Tuesday, March 31

Shifting Ad Dollars: Reckitt-Benckiser Migration


"We've seen a fundamental shift in consumer consumption and media habits migrating over to digital video. Obviously YouTube started it, but we want to be aligned with professional content. With broadband getting to the scale that it has, the shift has happened. The integration of traditional and digital media is here now." — Marc Fonzetti, media manager and internet specialist for Reckitt-Benckiser

According to AdvertisingAge, Reckitt-Benckiser joins a long line of companies that are increasingly interested in the net. The company plans to shift an estimated $20 million in TV ad dollars to the Web for more than 15 of its brands, including: Lysol, Air Wick, Mucinex, Finish and Clearasil. $20 million is still only a small percentage of its estimated $475 million media purchased, but signals an accelerated migration.

The increasing emphasis on the Internet isn't only about CPM. Its also about market share. The company, which markets everything from Electrasol dishwasher products to French's mustard expects to increase its market share from 30 to 31/32 percent in 2009. Even more striking, Rob De Groot, head of the group's North America and Australia region confirmed what our research for some of our accounts has been saying for some time.

"The start of the recession has been here for the last six months. We haven't seen any recession in our numbers," he said, according to Reuters. "There is no reason to doubt that our innovation-led strategy is not working."

Right. Recessions are elective. Innovation is exempt.

Reckitt-Benckiser has frequently led the U.K. stock gains, including adding 7.6 percent profit after beating analysts’ estimates in February. The real losers in their most recent move might be major TV network Web sites. Reckitt-Benckiser decided to partner with ad-serving video ad networks such as Glam, Tidal TV, YuMe and Brightroll, rather than TV network Web sites, to avoid higher online CPM charges.

It's long past time for advertising agencies and communication-related firms to consider the obvious. Convergence is accelerating at a increasingly rapid pace. In fact, from our independent research, there is virtually no one under age of 30 that distinguishes media from social media or broadcast from online digital. Besides that, traditional broadcast doesn't reach mobile.

All this means that 2009 is shaping up to be exactly what we said it might be. Except, this is the year of communication in three months, not 12.

Monday, March 30

Measuring Communication, Cost Part 1


While most communication measurement models ask professionals to consider the cost per impression as it pertains to the cost of the media purchase, the better measure is "cost per outcome" or "cost to achieve intent" (assuming the intent is achieved). While impressions are important, there still needs to be accountability in determining what those impressions achieve.

In the ROC abstract, there are three cost considerations: actual cost, time to produce, and experience required. The first, actual budget, is the easiest to determine (C = b + t + e). Specifically, the budget consists of the cost of the project, including printing, production, and distribution. Although overlooked by many companies, it's best to include internal staff time, benefits, etc. and/or the total cost of the external sources.

Why is important to calculate all costs?

Calculating the cost of any campaign, and elements within a campaign as they pertain to outcomes, can help communication managers and executives make better budgeting decisions. For example, if Publication A delivers 10,000 impressions at a lower CPM than Publication B, which delivers 500 impressions at a higher CPM, most managers would cut B before A. However, if Publication A delivers 10 outcomes while Publication B delivers 100 outcomes, then the decision would be flawed because Publication B actually has a higher ROC.

The thinking isn't new; it's principled, well-reasoned, and had been adopted by a few media buyers who realized it was often better to buy time on a television show that your audience watched than to buy bulk value rotate "deals" that landed you impressions at 3 a.m.

Last year, I provided a different real life example where I heavily recommended a local Ham Supreme retailer to place a good portion of its media buy on an unproven pilot program. The agency I was working for balked at the idea, insisting we buy a high frequency cable rotate instead. The result: Ham Supreme ran heavily at 3 a.m. in the morning instead of on a show that eventually climbed to number one. Why did I want the pilot? Psychographics suggested Home Improvement viewers might like big ham sandwiches.

The point is that every communication related service — advertising, public relations, marketing, etc. — needs to focus on maximizing impressions. Doing so leads to better decisions. Likewise, the same can be said for decisions related to the cost of production, e.g. if a $2 per piece brochure delivers the same outcomes as a $200 per piece brochure, how can someone justify the additional $198 per piece? Conversely, how can someone count impressions never made by brochures stuck in storage.

Cost analysis can also help companies make decisions about internal vs. external time too. Very often, outsourcing specific work makes more sense than allowing less experienced staff members to perform the same work for more money when you factor in benefits. This is especially true now for companies that have cut back staff, and continue to ask employees do more for less.

Another example that comes to mind was when one of our accounts hired an in-house team member, specially to write news releases, two years ago. While the account considered it a savings, the in-house position cost them four times the amount for diminished outcomes.

In short, more than ever, communication needs to be measured against the outcomes that companies hope to achieve. While not all of these outcomes are tied to direct sales, the practice of benchmarking, measuring, and determining return can free up budgets and maximize the impact of communication over the long term. At least, that is what we've seen for almost 20 years.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, March 27

Considering Impressions: Do They Count?


Anyone who has read more than a single post on this blog knows I'm outcome measurement oriented. So it was no surprise to come back from a presentation today to see a few inquisitive e-mails regarding my advertising impression post on Wednesday.

"Did you change your mind about measurement?"

No, but I do understand human behavior and human behavior suggests that impressions — frequency — do count across the entire spectrum of communication. They might not be outcomes, but they are an important part of the equation.

Specifically, no single source of communication — advertising, public relations, marketing, social media — exists in a vacuum. It works together. When communication messages across all media are aligned, the outcomes are generally more substantive than singular communication streams because it accounts for sensory capacity and orientation.

Huh?

Sensory capacity and orientation are two factors that help determine how much influence a "cue" might have to a person. Or, in other words, each person's sensory capacity and orientation determines how the environment looks to that person. And, knowing this, we also know that any cue in that environment does not guarantee that the person will perceive the cues as we do nor does it guarantee the person will react the same way they perceive the cue depending on how they perceive it.

For example, some new parents become concerned when their babies do not react to animal mobiles over their cribs. But what they do not consider is that these babies see a mobile differently than their parents do. Babies see it differently because of their sensory capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the objects. Laying under the mobile, babies with developing eyesight (capacity) only see the bottoms of the animals (orientation), which diminishes their ability to recognize the animal shapes (familiarity).

Thus, babies (and people) are only influenced by a cue when they become sensitive to that cue. And one of the most important determinations of whether someone will be sensitive to a cue is dependent on past experience and familiarity. And now that this is understood, let's consider advertising and communication again.

Impressions count because they establish familiarity.

A cue, like an onsite product review, only has influence if the prospect has the capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the product to capture their attention. If someone has been exposed to several print advertisements, television advertisements, news stories, blog posts, direct friend referrals, etc., they will automatically gravitate toward reading the review of that product over the review of another product that they are being exposed to for the first time.

When you ask them what they attribute a product purchase to, they will most likely say the review because it was their last impression before the point of purchase. However, it was a collective number of positive impressions across all media and non-media that influenced their purchasing decision because without multiple exposures (capacity) during various activities (orientation) that established familiarity with the product. In some cases, a review might not have any influence at all because by the time a person is looking at a review, they might only be looking for a validation.

We even see this to be true in social media. Very often, it is not a blog alone that drives the traffic to top name social media bloggers. Rather, it's the in-person presentations, workshops, classes, books, articles (and in some cases, even advertisements), that establish enough familiarity from enough vantage points to engage and possibly influence people online.

So, in sum, I never changed my position. At the end of the day, it's all about outcomes. But outcomes cannot be achieved with a singular communication stream. We need advertising, public relations, marketing, and social media to work together, even if their various advocates have different capacities and orientations that cause them to debate the details.

Thursday, March 26

Revealing Inconsistencies: Timothy Geithner


U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner demonstrated why message consistency is important. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said the U.S. is "open" to a call for a new global currency to replace the U.S. dollar.

"We’re actually quite open to that suggestion — you should see it as rather evolutionary rather building on the current architecture rather than moving us to global monetary union," Geithner said, saying it deserved consideration.

Except, um, the U.S. is not.

"I don't believe there's a need for a global currency," said President Barrack Obama, rejecting a new global currency to replace the dollar at a press conference 24-hours before Geithner spoke.

The consequences of the Geithner gaffe led to the dollar immediately falling on world currency markets. In fact, it fell 1.3 percent against the euro within 10 minutes of his remarks.

It also opened a renewed flood of criticism over the Obama administration's plan to increase the budget deficit this year to 10 percent or more of the gross domestic product, with the most outspoken being Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek. He described the current U.S. policy as "a road to hell." He has since tendered his resignation, but will retain the E.U. presidency through June.

China is not alone in alluding to an abandonment of the U.S. dollar as it expresses worry over higher budget deficits resulting from increased spending. Russia has been pressing G20 members for a single world currency for some time.

This is also not the first time Geithner and President Obama had directly contradicted each other. Nor is it the only time the new administration has sent mixed messages nationally and internationally.

In fact, the current U.S. policy seems to be a contradiction in itself. While Geithner plans to impose government control over financial markets to "decide how much risk to take in the pursuit of profit," President Obama's policy races toward extreme spending, which carries overwhelming risk.

All of it demonstrates a growing communication challenge exhibited by the new administration. While always reasonably adept during the campaign trail to deliver a unified message, the President seems incapable of delivering a consistent message with his administration. And you know what that usually means. If there isn't a consistent message, then there likely isn't a cohesive plan, at least one that everybody knows about or anyone can agree on.

It applies to business communication as well. Inconsistent communication is often a symptom of something else, much like that initial sniffle before you feel sick. Someone might want to pass the administration a tissue. It seems to be going around.

Wednesday, March 25

Failing Grade: Eric Clemons On Advertising


Eric Clemons, professor of operations and information management at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, drew some fire with his argument that the Internet shatters all forms of advertising. Enough so that he updated his post in an attempt to quell the criticism (or perhaps fan the flames) on TechCrunch, telling people how to properly frame their rebuts, ridiculing them for how they chose to comment, and warning them that he was right one time back in 1989.

As much as the Clemons post provides an excellent example of how someone allowed a message to manage them as opposed to managing their message, it might be useful to explore his argument. And, in doing so, demonstrate why his message failed.

Clemons Argument 1: People don’t trust ads. There is vast literature to support this. Is it all wrong?

As evidence, Clemons offers Dan Ariely's book, Predictably Irrational, which he says concludes that messages attributed to a commercial source have much lower credibility and impact on the perception of product quality than the same message attributed to a rating service. The argument fails, however, because effective advertising accounts for irrational behavior. Enough so that we consider it Rule 7 in The Real Nine Rules of Advertising.

But more importantly, it fails because messages do not take place in isolation. Clemons relies on Ariely's comparative model, which neglects that messages reach people from a variety of sources. It's more likely that a person who sees three advertisements AND a rating service confirmation is likely to be more impacted by that message than a message found only on a rating service. Why? Because the ad message is a promise, and the rating service is a confirmation of delivery on that promise.

He also backed up his argument citing Forrester Research's study that found 16 percent of consumers don't trust corporate blogs. Ironically, that study was flawed because it neglected to take into account that people don't trust blogs much like they don't trust hammers. People trust specific sources, not mediums or objects or industries. You can see the same phenomenon in banking today: people don't trust the financial industry, except for their own banks.

Clemons Argument 2: People don’t want ads. Again, there is a vast literature to support this.

Is there? Contrary to the self-validating statement Clemons without a source, there are some studies that suggest commercial interruptions can actually improve the television viewing experience.

More importantly, newer evidence suggests that while 60 percent of DVR users and 90 percent of TiVo users specifically skip through commercials "some of the time," Integrated Media Measurement found that 35 percent of people who have a DVR watched prime time programming online, where they could not fast-forward commercials. Hulu viewership grew 42 percent last month alone, obviously unhindered by advertising embedded in the programs.

Ergo, people want more choices. Online, the best models remain clear. There is a segment of the population that is willing to pay for commercial-free content, and a segment that is willing to watch commercials in order to enjoy that content for free. The only downside to this model is that offering commercial-free content for those willing to pay for uninterrupted programming reduces the the number of impressions for advertisers. However, it's becoming increasingly clear that CPM decisions are often overrated as they are only a small part of communication measurement.

Clemons Argument 3: People don’t need ads. There is a vast amount of trusted content on the net.

After admitting there is no literature to cite, Clemons asks individuals to think about how they form opinions of a product, from online ads or online reviews.

However, Clemons neglects that most online advertising isn't designed to form opinion. Banner ads, featuring a company name and logo only, do not shape opinion. By design, it can only do two things — build familiarity or lead people to a site where the opinion may be shaped. In other words, Clemons has asked an erroneous question in order to lead people to a suspect conclusion. He didn't need to.

Banner advertising rates are falling as click-through rates tend to be less than one percent. However, the challenge isn't the advertising, it's the execution. As long as online banner advertisements are designed to look like wallpaper, I think it's fair to assume that they will have about the same impact — a little less than one percent might say "Huh, nice wallpaper."

Clemons Truth 1: You cannot ridicule everything you do not like off the net.

One of the most striking comments proposed by Clemons was in his update that challenged people to construct better arguments. "You cannot ridicule everything you do not like off the net," Clemons said.

What struck me about his comment was that he might have considered it prior to writing a piece that aims to do exactly that. He attempted to ridicule online advertising, which he does not like, off the net. And then, even more perplexing, didn't anticipate that a largely unsupported opinion piece might be met with the "like" ridicule, which seems to demonstrate that he really doesn't understand the net at all, let alone advertising. (To be clear: the observation is not meant to diminish his credentials, but rather highlight the flaws in his approach.)

While some of the challenges to online advertising presented are notable, the problem — "the car won't go" — cannot be proclaimed to be the "car" when you haven't bothered to check the gas gauge. And in those cases, the problem is temporary.

As traditional mediums continue to shrink and converge, it stands to reason that online advertising will continue to grow in ways that most people have yet to imagine, especially mobile advertising and interactive proximity advertising. So, in other words, it's not advertising that fails right now. It's ineffective advertising that fails right now.

As an interesting side note to conclude upon, Jason Falls recently asked "Would advertising offend you?" if his blog, social media explorer (SME), began to accept paid advertising. While most people offered up it wouldn't bother them any more than his Alltop or AdAge Power150 badges, which are non-paid ads, Falls correctly points out the obvious: "I don’t make money from my blog. I make money because of it."

Therefore, it might be safe to conclude that the blog IS the ad. Everything else, from being sourced or cited to network participation or paid/unpaid ads (like a widget), attracts people to it. And while I don't know how long people spend on SME, I do know they spend 3-5 minutes visiting this one because we don't demand informed debate, but deliver it with hope for the future.

Tuesday, March 24

Ghosting Content: Guy Kawasaki


Dave Fleet, a communications professional with a passion for social media, has been writing about the ethics of ghost writing online content for some time. So it was no surprise to see another excellent write up about Guy Kawasaki, creator of Alltop and Truemors, who has three other people writing for his Twitter account. The post includes a direct response from Kawasaki.

Fleet: Do you feel it is misleading to have other people write under your name on Twitter?

Kawasaki: Nope–especially because I don’t hide the fact.


Whether or not it is ethical to ghost write online content is a conversation that continues to sweep across the surface like a tsunami. It often has more power on the back end than the front end. It's one of those topics that I've been meaning to tackle for some time, but my motivation to address what amounts to "no win" discussion frequently wanes with the realization that it seems more futile than fortuitous to do so.

The entire topic seems futile because its based on a perceptional ethical high ground that dismisses a virtual flood of reality. And that reality is a tremendous portion of all communication from individuals was written by someone else. From single line quotes in news releases and brochures to legislative bills and speeches delivered by heads of state.

My personal position is simple enough. I discourage it, but without any of the fervor that sometimes accompanies my colleagues' comments on the subject. I find it too difficult and even hypocritical to judge those who would ghostwrite posts given that my words have fallen under the byline of thousands (except posts and social media accounts), and even people who know me well would be hard pressed to find similarities between this one or that one or that one or this one. But never mind me for a moment. It might be more useful to establish an understanding.

The Three Most Common Positions On Ghosting Posts.

Rampant Acceptance. While it was written almost three years ago, the comment section of a post written by Debbie Weil for the IAOC is pretty revealing. Several writers chimed in with a sympathetic tone for ghostwriting, though several mentioned some expectation that they would be squashed with ridicule and shame based on references from 2005 and earlier (just to show you how long this dusty old topic has been kicked around).

Qualified Acceptance. Bill Sledzik, associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Kent State University, says, with the exception of Twitter and rigid guidelines, that "only the purist assumes ghostwriting is wrong."

Genuinely Unacceptable. Beth Harte warns writers away from the practice because of the presumption that consumers will consider it a fake blog upon discovery. She's not alone. Plenty of people consider it unethical.

The Long And Tired History Of Debate

No one can move forward in a discussion that doesn't account for history. The simple explanation is that early blogging was considered spontaneous broadcast over transplanted professional print, with the earliest participants being regular people rather than professionals.

In some cases, these regular people have since surpassed early adopters with backing of the extensive professional networks, speaking engagement promotions, and ability to game most measurements under the guise that their memes were somehow more important than those originally cooked up by regular people. (I might also note that many of these early personal pioneers consider the very ideal of professional blogging unethical on its face too.)

As such, it's not surprising that regular people set the tone for online presentation. And there decisions were adopted, in part, by the earliest professional participants who decided that it was okay to use blogging as a professional communication platform while accepting the concept that the communication remains pure, unedited, and raw. Of course, the reality is that for most non-communicator professionals, pure, unedited, and raw is a recipe for disaster. After all, it is primary reason there are multiple professions built around communication — marketing, advertising, public relations, real time, whatever.

In other words, it's not necessarily practical for every online participant to craft their own message or pen their posts on their own. Thus, the medium became less associated with spontaneous broadcast and more associated with planned communication, enough so that some people consider every post to be critical to personal and corporate branding. So, allowances were made to have professionals vet the content, edit the copy, and otherwise polish it up much like many letters, emails, press release quotes, and other collateral.

As soon as these editing allowances came into play, so too did the many shades of gray that encompass what is often presented as a black and white issue that asks "is ghostwriting posts ethical or not, pick one."

It's impossible to pick one with any moral and ethical certainty, given that "ghostwriting" has been defined as everything from casual edits and complete rewrites to written with review and unapologetic adoptions of an entire persona a la C.D. 'Charlie' Bales. And that said, I recognize that no one will ever agree on where to draw the line and it's likely most lines are situational.

The Bottom Line On Ghostwriting Posts.

Personally, I discourage ghostwriting posts, specifically the "written with review" or "unapologetic adoption of an entire persona" solutions, and consider it a step down from that to think ghostwriters are working for people on Twitter, which is even closer to a broadcast medium and often solicits representative conversation much like comments. However, I see it this way not because it's unethical as much as it's not needed, when the only apparent benefit to do so is being ever present.

However, I am not surprised Kawasaki uses ghostwriters. His social media strategy is a system and has always been a system. So while it would be bothersome if one of his ghostwriters was singing the praises of authenticity, disclaimer or not; I'm not in a position to question his intent. Only he (and Bales) can do that.

So, is that the bottom line? Not exactly.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.“ — William Shakespeare

Monday, March 23

Measuring Communication, Defining Outcomes


Since January, we've outlined several considerations to determine Intent and the execution of intent. But that is only part of the equation. The balance of the definition includes that the return on investment is related to the intent of the communication, the outcome it produces, and the cost to achieve those outcomes.

In social media and public relations (to some degree), there is a propensity to diminish the value of measurement based on the idea that indirect results are difficult to measure. As a result, there is a tendency is misclassify the operators of intent (such as frequency and reach) as outcomes.

Column inches are not really outcomes. Web site hits are not really outcomes. Comment counts are not really outcomes. Links are not really outcomes. Rather, all these things are generally a means to an outcome, publicity included.

“What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.” — Abraham Lincoln

Never mind that Lincoln wasn't talking about animals. The publicity employed by a skunk is actually very effective, as the outcome it strives for is to be left alone. If it wanted to be a pet, only then could we say it has a public relations problem.

Most companies, of course, do not want to be left alone. Most of them want sales. When we could ask Leo Burnett, he might say that "advertising says to people, 'Here's what we've got. Here's what it will do for you. Here's how to get it.'”

But it's not that simple, not really. People have to know that you exist, care that you have something, and feel confident that they aren't supporting a bad corporate citizen. Of course, there is something else the Burnett quote points to. He did not say that advertising is sales, only that it leads people to where sales occur.

With the exception of online stores and direct response marketing, most advertising, public relations, and communication does not lead directly to sales. It does, however, lead people to seek out a product, include a product among their purchasing decisions, have a favorable opinion about a company, tell other people about it (as you want them to be told), listen to the company when it has news to share, and hundreds of other actionable events and changes of behavior or outcomes from defined publics.

Outcomes are measured by the actions and opinions of a defined public.

The Southwest airlines Ding! widget is one example. As a communication tool, it promises to deliver exclusive offers to a select audience (people who download the widget). Sometimes, these offers change behaviors in that a low fare offer might prompt people to visit a city they didn't consider before or place reservations in advance to a city they intend to visit in the near future.

The number of people who have downloaded the widget defines the reach; the number of sales attributed to the widget defines the outcomes. In 2007, $150 million in sales were directly attributed to the widget.

Naturally, the widget doesn't communicate in a vacuum. Other communication efforts ranging from campy advertising to its blog, all have the intent to distinguish Southwest as being casual, friendly, fun, and focused on lower prices. This intent has served the airlines since 1972. Today, it includes an early adoption of social media.

While the whole of its communication efforts help define the intent and reinforce its brand equity, the return on the widget can be directly tied to ticket sales vs. the cost to develop and promote the widget. Other efforts from other organizations might be measured differently.

For example, if an organization wanted to expand its engagement with a specific demographic and sent out a news release, then the measure of that news release might be the response from that demographic rather than the frequency or reach of the publications that ran the story. (It might also be a change in sentiment by the demographic.) How people beyond the demographic respond to the story might also be valid, but ancillary to the real measurement.

In the weeks ahead, we'll present what might be included to determine the cost to produce such outcomes. But before I did, I thought it was important to provide a baseline of what an outcome is and what it is not.

Specifically, an outcome is an actionable event that ranges from indirect such as a change in opinion to direct such as sales when confined to a specific offer. In other words, the outcome is what we do when we learn the skunk has a potent spray, assuming we are even in the skunks demographic.

Friday, March 20

Banking On Troubles: Waggener Edstrom Worldwide


According to a consumer poll conducted by Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and RT Strategies, a mere 8 percent of consumers have full confidence in banks and financial services companies. The firm compares the low water mark to a 31 percent confidence level reported in 2006 by the University of Chicago National Opinion Research Center.

Highlights From Waggener Edstrom Worldwide Nationwide Consumer Poll

• 44 percent of respondents said they heard something from the industry but felt more negative after hearing it.
• 11 percent of respondents heard something from the industry and felt better about it.
• 38 percent of respondents said they have heard nothing directly from the industry at all.

Waggener Edstrom Worldwide concludes that media coverage and/or advertising is shaping public opinion more than direct communication from the industry and that authentic and credible communication positively influences widely held opinions about the industry overall.

"Ironically, at a time when the financial services industry has the most at stake, its communications with consumers and policymakers have descended to a strikingly low level," said Torod Neptune, senior vice president and Global Public Affairs Practice leader at Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. "Perhaps one of the most jarring findings in this survey is the sheer lack of industry leadership in communicating what financial services companies are doing to aid in a broad-based economic recovery."

The consumer poll mirrors a cursory public sentiment report we conducted for a national bank last month, which demonstrated the financial services industry as a whole is causing individual bank brand erosion as a direct result of accepting TARP funds. Areas of concern across the industry include mismanagement, financial waste, security, trust, and longevity.

Where we differ from Waggener Edstrom Worldwide is in its recommendation that there is an opportunity for financial services leaders to step forward in the midst of this storm and proactively communicate a message of trust. Unlike most messages, trust cannot be communicated as an industry as much as it has to be earned at a ratio of one-to-one.

What is also missing from the Waggener Edstrom Worldwide conclusions is that some banks are communicating direct to clients. And, by in large, there are reasons that TARP banks have remained largely quiet. Specifically, not all of them needed TARP funds. The reason they accepted the funds is sound, but it does not resonate with the public while individual banks are targeted for public floggings.

So is there a solution? Sure. But the opportunity isn't to step forward in the midst of this storm and proactively communicate for the industry in an environment where it's good sport to take shots at financial services, where individual bank decisions can erode the credibility of whomever picks up the mantle, or where government has positioned itself in an adversarial role. Instead, an individual bank needs to focus on what it can manage — its own communication to employees, customers, and prospects.

In addition, the message wouldn't be one of trust, but rather one demonstrated by reliability and longevity. And by "demonstrated," I mean with evidence that suggests it is provably true. Each bank, of course, needs to develop a message based on its own situation and core values, assuming it hasn't drifted too far away from those.

Interestingly enough, the less reported on portion of the study reveals that consumers appear willing to give the industry the benefit of the doubt on questions about industry practices, such as the use of TARP funds. That tells me the 8 percent finding that is carrying some headlines today isn't so much about the industry as much as it demonstrates how popular it is to say "I don't trust banks, um, except the one that has my money."

Thursday, March 19

Understanding B2B Blogs: Case Abstract


While there is always plenty of buzz surrounding social media, an integrated approach to marketing and communication still works best to drive companies forward. And as long as companies understand that social media is a flexible tactical tool rather than replacement strategy, they will see results.

Despite substantial limitations, we recently completed a startup blog for a niche green-solution engineering company in about 90 days. The initial focus, after market analysis (listening), was to establish a blog capable of capturing the interest of clearly defined audiences: manufacturers and regulators in the short term; environmentalists over the long term.

Why blogs work as a niche B2B solution.

In as little as three months, visitation grew from 0 to 600 visitors per month (outpacing the company's Web site by as much as 4-to-1), with five subscribers and frequent return visitors. While that might seem insignificant for people who focus on traffic, traffic was inconsequential. What was important was that one weekly post succeeded in capturing interest from a very specific niche audience, with the medium length of every visit around five minutes.

We also knew they were the right audience based on analytics alone. In addition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, South Coast Air Quality Management District, State Of California Air Resources Board (among others), the majority of visitors included major engineering firms, manufacturers, food processors, and universities. As an additional footnote, the blog initiated direct contact with two environmental reporters and one congressman, specifically interested in EISA Section 471.

Based on the company's median contract rate, the program could eventually return as much as $50 to $1 hard return on investment with one contract and a significant return on communication (ROC), long term, assuming the company followed through on recommended integrated marketing tactics. There was also a high probability it would take a industry expert position in 180 to 240 days, given its area of expertise was an underserved and underreported niche within the engineering industry.

Specifically, their audience is searching the Web for content that nobody else was providing. At least, for now.

Blogs aren't ends unto themselves. They are beginnings.

Of course, blogs alone do not necessarily generate direct results. As noted, it takes an integrated approach.

Given that, in this case, the company could identify visiting companies, it could have looked up the most appropriate contacts, mailed informative value-driven marketing material, and then followed up with a introduction call. Even in cases where the material might not reach the exact visitor, the dual contact points could eventually inspire dialogue within the targeted prospect.

Specifically, by creating impressions with different people inside a targeted company, the communication will eventually converge as needs in this area arise. And, when combined with additional programs already in place (such as trade shows, workshops, and targeted advertising), a niche engineering subcontractor could easily become the focus based on the quality of its shared content, the frequency and diversification of its impressions, and the potential demand generated by the passage of green energy grants with the recent passage of the Stimulus Package.

Long term, the engineering company can still expand its social media program to social networks, with an emphasis on those based on monitoring and, more specifically, blog reader information. (Not always, but often, our readers ask us to join or try out specific social networks, groups, etc.) In other words, they could become the hub of the existing niche interest.

Early results demonstrate momentum, despite limitations.

What struck me as especially significant about this case was the steadily increasing interest despite severe limitations. Limitations included:

• An incomplete and fragmented Web site without coherent organization (which likely diminished the positive impressions created by the blog).
• The lack of a clear connection between the startup blog and Web site (e.g., a RSS feed or widget would have increased its site traffic by including the blog content on the site).
• The lack of time availability from the company's engineers, even though the commitment could have been as little as one post every three months from each, supported by related content in between, as outlined by the initial program plan (e.g. other than two contributions from myself, the most popular entries were written by the engineers).
• The missed opportunity in promoting trade shows attended where the company was an exhibitor (the point designer claimed they didn't have time to provide basic information, such as booth number).
• The undervaluation of how related content (e.g., how the fluctuation of natural gas prices indirectly increases the expense of a prospect's operations) by one party could position them as a solution-driven company, much like EISA Section 471 posts did.

Going forward, the company can address these limitations and better formalize its integrated marketing approach. The point here, however, isn't to focus in on these as deficiencies as much as it is to demonstrate that despite such limitations, the blog still managed to capture the interest of the desired audiences.

So, as long as company staff maintains the program until these areas are fixed, they still have a successful though slower growth rate program that has a high ability to capture organic traffic and niche audience interest. Further out, long term, the recommended path would be to build out into other social media areas based on niche audience participation.

Small companies sometimes underestimate marketing.

One of the reasons this was a short-term program was because of a common challenge among small companies. Often, they claim to become too busy to be concerned with marketing but not busy enough to sustain a marketing budget. Years ago, I was guilty of such deficient thinking myself. Nowadays, I know better. Marketing not only is a priority, it is the lifeblood of business. Without it, companies eventually fade away or fail outright.

Where social media is especially successful is it helps maximize B2B marketing efforts while reducing the overall budget. And even if it is not integrated, it can, at minimum, capture more interest than a static Web site because content adds value and connections increase engagement over time. It not only makes sense, it's common sense.

Wednesday, March 18

Ruffling Feathers: Jeremiah Owyang


Jeremiah Owyang, analyst for Forrester Research, left dozens of people scratching their heads in his coverage of what seems to be a crisis looming in the background at Mzinga. Mzinga, if you don't know, manages more than 14,000 online communities for companies such as Virgin Media, GMAC Mortgage, and John Deere.

According to Owyang, he has been been hearing from multiple sources that Mzinga is undergoing some changes, which includes the voluntary leave of the CMO. Under normal circumstances, this is common fare for company coverage. However, these circumstances aren't common as Owyang took his coverage a step further.

"It’s my obligation to have my clients (sic) best interest in mind, and this is the fastest way for me to reach them, by using the tools where we’re already connected," wrote Owyang. "I strongly recommend that any Mzinga clients or prospects stall any additional movement till they brief me next Monday."

In the very next line, he promises to be fair and balanced. And, more perplexing to some, he teased the post on Twitter by more or less stating that people should not perpetrate rumors. Owyang has since apologized for his post.

So what went wrong for Owyang and what can be learned?

One reason reporters tend to become cynical is that they often learn insider information that they cannot confirm. So, unless reporters can substantiate any speculation with fact, they might leave an issue on the back burner until something finally surfaces (if it ever does). Or, they might share what their insider information is, but stop short of calling the game.

What seems to be is that Owyang, who says he had the best intentions, attempted to play the middle. He decided against sharing the insider information but wanted to protect his clients (and companies beyond his clients) based on the information he had obtained. It might seem like a good idea, but it's an extremely dangerous position because it fails on both fronts.

I might point out that this says nothing about Owyang as a person. There are plenty of people who will defend him as one of the most respected names in the social media industry. However, just because people are ethical and have good judgement doesn't exempt them from mistakes. And this was a mistake.

While having a conversation about this subject with Christina Kerley (who brought this story to my attention) on Twitter, I pointed to Article 8 of the International Association of Business Communicators Code of Ethics, which suggests "Professional communicators protect confidential information and, at the same time, comply with all legal requirements for the disclosure of information affecting the welfare of others."

I didn't elaborate then, but I will now. Either Owyang had compelling information that affected the welfare of others, which would require it be shared. Or he did not, which would have precluded him from making such a heavy handed recommendation.

So to answer Jon Burg's question — should a blogger share an important or compelling rumor? — it depends. Personally, I try (with admittedly some slippage now and again) to never use the word "should," but if a blogger (or anyone) has compelling evidence, especially if affects the welfare of others, then they are better off sharing it, with qualification, to justify any recommendation on their part.

In other words, if "that" then "this" is fair. But Owyang only alluded to having "that," which means his "this" overreached, making it look like a power play from an industry analyst apparently unable to get the answers he wanted, using mostly Twitter to do so.

As for what could have happened, it seems to me that notifying clients would have best been left to private communication. Any public comment might have recognized that if you are in for a pinch, you are in for a pound. And, on something this sensitive, unless you cover public communication like I do, social media isn't the best fact-gathering mechanism. Sometimes you have to pick up the phone a few times.

So what went wrong for Mzinga and what can be learned?

While Mzinga probably didn't deserve the recommendation that could have caused a much larger crisis than whatever crisis it may be facing, the company hasn't performed much better in managing its communication. There is obviously some sort of crisis (one they intended to answer on Monday) and an unwillingness to address the situation sooner is paramount to confirming it.

Mzinga employee Dave Wilkins' comment on Burg's blog presents one revelation ... "… I'm not really in the right position to respond officially anyway. I do want to clarify a couple of things however."

What's the revelation? In the interim between Mzinga not addressing rumors and promising to address the rumors, the company's employees are left with the daunting task of addressing issues that they are not in the right position to address, which just adds more fuel to the fire.

Some, it seems, have taken to leaving nasty anonymous comments on Owyang's blog. Others demanded apologies while poking back at Owyang. And even more, vendors included no less, chimed in too. Heck, even "former" CMO Patrick Moran is speaking on behalf of a company that has left its communication to reckless abandon.

How reckless? Someone asked me "What leads you to believe that this is a 'crisis'? Is it because the rumor mill says that it is? While the company may be going through some changes, I have seen nothing other than the rumors here and on JKO's blog that indicate there is a 'crisis'."

Give me a break. When rumors of a dramatic and possibly negative change become the only message, overshadowing everything else that the company does or says, it is a crisis. Denial doesn't make it not a crisis; it only makes it louder.

If you don't manage the message, the message will manage you. And from the looks of it, Mzinga isn't managing this one. If it had, there would be no Owyang post to be ruffled about.

If you're still confused, here's the oversimplified version.

1. Mzinga has some sort of a change ahead (small, big, whatever) and did not properly address it, which led to increased negative speculation and rumors. The fact that they promised to address it (Monday) suggests something is going on.

2. Owyang had some information, and then attempted to balance "not wanting to share it without verification" and "wanting to share it because it could impact his clients, colleagues, etc." In attempting to do right by everyone, he did right by no one. He also apologized; lesson learned.

3. Mzinga is now making a tremendous mistake by offering no easily identifiable response, leaving employees and vendors to deliver what can only be called runaway crisis communication, which promises to end badly for them. The last published press announcement was on Feb. 26.

In sum, for as much as Owyang admittedly did the wrong thing, Mzinga's crisis communication management is as much of a train wreck as the Jobster crisis communication management three years ago. The whole situation reads like amateur hour, which makes it all the more worthwhile to cover as a case study. What's the takeaway today? If you don't know what you're doing, hire someone who does.

Tuesday, March 17

Playing Favorites: BloggersUnite.org

Although I was unable to attend SXSW this year, I was able to send a small piece along in my place. (For those that don't know, the SXSW Interactive Festival features five days of panel content and parties, simultaneously with film and music festivals in Austin, Texas.)



My small piece was a quick and quirky animated video that illustrates the history of BloggersUnite.org, which started as a BlogCatalog initiative two years ago. But more than that, it demonstrates how ideas are made real via the Internet.

Simply put, one person has an idea, shares it with others, and then each person uses their unique experiences to play a role in making it a reality. Over time, other participants become involved, engaged, and lend a little of themselves to the overall project or program or social network. When that happens, the realities often turn out better than anyone expected.

As a side note, there was another takeaway for me. After the avatars used in the piece became distorted across several video editing programs, I turned to Keynote for the first time. Other than having to export the project more than a dozen times before the audio bed synced, Apple's presentation software turned out to be a surprisingly versatile tool in getting the job done.

It's amazing what can be accomplished with one Apple program and a little coffee during the course of one evening from concept to creation. Keynote certainly helped me rethink what's possible from a presentation program. You can find the best quality presentation on our site through June 30.

Monday, March 16

Measuring Communication, Equation Influencers Part 2


“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer.” — Phil Dusenberry, former chairman of BBDO Worldwide

While more formal definitions might include "the assortment of qualities that differentiates the brand from other commodities, which translates into higher sales volume and higher profit margins against competing brands" or "marketing effects or outcomes that accrue to a product with its brand name compared with those that would accrue if the same product did not have the brand name," Dusenberry’s proposition defines brand equity succinctly.

Brand equity is derived from what people think and feel about a particular person, product, service, or company.

In recent years, an increasing number of people misdefine brand as an identity, image, mark, or logo (e.g., as in a cattle brand). However, it's none of those things. For the relationship between those things and their relationship to a brand, it might be worthwhile to refer to an older brand primer post, which includes a in depth comment from a trademark lawyer as well.

For the purposes of measurement, a better definition that reflects Dusenberry’s proposition is that a “brand” is better thought of as the net sum of all positive and negative impressions. For example, when people think of Apple, they have an immediate emotional reaction to what Apple represents as it relates to them. It may be positive or negative or neutral or degrees in between.

The impact of brand equity on the whole of communication can be extraordinary. Simply put, Apple has developed a brand that is powerful enough that anything it does is news. The same can be said about Apple CEO Steve Jobs. It's simply not so for the bulk of many of other companies.

Brands have a two-fold relationship to the overall communication strategy.

In the ROC equation, brand equity is demonstrated as a second influencer that impacts the whole effectiveness of communication. Specifically, Brand times Intent (message plus suitability times reach) divided by duration or B • I (m+s • r)/d. The more powerful the brand, the more people take notice.

However, planned communication can also negatively impact a brand. For example, Pepsico's Tropicana package redesign had a dramatically negative impact on the brand relationship between the product and the consumer. Interesting enough, the Arnell Group didn't change the brand as much as they changed the identity of the product, which came to symbolize the relationship that consumers felt toward the product.

What the Arnell Group never seemed to consider (or Pepsico, which seems to be redesigning its entire portfolio of products for the sake of change), was that its most loyal consumers identified the orange with the straw imagery much in the same way Coca-Cola has infused itself into the psyche of American culture and around the world. In sum, the package redesign diminished the brand equity.

Over-reaching creative, erred publicity stunts, and forced viral campaigns all have a tendency to diminish brand equity. Why? Such efforts tend to push for frequency and reach at the expense of the value proposition and message, which are critical components in establishing a brand promise.

An interesting side note about brands and their meaning to people.

We've had a laugh or two over the Microsoft Branding Parody that pays homage to Fred Manley's “Nine Ways To Improve An Ad.” However, there is something else to think about.

Over time, Microsoft's brand became so entrenched with a "generic" identity that it became difficult for the company break away from it, even with the help of Jerry Seinfeld. However, as Microsoft recently learned, even a generic brand might avoid lowering the bar too much as it did with Songsmith video.

The reason this is relevant is because of another theory we've had in the mix for some time. The Fragile Brand Theory suggests that it is less important to stick with your brand choice (innovative and elusive like Apple or a generic giant like Microsoft) than to switch and swap identities that confuse your publics. In general, people develop relationships with the sustainable familiar, regardless of the brand that people, products, and companies try to project.

If there is a distinct takeaway separate from the measurement abstract, it is that as much as brands influence the impact of communication, communication tends to influence brand over the long term. Dramatic juxtapositions of established brands, regardless of what they are, do not end well.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Friday, March 13

Shaping Public Opinion: Copywrite, Ink. Presentation

Shaping Public Opinion was presented Feb. 6, 2009 at Regis University.
View more presentations from CopywriteInk.

Thursday, March 12

Treading On Headlines: Newspapers Sink


“In 2009 and 2010, all the two-newspaper markets will become one-newspaper markets, and you will start to see one-newspaper markets become no-newspaper markets,” said Mike Simonton, a senior director at Fitch Ratings, who analyzes the industry, to The New York Times.

He is not alone in his assessment. Time magazine recently listed what it believes are the 10 most endangered newspapers in America, including: The Philadelphia Daily News, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, The Miami Herald, The Detroit News, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Chicago Sun-Times, The New York Daily News, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and The Cleveland Plain Dealer. The article also suggests eight of the 50 largest papers could be gone in the next 18 months. (Hat tip: Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, who has been posting a series called "Information wants to be free, reporters want to be paid" for some time.)

There is a rub too. According to a Nielsen Online report for the Newspaper Association of America, average monthly unique audience figures for newspaper Web sites grew by nearly 7.3 million in 2008 to 67.3 million visitors, an increase of 12.1 percent over 2007. Monthly unique visitors during the fourth quarter of 2008 averaged 68.2 million, an 8.6 percent increase over the same period a year ago (62.8 million).

So the reality is that newspapers are more popular than ever, but the business model is broken. It doesn't have to be, but it is because daily publishers operated in denial for almost a decade. Most of them, including the Orlando Sentinel, noted steep circulation declines as early as 2003. From our data, virtually all newspaper circulation graphs look similar if not the same.

The Solution Is Symbiotic Content Over Duplication

There are many reasons newspapers are failing, but the one we'll touch on today is the most obvious. When publications migrated online, they duplicated the content in entirety and then added more features to the online asset than the print publication could ever hope to support.

While this might have proved to be a successful model, dailies made the mistake of considering the online asset an entirely new revenue stream (thereby denying print advertisers the benefit of the online circulation as well). Had the advertisers been allowed to migrate online for free, dailies might have survived with a single revenue stream.

But instead of having one product, dailies created two. And in doing so, they became their own competition, with the better product only fetching mere pennies on the dollar in terms of advertising revenue. Another solution might have been to follow other models proven successful on the Web.

Instead of duplicating content, newspapers could have considered creating a more symbiotic model, with the print and online versions of the publication carrying similar but modified content. For example, the printed daily could have included the in depth coverage (the kind that kept newspapers competitive with broadcast over the last few decades), while the online versions could have summarized, editorialized, or provided actual supporting documentation (such as letters, court filings, etc.) for the print version.

Doing so would have driven print subscribers online and some online readers to subscribe. While there are many different degrees of differentiation for such a model, the basics are the same. There are plenty of companies that have already proven premium content still pays the rent. Sometimes, it even pays more than an annual subscription to a daily newspaper.

Not All Dailies Will Die, But News May Never Be The Same

If there is a bright side to the blight facing newspapers, it might be that the long-term future seems more promising than short term. Eventually, one can hope that the public will grow weary of increasingly yellow journalism (biased opinion masquerading as objective fact) and return to objectivity as once envisioned by Walter Lippmann.

This doesn't mean that I believe people will pay for objective reporting as it exists today, but I do think objectivity will eventually recapture its audience, assuming tomorrow's dailies will resist the urge to tamper with the term as today's dailies have done. (Not everyone wants to have their opinions validated. Some people still value the truth.)

Of course, once these publications have an audience, advertisers will follow. In fact, they'll be even more likely to follow as soon as marketers finally learn that circulation isn't the best measure. It hasn't been for some time.

Wednesday, March 11

Revealing Weakness: Brian Solis On Authority


Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, writing for TechCrunch, asked yesterday if blogs were "losing their authority to the statusphere."

Specifically, he wondered about the relevance of the Technorati Authority Index, which used to be the leading measure for bloggers to benchmark their rank. The theory was that the more blogs that link to your blog, the more authority you had in a subject area to be considered an "expert." However, as Solis alludes to in his post, engagement no longer occurs blog-to-blog or on the Internet.

Conversations are fluid.

While Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, told Solis the team is actively entrenched in the creation of a modified platform that embraces widespread, distributed linkbacks to blog posts in order to factor them into the overall authority for affected blogs, everyone seems to miss the point. While linkbacks, comment counts, retweets, votes, and all that other stuff is useful, it will never provide an valid indication of influence, authority, or status.

Real measurement doesn't happen according to online measurements. It happens as a function of the customer or reader experience. It's no longer about social media. It's about tangible real life engagement.

Conversations move everywhere. Blog-to-blog, blog-to-social network, social network-to-blog, blog-to-phone, social network-to-presentation, blog-to-physical location or office or classroom, blog-to-text message, and text message-to-whatever. They do not end with the blog nor do they end with the Internet. They continue wherever people may care to take them.

The measurement of these conversations isn't so much about who is talking about something as much as it's about someone taking action like shaving their head or walking the streets of Edinburgh in a bra. Anything else is just an adoption of the erred thinking that led some public relations firms to count column inches as a measure of success. Real measurement doesn't end with the number of "media hits" or column inches, it begins with them.

Or, to put it another way, the measure isn't that the story ran, but rather what people do once the story runs. "Media hits" or column inches are only a function of reach. And while reach can be beneficial, the wrong message still falls on deaf ears, no matter how many ears happen to hear it.

Online measures are interesting, misleading too.

We've been researching this area in public relations for years, but recently saw the same thing after an interesting occurrence on Twitter, after two different people pointed to two different posts.

Based on various online measurement models, one Twitter participant (Tweeter A) — with approximately 14,000 followers, high level of engagement, and significant number of retweets (someone else repeating what they "tweet" with citation) — is generally thought to have more influence than one (Tweeter B) with 300 followers, a lower level of engagement, and fewer retweets. However, when they pointed to posts on this blog, the opposite was proven true.

Twitter A drove 24 people to a post. Twitter B drove 103 people to a post.

So who really has more influence? Twitter A only succeeded in influencing a fraction of 1 percent of their followers while Twitter B influenced a whopping 34 percent of their followers. Ah ha. See that? Perception doesn't always equal reality.

The same can be said about comment counts too. I'm fairly certain that veteran communication and marketing bloggers like Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni, and Lewis Green all shake their heads when they publish an important post and nobody comments. (Meanwhile, other bloggers publish meaningless posts and net 40 or more.)

However, what online measurements may never capture is how those seemingly quiet posts move people to apply new strategies and tactics that they've never considered before. Or maybe the content was simply profound or precise enough that there wasn't anything more to say, and the communities they've nurtured tend to avoid gratuitous exchanges such as "your best post yet."

Ho hum. It just goes to show you that The Skipper might not have been as popular as Ginger Grant, but there was no mistaking his authority.

So if Technorati really wanted to create a measure that would make the service relevant again, they might consider that, despite the fact that I doubt anyone can create an algorithm capable of peering inside the human soul. And even if they could, I suspect we wouldn't want them to.

Tuesday, March 10

Understanding Adoption: The Case Against Telephones


"Mr. Watson -- come here -- I want to see you."

And so were the first words uttered by Alexander Graham Bell on March 10, 1876, on his first successful experiment with the telephone. While most people take the innovation for granted today, the initial adoption was relatively slow and plodding.

Why wouldn't it be? According to America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 by Claude S. Fischer, even the telephone companies didn't really understand how to sell the service, primarily because adoption meant so many different things to different people.

Some people wanted a telephone for job-related reasons. Some people wanted it for social reasons. And most people, simply wanted it for emergencies, even if that was rare. Of course, that assumes they even wanted it. Most people didn't.

In fact, even as late as 1926, The Knights of Columbus Adult Education Committee conducted a study to determine whether the telephone weakened character, made people lazy, broke up home life, and reduced visiting among friends. And, by the Great Depression, many people dropped the service all together, either for financial reasons or simply because they considered it a bad habit. Do you see any similarities?

"Mr. Watson -- whatever you do -- don't call back."

As hard as it might be to believe, the same case being made against online communication is the same case that was being made against telephones almost 100 years ago.

Granted, Mike Trap, who authored a post at Scalable Intimacy, was only conveying the argument against social marketing as he was told by others. He's right in that social media advocates might listen to the complaints, concerns, and cynicism. However, it still makes for an amusing assessment if we apply these arguments as they might have been applied in the 1920s.

1. Telephones don’t make sense for 'our' business.

If your business is intensely regulated, requires personal presence, or targets a defined niche, then telephones aren't really for you.

After all, a regulated company requires only a select few who actually speak for the company; a personal service provider like a tailor obviously cannot serve customers over a telephone; and a proximity-based businesses (those serving people within a five-mile radius), clearly do not need a telephone when customers merely have to walk a few blocks to have their questions answered.

Furthermore, telephones are especially ridiculous because it allows someone to call and learn more about a company whenever they want. It's a distraction at best.

2. Telephone calls are “hard to measure,” meaning there’s no proof it works.

A savvy detractor could quickly dismiss the notion of having telephones, citing that not every call results in a sale. Besides, if people buy a product in a store, what else is there to talk about after the sale? Or, even more perplexing, why call the manufacturer when they can ask questions in the store with the product right in front of them.

While they may be interesting, the telephone presents no compelling logic to alter the status quo. Oh sure, there are anecdotes, but they always revolve around those few companies that already have telephones. Baloney.

3. Telephones lack reach to move numbers we care about.

Telephones are generally one-to-one communication. So how many people would you have to call in order to convince them to run out to your store for a sales bump?

That's so not scalable and it's almost silly. Obviously, having a telephone is a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

4. It's labor intensive, and excess capacity is hard to come by these days.

Let's put this in perspective. To use a telephone, you have it physically installed, join a service, hang around for awhile, give people an idea of what they might have to say, ANSWER the darn thing when customers call, talk to them, answer their questions, etc. Add it up and you'll quickly see that nobody will get any work done doing all that.

Next thing you know, you might even have to hire a receptionist to answer the phone or outsource part of the service to someone else. What a joke.

5. Brand development requires consistency of voice, not cacophony of “participation.”

Imagine the disaster that could be the result allowing just anyone who isn't the brand manager to answer the phone? One rogue employee having a bad day could destroy an entire customer experience. Bam, they are gone, just like that.

Nope, it's much better to have select people visit customers in person. It's much more controlled to interrupt them with a sale item in hand then it is to let them learn about our company whenever they want.

"Mr. Watson -- stay there -- and I'll put up a post for you."

You know, I'm fairly certain that given the comparatively slow adoption rate, many companies resisted buying a telephone for all the same reasons that some companies refuse to adopt social media on any level today. So rather than ask what holds them back, it might be more worthwhile to ask them where all those companies without telephones are today?

Perhaps we can hazard a guess. Those companies might be in the same place that 10 percent of all companies went when they told their customers to either visit in person or send telegrams. They became part of history.

Monday, March 9

Measuring Communication, Equation Influencers Part 1


"Maybe it's the rising quality of its cars. Maybe it's the halo surrounding Ford for passing up federal funds being devoured by its Detroit rivals. Or it could simply be Ford's focus on building image in its marketing while others flog incentives. But for whatever reason, America seems to have decided that Ford is a better idea after all." — Jean Halliday, Advertising Age

Ford, which is experiencing a revival and continuing to distance itself from General Motors (GM) and Chrysler, experienced a 16 percent increase in the number of qualified buyers who plan to buy a Ford. Conversely, GM fell 12 percent and Chrysler fell 33 percent.

The reason, in part, is sustainability of message. Ford has shifted its marketing message to a focus on the future rather than the current economic crisis that prompted GM and Chrysler to accept government bailout money and infuse distress advertising into every campaign. Distress advertising, which relies heavily on incentives, discounts, and sales is not sustainable.

While the lesson was learned across several industries, we saw it first hand while opening a Volkswagen dealership. Despite opening in a market dominated by a single dealership for 20 years, we successfully captured top sales in the state (fourth in the region) in less than four months. The reason was simple.

The cute, quirky, and sustainable electronic and print campaign appealed to the qualified buyers over distress advertising, which only reinforced the competitor's weaknesses. Over time, the competitor also conditioned qualified buyers to wait for the sale. GM and Chrysler currently have that challenge.

Both companies are currently running elongated sales incentives. However, the campaigns may be backfiring because the longer the incentives run, the more likely Chrysler will run out of qualified buyers or car buyers might not consider the incentives enough of a deep discount. In addition, too many fire sales condition consumers to only buy when there is a sale.

Considering Sustainability Is Critical To Long Term Success

In developing the Return On Communication abstract, sustainability is factored in by recognizing all communication effectiveness diminishes over time. The question communicators — advertisers, marketers, and public relations practitioners — need to ask more often is how fast will the effectiveness diminish.

Distress advertising, gimmicks, and publicity stunts tend to create attention spikes that rapidly diminish over a few days or weeks. In some cases, they may even lead to brand erosion.

For example, Chrysler's mission statement is "to achieve consumer satisfaction. We do it through engineering excellence, innovative products, high quality and superior service." Yet, its new incentive, "employee pricing plus plus" says the opposite. It suggests that "since we cannot achieve customer satisfaction, we've slashed the prices to increase unit sales."

The question to ask is what happens after an increased incentive (supposedly below employee pricing) ends? Will it be followed by employee pricing plus plus plus? Maybe. We've seen casino marketers drive properties below profitability with ever-increasing free cash offers that start with $5 and quickly expand to $100 or more. It's not sustainable, especially if core elements such as customer service are sacrificed.

Contrary, Coca-Cola might not be as expensive as an automobile, but there is no denying that it is the real thing. They save aggressive experimentation for products that have little to lose, like Vault. Currently, Coca-Cola will give away a free sample of its Vault brand (4 percent share of the citrus segment) to anyone who buys PepsiCo's Mtn Dew (80 percent share of the citrus segment).

"Many companies have challenged Mtn Dew over time, whether it was Surge or Mello Yellow and now Vault," said Frank Cooper, Pepsi's VP-portfolio brands. "What we're seeing now is a last-ditch effort to propel Vault forward in the face of Mtn Dew growth. It's an interesting tactic, but I think that the Mtn Dew consumer understands that the Mtn Dew product experience is unique."

So will it work? While Coca-Cola is usually smart in its marketing, it's clearly not sustainable, which Frank Cooper seems to know. Much more risky is the potential for the Vault campaign to backfire because the demographic might not want more kick with their citrus soda. But as pointed out in Advertising Age, Mtn Dew recently underwent a facelift that is proving unpopular. Hmmm ... sound familiar?

How To Factor In Sustainability To The Equation

Sustainability (d) is best described as one of two influencers that impact the whole effectiveness of communication, Intent (message plus suitability times reach) divided by duration or I (m+s • r)/d.

The more a buzz reliant a product might be, the effectiveness of the buzz will diminish at faster pace. That is not to say a campaign cannot be creative. Absolut Vodka still succeeds with its long running visual campaign. After 22 years, more than 1,500 of the ads featured Absolut s distinctive bottle, with the stubby neck and see-through label.

A few weeks ago, Scott Monty, digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford Motor Company, touched on the idea with a quick Twitter comment. "Viral is a result, not a strategy," he said.

He's right. Campaigns can go viral but forced viral campaigns, such as those attempted by Burgr King or Skittles never last. In order to hold interest, the campaigns rely on ever increasing the bar until even the next level is too high to be believed.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, even the best campaigns need an infusion of creative from time to time. After all, effectiveness also becomes diminished by familiarity and familiarity eventually produces boredom (just at a much slower pace than all buzz but no substance). That doesn't mean an entire brand will need a facelift, but it does mean that the creative surrounding the brand might need to be refreshed from time to time.

Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC

The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.

Sunday, March 8

Hearing Voices: International Women's Day


While International Women's Day (IWD), March 8, is and has been observed as a global celebration since 1908, we'd like to draw attention to those women who still need to be heard. Here are just five from several million:

Malalai Kakar, Kandahar, Afghanistan

"We don't want our enemies to know where we live. We don't want to put our families in danger." — Heard on YouTube, and a chilling reminder why Hamid Karzai warned women today that many Taliban fighters are beyond reconciliation.

Ai Xiaoming, China

"There's a Chinese saying ... to remember the past is to understand the present. A documentary is a form to save that memory. If you don't have that form, lots of things will be purposely erased and you will make the same mistakes ..." — Heard On The Hub.

Martha Heinemann Bixby, Darfur, Sudan

"If you’re not already planning on attending one of the many local screenings of the film and panel discussion, you can download the film, then watch the live online panel discussion at home, and learn from Maria Bello, Niemat Ahmadi, Dr. Kelly Dawn Askin, John Hefferan and Reverend Gloria E. White-Hammond, M.D." — Heard on Blog For Drafur.

Amie Kandeh, Sierra Leone

"Every year, around International Women’s Day, I think about women and girls all over the world who, like me, have the right to live with dignity, in freedom, and without fear. Working with women affected by violence is much more than just a job to me. I’ve personally experienced the pain these women face. Nearly twenty years ago, I was a victim of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of my ex-husband." — Read on IRC Blog.

Cindy Pennington, Alaska, United States

"Alaska should say enough is enough … We can't be number one anymore in sexual assault and rape." — Heard at Amnesty International USA, after a report concluded that Native American and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted.

Some battles have been won to help women live with dignity, in freedom, and without fear. But violence against women and girls still leaves far too many physically broken, mentally abused, and at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. To learn more and take action, visit the International Rescue Committee.

Maybe one day, but not today, we'll have something more to celebrate.

Friday, March 6

Gambling With Brands: Skittles Slippage


"Just a heads up: Any stuff beyond the Skittles.com page is actually another site and not in our control. This panel may be hovering over the page, but SKITTLES® isn't responsible for what other people post and say on these sites." — Skittles

While one of my favorite people on Twitter, David Armano, continues to consider the sociological viewpoint of Skittles' decision to replace its homepage with social media sites such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia; I keep turning my attention to the individual cognitive implications that the change may have on the brand.

Huh?

There is ample evidence to suggest that while people initially encode verbatim information (statements and pictures), they tend to rapidly forget this information and retain only abstract meanings over a relatively short period of time. One experiment that comes to mind is that of Michael Posner, the editor of numerous cognitive and neuroscience compilations and an eminent researcher in the field of attention, in 1969.

His study demonstrated memory for an initial stimulus is rapidly transformed into an abstract code. In other words, when applied to Skittles, we might conclude that people will not remember exactly what is said about Skittles, but they will remember a general impression about Skittles. And those impressions are now left up to the people talking about the site.

Adding Up Impressions.

In effect, Skittles has largely abandoned brand management, enough so that the majority of the brand is being managed by social media participants. In the case of the Twitter page, what they say is captured on the site, and creates impressions.

Currently, two things are happening. First, the initial buzz surrounding the launch is quickly dissipating, especially around people with the greatest reach (large audience). Second, most people are forgetting the exact messages they saw related to Skittles, leaving them with abstract ideas.

What are those ideas? Everything from people who want to prove the campaign works by buying some to people who say they are poison because they contain trans fat. In fact, Skittles far outweighs most chewy fruit candy in terms of calories and sugar (depending on the favor).

However, what we know from cognitive psychology is that most people will not remember the specifics after a few days. What they will remember is much more basic and abstract. Or, simply put, they will have a positive or negative impression.

After conducting a brief but relevant scan of the conversations around Skittles, we estimate that approximately 66 percent of the participating public will be left with a positive impression and 44 percent will be left with a negative impression. Even then, these impressions, positive or negative, will not necessarily convert into sales. However, they seem to be doing an excellent in converting neutral candy buyers into anti-Skittles consumers, a virtual crisis communication in the making.

For a candy brand, there is no other way to say it so I'll just say it. IT SUCKS. Perhaps worse, Skittles has created an age barrier, which Kathy E. Gill appropriately described as considered an attempt to "try too hard to be 'cool' and demonstrating cluelessness in the process."

What's Going Wrong?

Some people are failing to interpret what it means to "give up control" of a brand online. Giving up control doesn't have to mean allowing other people to define you, your product, or your company. And companies would do well to remember it.

"Giving up control" means allowing people to decide if you have made good on your brand promise. And if you have not, thereby damaging the relationship between the company and the consumer, it encourages the public to let you know so you can either adjust the product to meet that expectation or adjust the message to lower the expectation.

Without management or guidance, companies following the Skittles model risk fracturing their brand because the expectation is no longer in the hands of Skittles, but consumers, some of whom now have a negative impression despite never even trying the product.

Worse, when the initial sales figures come in, Skittles might accidently take a sales spike to mean the experiment works when, in fact, the real test of time will be sustained sales. Unfortunately, if the campaign eventually experiences diminished sustained sales, it might be too late to turn back. It might even be too late already.

Can Skittles Be Saved?

I cannot stress enough that, despite the initial indicators, it's too soon to tell. However, there is no denying that Skittles has painted itself into a box. There is no easy way to exit a forceful entrance into social media. And, the impressions that a brand makes when it exits social media or are forced to exit social media much like the shutdown of the Burger King defriending campaign, are never good.

Already, Skittles faced considerable stiff criticism for removing the Twitter page from its home page. If they decide to exit completely, any brand damage might tip to severe. The candy will always be associated with the campaign that didn't work.

Don't get me wrong. I am all for experimentation. In virtually every class I teach, I tell students that they cannot be afraid to fail if they hope to succeed in advertising, communication, or public relations. However, slow entrances into social media are usually more sustainable than flash-in-the-pan campaigns. And, there is a difference between being fearless and foolhardy.

In closing, I might mention that while some people might be praising the sociological viewpoint of the Skittles campaign, such thinking neglects one very important consideration: Branding occurs at the individual level.

Specifically, Twitter can be studied as a sociology perspective, but a brand on Twitter operates on the individual cognitive scale. So while time will tell whether all that ends will end well for Skittles, it's already leaning toward fail after a few jumped too soon to praise what doesn't amount to much more than push marketing.

Other Views From Around The Web:

Charlene Li: Skittles Bravely Lets Social Media Take Over The Homepage.

Stan Schroeder: Skittles Swaps Homepage from Twitter Search to Facebook Page.

Laurie Sullivan: Skittles Settles On Wikipedia For Brand's Home Page.

Joe Hall: Skittles’ Social Media Campaign: FTW or Epic Fail?

Michelle Kostya: Flavour Of The Week.
 

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