Notes from Social Slam 2013 — why it really doesn’t pay for brands or conference attendees to be hard of hearing.
My terrible cold notwithstanding, I was excited as I flew into Knoxville for Social Slam yesterday.. the day after flying home from London.. the day after coming down with a bad cold. Now, it’s just a cold. But the hearing in my right ear is effectively gone for a while.
As I made the rounds at the pre-event events last evening (BTW, the men’s room at the Sunsphere in Knoxville has the most awesome view… just felt too odd to take a picture), I imagine my conversations going like this:
What Social Media Luminary #1 said: So my new book is called Influence: A New Morning in Marketing What I heard:So my new book is called Sinfluence: The New Porn in Marketing
What Social Media Luminary #2 said to Social Media Luminary #3: Hey, did you see the new eBook on Mark Schaefer’s blog yesterday? It’s Chuck’s design! What I heard: Hey, did you see the new eBook on Mark Schaefer’s blog yesterday. It sucks for design!
As I thought about the experience afterward, it made me think of the way may brands seem to operate, with an inevitable (based on behavior) deafness:
Three Sources of Brand Deafness
Flying from one marketing approach to another, without acclimating to specific users and usage (and taking the “vew from 50,000 feet”… oh, how I hate corporate speak)
Failing to lean in close enough to their consumers and all constituents to really hear what they’re saying
Not concentrating sufficiently on one form or moment of engagement to make a difference (Hey, I left early ’cause of the stinkin’ cold… and also to get a little time with Knoxville family that I do not see nearly enough)
So today I will be taking as much time to consider specific speeches and conversations as possible; deciding on just a few folks I can meaningfully engage with; and building bridges to keep crossing over the next year online until I return in person to Social Slam 2014.
I recommend that all brands do much the same (including coming next year to Social Slam).
These may be just social media infatuations, but this week’s Twitter Love Song goes out to a few interesting folks who I want to get to know better in the coming year
A few weeks ago I began #SocialSong Saturday as an alternative to Follow Friday, a hopefully more in-depth and fun way to say “thank you” to those on Twitter who are tweeting interesting and valuable content. The absolute mortification of my teenage daughters aside, I’ve received some great feedback from a number of people I admire, but none has been more gratifying, or humbling, than that which came from J-P De Clerck (@conversionation) in his post “On Twitter and Real Life: Some Love and Some Tips.” This is, without a doubt, one of the nicest (the only?) things ever written about me on the Internet, so special thanks go out to him.
Today, rather than reflect on favorites from the past week, I am looking ahead to 2013, and giving a musical shout out to people who intrigue me enough to follow more closely in the future. As the lawyers like to say, these include, but are not limited to:
@TPLDrew As with most things, I can’t recall how I recently came upon Andrew Davis, but he showed up in one of my Twitter conversation streams with an interesting tone of voice, to match those captivating spectacles he wears. I have a particular interest in the evolution of branding, and what I see as the emerging question of whether or not the traditional practices of brand positioning, etcetera still apply. Andrew has just published Brandscaping: Unleashing the Power of Partnership, which I have yet to read… but which, as I write this, I am hearing about on the Content 360 podcast, just out this morning!
@iamashbrown My first contact with Ashley Brown came with the launch of Coke Journey, the new mega-content corporate site for Coca-Cola for which he is a content leader. I commented quite skeptically about the endeavor, even writing an article in Branding magazine “Storytelling or Advertorial? The New Coca-Cola Corporate Website.” Ashley (Ash?) responded very openly and, judging by the development of content on the site, is open to shifting the balance of Coke Journey toward true stories and away from the traditional advertorial slant. In any case, he and the site seem worth watching, along with the rest of Coke’s unfolding content strategy.
@mithchjoel Mitch Joel, the force behind Six Pixels of Separation likely needs no introduction to most of you reading this post. I, however, am barely familiar with him, and look to rectify that situation in 2013. The first podcast of his that I listened to was an interview with Jonathan Salem Baskin, author of “Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool,” a guest and topic representative of what I like about Mitch: he ain’t just about social media, but seems interested in the larger topics underlying it.
@jowyang Jeremiah Owyang s a partner and analyst at The Altimeter Group, where he is involved in research on “how corporations connect with their customers using web technologies” (hey, sometimes it’s just easiest to pick it up straight from the bio). Formerly of Forrester Research, Jeremiah strikes me as one of those super-bright-but-accessible guys who may be worth following around just to see what insights fall out of his work. Altimeter also encourages blog rings around their research topics, and I have contributed to a couple of those, one about the Dynamic Customer Journey and another concerning their focus on The Sentient World.
@bhsmithBradley Smith’s Twitter profile claims he is “Never mean. Often cheeky.” The latter is the quality that makes me want to follow him, even though (or because?) I know little of some of his areas of expertise, such as investor relations. He also offers extremely terse blog posts, such as Can you swear in an ad? Absolutely. (…depending on what the hell the context is.) Bradley is Director of Marketing for PRNewswire, so I’m guessing he can teach me a few things about getting the word out.
@dinodogan I just “met” Dino Dogan in the last week, a round-about connection brought on by the last installment of #SocialSong Saturday. Dino is not only a prominent blogger, and a founder of Triberr.com… he’s also a songwriter, just the kind of eclectic resume that always pulls me in (by the way, I’m trying to talk him into being the first guest songblogger on #SocialSong Saturday). If you’re a blogger, you should more seriously investigate Triberr.com, as I am just now doing.
@dergolonDerrick Golon is one of my followers, who I refer to as “my favorite favoriteer,” in light of his delightful inclination to favorite my tweets. Unlike some of the luminaries above, Derrick, I think, is just starting to shine. He’s still a student, just down the road from me at Loyola University of Chicago, but also an entrepreneur. Most importantly, perhaps, he represents to me what’s coming, and is worthwhile following just to be better in tune with what the next generation has in mind. I’m hoping Derrick can get me invited to sit in on one of his marketing classes (hint, hint), as he has mentioned a favorite professor.
Who are your top choices for new people to follow in 2013?
If you have a few select Tweeps who you want to know better in the coming year, please list them by their Twitter handles in the comments here, so we can all follow along with you.
How the Original “Owners” Lost Brand Christmas to Better Storytellers – And How to Get it Back
I know that, at cocktail parties or in content marketing, one shouldn’t broach the unmentionable subject of religion. Nonetheless – and seeing as it is nearly Christmas – I am going to venture into that questionable territory to ask a simple question: Whatever happened to Brand Christmas?
First, let me clarify. Although I am a practicing Christian (and “practice” is the operative term here, as there is no such thing as ever getting it right in this life) I am NOT joining the “Christmas is under attack” chorus. To me, that is just so much manipulative fodder for the regrettable likes of Fox News et al. No, I am talking about Brand Christmas from a marketing perspective.
Hey Churches: Forget the new hand bells… sign up for Hubspot
Brand Christmas has traditionally been promoted by its original owner, the catholic church (small c… look up the difference) via the push marketing of preaching, much of it product- rather than benefit-focused. Centuries before people started using their DVRs to skip the push marketing tactics of mass traditional TV ads, parishioners and the public at large started skipping out on the let-us-tell-how-you’re-going-to-hell pulpit pronouncements* (why do you think the adjective “preachy” has a negative connotation?).
Contrary to the model of the guy who’s mentioned in the first half of the brand name, the pitch has been all tell and no show. Where are the modern parables? Where are the compelling, real-life vignettes? Where are the modern Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, brand journalists all? Any outpost of the church universal (catholic, for those who didn’t look it up) who is considering buying that new set of hand bells would do better to invest in a good content marketing platform.
Where are the Storytellers for Brand Christmas?
Because the self-evident power of story has too often been ignored in promoting Brand Christmas, competitors have been able to use it to effectively redefine the holiday into a happily amorphous winter shop-a-thon. Today, the “mass” originally implied in the name mostly means mass marketing. Clement Moore is the granddaddy of brand journalists here, an evergreen storyteller selling Santa, that pleasantly secular shadow of a saint. In so persuasively promoting the big man in the red suit, and having countless publishers, retailers and parents pick up the now non-religious tale, Moore and those who gleefully followed have cornered the holiday market.
Brand Christmas Needs more Creative Content Marketing
Don’t get me wrong; nobody pens a better piece of keepsake doggerel than Mr. Moore. His brilliance is in imagination, not form or presentation. Imagination is precisely what is lacking in the Brand Christmas narrative. It’s all too much the same rote telling, whether from a thousand weary pulpits or in a countless contemporary Christian praise songs that all draw from the same limited vocabulary and worn out images.
How Can You Describe the Concept of Being “In the Image” without Imagination?
The best Christian writing seems to be non-fiction; my favorite author along those lines is the erudite, insightful and highly accessible Philip Yancey. But where are the great fiction writers telling the story for Brand Christmas? Come on folks, we’re talking the Word Incarnate here. How about some words that really bring it all to life?
Why has even that brand storytelling turf been ceded to the secular, where mash-ups of mythic-with-the-modern stories thrill millions (think Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, updating the Greek gods)? Are the keepers of Brand Christmas afraid of fiction? Is the assumption that there is no mass market for it?
Once Upon A Time, A Great Christmas Brand Storyteller Strode the Big Stage
There is a willing, or at least tolerant, mass market for it, if one looks right under one’s (American) nose. It is accessed annually by the unassuming and blanket-toting animated character, Linus, in the now-classic A Charlie Brown Christmas. Apparently Charles Schultz had to hold his ground against considerable network opposition to keep this part of the production in the final cut. But there it is. In the middle of one of the most popular holiday stories – pitched at and appropriate for a wide secular audience – the heart of the real Christmas story, told in timeless prose (straight scripture, actually), delivered by a beloved, animated character. Storytelling at its best, for Brand Christmas.
Can You Think of Any Imaginative, Artful, Unusual Examples of Storytelling for the Christmas Brand?
I realize that I protest too much; many artists, writers, songwriters, etcetera over the years have poured imaginative heart and soul into telling the Christmas story.
It simply doesn’t happen enough, and has been superceded by secular versions and visions. If you have a favorite example of “brand storytelling” in service of the real story of the coming of what we Christians believe to be our bridge to God, please tell us here.
A new series in Branding Magazine features brands that go beyond corporate lip service to be truly customer-centric
From Branding Magazine: An interview with the people who bring Regus’ Customer Journey to life.
I hate buzzwords. My two least favorite are “authenticity” and “customer-centricity.” The former I wrote about some time back in a Branding magazine article, “The Death of Authenticity.” Today, in the same publication, I’ve launched what I hope will be a series of articles looking at brands that truly deliver exceptional customer service – or rather, that go beyond traditional notions of service to center their efforts, their brand, their business on the customer. Oddly (to me at least) customer service is often siloed at some distance from brand marketing, even though the former is absolutely critical to paying off the promises of the latter.
My well-tabbed copy of “Tell the Truth” shows that there’s much to discuss between these covers
A few years ago, comedian/social commentator Stephen Colbert coined the exceptionally apt phrase “truthiness” to describe the political/commercial/cultural corruption of the entire concept of telling the truth in America, lampooning the growing preference given to opinion and feeling over fact.
In their relatively new – and, I believe, important – book “Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool,” Sue Unerman and Jonathan Salem Baskin take on the topic of truth and its absolute importance to marketing, offering this fairly optimistic conclusion: “More and more marketers are turning away from easily constructed spin and digging deep in to the truth of their brands. We believe that in five years we’ll look back on the art of spin as an anachronism.”
While I can’t agree with their conclusion, I encourage everyone to read their often enlightening book (that light emanating from a number of good interview-based case histories), because I do agree with the statement that immediately follows it: “The truth is the future of successful advertising.” In fact, I would expand that to read “Truth is the future of advertising – and the lack of it will be end of advertising.”
Signs of the End: Surveys Predict the Adpocalypse If you track the various trust-related surveys, you know that the trend is advertising trust is down. Way down. You can see it in Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages, and in Edelman’s Brand Trust Barometer. The only way to change that direction is to build trust; and the only way to do that is to start by telling, and showing, the truth. Unless we do that, start looking for advertising trust in the single digits – and also start looking for a new job.
Highlights of “Tell the Truth” I’m glad to say that there are two many meaty issues raised by this book to be adequately condensed into a manageable review, but even a look at the table of contents will give you a good overview of their observations and recommendations:
The Case for Truth
Deliver Real Change to Services and Company Structure
Take Consumers on the Brand Truth Journey with You
Enlist Third-Party Advocates
Find a Truth Turning Point
Use Point-of-Action Media
As you can tell from the photo of my well-tabbed copy of Tell the Truth, there is much worth discussing here. I suggest you get a copy for yourself and those you work with, and start a conversation that could well determine the success of your advertising and marketing efforts
Note: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher after I commented, in another copyklatsch post, on an abstract of it. I have no financial or other material interest in the book.
Good thoughts – but not quite the essence of it. My definition?
“Simplicity is self-evidence, with all but the truth stripped away.” Why is that important? Work it backwards. Brands are built on and sustained by trust. Trust emanates from truth. The truth of brand promises is that which is self-evident in consumers’ experiences with a brand. The nature of a brand’s true benefits can best be observed in those experiential moments – can most clearly be self-evident – if all extraneous “brand dressing” is stripped away. In short: simplicity.
Identify and Communicate the Simple Truth About Your Brand At Creative on Call, we see our mission as helping clients identify and communicate the simple truth about their brands. What can you strip away from your brand positioning, brand communications, brand experiences that isn’t absolutely essential to the core truth you offer?
HOW TO CREATE CONTENT THAT WILL BUILD BRAND TRUST RATHER THAN DESTROY IT
I recently wrote an article for Branding Magazine about the potential for letting the ever-more-hungry Content Beast devour your brand credibility. It’s a problem that affects “real” journalism (see the piece in The New York Times about recent high-profile cases of plagarism) as well as brand journalism. How do you keep the beast fed without cannibalizing your own work? Where exactly are the lines separating curation, citation and plagiarism? And when does repurposing devolve into self-defeating redundancy? All of these concerns can undercut the reception and perception of any brand’s content, potentially turning what should be trust-building communications into occasions for questioning your brand credibility.
I hope you’llread the article, but I also thought (at the risk of redundant repurposing) that I’d share the article’s conclusion here:
3 Qualities of Trust-building Brand Content
1. Content needs to be true – in the largest sense. Brand advertising “pushes” limited messages in front of audiences via paid media, and tends to be selectively truthful (which is not in the least to suggest advertising needs be untrue). On the other hand, content marketing looks to “pull” consumers toward brands by speaking to their larger lives, and therefore must be more holistically truthful, addressing not only a brand’s most positive benefits but, in fact, the totality of the consumer lives which a brand seeks to serve. In short, brand content needs to deal with both the good and the bad, acknowledging which needs it can and cannot meet and in so doing create trust through transparency, openness and, above all, helpfulness over the long haul.
2. Content needs to be thoroughly original. To say that your content is original has to be more than just saying “it’s not plagiarized.” The real question is, Does your content offer original insights, fresh viewpoints, and a new alchemy of ideas? Does it elicit an emphatic “Yes!” moment, if just to the extent of “Yes! THAT’S how the *$@$ing little widget works!” A service as simple as Copyscape can confirm if content is plagiarized; ensuring that it is original in the best sense requires much more of an investment.
3. Brand content must be of the highest quality. Quality connotes credibility. Is your white paper well researched and delivered with a distinct brand voice? Are your videos well produced, with good lighting, sound, supporting title work and professional transitions? In other words, is it self-evident that you’ve invested enough in the content for the your readers or viewers to feel it is true and worthy of their attention? Style can’t replace substance, but a disregard for style may well convince your intended audience to disregard your communications.
“SIMPLY put, a lot of what Madison Avenue says these days is simply put. “Simply,” “simple” and “simplicity” — along with like-minded thoughts that include “easy,” “honest” and “clear” — have become marketing buzzwords in response to three related trends: how busy life today seems, the growing complexity of technology and the increasingly complicated economic picture. That has encouraged advertisers to woo consumers with promises to provide solutions that are meant as simple but not simplistic.”
What follows are several examples, essentially of fairly traditional lip service to simplicity, from brands that offer little in the way of simplifying substance or news. Ivory Soap (“Keep it pure, clean and simple.”). California Milk Processor Board (“Real. Simple. Got Milk?”). And the Simply Juices line from Coca-Cola, where the name supposedly says it all (but in an altogether undifferentiated way from any other 100% juice line).
My favorite misplaced example offered is Real Simple magazine, the forest-killing monthly that, fattened with ad pages, seems to be telling us that all we need to reach simple nirvana is more stuff (preferably from its own licensed lines of products available at major retailers).
SIMPLICITY DOES PAY OFF IN BRANDING
I am actually quite interested in the subject of simplicity, in marketing and otherwise, having long subscribed to the philosophy of “simple is good,” so I searched the article eagerly for new facts, studies, evidence of how and why simplicity is making real in roads. But where was the mention of Seigel+Gale’s intriguing “Simplicity Index,” which for several years has brought some statistical rigor to the subject and philosophy upon which that firm bases its entire business? And where were the mentions of marketers reaching out to actively help consumers simplify their lives via instructive content marketing?
And I wish that Stuart Elliot had at least touched on the inherent problem of a core lack of truth or significance in so many of these traditional assertion-not-substance campaigns? He might have at least mentioned that “simplicity” is one of those unregulated claims – like “all natural” (which was featured on the opposite page in an article about a new class action suit against General Mills for false advertising) – which, while appealing to consumers also runs the risk of incurring their wrath if found to be untrue or not compelling in its minimal truthfulness. (Interestingly, I think what Simply Juices wants to do with their name is side-step the whole “natural” brouhaha, and I would argue with Mr. Elliot that their campaign isn’t part of the simplicity versus complexity but positions them as natural without saying so. Unfortunately, this side-stepping hasn’t saved the brand from its own class-action lawsuit headaches.)
As Seigel+Gale’s index shows, simplicity, if actually delivered, can be a major brand-building benefit (and a boost to shareholder value; take a look at the numbers in the “Simplicity Portfolio” contained within the annual index report). Likewise, the mandate for truthfulness in a media age controlled by consumers, online and off, can be turned to significant marketing advantage, as illustrated in Jonathan Baskin’s new book “Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool.” But as those and other observers note, that advantage arises out of demonstrating simplicity and delivering on it as a brand experience – not simply claiming it as a positioning, or incorporating it into a theme line or brand name.
While I wish that Mr. Elliot had dug a little deeper into the subject, I more so fault the marketers and, most of all, their very traditional agencies, which are stuck in their apparently still-profitable rut of speaking at consumers rather than with them, of asserting rather than demonstrating, of interrupting their lives with paid messages rather than enhancing their lives with the information, education and entertainment they need and want. In short, traditional agencies are still making image-based claims without bringing them alive with content (or even self-evident truth) – and in this age, that simply won’t do.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, if only as a way to redeem all the chopped up bits of time I seem to have in my car. For business learning I tend to favor the unpolished enthusiasm of ‘casts such as the relatively new Mastering Social Business by Kelly Noble and Paul Serwin. But I also listen to more established voices, including that of Mitch Joel and his Six Pixels of Separation. He and his guests typically have lot to offer, once you get past the self-congratulatory plugging of upcoming books or the hubristic backslapping of bright guys buying their own press.
Is Your Brand All About the Truth? Speaking of books and hubris, a recent Six Pixels guest, Jonathan Baskin (prolific author, columnist, marketing consultant) caught my ear with this whopper of a comment:
“I hate the word content… We brand marketing folks don’t create content… we share truth.”
Wow. Brand marketers share truth (and content marketers, presumably, share something less). Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m with Baskin in the apparent premise of his new book (which I have yet to read), Tell the Truth: Honesty is Your Most Powerful Marketing Tool. In fact, the elevator speech for Creative on Call has, for sometime, been that we are a “…creative services company that helps marketers identify and communicate the simple truth about brands…” And I still quaintly but firmly believe that building marketing programs on a foundation of rational and emotional truth is the best (perhaps only) way to build brand trust.
“My Brand is the Way and The Truth and The Lifestyle. No one comes to the Market Except by Me.” What’s missing for me in all this is a sense of perspective, even humility – and I don’t mean from Baskin, I mean from the advertising and marketing industry as a whole. Marketers wanting to traffic in the truth will do well to remember a few key points:
Brand evangelism is just an expression. In selling sodas and hawking hotels, we may be pushing a lifestyle, but we’re not promoting a path to cosmic consciousness or even worldly wholeness. We’re selling stuff.
We are sales people, not preachers. And like good sales people, we may be great listeners, entertainers, educators… but we cannot believably pretend to be apostles of the Truth, with a capital T. People don’t buy it (Neilsen reports that less than half of all people trust paid advertising, the lifeblood of brand marketers, and that confidence level is steadily declining year after year).
There’s nothing wrong with selling stuff. There’s a tendency toward denial, especially among my creative kin, about the fact that all of our efforts, our time, our creativity is being channeled into selling. But why? It’s not a four letter word (OK, creative people might use it more freely if it was). By being honest about what we’re doing, we can engage more comfortably, and believably, with consumers, and encourage them to engage with us. Earning media might, of course, call for content marketing, to add a little pull to the paid media push (the same Neilsen report notes very high levels of trust in earned media).
It would also require creative folks like me to embrace the fact that we’re creating ads, not art. After all, what’s wrong with that? We’re former English and Art majors lucky enough to have stumbled into a lucrative profession. Enjoy it for what it is, drop the pretense, and get on with business! (This is not to say, however, that one need not be artful in the approach to creating ads… it’s still human-to-human communication, at least if you want it to work).
I hope Mr. Baskin is successful in convincing hoards of brand marketers to take up the banner of truth in advertising; if it becomes more than self-congratulatory corporate speak, marketers and their consumers should both profit.
The Altimeter Group is embarking on an ambitious attempt to understand and define the evolution of the customer experience, what they have coined “The Dynamic Customer Journey.” As they summarize it:
“The customer journey has evolved, yet organizations have failed to recognize and adapt to the change. Today, the new customer is empowered to make faster, smarter, more-informed decisions using technology, for instance, by accessing real-time information on their mobile devices or connecting with trusted peers across open and closed social networks. To respond to a dynamic customer journey, organizations must transform their rigid sales, marketing, and customer service programs and adopt an intrinsically more flexible organizational, technological, and go-to-market approach”
The Dynamic Human Journey
Their observations focus on organization, technology and process – but I hope they will also include, and invite others to comment on, core issues of human communication that arise from the often-bewildering challenges listed above. In fact, I submit that customers may not always be so “empowered” as “challenged” to “make faster, smarter, more informed decisions.”
Are Your Customers Developing a Complexity Complex?
Altimeter may be nodding in this direction when they note in a heading “The Factors that Impact the Dynamic Customer Journey Multiply Complexity.” Of course, we face more than just the question of how to control, minimize and seamlessly integrate structural complexities – we face the challenge of how to ensure that the composite end result amounts to useful, usable, human relations and communications.
“On the one hand, the steady stream of innovation continues to make it easier for consumers to watch, listen, share and communicate. But many companies in acquisition mode have expanded their profiles and portfolios and incorporated such a sea of product models and technology types that many customers feel lost as they attempt to navigate their way to a simple purchase.”
Simply Put, Brands Need to Put it Simply
The upshot seems to be that brands must embrace a unifying and simplifying approach to technology and communications. Easier said than done? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I suggest, and invite comment on, two guiding principles:
Brands that take the complexity burden off of consumers will step to the fore.
Of those complexity-defying brands, the ones that learn to also communicate in the simplest, most communally humanterms will be the long-term winners
Human-to-Human Communication vs. Brand to Prospect
Do you agree? Disagree? And do you believe that considering the dynamics of honest human communication – alongside organizational, technological and process-oriented factors – would enhance the Altimeter discussion?