I must confess that I really like music from the 1980s. I've consistently been a fan for more than 20 years -- even during those times when it wasn't considered cool. (My daughter insists that it has in fact never been cool to like '80's music.) Back in college, I was even fortunate enough to have shared the stage with new wave luminaries such as a Flock of Seagulls, Echo and the Bunnymen and 10,000 Maniacs. And even though I'm older and wiser now, I haven't shed my love of all things '80s. Over the years, I've used a number of sites and other interactive tools to give me a virtual heads up every time my favorite '80's band comes to town.
Many of these networking tools -- both new and old -- have been receiving a good deal of attention over the past year. Each proudly offers a number of opportunities for me to connect with like-minded individuals on both a personal and business level. Many of these sites collect a considerable amount of data on their users, and allow others to search through and view some or all of that personal data. And whenever consumer data is collected and shared online, there are bound to be some privacy concerns.
With that in mind, I took a look at a number of the social and business networking tools from a privacy and marketing perspective. Specifically, I examined the interactive communities from five different points of view: authentication, control, policing, revenue models, and blogger and customer feedback. Those five criteria break down the Chapell view on networking sites. Today, we'll look at authentication and control.
Authentication -- How do I know you are who you say you are?
I remember reading the story about the person who bought a car listed on Craigslist only to have the car stolen back by the seller a few days later. That sad tale illustrates how the Internet is held to a much higher standard on these types of issues. For example, nobody's asking my local newspaper to run background checks on everyone who responds to my ad selling my Dodge Dart. But oftentimes, that is the first question asked when evaluating an interactive tool.
In part, this is because we're in a new medium -- at least relative to newspapers -- which have been selling classified ads since the late 19th Century. But it's also because even the savviest adults are prone to let their guard down when online. Regardless, having some level of authentication can be important because it breeds a feeling of safety, and safety breeds trust. Each of these sites has a different level of authentication.
School-affiliated sites tend to have fairly rigid authentication procedures. For example, Affinity Engines, a Palo Alto company that provides social networking for alumni associations, authenticates users before they can join. Members authenticate either by sending an email from a school or alumni email address, or by faxing a transcript to the site. The Square, which has setup online networks for alumni and students of premier institutions of higher learning, (currently 40 schools including Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown) takes a similar approach.
Classmates.com, which is one of the first and the largest of the networking sites, takes more of a laissez faire approach to authentication. For example, any of their premium subscription members can sign themselves up as a reunion organizer for just about any high school or college and subsequently email his class announcing the reunion. It's a useful technology, but also one that is rife for abuse. While the credit card they use to process the membership fee can validate who a user is, there is nothing in place to validate that the user actually attended any particular school.
As a result, I was able to set myself up as a reunion organizer for something like 16 different classes in eight separate schools. Maybe I was the first to "abuse" the system in this way. Nevertheless, given their lack of authenticating steps, I'd recommend that Classmates place limits on the number of reunions a member can organize, and/or limit the number of email messages a member can deploy through the system.
Some of the sites are working towards additional authentication of members. LinkedIn, a professional networking site, for example, allows members to request an endorsement from other members, and list them on the site next to their profile. Tribe.net, a site that links people who share similar interests, also offers users the option to request testimonials from fellow Tribe members. The premise is that the testimonials/endorsements serve to authenticate as well as recommend.
As Marc Pincus, CEO of Tribe.net says, "The best thing these networks can do is provide an open, transparent model, and work towards building trust metrics similar to those established on eBay." Although trust metrics are starting to develop, most are still in their adolescent stage.
Control -- What level of control do I have over who sees my data?
One concern I've heard about networking sites involves what happens to personally identifiable information (PII) once you post it onto a site. For example, there are many things that I'll confide to my family and close friends that I'd never tell a casual acquaintance. And when it comes to professional relationships, I'm even more careful about the information I reveal. So it's extremely important for most users to have control over their PII -- who sees it, how much they can see, and when they can see it.
Most of the tools offer some level of control. For example, Affinity Engines' inCircle tool affords users the power to block other users from their network, or even to delete them. Evite, the online social planning site, lets users decide if they want to show their personal profile to other event attendees. So I may decide to show my profile to others attending my friend's birthday party, but not show my personal profile when responding to my company's happy hour event. Users may also RSVP anonymously to any event.
Tribe.net combines event listings with personal, dating and professional information. Tribe even provides job listings though a partnership with Careerbuilder.com. And since most people would prefer to reveal different things to different people based upon the context of their relationship, Tribe provides their users with a good deal of flexibility regarding the information others can see. Tribe even lets users decide whether they want to be exposed to mature content from other users.
Plaxo, a company that is trying to create a ubiquitous rolodex of Internet users, has received a good deal of criticism from privacy advocates. Its critics' argument is that the company facilitates the creation of online databases which can contain PII on people who have no idea their information is on that database. For example, if I add my friend Bill to my Plaxo contact list, and Bill isn't a member of Plaxo, then his information becomes part of my Plaxo database without his consent.
Plaxo's response is that this is no different then when I store PII from friends in my Hotmail address book. The company makes a good point. However, when I store Bill's information in Hotmail, he isn't getting an email from Hotmail asking him to confirm that information. And once Bill's data leaves the Plaxo servers and appears in his inbox, there's a chance that Bill's going to get squeamish. I'm not ready to say this is the end of the world, but just that the company has its work cut out for it in terms of managing perceptions. More on that later.
Tomorrow: The Chapell view on policing, revenue models, and blogger and customer feedback.
Alan Chapell is a consultant focusing on privacy marketing -- helping companies understand privacy and incorporate consumer perception into product development. He has been in the interactive space for more than seven years with firms such as Jupiter Research, DoubleClick and Cheetahmail. Chapell is the New York chapter chairman of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, and he publishes a daily blog on issues of consumer privacy.
Manage your expectations
Say you're sold on sponsoring a blogger and you're ready to reach out and touch a highly targeted audience. What should you realistically expect as a return on your investment?
"Don't expect huge numbers," says Campbell. "It's not about reaching huge numbers. It's about reaching the right target audience in a way where it sticks."
"Over and above anything else, I would say word of mouth," says Rebecca Mecomber, who has a handful of niche blogs, including New York Traveler.net. "For an advertiser looking to promote his product, I think word of mouth is number one."
"You get kind of a boost from being associated with that blogger," states Senior VP and Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, Steve Rubel, a blogger himself on The Steve Rubel Lifestream, which doesn't accept any advertising or publish sponsored posts, in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. Mighty Media's Mason refers to this boost as "brand love," which results from being affiliated with a blogger with a loyal following. She argues that her readership may not know or particularly care about the advertiser, "but they do know me, and they do care about me, and in doing this [sponsorship] with me, I'm forging a bond with the advertiser that sort of vicariously extends to my readers."
"In the best of cases, they walk away with new, dedicated consumers," says Federated Media's DiPietro on what brands get for their sponsorship. "At the very least, consumers who, if they had a negative view of the brand, now have a neutral view of the brand. If they had a neutral view of the brand, they now have a very positive view of the brand because, in the best of circumstances, that brand is now enabling that conversation."
IZEA's Murphy believes that a brand should set its own expectations by asking what it realistically hopes to get out of the relationship: Click-throughs? Buzz? Goodwill? "Just sponsoring a blogger to sponsor a blogger doesn't really make much sense," he elaborates, likening the relationship between a brand and a blogger to that of a corporate sponsor and an athlete.
So should you expect a blogger to do for your brand what Tiger Woods does for Nike or Gatorade? That's asking a lot, but unless you follow the next suggestion, chances are you won't see any ROI whatsoever.
Partnering with a blogger that's a good fit with your brand is crucial to a successful outcome. The wrong demographic or tone could not only not help, it could actually harm your brand by associating it with a blogger, readership, or slant that doesn't represent what you've worked so hard to stand for.
"Finding the right target demographic is one of the biggest things," says Colburn. He explains that he wouldn't accept a sponsored assignment from a brand that doesn't fit with, or help, his readership. "At the same time," he adds, "it doesn't help the sponsor, either, because they're not getting their target demographic."
Small-business blogger Campbell concurs. "The blogger's audience needs to line up pretty closely with the sponsor or advertiser," she says, adding that, for her, "believing in the product is very, very important," especially as it pertains to making a small-business owner's life easier.
"Seek out bloggers who already seem to be producing content around the message you want to get out," advises Mighty Media's Mason. "If you want some sort of contact with their readership, the more closely your product better match, because it is possible to antagonize a readership." Mason, an ex-copywriter, also believes that a blogger's tone should be considered when considering sponsorship: "It's important, as with any copywriter you would hire, that you understand that their tone matches the tone you're looking for."
DiPietro believes that, for a blog to be worth sponsoring, it "has to have a very large and engaged audience." Engagement can be determined by checking how active the commenting is, both on the blog itself and in the blogosphere, as well as the quality of the comments.
Finally, advises Rubel, "Look for somebody who has a track record, who has done these types of programs before successfully and has tremendous ethics." Of course, that assumes that ethics are equally important to the brand looking to sponsor the conversation, which leads nicely into the next recommendation.
"The biggest potential mistake that a brand could make is not forcing disclosure," says Murphy of the sponsored-conversation dynamic. He cautions that readers will ultimately find out about any monetary compensation, and any lack of transparency can backfire on a brand or blogger, which is why IZEA requires its bloggers to identify sponsored posts done through them with a badge. "We also encourage them to do so in the text or whatever way they feel comfortable," Murphy adds.
"Part of Federated Media's DNA is that everything we do, and encourage our sites to do, is to be transparent," insists DiPietro. Along with being transparent, he stresses that any sponsorship campaigns brokered through FM must also be authentic and "no matter what the campaign is, it has to add value to the media experience."
Colburn makes the point that, to not disclose that a post is sponsored, is not only unethical but also adversely affects his brand. "In this business, my name is my brand, and I have to protect my brand," he states emphatically. "The way I do that is by doing things as ethically as I can -- and that means disclosure."
But is there a risk that full disclosure might turn readers off and keep them from reading sponsored posts? Not according to Mason, who believes that, even though she's upfront with her readers when she's paid for a post, most of her readership will still read the post because they know her tastes and know there's probably something in it they'll find interesting -- especially given that she only accepts campaigns she feels are informative for her readers and would be something they might otherwise read if it weren't sponsored.
The bottom line: Sponsored or not, content has to be informative, interesting, and creative. And creativity doesn't just apply to the post -- extending it into the sponsorship arrangement itself can be instrumental in achieving a win-win-win (let's not forget the readers) situation.
Be creative with sponsorships
"The key thing for bloggers is to be more creative in how you approach things," says Mason, who approached Federated Media to help find her an advertiser to sponsor some of the things she hopes to do before she dies, which are listed on her blog's home page. Federated Media ran with her request, and now 10 items on Mason's list -- including a trip to Greece -- will be financed by Intel, which saw sponsoring part of her "bucket list" as a good way to get exposure, and win favor, with her readership. In this particular case, Mason (through Federated Media) sought out the brand, but these types of outside-the-box sponsorships are there for the taking by any brand looking to do something a little different. And since sponsoring bloggers is a relatively new concept, brands -- as well as bloggers, as in Mason's case -- are free to define how they propose to do it.
"Getting a blogger to guest blog for you on your site is another idea," says Rubel. He believes it's a good way for a brand to get content from a reputable blogger without watering down the blogger's main blog. And because it appears on a corporate website or micro-site, it's very transparent that there's a financial relationship between the blogger and the brand. Rubel is also a fan of bloggers linking to sponsored posts on advertiser websites from their blogs rather than publishing the posts on their own sites.
"It's not going to be a blanket proposal of what's our sponsored-post strategy in general for the blogosphere." says Dornfest on brands sponsoring bloggers. "It's going to have to be blog by blog, just in the same way freelance writers pitch magazines, individually pitching each magazine with something that's perfectly tailored for that magazine."
Regardless of the type of sponsorship, once it's in place comes what just may be the hardest part for brands used to controlling their messaging...
Let your blogger(s) blog!
If you've gone to all the trouble to find the right bloggers, sponsor them, and manage your expectations, the quickest way to sabotage your efforts is to not let your bloggers do their thing -- the reason you aligned your brand with them in the first place.
"Always allow the blogger to be creative and somewhat independent," says New York Traveler's Mecomber. "Bloggers are, by nature, extremely independent; blogs are opinion pieces, when it comes right down to it." So, she insists, let them express their opinions -- good, bad, or indifferent.
Murphy believes that negative feedback, so long as it's honest, won't necessarily adversely affect an advertiser, because it adds legitimacy to a post. "People can talk about what they like, and people can talk about what they don't like, and I think that's what makes the conversation real and authentic." He cautions bloggers that "you can't just be, like, 'this is the greatest thing that's ever happened,' because the readers just don't buy off on that." Out of the millions of sponsored posts bloggers have done through IZEA, Murphy estimates that only around 30 of them have been what he would consider negative.
How much control a brand has over a blogger's content depends on the arrangement between the blogger, the brand, and any parties brokering the deal. But little to none seems to be the right recipe for the more successful collaborations, according to my experts.
"There is never any control over the editorial content by a brand," says DiPietro of sponsorships arranged through Federated Media. "Editorial integrity is everything. If you lose your audience's trust in your content and in your credibility, you really are losing everything, because the audience itself, that engagement that happens on these blogs, is what makes it so valuable to the brand advertiser."
"If there's something I don't like about a product, I'm not being paid to lie about it," says Colburn. "I tell it like it is -- good points and bad points." He admits that he sometimes gets notes from sponsors, but typically it's asking him to mention something he may not have addressed, never to change anything he wrote. "I've never heard anyone say, 'can you say this product is the best out there or tell people this is a really great product?' No one's even said, 'can you give it a good review?'"
"The best and most savvy role that a brand can play is to sponsor the conversation but let the content of the conversation go where it will," advises Dornfest. She likens sponsoring a blogger to throwing a party: Rent the venue and provide the amenities, but then step back and let the guests have a great time. "How that great time ends up looking and sounding may not be what they expect," she says, adding that the rewards can still be great -- specifically, what brands learn from their audience and any goodwill and/or legitimacy that result from opening up the conversation and letting it happen organically.
"The conversation is already happening," Dornfest offers as parting advice. "The question is whether or not the brands want to get involved in those conversations."
If your brand does, then sponsoring a blogger as your voice is a good way to get in on them. Just don't expect it to be a ventriloquist/dummy relationship, because savvy audiences will see right through the act.
Sean Egen is a freelance writer.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet.
Coca-Cola's recent ad campaign, "Come Together," is the brand's attempt to appear health-conscious, highlighting diet soda and calorie labels on cans to encourage reasonable portions. The campaign appears to be purely a political move, as Coke continues to come under increasing scrutiny for its part in America's obesity problem.
This ad can also be seen as response to Alex Bogusky's "The Real Bears," an ad he did for the Center for Science in the Public Interest that depicted the horrendous health consequences on a family of soda-guzzling polar bears. Some call Bogusky himself hypocritical with his recent shift from brand advocate to consumer advocate -- others just call him awesome. Bogusky responded to Coke's recent move with this tweet:
According to Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "They're trying to stem the tide of criticism by taking a page out of crisis control 101, which is to pretend like they're concerned about the issue. If they were serious, they would stop advertising full-calorie drinks, charge less for lower calorie options, and stop fighting the soda tax. They're just running feel-good ads aimed at neutralizing criticism."
Back in 2011, Lowe's decided to stop advertising on a TV show called "All-American Muslim" after a conservative Christian group complained, calling the show "propaganda" that "hides the Islamic agenda's clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values." The brand faced immediate backlash upon the ad withdrawal, with critics calling the move an act of bigotry and -- worse -- an act of agreement with a hate group. More likely? Lowe's panicked.
Some argue that Lowe's has every right to spend its advertising dollars where it chooses, and perhaps those people are right. But this knee-jerk reaction didn't bode well for the Lowe's brand image. Lowe's spokeswoman Karen Cobb touted the company's "long-standing commitment" to diversity and pulled the ads only after the show became "a lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives."
Suddenly there were many complaints from a variety of perspectives, Lowe's? Nice try. Thanks for playing.
This campaign for Clorox Green Works is an attempt to make green products more approachable by mocking green freaks, but many have found the campaign just plain insulting.
"Green seems to have become a status symbol," Green Works brand manager Shekinah Eliassen said. "It's like you have to be 100 percent committed to being green or not green at all -- and that's where a lot of people have been turned off by it."
While we can admire Clorox's attempts to dispel myths about what it means to be green, or to make being green more mainstream, this particular tactic just painted the brand as hypocritical. These dimwitted green housewives are such a turn-off that viewers don't even want to see the deeper message. It's just not wise to make fun of environmentally conscious consumers when you are trying to sell a product on its green appeal.
Burberry is a multinational brand whose global marketing campaign revolves around being a "luxury brand" with a "distinctive British" appeal. Yet its claim to high quality clothing "Made in Britain" is a total sham. Only two Burberry factories remain open in Britain, for the sole purpose of tightly clutching its decaying image of British-made luxury. All other manufacturing has long been moved to China.
In her article for The Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr wrote, "The £4 polo shirts [made in China]? They're now retailing on Burberry's website for £150. That 'Made in Britain' appeal? It commands a premium of £146 a pop accrued from the fact that Burberry kept two British factories open."
"It's very sad that an event that celebrates the very best of athletic achievements should be sponsored by companies contributing to the obesity problem and unhealthy habits," said Terence Stephenson, a spokesman for a U.K. doctor's group, referring to Olympic sponsors McDonald's, Coca-Cola, and Heineken. This type of outrage over inappropriate Olympics sponsors is nothing new, but McDonald's was especially hurt last year when it dropped to the very bottom of a brand reputation tracker monitoring Twitter sentiment toward the 25 official sponsors of the London Games.
The mayor of London had this to say about the negative comments: "It's classic liberal hysteria about very nutritious, delicious, food -- extremely good for you I'm told -- not that I eat a lot of it myself," he said. "Apparently this stuff is absolutely bursting with nutrients." His comments were, of course, just fuel to the fire on social media, which got even worse when comedian Frankie Boyle tweeted: "Don't know how much sponsorship McDonald's paid for the Olympic mayor to be a f***ing clown."
Lord Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee, defended Olympics sponsorships by fast food and soft drinks companies. He argued that the huge investment by brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's is essential to the success of the event.
Parent company Unilever came under intense social media fire in 2007 for the apparent contradiction found in Dove and Axe advertisements. Dove's campaign for "Real Beauty" is focused on self esteem and realistic body images for women, while Axe is famous for ads with half-naked, sex-crazed women. The most famous spoof was called "Talk to your daughter before Unilever does," which has now been removed from YouTube.
Vaseline, another a sub-brand of Unilever, more recently launched a Facebook app in India that allowed users to whiten their profile pictures. The app was designed to promote Vaseline's skin-lightening creams, which are increasing in popularity in India. Some claim Unilever's hypocrisy in cases like these is overblown, and that Unilever is just a parent company not responsible for the messaging of all of its separate sub-brands. But with critics increasingly leveraging social media and online conversations to put parent companies in the spotlight, Unilever won't be able to evade criticism with this excuse much longer.
Papa John's CEO John Schnatter gained attention last fall after complaining that the Affordable Healthcare Act would result in a 10- to 14-cent cost increase per pizza and would possibly compel the company to reduce employees' hours. "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart pointed out that the chain has been known to give away 2 million pizzas as part of a promotion during football season. Papa John's did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Countless internet memes like this one began to spread like wildfire:
A group that appears to be unaffiliated with Papa John's organized a Papa John's Appreciation Day on Facebook, so the brand is not without its supporters. Still, Schnatter's comments have now made him famous on social media as a hypocrite and a whiner.
After L'Oréal blew the whistle on rival brand Dior, the Advertising Standards Authority banned this mascara ad featuring Natalie Portman, on account of her eyelashes being airbrushed to artificial perfection.
L'Oréal is a frequent troublemaker with the ASA, systematically bending the truth in cases such as Cheryl Cole's false locks and Beyoncé's "latte" skin tint -- not to mention several ASA bans over the last few years on ads featuring Rachel Weisz, Christy Turlington, Julia Roberts, and Penelope Cruz.
But tattletale L'Oréal got its way this time, even though these types of complaints typically come from consumers, not brands. In this cosmetics catfight, neither party is innocent. In fact, the cosmetics industry banks on these kinds of tactics. So pipe down, L'Oréal. You're no hero.
For the film "The Lorax," based on the Dr. Seuss story, Universal forged nearly 70 different advertising partnerships to promote the film, ranging from Whole Foods to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But as if selling out this children's story of a creature who speaks up for trees and nature wasn't enough, the company also sold it out to an SUV.
The Mazda CX-5, which is not a hybrid but gets 35 miles per gallon on the highway, is apparently the only car to receive the "Truffula Tree Seal of Approval," according to the commercial. This hypocritical partnership caused an uproar from bloggers, YouTube commenters, online petitioners, and more.
Don Romano, Mazda's chief marketing officer for North America, said that the ad's intention is to challenge people's perceptions of what environmentally friendly cars can be. He emphasized that it is merely a first step, which seems to signal a new trend in low-effort (and low-impact) environmentalism similar to what we saw with Clorox's ad. "If people think that everything's going to change overnight, that's just naive," Romano said. "It's not going to happen that way. It's going to happen through incremental changes and constant improvement. I think Dr. Seuss would be quite proud of that progress and the fact that we're taking that step."
Here's an advertisement that provides a whole new way of looking at hypocritical marketing. In 2011, Patagonia placed a full-page ad in the The New York Times on Black Friday that told readers not to buy its products. The company then reiterated its message online on Cyber Monday by asking consumers to pledge to "reduce our environmental footprint."
Sure, it's a stunt. Patagonia is still in the business of selling clothes. The brand also highlights the sustainable, long-lasting quality of its products. But this startling ad sends a message that is much more effective than that of Clorox or Mazda. With brutal honesty, the company explains that the production of the jacket pictured is decidedly harmful to the environment.
The ad reads, "There is much to be done and plenty for us all to do. Don't buy what you don't need. Think twice before you buy anything...Reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace." Patagonia's campaign is all about the long-term. It's all about building an image of a brand that consumers can trust. And that's a strategy a lot of brands can stand to learn from. Honesty breeds loyalty.
Chloe Della Costa is an editor at iMedia Connection.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.
SoothSayers -- finding the right data
I originally wrote about using scientifically based data to increase event attendance in 2006's mapping personae to outcomes, and the methodology described there is still valid:
- Determine the event audience's characteristics
- Create personae based on those characteristics
- Map those personae to specific, desired outcomes
You can determine the event audience's characteristics by analyzing their social footprints. People will have LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, Twitter handles. They'll be on Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, Flickr. They'll use FourSquare, Tumblr, and the list goes on.
Here's where knowing where to look comes in. The majority of people create social identities that are slightly different on each social platform. People post one type of item on Facebook and something completely different on LinkedIn. They'll put something on Twitter that's a bit snippier than they'd publish anywhere else.
These identities are the social network equivalent of our family vs. work vs. PTA vs. student, etc., identities. We don't behave the same with our family as we do with our work peers and we behave differently at a PTA meeting than we do in a house of worship.
But we're still us and here's the important part. The person who spends more time volunteering at their PTA is going to be a little different than the person who spends most of their time in worship or at work or as a student.
Create a simple population plot of where your audience spends its online downtime and you'll have a handle on their characteristics, what they value, and what piques their interest.
Patterns will form in the characteristics. Perhaps "giving" is a recurring theme. Make sure your event incorporates active and passive social giving aspects as part of its offering and people with that slant will come in your door. Perhaps "family" is a recurring theme. Make sure your event allows time for local touring and the family crowd will come in.
Finding characteristics works both ways. Part of what you'll discover is where your audience is spending its time. Do the majority of your attendees visit three platforms routinely and others rarely? What do those platforms offer that keep those people coming back? What can your event do -- regardless of what space your event is in -- that matches or mimics what those platforms offer that keep people coming back?
A mirrored shield -- knowing where to look
People's social footprints are overflowing with useful event planning and organizing information. Much of this information takes the form of "psychological axes." Most people know about the fight-or-flight axis, and there are many others. Some axes that are directly useful to event people are mountain or ocean, city or country, winter or summer, and so on.
Look through your attendees' social footprints and determine if your audience is mostly mountain or ocean, city or country, etc., and you know where to place your event to create maximum draw. Winter or summer, spring or fall, etc., tell you when to schedule your event (if it's one per year) or how many events to schedule per year. There are many of these axes and learning if your audience is desert/fall, city/ocean, summer/mountain provides you with the wheres, whens and attendance numbers for your different scheduled events.
Take a quick look at how your attendees plan events in their lives and you know what presenters and presentations to schedule. Are potential attendees always referencing immediate, in-the-moment activities? Are they tweeting or Pinning that they're standing in a line waiting to get into a theater or that they'll be going to the theater tonight, tomorrow, or over the weekend? Little things like this are psychological clues that your attendees want immediate, tactical style solutions that are process oriented versus long-range, strategic style solutions that are project oriented.
This is where we shift from learning characteristics to creating attendee personae based on those characteristics and where most planners and organizers fail.
The industry has pushed a "persona" concept into the market that is wonderfully broad. It's such a broad brush that it either covers too much of the wall or not enough. You cover everything and need to spread out drop cloths and have a turpentine rag handy to clean up where your brush went over the edges. In event marketing, this means you spend lots of time bringing in the wrong people who get de-branded, don't come back, and tell others not to bother.
Broad brush personae can also fail because their ease of use makes misuse easy as well. You can paint the center but not cover the edges. Now people who'd attend and like your event aren't being touched by the initial brushstroke so you lose market share.
For example, most marketers are familiar with the clichéd personaes "truck driver Joe" and "soccer mom." These are wonderfully broad personae that are perfectly acceptable if you're selling soccer balls and fuzzy dice air fresheners.
But event organizers and planners are not. Event planners and organizers are selling a theme and an idea, specifically, themes and ideas that are repeated through the years. But, lots of events turn out to be one-offs and are never repeated and that's because the events fail to brand.
Branding in the event space means giving attendees something now, immediately at the time of the event, and getting into their consciousness so that they come back again and again. Event branding is both prospecting and upselling. People who've never purchased a Dell product may attend DellWorld because they're exploring their hardware options. Those people are prospects and Dell's upsell is product, services, and next year's DellWorld event.
Getting into and staying in consumer consciousness is where traditional concepts of personae fail. Knowing why "truck driver Joe" wants fuzzy dice air fresheners and why "soccer mom" wants soccer shoes tells you the color, scent, feel, size, packaging, placement, material, display, and now we're into marketing writ large. You can produce general fuzzy dice and soccer shoes, maybe get 30 percent of the market and count yourself lucky. You can produce fuzzy dice and soccer shoes segmented along color, scent, feel, size, packaging, placement, etc., and pick up 90 percent of the overall market by picking up 80 percent of each segment along with cross-over markets.
An adamantine sword to segment the audience data
At this point you've created personae based on psychological drivers and motivations. "Truck driver Joe" may be "truck driver Joe" because he's putting himself through school or because he inherited his family's trucking business. "Soccer mom" may be "soccer mom" because she can't get a job and this is how she fills her days or because work keeps her so busy the soccer field is her only chance to be a mom to her kids. They may all come to your conferences and now you know which presentations they'll attend and just as important, what to tell vendors about your attendees.
Now we're getting into knowing what to put on the schedule versus what to make available off schedule, and who'll pay top dollar for the vendor floor entrance placement versus who'll pay for a shared booth because they really want to scour the competition.
The other big benefit to this methodology is that you now know what not to spend your event dollars on. You now know what none of your attendees care about, what presentations will have one or two attendees versus what will presentations will fill the hall and keep attendees and vendors coming back.
Another incorrect marketing belief is that segmenting an audience means getting less of an audience. That's a fallacy that needs to go away and here's an example of just how foolish that idea is: Have you ever gone to an ice cream stand? Did you get the exact same thing as the person standing next to you in line? Did all the people get the exact same thing?
Ridiculous, isn't it? Yet marketers -- and especially event marketers -- fall into that erroneous thinking all the time. Your event is the ice cream stand. People will be coming to the same ice cream stand for lots of different flavors, lots of different tastes, and if they enjoy their flavor (that's the "knowing your segments" part), they'll bring friends who'll enjoy ice cream with different flavors (segmenting again). You'll talk with a stranger about how good the ice cream is and how much you enjoy the mocha-choca-vanilla-swirl-walnut, and how is their peppermint-maple-coconut-pumpkin mash?
The more diverse your attendee audience is in their psychologic drivers and motivations, the more cross selling, cross talk, and cross pollination will occur. People who never thought of a particular flavor will try it the next time out. Even if they don't like it, they'll know someone who does and bring them along the next time.
So use that adamantine sword and segment, segment, segment!
The goal of event planners and organizers is three fold:
- Attract a large audience.
- Segment it.
- Direct each segment to more specific information designed to close or convert the greatest number of individuals in that segment.
Good planning and judicious use of commonly available data -- not necessarily big data, just the right data -- can help you grow your audience up to 600 percent in very short time.
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This one obviously isn't unique to marketing, but it begs inclusion here first and foremost. I'm often surprised at how many people forget how powerfully their body language and other non-verbal communications influence people's opinions of them. It sounds overly simple, but by merely leaning forward, not crossing your arms, nodding, and making eye contact, you can convey competence and confidence -- even if you're freaking out or completely lost on the inside.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the above, but it can be harder to implement. People who are feeling lost or overwhelmed lose their senses of humor, and it quickly manifests in another person's opinion of you. If you're desperately mentally scraping for ideas or something to say, you might miss a subtle joke that your potential client floats out there. You don't laugh, and that person loses confidence in you. He thinks you didn't "get it," and therefore thinks you're a bit dimmer than you are. So for Pete's sake, listen and laugh when appropriate. Better: Have a few easy jokes in your own meeting repertoire. Nothing conveys confidence like a well-delivered quip.
Some people need to take notes. Some do not. But even if you're one of those people whose memories tend to suffice, keep a notebook on hand for every meeting. Taking notes while someone is speaking is another one of those age-old tricks that make people feel important, while also casting yourself in a professional, prepared, and competent light. Bonus: This isn't just a "trick" to seem smarter than you are. Taking notes will actually enhance your recall of a meeting, even if you never look at the notes again.
Look something up
Odds are, you're going to have a device with you in your meeting, be it a laptop, phone, or tablet. Unless you're using one of these to take notes, I would usually recommend keeping them put away for the duration of an important meeting, lest you seem disinterested in the person across the table. Keeping your device put away also affords you the opportunity to more grandly pull it out in an instance of, "Oh, have you seen that excellent execution that Brand X did with Agency Y?" Taking a moment to pause so you can grab your device to look up an example or statistic that is pertinent to the conversation will help you appear resourceful and connected.
Use a lifeline
Smart people surround themselves with other smart people. You don't have to know the answer to every question that comes up in a meeting. But it's great if you know the person who will have the answer. Refer to these people by name. "I bet my lead developer, Jeff, will have some ideas there." If it's a vital tidbit of information, take the time to call Jeff. Or pause to obviously make a note or send an email to Jeff, with the promise that you'll get back to your contact with that information. People you do business with like to know you're backed by a solid team of knowledgeable individuals.
Memorize some stats
Nothing impresses like a relevant statistic. So take the time to commit some numbers to memory, whether they're conversion rates from a previous campaign or the most recent financials of a competitor brand. Of course, having relevant statistics memorized isn't just a parlor trick to look smarter. It's actually useful information to have. But being able to casually toss out even just a few numbers will lead the person across the table to assume there's plenty more where that came from.
Much like having a few statistics in your pocket, take the time to commit a few clever or insightful industry quotes to memory. I know it seems silly, but being able to start an observation with, "Wasn't it Steve Jobs (or whoever you find impressive) who once said..." will lend some instant credibility to you as someone who pays attention and is well-read when it comes to industry matters. You might literally only have one quote in your arsenal, but no one else has to know that.
Keep referring to past clients
Refer to your past experiences as often as you can. Especially if you're trying to woo new client business, it helps to remind people that you've done this before. And that someone else paid you to do it. Even if you don't have a client testimonial in hand, the fact that you're willing to float other client names out there lends some credibility to your ideas -- even if that past client work isn't a direct comparison to what you'll be doing for a new client.
Keep asking questions
Again, as with body language, we're getting into Communication 101 here. But seriously: The less you know, the more you should be asking. Some people shy away from asking too many questions because they don't want to appear ignorant. But there's a way to ask questions that makes the other person feel smart without making you appear dumb. A simple trick is leading off with, "So, in your experience..." or "Tell me more about..." Spend a lot of time repeating what that person has said in a different way. It helps improve your understanding of a topic while also conveying an air of confidence.
Admit your ignorance
Bear with me here. I know this article is about how to appear smarter even when you're not feeling very smart. But when it comes right down to it, intelligent people are usually willing to admit where their knowledge gaps lie. So if pressed on a question that you can't answer, don't lie. Don't make something up. Admit that you'll need to be investigating that topic further (and make a note of it), and then redirect the conversation to an area where you're more comfortable.
Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing strategist and owner of Foodie Content Studios.
"Nerdy old style salesman" image via Shutterstock.
2010 strategies revisited
Here is a brief assessment of 2010's obsolete strategies, as they stand in 2015:
Building a digital marketing department
By definition, marketing should be agnostic to media type, and so too should the strategist developing and implementing marketing campaigns. As such, companies need to conduct a skills assessment of existing marketing teams to determine who may need training or who may need to be replaced with talent that natively understands both digital and analog worlds. This obsolete strategy is still an issue for a majority of marketing teams that have not focused on integration and will continue to haunt slow adopters.
Designing a website via internal stakeholder committee
The primary reason for the lack of user-centered design is that most websites are built by a host of departmental managers who have far too much say on colors, fonts, images, and copy. The problem with committee-based design is that these representatives make decisions based on their personal tastes and preferences versus those of the site's intended user. While this approach is increasingly uncommon, it is still a very real issue due to the groupthink inherent in corporations.
Managing emarketing campaigns to impressions, clicks, or budget forecasts
The days of managing paid search campaigns to achieve a No. 1 position in Google, spending $50,000 a month on Yellow Page ads, or buying a 30-second Super Bowl spot -- and all the while not measuring the impact on revenue -- are dead. Instead, companies should be managing paid search, print, and broadcast advertising based on conversion rates, whether it be a target cost-per-action/acquisition or a related ratio. This is perhaps one of the most relevant obsolete strategies today, as it continues to be a prevalent issue in a majority of marketing departments.
Paying third-party vendors to represent your brand in social media
The most common excuses for outsourcing social media management include a lack of internal resources and a lack of proficiency with social platforms. The bottom line is that nobody knows your brand better than your employees, partners, and other advocates. Let them be in charge of spreading the good word, not a low-paid college graduate working from home. I wish this were less common than it is, but many brands still feel the need to outsource their voice in social rather than building the resources in-house (with guidance from experts like us, of course).
More 2013 strategies revisited
Doing black-hat SEO
Google has developed a detailed set of guidelines for search-friendly website design. If you follow their rules, you will be much more likely to rank for desired search terms. Bing and Yahoo operate on very similar terms: no IP-spoofing, redirects, hidden or duplicate text, etc. To boil it down, do good marketing and Google will reward you with higher rankings. Google's Penguin and Panda updates identified and penalized a significant number of websites for violating best practices, yet companies still feel the pull of the quick wins that black- and grey-hat SEO can supposedly provide. Big mistake. Play for the long game with compelling content, clean code, and the kind of site credibility and authority that can only be earned, not bought.
Renting email lists
With the understanding that building an email database in-house is still a highly effective sales and marketing strategy, companies continue to test new strategies to grow their list. Some of the more effective methods of building a house email list include: SEO, PPC, direct (mail) marketing, co-registration (email) with partners, contests (via social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook) and most importantly, search marketing. This has not changed, and thankfully, fewer organizations are renting low-quality email lists that typically generate a high percentage of spam complaints.
Sending unsegmented or untargeted emails
According to a November eMarketer study, only 5-10 percent of in-house marketers and agencies are using personalization extensively. This validates my concern that marketers continue to send out unsegmented or targeted emails, making this one of the most common of the obsolete strategies in use today. Spend the time to understand your email list by digging deep into the analytics and contact profiles. From there, create and target content based on indicated preferences, as well as demographic and psychographic information. Watch the value of each subscriber increase exponentially, with incremental effort.
2013 strategies revisited
Here is a brief assessment of the original obsolete strategies, as they stand in 2015.
Keyword-based search engine optimization
For the past few years, Google has pushed SEO professionals away from keyword-loaded text into a world of multimedia "contextual" content. This shift has continued to evolve since Google dropped keyword insights from analytics. New techniques have evolved to address the change, but the savviest marketers have adapted relatively easily by continuing to focus on producing timely, relevant, unique content, and digging deeper into analytics to measure the impact. This trend is only continuing to become more obsolete.
Creating content for content's sake
Per the previous trend, companies with limited knowledge, bandwidth, or budget continue to focus on quantity of content over quality, which is only hurting them in the long term. Successful brands will spend the time to research, develop, optimize, and syndicate content that matters to their constituents and works well across device types and screen sizes. As in the previous trend, this strategy will become almost totally obsolete in the coming year.
It would seem that 2014 was The Year for retargeting/remarketing. Although the technology has been around for years, it has only recently become readily available, accessible, and affordable for companies of all sizes and shapes. I expect 2015 will bring further explosive growth in this area, with a focus on mobile and video. Challenges around targeting, privacy, and relevance still linger, but the performance of retargeting ads still speaks for itself. In short, ignoring this strategy will be completely indefensible by the end of 2015 for serious marketers.
Avoiding landing page testing
Unfortunately, not much has changed over the past year or two in terms of landing page testing and optimization adoption. The companies that "get it" continue to invest and evolve their efforts, resulting in ever-increasing conversion rates. The majority of marketers, however, are afraid, skeptical, or unlearned regarding the benefits of landing page optimization (LPO). I believe a significant percentage of these remaining marketers will finally commit to testing, if not diving full-bore into LPO in 2015. Those who do not will focus on optimizing their unemployment checks.
More 2013 strategies revisited
Ignoring personalization and behavioral targeting
As mentioned previously, recent research indicates personalization is still largely manual and simplistic as of December 2014. That means marketers are using the same messaging for all buyer types, which reduces overall response rates. Personalization techniques and tools are affordable and easy to use, so there is no reason not to implement a segmented, targeted messaging campaign across your customer base, whether via your website or via email. As consumers become increasingly savvy, they will expect customized messaging, and 2015 will be a pivotal year for adoption.
Underestimating the power of video (and audio) marketing
I speak regularly about social media and search marketing and am a huge champion of multimedia content, especially video for marketing. I'm still amazed that the marketers to whom I present so often lack cohesive video (and audio) organic and paid content strategies. YouTube is still the world's second largest search engine, so what are you doing to get into that conversation? I expect more companies than ever will adopt multimedia strategies in 2015, rendering ignorance of the power of video obsolete.
Gaming online reviews
Most brands understand the power of social proof in the form of customer reviews. Unfortunately, too many brands are quick to "buy" or influence positive reviews. The result is the risk of being penalized by search engines, directories, and other review sites. The greater danger is consumers seeing through the charade and taking their business elsewhere. The short answer: create compelling and memorable customer experiences that will make them want to create and share positive reviews. Many companies are focusing on customer delight in 2015 and will bubble to the top as a result.
Obsolete for 2015
After scouring the web and talking with my team and peers, I feel like my 2010 and 2013 articles comprehensively covered the primary obsolete marketing strategies. Not being one to disappoint, I dug a little deeper to come up with the following strategies for 2015. Remove or modify these obsolete strategies if you're interested in job preservation, let alone growth and a nice year-end bonus.
The "Me" Generation may be self-centered due to technology and cultural mores, but there is less excuse than ever for brands to behave similarly. One trend I hope to see become obsolete in 2015 is what we at Anvil like to call "brand-stuffing." In essence, a majority of today's companies fill their social and other media channels with brand-centric messaging almost exclusively. Even the most compelling branded content usually seems thin and transparently self-promotional. Future-forward brands will focus instead on customer-centered content and messaging beyond product benefits and general engagement, which is our next trend. For best results, we suggest following the 80/20 rule, with 20 percent of content being promotional in nature.
Focusing on engagement in social media
In the first wave of social media marketing (1995-2009), marketers focused on gaining followers and fans. The second wave of social media (2010-2014) focused on conversations and engagement efforts. The third wave (2015 and beyond) will focus on two primary areas: conversions and brand narrative. Smaller companies, business-to-business organizations, and profit-driven corporations will focus more on conversion-based strategies and tactics that drive revenue. Bigger consumer brands will shift focus towards developing a brand narrative that helps consumers identify with the company and fit it into the picture a person has of themselves. Brands will focus from being "Liked" to being "Attached" to the consumer. For more insights, read this excellent article in Fast Company.
Building content for the big screen
We all know content is king, where search engines and social media platforms rule the digital landscape. Brands like Red Bull and GoPro have embraced the concept of being publishers (a.k.a. owned media), and sales have followed. One thing these elite brands have done well in this arena is design content for the small screen (tablets and mobile devices). Unfortunately, a vast majority of brands big and small are still focused on the standard computer monitor form factor, which receives an ever-smaller share of a typical consumer's daily attention. In 2014, U.S. adults spent 23 percent more time on mobile during an average day than in 2013, according to eMarketer. According to AdWeek, 79 percent of adults have their smartphones with them a whopping 22 hours per day. And according to a recent Harris Poll, 40 percent of purchases are directly influenced by smartphones. So what are your plans for mobilizing your content strategy in 2015? Consider the power of video, podcasts, and images. Multimedia is infinitely more engaging and shareable (and thus has a higher probability of going viral via mobile).
I'm still amazed how many companies rely on rudimentary metrics and analytics tools to determine the success of their marketing efforts. Social media is the primary driver of this simplistic analytical trend, as many of the relatively new platforms started with basic measurement capabilities, and marketers embraced these numbers. I believe the reliance on base-level metrics -- like number of fans, followers, likes, comments, or shares -- will go by the wayside in a big way in 2015, being supplanted by cross-platform attribution, relative metrics (e.g., likes per post), and conversion metrics. For more information, check out my articles "The 9 dumbest ways to measure social media" and "The social media metrics that truly matter."
In order for a business to succeed in this increasingly complicated and noisy digital world, marketers must let go of obsolete ideas and embrace the concept of continually testing evolving techniques and technologies. What worked yesterday won't necessarily work tomorrow. What's in your 2015 digital marketing plan?
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Not being direct
How often do you hop aboard the PC train? Being too politically correct or soft-soaping key issues is a practice we all succumb to at some point. There's a fine line in the workplace between being direct and being mean. However, the workplace could surely use more straight-to-the-point talk.
Shopkick's CRO Alexis Rask speaks to iMedia about why being direct is very important and being too glossy can be a real hindrance.
Checking your phone
You're probably doing this right now, or are about to. It's painfully difficult to ignore your phone, but constantly texting, updating, or checking your device can create a culture of distraction. You're not completely focused while you continually glance at your smartphone.
Steven Wolfe Pereira, CMO for DataLogix speaks about why this workplace habit must cease.
Checking your social networks
While we're on the subject of checking too many things, the office is plagued by personal networkers who are updating and posting in endless fashion. Put Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn away for a little while. Being a social media addict actually harms useful productivity (unless you're a social media manager.)
MaxPoint's director of shopper marketing Laura Rangel speaks to iMedia about why we should all sometimes give our social circles a break and concentrate on meaningful work.
Over-emailing & CCing too many people
There's a difference between keeping people in the loop and excessive email badgering of your coworkers. Email is a beast, and we all have a habit of CCing too many unnecessary people or sending too many updates. Use email sparingly and not at all if you are able to have a conversation face-to-face.
Patrick Cartmel, senior vice president of client service & strategy for HookLogic explains why email has gotten out of control.
Lastly, we are all brought up to think that multitasking is a virtue and increases productivity. However, being stretched too thin is proven to be a real block toward concentration and efficiency. A little multitasking here and there is fine, but dive deep and focus on one project at a time to really knock them out of the park.
Matthew Kates, VP of strategic services for HelloWorld speaks to iMedia about why we should all adopt a more concentrated mindset in the office.
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Article written by media production manager David Zaleski.