Building Brands With Small Talk

Back in the day, brand building fell under the province of big television production. You cast some people whose face held light particularly well, spent a few weeks shooting the golden hours of dawn and dusk, then set them all into motion around an inspirational, major-chord track that built to a stirring conclusion. The client beamed, viewers nodded and everyone felt good.

The only issue around that kind of branding was ROI. Did it really work? Did positive feelings really mean that much to brand health, especially given the cost?

Often, the answer was yes. Big companies with global issues need people to feel positively about their presence and initiatives. Public opinion sways policy and markets.

But those kinds of messages rarely translated to say, a stick of gum or a box of cereal. That’s where today’s social media can step in: modern PR that starts online conversations and dialogue is the logical evolution of old-style brand building. Today’s social creates positive opinions around brands through direct engagement and charm.

In many ways, it is closely akin to cocktail party chatter. It’s always nice to meet someone who is easy to talk to, who has interesting things to say and draws you into the conversation.

Dennis Ryan, Olson, Advertising

Those same principles apply to social brand building: it’s less about getting you to try a yogurt right now and more about building positive inclinations to the brand that will drive sales and insure good feelings down the road. The party ends and you walk away with a favorable impression.

Of course, not everyone is skilled at this kind of thing, at keeping things light and airy and shared. Too often, immediate brand needs supercede respecting the proper tenor of the forum. That leads to, well, social awkwardness. Which is pretty much the opposite of social brand building.


By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Olson

Debating the Rules for Brands in Social Media

In the latest issue of Advertising Age, the memorably-monikered Taddy Hall lays out Ten Essential Rules for Brands in Social Media.  Given the conflicting viewpoints regarding leveraging these platforms, these types of lists now clog every marketing outlet.  As someone clever once noted “Where there’s confusion, there’s money to be made” and advocates from all sides have leapt into the fray looking to profit.  But as the former chief strategy officer for the Advertising Research Foundation, Mr. Hall is no self-proclaimed spittle-lipped social media expert.  Instead, he drew data from hundreds of brand clients of his company Meteor Solutions to generate this shortlist of actionable insights based in proven fact.

Two of his essential rules really stand out as emblematic of the fundamental mindshift necessary for incorporating social media into marketing.  First is what he calls “The 1% Rule” where a tiny fraction of site visitors drive the lion’s share of total site traffic.  In case after case, his data demonstrates the power of heavy influencers to drive web behavior.  Importantly, that behavior goes beyond simply increasing site traffic to include a higher share of conversion.  For marketers, this means it is critical to identify, engage and reward ‘super-influentials’ when working in social media.  Historically, identifying and enlisting influencers on behalf of brands has been the province of PR.  Now that social media has grown so mainstream, that discipline must converge with general marketing if we want to effectively integrate our efforts.

The second is his “New Media/New Pipes” rule which shows that what consumers say about your brand means far more than what marketers say.  This is more quantified proof of the power of word of mouth and the need for a radical rethinking of how we present messages to the market.  More than anything, it means we must find more and better ways to cede control to consumers.

That’s hard.  Anyone with more than a few years of marketing experience has been steeped in the need to resist even looking at ideas from consumers for fear of legal exposure: brands must be managed, communication must be one way.  Except that today they aren’t, whether we like it or not.  Social media provide a mass channel for opinion.  More critically, that opinion can have more sales impact than our messages alone.  Content spread from consumer to consumer drives purchase intent far more powerfully than content directly from brands.  As an example, Mr. Hall says that brand content posted on a Facebook fan page has far less impact than the same content posted to an influential individual’s page.

The rest of his list makes for very worthwhile reading as well.  So much misinformation and conjecture fills the debate over social media; having guidelines culled from data, not mere experience, make this list actually worth reading.  Thank you for that Taddy.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Anyone Wanna Talk about the iPad? Anyone?

If you watched the news during the late 80’s, perhaps you too wondered “Just when did pitbulls stop biting people?”  We seemed to go through a couple of months there when pitbulls were biting everything: tearing through titanium, ripping children out of nurseries and basically behaving like canine Nazis.

Then, as quickly as the stories started, they stopped and we went on to other lasting things like acid washed jeans and Yahoo Serious.  The ugly truth was this ‘story’ was part of a coordinated PR effort to draw more attention to the American Humane Society.  Unfortunately, it resulted in character assassination for a notably courageous. loyal and yes, loving breed.

But that’s the nature of PR and trends: they burn hot and furious, then die to be replaced by a new flame.  And maybe that explains why it seems like no one is talking about the iPad anymore.  Two or three weeks ago, you couldn’t get away from the thing; every blog, news story, and tweet breathlessly reported some new aspect of this technology that was going to change the way we did, well, everything.

Eventually, cooler heads considered it and asked “1 GB of memory?”  “No camera?”  More damningly, despite Steve Jobs’ bluster about how “Flash sucks,” essentially all web video uses Flash, so without that capability, the iPad will be severely hampered as a web surfing tool.

Yes, someday it will create a viable new category between laptop and smart phone.  Maybe even a version or two from now.  But more likely, much like the Newton eventually begat the iPhone, the iPad will inevitably beget something people actually want for more than two weeks.

You know, something that becomes a brand, not just a Google trend.

In a world where opinion enjoys a mass channel, brands need word of mouth that’s not just positive, but sustainable.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

Exhibit #1030: The Convergence of Advertising and PR

Picture 2“Flyvertising.”

Never heard of it?  That makes sense, because as an ad medium, it is a ridiculous conceit.  According to this story on the website Adfreak, a German advertising agency promoted their publishing company at the Frankfurt Bookfair by letting loose a swarm of Fliegenbanner; small ad banners tied to the legs of house flies.  Apparently the client logo is a fly so it all makes sense…

Except it doesn’t.  It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Flies do not soar gracefully on even, steady flightpaths.  Moving, insect-sized banners are not legible to an audience.  And most people prefer their houseflies at the business end of a swatter.  Apparently at the event, the proportionally-massive banners quickly exhausted the little critters which in short order started dropping like, well, you know.  As communication, the whole thing was impractical, non-scalable, and just kind of gross.

In fact, the only way a stunt like this makes any sense at all is if people pick up on it, spreading the client’s name Eichborn to all sorts of places far beyond the Frankfort Bookfair.

Oh.  Huh.  Waitaminnit…

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

PR Now Sidestepping Traditional Media Relationships To Pitch Consumers Directly

Advertising Age published an interesting item the other day on the rising trend among PR firms to take a pass on pitching traditional media outlets and go directly to consumers with their messages.

A cynic might contend that publishing and media layoffs have cut the ranks so deeply that there simply aren’t enough journalists to pitch anymore, but the reality is that the widespread availability and low cost of  earned media outlets make it easier than ever to get marketing content out.  The proliferation of highly-engaged niche audiences online makes finding the appropriate audience simple.  Add these modern media realities to the democratization of production and the PR industry faces a new reality with its go-to-market strategy.  Low cost HD cameras and simple desktop editing put the power of video storytelling in most anyone’s hands, the web provides a ready outlet, and so we upend one more vestige of the one-way marketing model as PR firms create YouTube channels, send bloggers content and distribute relevant video to online communities.

Which brings up yet another convergence-based issue: do marketers need separate entities to handle marketing and public relations?   Does paid media require one set of experts and earned another?  In the absolute, perhaps, but in the workaday world, that’s becoming less and less viable, both economically and strategically.  If your advertising agency develops a strategic idea platform for consumers and the web provides direct access to those consumers, why would you need to employ a separate agency to connect the two?  That responsibility should reside with your agency people who hopefully, are already far more skilled than the average bear at generating compelling video content.

The challenge is to help agencies understand that their primary responsibilities now include direct-to-consumer PR.  Opinion has a mass channel and our messages must be in it.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79