Monthly Archives: August 2008

Michelle Obama unplugged

During her four days at last week’s Democratic National Convention, Michelle Obama posted a series of videos on YouTube in which she talks off the cuff about her various experiences there. Although quite short and fairly un-monumental compared to the appearances of the Clinton’s, Joe Biden, Michelle’s own convention speech, and of course, Barack Obama’s acceptance of the nomination, they were equally powerful.

The source of that power was the fact that they seemed completely unplugged. They were simple, unrehearsed, honest and intimate. None of the polished, controlled rhetoric typical of “political-speak.” Just the natural flow of a real person talking, telling her story, complete with the occasional tangential remarks and verbal stumbles (although Michelle is so articulate, she doesn’t make many, even when unscripted.) They were shot in situ — her outfit sometimes downright frumpy, no more than jeans and a T-shirt in some of the videos. Her hair wasn’t perfect. She wore no make-up. Indeed she looked a bit drawn and tired, which, considering the pace of those days, was understandable. All of this made it feel as if she were talking personally to me. Not quite a conversation, but pretty close.

I couldn’t help but see a parallel to the opportunity for marketers and brands to evolve the way they talk with their publics through social media. In a way, and by no means do I mean this as a criticism of what I thought was a superb speech, Barack’s acceptance was similar to marketing communication through traditional media. A one-to-many, mass media message — in this case the many being the 80,000 “spectators” at Invesco Field and the millions of people in the US and around the world who tuned in via television and other screens. Plugged-in, polished, brilliantly executed and produced, and — judging by the immediate response and comments across the internet and other media afterwards — effective.

Complementing that we have Michelle’s unplugged, unpolished, intimate YouTube videos. She talks to us in the same way, and in the same medium, that ordinary folks share and comment on their thoughts and ideas in social media everyday.

Both types of communication have their role. Both have their jobs to do. But together they create an experience that connects with both heads and hearts and can transport that politician, or that brand, to the number one spot.

Brands of the world — follow Michelle’s example. Get unplugged!

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Love by Cartier — MySpace or TheirSpace?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we really mean when we talk about social media. When is a marketer’s online activity truly social, and when is it not? An encounter with Cartier’s Love by Cartier MySpace page has given me reason to ponder.

In 2006, Cartier created the Love Charity Bracelet. For each bracelet purchased, a portion of the sale is donated to a select group of charities. This cause marketing effort has been executed annually, featuring a different set of charities each year. In 2008, the initiative is being publicized with a MySpace page, in addition to Cartier’s own dedicated microsite. Both are built around this year’s theme, “How far would you go for love?”, which is brought to life elegantly through the works of several Cartier-sponsored artists and musicians, and a series of 12 short films directed by Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose). There’s a link to the “Love Collection,” of course, although apparently only a purchase of the Love Bracelet results in a donation.

I guess we can’t blame Cartier for marketing their products at the same time they support social causes, and with up to $200, or 20%, of the purchase price going to charity, they aren’t being stingy. Still, I couldn’t quite get over a certain uncomfortable irony that Cartier, a luxury goods brand that, perhaps more than any other, we associate with the wealthiest people on the planet, is supporting such charities as Action Against Hunger and and SOS Children’s Villages. (Perhaps I’d be more comfortable with a charity for the families of injured diamond mine workers in South Africa.)

But I digress.

I was struck by the consistency of content, design and feel between the Love by Cartier MySpace page and the company’s Love Cartier microsite. With links enabling seamless connections between the two, I often didn’t know where I was and found myself looking to the address box to find out. From a branding point of view, this consistency makes perfect sense. But it begs the question, why have a MySpace page at all? What does the MySpace presence offer that’s different from the website, especially with regard to social and conversational dimensions — the exchange of thoughts, ideas and opinions that often characterize brand experiences in online communities like MySpace and Facebook?

To be sure, there are some limited social networking features on Cartier’s MySpace page. You can add it to your MySpace favorites, friends, or groups. You can email links to content. And you can post a comment. But that’s about it. Primarily it’s a multimedia presentation of the Cartier Love Collection initiative. Beautifully produced; noble, elegant and superbly polished like the brand it represents; simple and refined in its structure and navigation. An outstanding and rewarding digital execution, but not truly exemplifying the best of how brands can connect through the power of social networks and communities. Not that it really matters. I doubt the Cartier crowd spends a whole lot of time participating in online conversations. (But I could be wrong.)

You certainly can call Cartier’s MySpace initiative social in as far as it supports social causes. And that’s fine. Only it isn’t really “MySpace.” It’s “TheirSpace.”

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TCHO chocolate and social marketing — what a combo!

Recently I was introduced to TCHO chocolate — not the actual product, unfortunately, just the brand — through a post by Ryan Jones on his blog m-cause. (Thanks Ryan!)

TCHO is a new, San Francisco-based chocolate company founded by former NASA software developer Timothy Childs — now “Chief Chocolate Officer” — and Wired co-founder Louis Rossetto. According to their website, TCHO is about bringing a depth of dark chocolate experience from “the pod to palate” by creating a “direct, transparent connection between the farmers and the consumers.” Beyond philosophy and values, the stuff just tastes incredible, judging by the numerous rave reviews posted on the website and across a range of blogs reporting on news both culinary and cutting-edge.

I was struck by TCHO’s community and social media approach to marketing and communications.

Borrowing from digital developmental processes and nomenclature, TCHO launches “beta” versions of their product, and then invites the community to provide feedback to help them perfect it. All the comments are posted for everyone to see. Although TCHO calls this their TCHO Beta Testing program, it feels much more familiar and intimate, like someone you know inviting you into the kitchen to try out their latest recipe and tell them what you think.

As far as promotion is concerned, TCHO seems to be leveraging the connections provided by online networks, rather than traditional advertising, which I suspect they hardly can afford at this point. They’ve sent product to food and confectionery bloggers, and were featured in a series of videos produced by boingboingtv. A blog on the website features posts from — as far as I can tell — TCHO management and employees, which provides a sense of the people behind TCHO and their passion for chocolate. I only wish they allowed comments to the blog to enable more direct dialog between TCHO and the wider chocolate-loving community. It’s also strange that the site refers to finding the right people to work for the company and “our” approach to chocolate making, but no where can you find a list of the principle players’ names, faces and profiles.

Currently, their sales and distribution appears to be strictly web-based, directly from manufacturer to end-consumer. Sadly, TCHO doesn’t yet ship to Europe. So for the time being, I’ll just have to sit here and drool.

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The wisdom of bloggers

As part of the series on blogger relations, Toby of Diva Marketing Blog just posted Part II entitled “A Successful Blogger Relations Strategy.” The post captures perspectives and insights of 99 bloggers who responded to an online survey about what makes a blogger outreach strategy successful. (Ninety-nine sounds so much nicer than 100. Remember the 80’s German pop hit “99 Red Balloons”? Ninety-nine’s got rhythm, 100 feels like a rock.) For all the results you can head over to the blog. It’s an excellent read. I just wanted to highlight a couple of points that I think are especially, well, to the point.

The three big take aways:

• It’s not about you
• Relationships matter
• Honesty is critical

I guess anyone who has some understanding of bloggers knows this. But if there are three “golden rules” of blogger relations we should have tattooed into our gray matter – I guess it’s these three.

It’s a win for the blogger, the brand and the community

This one is an extension of “It’s not about you” and should probably be added as a footnote at that same location in our brains.

A successful strategy isn’t a strategy

I LOVE this thought. Essentially, the whole dynamic of social media is the antithesis of traditional marketing communications, with its one way strategic propositions, USP’s and “on-message” straight-jacket. Conversations aren’t strategic. They’re spontaneous, free flowing and unpredictable. At least the good ones are. It’s a wonderful contradiction. For a blogger relations strategy to be successful, it can’t be strategic. Because it’s rooted in conversation.

It gets the conversation going around the product or service and the discussion builds beyond what was expected.

What’s great here is what’s left unsaid. Bloggers and their communities are happy to hear about your product in the social media space. There’s no sign on the door saying “Brands are not welcome!” They are welcome. As long as they create value for the blogger and the community through, as Joseph Jaffe puts it, the power of community, dialog and partnership. In other words, through mutually beneficial, online conversation among the blogger, the community and living, breathing human beings representing the brand.

Success is when the company establishes timeless relationships with their community of relevant bloggers.

Laurent made this excellent point in a comment to the original post. The greatest potential for mutual benefit will come through an ongoing relationship between the marketer and the blogger. Isn’t that true of most relationships, as we build trust, commitment and knowledge of each other’s needs? Marketers who begin to invest in these relationships need to recognize that this will be a long-term commitment, and ensure that they have adequate structural, technical and financial resources in place before starting out on the journey.

We’re all still learning, so let’s be kind.

I liked the following response from Anita Campbell to the survey question “Who’s doing it wrong?”, as many of us can get quite hot under the collar with regard to social media:

“As for anyone doing it ‘wrong,’ I simply prefer to think of it as them not quite being where they need to be yet … All this openness makes us pass judgment too harshly and too quickly I think. Let’s give companies and people time to learn and grow in their blogging.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Peace.

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Twitter use and abuse

It’s exciting to see how new social media tools evolve, as participants discover new ways to use them, including commercial ones. Of course, commercial use of social media can be a bit touch and go. After all, the key word here is SOCIAL, and members of communities can get pretty prickly when marketers infringe on their space in inappropriate ways.

Twitter, the micro-blogging community, has been around for awhile, but 2008 seems to be the year in which it’s coming into its own. For those as yet uninitiated, Twitter members can post short micro-blogs of 140 characters or less about anything that moves them. They can create lists of people whose “tweets” (posts) they follow. Likewise they can see who follows them. At my last count, which is a while ago, Twitter had over a million users. It’s still growing strong, and has lately received a great deal of press coverage.

Now marketers are getting into the act. Comcast (comcastcares) and HRBlock are two companies that have been using Twitter successfully to address customer questions and problems. There are real, live people managing the sites. They engage with people personally, politely and with a real human voice, to ensure questions are answered and appropriate actions are taken to address issues. I twittered HRBlock, and it was a very positive experience, a refreshingly human conversation between me (Mr. Consumer) and HRBlock (Mr. Brand).

But lately I’ve been experiencing a different kind of brand contact on Twitter that I’m less happy about. Twitter lets you know via email when someone new is following you. There’s always a sense of satisfaction, and admittedly, ego gratification about that. A human being out there wants to hear what you have to say. Often it’s someone with whom you share a common interest or passion. But increasingly, many of those “Follower” notices aren’t a person, they’re a business, or somebody hawking some product or service. Basically it’s spam. It’s bad enough that I receive emails alerting me to these unwanted Followers who clog up my Follower list. But often I can’t even tell from the email notice if the Follower has a commercial purpose. I received one from “leannecook” who turned out to be someone looking for “great leaders who would like to earn a six figure income.” Oh dear. I wouldn’t mind so much if I were informed immediately if the email alert was from a commercial Follower, so that I could quickly opt out (i.e. delete) or in to their following me.

This is social media abuse. It’s exploiting a social community as a one-way media channel to sell me something. It’s a breach of faith and trust. Comcast and HRBlock have gotten it right. They don’t push the contact on anyone. In cases where Comcast initiated contact, it was because they had heard someone on Twitter talking about a problem with Comcast. Generally those people were pleasantly surprised when Comcast got in touch with them via Twitter. With HRBlock, the customer initiates the Twitter contact, for example, through the HRBlock web site. Both these companies are using Twitter in the right spirit, to enable direct one-to-one conversations for the benefit of both the brand and the consumer. These little guys, on the other hand, just don’t seem to get it.

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