Friday, February 26, 2010

Stories Worth Reading/Sharing/Writing/Selling

"I had a show. Then I had another show. Now I have a Twitter account."

"This morning I watched Remington Steele while eating Sugar Smacks out of a salad bowl. I was naked."

"Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me."

The first is his bio. The second is his most recent Tweet. The third is his first.

Anyway you slice it, this kid is gonna come out on top. He is funny. He is a people's person. That's what he is. And today more than any other day, what the world needs most is more people people.

Keep up the good work, Conan. You are kicking ass and taking names!

With my prediction of more than 400,000 by his fourth tweet, the Chicago Tribune reports that he is already beating the Ozzie Guillen, The Dalai Lama and Jay Leno as far as followers are concerned. But what's more is that this guy has a monkey on his back. For real, check out his Twitter's even hilarious.

But I'm not actually talking about the real live monkey on his back. I'm talking about how Conan O'Brien's monkey is that he is a born story-teller in a time where story-telling is far selling sold spaces and advertorials then ever before. Just look at the failed ad spots of the Super Bowl compared to the succesful marketing campaigns that are launching everywhere - one call for story sharing after another. And why is that? I think it's really just another part of this notion that people are stupid...that it's a people-driven economy, stupid...people want people people.

We want to hear about the stories behind the Olympic athletes as we cheer them on. We want to know why Tiger feels the need to cheat on someone as beautiful as Elin. We want to understand the difficulties of Charlie Sheen's addictive behaviors and we want to know why someone would attack Hannah Storm's sartorial delights. We want to watch as American Idol contestants and Bachelor babes bare their souls and sell their ethics (or vice versa) and we want to hear their stories of how and why and what and what next. And then, of course, there is Snooki. I actually want to hear nothing at all about her and her dirty little ways. But I am incredibly impressed by the Kardashians and how much they appear to love each other while at the same time live lives that seem meant only for tv.

Why are we so obsessed by these people? BECAUSE THEY ARE PEOPLE, people. They eat cereal naked. They have flaws. They get into fights. They like money. They love food. They need each other. We need them. And their stories.

The monkey on Conan's back that will indeed propel him forward is his uncanny sense of humor and his mastery of a story told. He started his career as a writer and now we will most likely write his own ending. Good for him!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Brownies Good. Beans Bad.

Have you heard of conversational monitoring software?

When I hear that, I think of spying on my older sister when she talked to her junior-high school aged boyfriend even though she was not allowed to have such a thing. Do you know how I accomplished "conversational monitoring" back then? I coughed really loud as I picked up the telephone receiver in the room upstairs and then pressed mute and laughed my ass off when she said, "Did you hear anything? No. Okay. Go on." And then I used her conversation as collateral to get to sit with her cool friends on the bus or to demand an exchange of green beans for dessert.

I grew up and now I still try and find ways to monitor conversations, although the payoff is not nearly as seductive as my mom's double fudge brownies. In the world of marketing and public relations, we look to metrics for explanations on how and why we do what we do or don't do. Calling it the Holy Grail of metrics, some say weighted media costs are far better than ad value equivalency, even though one is inherently more attractive than the other while both of them appear the same. What is the real difference between weighted media costs and ad value equivalency?

Ummmm...who cares? Pretty much, it can be looked at all the same or can be part of a strategy for measuring success. This recent article does a good job synthesizing the differences and the similarities. Basically, it says that one is about trying to dissect and measure positive media coverage that results from pr work while the other is about taking credit for any and all media mentions- without regard to positive or negative spin - and calculating a similar cost if the space had been purchased as ad space.

Executives, corporate robots, marketing managers, fiduciary stakeholders, spenders, savers, bean counters and other people who answer to other people and lose sleep when their answers are less than transparent and their dollars and senses get lost in translation; these are the people that demand data proving ROI. (After all, we all can't be as lucky as the U.S. military when they used social media to capture Saddam.)

And while it's a sure thing that people are stupid and that data can be manipulated, it's also a pretty good bet that people who spend money on things like social media campaigns, public relations and communication strategies want to know that their money was, in fact, well spent. And we can't blame them. They hire people like us to take advantage of our skills to build best-laid plans for successful marketing. And successful social media marketing is marketing that brings in additional money above and beyond normal traditional marketing sales.

Which ultimately is impossible to document because nothing happens in a vacuum. So, instead, we turn to metrics to deliver the punch we need to show that our hard work pays off. Did we change perception? Did we influence buying decisions? Did we place one product or service above others? Did we affect overall reputation of product or service or company? Did we build a foundation upon which an existing team can create long-term and super duper long-term success? These are questions folks ask.

These are plenty of tools available to provide a starting point for answering. Google Analytics, Radian6
Omniture Site Catalyst, HBX, Scout Labs, Crowd Conversion, Visible Technologies, Razorfish SIM score; just to name a few. Whatever software or strategies you implement, nothing will matter as much as the interactions you have with customers via social media. In fact, the same software can get you to brand heaven or eventually lead you down a path straight to brand hell.

What you want:
Positive interactions

What you don't want:
Negative interactions

Friday, February 19, 2010

More on Stupid

Who is more insulting? Sven Kramer for telling a reporter to go to hell or Tiger Woods asking people for support?

Sven is a Dutch Speedskater who recently won a gold medal at the Olympics. Tiger Woods is a world-famous golfer and American icon worth bazillions of dollars.

Being interviewed by an American reporter, Sven was recently asked to state his name, his country and the medal he won as part of the "tape confirmation" process. "Are you stupid?" asked Sven. "Hell no, I'm not going to do that," replied the athlete who was obviously insulted that the reporter would ask him to do such a thing as record his info when anyone could see that he had just won a gold medal. He was too important and talented and famous to stoop to the level of having to identify himself to a stupid international news reporter. Or was it that he was so overcome with emotion that he lashed out and verbally accosted this poor working girl who was simply trying to do her job and capture all the facts and keep track of who's who in a world that may in fact be small but is rather initimidating once you make it to the edit booth after pulling an 18 hour day on the media circuit covering everything from luge accidents to speedskaters to fashion do's and don't of snowboarders and Sports Illustrated cover girls. Phew! It's a real dog-eat-dog world out there.

Sven's video can be found here.

Tiger's latest statements can be viewed here.

Talking about dogs, we all know what Tiger did. Now we are all waiting to see what he will do. Will his multi-million dollar sponsor deals drop him? Will his wife leave him? Will he ever golf again? Will he continue to cheat? Will he tell us why and how and what exactly? Will we run out of questions and will he run out of prepared statements? My point? While Sven initially appears as an ass in his retort, at least he is seen as human. Tiger appears like he is reading a statement and nothing really seems to be coming from his heart. As a vested audience, why do we care and why do we deserve anything from anyone? Either way, the messages are almost lost in the fact that these two headline news makers are human and their audiences are human. Both are stupid but both are human.

If Sven would have simply stated his name and medal as requested, we wouldn't be discussing him much today. If Tiger's brand hadn't been cast in gold, maybe it wouldn't have been so easy (or fun) to tarnish. Either way, people are stupid, stupid. Good god I'm glad it's Friday!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stupid But Cool.

I'll confess. It's becoming obvious that I am on a bit of a kick lately. Call it a chip on my shoulder. Call it an awakening of sorts. Call it restless and maybe a touch of the winter blues. But I'm finding that when I sit down to craft my latest prose for this blog, I'm compelled to try and reach through my monitor and touch the person on the other side. Not just because I'm itching for a little more human interaction these long winter days, but because everything revolves about customer service. Business. Life. Politics. The economy. Even the Olympics.

I guess what I am trying to say is that people are people, stupid.

Which is something I've been mindful of lately - both online and in real life - but it's something that I'm struggling with, too. Nicole Eggert said it best during a late night Celebrity Fit Club last night (insomnia) when she held up a tabloid magazine and pointed to a photo of her that was more than unflattering. It was humiliating. It was a terrible picture that made her look like a monster but the fact is, she is pretty darn pretty. So it touched me when she fought not to cry when she said that she had come to expect this type of treatment from family members and people close to her, but now she was being hurt by people she didn't know and people that didn't know her. Which is a rather ironic statement if you examine exactly what upset her: the fact that we expect intimate interactions from people who know us and from people we know, but we are slammed to tears by reality when someone comments on our perceived persona, not our known imperfections...especially when it's someone we didn't invite into our circle of trust. What's the difference though, really? The key to examining this issue is in understanding that everything is about personal interactions. No matter how disconnected - or connected - we may think we are. We are still people who interact on personal levels. Might as well embrace it. What's so wrong about being personal, anyway?!?!  It's a people-driven economy, stupid.

Amber Naslund aka @AmberCadabra (also the Director of Community for Radian6 social media monitoring) recently vented similar feelings during a web teleconference promoting the upcoming SOBCon2010. It's a conference that will take place in Chicago and boasts itself as, "the think tank of the social web, where the best minds in the Internet space gather to present models, discuss insights, and determine best practices." And the great thing about AmberCadabra is her prolific ability to remain pragmatic in her approach to all things that have to do with using social media. Simply put, she seems to believe that it's not the's people who make and keep things from happening. I tend to agree with Amber even though I've never met her.
Chris Garrett, authority blogger on blogging and lots more says it too in one of his latest posts when he asks his own audience, "Do you dare put down the mask?" To which his respondents provide a litany of reasons why it's so important to be human first, then whatever else it is you are, next. Commenter Simon said, "Humans are cool, so keep being human." I agree with both Chris and Simon even though I've never met them either.

We are stupid, but we are cool. I can live with that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eat Your Words

Words can indeed leave a bitter taste in your mouth long after the sting of an insult starts to subside. Culinary or not, if the success of a business depends on making you hungry enough to purchase something that which is not meant to be consumed if one cares about their overall vitality, it comes down to a question of business ethics.

And if that's the case, it's no wonder that McDonald's has no qualms about posting a sign like this in it's downtown Chicago restaurants:

This is why I hate McDonald's food.

This is why I love Corner Bakery.

It's presonal brand marketing at it's finest. No need for words, Corner Bakery paints a picture of humanity and deliciousness whereas McDonald's doesn't seem to care to boast about the harshness of it's product or facilities. Or for that matter, it's assumed customers. But why does McDonald's still flourish then?

Corner Bakery invites you in with premium smells, consistent branding, customer condiment perks, free wi-fi, healthy ingredients, convenience boxed and bagged lunches and fresh coffee for less than a cup fo joe at McDonald's. It's what you come to expect from every Corner Bakery.

McDonald's is well, McDonald's.

In an economy where dining out is probably considered more of a luxury than a convenience for many - if not most - isn't it still common decency to invite people to pull up a chair, not remind them of how little importance they are to your overall success and happiness?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Which Came First: Emotions or Social Media

Consider this post a Part Two of my earlier post calling you stupid if you think that this economy is not people-driven. Last time I checked, only people wanted to take the driver's seat. Let alone had the ability to, though that's another question entirely. Maybe we are as simple as ferns would have us to believe.

In more news, here are a few more examples of stories that may make you more deeply consider whether we, as consumers, are drawn to social media efforts via technology (ease of use, marketing and direct advertising on social media platforms) or are we compelled to seek out social media connections because we are emotionally driven to do so? I'm at a point in my life where I question this very question. Sometimes it even keeps me up at night. What exactly am I looking for anyway?

Is it a simple matter of  "Which came first?" The chicken or the egg or a interactive donut? Here are a few sites to check out that will make you go, "hmmmmmm...."

1. Duh. Google Buzz tops my list of what I'm watching and here's why; I need to get organized. Finding the signal in all the noise, it promises...cutting through the clutter, it says...hmmmmm, we'll see.
2. Dunkin' Donuts wants you to create their next gem. Everybody loves doughnuts. Who wouldn't want to get involved in this marketing campaign?
3. Electronic Arts plans to bring Madden to Facebook. Are they looking for more fans or looking to satisfy fans who already use FB? And what does this say about the research that indicates that social gaming is improving our educational systems in the U.S.? And if this doesn't work, will Ali once again leave her job as a FB account rep and return to Jake?
4. Guess the Grammy's iPhone app. Very cute marketing game here for folks who wanted to get involved in the voting and interactivity of the ubiquitous iPhone, er, I mean Grammy's. We're all fans, it proclaims. Awwwww...

Here is a blog post on BNET, listed under the travel section that looks at how "HOT" social media may be and questions whether or not it's for everyone. It makes a good claim that perhaps it's not for an industry where key relationships are already established, but it also makes a good example of exactly how NOT to think of social media. The author asks, "Will this social media drive any aircraft, engine or part order?" similar to how I posed, "Can we prove without a doubt that our investment turned into sales and profit?"

All I can think to say to this is, people are people, stupid.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Super Bowl Hang-Over

Oh, how the belt tightens when we seem to need oxygen the most...

It's called the Super Bowl hang-over. It'll make you sweat. It'll leave you confused and irritated and searching for reasons why you succumbed to the pressure to participate in the first place. I'm not talking about an alcohol bend gone horribly bad. Or how for the next week or so belly's will hang over the beltline in an attempt to make up for the overloaded nachos we all consumed yesterday.

I'm talking about marketing and advertising budgets everywhere feeling the pain of squeezing accountability in a world where ROI is less measured and measurable and more scrutinized and criticized than ever before. Let's face it, most of us only have a certain amount of - shall we call it "love" in honor of Valentine's Day? yes, love it is - love to go around.

When we dole out that love, sweet Mother of God, we want to get something in return. Or perhaps we will no longer dole so freely...

Not entirely meaning to be ambiguous, I am still talking about marketing spend. Check out what others are saying or doing when it comes to marketing dollars, the Super Bowl and social media as we know it:

Pepsi Super Bowl: Then and Now

For those of us in the industry, we saw this train coming long ago, but thanks to early Pepsi reports detailing a derailment of their own annual Super Bowl marketing budget (approximately $20 million) from traditional TV to social media strategies, it's not a huge surprise to hear after the fact that many other businesses are now questioning television advertising amid the biggest ad weekend of the year. Reports are showing that advertisers are bummed about not only paying so much, but also getting so little. The Forrester Blog reported that growing skepticism is rampant and only expected to climb as more and more ad folks get more and more disenfranchised with television advertising.

I think the problem is that the same people who are getting upset are the same people who demand such empirical data tied so tightly to their marketing budgets in the first place.

This is what they say; "Can we prove without a doubt that our investment turned into sales and profit? Then let's do it!"

It's the same people that look at numbers and not emotions. They want spreadsheets and not consumer feedback. They want dollars and not people.


Don't they know, "It's a people driven economy, stupid?"

But let's not lose hope in this world so full of love. Some branding reports are showing that the TV ads and the marketing budgets spent to buy them are just a portion of the overall success of an ad campaign and they are trying to diligently put numbers to the equation of delivering ROI in a nontraditional sense. Time will tell if corporate America will be able to stomach such visceral phenomena in the data game, but it's worth following. Here is an article from BrandWeek that examines how consumers took social media into their own hands while watching the televised Super Bowl and spurned some serious viral growth into the online world from the televised message. Of course, it's difficult to measure how an ad does once it becomes only part of the online experience, but still a vital organ that keeps the beast alive.

So, the question is, can you predict when your marketing campaign will be enough to make the average consumer put down the plate of nachos and pick up their crackberry instead, forwarding all your hard work to all their good friends?

If you want to learn more about the Super Bowl Ad coverage, check out the AdWeek's microsite dedicated to the day's events here. If you want to check out my personal favorite use of marketing dollars and storytelling for halftime enjoyment, click here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Bailout-sized Bonus and a Beer, Please

I'm not a huge fan of math. I'm more of a word girl myself. But it's Friday so I'm feeling a little adventurous.

Let's see. There was $700 billion dollars for a bailout in 2008. Another $787 billion economic stimulus package in winter 2009 and then again in summer, a $75 billion dollar foreclosure prevention program.

Enter Lloyd C. Blankfein.

I'm not here to imply that this little troll of a turd has an unethical character or that he is often seen making funny faces or that he makes more money than God. I'm just saying that he once proclaimed that he was "doing God's work." 

Which is a rather pukey statement overall, but even more contemptuous considering that Lloyd Blankfein is the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, replacing Henry Paulson, who left to become treasury secretary in the Bush administration in 2006. Presiding over one of the richest financial enterprises in history, Blankfein, who started his successful financial services career as a gold salesman, is in the news now because we are all SO ANXIOUSLY awaiting word on just what his own bonus will be this year...

In 2007, Blankfein took home a $68 million payout. Then, in an attempt to appear more ethical and less greedy, Goldman Sachs announced in December 2009 that its top executives, including Mr. Blankfein, would forgo cash bonuses and instead get paid with special stock (that turns out to be enormously lucrative,
reported the New York Times, to the tune of up to almost $100 million.)

Which leads me to the crux of my little story on the power of words. You see, Blankfein's spokesperson, Lucas Van Praag, regularly tackles media relations with ferver and spite and not so much tender loving care. In a recent rebuttal to the day's wonder of whether or not Goldman will indeed award Blankfein with a $100 million special stock payday, this is what Van Praag issued as a press statement,
"There’s speculation, and there is stupidity. This speculation transcends the simply stupid and takes it to an entirely new credibility to tittle-tattle is pretty shoddy journalism"

Back to math...2007, 2009...what happened to 2008? Oh, that was the year that Henry Paulson (ex-Goldman Sach exec who gave his job to Blankfein) announced that Goldman, which converted from the largest U.S. securities firm into a bank holding company in September, was one of nine U.S. banks that received a total of $125 billion under a government-funded rescue plan for the financial industry. In a telephone interview, Van Praag said,``They believe it's the right thing to do.We can't ignore the fact that we are part of an industry that's directly associated with the ongoing economic distress.''

Really Lucas? You can't ignore that? Either can we. 
Just how does the average consumer cope with all this nonsense? This shoddy journalism...these fuzzy number math games...this horrible economy...these strange leaders of leading organizations and do we muster up enough courage to continue trekking forward through all this muck? By drinking more! Drinking more and paying less, actually. Back to a numbers game, this one is a little easier to understand and a lot less difficult to swallow. Sales indicate folks are buying less alcohol at restaurants and spending more at stores for their weekly glass of fugettaboutit. And the cheaper, family-friendly versions are slowly replacing the higher, more expensive brands. Because not everyone gets a bonus the size of a bailout.

"WHAT? No bonus? That's crazy talk..."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Together We Can Do Anything

Dear Google,

Why are you so great?

You always seem to rank high on lists that people pay attention to.
Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For recognized Google in the top four. Google was placed among the top 100 of the World's Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere. Google's global growth was in the spotlight in 2003 and continues to make headline news almost daily; from successfully archiving the New York Times to cover stories about the injustice behind not winning the person of the year.

Maybe it's because you make your pizza crusts with organic flour that makes Googlers and onlookers alike want to work for you.

Maybe it's because you reward innovation by granting research awards because you know you have to spend money to make money.

Maybe it's because you are a site we simply can't live without.

Maybe it's because your office settings are set up like campus retreats where "fast-paced, stressful yet exhilerating work environments" equal super employee retention numbers and explosive passions for projects that most stuffy corporations brag about in their mission statements but fall flat at the implementation stage.

Maybe it's your interesting approach to blending business objectives with humanitarian efforts in an effort to really explore how it's such a small, small world after all.

I think it's a combination of everything that makes it so easy to think that anything is possible. But I also think it's the desire - not simply the ability - to place a cherry on top that makes you the most "Googilicious" of them this right adorable is this idea? Asking a kid to imagine what they would do if they could do anything is the type of question that makes anyone wonder. And that's a key ingredient to innovation that again, many corporations fail to acknowledge. Wonder is indeed a wonderful idea, no matter how many years you have behind you or in front of you.

What the world needs now may indeed be love sweet love, but a little inspiration certainly goes a long, long way...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday's Trending Topics

As Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more treacherous weeks of depression for the majority of the midwest dwellers, it's hard not to dwell on the fact that this weather really gets you down. Little sunshine, loads of snow and cold and icy yuckines packed with the frosty punch of brittle wind that chips, chips, chips away at your face, fingers and soul.

It's brutal out there.

For as many times as I prepare a cup of hot chocolate to accompany a good soft blanket and a better book to read on the couch, I also tie up my running shoes and hit the gym. On days where I can go outside without my eyes automatically tearing up in response to the biting chill, I grab the dog and off we go. Either strategy works for me, on most levels, on most days. But then there are those days that nothing works. So I'm learning to embrace it.

I'm hunkering down with the laptop, checking out all the days' funky and fresh and to be truthful, quite disturbing news. Somehow at the end of it all, I feel better about myself. Here...try it...

For starters, check out some of the bluest eyes in the entertainment industry. It's not really news, but you know what they say about looking into someone's eyes and seeing their soul...

In another story of pleading eyes and wrenching hearts, have you been following the human trafficking case out of Haiti these days? Disturbing to say the least, it's a tale of 10 jailed Americans awaiting fate in Haiti as the Church members are accused of trying to take children out of country. Not to make light of the terrible events, but take a look at the before and after photos below. It's amazing what a little public relations does to pull even more emotion out of an already emotionally overloaded situation.

And finally, probably the biggest and best news of the day...or week, all the news will cease to exist come this Sunday afternoon. Superbowl, folks. I'm talking about the Superbowl. Click here to go to an interactive video that lets you cast your vote for either the Indianapolis Colts or the New Orleans Saints. Click here to go to a story about how the best branding practices can sometimes lead to poor sales, as the NFL sent out cease-and-desist letters to Louisiana t-shirt makers in anticipation of game day sales of non-licensed wears. A shop owner says it's basically the best thing that's happened to her sales since she's owned the shop. Either way, the players, the shoppers and all the other types of consumers alike will play in Miami this weekend...where it's sunny and warm and welcoming and virtually no one can complain about Seasonal Affective Disorder.