Social Media as the new marketing and advertising

On Monday I attended Joseph Thornley’s Ottawa Third Tuesday Social Media Meet-up. As usual it did not disappoint.

Richard Binhammer, Dell’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs took us through the process that took Dell from ‘Dell Hell’ to ’Dell Swell’ and everything in between.. Along the way he provided remarkable insight into the way that social media could change corporate America.

First the background way back in July of 2005 Jeff Jarvis took Dell to task for its customer service – and most importantly not paying attention to what their customers were saying (on blogs)  about their products. 

Now as I’ve commented elsewhere Jeff’s comment was a perfect storm for Dell. An influential and highly media savvy blogger takes the company to task, taps into an underlying sentiment that is accentuated by Google’s page rank algorithm at the time (which favoured blogs) and press coverage of the emerging blog medium which connected with the broader public.  It was impossible to miss – and damaging to Dell.

Fast forward to Mr. Binhammer’s presentation and you’d be forgiven for thinking the pendulum had swung the other way.

Dell now scans blogs for any mention of Dell and swoops in with support if the customer is dissatisfied. It’s got a team of top tier customer support and technical specialists to deal with nothing but blogger complaints. In a sense it’s a re-architected customer support strategy that recognizes the importance of influence on the buying habits of others.

What was most interesting to me is where Dell is taking this. Mr. Binhammer outlined an experimental concierge program to take customer service to a whole new level (for some customers) helping them expand their use of the product and answering all manner of questions related to use (how to up load pictures, choosing photo manipulation software etc). He also talked about Idea Storm – Dells Digg like service to uncover product desires and rank and validate them. He also hinted at custom applications they are developing to better understand how these direct media influence each other and overall buying patterns.

In the end one couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that while Dell misses the importance of social media initially they are at their heart innovators and that these initial forays are part of a larger process that will see a re-alignment of advertising, customer support and market research budgets – with a large proportion shifted to social media interaction and relationship building with thought leaders in targeted segments. 

Possibly this was Jeff’s intention all along – because if anyone was going to lead corporate America into social media it would be Dell.

It would be ok to leave the story there – but it would be wrong because you’re all thinking – well Dell can do it but my company never could because we don’t have those resources’.  Look no further than Alec Saunders excellent post on how he, and his small company, track and influence the issues in their world.

 It’s an inspiration – and an argument to look at how you allocate those budgets.

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Ch-Ch-Changes

Susan Mernit has an interesting post on the changes in the blogoshere over the past two years. What she notes is:

– the rise of the multi-writer commercial blog,
– and a shift to breaking news instead of commentary and observation
– the declining status and links to single (previously influential) bloggers

In one sense it is part of a trend that saw new media entities arise out of vacuum created by traditional media’s failure to grasp the opportunity of blogging – but at another it signals a shift back to a few outlets of authority driving more of the discussion. It also suggests that fewer people are exposed to the depth and diversity of analysis that was so prominent two years ago.

Of course there are a lot of (good) voices out there but as the number of blogs rises, as happened tremendously in the past two years, and media style blogs dominate the top searches it becomes harder to insightful voices or posts to attract and grow the audience they deserve.

This is a pity – because the democratization of analytical discussion broadened peoples thinking and contributed to the belief that a unique web culture was emerging – that was international in scope, intellectual in orientation and ideologically libertarian in persuasion. Opportunity was everywhere. 

The other trend that she hints at is the rise of advertising as fuel for the explosion of commercial blogs and as decoration, and a modicum of income, on many more. This transition, along with observations on ones changing rank, is teaching us all the tools and vocabulary of media – and in so doing is redefining our relationship with what we increasingly think of as our audience.

What is striking is that beneath the surface the changes in blogging over the past two years have taught us that we are our own media – and that will have profound effects for not just for those that actively blog – but for media and society.

Social Media Press Releases

Maggie Fox asks whether a site for social media sharing makes a good press release (here). The idea is that making images and video available for sharing enables traditional press and well as bloggers to spread the news – and that is after all the purpose of a press release.

Conceptually it’s a great idea.

What’s needed to make it successful is content that evokes sharing. While it’s possible that that includes traditional marketing materials – too often those tell us the product attributes but don’t engage an emotional reaction.

In the Focus’s case if the one of the attributes is the (optional I’m sure) voice recognition – shoot a custom video that highlights the feature in a way that’s funny or tragic but that tells a story that engages ones emotion – while highlighting the product.  That’s more likely to be shared than an instructional video on the features use.

By way of example my friends at RaceDV have just done a series of in car videos for the North American launch of a performance car. The video speaks directly to the value proposition of the vehicle – performance – and more importantly puts the viewer in the driver’s seat.  After watching the video I expect prospective buyers will be in a quandry – do they take the time to share the video – or just find a dealer.

Same goes for photos. It’s certainly less expensive to re-use the photos shot for the brochure on the web – but one of the things about images is that they tell stories. By the time that someone arrives at a dealership they shouldn’t be bored with the images– but see a fresh story about Fords respect for the car the dealer and the buyer. 

Social media press releases have a much more diverse audience than traditional releases – and the motives for using the material are more diverse. Traditional press, and tier one auto bloggers are at some level interested in advertising – so discontinuities in visual style may not be wanted. The same cannot be said for the blog community below them which may be offering traditional reviews – but more likely is telling a story as they discuss the product.

The idea of making material available for sharing is a good one. Placing it in a site where one can track use and referrers is also good (that’s what Dove did with its Onslaught campaign).

In the end though sharing depends on the story that one can build around the content.

Online Advertising Consolidation

Jeff Jarvis notes that Google controls 40% of online advertising, and that their share of online advertising is growing faster than online advertising as a whole. In a world where online services are increasingly monetized by ad revenue – this concentrates incredible power in Google’s ad serving algorithms.

It’s not hard to understand why they are growing at such a clip – first the search market is tightly tied to the transactional ad spending – and that’s still growing rapidly as merchants discover the power of on-line ad to drive people to their site/store. Google is also one of the few companies that make buying ads or listing inventory easy – allowing both sides to scale in relation to each other. Finally contextual placement means assures the clicks that reinforce every party involved.

Some authors see the transactional ad market as a tiny sliver of the potential online ad market – noting that traditional media especially TV still collects the lion’s share of ad revenue and it is mostly brand (value / awareness) advertising. In fact it was only this summer that internet advertising surpassed radio – the media that came closest to transactional advertising for an age where in-store activity drove transactions. And radio in the smallest of the ad media – a third smaller than local TV and less than half the size of newspaper’s ad share.

ad-share-by-media-type.JPG

Magazines – another media form that offers advertisers content that can be relevant to their ads – is more than 2 times as large as internet advertising – while national TV is more than 4 times as large – and national + local TV is almost 6 times bigger. Taken together the entire internet has just 7.8% of all advertising spend – and Google ‘just’ 3.1% of the overall market.

ad share

 (Note both Tables from http://www.tns-mi.com/news/09112007.htm)

 Jarvis is right, “We need new networks that identify and create new marketplaces for new value — greater value than the coincidence of words on a page, which Google sells. “ This should be the domain of ad networks – but if my recent experience is an example they are not stepping up to the plate.

Ad Networks and traditional media have an opportunity to act as an interface between Agencies, who develop and place brand advertising for national customers, and small web or multi-platform publishers. This will be increasingly important as consumers shift their media attention from traditional media to web driven media. As Google learned the value is in the relationship between the advertiser and the content publisher – and that’s more difficult to automate for brand advertising because the content of the entire site becomes important.

The problem is that Ad Networks and traditional media have not automated enough of the qualification process for web publishers – so site traffic has to be substantial before they can afford to describe a sites market to advertisers or target ads specifically enough to that the revenue from them is better that is available from Google.

That has to change if Google’s online dominance is to be challanged.

Evolution of Online Advertising

The Guardian has an interesting piece about the evolution of online advertising written by Guy Phillipson, CEO of the Internet Advertising Bureau.

His essential thesis is that “online will overtake TV as the biggest (ad) medium by the end of 2010.” That’s a bold claim – that get’s bolder with the hypothesis that brand experience will be where the growth is.

Of course that has to be the case – not only because if the web is going to displace TV it has to be an outlet for brand building ads which dominate TV – but also because brand is an important part of the purchase decision and precedes the transitional decisions that web and search advertising currently dominate.

That doesn’t mean slapping a 30 second TV spot, or cutting it to 15 seconds (to get around the lack of web rights or meet the restrictions for a pre-roll) is the answer. The web is a different medium that offers a broad range of opportunities for ad designers.

Unlike TV, web based brand ads can both drive transactional actions and connect with the audience in a far more direct and personal way.  In fact according to Clickz web video not only generates more click but 8% generate some type of interaction – from sharing to expanding re-viewing.

What Clikz suggests is that because of this interaction level web video offer a great opportunity to use video to move beyond simply branding. It is I assume what Phillipson calls a “branding experience” – which is traditional brand message with opportunities for engagement and personalization the web offers.

What this means for creatives is that if they are designing online video they should consider:

• Offer a variety of interactive options as part of viewing or the player
• Frontload the message – because video watching is brief (2.7 minutes on average)
• Think viral and context – as the ad may be embedded and live online for a long time.

As an example of the latter take a look at the much admired Dove Evolution ad – launched in early October 2006. According to ViralVideoCharts this video has been watched 11.8M times, has garnered 5,000+ comments and is posted on 3,276 blog. Almost a year after its release it still gets posted on 6 new blogs a day.

I believe that Phillipson’s right – online advertising is set to dominate other ad mediums because it offers compelling branding,  transactional and interactive engagement, niche targeting and shelf long life.

Who could want more as they develop new and targeted creative?

Sampling Music

Bob Leftez writes about discovering The Weepies – a great but lesser known band that he discovered through their labels downloadable sampler – like Prince done in conjunction with a local paper.

Bob like them so much he wrote a post about them (bet their traffic spiked). It also gave him a platform to talk about music sampling.

 “But now every act has a MySpace page. Music is free. It’s everywhere for the tasting. Where does one start? One doesn’t start on MTV. Nor the radio. … Yet, the major labels want us to buy their records on faith, as if it were still 1973.”

While I believe he’s right – that sampling helps build a bands brand. It’s not as clear a story for labels because its complicated by their revenue and cost structures (see my comments at the bottom of his post – hopefully).

Buried within his post are a couple of almost throw away thoughts which get to the heart of the sampling story. Both are in this sentence “Terry McBride and his Nettwerk Group get it. They assembled this “Seriously West Coast” sampler for the “Vancouver Sun”. Maybe that’s why I checked it out. I trust them.”

First is the issue of Trust. As a label Nettwork has built a reputation – I assume around progressive acts and insightful marketing. That’s more that just providing samples – in fact those samples may have been trashed without the labels reputation – because there is just so much stuff out there. Given that reputation is the sum of what you do it makes me question the wisdom of many of the music industries recent actions – which seem designed to kill their reputation not build it – but that’s another story.

The second part of the issue is the mechanisms of sampling meant that Nettwork was able to limit it to geographic and personal networks – by tying access to the download site to a specific time and location – by partnering with the Vancouver Sun. Like Prince before them, who parleyed a newspaper album giveaway into 20 sold out concert dates and worldwide reviews of both the concert and the accompanying release, the Nettwork sampler targets only readers of the print version of the Vancouver Sun, and then requires they act within 7 days.

Both limit the long term impact of the samples on revenue – while building reputation and connecting with the geographic network and opinion leaders they desire (of which Bob is no doubt one).  As a side note – in a connected world it points to both the power of location specific events as marketing tools – and of old media to reach those groups with physical (Prince CD) or restricted access download information.

Guess what I’m trying to say is that sampling needs to be part of a marketing strategy – not a knee jerk reaction for labels numerous problems. Am I missing something?

Do Sensory Channels Matter?

In writing about audio books Seth Godin observes that people who listen to his audio books are 10 times more likely to contact him than book readers. His hypothesis for this difference is:

“Part of it is the entertaining nature of the presentation, I think (I probably talk better than I write) and part of it is the nature of the experience–it’s going into a different part of your brain. (Bolding mine)

As we know different sensory channels not only process information in different ways – but have strikingly different parts of the brain associated with their primary analysis and different connections for emotional, logical and social associations. Increasingly it will be important for marketing and media companies to understand how people perceive process and engage around different mediums.

This connection between sensory channels and media relates to peoples attention preferences, learning styles and ultimately their psycho-demographic profile. As McLuhan observed a “the message of any medium is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs”. It is here that we will see the most profound effects – because the ability to re-purpose content across multiple media allows organizations to both serve narrower segments but also engage segments that may have been overlooked or not fully engaged – because the format didn’t match their psychological style. 

It’s possible the rise of internet video for purposes such as recruiting may be the latest example of a medium, targeting a new sensory channel, changing the pattern of human affairs – by connecting with individuals that are more visual than the readers that traditional HR ads target. 

Getting back to Seth’s observation – if audio book listeners are more likely to contact authors, do they also engage in other social behaviors more as well – like talking up the book to their friends more? If they do can this be used to build buzz in advance of a print release – potentially moving an ok seller to onto the best seller lists.

Understanding how people behave when they consume media in specific formats opens the potential for more that reaching niche audiences – it may also enable specific promotional outcomes.