I’ve been writing for ClickZ for over two years now. That’s 60 columns, dutifully delivered every two weeks. As many of you have noticed, I sought to keep my commentary focused on a few key themes I believe are mission-critical for today’s CMOs. Themes like marketing in an era of consumer control and consumer-generated media; managing media fragmentation and new marketing models; and, most important, leveraging and exploiting the untapped power of listening.
I’ve tried to be self-critical, wary of hype, and mindful of the danger of bagging the truth against a backdrop of dynamic change. If there’s one area in which I’ve been unapologetically righteous, it’s been in my message that if we further erode trust or credibility in consumers’ eyes, we’re toast — end of story.
With the power of personal play lists in mind, I decided to highlight the 10 columns I’ve written that best deserve a second read, perhaps even a pass-along. You be the judge.
As Google juice goes, this one takes the prize and for a good reason. The fastest growing medium is that which consumers shape and share themselves. It is TiVo-resistant and presents long-lasting sources of influence, whether sourced from message boards, forum, blogs, podcasts, or YouTube videos. Consumers are dialing up expression in a way that’s affecting brand identity, reputation, and equity. The good news: it can be a measured and quantified. This in turn can guide, inform, and maximize return on marketing strategies.
In the spring of 2005, “Business Week” noted blogs represent “the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself.” The blogosphere cheered, and brands perked up. But let’s not go crazy on this point. We’d all be well served by putting some “prudence into our exuberance.” Blogs are important, but they won’t help brands regain control, nor should they. Let’s be clear about what we really want to achieve via our blog strategies. Most brands, despite rhetorical buy-in, simply aren’t ready to create their own blogs. The far bigger need is to figure out how to listen to and learn from the blogosphere.
Face it, brands remain schizophrenic when it comes to engaging consumers in conversation. Marketers claim they want conversation, but there’s little evidence of this in the consumer-affairs department or on the “contact us” form. In many respects, we’d rather pay for impressions than make better impressions when consumers step up to the brand welcome mat. It’s wacky and begging for a fix. In this live role-play dialogue between a consumer and a call-center representative, I try to bring some of the curious contradictions to the top.
This was my very first column, catalyzed by a question I keep asking: if search is the Web’s killer app, why are marketers so lousy at applying the fundamentals of consumer-friendly search in their own backyards? The problem still haunts brands. Even in the recent Super Bowl, many advertisers forgot to make their $2.5 million ads discoverable through their own site search. I conclude with, “Your brand equity is the sum total of your search results. If a no-brainer search term yields blanks on your site or takes a useless detour, your brand simply isn’t in touch with the consumer.” This especially applies to the practice of “defensive branding,” a point underscored in a related piece.
Here I argue the “TV is dead” argument is silly and naive and betrays unmistakable new realities permeating the Web. Note, I made this argument long before YouTube became the Web’s darling. I posit “the dead medium formerly known as television is on a time-shifting comeback.” It’s coming back in a different form, on a smaller screen, and courtesy of existing content creators. What’s fundamentally different, of course, is the content is now being served up almost exclusively in on-demand formats, and the lion’s share of it is being validated, popularized, and created by consumers, not formal publishers. But this still presents a big opportunity for all, and I throw a bone to agencies on this very point in a related piece.
This column introduces the notion of chatterbacking, the practice of marketing in front of, within, behind, and all around brand conversation, or chatter. Chatter, after all, is a key driver of attention and engagement. But marketers must exercise caution about compromising or denigrating the integrity of these consumer conversations. It’s a slippery slope. “Planning around chatterbacking will require a new type of foresight and risk tolerance and a very high level of sensitivity to the blur factor between paid and participatory conversation,” I argue.
Late last year, Procter & Gamble’s A.G. Lafley suggested that in this new age of consumer control, marketers need to “let go.” Yes of course, but even more important than letting go is opening up. A brand needs to open up its door, roll out the welcome mat, and allow consumers to talk to it on their terms. This column builds on Lafley’s first moment of truth (what consumers see on the shelf) and second moment of truth (what happens when they try the product). The third moment is that powerful inflection point where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand.
Integration is hard, and brands rarely “walk the talk” on the promise of holistic thinking. When they do, it’s a big deal. For that reason, it’s hard not to toss generous kudos to Unilever’s Real Beauty campaign. The Dove campaign not only walks the talk on self-expression and empowerment, but it shines a powerful new light on what consumer-fortified media (CFM). Months later, this remains one of most talked about campaigns on the Web. Brands looking to maximize cross-platform synergy and deeply sustained consumer bonding should take note.
Nearly one in two U.S. newborns are of Hispanic origin, but we barely talking about Hispanics or Latinos. That’s for the “ethic marketing” department, right? That’s a huge mistake. Moreover, the protests last spring of over a million immigrants underscored some key learning and insight about this critically important population segment. Perhaps the single biggest factor was offline word of mouth, fueled by a combination of shrewd organizing and heavy doses of traditional media, especially radio. In particular, active promotion of the march by key influencers in the Spanish-language community, notably “locutores, or Spanish-language disk jockeys, made a huge difference in producing the big numbers. We need to internalize this if we’re to keep “chief” in our title. I hit other Hispanic themes in “Beyond Cinco De Mayo.”
Every day, I struggle with the term “research.” I keep thinking of my P&G days when research was all about timestamps and focus groups, and when the consumer-market knowledge (CMK) group worked on the other side of the marketing fence. This piece introduces the concept of listening-centered marketing, which thinks about measurements and metrics as continuous. It’s about managing in a world where real-time conversation is held in equal esteem with a click, a page view, even an actual transaction. It’s where the consumer voice gives us a much-needed aperture to make better, more informed brand decisions. It’s about sensing and responding to unmet needs and concerns as they unfold and co-creating along the way. Put another way, you can’t really decouple research from real-time marketing anymore.
And there you have it: my top 10 list. Feedback welcome. I’m listening.