Why can’t advertising be passionate about being creative?

By: Derek Walker, talentzoo.com, 09.03.12

Have you ever gone into a business to buy something, and when you did, did you ask the salesperson a specific question about how the thing you are thinking about buying performs, and the salesperson answered by talking about other features but never answering your question?

Ever wonder why he did that?

Because he knows the answer to your question is a negative, and by talking about something else, he hopes to draw your attention away from that area.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

That’s what happens with agencies when we start talking about creative.

The conversation jumps all over the place — metrics, the size of the agency, billings, the client list, the processes the agency uses, the technology they employ — agencies try to talk about a host of subjects but very seldom do they present a sound discussion about creative.


There are a couple of reasons. One is that the creative isn’t that strong. And the second is that we don’t understand how to explain the power of creative to clients.
I know; here is where everyone is going to claim that it’s someone else and not them — your agency is very creative and you are a champion of doing great creative work…blah, blah, blah!


Let’s take a look at most of the agency websites out there. What do they talk about? It is very seldom that they talk about the power of their creative or their passion for doing great creative. Oh, they throw out a line or two about creative, but they quickly shift focus onto something else. Sound familiar?

“Creative” has become a dirty word to some. It represents work that is pretty or clever but lacks substance. Advertising people use the word “creative” like it is a curse or a slur. Pitiful. That just shows that some do not understand what creative is and what it can do.

Great creative is pretty and clever, but is also smart and of substance. Creative work can deliver a message without making people feel like they are being sold to. It speaks to them like it knows them, causing them to be more receptive to the message. Creative works hard, but looks good doing it. Creative is remembered, shared, and talked about. It is noticed and sought out.

How dare we treat it like we should be ashamed of it when it should be a badge of honor and pride? Creative is power.

But you couldn’t tell from the way we are always apologizing for being creative. We work hard to show how businesslike our thinking is, how numbers-driven we are; anything to show that we have our creativeness in check. Heck, sometimes you even get agency folks justifying not doing great creative like it is a hindrance to getting the client’s message out.
Shame on us.

News flash, people! Creative is the product that we produce!
In a crowded marketplace, advertising is charged with the responsibility of presenting our clients’ messages in ways that stand out and get notice. No clients want their messages to blend in and go unnoticed. Guess what gets clients noticed? THE FREAKING CREATIVE!

Yeah, that’s right. I am saying that not only does creative matter, but without it we are failing our clients! We shouldn’t be downplaying being creative; we should be beating our clients’ competitors over the heads with our creative prowess. Clients can do dull, unattractive, and boring work all by themselves; they don’t need us to create something that will go unnoticed and disliked. Maybe that is why they treat advertising agencies with such disdain. They don’t see us doing anything they really couldn’t do.

As much as this matters for agencies, being the best creative you can possibly be matters even more for us as advertising professionals. I’m talking all of us, from the creative department to account services to media to research — we all should be embracing creative as part of who and what we are. Good and great agencies do not hire people for being just like everyone else. They want someone special, who stands out and offers something they can’t get from just anyone on the street. They want creative.

Here is the sad part. While we are running away from being creative, the rest of the business community is running full speed and with arms wide open toward being more creative. You can barely pick up a business publication today that doesn’t talk about being more creative to be more competitive. Then why are we working so hard to push it away from us?

Stop ducking the issue. Creative is who and what we are. Instead of following everyone else toward being more creative, we should be leading the charge. After all, we’ve been doing creative longer and better than anyone else.

Thanks Derek!

It’s Called Business ROI

By Neal Schaffer, windmillnetworking.com

I get a laugh when I read online conversations about people spending hours tweeting and chatting about how to measure “social media influence” as well as the “return on investment” (ROI) from social media.  It’s almost as if these people are either 1) having a hard time convincing their clients of why they need to pay for their social marketing services and/or 2) they themselves are trying to figure out a way to “dupe” the system and be seen as more “influential” in the social arena, thinking that there are potential benefits in doing so.  I’ve already covered my views of social media influence metrics such as Klout and PeerIndex in previous blog posts, but today I want to tackle the concept of “social media ROI.”

When I talk about social ROI during my social media workshops as well as in a chapter of my upcoming LinkedIn marketing book, I do it in a very holistic way: Did your strategy and tactics meet your planned objectives using the time and resources you had projected? That’s because social media can be utilized inside a company for so many different things, not just marketing, but areas that are normally considered “cost centers” like human resources, legal, IT, and public relations.  Have you ever calculated the return on investment of your HR division? This isn’t to say that the topic shouldn’t be discussed, and there are also some great books out on the subject (I recommended Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI in the appendix of my own upcoming book).

So here’s my take on the concept of social return on investment: Social media, like your website and internal IT technology, becomes part of your company’s infrastructure over time. It’s not a question of having a robust social presence just like you need a robust website: You simply must have them.  For professionals, I call it your “Social Infrastructure,” which is why we feel compelled to be on sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter to network and keep up with the latest news recommended by our social circles.  We see benefits from doing so.

The same is true for corporations. Fewer and fewer of them are asking about ROI but proceeding forward in their investments and trying to get better and better results.  They understand that social media must be measured, metrics created, and objectives met.  But it’s not about social media ROI: It’s about Business ROI. Did your social media efforts, at the end of the day, affect the entire corporate bottom line, and how did it positively or negatively contribute to it.

That’s why many can’t understand social media ROI: Because they don’t have experience with being responsible for the ROI of a business.  It’s also the reason why there can never be a universal tool to measure this just like there can never be a universal social influencer measurement tool – there are simply too many variables and varying objectives.  Not to say that tools can’t be created to create metrics that we can use as part of our holistic analysis of business return of investment, but I digress…

Social media in itself is not a strategy – it is a tool, a tool that is integrated into the things that your company has always done.  If you think your company can sell an inferior or bad product through the power of the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, think again: It will actually work against you by amplifying the negative aspects of your company.

So let’s stop talking about social ROI and start talking about how to utilize social to help increase Business ROI.

What’s your take?

Is content marketing really PR?

The immediate answer is “No,” but after a moment’s reflection, that answer may start to inch toward “Maybe.”

The practice of public relations is about influencing public opinion and guarding reputation.   Content marketing is focused ultimately on outcomes like lead generation and sales.  In terms of the old marketing funnel describing the different stages in the buying cycle (awareness, consideration, preference, choice) construct, PR is arguably more “upper funnel,” because it builds awareness and reputation.  Content marketing is positioned deeper within the cycle, in the realms of consideration and choice.

But if you look at the marketplace for audience attention today, the tables have turned on the communicator.  As we all know, today’s attention markets are always-on, real-time, and operate according to each individual’s needs at that moment.  Our customers buy and our stakeholders act according to their own time frames.

This is why content marketing and public relations are suddenly finding themselves elbow-to-elbow in the communications mix, and the strategy.   Both rely heavily on publishing messages with the goal of influencing opinion and generating specific outcomes.

Both disciplines also benefit mightily from the connectedness of our audiences via social media, as well as the new weight search engines are placing on fresh content.  Good messaging can gain traction quickly, and spread virally across networks of people connected by common interests.

It’s important that we step back for a minute, and think about the different audiences for our messages. Content that is published digitally is very likely to be read by an assortment of people, not simply our target audiences.  We know, for example, that consumers read press releases and seek out the media sections on company web sites.  They perceive that messages for the media contain more hard news, and less marketing spin.  So, we need to write press releases that appeal to a variety of publics, not just key media.  Because those other publics are in fact consuming the news we publish.   And vice-versa. Professional media are keeping an eye on broader company messaging.

So what does all of this mean to communicators?

Eliminate silos: First and foremost, we have to eliminate silos.  All groups with the organization who are creating content for public consumption need to be hand-in-glove. Coordinating efforts can create search engine lift and a calendar of consistent messaging that delivers a cumulative effect.  The alternative – i.e. unrelated, scattershot efforts – are at the least inefficient, and at worst, confusing to the audience.  (Read more in our free white paper, “Modern PR: The Art & Science of Integrated Media Influence.”)

Put the audience first: The second take-away for communicators is the vital necessity of adapting an audience-first approach to designing communications.  Simply put, this means asking ourselves tough questions about the content we’re drafting, such as:
What about this content is interesting and useful to our readers?
What key customer problems does it address?
Why should anyone care about this message?

Putting our messaging under this type of microscope can feel a bit uncomfortable, but in today’s competitive arena, in which we’re vying for the attention of our audiences (including journalists!) with streams of other data and information, our success absolutely rests upon our ability as communicators to create the sort of content people value.

Share playbooks & tactics: Content marketers are really good at finding interesting ways to slice, dice and deploy content.  The PR crew owns deep relationships with key influencers and understands the mechanics of public sentiment.  Sharing tactics and intelligence between the two disciplines can create undeniable value for the organization.

In times of change – and we’re smack dab in the middle of such a time – adaptive thinking is crucial.  Instead of protecting turf (or budgets, as the case may be), advocating a new approach for the organization may be the best way to promote the brand, deliver results and grow the professions of public relations and content marketing.  While they’re not one and the same, the two practices are definitely better together.

Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR.

Thanks for your insight, Sarah.

I agree, Aaron. Thanks for posting.

Is Direct Mail Facing Extinction?

Aaron Whitaker, talentzoo.com  07.30.12

I remember in the ‘90 when people would complain about all the “junk mail” they would get in the mail. Along with their bills and letters from family, there would be a small stack of flyers and ads and other direct mail pieces. It was terrible until the dawn of email and “spam.” Looking back, it doesn’t seem that bad now. So is direct mail dead? Is it dying? Or is it still viable in this digital world?

When I go to get my mail every day, I usually thumb through the ads and flyers and postcards from businesses. Sometimes I just throw the mail on the kitchen table and come back to the direct mail pieces later when I’m hungry and looking for fast food or pizza coupons. When compared with how I deal with spam, direct mail is definitely worth it in my eyes. When I open my email account, I scan the dozens of emails for names I recognize and subject lines that seem interesting or important to open and read. The rest of the emails, I delete right away. While I think emails can be effective in getting sales, I think for many types of businesses, direct mail is still king. If you are a restaurant, heating and cooling company, home improvement company, or auto repair and service shop, I think direct mail is still a worthwhile investment. It’s almost like a Pavlovian response to look through our junk mail when we are in need of one of those companies.

So what about other types of companies? Is direct mail worthwhile? While direct mail costs more than your typical email campaign, I do think that it could be a good idea for most consumer-based businesses to test out and see if it’s effective for their business. When compared to most other digital and traditional channels of advertising, there isn’t as much competition in direct mail compared with the others. Whether it’s TV, radio, PPC ads, billboards, or emails, most markets are flooded with advertisers using these tools to reach their audiences. As a result, many consumers have learned to tune them out and ignore them. So I do think direct mail as well as other less-used marketing channels should be looked into by most businesses.

If you do choose to do a direct marketing campaign, I wouldn’t rush it. Either read up on effective direct mail campaigns or hire a firm that has experience in not only producing direct mail campaigns but are also experts at measuring the response from the campaigns. I think postcards and flyers are more apt to be read than pieces that are sent in envelopes.

Personally, I usually throw away anything in an envelope that I know is junk mail. But with a flyer or postcard, I can’t help but glance at it and read it if it looks interesting or the headline hooks me. So is direct mail dead? I say the risk of the U.S. Post Office eventually closing is the biggest threat to direct mail. As long as that doesn’t happen, direct mail will live on for many years to come.

Aaron Whitaker is a copywriter, blogger, and social media aficionado who likes watching the TV commercials more than the actual shows. He prefers reading the magazine ads over the articles.

Clean and simple. Just the way I like it. Thanks Dave!

How to Explain Internet Marketing to Prospective Clients

Dave Davies, talentzoo.com 07.25.12

Often I’ve been on the phone with a company’s owner or marketing department discussing a promotion and was ready to launch into a project when I heard the inevitable phrase: “Can you give us some specifics on what you’re going to do?” Rightfully, there is a significant gap between understanding you need something and understanding what you need. Rarely is this gap more prevalent than in the area of Internet Marketing.

An owner or executive may well understand that adding more traffic to their website is a positive thing, but the how and the what may well be missing. This isn’t their fault; they’re “big picture” people who need to focus their energies on making a company run. They’re not less knowledgeable because of this gap. I for one don’t know anything about accounting; this doesn’t make me less intelligent than a CFO, it’s just that I have knowledge in a different area. To be good at what they do, they have to take the same approach.

Before we get into how to explain the various areas of Internet Marketing to your prospective employer (or the decision maker at a company you’re pitching your services to) let’s discuss what they want to know. When I first started my own company I had the instinct to “prove I was smart.” When asked what I would do, I made a crucial error: I bombarded the owner or executive with huge amounts of data and outlined every facet of what I was proposing. Can you spot the problem? If not, there are two…

Problem One: Why Do We Need You?

Problem one with my early approach was that in my efforts to prove myself I basically handed over a template of what I was recommending. Whether that’s enough for them to go on or not is irrelevant; it was too often enough to believe they had enough to go on. The worst part was that if they tried to go it alone, if the outline didn’t produce the rankings they were targeting, the management wouldn’t assume it had been implemented wrong or that there were parts left out. No, they’d assume that the recommendations themselves were wrong. Either way, I’d lose a client.

Problem Two: Executives Don’t Care

The second problem with my early efforts was due to a lack of understanding about what executives do and don’t care about. It wasn’t until my own company grew and I learned how quickly I had to make decisions and the sheer volume of them that I realized that what executives and managers want is to gain an understanding of what areas will be covered, why they’re important, how they will impact the bottom line, and how success will be measured. That’s it. There are exceptions to this rule and some may ask for further details. When this happens…

How To Hold On To Information

This leads us nicely to the question, “If I’m asked how I would complete a project, how do I not give away the farm?” There are two angles I’ve found to be successful, and both rely on understanding the person asking.

The first reply relies on the person you’re speaking with not having an in-house marketing team and being too busy to want to hunt around. If you’re dealing with the direct owner of a multi-million dollar company who’s difficult to get in touch with because they’re constantly managing their own business and doesn’t have an SEO department, you can be far more open then if you’re dealing with a VP of Marketing for a company with a 20-person marketing staff.

In the event that you can be open, you still need to respect their time and schedule and simply outline in broad terms the specific areas that need to be looked at. Always include statements such as, “In the early stages we’ll be analyzing your competitors to find out what they’re doing in the area of (fill in the blank).” Basically, give them information on all the basics: “We need to redevelop and enhance the relevant followers on our Facebook page,” and/or “We need to redevelop your site’s internal linking structure to better promote the key pages.”

You don’t have to give away the farm with competitor backlink reports and a full breakdown of your onsite work. If they want that, I’d recommend offering a paid review — the cost of which you’ll deduct from your services should you be hired. Since you’ll have to do that work anyway, it’s a win-win. Even if you don’t get the final contract, you will get a paycheck and they’ll learn to value your time. After all, if you don’t, why should they?

The second way to deal with requests for more information comes into play when you are dealing with a company with a marketing department or people you believe may think they can do it themselves to save money (read: small business owners with more time than money). In this event, you need to understand well the role of the person you are speaking with in order to put things into terms they can understand.

For example, let’s say you’re speaking with the owner of a web design company. In this case, I would use statements such as, “Just like you can’t send a prospective client the design you’d do prior to them contracting with you, I can’t do all the work required to get your full promotion built out prior to being contracted to work on it. Like design, this is a very complicated process that requires hours and sometimes days of research to build out a promotion properly, but I can discuss the core areas that need to be addressed and where they need to get to.”

If the prospect was in the area of natural health, I would respond with a reply more tailored to their niche, such as, “As you develop products that can be reproduced in an inferior way (a compliment of their product is always a nice touch to show understanding of their field), I’m sure you can understand that professionals like us can’t give away our formula. What I can tell you in advance is…” (Outline what areas need to be addressed and how you know this without listing off the specifics of what you’d do to fix them, just the outcome).

Writing The Proposal

So you’re now sending out proposals and responding in ways that should (if done right) improve your conversion rates. This article has assumed that the proposals you’re sending are good to begin with. If you’re not even getting to the point where you’re having a chance to talk to decision makers, you’ll want to stay tuned for next month’s article on how to write an Internet Marketing proposal that wins contracts.

Dave Davies is the CEO of Beanstalk SEO Services. Dave has been working as an SEO since 1999 and started Beanstalk in 2004. He writes and speaks regularly on the subject of Internet Marketing and hosts a weekly radio show on WebmasterRadio.fm.

So true, Howard, so true…eh?  But then, a good account manager should know this. Cheers!

Why do creative briefs suck?

Howard Ibach, talentzoo.com  0724.12

I’ve been an agency creative, a freelance creative, and a corporate creative for over 26 years. For the last 10 years, I’ve been on a crusade to improve the quality of the document we love to hate: the creative brief.

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out what’s wrong, nor does it require much effort to fix things.  Creatives should and must take the lead.  It’s time to make the creative brief meeting an hour of rejoicing rather than dreaded punishment.

Start with this basic fact: It’s almost certain that the account person who wrote your last creative brief never received training in how to do it.

Creatives are likely rolling their eyes and thinking, “Yeah, that’s obvious…”

This isn’t a laughing matter. Unless your brief writer is British or Canadian, two places on the planet that take the process seriously enough to provide education in brief writing and creative briefing, he or she learned from copying the next most-senior account person’s brief or from copying the boss’s last creative brief.

So to a large extent, you can’t blame your brief writer because he was left to his own devices. (And for all you non-British and non-Canadian account folk who did receive training…bless you! You’re in the minority.)

Next, be sympathetic. Realize that the brief writer toils in utter solitude. She writes the brief alone. It’s written late in the process and chances are it’s rushed.

Whereas you, the copywriter or art director or IA or designer or creative director, would never do such a thing. When you come up with what you think is a fantastic idea, what happens first? You get a reality check from you partner.

Yes! You have a creative partner! You work as a team. You thrive in an environment of collaboration.

Truly brilliant partnerships are like old married couples, where each individual knows what the other is thinking and can finish the other’s sentences. I know. I’ve had partners like this.

The brief writer? No such luck. Addressing this sorry state of affairs is critical. Step up to the plate and offer to help write the next brief with your brief writer.  The document exists for creatives. You absolutely need to be part of the process.

Believe me, you’ll learn a lot. About your account person. About the client. About the product. About how a brief comes together. It’s not easy. Especially the Single-Minded Proposition, or whatever the term you use for that (oh please let it be) enlightening sentence every creative looks at first. Try your hand at writing it yourself. You’ll see what I mean.

Collaborate with your account person/brief writer. Not just once. Make it a habit. You have a choice. Sit back and bitch, or get to work and help.

Yeah, I know. What else do they want us to do? As if the creative isn’t enough.

But that’s the point. The first step in the creative process is the creative brief. You have a stake in the outcome.

Expect resistance and skepticism. They’re natural. But don’t take “no” for an answer. Maybe the offer will be accepted with gratitude. Regardless, the payoffs from a creative-brief-writing partnership can be monumental.

Imagine — a united front between creative and account on the document that usually divides them.

Oh, my. I’m getting weepy.

Howard Ibach is a copywriter and creative director in Los Angeles. He’s done time in both the agency and the client world in Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Jersey City, NJ, and finally back to his adopted hometown of LA. He’s the author of How To Write An Inspired Creative Brief, which was ranked #7 on About.com’s list of “10 Advertising Books You Absolutely Must Read” and he writes a blog on the creative brief at www.howardibach.com.

Here’s a great post form Danny Flamberg on talentzoo.com.  A brand needs to deliver more than just hype. Well worth reading. Thanks for your insight, Danny.

Facebook’s Bogus Ad Sales Pitch

Danny Flamberg, talentzoo.com  07.11.12

Facebook has to sell a lot of ads to satisfy Wall Street. Unfortunately, the latest sales blitz aimed at brands and agencies is lame.

Facebook’s huge user numbers, nimble targeting using 15 possible variables, and average 80 cent CPC are enticing. Facebook had 151 million unique U.S. visitors in April 2012. Facebook attracts 7 out of 10 Americans online. The average person had 28 sessions for 379 minutes during the month, basically once a day, accounting for an average time spent of 7:09 hours. Although, with a 0.04% CTR, 4 out of 5 users say they’ve never been influenced by an ad on Facebook.

The initial attraction gets stopped dead when you realize that the system has been purposefully constructed and rigged to harvest ad dollars, not necessarily to facilitate brand communication. Like everything else Facebook does, they know better. Their mission is to reinvent advertising.

Brands spent money, big money in some cases, to accumulate large fan bases. Then Facebook limited access to those fans (and their news feeds) by inserting the Edgerank algorithm to filter content. Estimates are that only 7–16% percent of brand communications actually reach fans’ news feeds. What’s worse, according to PageLever, as the fan base increases, the number of impressions created by distributed brand content decreases! The brands that most effectively used Facebook to build audiences got the shaft. Facebook hijacked the fans that brands paid to accumulate. Now Facebook will sell access to fans and guarantee reach levels using a new series of ad units, like Sponsored Stories, based on a new Reach Generator tool.

It’s a closed coercive cash-generating circle. Great for Wall Street, but not so helpful to Madison Avenue. Lauren Fisher, writing on the Simply Zesty blog, observed, “By squeezing more and more from brands, they’re making the platform an unattractive option for social marketing from a cost basis if nothing else.”

Most large brands on Facebook are trying to understand whom they attracted and if there is a relationship between fans and customers. Since Facebook won’t share the data that brands helped generate, brands are left to either guess, test new third-party eCRM tools, or rely on Facebook’s vague representations to dissect their fan bases.

Most brands know that fans are much more likely to engage and probably buy than the average Joe. But most also suspect that those fans are multi-channel customers and that they may already be reaching and persuading them through email, branded websites, loyalty programs, and general advertising. Since nobody has convincingly studied the impact of Facebook engagement in isolation, savvy marketers cannot determine the relative or incremental marketing value of Facebook. Some suspect they are duplicating efforts and essentially preaching to the choir.

To try to make a strong sales case, Facebook collaborated with ComScore to create a series of reports titled “The Power of Like.” The latest version merchandises Facebook’s Like button and new ad units as ways to reach friends of friends and achieve stronger reach with the implied endorsement of people you know.

Calling this phenomenon “amplification,” the report scored different brands on their relative success at virility. “Most leading brands on Facebook achieve a monthly earned Amplification Ratio of between 0.5 and 2.0 meaning they extend the reach of their earned media exposure … by 50–200%.” The implication is that exposure to Facebook’s premium ads had something to do with this.

The report goes on to cite specific, though specious, cases of successful brands activating consumers on Facebook. The first case focuses on Amazon, Best Buy, Target, and Wal*Mart during Holiday 2011. Citing these leading brands as active in social media and offering special deals via Facebook, the results “showed significant higher rates of purchase among fans” and modest increases in spending among friends of fans.

But this ignores several key factors that could easily inflate these results.

  • These are well-known, heavily advertised brands.
  • Awareness, preference, and purchase intent already existed.
  • Most focused on multi-channel customers, who are known to purchase more and more frequently based on RFM models.
  • There was no source data on purchases.
  • Exposure to Facebook ads was not isolated.
  • During the holiday period, each brand was blasting away with offers and messages in many channels.

It strains credibility to attribute the results exclusively to Facebook ads. Moreover, we don’t know whether purchase data was self reported or based on shared data sets. It’s very easy to doubt the implied correlation or causality, which might actually have just been coincidence.

For Starbucks, there were four weeks of exposure to Facebook ads compared to a control group of non-exposed customers. The test was designed to identify a spike in-store purchases. At the end of four weeks, the exposed group “had purchase incidence 0.58 percentage points higher” than the control group.

There was also a claim that “Users who saw unpaid marketing messages … about Starbucks Corp bought an item at the coffee chain within four weeks, 38 percent more often than those who didn’t.” There is no reason to believe that Facebook exposure alone impacted behavior.

After four weeks, it’s not clear if the cash value of a half-point incremental lift in purchase intent is worth the cost of the ads. Nor is it clear that Facebook ads were the only factor in generating this theoretical lift. This is an attempt to use soft branding metrics (intent) to demonstrate hardcore direct marketing impacts (sales). This isn’t selling me or anyone else on ROI.

For Target, the test was designed to understand the sales value of earned media, or the impact of friend-to-friend pass-along messaging. “Fans of Target were 19 percent more likely to purchase at Target in the four weeks following exposure to earned messages. Friends of fans were also likely to buy at Target with a lift of 27 percent compared to the control group.”

Here, too, the data is self-reported purchase intent; not the most reliable data source. The idea that fans of Target are likely to buy more and that their friends are likely to be open to what appears to be a personal recommendation has little or nothing to do with Facebook. They are most likely fans in their consciousness, so attributing the lift to Facebook is bogus on its face even if the math is statistically significant.

Making the case for Facebook ads might be a case of applying an old paradigm to new media. There is a sneaking suspicion that social media plays a supporting rather than a selling role in customer purchasing. Many of us believe that social media’s key marketing value lies in enabling brands to understand, listen, converse, and connect emotionally with customers. Social media builds and sustains relationships incrementally over time. It may not have the retail striking power of email, rich media, or search in which the ads have more long-term or CRM value than immediate ROI value to marketers.

So far, social media has been about friends and family, not necessarily brands. Facebook reported that just 9% of likes are bestowed on brands. At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, social commerce is not really a factor. And the value or impact of Facebook ads is uncertain. Nothing in these sales pitches convinces me otherwise.

Danny Flamberg is Managing Partner at Booster Rocket and a marketing strategy consultant and practitioner working with leading and insurgent brands in professional services, outsourcing, financial services, pharmaceuticals, telecom, high tech, hardware, software, banking, gaming and other industries around the globe. Earlier in his career, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, Senior Vice President and Managing Director at Digitas and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.

Worth thinking about…

Why We Haven’t Met on Google+ Yet

By: Sean Duffy, talentzoo.com, 07.05.12

I want to use Google+. I want my colleagues and clients and you to use it as well. I think it has the potential to be a major catalyst for business networking. If it succeeds, it could carve out a very lucrative space for itself positioning LinkedIn more squarely as a recruitment tool and Facebook as a socializing tool. But there is one thing stopping me from jumping into Google+ with both feet. It’s not the coding or the functionality or the interface. It’s the Google brand.

Last year, Google earned 37 billion U.S. dollars. That’s more money than the GDP of most countries. So how could I suggest that their brand is deficient? Despite their many technical achievements, you don’t need an algorithm to see that although Google is #1 in search, it doesn’t rank very high in brand management. Specific deficiencies include an annoying habit of ignoring the value requirements of their target, assuming that an interface suited to a PhD at the Googleplex will make perfect sense to a housewife in Peoria, and overextending their product portfolio. Too often, this cocktail of branding blunders results in underwhelming market uptake and subsequent abandonment of the product.  Will Google+ be next?

This question occurred to me on April 9 when I noticed Google’s logo was truant. Of course, it wasn’t the first time. They have, quite literally, turned logo obfuscation into an art form. The Google Doodles page displays a gallery of the different ways they conceal their brand in secret visual coding. For instance, on April 9, you may have been too busy celebrating Eadweard J. Muybridge’s 182nd birthday to notice, but the folks in Mountain View paid tribute to the nineteenth-century animal motion-study photographer by replacing their logo with 15 tiny horses in boxes. Yes, this is a fun little game for the calenderati, but it struck me as a beacon of brand hubris: Toying with the laws of brand physics as if their search success had earned them immunity.

But messing with their logo is the least of Google’s brand infractions. More disconcerting is their detachment from the people they aspire to sell to. Remember Google TV? Of course you don’t. It was too complicated for any of us to figure out. I think Nilay Patel put it best in her review for Engadget: “Google TV feels like an incomplete jumble of good ideas only half-realized, an unoptimized box of possibility that suffers under the weight of its own ambition and seemingly rushed holiday deadline.” That’s a textbook example of what you get when you put a bunch of technical brainiacs in a room without proper marketing leadership. As David Pogue commented in The New York Times in his article titled “Google TV, Usability Not Included,” “This much is clear: Google TV may be interesting to technophiles, but it’s not for average people.”

In 1998, Google introduced the general public to the idea of a “beta-launch.” Up to this point, most companies went to great pains to ensure that their products were free from defects before introducing them to the public. This was done to protect their brand. In Google’s case, the public was asked to find flaws and help fix them. Great for something as innocuous as an experimental search engine. Not so great for other endeavors, such as last year’s release of a real-world payment system riddled with security flaws. Like many Google initiatives, Google Wallet is a great idea that is floundering in the market and eroding the brand’s non-search credibility. Its precursor, Google Checkout, was launched back in 2006 to rival PayPal for online purchases. It never made a dent in PayPal’s business. One reason was that despite protests from users, it was launched with no effective means of customer support (unless you considered crowdsourcing your gripes in a forum as effective customer support). Given the category they were entering, that’s just being dumb or half-assed. I have to assume it’s the latter based on the amount of press Google receives for its elite brain trust. From the outside, it seems that at Google failure is always an option. Not a very inspiring brand promise.

Then there is brand focus. Jack Trout and Al Reis have been warning us of the dangers of line extension since the 1970s. When a brand becomes successful in one category, they advise not to milk it by slapping the same brand on products from other categories. Instead, they suggest creating new brands with their own category-specific associations. Google is doing just the opposite. To date, Google has launched or acquired a staggering 216 different products. Granted, some of these product extensions are legit by Trout and Reis’ standards, like the 29 search-related products or mobile versions of desktop products. But many others like Google Wallet, Music, and Sketch-Up are certainly in dairy land when it comes to milking brands. The Google-owned Picasa and Blogger brands will soon be retired and replaced with Google Photos and Google Blogs. Android Market, which sells both games and business apps, has been switched to Google Play. We can expect more products to be re-branded as part of an initiative to unify its brand on its foray into social media.

And will Google+ still be here two or three years from now? The Google brand graveyard has 63 tombstones with four more holes freshly dug. At its current rate of failure, about one of every three products Google launches will fail badly enough to warrant decommissioning. Many more brands will fail to gain traction but will continue to languish online. A lot of these products will be well conceived and coded but never properly positioned or promoted. The idea of nonchalantly tossing hundreds of products out on the web then stepping back to see what sticks seems more like recreation for techies than marketing. This has hurt Google+. I suspect many people signed up for Google+ from the hype but failed to commit to the platform because Google never managed to explain the benefit of doing so. That job is left to us, the brand and communication consultants. But even if we succeed, clients still hold back because they feel there is a good chance it won’t be adequately supported by Google and will be abandoned like other toys they grew weary of.

That’s hard to argue with.

For now, Google can afford to play around with every shiny product that captures its attention. I guess they have earned the right to do so. But for many of us, the products Google asks us to invest time with, like Google+, have very real consequences for our productivity and livelihoods. Given their track record, they shouldn’t be surprised if we are increasingly reluctant to climb in the sandbox and play with them. That’s brand erosion and something that even Google cannot afford right now. For a social platform like Google+ to be useful, large chunks of society will have to go beyond simply registering. The platform needs people to really believe in and embrace the brand. But Google has repeatedly demonstrated its inability to win over the public outside what many consider to be its core competence: search algorithms.

I will continue to cajole friends and colleagues to join me on Google+. But I’d sure appreciate some help. Google’s faith in letting the crowd sort things out for itself is admirable in a way. But Google can’t crowdsource credibility in social media. To earn that, Google will need to add a new type of intellect to its brain trust: street smarts.

P.S. If you would like to meet on Google+, you can find me here: Sean Duffy on Google+.

Food for thought…

Beyond Advertising: The Real Value of Facebook

Sean Duffy, talentzoo.com  06.18.12

Facebook and its investors depend on advertising to generate 85% of the social platform’s $3.7 billion annual revenue. That made GM’s retreat from Facebook last month particularly poignant for marketers and investors alike. The New York Times reported that “GM, the third-largest advertiser in the country, shut down its Facebook budget, about $10 million, saying that those ads were simply not doing enough to sell automobiles.” This has caused a lot of speculation over Facebook’s usefulness to marketers. I think it’s good that people question the role of online networking in their marketing efforts, but I feel that a lot of the current speculation is missing the point.

Some have blamed GM’s lack of online marketing competence as one reason for their failing on Facebook. Most notably, rival Ford responded to the news with the tweet, “It’s all about the execution. Our Facebook ads are effective when strategically combined with engaging content and innovation.” But competitive bravado aside, GM is by no means alone in their conclusion. In fact, just days before the GM decision, Nate Elliot of Forrester Research panned Facebook as an ad medium on the Forrester blog stating that many Forrester clients felt the same.

But GM didn’t pull out of Facebook altogether. They simply decided it wasn’t a good advertising medium for them. They plan to maintain their networking activity on Facebook. And for me, that’s the main takeaway from the GM decision: not that Facebook is lousy marketing tool, but that marketing is about building long-term brand equity as well as building short-term sales. While both are necessary, they may not always be suited for the same communication channels.

Networking platforms, like Facebook, that do not deliver short-term sales for some brands may still have immense marketing value if they can deliver long-term brand equity. For a category with an average purchase cycle of 6.5 years, like U.S. automobiles, that’s got to be important.

Even ad folks like WPP’s chief executive Martin Sorrell get that much. In the Times article mentioned above, Sorrell gave his take on Facebook: “It’s one of the most powerful branding mechanisms in the world, but it’s not an advertising mechanism.”

As you know, the moment the discussion enters the realm of “brands” and “branding mechanisms,” things can get quite ethereal. What marketers need is a concrete definition of the business outcome that this “powerful branding mechanism” can deliver. And beyond that, they need to know how they can measure and put a dollar value on it. Right now the outcome meter used by most marketers is calibrated against sales in a very tight cause-and-effect loop. By that measurement, online networking can often look like a flop.

I’ll leave it to the more financially inclined to ascribe a dollar value, but I can share two thoughts that I’ve found operationally useful in defining and measuring brand equity from a target lifecycle perspective.

First, make a clear distinction between sales development activity and brand development activity. Sales activities are meant to generate income in the short term by triggering a purchase. Branding is meant to generate profits over the long term by reinforcing a highly relevant and differentiated position that converts prospects and customers into advocates. This type of brand loyalty makes selling easier, provides barriers of entry for competitors, and ensures that the brand will never have to compete on price alone.

Second, toss out the AIDA sales funnel. It has been a useful model for the past century, but today, if you want to practice strategic marketing with networked consumers, you’ll need a more refined view of the journey they take with your brand.

Our international branding agency has modeled this journey as a staircase of ten steps between inertia and advocacy (here is our model of customer-based brand equity). The staircase is intended to illustrate how consumers create brand equity for companies over time. The activity of “branding” is simply to facilitate the consumers’ journey from inertia to advocacy. How consumers contribute to earnings is another matter. In fact, in this model, a sale is not the end of the process but just the halfway point in the journey. The same steps apply to both BtoB and BtoC purchases.

1. Inertia
The presence of a relevant want or need (either latent or expressed) among a defined market segment, but no movement towards the desired state of brand advocacy. I.E. “I want my little Jimmy to draw, but my problem is that he scribbles all over the walls.”

2. Awareness
I see you. I.E. “I read about your new product on a mommy blog.”

3. Understanding
I understand what you offer in relation to my needs and my product categories. I.E. “You sell crayons for kids, like my little Jimmy, to draw with.”

4. Interest
Your offer is relevant, believable, and different from other options that are available to me. I.E. “Your crayons are water soluble so they wash off easily, especially walls.”

5. Trust
I trust you. I.E. “But will the crayons still be fun to draw with? Wait, you’re Crayola. I’ve known you all my life. You know about kids and crayons.”

6. Trial
I’ll try your product. I.E. “They cost about the same as normal crayons. I’m going to buy a pack for little Jimmy.”

7. Belief
I believe you. I.E. “Wow, they really work as promised!”

8. Affinity
You reflect the beliefs, values, and convictions that I stand for.  I.E. “You really get me. We have a lot in common.”

9. Loyalty
I want to stay with you. I.E. “From now on, these are the crayons for me.”

10. Advocacy
I want to let others know about you. I.E. “I’m posting little Jimmy’s drawings on your gallery site and sharing them with my friends on Twitter and Facebook.”

These are ten measurable stages you can use to track prospects from awareness to advocacy. Each step is a necessary precursor, not only to a sale, but beyond that to multiple sales by the prospect and by the people they influence. As you might imagine, online networking platforms are particularly well suited to facilitate this type of brand journey even if those platforms are not well suited for driving immediate sales.

Facebook has been fumbling from one approach to the next in an effort to find the right ad model. GM’s departure may be an indicator that they have yet to hit the mark. But just because Facebook and other social sites may not produce “now sales” for your brand doesn’t render them useless. They may provide even greater value in their ability to ensure sales and preserve margins tomorrow. If you adopt a brand equity development model like the one outlined here, this value becomes all the more apparent.

Facebook’s real challenge will be to find a way to monetize all of the above in a way that will work both for brands and for users. I think the answer to that is staring Mark Zuckerberg in the face, but that is the topic of a new post (or, perhaps, a new start-up ;) ).

Sean Duffy spent 18 years with ad agencies in Boston, San Francisco, Copenhagen, andStockholm before founding The Duffy Agency, an international ad agency, in 2001. Sean is director of TAAN Europe and a regular guest lecturer at the Lund University School of Economics. He is also a bloggerTwitterer and is on LinkedIn.

Excellent post on fastcompany.com. Invest in the book. It’s worth it!

7 Ways to Disrupt Your Industry


This article is written by a member of our expert contributor community.

Massive disruption is coming, and the only question is whether your firm is going to cause it or fall victim to it. Disruption is not easy–either to create or to confront. We have no illusions about that.

But in the spirit of helping established firms best serve their customers, we offer seven ways your firm could disrupt its own industry, raising the standards of customer experience and creating new opportunities for growth:

1) Totally eliminate your industry’s persistent customer pain points.

Each industry has practices that drive customers crazy.

Technology providers drive customers crazy with technical support that often requires long waits on hold and hopelessly complex interactions (“Just find the serial number on the back of your device and type that into the space provided along with your IP address and the exact wording of the error message you encountered”).

Unsurprisingly, this is the exact type of practice that causes customers to believe a company is behaving stupidly.

What practices exist in your industry that drive customers crazy? How do all companies in your industry behave stupidly? Identify these types of practices, and wipe them out.

Think: can we turn our process or perspective around, to look through the customer’s eyes as though they were the company and we were the customers?

2) Dramatically reduce complexity.

As we write this in November 2011, a company we have been tracking for some time–Simple, formerly known as BankSimple–is trying to take a machete to the insanely complex and confusing world of consumer banking.

Recognizing that banks do a pretty good job of managing money but a poor job of managing customers, Simple has been designing vastly simpler customer interfaces and tools.

Simple plans to partner with, not compete against, established banks. They’ll manage the customers while their banking partners manage the money.

The more complex the processes and practices in your industry, the greater your opportunity to gain competitive advantage by simplifying them. Yes, doing so will be very hard. But that’s the whole point; the first firm to do so gains tremendous advantages.

3) Cut prices 90 percent (or more).

Incremental change doesn’t disrupt an industry; radical change does. Radical price reductions require radical new processes and business models. Smartphones and tablets create numerous opportunities to identify these. Recently we replaced a $500 marine navigation unit with a $20 iPad app that works better.

You don’t cut prices by 90 percent through marginal improvements in existing products. You do it by asking, “What problem are we trying to solve for the customer, and how do these disruptive forces create opportunities for us to solve it in a far more efficient manner?”

4) Make stupid objects smart.

We didn’t think this one up. The race is on to make everything smart, and the dumber your products were to begin with, the greater the opportunity to make them smart.

Think of a garbage dumpster that calls central dispatch when it is full, eliminating the need for the customer to do so or your office to send a driver out unnecessarily. That same dumpster could warn the customer when it is overweight, and point out that it would be cheaper to empty it now than to further overfill it.

No offense to dogs, but their collars could alert owners when the dog wanders away, barks excessively, or jumps on the furniture.

Light bulbs could flash before they burn out. Baseballs could announce how fast they were thrown. Plants could politely request water when they are too dry, or shout out when you try to overwater them.

Take every product you sell, and make it smart…or accept the fact that you must forever more compete on price and accept low margins.

5) Teach your company to talk.

Apple’s Siri personal assistant on the iPhone allows you to have a conversation with your phone. Your iPhone can now access the Internet as well as the information it stores, both understanding and responding appropriately to your statements.

Flash-forward two to five years from now. What if your company could talk to customers? We don’t mean that your employees talk on behalf on the company. We mean that a digital, computerized persona speaks on behalf of your firm.

It takes orders. It provides support. It answers questions. It upsells. It issues refunds. All of this, and more, in response to verbal requests by customers.

The toughest part of this challenge is not technical, although a few problems still need to be solved.

The tough part is knocking down the walls that separate your databases and departments. It’s deciding whose product gets cross-sold, who gets “credit” for sales, and who “owns” the customer.

Our view is simple. No one owns the customer, and you either do what’s best for the customer or you will lose him. But the real question we want to put forward is this: what happens if your competitors’ companies talk, but yours doesn’t?

6) Be utterly transparent

Think: not just no secrets, but also no spin.

The concepts of social influence and pervasive memory will make it increasingly difficult for companies to hide from dissatisfied customers, negative reviews, and faulty products.

What if your company didn’t simply try to stop hiding, but instead radically embraced the truth? How might it impact your culture to decide that your firm would be the most powerful force in your industry making certain that every speck of the truth was obvious to every customer, analyst, and reviewer?

Would it change your reward systems? Would it impact employee motivation? Might it cause changes in the kind of employees you attract and retain?

We’re pretty opinionated in this regard. The truth is coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But most firms won’t recognize this until it happens. Better to get far out in front while confusion reigns.

7) Make loyalty dramatically easier than disloyalty.

According to Don Clark writing in his Wall Street Journal blog, Intel executive Mooly Eden once asked an audience how many had cellphones, and then how many were married.

Then, he asked if any of the married people would be willing to hand over their phone if their spouse lost his or hers. None would. “That is my point,” said Eden. “That is personalization.” By definition, when companies act smart they are personalizing the way they interact with and serve customers. Once you start delivering personalization, you create immense opportunities to make loyalty more convenient than disloyalty:

  • You can store customer preferences, and act on them.
  • You can save the customer time, money, or effort–especially by eliminating repetitive tasks.
  • You can provide auto-replenishment of needed supplies.
  • You can monitor products remotely, and service them before they break instead of afterwards.

Think about every major purchase decision your customers face in your industry. How can you make it easier for customers to remain with your firm? Now, think even bigger. Can it be five or ten times easier?

Subtlety can be lost on today’s customers.

The challenge is to make loyalty so much more convenient, so radically easy, that customers won’t even consider switching to a competitor. Ever.

Adapted from Smart Customers, Stupid Companies: Why Only Intelligent Companies Thrive, And How To Be One Of Them, co-authored by Michael Hinshaw and Bruce Kasanoff, (Business Strategy Press, 2012).