money.  They have a thin staff that took on more work yet offered lower prices for their customers while giving them even more value.  That kind of treatment will win them more new customers than spending millions on advertising.  Find their story on dotherightthing.com.  They're not just supporting a great cause, they're being a good friend to their customers.  A model for creating brand advocates.

by Brandon Murphy

Bringing back the mix tape

Mixtape



I think we can all agree that Napster, itunes, Pandora and mp3 players have revolutionized how we integrate music into our lives. I think it's also easy to say that music has become more personal and accessible then ever.  On the other hand, you could also say that it's made the discovery and exchange of music so easy, that it's become less personal and precious.  Case in point, the mix tape.  I can't remember a more emotional exchange of music.  I know, I know, what a sappy, circa 1980's, archaic thing.  But, think about it.  Creating a mix tape for someone really meant something.  Now we exchange playlists with perfect strangers that reflect us.  Mix tapes reflected how we feel about others.  So kudos to suckuk.com, a seemingly cooler and somewhat more kitschy online version of Sky Mall, for bringing the mix tape back with more current technology.  There's just something about physically exchanging music that expresses your feelings for someone or something.  Its nostalgic, relevant and brilliant.  And it's a great example of using technology to be a friend to the consumer.  Thanks Suck UK.  Wouldn't it be cool if brands would make mix tapes for consumers to tell them how much they mean to you?

by Brandon Murphy

August 14, 2007

Just say it.


Why is it so hard for brands to say 'Thank you." to the people who buy their products?
It’s not like they don’t deserve it. They’ve just given you their money, contributed to your revenue, helped increase your market share, your stock price and to your professional success at the company.
So why are they so few and far between?
And why, when it does happen, are we so often taken aback?
I was at the Apple store in Manhattan this weekend, and after buying yet another ipod and a Nike plus, left the store when their greeter said to me, “Hey, thanks a lot.” His inflection and tone was one of a friend who truly appreciated me and what I had done for him. I responded, “You know, you’re welcome, it was my pleasure. I love your products.” Within that moment, my relationship with the Apple brand, which is already one bordering on that of a soul mate, was reinforced. I felt acknowledged, and prideful about my decision to once again contribute to Apple’s success, knowing they were contributing to mine. That reciprocity and respect is all too often ignored, to the peril of the brand.

Then today, Evan brings in a post card from Starbucks with one word on it. You guessed it…Thank you. Photo_1 For being such a good customer, they were reloading his credit card with $5.00 for him to use any way he wanted. No strings. It was signed “From your friends at Starbucks”. The tone, the manner was sincere and clear. “You have been there for us and we want you to know we know it.” What should be a “Duh!’ when it comes to any relationship, is the positive exception, when said genuinely and sincerely, (not cursorily or off a script) by a brand to a customer. Sometimes it’s the smallest acts that have the biggest return. They say, “Thank you,” I say,"I’ll be back."

by Karen Evans

What should Mattel do?

Another story that everybody knows about. Not a single parent in America likes Mattel right now, analysts are reporting they've already taken a $30 million hit this year, and with the recent recall are sure to take another financial kidney-punch. Mattel is facing a huge challenge and i'm sure they've got a high-paid team of crisis-management specialists working on the cause, but perhaps what they need isn't crisis management. As an old friend to kids and families everywhere, there's an opportunity for them to respond a little differently.

A quick glance at the landing page of the website is already missing something. Mattelfrontpage_3
Any guesses? That's right, the very first thing a friend should be offering, an apology. Click through to the "voluntary recall information" page and find a letter asking for trust and a 3 minute video with an apology offered in the last 5 seconds. So what would a friend do here? Without getting into much detail, here are a few thoughts;

Offer an apology -- something sincere, heartfelt, and upfront. Don't bury it.

Act apologetically -- think friendship here, not crisis management. Find a way that shows you're sorry and that doesn't mean a 200 page "product safety initiative plan" or a manufacturing scapegoat. A friend might send flowers or take you out to dinner, and Mattel should be thinking along those lines.

Open kimono -- stay in touch and let people know what's going on, how the problems are actually being fixed, not the plans to fix them.

Any ideas what else a friend might do if they've betrayed an old friend?

by Evan Slater

August 13, 2007

Johnson & Johnson sues the Red Cross

The cost of corporate greed?

Not that everyone doesn’t already know about this story, but Johnson & Johnson is actually suing the Red Cross for the commercial use of its logo (see the USA Today Story).   I’m sure that the Red Cross may have legally misused the mark by which J&J claims ownership of commercially.  But as explained by the Red Cross, "The Red Cross products that J&J wants to take away from consumers ... are those that help Americans get prepared for life's emergencies," Everson said. "I hope that the courts and Congress will not allow Johnson & Johnson to bully the American Red Cross."

And that’s exactly what consumers will think.  Even if J&J has a legitimate legal argument, it fails to do what a friend would do in the same situation.  J&J and the Red Cross have been partners for decades.  So if you have an old friend did something you thought was improper, or betrayed you in some way, what would you do?  Run off to sue him/her?  Probably not.  You’d likely sit down and discuss it with them, try and see their POV, give them the benefit of the doubt and solve it in a way that repairs/grows the friendship.

It looks as if J&J decided against that route.  Maybe they did offer a alternative solution to the Red Cross.  Who knows, but it sure doesn’t look like it from the stories I’ve read.  At any rate, consumers are weighing in.  Dotherightthing.com has J&J suffering a -2.4 impact on their reputation.  One popular sentiment is that J&J is tying up emergency disaster funds for a legal battle. Brilliant.

What J&J seemingly doesn’t understand is that this will hurt their relationship with customers.  Because the relationship customers has with the brand isn’t just based on the products they pay for.  People develop friendships with brands in large part because the brand stands for something they stand for, or at least aspire to stand for.  It’s called having things in common; believing in similar things and sharing similar worldviews.  This action will undermine that commonality J&J holds with consumers.  It says, “we don’t actually believe in helping people, we just want to make sure we keep making money.”

Most disastrous actions such as this could be avoided by asking the simple question, “what would a friend do in this situation.”

by Brandon Murphy

Turn the funnel upside down

The way brands are being built now is dramatically different than 5 years ago.

The name of the game is conversation, getting consumers to talk with each other.  Getting micro-segments to adopt the brand as part of its identity.  Collecting a group of consumers who feel that the brand is giving them something of value, far greater for that which they’ve paid.  Something that is helping them and adding to their lives.  Sounds like a something a friend would do, doesn’t it?

So as we’re in the midst of the vastly expanding context of social media, consumers who opting out of advertising and searching for meaningful content, the decreasing effectiveness of mass media and people who are finding connections with others based on their lifestyles (and dare I say brands they dig), what should we as marketers do?

Let’s start with what we shouldn’t do.   Awareness is no longer the foundation for success.  The long-standing model that has served as both the framework and the success metric for marketers is the purchase funnel.  This model is based upon the principle of subtraction: the idea that if a brand reaches 100 consumers frequently enough with a persuasive proposition, 3 to 10 of them will purchase.  That’s inconsistent with how consumers are operating in today’s market.  Now, communications model must factor in the principle of multiplication.  Instead of finding ways to interrupt and disrupt consumers’ lives, we should be looking for ways to attract consumers, offer them something of value through our communications, and befriend them.

Logos001_5    

 

Advocacy is the name of the game.  That’s how so many of today’s most profitable and growing brands are operating.  Just look at Mini, Method, Nordstrom’s, Starbucks and Guinness.  Instead of focusing on reaching a critical mass of consumers and creating massive levels of awareness, they are finding ways to fuel loyalty and advocacy.  They are adding value to the lives of people through both their product experience and their communications.  And they have created their own culture and are becoming symbols of social cultures that matter to people. 

I saw Eric Ryan, co-founder of Method Products, talk at the 4A’s conference recently.  He said that his immediate goal was to spend all of his marketing dollars on loyalty.  Keep in mind that he has the youngest brand in an over hundred year old category with some of the most well known brands in the country.  Conventional wisdom suggests that he needs to focus on awareness and trial.

So what does turning the funnel upside down mean?

Funnel001_3

Speak to the people who matter most
It means targeting those who are most likely to be evangelists for the brand.  This may not be those who represent the most immediate sale, it means those who represent “good profits” as so eloquently defined by our friend Fred Reichfeld in his book, “The Ultimate Question.”  Instead of trying to group a mass of people together and shout at them, look at the world as many micro-segments and think of ways to ignite them with your brand and your communications.

Embrace complexity
It’s not that I think the principle of KISS is dead.  But I definitely think it can’t be as widely applied any longer.  I think that sometimes we mistake KISS for Laziness.  Complexity means more work for marketers.  It means embracing multiple messages, mediums and the idea that your message is no longer completely under your control.  That’s a problem for many of us because we’re still trying to sell something to a mass audience.  Instead, we should be finding ways to fuel conversation about our brands and to create something of meaning that they can carry to others.    Gareth Kay in his “Seven Deadly Sins” presentation at the 4A’s account planning conference had an excellent presentation about embracing complexity and creating energy in the market.

Speak with and treat consumers like people
One of the founding principles of this blog is that consumers are tired of being sold; they want brands that behave more like helpful friends then evil marketers.  That means changing the rules of marketing and adopting the rules of social psychology and interpersonal skills.  So as you’re planning ways to market your brand, think about the stages of coming together as outlined by social psychologist Mark Knapp for example.  Understand how your communications can operate to befriend people instead of selling to a group of people defined by their consumption.

Facilitate multiplication
OK, I admit that this is a loaded implication.  But it does matter.  In it’s most basic sense, this suggests that the purpose of marketing is to generate conversation between consumers about your brand.  That’s a big shift in thinking.  The most obvious implication is that we need to rethink the role of media and the objectives we have for it.  For instance, use TV less as an image management device and more as a way to fuel a viral effort and attract consumers to a digital medium where conversation can commence and ideas can spread more easily.

Brands that are viewed as close friends to people are more successful.  As part of my day job, I recently fielded a study of 128 brand to explore this hypothesis.  Most of the brands I listed above were in this study.  They enjoy more loyalty, commitment and a higher rate of recommendation and purchase intent than other brands.  All of these brands are changing the rules of marketing in their respective categories.  They are befriending consumers.  Turning the funnel upside down is a big part of their success.

Thoughts, ideas, contrary positions?  Let’s talk.


Update:  Check out another view, called the Marketing Spiral.   Another interesting take.


Marketing_spiral_4

http://darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/2007/08/the-marketing-s.html


ANOTHER UPDATE:

Check out this post from consumergeneratedmedia.com on calculating the value of advocacy.  Metrics that support flipping the funnel.


by Brandon Murphy

Why we're here

Everybody's talking about how ad agencies and marketing firms are broken. There's a lot of talk, a lot of criticism, and a lot of negativity. What's missing is a solution. A theory that helps understand where things went wrong and, more importantly, where they can go really, really right.

People are sick of being called consumers. They're sick of being marketed and sold to. They're looking to be treated like...well, people. We think we've got a pretty unique way to stop selling them like consumers and start befriending them like people. We're looking to share our thinking, to share our belief that if you market brands the way people make friends, you'll end up with a lot more friends (and a lot more money).

We're three people with a new lens, and some optimism for marketers everywhere. Try being a friend to people, it's amazing what it does for business. This isn't a monologue or a soapbox, we hope it can become a dialogue and discussion. As any good friend does, we welcome (and hope for) input, perspective, criticisms, and commentary.

We look forward to talking with you,

Karen, Brandon, & Evan