Friday, January 30, 2009

This is too Good to be True

So this story has already had its lofty coverage from the NYTimes. Gawker and Jezebel have added their own dirty spin. The story is about a group of girls that formed a pseudo support group to get them through the hard times of dating bankers - Dating a Banker Girls (

While I, like most others, have an opinion on their grasp of reality in today's world, that's not what angers me. We live in a conversational age. But unlike a cocktail party - or support group gathering - what we now say is recorded in the digital annals of history.

We need not look any further than this blog/support group to see the effects of the amplified voice. Hell, I'm contributing to it right now. My mother claims (rightly) that these things go away if ignored. Unfortunately, it's not going to be ignored.

What makes or breaks companies in the digital space is not the ability to go viral or fully personalize the experience. What's key today is crafting a perception that speaks to your audience. With a properly crafted perception, your audience will market to themselves. So kudos to the DABA Girls for finding their niche, staying true and hanging on for the ride. They have stumbled on the secret. Too bad they display little hope of capitalizing on their success. Given the success of site, one would think of hundreds of opportunities to profit. Their choice - a book deal. That's what you get when you cross fashionistas forged from the publishing world with wall street influence - hunger for money without a plan.

So what's the plan? They have crafted a distinctive perception. They have the attention of a large chunk of the digital audience. Some will gravitate to their ideas - others will not. And in the end, the site will fade away into obscurity like all the other fads of the digital era. The golden opportunity to allow their members to stretch this message for them is lost. Well, not lost, but there's less than a week left to move. Because, in the digital world, information and fads travel at light speeds. Perceptions last, but only if you can stay top of mind. A book just won't cut it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Current Digital Efforts Reveal Lack of Understanding

So the marketing world is well versed in digital work. We have agency shops, 360 shops, digital shops and all kinds of digital boutiques. What's missing is one single good example of a solid digital campaign. I'm not talking about banners or video or viral projects that sometimes hit and more often miss the point entirely. I'm talking about just one brand that has had consistent success with their digital efforts.

I can think of Dell coming close. And this is in spite of the efforts of Enfatico. For all the talk about conversation, listening and engaging customers, where is the proof. We can talk until our jaw bone hurts (and many of us do). I'm ready to see some action. Where will the first effort come from? Will it even be an agency or is this realm resigned to internal efforts?

The formula is not a secret and not even as difficult as campaigns currently being produced:
  1. Monitor/Listen - You can sell this as an effort to gain insights that make the current campaigns even better. Why do we require a critical mass of criticism before taking action. There is enough feedback to be kinda smart already.
  2. Participate (Part I) - Participation doesn't take a silver bullet (or gold lion). All it takes is the ability to respond to a customer that is passing along wrong information. Trust me, these are not hard to locate. Correct the mistakes that are out there. Do it in a nice way. Done? Good job. You're already ahead of 99% of the digital efforts.
  3. Participate (Part II) - If you've done a good job of providing the proper information where needed, you might just get invited to the party. Make sure you show up ready for a party. This does not mean arming yourself with business cards and leaflets. The only businesses that offer pure product are commodities. If you don't sell a commodity, you have something of value to offer. Offer insight, not sales pitches.
  4. Technologies - Everyone wants to build the bright and shiny object first. There are plenty of them already out there. Most fail. Not because they are bad. In fact, many of these shiny tools work quite well. They only require users. Build your user base first. See where there are gaps. In fact, your customers will often tell you where the gaps are. If you can fix the problem, do it. Then, make your functional object bright and shiny. Aah, look at the chrome shine in the sun.
  5. All together now - Final step, and it's the tricky one. Let it all come together. Let people surround you with love. We have a name for this - affinity. But be careful, if you think you can build affinity without trust or consistent expectations, you're doomed to end up like all the rest. Affinity is not a campaign. It's the result of smart campaigning.
There you have it. If you don't believe me, you can find much of the same being touted by hundreds of others in the field. The problem is not the thought behind reaching today's customers through digital technologies. The problem is the execution (and often lack thereof).

Just dumb it down. The big idea is gone. Don't expect this to sit well with any of the c crowd you run into. But work it in your favor. A small victory can snowball into a new way of thinking.

It's coming anyway. It's coming slowly, but it's coming. One thing you can't avoid is a cultural shift. And don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

It's Always Been Marketing

It's always been marketing and always will be. There's all this talk about how agencies and clients are needing to change. While long overdue, it doesn't change the fact that we still rely on marketing to spin the world. Since the first man painted a picture of his successful hunt on a cave wall and claimed his superior killing skills, it's been about marketing.

When fire, the wheel, stone weapons, bronze, iron and steel were discovered it took some serious marketing to prove their worth. Imagine had the first bronze effort involved minted coins. A serious WTF moment. No. I imagine it was turned into a sharp point and used to kill some sort of beast. Like the prehistoric version of Tony Little - it never needs sharpening. Talk about SpearWow.

All our great (and not so great) moments in human history have been nothing but the most successful marketing campaigns.
  • The Age of Enlightenment - Direct Marketing
  • Spanish Inquisition - Loyalty Marketing
  • Choose your Religious Foundations - WOM
  • Succession of Military might, Kings, Queens and Leaders - Relationship Marketing
  • War of the Worlds broadcast - Viral
Yes, some are a little stretch. But let's not miss the point. It's always been and always will be about changing perceptions. It's not an easy task. Take part persuasion, part inspiration and mix in some greed. While times change only our methods change along with it. The bottom line has not fundamentally shifted from the earliest man.

What makes us human more than thumbs is our ability to persuade and market our strengths and services.

Induco ergo sum?
So before we get too bent out of shape about the current state of this and that, let's return to the roots of the problem we were originally hired to solve. Let's persuade people that what our clients offer is their best choice. When you start to feel lost in the shuffle, think about all the changes in perception fire has had over the last several thousand years. It's not just for cooking anymore.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stop Using ROI as an Excuse

Great reports today out of FUTURELAB that examine the failures between agencies and clients. Bonus credit for taking a gun to a knife fight. The agency failures are a topic very few are willing to discuss today.

Though I'm still working my way through the reports, the section on ROI rings especially true. For years, we've had the promise of better metrics through digital. Better targeting, better customization, the promise of personalization, blah and on. For all the promise, we're left with an empty bag of comparative email figures. I still have a hard time keeping a straight face when telling clients that the most recent campaign went smoothly because we saw a 2% increase in the open rate.

A quick paraphrase of the section of note: (the full report can be found at the site)

Client says: "I'm under pressure here to prove that this shit works. You know I'm on the outside of the c crowd. They rarely listen to what I have to say. My cfo is pissed with the budget increases we put forth every quarter. I need to know if we're making anything at all."

Agency responds: "That's great. Have we shown you our creative awards from the past year. We've got gold lions, pencils and all sorts of other shapes. We might even have to build a new cabinet to show these off. We might have to hire another intern just to keep them polished."

The only time this argument can carry any weight is if the awards can be melted down and sold on the market. Should we start measuring ROI by the pound?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Please Allow Me To ...

As a new pile of shit seems ready to greet the fan every day in 2009, I find little to feel positive about in the ad biz. Clearly, we're at the dawn of a new age. Unfortunately, the future of advertising and marketing remain firmly clenched in the sweaty palms of those not qualified to herald in this new era. Theirs is not the blame. After all, they started fresh faced and inspired at some point in their career. Their reward for having been beat down are the positions held today. The best way to keep them is to remain firmly entrenched in the same process and speak that have proven results over the past 50 years. Innovation is for the brave - and foolish - who will blaze the trail only to be trodden over once victorious.

Yes, it's a fool's game. It's a thankless task for those that venture in with dreams or ambition. The reward is only paid out in hours of service. I've seen the best laid plans washed aside for a rehash of what kinda worked before to be followed by harsh criticism and calls for innovation. It's a vicious cycle that chews up the weak and thrives on cowards.

I offer no strength. If you're looking for best practice, keep moving. In today's biz, you're probably already doing it. If you're looking for thought leadership, there's plenty of voices already pleading to be heard. I seek nothing more than an avenue to keep me sane. A space to lay out the crazy ramblings that bounce around my head as I fight through the madness and vileness of this world.

What you may find, should my better humours get the best of me, is some reason to the collision between technology and marketing. There has to be a better way. Actually, there is a better way. No agency is capturing the true strength of digital marketing today. A couple companies have used the power of today's digital world to their strength - but only through internal resources. Whether this even constitutes marketing anymore is beyond my expertise. I know of no one that can see the future - though it has done nothing to prevent hundreds from trying.

What will come, will come. How we name it is beside the point. Who gets ownership of it is currently a knock down brawl in boardrooms filled with the seediest c crowds you'd care to encounter this side of the windy city. What comes from the battle will sure to be a ream of fancy new titles worn like heroic medals on the lapel. For the other 99% - more of the same.

Oh yes, now that's the stuff. I'm feeling better already. There will always be a place for smart thinking and reason. How far that resonates is beside the point.

God help us all.