Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The consumer is now the authority of your brand...

Working in the CPG industry for many years (9.5 to be exact), it was beat into me by the marketing function that they were the keepers of the brand and voice of our consumer.  Sitting at the "country club" in R&D, I was told time and time again how important this function was to the success of our organization.  And back in the late 90's early 00's, they were right.  They would do their focus groups, run their in home use tests and simulated test markets so Bases could tell us how big of an idea it was.  That database had years of benchmarking to accurately tell us what it took to be successful.  And if we didn't spend enough on the "marketing" budget the model told us we should, it wouldn't succeed.

In addition, I had the pleasure of sitting in dark rooms with bowl after bowl of M&M's listening to a moderator talk to 24 consumers so we could leverage their expertise in neutrally discussing new ideas in a systematic format with a group of 6 strangers who weren't influencing each other.  And then we would sit together and discuss what we learned getting a report that was the letter of the law.  I remember distinctly one time sulking in a corner as I listened to this very key discussion around a new idea and why it was a bad one.  In fact, I was labelled as sour grapes for sort of calling bullshit on the whole ordeal.(I didn't get to go for a while).

But my favorite memory of my interactions with CPG marketing came in 2006 when we started looking into a new idea of using social media data to explore sustainability trends. In that study there was a trailing insight about water.  It just kept popping up again and again.  It seemed that water was becoming an important topic even though it wasn't being discussed.  When presented with this idea, green was green and it wasn't blue because the demographic didn't care about that. We know our consumers and that is not what they care about.  They fit into this group who is 14% of our main focus target and if they are not part of these two groups...blah blah blah blah blah (bring sing songy blah blahs to bear here).

You know what happened 18 months was the new green.  It was as if this large community of people might have the right idea about things.  They might be exhibiting coffee talk behavior amongst themselves with (no big whoop), and there might be something to it.  But the internet is only run by young people and it will never be a viable means of doing things.

Does this picture sound familiar?  My question is many of you have sat on the other end of a crisis that started on the web and not in the news?  Is that happening to you more often?  Are the issues going more viral?  Have you witnessed a blunder on the market by a company and are you thinking to yourself that thank god that wasn't me and my brand?

My more important question is do you have a plan if it is you?  Do you have the methods to handle that particular situation or isn't it a concern for your company because you know the demographic you focus on? The reality is this.  As consumers the influence general traffic has on our lives is increasing and while we go to work each day to follow the corporate mantra and color between the lines we are told by leadership, as consumers we need clearly think for ourselves.  We are influenced by our peers, by our friends and most importantly by strangers who are talking.  When you feel something do you find data that sounds the same and go holy shit I have that?  Well, this voice is getting louder and it is getting more powerful.

The problem for most marketers I believe is that think the ghost from family circus NOT ME is going to be around when you need him during a corporate crisis is folly we can't afford to believe in.  All your methods, while clearly still important, are becoming more outdated by the second.  And as the voice of the customer gets louder on the web, the less control you have in your brand.

Do you have control in your brand?  Do you think that by simply pushing marketing content virtually you have control of the message?  Facebook likes is a measure of success?  Do you even know what a like actually means?  How much are they actually spreading the word versus clicking the like button?  Do you think that because you talk to a specific consumer target via voice of the customer methods that you are safe for the GIANT voice swelling within the virtual world?  Guess what you are not safe anymore and if you are only pushing content to a group you want to reach because they are on a mommy blog, think again.

Back in the day, I once remember doing research on disinfecting wipes (my clorox history) and I found a post talking about this product on a NEO-NAZI website.  There it was, a women talking calmly about much she like the product sandwiched between hate posts towards who knows what (true story).  This is not the demographic, but if there are enough data points it gets interesting doesn't it?

The point is this...C2B or consumer to business is becoming a way of life.  The consumer is now controlling the message, not the companies.  We can believe that we are, but the cadence of change is increasing (see my last post link to the walmart whistle blower)   Or how about pink slime?  You think consumers might have told you in a controlled test lab that cheap beef tastes great littered with that stuff until someone showed them what was in it...boy did that demographic speak up and maybe they weren't even yours.

There is no one size fits all solution to things, but if you are not getting open the concept that the consumer is now part of your business in ways they never were before you are going to lose.  As a change agent, I have always been about trust, transparency and collaboration.  And to drive change you need to find ways people will own the change not the other way around.  Guess what...the sooner you stop treating your consumers as someone there for your to sell to and realize they can sell for you and sell against you more loudly then ever, the sooner you got a shot to get some measure of control.

Or maybe you need to let go and figure out how to sniff what's going on in the ether...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Battle of Content is ON!

Sorry for long delays...but I have been fighting the good fight on the social media battlefield so to speak.   As I have often used the midnight analogy (when it is noon the market is finally mature), it is almost 9AM.  The market is maturing.  We have moved from a place of people being seeing social media content as untrustworthy and suspect to a place of need with trepidation.  Now...I am happy to say that at 9AM, we are seeing a market that has needs.

Why do they have needs?  Because companies are starting realize that they don't own their brands anymore.  The real truth of the matter is that we are reaching the inflection point where consumers are now an integral part of your business.  Some get it...See the attached Coke 2020 video (link1 and link 2 here).  Here is a company that has publicly posted their strategy that states that they recognize that consumers generate more stories than they do.  This is total acknowledgement of the change in the social media landscape.  Bravo Jonathan Mildenhall for having the courage to champion such a bold statement in such a large organization.  It is the mark of a true change agent and someone who sees what is possible.

And for every Coke, there are so many others that don't see what is coming.  See the attached link.

If you don't think things are changing, you are sleeping.  Here is a person that has gone public using social media working to get the CEO fired for his bad behavior in the Mexico flap.  This is a very public whistle-blower out and proud about it.  Oh by the way...she still works for the company while doing this.  You don't think in the towers of WalMart that someone isn't grousing about why they should fire this person for insubordination.  The fact that she still works there is proof enough that social media has influence on what companies can and can't do now.  She is public and can push the button and go viral...just like that.  Can you say bad PR flap for WalMart?

I am off point a bit, but it is always important when talking about the maturation of social media on the marketplace to check in where we are in the morning so to speak. At 9AM it gets more interesting.  There is real movement in adoption.  In fact, the key part of this post is really about how in social media tools/services etc. are now being judged differently by a slightly more savvy marketplace.

In my last post I wrote about features, content and accuracy (I forgot to talk about infrastructure the 4th pillar I added but I can come back to that).  What I spoke about previously is how to dimensionalize any presentation you see on social media tools to help you think about what tool can work for you.  What I am talking about today is what I am seeing as someone who implements these tools within organizations.

The tenor has changed.  over the past 18 months, most of the challenges on the customer side have come from people asking if you have a feature.  Can you track it this way?  Can you analyze it that way?  Do you have ability to slice the data like this?  Or like that?  Most users of social media tools have been very focused on the features part of the equation.  That is changing.

I am seeing people ask about features and beginning to understand what is must have, what is wow to have and what is I know you don't have it yet, but I want it.  Everyone gets that the tool providers are working to create new and fantastic features.  So how do we know that the market is maturing?

 Because those using social media tools are realizing that no matter how many features you have if your content is crap so is the chart you are using to analyze the data.  And while the content battle is underway, people are again enamored with the wrong things and not thinking about the right ones (in my not so humble opinion today).  It is great to see that folks are now understanding the importance of content and how the features of their tools take and analyze that content, but what is sorely missing is what I call the fascination with volume.

There are many instances where I have someone "benchmark" what I bring versus another.  And when the do that, we often get into a discussion that goes sort of like this...

"Hey they have 1 million sound you have a 1million sound bites...why don't you have 1 million sound bites...if you don't they are better".  (This conversation sounds like Kramer from Seinfeld on too many cappuccinos)

Here is the link to what that conversation would sound like ===> link

When this moment happens, I wonder the following...

1.  Do you know what is in that 1 million sound bites?
2.  Do you know if there are duplicates?
3.  Are the 1 million sound bites accurate? (oh yeah...the battle for accuracy is the next frontier)
4.  Do you know how that number was actually calculated?  There are some who estimate by the way

I could keep going, but the main point here is if you are going to challenge people on content and not the features going forward, make sure you think about what content means, what makes up good content and how much content you actually can have.

Great features are useless without Great Content...but Great Content is useless if it is not Accurate...

But that is for 10AM not 9AM.

Happy adoption folks...if you haven't gotten started someone is eating your lunch today...