Social Media; The Battle between Hype and Reality

I had the opportunity to speak to the Forrester Research Technology Marketing Executive Council recently in conjunction with the Technology Forum in Chicago. The central theme of my talk was simply stated, as marketers, we need to start integrating social media into the rest of your marketing strategy and programs and stop treating Social Media as some magical new quasi religion.

I do not mean that there are not unique attributes of each of the various new channels, media and technologies that comprise social media; blogs, social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter that we must examine, learn how to use and take advantage of in creating dynamic and meaningful experiences for consumers and businesses alike.

What I do mean is that instead of starting off with the attitude of “I’ve got to get me some of that Social Media stuff,” and invariably jumping right into figuring out which technology you need to buy, install and staff up to support, marketers needs to go back to their overall marketing strategies and figure out how each of the facets of social media can be leveraged to support their strategies, not drive them.

At this Forrester Research event, I had the privilege of delivering my talk on the heels of a presentation by Peter Burris, a research director at Forrester and a really smart and articulate guy. Peter’s theme was based on his recently released piece, Turning Your B2B Web Site Into A Community Hub. His premise, which I completely agree with, is that you need to start looking at how you integrate social media into your corporate Web presence. It is also related to the presentation I did at the Integrated Marketing Communications conference in Kansas City (see my post entitled, It’s time to look beyond Websites and start looking at an Integrated Digital Experience).

I won’t go through my entire presentation here, I’ve uploaded it at SlideShare and I encourage you to take a look.

Jury Trials and Social Media: They’re not so different after all

I was on jury duty last week. I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say it was a criminal case and we ended up finding the defendant guilty. He will probably go to prison and it’s sobering to realize that you may have had something to do with sealing his fate. Choice does matter, though sometimes more than others.

So what do juries have to do with marketing and what is the connection between jury trials and social media? Well there’s the obvious, that a jury is just like any other audience and the lawyers are like competing brand marketers trying to spin their narrative so that you will choose one side over the other. But I think it goes a little deeper than that. Being a juror, I was not only a member of the target audience, but also a key influencer on the decision of the rest of the audience; the jury.

The attorneys did their best to convince us, from their opening statements where they each painted vastly different scenarios, through the presentation of evidence and down to their closing arguments where they tried to make the sale. But, back in the jury room, we saw right through the manipulations of “facts” and in the end pretty much discounted everything the lawyers said and relied on our own judgments and the perceptions and persuasiveness of our fellow jurors. We believed each other because we knew we had no vested interest in the outcome, except for making the right choice.

Again, what does this have to do with social media? Well, to my mind, the lawyers were like traditional advertising. They sure looked sharp when they were presenting, but after you got out of the room, their pitches went right out the door. What prevailed was the common sense and back and forth examination of the evidence and intelligent choices made by consensus. To me, this is a perfect embodiment of what social media is all about. Social media gives us the opportunity to reach out to our fellow consumers (jurors), listen to each other’s arguments and through discussion and interaction, reach a conclusion that results in a choice being made. In this case, the choice was guilty or not. For consumers it may one brand over another.

I left the jury room feeling I had made the best choice I could have and I was supported in that decision by my fellow jurors. I only hope I will feel that way next month when I start looking for a new wireless carrier.

Social Media, forget the hype and forget the technology

There was a full article in the Seattle Times this morning about social media. It’s amazing that a major media outlet either just discovered social media as a topic or there wasn’t enough new news to fill the dwindling number of printed pages. But let’s not get on the subject of newspapers and why most journalists seem to be more afraid of social media than taking steps to become the leaders of it.

What I want to talk about is not newspapers and not about what social media is, isn’t or what its good for. I don’t know and I’m supposedly an expert on the subject for my agency Ascentium. What I do know is that I don’t want to see, hear, blog, tweet or otherwise spew about the definition of social media and how it’s going to change the world, or at least our way of thinking about the world. Been there, done that.

It’s time to focus on the reality, not the potential of social media. Look at what Twitter is being used for politically around the globe. See how the Huffington Post has already redefined journalism. And as marketers, let’s start talking about the work we’re at our companies or for our clients. Let’s see what is working and what isn’t. And let’s define success, not at the nebulous level of “building brand awareness” or “increasing reach”. Let’s apply real metrics to determine the ROI of a very broad array of activities, campaigns and applications that we lump under the category of social media.

As president of the SDMA, we created an editorial calendar of the coming year’s series of monthly events. The kickoff event, to be held on 09/09/09 at the Bellevue Hyatt was listed in our working calendar as social media. From there, we went about selecting a speaker(s). It was easy to find some really smart people who could pontificate on social media. In fact, last week the Seattle Social Media Club had a great presentation on “What the f**k is Social Media?”
But we’ve tried to set the bar higher. Our moderator, Blake Cahill, of Visible Technologies, a social media expert in his own right, reached out to his considerable network and looked for marketers who were actually using various social media techniques and asked them for examples of what is and isn’t working in the very real world of corporate marketing.

The result is a great panel representing brands including Alaska Airlines, Comcast, REI and PCC Natural Markets who are willing and able to talk about what they have learned about social media.

So if you’re interested in going beyond the hype and seeing what social media can really do when applied by top marketers, come join us on Sept. 9, 2009 at 5:30p at the Bellevue Hyatt for the kick off event of the season of the SDMA.

Socialnomics Video – a fun “shift happens” style video for social media

I just looked at a very good short video making the case for the importance of Social Media in today’s world. it’s done ala the Shift Happens videos of a couple of years ago and you have to dig into the blog to find the sources of the some of the statements, not all of which appear to be as documented as I’d like to see. However it still is a good way to spend 4 minutes of your day and puts social media into a context most people haven’t grasped yet. check it out at

Forrester think Publicis and Razorfish a good fit, I disagree

I was just reading Harley Manning’s post on the acquisition of Razorfish by Publicis. It’s a good read, check it out. I posted the following comment on Harley’s blog, but thought it appropriate to repreat it here.

While I fully agree with Harley that Razorfish was always an afterthought at Microsoft and never made sense as a strategic fit, I’m not sure I buy the idea that selling to Publicis is either good for Razorfish or good for its customers.

I don’t believe the fact that Digitas and Razorfish are different types of digital agencies matters nearly as much as that Publicis and Digital agencies in general, have continued to be almost like oil and water. The problem is not simply possessing enough creative juices, Publicis certainly has plenty, and it’s not just having the technical skills that Digitas brings to the table.

The problem is that the cultures and ultimately the business models of traditional advertising agencies and digital agencies continue to be fundamentally different. And as long as that difference exists, mergers of mega agencies will falter.

Now, if Digitas and Razorfish were to be combined and then spun off, there would be an incredible powerhouse. But in fact, there are already some agencies, including Sapient, and my own agency, Ascentium, that have been building up this balance between great creative and deep technology expertise for several years. So in that context, a merger between Digitas and Razorfish wouldn’t produce a new kind of agency, simply the biggest one of its kind.

But it doesn’t sound like it’s a merger between Digitas and Razorfish, it sounds like another attempt on the part of Publicis to integrate a digital agency into a traditional advertising world. And I predict the outcome will be no better than what we’ve already seen with Digitas. As a marketer, it’s a waste of great talent. As a competitor, it’s great news. Big isn’t always better.

Market Researchers are the keymasters of loyalty

I was thinking about loyalty the other day. I had just sat through a company presentation where we talked about the almost 2 years of experience we have with Net Promoter Score. In the same meeting we also talked about our new Web site and how we were going to start capturing visitor data via our Web analytics tools and then incorporate that data into our CRM system. And at the end of the meeting, the topic even began to cover the piloting of capturing social media data and putting that it into CRM. Wow, that’s a lot of data. But what’s the connection between loyalty and data.

In the past, I’ve written about two distinct ways that connect data and loyalty. First, by applying what I call Closed Loop Marketing, a company can create endless loops of communication between consumers and companies. By opting in, a company can track a Web site visitor’s behavior, match with data captured from offline interactions like events, retail transactions or customer service. Then if intelligence is applied to understand the needs and wants of the customer, a company can reach back out to the customer to advance to dialogue, drive incremental transactions or take care of service incidents, closing the communication loop and advancing the relationship and by extension increasing loyalty.

In other contexts, I’ve made arguments about how companies can begin to use a mix of behavioral data captured online, demographics from CRM systems and transactional data from line of business systems to enable predictive analytics that will optimize response rates, close rates and ROI in general.

But today I had an epiphany. The missing piece has been the role of market research. Traditionally we think of market research as focus groups, qualitative and quantitative research and endless cross-tabs slicing and dicing every possible sort of data. And more recently, market research has been turned upside down with the advent of online surveys like Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey. But what is still in its infancy is the pairing of market research analytic expertise with social media influence monitoring.

So what does it all mean? For over a decade we’ve been hearing about the 360° view of the customer. And this has for the most part meant getting more individual data about a customer to be able to sell them more. But what it lacks, besides the fact that virtually no one has achieved it, is that we need to stop talking about data and start talking about intelligence. Capturing transactional data from online and offline is valuable, but only if someone is looking at that data and gaining insight from it.

CRM is primarily a tool of sales people and sales people do not have the time, the background or the motivation to analyze data and turn it into insight. Campaign or brand managers are only interested in their slice of the customer and aren’t really the best choice to be the customer’s advocate.

My choice is to call upon the market researchers. Their skills lend themselves to be good listeners and good ones have the ability to synthesize and extract patterns, critical keys to gaining true understanding of behavior.
So to all of those fellow travelers in the market research space who are seeing their budgets being stripped, there traditional approaches being usurped by self-service tools online and are wondering where their next career move will take them. Start looking at yourselves as the customer advocate and make sure everything you are doing advances your understanding of customer behavior and that you are able to translate that for your businesses or your clients. That will be where you add the most value and this is the key to loyalty.

Who’s Really the Competition

Who’s minding the competition?
I just wanted to pass along a personal anecdote about buying a book. Last weekend we had some friends over and my wife and a couple of friends started talking about a great new book they wanted to read. All I heard was that it was from the same author of The Shadow of the Wind.

To make a long story short, I went into a nearby Barnes and Noble today to buy the book for my wife. Since I didn’t know the name of the book, I binged (the verb to Google is sold school) the shadow of the wind from my mobile and got sent to Amazon. From there it was easy to click on the author’s name, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and find the name of his new novel, the Angel’s Game.

On Amazon it was $16.17. Staring in front of me at Barnes and Noble, it was $26.95, or 40% more. So wanting to save some money and a bit out of principle, I walked out of the store, planning to buy the book online when I got back to the office.

On the way back to the office, I stopped into the Deli counter of my local grocery store, QFC, to buy a sandwich to take back to my office. Walking through the store, I see an end cap display of new books including The Angel’s Game, at 25% off the suggested retail price. I ended up leaving the store with a roast beef sandwich and a copy of the book. I saved almost 7 dollars and I had the book in my hand instead of waiting for shipment.

The moral of the story is, well… purchase behavior is a fleeting thing. I represent a modern multi-channel shopper. I used a mobile interface to help me find what I wanted and compared prices. And the significant discount online was enough to alter my purchase intent. But then a completely different channel became open to me, one that provided me with enough of a discount to get me purchase on the spot and change my typical behavior. In the end, the grocery store won my book purchase. Knowing the competition isn’t always enough.

Forrester Research features Ascentium among the top Interactive agencies

On Friday, Forrester Research published its Forrester Wave™, Interactive Marketing Agencies – Web Design Capabilities, Q2, 2009. Ascentium was covered for the first time along with other top digital agencies including Sapient, imc2, Razorfish, IconNicholson, IBM Interactive, Organic, Blast Radius, iCrossing, OgilvyInteractive, Resource Interactive, and Rosetta, Critical Mass, Molecular, R/GA, VML, Whittmanhart and Arc Worldwide.

In addition to just being favorably reviewed among such a great group an agencies, we take pride in that Ascentium scored the highest out of all the agencies in the category or customer satisfaction. We credit that in large part to emphasis we have given to growing customer loyalty and constantly measuring it with tools like Net Promoter Scores.

When I joined Ascentium almost four years ago, we were primarily a technology consulting firm with strong Web development skills and some good design talent, but we hadn’t yet made the commitment to become a true full service digital agency. But we got together as a team and agreed that the future was in leveraging technology to advance marketing and to move from advertising to engagement.

Three years and a roster of blue chip clients like Microsoft T-Mobile, Dell, Cisco and Random House, later. We have garnered the attention of the likes of Forrester Research and have grown from a local Seattle-based firm to an agency with offices across the country and internationally as well.

It’s been a privilege to be a part of this journey and to have helped nurture it along the way. It wasn’t always easy teaching technologists and marketers to not only get along, but to actually work synergistically, to create a new model for what Forrester has called, the agency of the future.

So congratulations to all the other agencies featured in the Wave, thanks to all the analysts at Forrester who have seen value in what we’ve created and well done to each and every employee I have the privilege of working with at Ascentium. Just wait for what we have in store for you next.

I’m Hearing from more colleagues than ever before

There’s been a definite upswing in the number of ex-colleagues who are reaching out to me via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or via good old fashioned email lately. I’m glad to hear from them as I believe that is one of inherent values in social networking, re-connecting with people you have lost touch with over the years and multiple moves.

The problem is, the common thread of many of these re-connections is that they have been laid off or in some other fashion, find themselves actively looking for new career opportunities. And these are not the grade B people you knew, who while likeable enough, you knew were never going to be ready for the “big time”. Today, it is the A list just as likely to be out searching for something new. The economy has picked stripped the fat and is now eating into the meat and muscle itself.
Last week I attend Forrester’s Marketing Forum and the theme was that it was time to invest in the future. And that is what the smart companies are going to do. But there are still many, many companies who are afraid to invest, the risk is too high where sheer existence seems to hang by such a thin thread. But it seems such a shame to waste the brilliant talent that’s out there right now, filling their days searching and cleaning out the basement.

So I’d like to propose that all those companies who are faced with declining revenues and uncertain futures, reach out to the very smart people who have been sidelined and figure out a way you can work together to map out a future that will serve everyone’s best interests and get the ball rolling again.

Other agencies aren’t the real competition, IBM is

I just read a very good report prepared by the IBM Institute for Business Value entitled, “Beyond Advertising, Choosing a strategic path to the digital consumer.” While the article itself doesn’t contain and new thinking, that I haven’t heard discussed across many of my peer networks and among the analyst community like Forrester Research, what does stand out is that IBM, a technology and business consulting company demonstrates it understands what most agencies and marketing services companies still fail to grasp. What it tells me is that instead of worrying about other agencies, especially the large traditional holding company ad agencies, my real competition is going to become more and more the big consulting firms who see the challenges of marketers for what they really are, business issues, that affect the very core of how a company operates and what will make it successful in the future.

The only solace I can have is the fact that while the big consulting firms can do a good job of identifying the problems, they are not equipped to actually produce integrated brands, marketing programs and technological infrastructure necessary to achieve the solutions they will recommend. That still leaves an open field to companies like Ascentium and Sapient and a handful of others. But we had better not slow down the innovation we bring to our clients, or Big Blue will be pushing us out the door.