Monthly Archives: October 2008

GM Saturn shows sense and sensibility

Last week I blogged about the Manic Mommies’ “Sponsorship Spotlight” segment with Lisa from Quinny strollers.  This week in Manic Mommies Episode 139, GM Saturn and the Manic Mommies have demonstrated again how brands can successfully engage in the social media space.

While attending the October 11th BlogHer event, Kristin and Erin talked with Steve from Saturn as he took them for a spin in the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid.  (Actually Erin did the driving.)   Saturn is sponsoring regional BlogHer events around the country with their BlogHer Reach Out Tour.  They’ve arranged carpools and provided cars for bloggers to make their way to the events.  Then they offer information and test rides for interested bloggers at the event.

Erin and Kristen test drive the Saturn Vue

Sense

These are influential women bloggers, so supporting and building relationships that encourage them to spread positive word of mouth to their audiences makes sense.  And as Steve from Saturn recognized, women control the lion’s share of the household budget and strongly influence the choice of high ticket items.

Steve from Saturn

Sensibility

While talking with the Manic Mommies, Steve showed the same sensibility to the unique situation in which he was representing the Saturn brand.  This was a chat, not a sales pitch.  Like Lisa from Quinny, he made conversation, talked about Saturn like a friend might tell you about the car, joked, and was just genuinely charming.  You got that he truly loved Saturn.  The whole conversation was natural, fun and entertaining.  Just as the Manic Mommies always are.  Like Lisa, we didn’t know Steve’s title or position with Saturn.  It wasn’t important.

Steve, Kristin and the Saturn Sky

Steve, Kristin and the Saturn Sky

The Exception that Proves the Rule

There’s another parenting podcast I love — MommyCast with Paige Heninger and Gretchen Vogelzang.  I never miss an episode, I leave comments, and there’s even a picture of my parrot, Emil, on the MommyCast Facebook page.  But as much as I love them, a couple of months ago they devoted a back-to-school episode to a conversation with one of their sponsors, Staples.  It really got on my nerves, because it didn’t feel like a conversation, it felt like a sales pitch.

Andrew Schneider from Staples — he was the Sales and Marketing Director, or had some other, blah-blah title like that — simply lacked the wit, charm and personality to be effective in a social space like this.  He felt like a fish out of water.  He was stiff and and he talked like a salesman.  I think he did the best that he could.  But he just wasn’t the right person to be talking about his brand in the conversational setting of MommyCast.  No doubt some of the MommyCast listeners heard about some good products and deals from Staples.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them simply switched off.  It was so out of character with what we normally get from MommyCast.  It was more like a half-hour commercial for Staples.

*   *   *   *   *

Thinking about this, there are at least two ways I see brands engaging in social media.  The first one is when a brand creates a community, or consumers create their own community around the brand.  In either of these variations, the brand sets the tone and character and those that identify with the brand participate.  Examples of this are fan pages or blogs, like Moleskinerie for Moleskin enthusiasts.

The other type is when brands are guests within communities that have a culture and character of their own — like the Manic Mommies or MommyCast.  Here the brand walks a fine line.  Marketers who join conversations within these communities must be true to the essence of the brand, but also behave appropriately to the particular community and situation in which they are appearing.  That’s what Steve, from Saturn, and Lisa, from Quinny, both did so well.  And their brands benefited as a result.  The manager from Staples didn’t manage that very well, and his brand suffered.

In future, as more and more brands participate directly in online social communities, perhaps we’ll increasingly observe a new indespensible requirement for a job in the marketing department.  Not only will the candidate have to exhibit marketing sense, but marketing sensibility as well.

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Quinny and Manic Mommies — Sponsorship as Conversation

I was just listening to episode 138 of Manic Mommies, one of my favorite podcasts.  The Manic Mommies are Erin Kane and Kristin Brandt, two funny moms from the Boston area who produce an hour-long  weekly podcast about the traumas and triumphs of family life, career and kids.

Next month the Manic Mommies will host their second annual week-end Escape, a 3-day cruise with 100 or so of their listeners.  Several marketers will sponsor the Escape, hosting on-board events, meeting the moms, running contests and promoting their products.  Episode 138 included the first of a number of “Sponsor Spotlight” segments, featuring Quinny baby strollers.  The segment for Quinny ran about 15 minutes and was remarkably different than your traditional hard-sell commercial sponsorship.  It was more of a conversation than a sales pitch.  And refreshingly honest.

The Intro: Here’s how Erin and Kristin introduced the segment for Quinny, who will sponsor a cocktail reception on the cruise …

Erin:  Everyone needs to indulge with us for a little bit because our sponsors have stepped up to the plate and they have actually helped underwrite the cost of some of our events on the cruise.  And Quinny, our sponsor that is sponsoring Friday night’s cocktail reception …

Kristin: … Open bar baby!

Erin: Need I explain more. Free drinks ladies!

Kristin:  Well two things — open bar, AND they’re going to be giving away two of their Quinny Zapp strollers.  So what we’re going to be doing this month is speaking, briefly, with each of our Escape sponsors in our Sponsor Spotlight.

I love how honest this is.  Kind of like “Hey gals, these people are gonna sponsor our booze so let’s give ’em a break and let them tell us about their product.”

Quinny Zapp stroller

Quinny Zapp stroller

The Quinny Sales Rep: Well, she was anything but.  And I mean that in a good way.  The Manic Mommies introduced her simply as Lisa.  Was she the Marketing Director?  The Advertising Manager?  The head of PR?  Who cares?  It didn’t matter.  What mattered was that she talked like a human being, not like a marketing manager.  In fact, the only time it felt odd was when she occasionally referred to “our target market” or “consumer.”  In other words, when she slipped back into hackneyed and artificial marketing-speak.  Okay. Nobody’s perfect. Old habits die hard.

The Sales Pitch: There wasn’t one.  The style of the Manic Mommies is social, conversational, spontaneous, unrehearsed.  So that was Lisa’s style.  She joined the conversation.  She shared stories.  She was charming, spontaneous, witty.  And she didn’t take herself, or her product, too seriously.  She wasn’t a commercial interruption, she was a natural part of the podcast.  All the while, we learned a lot of useful stuff about Quinny strollers — and enjoyed it.

The Close: Here’s what made it special. Lisa thanked the Magic Mommies for inviting her on the show, and you felt she really meant it.  She shared how much fun it had been, although she admitted that she had really been quite nervous about coming on.

Erin:  Did you have fun?

Lisa:  I did have fun.  I was very nervous.  This is the first ever podcast for our company …

Erin:  Oh my God!

(laughter)

… and somehow I got to be the guinea pig to do it.

Erin:  The pressure!

Lisa:  I know.  It’s better than having video so I think this was fine.

Erin: Yes, audio is always much kinder.

The company spokesperson — vulnerable, imperfect, not slick, human.  Just like most moms, just like all of us.  What a nice reflection on the Quinny brand.

So what does this tell us as marketers about how to be effective in social media?

  • Be conversational, don’t sell.  That way you tap into the strengths of the space.  Selling has its place, but it’s not here.
  • Act and talk in a way that fits the style of the environment.  Otherwise you’ll come across as an irritating and inappropriate interruption.  That won’t reflect well on your brand.
  • Be natural, be human — being perfect isn’t important.  In fact, it’s probably a liability.

Well done Quinny, or should I say Lisa.  Well done Manic Mommies.

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Scrumptious “Do us a flavour” contest from Walkers

On a flight last Thursday evening from London to Frankfurt, I discovered a mouth-watering on-pack promotion from Walkers Crisps, the UK potato crisp maker (or chips as we Yanks call ’em) who as far as I’m concerned put salt-and-vinegar chips on the map.  In the spirit of brand-consumer collaboration, Walkers is inviting potato chip lovers to let their imaginations run wild and send in ideas for the next latest, greatest Walkers flavour.  All entrees to the “Do us a flavour” contest also need to submit a picture showing the inspiration for the idea.  TV advertising and a fun, edgy interactive website support the event.

"Do us a flavour"

Talking about consumers owning the brand, how’s this for a prize?  The creator of the winning flavour will not only receive 50,000 pounds in cash but 1% of future sales of the line extension.  Now that’s a reward in tune with a new age of collaboration that taps into the creativity and passion of brand lovers.

It’s disappointing that only a panel of Walkers-appointed judges will choose the winner, with apparently no participation from the community.  And there’s no place on the site, as far as I can tell, for contestants to chat and debate on the merits of the various entrees.  A “digg-it” kind of rating system would have been a great add-on, both to energize consumer engagement and for the judges to observe which flavours were rising to the top in the opinion of the community.  A missed opportunity I think.  But otherwise, a nice promotion.

Unfortunately, only residents of the UK and Ireland can participate, so I won’t be able to submit my stellar idea for “white sausage with pretzel and sweet mustard” chips.  If anyone from the British Isles is reading this, feel free to steal the idea.  (If you win, perhaps you’d be so nice as to cut me in on the profits.)  Time is of the essence.  The deadline is October 10th.

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Should Facebook and Myspace advertise?

I was intrigued by this post today in TechCrunch suggesting that Google may consider increasing its presence in mainstream media and traditional advertising.  (Honestly, I didn’t know that Google ran any traditional advertising but there you go.)

I’ve also toyed with the thought if mainstream advertising would also make sense for the big social community brands like Facebook, Myspace, Bebo and others.  It first popped into my mind as a little joke to myself, prompted by a podcast episode a few months back by Mitch Joel (Six Pixels of Separation), in which he assessed the differences between Facebook, Myspace and Linkedin as he saw them.  I realize that for some, the notion of online communities running conventional ads may sound like blasphemy.  But is it?

For those of us who have already gotten to know these different communities, their positions within the social media universe are relatively clear.  (And I do mean relatively — as in somewhat.)  But as social media communities move out of early adaption into the mainstream, and the number of offerings increase, it will become more and more difficult to tell them apart.   Especially for the less leading-edge segments of the population who aren’t so comfortable with the space yet, or still too intimidated to take the plunge and join an online social network.

For them, an engaging message from a Facebook or MySpace, delivered in media channels and formats they are familiar with and understand, might be just the nudge they need finally to log on and find the social community that’s right for them.  And might be just what the communities need to accelerate their expansion and build loyal user bases.

Pretty radical, huh?

What do you think?  Should social media communities advertise?

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