Brand Communities, Recommendation, and Going To School On The Other Guy’s Putt

If two golfers reach the green around the same time, neither wants to putt first. That’s because it’s always instructive to watch the other player’s ball roll; it susses out hidden breaks and the speed of the green.

Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThat behavior is not unique to golf; shoppers look to learn from their peers as well. As part of their participation in the Consumer Electronics Show last week, PR giant Weber Shandwick released a study that found the greatest influence on electronics purchase decisions comes from consumer reviews, not professional ones. In fact, electronics buyers value consumer reviews over editorial reviews by a more than three to one margin. Perhaps more importantly, they found that on average, buyers checked eleven consumer reviews before committing to a purchase.

All of this merely confirms the power of recommendation. As Paul Rand, President of Omnicom word of mouth shop Zócalo Group, asserts quite regularly about buyers; “92% say that the recommendation of a friend, family member, colleague or expert is the single most powerful influencer of their purchase decision.”

So it only makes sense for marketers to leverage this phenomenon and encourage reviews. But sales are a competition so there’s always someone looking to bring performance enhancing drugs to the race. Last Summer, Forbes ran an article concerning authors who anonymously pen self-promoting book reviews, or worse, slams on the work of rival authors. Around the New Year, the Huffington Post ran a piece on view count inflation on YouTube music video counts and a subsequent adjustment in those numbers.

People innately seek the opinions of others they respect and trust. And well tended brand communities provide forums for sharing those opinions. Weber Shandwick’s  report even closes with suggestions on how marketers can protect their recommendations’ legitimacy so they stay effective. But as long as there is money involved, some dirtbag will try to Lance the system and scam some bucks.

Yet another reason why authenticity is such a valued commodity these days.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Sometimes The Web Throws The Voice of the Consumer

I love Frito Lay.  I’ve worked on their businesses at three out of my four agency career. And dag, nothing beats those Natural style Chee•Tos. But snacks are about mass appeal, about celebrating the common denominator of snacking and making everyone happy when you open a bag. Which is why the comments section of a recent item on the Huffington Post are so perfectly emblematic of dubious internet inputs.Dennis Ryan, Advertising, OlsonThe article discusses what admittedly, seems like an unholy half-breed: a Lay’s line extension in China featuring Pepsi-flavored Chicken seasoning. Yep, the lip-smacking taste of delicious cola and chicken, together at last in a snack chip.I don’t pretend to understand the prevailing palate in China, but I do know Frito Lay does their homework. That’s how I sampled ham flavored Ruffles in Spain and recoiled at smelling a bag of seaweed flavored Lays from Japan. So Pepsi-Chicken must represent some sort of Chinese market localization opportunity.  Still, in the pantheon of aggressively outré snack flavors, Pepsi-Chicken stands as a medal contender.

The truly fascinating part of this post was how many people weighed in purporting to love  exotic snack flavors: prawn, chicken and dressing, beef and horseradish, even SPAM. These comments represent the long tail of the net; the fringe that, given a voice and a platform, make their opinions known. Loudly. And while it makes for interesting reading, it doesn’t come close to accurately reflecting the broad tastes of a market, the widespread appeal required to build $100MM line extensions. Much like hipster ad people who scoff at boring Middle America with its profusion of Olive Gardens, niche opinions can seem mainstream on the web, mostly because more middle of the road people aren’t as quick (or as motivated) to share their opinion.When marketers follow these blind alleys, the world enjoys products like Canfield’s Diet Fudge. But usually only once or twice before the novelty wears off and it’s back to Pepsi.

The web and social media are great sources for cultural sentiment. But you must always get a second opinion.

Or you’ll get Pepsi Clear…


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Arianna Huffington: Canned Commentary at the CMA National Convention

Dennis Ryan, Olson, AdvertisingSo early on this wet Toronto morning, in one of the cavernous convention halls of the Westin Harbour Castle, the Canadian Marketing Association presented its opening speaker–Arianna Huffington.  We were all really looking forward to it–she’s very smart and one of the early and best drivers of new media since launching her very successful Huffington Post in 1995. Her keynote topic was “Where Is New Media Going?” and she spoke for nearly an hour but in all candor, the best part of her presentation was trying to place her remarkably non-specific accent. She is very likable, warming up the Canadian crowd with hockey jokes, but nothing was funnier than how she pronounced “Canucks”.  Somehow she made it three syllables long and worked a ‘y’ into the middle.

But despite her charm and obvious leadership position in the industry, her comments tread well trod ground: the key to everything is engagement, blogging and Wiki editing has taken off because self expression is the new entertainment. And trust is the new black, with a reference to the hysteria around Balloon Boy.

She added some facts: we send 140 million tweets and watch two million YouTube videos everyday, and every month, we spend a staggering 700 billion minutes on Facebook.

All true, but all rather familiar.  And from someone who introduced a whole new media platform based on curating the latest and best content, oddly ironic.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson