19 December 2012

How to Survive the Ad Biz in 2013

This past year I had lunch with a friend who used to run his own agency.  He closed it ten years ago and built a brand strategy consultancy.  Although he calls on marketing executives, and sees agency people in meetings, he was remarkably removed from goings-on in the advertising business.  Stopping for a moment, he thought, and said:  “My overall impression is ‘turbulence’.”

It was either this...
or start in the mail
We won’t argue with that:  Turbulence.  Clients continue changing agencies at a rapid pace.  Assignments are spread among different agencies, either within or across holding companies.  It’s a buyer’s market, with agency fees generally down.  There were more layoffs last week, and many others change jobs voluntarily.  How do you survive all this turbulence?

It’s not just advertising.  Also this year, Fast Company announced “The Four-Year Career” and advised that “career planning is an oxymoron”.  The gist was that you may as well plan for constant career change because it’s going to happen to you anyway.  Their modern definition of a career path:  “Tacking swiftly from job to job and field to field, learning new skills all the while.” 

How to Survive the Ad Biz in 2013

This blog made a similar point in How To Get Ahead in Advertising:  “Advancement is not so much a straight line through one discipline, but tacking like a sailboat across various disciplines.  We will always need specialists, but it’s the generalists who will advance the farthest in agencies of the future.”

In the days of Ye Olde Marketing, there were fewer specialties, therefore, fewer specialists, so becoming a generalist was more achievable.  Most of the ways to reach consumers only reached them, i.e., with one-way messages from advertisers to audiences.  Today, there are many, many specialties and new ones invented all the time.  Media has multiplied and specialists have proliferated.

You’re already a specialist by virtue of what you do every day.  Copywriter.  Art director.  Social media community manager.  Web developer.  Shopper marketer.  Account executive.  Everyone shows up for work to do a specific thing.  You probably don’t expect to be doing that job forever.  How do you become a generalist, too?

Be Curious

First, be curious.  While you’re doing that job, have good peripheral vision, paying attention to how others contribute.  If you’re at an agency with many different services, take advantage of the many opportunities to learn.  If you’re at a specialist agency, for example a digital shop, you can still learn because by nature the work will intersect with other disciplines.  For example, your mobile app may also be part of a shopper marketing program.  You can also read about a couple of disciplines you haven’t learned yet.  Pick a couple of topics and focus on those.

Be Courageous

Second, be courageous.  Take a step outside the comfort zone of your day-to-day activity and try a new specialty.  I’ve been impressed by the willingness of up-and-comers to move from one discipline to another.  We even ran a program that rotated account executives over a two-year period among advertising, direct, digital, shopper and experiential.  More experienced people should do this, too.  I had a colleague who took his 25 years writing successful TV commercials and applied it to writing all the SEM copy we did for a large client.

Capabilities lead to Possibilities

Over time, you will go from specialist in a couple of areas to generalist who can see the big picture.  That kind of perspective gives you two super-powers.  One is that you are obviously more marketable.  The other is that you are more effective.  You’re not just a specialist playing your position well, you have a sense of how the other parts of the marketing program come together.  Ultimately, you’ll be qualified for a job to centrally run those interdisciplinary marketing efforts, either as a client, creative director, or agency account lead.

Put another way, capabilities lead to possibilities.  You need possibilities.  You could lose your job, it could bore you, or it could cease to exist, but chances are you won’t be doing the same job four years from now.  The trick isn’t just to survive, it’s to survive by growing along with the industry.

30 November 2012

The Road Less Taken

This series has argued that account management is at a crossroads, a potentially dangerous intersection where a wrong turn could lead to bad consequences for the industry.

The industry may choose the wrong path, but you don’t have to go along with it.  If you’re an account person, or want to be one, you can succeed where (many) others fail.

How we arrived at this crossroads

Last of a series
It’s instructive to remember how we arrived at this crossroads.  Three significant changes in agency structure over the past couple of decades have restricted the role of account executives.  The first was the unbundling of media – sadly, many account people just think about creative, not where the creative should connect with consumers.  The next was the advent of strategic planning – too many AEs gladly surrender strategy, absolving themselves of responsibility for the creative brief.  The third was labor-based compensation – pay-by-the-hour schemes that focused efforts only on making ads, less on business-building ideas.

So here we stand.  None of us can pretend to fix account management across the industry.  Each of us must decide what road we will follow.  Here’s my advice.

Business Partner, not Order-Taker

Being a Business Partner means learning your client’s business, brands, competition and challenges.  It means knowing sales and market share at any given moment.  It means having a point of view on how to build the business.  It’s a role only account management can fill.  It can’t be faked – clients know when your commitment is genuine and sincere.

In the same way, a Business Partner isn’t confrontational or argumentative.  They serve the client by adding value.  Yes, there’s some order-taking involved; we are in a service business.  If all you do is take orders, though, you’re likely to be replaced because anyone can do that.

How do you do it?  First, pay attention.  Listen to what your client says about her business.  Second, do your homework.  Go to where your client’s product or service is sold and understand the transaction.  Read everything you can about what they sell and do.  Learn the consumer better than anyone else.  Know the competition.

The path of the Order-Taker is Follow... Manage... complete Tasks.  The path of the Business Partner is Lead... Imagine... bring Ideas.

Bring Business-Building Ideas

The greatest account people are the ones who bring business-building ideas to their client.  If you’ve done your homework and gained an intimate knowledge of the client’s business, you’ll be on your way.

Many newly-minted account people spend the first year or two figuring out the agency side of the business – how to get the ads out.  Being able to simultaneously create business-building ideas might require some practice.

Years ago one of my bosses assigned me and a couple of colleagues to each bring him every Friday at 4 p.m. an “Idea of the Week”.  (Nothing motivates like a deadline and a little peer pressure.)  There was a catch:  we also had to go forth, sell the ideas to our clients and make them happen.  Many of the ideas flunked, but a few were actually pretty good, and we learned from both the failures and the successes.

The AE isn’t the only one who can conceive a business-building idea, but she is the only one who, being a Business Partner, can lead the agency team to one.  Account people, knowing the client’s business, should look for opportunities to invent new products, suggest line extensions or recommend restages.  They can also innovate in writing the positioning or claim that will sell what the client invented.

Build an Environment for Great Creative

Being a Business Partner and having a line of sight into what the client needs makes you eminently qualified to help the creative team get to an idea that will change consumer behavior.  The AE who shows up just to shepherd projects to completion will be leaving creatives and planners adrift without what they need to do great work.

An old mantra for AEs at Leo Burnett was “get the copy right”.  To me, it’s a little bit of a holdover to when print was the main medium and when account people edited copy a little too freely, but the general point is right:  Pay attention first and foremost to the agency’s creative product.

Along the way, respect your creative partners.  Some great advice comes from this article by Larry Weisberg, former president of Waring & LaRosa.

Pay Attention to Media

About a year ago, trying to nail down some information about an international project, I called the person responsible for that part of the world.  My question:  “Can you tell me about the media plan?”  His answer:  “I really don’t know much about that country and I know even less about media, so I really can’t help you.”  I don’t fault this fellow for not knowing the answer.  It really bugged me, though, that he was unwilling to even look into it.  (He left the agency soon after.) 

The point of the story is that media is off the radar screen of most account people.  It’s understandable insofar as most agencies spun off their media departments in the 1990s.  It’s amazing, though, that account people wouldn’t want to know where the creative work was going.  It’s even suicidal given the fact that media long ago went beyond TV, Radio, Print and Outdoor.

In other words, you can only be useful to your client if you have a clue about media and all the options for connecting with consumers.  If you leave it to “the media agency,” “the PR agency,” “the digital agency,” “the promotion agency” or “the lead agency” you will be at the mercy of turf wars over agency revenue instead of making a great plan that benefits the client.

Develop Curiosity

Related to the previous point, you have to be in constant learning mode.  If you don’t understand social media, study on it.  Better still, open a Twitter account and experiment.  If you don’t understand shopper marketing, you should.  In the words of GSD&M’s Duff Stewart, “A successful leader in advertising … today is defined by curiosity.” 

Curiosity goes beyond learning about different media.  Yesterday I interrupted my schedule to attend an internal presentation about the latest in web design.  No, I don’t expect to start writing code in 2013, but understanding what goes into it will help me help others do their jobs – and maybe spark an idea.

Curiosity and Anticipation go together.  It’s logical that if curiosity broadens your perspective – your radar screen, if you will – then you’ll also see things coming from much further away.  Your ability to anticipate will be greater. 

Which road will you take?

This series started by posing the question “Is great account management a lost art at advertising agencies?”

No, but it will be if we don’t pay attention.  It’s a given that the industry is in turbulence, but we can’t just know it’s in turbulence, we have to do something about it.

It’s up to you to decide what you’re going to do.  Hopefully this series has given you a few ideas, or at least the basis to think of your own ideas.  It’s just one man’s advice.  Take what you need, and leave the rest.

The first post in this series was Account Management at a Crossroads

26 November 2012

Account Management IS the Radar

A colleague lamented how things on a project were “happening under the radar”.  Another colleague, typically blunt, pointed out, “You are the radar.”

That’s always true for account people.  On every piece of business, account management is the radar.  We function like radar in at least three ways.

Fourth of a series
Expect the Expected

Account management is much more than project management, yet project management is a big part of what account people do.  Agencies are a service business and clients expect us to run the trains on time (and on budget, of course).  Once you get the hang of it, project management is predictable.

The first type of radar, then, is to expect the expected.  Think ahead.  If the creative idea will drive up the cost of talent, help the team figure out a plan rather than letting it go and surprising the client later.  As one of my first bosses said, “I always look for an A.E. who can anticipate.”

Expect the Unexpected

The second kind of radar is when something unexpected or unforeseen pops up.  This isn’t just watching out for the agency’s work, but the client’s business.  The highest tribute ever paid to an account person was MillerCoors CMO Andy England saying of Marty Stock:  He “often knows I have a problem before I do.”  It’s important to get the context here:  England was referring to Stock’s foreknowledge of a business problem, as in declining market share, disastrous trial for a new product, or a new competitive threat.

These kinds of things aren’t so predictable.  Then again, most of the advertising industry isn’t so predictable these days, so get used to it.  Expecting the unexpected also includes staying on top of new media, new products and new ways of doing business.  If you’re on top of the changes, you’ll be much more useful to your client.

Radar Navigates

An account person isn’t simply a radar operator.  It’s your job to lead the team in setting a course.  Where does the business need to go?  Maybe an iconic, long-running ad campaign needs to be updated – or replaced.  Perhaps you’ve identified a market opportunity where the client should line-extend or develop a new product.  Or you noticed a competitor’s blind spot your client can exploit.  It’s possible that the consumer is changing and it’s not good news for your brand.  Working with your team, you can choose the right priorities – not just doing things right, but doing the right things.

We think of radar as something that detects unplanned things or events, like bad copy test scores or alien invasions.  But radar is also a navigational tool, helping you stay on course even – or especially – when the voyage is smooth.

Your Radar for 2013

This is a great time of year to think about setting the agenda for your work in 2013.  The last weeks of the year are a reflective time, given naturally to assessing what we’ve done and what we want to do.  If you’re experiencing a huge end-of-year rush, it’s still a good time to think about next year.  Nothing clarifies your thinking like a busy season.

You might be a junior account executive and think it’s not your job to set the agenda.  No, but you can contribute to setting the agenda.  Advertising is a team sport.  Bring your ideas forward and be ready to learn.

Next:  The Road Less Taken

12 November 2012

Bad Account Management Leads to Bad Creative

The first two posts in this series outlined how advertising agency account management is at a crossroads, identifying (so far) three reasons why:  (1) Surrender of Strategy, (2) Project Management, and (3) Inward Focus.

Why should we care?  Because bad account management leads to bad creative.

The Shared Purpose of Account and Creative

The purpose of an ad agency is to build a client’s business.  The main way an agency builds its client’s business is with creative.  Transformative ideas that don’t just entertain or inform; they change behavior. 

Third of a series
In this sense, one of the key roles of an account person is to create an environment for great creative.  That means:  Knowing the client’s business; gaining their confidence; getting to the right copy strategy; finding the right channel mix, and speeding the approval of the actual creative.

So the account person has a critical role – but never works alone.

The Shared Partnership of Account and Creative

In my experience the agency’s work is best when there is a strong partnership between the account lead and the creative lead.  Actually this partnership is important at all levels, but the account and creative leads have to set the example.  As an account management leader, my job has been most satisfying when I’ve had that kind of partnership.  I need to have someone to collaborate with, someone to work with, and – yes – someone to fight with.  In the words of King Solomon: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”  (I don’t mind adding that talking over this post with a valued creative partner caused me to totally rewrite what you’re reading right now.)

A strong, honest partnership results in great creative because the account director and creative director push each other.  Do we understand the consumer?  Have we defined the business need?  Is the claim relevant?  Can we turn this into a compelling story?  Each must do their job and allow the other to ask hard questions so the advertising can do its job.

This is somewhat of a checks-and-balances relationship but not a back-and-forth argument.  Instead it’s a “Yes, And…” collaboration where the account director and creative director build on one another’s contributions.

The Curse of Project Management

When account people don’t hold up their end of the relationship, it’s harder to deliver great creative.  The strategy and the creative are less likely to carry a business rationale.  Can the creative director do it anyway, with the assistance of the strategic planner?  They’re forced to try in organizations where account management is more like project management.

It would be so much easier for all of them if the account person, who is talking to clients anyway about meeting schedules and approvals, would also be the agency’s voice on business strategy.  That client relationship would go from transactional to consultative with a good amount of effort beyond just project management.

The Shared Partnership of Agency and Client

Still, that client relationship is not the exclusive province of the account person.  If an agency’s relationship with a client relies only or mainly on the account person, then it’s doomed.

The best creative directors I’ve worked with are the ones who care about the client’s business as much as I do.  That kind of commitment shines through in client conversations – why not let the client see that passion at work?  A good account person makes that happen.

Next:  Account Management IS the Radar

05 November 2012

Three Things Killing Account Management

The first post in this series made the case that advertising agency account management is at a crossroads.  The best account people are the ones who bring business-building ideas to their clients.  Many people still do this, but there are also a lot of people with no ideas, no curiosity, and not much else beyond project management.  If we continue down this path, account management will become a lost art.

Second of a series
Bag Carriers and Flower Pots

For decades, “bag carrier” was the worst epithet you could throw at an account person.  To be sure, one of my tasks as an assistant account executive at Leo Burnett was to carry the bag, but once we arrived at the meeting, my job was to help sell what the bag contained.

Years later in Latin America, a Mexican client, commenting on the meeting participation of one of our account executives, told me:  “No necesitamos un florero.”  We don’t need a vase, or flower pot.  This, too, is an old phenomenon.  What makes the modern situation different?

Three Things Killing Account Management

There are three things threatening the role of today’s account executive.  All three things are realities but none of them need to be barriers.  These are factors to leverage, not limit, what an account person can do.

1. Surrender of Strategy

There have been two major changes in the advertising agency model over the past two decades.  One is the unbundling of media planning and buying.  The other is the advent of Strategic Planning.  Account management surrendered responsibility in both cases.

Strategic Planning makes agencies better in two ways.  First, it adds to the team someone tasked with understanding the consumer better than anyone else.  Second, its deliverable is great creative.  Great strategy doesn’t matter unless it results in great creative.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with some incredible strategic planners who bring both benefits.  I’ve also seen some account people walk away and let those strategic planners do it alone. 

This is tragic, partly because account people used to do both of these things.  Embracing strategic planning, however, doesn’t mean surrendering the responsibility to add value via consumer insight and sharp strategy

The implication is that account management does less thinking, and hence is less useful to clients.  So how are they spending their time instead?

2. Project Management

In many places account management has yielded to project management.  One big reason why:  Labor-based compensation.

In the days of Ye Olde Marketing, when clients paid agencies a 15% commission on media and production, agencies had the financial flexibility to throw a lot of smart people at the business, people who brought the clients business-building ideas.  As the commissions dwindled, budgets got tighter, and one day everyone was getting paid by the hour.

We’ve already criticized labor-based compensation in another post.  The point here is different:  Labor-based compensation depends on a defined Scope of Work consisting of specific projects.  We’re expected to spend x hours delivering y number of TV commercials, mobile apps, shelf talkers or direct mail letters.  Rarely does the scope include “a POV on how larger consumer trends affect our starter-and-refill strategy.” 

In other words, agencies only paid to deliver ads aren’t likely to budget for staff hours devoted to added-value.  The account people will do whatever they must to get the ads out the door.  That’s more like project management:  write the timetable, schedule the meetings, and recap it in the email.  Everything must run smoothly in the agency.

3. Inward Focus

This is the most pernicious part.  Account people who disconnect themselves from consumers and strategy, working instead on project management, inevitably wind up with an inward focus.  That’s deadly in this business.  If your only contact with a client is answering their phone call, if your only understanding of a consumer comes from what you read, and if your only cooperation with colleagues is transactional, then your world is very small.

Advertising’s world is big.  That’s one of the things I love most about it.  Advertising gets you out of yourself.  You learn about human behavior and human achievement.  That is, why people buy the things that people invent.

01 November 2012

Account Management at a Crossroads

Is great account management a lost art at advertising agencies?

First of a series
Like everything else in advertising, account management is changing.  In this case, though, it may not be changing for the better of agencies and their clients.

Account People of Ye Olde Marketing

I never advocate for a return to the past, but a fast review of history is instructive.  Advertising agencies have only been around for a century or so, growing out of the business of media sales, especially newspapers.  Up through the 1940s, when radio was an important medium, the account executive was a multipurpose player, handling clients, research, copy, talent and production.  (If you want a good insight on this period, read The Hucksters by Frederic Wakeman.)  Starting with the creative revolution of the 1960s, the modern account executive role took shape.  The guy (yes, they were mainly guys) who represented the agency to the client and the client to the agency.

Some Things Don’t Change

Regardless of era, the greatest account people then and now are the ones who bring ideas to their client.  Creative people bring creative ideas, media people bring media ideas, and planners bring strategy, but the account people should bring business building ideas.  It’s not enough to know what the agency sells and how to deliver on it.  You have to gain intimate knowledge of the client’s business (like this and this).

Something Changed

In the last decade or so, there have been signs that account management lost its way.  While you can still find great account people at advertising agencies, you also find many who bring no ideas, no curiosity, and not much else beyond project management.  Read these points of view by Babita Baruah, Lakshmipathy Bhat and Robert Solomon and see if they don’t ring true.  A year or so ago the New York Times ran an article suggesting the “account executive” title was outdated.  Back in 2010, Advertising Age observed that some agencies were indeed cutting the department entirely.

Something Needs to Change

I’ve had this discussion with a number of people from around the industry, and unfortunately there is a lot of agreement.  Delving deeper, there’s a sense that more experienced account people know or remember what it’s like to be a business partner, not an order taker.  We’re not training the less experienced people, however, like we used to do.  The art is getting lost because we are not passing it along.

Account Management at a Crossroads

Starting with this and a few more posts, we’ll try to start a discussion about the state of account management, and how to ensure it adds value in the modern advertising agency.  I’d welcome your comments and suggestions, starting in the space below.

31 October 2012

Consumers, Shoppers and/or People

Consumer or Shopper?
Words mean things.  When you have a choice among two or three words to describe something, the word you choose directs your meaning.  We have a lot of choices in the advertising industry.  Media or Channels.  Media agnostic or Media neutral.  Creative or Content.  Then there’s Consumers and Shoppers.

Consumers and Shoppers

For decades, most advertising people referred to their client’s customers as “consumers”.  There were exceptions, like the mobile phone maker who sold handsets to retailers so they could sell to “end users”.  Of course, every company defines their own target, like the QSR chain who wanted more SHUs (Super Heavy Users) or the brewer who really understood KBDs (Key Beer Drinkers).  The industry generic term, however, was “consumers”.

Not many years ago, the rise of shopper marketing created an industry trend seeking to distinguish “consumers” from “shoppers”.  The thought was that “consumers” see your advertising, but by the time they reach the store, they are “shoppers”, prone to forget what you told them once they see a special offer, display or demonstration.  The store was a medium and its audience was shoppers. 

Mobile Changes All That

We used to distinguish between Consumers and Shoppers but that’s no longer helpful because it’s no longer a distinction.  The shopping process starts at home, when the Consumer sees your advertising and starts researching or even shopping online.  If a trip to the store is involved, the research may even continue at shelf.  The advent of Near Field Communication is going to propel that behavior.

In other words, a Consumer becomes a Shopper much earlier in the purchase process.  (We could go a step further and say that a Shopper was always a Consumer in the end.)

Why It Matters
  • Marketing has to be integrated just like the purchase cycle.  In the early days of IMC, marketers and agencies made matching luggage, and in more recent years discovered channel planning.  Often, though, we were artificially connecting the channels.  The mobile device makes that connection more genuine than ever.
  • Mobile’s influence will always exceed its budget.  There’s a lot of industry discussion about how Mobile’s enormous usage “deserves” a much greater percentage of the marketing budget.  I would argue for Mobile’s cost-efficiency:  You spend less because it’s targeted to people who ask for the messages.
  • Consumers, Shoppers and/or People.  Consumer insights and Shopper insights all come from people.  It does little good to segregate consumer insights from shopper insights because it's all part of the same, continuous purchase cycle.  You have to understand the whole consumer.

Or the whole person.  As a creative director once asked me:  Why can’t we just call them “people”?

23 October 2012

Advertising Jumps the Shark, Gets Back on Track

Does content deliver advertising or does advertising deliver content?

Joe Mandese at MediaPost has the answer for you, in a piece headlined “Advertising Jumps The Shark: Becomes Conduit For Content”.  

But first let’s get through that headline.

Jumping the Shark

Numerous readers pointed out in the comments section that the headline misused the term “jump the shark”.  Any student of pop culture knows the story:  On the 1970s sitcom Happy Days, Fonzie water skis over a shark, a moment now seen as the point where the show lost its original purpose – a fond look back at the 1950s – and got just plain silly.

Let’s first admit that the advertising industry has jumped the shark many more times than Fonzie, before or since.  We’ve jumped the shark via pointless line extensions, bad strategies, failed campaigns and poor planning.  Mea culpa.

Conduit for Content

In this case, the alleged shark jump is the launch of a new digital advertising platform that pulls existing Internet content into online ads.  It seems like a simple concept – link ads and content – but there’s a bit more involved.

The platform’s purveyor, Kontera, claims to be able to identify the most relevant content and serve it in web display, social and mobile ads.  That’s a bit more complicated than a shark jump – and more revolutionary.

3 Reasons Why it Matters

Mandese’s right, this is an important development the entire advertising industry should watch.

1.  It makes advertising useful, informative and/or entertaining.  These are the three things audiences seek in any medium.  For some reason we’ve been relearning that lesson the hard way in the digital advertising world.  In this case, Kontera claims to be supplying content that’s already popular, and hence should make ads more relevant.
2.     It adds sanity to online advertising.  Most web display advertising is the opposite of shooting fish in a barrel – more a minnow in the ocean.  You run ads that get clicked at infinitesimally low rates, paying only for those very small results.  Matching truly relevant content to truly relevant ads could significantly shift the equation of supply and demand.
3.     It challenges the distribution model.  Whether on TV, online or in-store, content normally is a means of distributing advertising.  That is, a :30-spot interrupts the program you were watching.  Kontera allows advertisers to buy ad space and use it to distribute all kinds of content.  Extrapolating that beyond web display ads, you can see how it would change journalism, entertainment and information in general.

Fond Look Back at the 1950s

If you read further down in the comments section of Mandese’s article, you’ll see an arcane conversation between him and me about whether it was also true in the 1950s that “advertising (was) a means for distributing content,” much like Kontera.  My point is that Radio and TV shows of the period, like soap operas and Texaco Star Theater, were also examples of brands delivering content.  (Mandese disagreed.)

It doesn’t really matter.  The only thing it proves is that for the past fifty years we’ve been force-feeding audiences our advertising when they wanted to see their content.  Up to now web display ads have followed that same model.

If, as an industry, we succeed in reversing that, and make advertising a means for distributing content, we won’t be jumping the shark.  We’ll be back on track.

05 October 2012

When Plural is Really Anti-Social

Today's post is brought to you by the letter "S"

Just like 70 million other people, we watched the U.S. presidential debate this past Wednesday night.  I caught the first half hour on NPR while driving home, and joined Mrs. Ad Majorem watching the rest on ABC News.  Before leaving work I checked Twitter to see what hashtags would be in circulation, because of course I expected to participate in the national conversation. 

A #debate about #debates

My unscientific sample of tweeps, political consultants and other citizens led me to believe that #debate would be the default hashtag for most people.  Some put #Debate2012 or some variation.  Others with an agenda put hashtags supporting their candidate.  But #debate seemed like a good one.

Watching on TV, however, I noticed that ABC was encouraging the hashtag #debates – the plural.  Why not just #debate?  You’ve only got 140 characters, why use one of them on a vestigial “S”? 

Look at that S-car go!

It turns out that ABC News was following Twitter's lead.  According to a Twitter blog post, they declared #debates as the official hashtag.

It had never occurred to me to check and see what Twitter was pushing.  My normal procedure is to check and see what people are doing.  

It's not hard to imagine that Twitter has an internal team working on this series of debates:  producers, editors, journalists and social media experts.  They may be “the debates group” or they may just tell people, “We work on coverage of the debates.”  Sitting around the conference room table, it would be easy to agree on #debates as a hashtag.  

The Twitterverse looked at it differently, however.  No one watching at home was thinking about a series of debates.  This was the big night everyone in the U.S. had anticipated for weeks.  The social media commentary was about what happened that very night.

Put another way, I don't think anyone imagined #SaveBigBird.  

Maybe Twitter wanted something trackable.  I give them credit for not using #TwitterDebates -- you know, something “branded”.  Still, pushing an "official" hashtag reflects the mindset of an Old Media company used to broadcasting and big numbers.  Social Media works differently.  The relevant measure might be share of conversation, or the number of conversations in which they participated.

Watch and Learn

In the end this is a mental exercise.  Watch what is happening around you, and game it out.  Learn from what others do.  In this case the lesson is:  Not even Twitter can control its own conversation.  Try to swim with the tide, perhaps influence it, but don't imagine you can control or measure it according to some standard of Ye Olde Marketing.

24 August 2012

"DON'T Follow Us on Twitter"

Old Media meets New Media

You see it everywhere.  Advertisers invite you to "Follow us on Twitter".  It’s all too easy to add this short message to traditional ad executions. 

So Why Not?

The problem is that Twitter in this way is treated as a mass medium just like the ads themselves.  They might as well say “Follow us on Twitter so we can send you more messages just like this one.”  Sadly, this is exactly how many marketers use Twitter.  You can just hear the conference room chatter:  We’ve got to surround the consumer at all brand contact points!  Or:  This is a lead generator!

You’ve read about companies who inadvertently start public relations disasters on Twitter, or practice poor customer service.  Those things happen.  I’m pointing out here that many companies never run that risk because they only tweet lawyer-approved ad copy 140 characters at a time.

Twitter and Traditional Ads CAN Mix

Maybe you or your clients are more enlightened and use Twitter properly, to engage with or listen to your customers.  In that case, maybe you can use ads to invite new followers more creatively, and in line with what they can expect.  Here are some examples.

“Tell @Moleskine what you’re writing”

“How hot is your @TacoBell #SaucePacket?”

“Suggest ideas to @SomePublicServant”

“What flavor should @Lays make?  #DoUsAFlavor”

“We update you on train delays @Metra on Twitter"

Don’t Close a Sale, Start a Relationship

The point is, you’ve got to give people a reason to follow or at least engage.  Just don’t expect someone to follow you just because they saw your ad.

What other ideas do you have for companies to engage with their customers on Twitter?  What really bad examples have you seen?  Put your responses in the comments section below.

11 July 2012

Small Talk and Social Media

Don’t you hate small talk?  I do, too.  But it teaches us something about Social Media.

The most banal of small talk happens in forced encounters.  Co-workers cross paths in the corridor or cafeteria.  Neighbors coming or going in their entryways.  “How are you doing?”  “Fine, thanks, and you?”  “Fine, thank you.”

The next level of small talk is more interesting because it reveals things about people.  Someone ventures a little more, maybe “We’re almost done with a big job” or “I’m hoping to get home in time for my son’s game”.

As that person steps away, perhaps off the elevator, what’s the response?  Nonchalant?  Good luck.  Cynical?  Good luck with that.  Encouraging?  Go for it! 

Small Talk and Social Media

Those exchanges reveal things about both people.  The degree to which the first one shares will tell us what matters to them.  The second person’s response is reflexive, in the moment, telling us if they are encouraging, friendly, sincere, cynical, robotic or humorless.

Much of Social Media is like this.  No one forces you into a how-are-you-oh-I’m-fine encounter.  You engage because you want to, on a topic that matters.  In the above examples, the first person is the one who blogged, tweeted or posted.  The second is the person who linked, retweeted or liked.

How does that work for your ongoing Social Media program?

3 Lessons for Marketers
  1. Have a personality.  Social Media happens via technology but humans drive it.  Humans have personalities.  What personality fits your business, brand or product?  If this sounds like social media claptrap to you, consider that your brand already has a personality.  For example, if you’ve ever written a Brand Positioning document, you probably included a Brand Character or Brand Personality.  (Normally these are just words on a page that never seem to come across in advertising.)  More practically, your brand expresses a personality by its interactions with consumers:  calls into the toll-free number or service center, package copy or retail representatives.  Like it or not, these add up to a personality.  Think hard about what makes sense for your business, and apply it to Social Media (as well as other channels).
  2. Put the right people on it.  Depending on the size of your business, you may handle the small talk yourself, or have one person handling it for you, perhaps even a department.  Whatever the scale, someone has to set the tone, following the personality you’ve prescribed.  Obviously this person has to be a skilled communicator, which takes emotional intelligence and a sense of judgment.  There will always be some deviations, but over time the personality should be clear and consistent.
  3. Figure out what you’re going to say.  The worst kind of small talk is the self-absorbed, it’s-all-about-me variety.  In the same way, few people will engage if you’re just talking about your product or service.  People go places on the Internet to be informed or entertained.  Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but it’s also a good place to start.  How can you make it worth someone’s while to engage with your blog, Twitter or Facebook page? 

To that point, above all:  Be authentic.  If your personality is wrong, everything you do will seem forced.

What have been your best and worst experiences using Social Media?  What did you learn from them?

04 June 2012

What Facebook Must Face

No app for strategy, nor a strategy for the app

It’s become fashionable to bash Facebook in the wake of their sub-par IPO. This post will not pile on, but point out some realities. I have no inside knowledge. This is strictly my view; take it for what it’s worth.

Social media isn’t immune to rapid business cycles. Internet companies come and go at supersonic speeds. We take it for granted that Yahoo isn’t what it used to be, but forget that it also emerged quickly. We know Rupert Murdoch bet wrong on MySpace, but forget that it was an overnight success story at the time. Today on CNBC, Ironfire’s Eric Jackson opined that “In five to eight years (Facebook is) going to disappear in the way that Yahoo has disappeared.” Personally I’ve been telling friends that Facebook and Twitter could become like Yahoo in five years, but what do I know? The point is that it’s absolutely possible. The Greeks had the agora, American pioneers had the general store, Mad Men had the water cooler. All of those social media lasted decades or even centuries; the cycle is much faster now.

You still need to have a strategy. The business world debates the relative merits of Strategy, Execution and Culture in an organization’s success. (Spoiler alert: All three are important.) In a world of rapid business cycles, maybe strategy sounds slow. You still need one, however, and I’m not sure what Facebook’s strategy is. Last year when I spoke at a social media conference, many attendees who had just been to F8 wondered the same thing. There’s a sense that Facebook makes it up as they go along. It’s evident in their scattershot approach to mobile, and of course from the IPO. Where do they want to go? How do they see themselves evolving as technology and consumer behavior influence one another? Strategy should answer those questions.

Complacency is subtle. I don’t think Facebook is arrogant, as some claim. Arrogance would say, “I have 900 million users; who cares what people think?” Complacency merely takes those users for granted. I confess I’d feel complacent if I had 900 million users: Most of those users won’t just get up and leave, abandoning all the personal photos and memories they’ve stored in their accounts. That still leaves the question of money. What happens if Facebook becomes harder to monetize? Advertisers are still learning how to interact with those 900 million users, and hopefully they will succeed.

Hopefully, Facebook will succeed. We shouldn’t wish failure on anyone. It will come, though, if we don’t face the cold, hard realities of modern business. Zuckerberg is now responsible to users and shareholders. He needs a plan.

29 May 2012

Facebook and the Conundrum of Mobile

A Bronx cheer from the New York press

If you bought Facebook at $38 a share, I’ll offer you some hope for the future.

But if your eyes glaze over when hearing about audience measurement, then skip today’s post.

Facebook went public, then publicly flopped

The two topics are linked. This past week Facebook went public and then publicly flopped. You may have gathered from news reports the following causes:

(a) CEO Mark Zuckerberg pushed up the price too high

(b) Morgan Stanley mishandled the transaction

(c) Nasdaq’s technology failed

All three to some extent are true.

What really started the entire affair was audience measurement.

Audience Measurement flummoxed Facebook

Facebook dominates the online advertising marketplace. Over the past few years it’s grown to be about 60% of the market. For the most part this advertising is measureable because Facebook controls the inventory, distribution and analytics. If you spend money to advertise on Facebook, you generally know who you’re reaching and how they’re responding.

The audience data for mobile usage, however, isn’t so certain. The technology just hasn’t developed yet. Reuters noticed this fact and wrote about it, calling into question the projections of Facebook’s future advertising revenue. Since their source was Facebook’s own SEC filing, this wasn’t exactly an exposé but it was a total buzz kill.

This week’s events don’t necessarily put Facebook on the same path as MySpace and Friendster. It still makes billions on the ads it sells.

Facebook and the Conundrum of Mobile

Still, Facebook symbolizes the Conundrum of Mobile: Consumers have adopted, embraced and depended on it, but advertisers haven’t yet found their role.

The answer to the conundrum is: Advertisers’ role will increase as measurement becomes more certain. And it will.

So, hang on to your Facebook stock. When they figure out mobile, the share price will go back up.*

* Obviously, I'm not an investment advisor, and this post isn't investment advice.  I didn't buy any Facebook stock, so it's easy for me to opine.  That said, my opinion is less about Facebook's future than the future of mobile audience measurement, which can only get better.

29 March 2012

This Is a Blog Post, Not a Foursquare Check-In

Need to see more of these
NEW YORK – I’m in the Capital of the World today, but you wouldn’t know it from my Foursquare profile. Regular readers know I quit Foursquare exactly one year ago.

I originally joined because I believe Foursquare is in the sweet spot intersecting mobile, social and retail. I stopped checking in because they never delivered on it.

As a business person, I’m rooting for them. As a consumer, I no longer saw the point. There was very little in the way of offers or enhancing the retail experience.

Hopefully that’s going to change. Keep an eye on American Express. Every time I read about some new program leveraging Foursquare, it seems American Express is behind it. They have a presence on Foursquare and there has been recent press coverage like this. Industry cognoscenti know about Amex’s broader social media strategy. and Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley’s address at SXSW.

If they can go beyond checking in for the sake of checking in, I’ll get back on Foursquare in a New York minute.

What about you? Are you using Foursquare? If so, are you using it as much as when you first joined?

26 March 2012

What Mad Men Teaches Us About Advertising in 2012

The Diversity Committee will see you now
I didn’t watch Mad Men last night. I’m living it today.

There’s nothing wrong with nostalgia, mind you. That early 1960s era is of particular interest to me. On my desk is a small photo of my grandfather taken right about that time.

In addition, I believe history teaches us a lot. In the same way following world history makes us better citizens, following advertising history makes us better at what we do.

What we do is sell. And modern times are the best times to be doing just that. The last great upheaval in advertising was driven by television, but it only happened once. Digital technology drives new upheavals all the time. It’s happening so fast that few can keep up with it or understand it. Major CPG companies struggle; former Mad Men seem to understand. But as Matt Nelson of Tribal DDB put it, now is the golden era for advertising.

In a similar reflection, Duff Stewart of GSD&M said “a successful leader in advertising… today is defined by curiosity.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Well – I tried, here and here.) With such a menu of challenges and buffet of media options, more than ever we can say “it’s all advertising” and get to the task of selling in new ways. We have much to learn.

One thing Mad Men can teach us is how little progress we’ve made on diversity. There’s more diversity among media options than the employees who practice them. It’s the best time to be in advertising – but it could be better.