Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Brands are for cattle*

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Tomorrow I am on a panel at the Marketing Society annual conference that takes place in the splendid surroundings of the Royal Opera House. I intended to link to the event and programme, but the Marketing Society moved their website to Sharepoint and in doing so killed the old pages about the event. I can see the reasoning… “by the evening of 18th November those who wanted to attend will have been signed up, so there is no need to have a link to the event on our site. We’ll just redirect them to where they can read about it later.” That someone might want to link to the programme seems an idea they haven’t entertained. But I digress…

The question of the panel will be “Can social networking be harnessed by brands?” The regular readers of this blog can guess my position. I was asked a similar question for one of the Marketing Society publications and wanted to share what I wrote on the topic.

“How do marketers control and manage their brand in the age of Web 2.0?”

This must be a trick question. Talking about “how to control a brand” today is as provocative as saying three years ago that on the Web companies will lose control of their brands. The buzzword Web 2.0 does not capture what this shift is about. It would be more accurate to talk about the Two-Way Web or the Read/Write Web to make it clear that the Web is not a medium. The Web is a network where people are creating, sharing and distributing without any need for the industry’s involvement. The two-way nature of the online enables individuals develop their own ‘brands’ effectively and cheaply because a brand is more like identity than unrelenting messaging and campaigns. Brands could get a share of the Web magic, if they were willing to come out from behind the glossy fronts and engage as human beings. In short, marketers – Step. Away. From. The Brand. You cannot control it, the best you can do is to help shape your company’s identity, while respecting people and the way they engage with you and each other. None of this involves ‘leveraging’ anything from traditional marketing. There are other alternatives worth investigating.

*The title of the post is based on a) what I keep telling brand strategist and b) t-shirt that I plan to wear tomorrow. :-)

Toyota tailGate

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Toyota owners are revolting… Yes, another example of customer power.

Toyota has been fiercely protective of their brand image, specifically their historically high vehicle quality ratings. But as companies today have no control over the marketplace conversation about their products, Toyota is finding itself in an uncomfortable position to say the least.

Even just a few years ago this story would largely have been buried at the dealer level as straightforward warranty repairs and outside of government safety regulators (not likely to represent a safety risk). Today the rise of owner forums is serving as a vehicle, no pun intended, for owners to band together and force manufacturers to address issues.

This is not really news – people have been complaining about companies for as long as the web existed. For now, there are still relatively few product or service ‘-gates’. It still takes a confluence of circumstances. A web-savvy audience or customer-base, a community around the product, service or the screwed-around customer, a large-ish blog or online publication picking up the story etc. However, their frequency and reach is growing and it seems that such confluences are becoming less coincidental and possibly even more orchestrated (see the suggestion that Toyota competitors might be fanning the flames). What is news is that there has never been a movement like this begun and carried out by owners themselves to have an automaker address a grievance.

Companies cannot and will not be able control such ‘outbursts’ of customer power. They had their go at blasting messages, burying unfavourable stories, creating warranties with small print that any demon from the soul-signing department would be proud of. Now it’s not just the market’s turn but the individual customer’s turn to network with others with similar grievances. It is not merely strength in numbers though, it is the strength of the voices that now can be registered, amplified and freely distributed.

So, there is the hard way and then there is the easy way for businesses to deal with the ‘empowered consumer’. A good start would dropping the term consumer. The hard way is to:

a) stick head in the sand and pretend nothing’s happening
b) alright, something’s happening but those people don’t matter
c) hm, they do seem to create some noise/buzz/trouble but our lawyers/PR firm/brand or marketing agency can handle them
d) oh shit, it doesn’t seem to be working as it used to, let’s find a lawyer/PR firm/brand or marketing agency that says can handle this
e) thousands of $$$ or £££ later, someone notices that some employee(s) are living the social web stuff and communicating with people out there. Some of them might even be customers – shock, horror! Quick, call the communications/PR/marketing people to do something about it!
f) this is where things fork:
i. throttle the communication and that’s the end of it until the next meteor hits and dinosaurs scatter.
ii. someone in possession of sufficient authority and common sense examines what’s going on and gets a clue.

The easy way is to go straight to f) ii., have some fun discovering that it is not so hard for companies to get people on their side once they start behaving as people, not as a faceless corporate entity. Er, fairly honest and communicative people that is.

Customers can ‘fight back’ because there are now ways to connect and amplify their grievances, feedback and wishes. Looking at the past 5-10 years, the net has become a world of its own, not separate from the offline one but defined by a lot of human behaviour that couldn’t find expression in a hierarchical world. In many ways, the net is an expression of non-hierarchical power. And, of course, much more besides but it is this power that seems to befuddle companies.

Something they teach even at business schools is that markets do not stand still. This is especially true in a space where demand supplies itself. So here’s another one to watch.

Quote to remember

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People are starting to understand that their interest in, and even their raw attention toward a product has a value. And deciding to expose any data to a potential vendor is a customer choice, not a marketers right.
- echovar in Why Marketing is Broken

You let the enemy in…

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There is a storm in one of the blogosphere’s corners – the pharma one. It makes a change from the ‘upheavals’ of the usual social media or the political digerati. It is also interesting to see that similar issues are affecting them all – transparency, credibility, reputation and monetisation. Once communities and networks get some traction and visibility the onslaught of marketers or advertisers begins.

Sermo, the two-year-old online forum where 30,000 docs love to dish, has inked a deal to collaborate with Pfizer, which can now freely access the site and post, post, post.

This is what doctors in the Sermo community have to say about it.

“I am not a fan of PhRMA…and I am especially not thrilled at the idea that they will now have one more way to ‘get at’ physicians via Sermo.”

“Any influence from Pfizer has to be absolutely marked and labeled loud and clear! I am sick and tired of industry people sneaking in their subtle, hard-to-detect influences into everything and every media corner money can buy.”

“No Pfizer docs acting like reps in here!”

“There is no way Pfizer is interested in anything but marketing in this ‘partnership.’ ”

“I’ll add this to my list at”

“Daniel, you let the enemy in. Shame on you.”

It is never possible to please everyone, so picking the negative voices is not fair, one might say. But let’s see what they are saying, not just put a minus or plus sign next to them. They all react against the intrusion – for different reasons.

The first comment is about Pfizer getting to a space that docs see as their own. It is about their autonomy, in this case, the ability to control and manage who and how is ‘getting’ at you, if you are a doctor. The second comment is about transparency. It show just how delusional the industry methods of ‘influencing’ are. People don’t fall for it, only the agencies and their clients who seem to believe their own BS. The third and fourth comments are about business practices – companies’ main objectives is to sell, sell, sell. It is a sad truth that some people wouldn’t see anything wrong with that. But it is. A doctor also wants to make money but if you believed that his only motivation for treating you is to earn more money, you’d be a) a fool and b) couldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him. Yes, some doctors can be motivated by money but that is what often makes a bad doctor is, not a good one. The same goes for companies. If people believe that the only motivation for a company’s existence and activities is to make more money, there is no trust, just transaction. And a pushback every time the company crosses a certain line or people find new ways to push back its intrusive manners. Hence the label ‘enemy’.

And this is what Craigslist people understand:

In what turned out to be a culture clash of near-epic proportions, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster spoke to the investment community this morning at the UBS global media conference in New York. UBS analyst Ben Schachter asked Buckmaster a standard financial world question: How does the site plan to maximize revenue? The CEO of the online classifieds site answered as follows: “That definitely is not part of the equation. It’s not part of the goal.” “I think a lot of people are catching their breath right now,” responded Schachter, as the crowd absorbed Buckmaster’s remarks.

The difference between the doctor and a company is the one between an individual and an institution. When you meet a doctor you can decide whether you trust him or not. It is much harder with a company, there is no-one to meet or talk to. No-one to deal with directly. No-one who could give you a real clue as to the motivations and goings on within the company. Marketing and advertising campaigns can’t do that and even the successful ones rarely survive the passage of time.

Commerce these days is focused on transactions and transactions only. Sell, sell, sell. But the best salesmen tell you that it is about the relationship. And a relationship begins with a conversation, where both parties have independence and freedom to start or end it at will.

Lesson number one – don’t build or take over communities for marketing purposes. This is because monetisation of a community will never work if you do something that the community doesn’t like. In case of Sermo it’s letting Pfizer in. In case of others, it’s advertising or some other disturbance. There are plenty of bad examples but I can think of only one good one. Yes, Craigslist again…

Buckmaster acknowledged that Craigslist had been approached about placing text ads on the site. “We’ve had the numbers crunched for us,” he said. “The numbers are quite staggering.” But, no, the site wasn’t interested. “No users have been requesting that we run text ads, so for us, that’s the end of the story,” he said to the befuddlement of the crowd. “If users start calling out for text ads, we’ll listen.”

Lesson number two – communication is a one-to-one affair, not one-to-many. (The net has enabled many-to-many as a way of network scaling). If you are a large company, don’t behave like one. Your brand is worth very little if you cannot communicate with people. And you can do that only as people. So fracture the brand, let people talk to people, your employees to each other and to those outside the company. Instead of fearing your employees expression, be grateful for their ability and willingness to lend the company their voices. Treat them with respect and they’ll reciprocate. After all, if you can’t trust your own employees, why do you expect your customers to trust you?

Lesson number three – transparency starts at home. Decide what you are about and why you are in business. Don’t bother with missions and strategic visions, they are not fooling anyone, so they shouldn’t fool you. Once you find what it is that gets you to work every day, get on with it and communicate that on your own terms. Then watch and listen to what others think and say and then communicate some more. It can be a beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Thinking about why VRM…

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…because a customer database doesn’t a relationship make.

Sales happen

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Another variation on markets are conversations (and relationships).

The most effective marketing use of blogs seems to be when the advertiser/marketer uses the blog as an opportunity not to sell a product, but to attract people who are in the right mindset.

Attract people in trouble–>Help solve their problems–>Build your reputation–>Sales happen.

It is about the mindset. It is also about understanding that you can make money because of something, not with it.

This is what you get when your new business isn’t just about inventing and controlling technologies and standards, but about taking advantage of the new opportunities opened up by fresh new technologies and standards. For example, making money because of blogging, or RSS, or desktop Linux, or whatever — rather than just with those things.

Think different. Not Apple.

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Message to the iPhone “crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the trouble-makers”.

A message to marketers

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A worthy post by Brian Solis of PR 2.0 summarising what has become obvious some time ago thanks to blogging:

Attention PR and practicing Social Media professionals, step away from using “messages” to target “users” and “audience.” They are no longer filling the theaters, stadiums, and auditoriums to hear from marketers.

The implications for communications and marketing are profound and joint, they both need to take note and no longer define themselves by company processes or departments.

Discussing marketing in terms of audience and users implies a one to many approach, whereas focusing on people begets a one to one communications strategy – shifting from monologue to dialog.

Brian also has rather sound advice that does go a bit further than the ‘you-can’t-market-as-you-used-to’ meme:

When we look at groups of people respectively, we’re forced change our migration path to them. Each group is influenced, inspired and driven by unique channels and communities. Figuring out who we want to reach, why they matter to us, and why we matter to them, is the ante in order to buy into this game. Then we reverse engineer this process of where they go for their information and discussions to learn about how to reach them. And, while there may be several horizontal mediums that overlap, the vertical avenues are dedicated.

When you want to have a conversations with someone you do these two things – listen to the other person/people and try to say something of interest or of use to them. Otherwise you become unpopular and people will avoid you. Why on earth PR and communications departments can’t get that simple truth right and still blather on about messaging?!

Let’s go ahead and eradicate “messages” when discussing customers and people. They don’t want to hear messages, they want to hear how you can help them do something better than how they do it today or how this is something that they couldn’t do before, taking into specific account, their daily regime.

Messages are not conversations and there is no market for them.



Bonus link: There is no market for messages

Marketing joins advertising in circling the drain

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Thanks to Seth Godin for spelling out one of the many reason why…

The idea that people would seek out marketing, ads and content the same way they sought out books is radical.

Go ahead and make what you want, as long as you stand behind it and
don’t bother me. If you want to sell magnetic bracelets or put risque
pictures on your website, it’s your responsibility, your choice.

Junk turns into spam when you show up at my doorstep, when your noise intercepts my quiet.

The result of Google and the prevalence of search means that people
are far more forgiving of things that need to be sought out, and less
patient than ever with selfish marketers that insist on showing up in
your face.

Amen to that. Permission marketing has never made much sense to me anyway…

Quote to remember

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An irony of our age is that, though everyone acknowledges consumers are
in control, marketers still believe they’re running the show, right
down to trying to plan for virality as any creative told to "just go
make a viral video" will lament. Virality is an outcome, not a channel
to be planned.
- Matthew Creamer in AdAge

Quote to remember

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Blogs let
you communicate directly with your audience. Of course, we’re too
busy building product to communicate with our audience so let’s hire
a marketer to do it for us. And when inexperienced marketers get a
blog, they all blog the same way. Their voice is as authentic as a
Twinkie is organic…. [Their] ire
should have been directed at whoever gave the keys to the blog to
someone whose authentic voice reads like a Newsweek health
supplement advertorial.

So, to recap, the recipe
for a disaster is easy: hire marketers with no authentic voice, ask
them to pimp offal, and when they’re busted for it make them force
out an apology in which they blame it on their authentic voice. You
too can make the front page of TechMeme for two days running with
three easy steps, though you might get wet sleeves fishing your
career prospects out of the toilet when you’re done. You’re welcome!

- Nat Torkington in Google’s Authentic Voice Problem

What the…

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One Saturday morning I found this in my inbox.


After reading all the guff on your site I still have no idea what
this is all about. Can you tell me so I can decide whether it is
something my clients may be interested in.

Kind regards


Media Consultant

p xxxx
m xxxx

After a brief deliberation I replied:


Thank you for your interest. I don’t really have a site as such,
just two blogs. I can’t work out from your email which one you came
across, as they are both full of guff. Neither of them will tell you
much about what I do. Perhaps some light might be shed here or perhaps not.

If you are looking for stuff about social media and blogging… I
have written far too much about it in the past 4 years to be able to
summarize it briefly. My bad. I am sure there are many other people out
there, who are less, er, unclear. I find this quite succinct.

Sorry not to be more helpful – I have only little idea of what
you do/who your clients are as this is the only thing I was able to
find [link to some directory listing that I retrieved by putting his
mobile number into google] … so not obvious what it is you are
looking for.

Best of luck,


I used to (and still do now and then)
receive emails with inquiries about what I do, which would be getting
easier to answer if I didn’t keep evolving what I do to the point where
I can never simply describe it. Sadly, the elevator pitch
forever eludes me. What strikes me as odd about this email is that Tim
presumes that my blog(s) are there for his effortless decision of
whether his clients should be interested in this or not. They are there
for me and, luckily, for those readers who enjoy the same stuff I do.
It’s not a marketing channel – a brief look at what I blog about puts stop to any doubt about that! I guess Tim was
looking for a shortcut, for the packaging of the new-fangled online
stuff (I am assuming it’s social media that caught his attention) that
would sell itself to him so he can then sell it to his clients. Well,
nothing wrong with that if it works for you but it’s not how I work.

A blog gives you a chance to build your own
identity, which is miles better than brand. It allows for a mix of
trivial, serious, thoughtful and sometimes stupid.. just like the human
being behind it. That is the authenticity that companies would like to
infuse their brands with. Alas, it’s like with androids. Close but
not quite. And often, not even close…

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