Thursday, March 25

Studying Influence: Epsilon Targeting

Last year, we suggested what real influence might mean. This year, ICOM, a division of Epsilon Targeting, conducted a study that reveals much the same: there is no universal influencer and there are few commonalities exist within demographics for influencers.

Really? Well, there are some characteristics. Influencers, online or offline, tend to make recommendations more often. Forty-five percent of influencers will always recommend brands they like compared to only 36 percent of consumers. Fifty-six percent of influencers believe people follow their advice compared to 45 percent of consumers. The summary concludes that the primary difference is that influencers are talkers, primarily propped up by the frequency they talk.

Key Points From The ICOM Influencer Study.

• Consumers are influencers strictly within product categories, not across them all.
• Few commonalities exist with influencers across gender, age, income and channel.
• Influencers have a tendency to talk a lot in person — at the table, in the aisle, and on the phone.
• Marketers need to understand influencer behaviors as much as demographics or channels.
• Influencers are best engaged across multiple channels (online and off), not just one.
• Influencers are highly motivated to provide feedback to brands and manufacturers.
• Influencers like to be the first to try new products so they can give their opinions.

The ICOM study reminds me of another study conducted by Pollara, a Canadian-based public opinion and research firm. It found nearly 80 percent of people said they were at least somewhat likely to consider buying products based on real-world friends and family, but only 23 percent reported they would at least be somewhat likely to purchase a product by 'well-known bloggers.'

"This shows that popularity doesn't always equate to credibility," said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara said then. "Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there."

The difference is in the intent. One of the most compelling parts of the study suggests 68 percent of social network participants use tools to connect to friends. The remainder, which includes most influencers, use social media tools to be heard. So much for two-way communication.

Experts and businesses are working too hard to be heard, honestly.

We see the ICOM study differently. Marketers don't necessarily have to find influencers as much as they need to help create them, and not by measuring popularity. As mentioned last week, branding is a function of relationships. Influence is equally reliant on relationships.

An online influencer who is privy to reviewing the latest product releases only maintains any semblance of influence as long as they are privy to being the first source of information. An online influencer who writes for a major publication, such as The New York Times, only has influence as long as they write for The Times. A company that relies on establishing a brand culture, only succeeds as long as it remains unwavering in its support of that culture.

When the relationship shifts, such as a self-proclaimed influencer exchanging dialogue for one-way communication because they cannot keep up, they experience a decline in popularity unless they successfully shift to a new relationship. Some can. Some cannot. (This is the very reason MyBlogLog began to fail shortly after being bought by Yahoo. The relationship changed and participants didn't accept the new paradigm.)

The point to consider here is simple enough. Influencers need to understand the relationship they have with people if they hope to retain the moniker (whether they really influence anything at all). And marketers need to reconsider how they think of influencers because social media "experts" aren't hand soap "experts." In fact, among hand soap consumers, they don't even exist beyond being busy talkers.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, March 24

Marketing Public Relations: Publicity On SM Steroids

Did you ever open a book and want to like it? Gaetan Giannini Jr., chairman of the business, management and economics department at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pa., delivers exactly that when he attempts to combine marketing, public relations, and social media into Marketing Public Relations (MPR). It's a book you want to like.

Wanting to like it wasn't always the case for me. A few months ago, I didn't want to like MPR. I alluded to as much when I first mentioned it after listening in on a webinar.

So I have to give Giannini credit for contacting me after that post. He put Marketing Public Relations: A Marketer's Approach to Public Relations and Social Media from Pearson into practice, believing that if I read the book then he might sway me from the light of collaborating professionals and toward the dark of combined disciplines. He was partly right.

When I opened the shipping package and thumbed through it for the first time, I immediately wanted to like Marketing Public Relations. I really did. And I still do.

Why you'll want to like Marketing Public Relations.

Marketing Public Relations is packed with content, skipping across the varied subjects of marketing, public relations, and social media. As a comprehensive textbook, it reads several generations ahead of anecdotal pop trappings that tend to masquerade as marketing and social media books nowadays.

There are ample models, studies, and diagrams. Giannini introduces classic concepts such as The Business Strategy Diamond from Carpenter, Mason, Sanders, Gerry, Strategic Management and Maslow's "A Theory of Human Motivation" alongside studies by PEW Charitable Trusts and the Keller Fay Group.

There are adequate applictions. Some of the suggested assignments would even benefit working professionals, helping them rethink how they apply communication. For example, in one chapter, Giannini suggests that students think of the most expensive purchase they made, track their purchase decision-making process, list all of the connectors (influencers) that contributed to the purchase, and identify what messages they delivered to the student.

There are ample tip lists tucked inside every chapter. In writing press releases, Giannini suggests illustrating real-life examples, sticking to the facts, picking an angle, writing in active voice, and using correct grammar. But then he also advises to never write a release in all uppercase letters, never writing the release online (use a word processor), never include html links, and never write a release that is less than two paragraphs. (I shook my head at a couple of these tips too.)

The case studies that precede each chapter seem fresher than inclusions in most books. He offers up snippets from Ecover, Red Bull, Hannah Montana, and Ben & Jerry's. About Harry Potter, Giannini frames up J.K. Rowling alluding to the demise of two familiar characters on a British talk show. He attributes resulting mainstream and social media frenzy to marketing public relations in action, which departs from what most public relations professors might call it. Most would call it publicity.

But that is the point. All of these elements are used to underpin the premise of Marketing Public Relations. And although Giannini doesn't provide a crisp one or two sentence definition of what MPR really is, you can surmise it is the practice of delivering planned marketing messages to very specific and targeted intermediates (connectors and influencers), with the intent that they will carry a closely aligned message forward to the audience you want to reach.

While I'm not certain how this differs from how communication has always worked, whether marketers recognized it or not, Giannini works diligently to consider this the cornerstone of MPR and then aims to cherry pick principles as valid under the new construct. When it works, different disciplines will benefit from a perspective they may have neverconsidered. When it doesn't work, everyone will be even more confused.

Why Marketing Public Relations is a dangerous book.

While I could write extensively about the sometimes painful organization of Marketing Public Relations, there is more pressing problem. And, unless the reader understands this problem, it could lead to some very dangerous conclusions. You see, for all the excellent material, it's difficult to forgive the initial definition of public relations, which is not public relations. Here is the definition:

"Traditionally, PR is defined as a firm's efforts to build good relations with its various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good 'corporate image,' and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories, or events."

This disaster of a definition is not Giannini's fault. It belongs to Gary Armstrong and Philip Kotler, from Marketing, An Introduction, 9th edition. That makes sense to me in that Kotler, who is a brilliant marketer, has always aligned public relations under sales promotion. In fact, it is Kotler who originally coined the term Marketing Public Relations, but with very different origins than the one proposed by Giannini.

In Marketing Management: Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control, 6th edition, Kotler outlines public relations as handling press relations, product publicity, corporate communications, lobbying, and counseling. Marketing PR, he wrote, is an advent of companies developing departments to set up a special section that directly supported corporate/product promotion and image making.

The old name for Marketing Public Relations, Kotler says, is publicity. And publicity, as we hope all public relations practitioners know, is not public relations at all. What is even more perplexing, however, is that Giannini calls Marketing PR the birth of a new paradigm when it would really be a rebirth with the inclusion of the more publicity-oriented activities of social media.

Where Giannini differs from Kotler, however, is that he assigns some propaganda duties under the the direction of MPR. Specifically: building the identity, increasing the visibility, establishing subject matter expertise, educating stakeholders, shaping public opinion, maintaining the image during a crisis, and stimulating repeat usage.

In sum, these tasks encompass some public relations and advertising duties under the world view of publicity in order to serve marketing. Except, they generally manifest themselves as "the coverage of a story by media or the recommendation of a friend without a paid solicitation." The risk, naturally, is that the intended message can sometimes be altered, such as the reckless Aqua Teen Hunger Force case study from 2007.

Ergo, if we mistake promotions and publicity as public relations, even under the banner of marketing public relations, it is likely we will further erode the core competencies that public relations could offer today and help it descend back into the ooze of propaganda where it originated. Only this time, it would be supported by social media. Perhaps unfortunately, where Giannini might be right is that is precisely what public relations professionals want to do.

Having a cracked foundation isn't the only issue in the book. There are several other questionable concepts that could mislead practitioners, including the overemphasis of blogger popularity in order to separate top-tier social media outlets from the "chaff," considering "thought-leaders and "influencers" as one in the same, and misdefining promotion as paid messaging.

On those points: never mistake page visits as an indicator because you never know who reads that blog; popular bloggers, influencers, and thought leaders are all very different; and promotion, even from a traditional view, is not confined to paid messages. There is more to vet, but the point is clear. In some cases, Giannini has adopted the mistakes some social media and public relations experts are making because they do not know any better.

What to do about Marketing Public Relations.

There is no denying that there is extensive value in Marketing Public Relations by Gaetan Giannini, Jr. He is a smart researcher, substantive educator, and intelligent practitioner who has presented material proving that the author didn't sit down and write this book on any given Sunday afternoon. Not all marketing, public relations, and social media books are like that nowadays.

As a textbook, it comes with a steep price of admission, retailing at $96. Even the used books are selling at above $60. The price point comes from the inclusion of graphs, charts, and full-color pictures. The three reviews on Amazon all rave about it.

For me, I have to go back to my opening point. I want to like this book. I really do. In a convoluted sort of way, it represents everything that other books on social media miss and leave instructors wanting. And yet, when the very principles contained within would force instructors to vet more than their fair share of material, how can it be sent up with a recommendation? In a word or two or three. It can't be.

Marketing Public Relations is a missing link between the business card books being offered by most publishers and what markers, public relations, and social media experts really need. However, it's only one step in the evolution of the communication chain and, without careful vetting in the classroom, it cannot be certain whether this mutation would lead to what we will one day call modern communication or if it is merely a branch that will see the same fate as the Neanderthal.

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 23

Advertising With Apps: Sherwin-Williams

Like many people, I held any number of odd jobs to pay for my education. I did a stint as an assistant manager at a 7-Eleven. I set up, tore down, and worked spotlights at concerts, including Pink Floyd in Sacramento. I painted murals along several college dorm walls; they have long since been painted over as the director allowed students to crowd source the concepts.

And, among other things, I worked as a colorologist at Sherwin-Williams every summer. A colorologist, by Sherwin-Williams' definition then, was someone who could match paint by sight to virtually anything and everything that customers brought in.

Nowadays, most clerks attempt to use computers to do the same job with mixed results. However, despite knowing the shortcomings of computer-aided color matching, the new ColorSnap app for the iPhone from Sherwin-Williams caught my attention.

Why it works as an advertisement.

As simple as it sounds, the Sherwin-Williams ColorSnap application is inspiring in that it allows you to match, coordinate, and save more than 1,500 paint colors. It's an advertisement for Sherwin-Williams, but works hard to add value for customers. And when it comes to apps, ads have to be useful.

• You can find some inspiration anywhere and then save those colors.
• You can browse colors, coordinate them, and save them for future paint jobs.
• You can add purchased colors and save them for future reference or the next homeowner.
• You can use the Sherwin-Williams store locator to find the nearest store.
• You can take a snapshot of a photo and match colors to what you see on the screen.*

It's apparent that considerable thought went into the application. Resource Interactive did a fine job with the design as a source of inspiration for customers. It's almost unfortunate the application falls short on practically, not because it doesn't do what it says it will do, but because it failed to set appropriate expectations.

Where it falls short of a success story.

I added an asterisk to the photo snap feature because what would otherwise be the coolest feature (giving customers the ability to match colors by taking a photo) is flawed. It's flawed for several reasons, but most of all because it sets the expectation too high.

• Much like ink, colors act differently as a light source and paint product. In fact, ink and paint act differently too.
• The matching function is matching to a picture on the screen and not whatever the customer takes a picture of.
• Shadow, dirt, and intense light can all affect photos (the same reason some humans beat computers at matching).

In sum, the app falls a bit short because the coolest feature doesn't really do what it says it can do. And while that doesn't mean it fails as an electronic color deck, it is the primary irritation noted by half of the customers who left reviews. That's too bad, because ColorSync is a handy little app for several other uses.

The human workaround, by the way, is as simple as narrowing down the colors with the app and then cross-checking them against the chips in the store. It sure beats attempting to match colors by memory.

How apps and social media make advertising useful again.

There are several people kicking around publishing as the next direction for marketers. Mitch Joel has been kicking the idea around lately. I kicked it around several years ago, with the focus on program development over publishing.

In 2007, the primary disconnect between marketers becoming publishers was that some marketers felt such measures meant managing a dual business, with one foot in manufacturing and another in publishing. While there is some truth to that, you only need to look at history to find where it worked before like the original Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. It was first published in 1888.

The concept that you can add value to the customer experience isn't as new as some social media experts pretend. It's as old as advertising. What's not so old is "attention-getting" ads that fail to educate, inform, or persuade in favor of selling the cleverness of the creatives more than the product or service. That advent in advertising came along in the 1990s with the rapid adoption of Photoshop and SFX. Advertisers convinced themselves that people didn't read anymore.

It wasn't like that during what many people consider the golden era of advertising. Those folks aimed at having a direct conversation with customers in order to add value (despite some of it being contrived) to the lives of consumers. Social media and apps can work just like that.

Although the ColorSnap app doesn't measure up as a completely practical application, it represents a thinking that more advertisers ought to embrace. Marketers need to be thinking about communication that adds value with a bit of persuasion again.

Bookmark and Share

Monday, March 22

Searching For Meaning: Prosumers

Euro RSCG Worldwide has completed a new travel study with an emphasis on prosumers, who tend to be influential early adopters. According to Euro RSCG Worldwide, they also adopt a more mindful approach to consumption and incorporate concern for the environment, local communities, and global citizenship similar to the attitudes expressed in A Darwinian Gale.

"For years, people have regarded travel as a way to splurge, an indulgence centered on escapism and fun," said Marian Salzman, president of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America. "Now, we're looking to make our travel experiences more meaningful and better aligned with our personal values and goals."

According to the study, prosumers will lead the way in travel trends. Generally, they consider themselves citizens of the world, believe travel is the key to making people more interesting, and contend that where people travel says a lot about them.

Four elements that are vital to capturing prosumers.

• Accept and embrace "green" as the standard way of doing business.
• Provide more products and services that satisfy the desire to live mindfully.
• Master social media to engage them before, during, and after travel.
• Embrace new models for luxury and customer service.

According to the interpretation of the data, companies need to engage prosumers well before and long after each travel event if they hope to be successful. As an example, the study cites The Pod Hotel in New York City that experienced a 40 percent increase in reservations after developing a site called the PodCulture, which is a closed network in which guests can connect with one another and synchronize their travel plans.

Highlights on what Euro RSCG Worldwide calls prosumers.

• 79 percent of prosumers believe society is too shallow, focusing on things that don't matter.
• 74 percent of prosumers feel good about making environmentally-friendly choices.
• 66 percent are concerned that people are too disconnected from the natural world.
• 63 percent pay attention to environmental and social impacts on the products they buy.
• 53 percent believe that the emphasis on digital communication weakens human bonds.
• 84 percent are making a concerted effort to improve who they are and how they live.

Interestingly enough, prosumer qualities mirror many of the those identified as important by social media enthusiasts. Most no longer see social media as a means to connect with strangers as much as a means to meet people around the world and eventually meet them while vacationing or traveling for business. Simply put, they want to connect with the human experience. Is your business ready for them?

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, March 21

Getting Glimpses: Fresh Content

While most people are attempting to figure out social media for fun and profit (they never will), the Internet has become an ultimate fish bowl for human behavior. Everything that used to happen offline is happening online, except it comes with a trackable truth meter for anyone who happens to look for the truth.

The five best fresh picks all share a small slice of the human condition. People air their offline laundry in public, attempt to control information, steal ideas from others, mistake buzz for branding, and struggle to distinguish amateur from professional as both roads might lead to the same destination. All of it makes you realize that when people ask what happened on the Web today, the only real answer is that everything offline happened online today. It's just like any other day.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of March 8

For Many Families, Facebook Is The Real World Web.
Louis Gray paints an interesting picture of how family connections on Facebook mirror offline relationships, even in his own family. He presents both the good (the ability to disrupt separation in between gatherings) and the bad (when an in-law unfriended everyone on the other side of the family). All of it is presented with sparkling transparency in an accidental life stream.

A Challenge To Open Democracy – Bloggers Excluded From Council’s Twitter Accreditation.
A few weeks I ago, I mentioned how for every leap forward in setting communication free, new measures are made to control and manipulate it just as fast. Carl Haggerty captures one such move north of England, where the Devon County Council applies a rule that only allows accredited journalists to "tweet" live within council meetings. Apparently, accountability is a dangerous thing.

Attribution is the Sincerest Form of Flattery.
On the flip side of the information free-flow control, Ike Pigott shares a cutting case study of how information shared across the Web tends to lose its original source. Sure, sometimes people come up with similar concepts. Other times, the disintegration of attribution is accidental. This time, it's hard to mistake the obvious. One blogger cherry picked content and then promoted it as their own, creating the illusion that they were the original source.

How Much Buzz Do The Top 10 Global Brands Generate On Social Media?
There has always been a big difference between buzz and brand and Jeff Bullas found a clever way to convey it. By tracking the online buzz of top global brands, he verifies that top brands do not necessarily generate the top buzz, which is why Toyota finished much higher than its brand value for the all the wrong reasons. Where is the lesson? Our takeaway is common sense: events generate buzz; brand value is earned.

BBC News - Music Stars 'Still Need Labels.'
While most fresh picks are linked toward original content, this story by Ian Youngs (BBC News) as featured on Jeremy Meyers' "posterous" blog was too good to dismiss. Meyers also offers up his own take on the piece, saying that the music biz remains in denial. Our takeaway is a bit different. Much like daily newspapers, the industry still needs to find a model to make managed artists manageable. Eventually, they'll find it. Expect it to be different.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, March 20

Writing For Public Relations: On Advertising

There is always something strange about dedicating one Writing For Public Relations class to the subject of advertising. Sure, public relations professionals need to understand it, especially those who work within the communication or marketing departments of small- to medium-sized companies.

They will no doubt write advertisements, brochures, scripts, and other advertising material. And yet, I cannot help but wonder how well those advertisements will turn out. Writing for public relations is a fundamentally different skill set, and not all writers have enough talent to toggle between the two disciplines.

At the same time, I think, at least they can learn a few things from advertising that they need to know, especially if public relations continues to pursue social media. Many blog posts, after all, are much more similar to an advertisement than an article. They aim to persuade more than they ever hope to inform. And the best ads always aim to have a conversation with the consumer, which means the only difference between ads and some posts is that the consumer is allowed to talk back.

The above is a supplement deck for Writing For Public Relations at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The intent of this deck is to provide students with an understanding of advertising that goes beyond the "rules" posted on dozens of blogs every day. Because in advertising, anybody who is any good at it will tell you that there are no rules.

Bookmark and Share

Blog Archive

by Richard R Becker Copyright and Trademark, Copywrite, Ink. © 2021; Theme designed by Bie Blogger Template