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One bourbon, one scotch, one beer August 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in branding, conversation, marketing, social media, strategy, web 2.0.
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Julian Cole and I have been going back and forth a bit lately on social objects offline and some of that chatter is making its way online. He put up a vlog yesterday which Scott from Marketing Magazine chimed in on. Not wanting to be left out, I added my 2 cents. I hadn’t actually uploaded anything to YouTube before, brought back some of the initial terrors that come with blogging (the world will see this, oh no!).

Anyway, the videos are below. Watch them (Scott’s alone is priceless for the shots of his afro, little children may turn away in fear, you’ve been warned) and then leave a comment, or better yet, add your own response! While you’re at it, give Julian some stick for the video responses needing to be approved by the owner – Jules I thought the whole point of social media was acknowledging you couldn’t control the conversation right!?! 🙂

They call it bleeding edge for a reason… November 13, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in blogging, branding, digital strategy, web 2.0.
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I just watched a fantastic interview with a guy I’ve mentioned a couple times in as many days, Avinash Kaushik. The interview was done by Simon Chen who heads up the Eight Black group (Disclaimer: my company does a lot of work with Eight Black, they’re great people) over at the Blogworld expo in Las Vegas. When Simon first said he was headed over there, I kinda giggled in his general direction, even though I’ve been blogging since before they called it that.

If you head over however to Simon’s own blog, you’ll see that it has turned out to be a great collection of people really at the forefront of how companies talk to their customers, and people talk to each other. He has a range of discussions up with different practitioners, along with some video of talks he attended. I don’t have time to sit trhough them all, but invariably if Simon puts something up there is some sort of insight to be gleaned from it; of course I get to do that by having him in my office once a week.

The last 1:30 of his discussion with Avinash really struck a chord with me. His key message to corporates and CEOs who are scared of engaging with their customers via blogging was if you’re not doing it, then you’re not at the cutting edge of blogging. He talks enthusiastically about the upcoming generation (Disclaimer: I am Gen-Y, therefore predisposed to liking nice things said about me) and their disdain for traditional media (TV, radio, magazines etc.) and the messages contained therein. He says we’re not influenced by those things, and for the most part, he is right.

When I think about the sites I like, the writers I like, the people I respond to, the level of candour is always paramount to how I engage with them and how what they say resonates with me. I said in my very first post here that the second you say “We’re cool”, you’re not, and the same applies. You can’t tell someone your content or message is relevant, you can only sit it in front of them and say “I dig this, and if you give a shit about the things I give a shit about, then maybe you’ll dig it too.” The power comes in stepping away and leaving that choice in the consumer’s hands, in essentially acknowledging you are power-less to force the outcome you desire. The great thing about that though is when you do get voluntarily chosen by your customer, you have empowered them, you have engaged in the age old paradigm of “the customer is always right”, which was always about sitting your customer on a pedestal. Them choosing you brings you up to their level; whether you stay there or not depends entirely on you convincing them there is value in having you around.

Avinash concludes the short interview with the following missive, which I like so mch I have printed out and stuck on my wall: “If businesses want to convert their customers into evangelists…the only way to do it is to put yourself out there, participate in the social environment, have a blog, show your passion, contribute something of value and then you don’t have to talk about yourself, you can get your customers to go talk and spread your gospel, (they) will become your marketing machine.”

Amen to that!

Just to be seen November 6, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in marketing.
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I was talking with one of our marketing people the other day about radio, web, and what power (if any) there is in simply “being seen”. Is a campaign successful purely if it, on paper, reaches the target audience? Or is some sort of interaction mandatory before raising your brand’s flag and claiming victory?

Being purely online, I see a level of engagement as the only measure of success, however I forget that traditional media have never had this luxury. The marketing person I was discussing this with was running through a radio campaign that had, on paper, “reached 35%” of our target demographic. I asked for proof, of which none could be provided because it is all based on a sample of 2000 people in the radio network’s broadcast area. 2000 people whose data is extrapolated to the n &supth; degree, whose choices, likes and dislikes are then sold to advertisers as the habits of the nation. All the while nobody talking about the elephant in the corner, nobody being willing to say our demo doesn’t actually listen to radio anymore.

I set about de-constructing the numbers, trying to get a solid idea on what our CPA (cost-per-acquisition) was. I’m not going to go ito too much detail, but broadly speaking, I could have wandered university campuses around the country and handed out six-packs of beer and achieved a similar outcome; this does not get chalked up as a win in my book.

I forget though that the accountability inherent in an online platform can be frightening to people from traditional media backgrounds; putting a price tag on each person reached by that campaign is scary for the folk I work with as it only serves to highlight inefficiencies in our marketing practices. And because it so quickly reveals the flaws, people are quick to judge, become defensive, and bury their heads even further into the sand while the digital steamroller edges ever closer.

As marketers we should be embracing hard numbers, even if most people went into marketing so they could avoid math. We should be taking closer, more scrutinised looks at ourselves and learning from our mistakes. That’s easy for me to say when my preferred medium lays it all bare anyway, but to run from our ability to know more about our audience, their habits and how they think and transfer that into flawlessly executed campaigns is tantamount to admitting defeat, hanging up our BlackBerrys and going off to work at an organic farm, longing for simpler, easier times.

I’ve never thought it enough just to be seen, but there’s an increasingly short shelf life looming for anyone who does.

Candid Conversations November 2, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in branding.
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It has been the week for breakfast meetings, I had another one today. Now, I am to mornings as Superman is to kryptonite, but the company I can keep over a morning cup of coffee makes it worth my while to get out of bed a little earlier, despite having crashed out at 2am the night before. I can recall being 22 and getting no more than 6 hours sleep every night, and somehow this was always fine. These days I can barely get out of bed after 9 hours, which says more about poor lifestyle choices and particularly a penchant for that extra glass of wine I imagine. Regardless, I found, to my utter astonishment, that not only did I arrive on time for the 8am meeting, but that there was actually some fantastic dialogue to be had.

I’m a firm believer in there being no monopoly on good ideas; indeed it can often be the people least savvy with a particular medium who arrive at the best outcomes; they’re not bound in any way by what has gone before them. That statement has nothing to do with breakfast however, as across the table from me sat a good friend whose ability to think critically and objectively about a given situation I really admire. He hit upon a very interesting point, and one that particularly resonates with work I’m doing right now: much less does my company’s brand resonate with its intended audience, but does my audience, frankly, really care? The site exists to provide a particular service. And, provided this happens for the people who come to use it, what impact if any can the brand then have on the individual? More to the point, does it need to?

We talked about Google and how they are so intrinsically linked with search that the noun has also become a verb. We now google using Google; I’d be curious to know if anyone has ever heard of someone saying they googled using a competitor such as Yahoo or MSN. But I digress, the question was asked: does Google’s brand actually resonate with its users? Do people feel an affinity for it? I’m not so sure. I think people have feelings towards Google as a company, which is based on their admiration of either an ethical approach to business, or the appreciation they have for a core function (search), which in turn spurs their core product (advertising). I certainly wouldn’t wear a Google t-shirt, but then I don’t wear any clothes with overt branding on them, which speaks volumes about me and nothing about Google’s brand.

It begs the question though, if a brand fails to resonate with its audience but still delivers on a core service, will people still use it? What does that say about traditional marketing and branding? How does that change the rules online? If I want to book a flight, I go to WebJet and find the best price on any airline. Qantas resonates with me as a brand, but JetStar and Virgin resonate with my hip pocket, and that speaks far louder. The point at which the value of the company’s service eclipses the power of the brand is an interesting thought – does that then mean, as I mention in a post below, a company can no longer affect mass change in the way a brand is perceived without alienating the people who use it?

Or in simpler terms and to touch back on a comment I made earlier, there is no monopoly on good ideas. But once that idea gains mass acceptance, perhaps you forfeit the ability to affect change in that idea; that is left to the users.

Of course when your share price heads north of $700, I imagine you have other things on your mind…

We’re cool. No, we’re not. October 30, 2007

Posted by David Gillespie in branding.
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I was chatting with my CEO the other day about our brand; what is inherent in it, where we want it to go. Any time I ask him what we are, he says “We’re cool!”, and I just shake my head. Perhaps it’s a crucial aspect of the GenX/Y divide, but I see this problem with so many brands, shouting from the roof top how relevant and interesting they are. The crux of the matter is you’re only interesting if other people say you are; otherwise you’re just conceited and out of touch.

By way of demonstrating relevant corporate culture, I showed him Vimeo’s Harvey Danger lip-synch. A great video rife with the culture of the office it stems from, they apparently started receiving CV’s from people saying “I don’t know what you do but I’d like a job”. To inspire people in that fashion, to get them excited about what your company stands for can drought-proof you against times when your offering falls flat. Your products might not always meet the needs (or even wants) or the market, but if your core culture remains appealing to your audience, it means you’ll get another shot with the next thing you do – provided you’re still in business of course.

I had breakfast with a great, great man this morning who works for another company we kinda compete with (I say kinda because it’s not black and white but I don’t want to get into semantics right now). He was talking about how his company has spent quite a bit of time trying to position themselves in a certain way, but at the end of the day they are perceived how they are perceived and they’re not convinced they can change that in a dramatic fashion without alienating their core users. Fortunately for them, they’re the market leader by a long way, so it doesn’t really matter; an entirely different position to being a start-up.

Getting back to the Vimeo clip though, I imagine that would intimidate as many people as it turned on. But with the nature of even the most staid professions changing (I call several accountants “friend” who are not remotely stereotypical), I’m excited by a time in the not too distant future where big corporations find a way to redefine the way they do business while still delivering on their core offerings. Could Ernst & Young get away with injecting the life that exists inside the four walls into their external communications and retain its market position? I don’t know, but it would be exciting to find out.