Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feeling Listless

December looms, the Month of Lists and prognostications. For example:

Five essential tips for traveling with your dog

Five vital components to succeed in business

Five things to consider when choosing an eating disorder cure

Conspiracy Theories: Top Five List

And there's a whole sub-genre just for social media:

Five ways social media will change journalism

5 Tips to Bring Out Your Inner Social Media “Kung Fu”

Five ways social media can save you money

5 Ways Social Media Marketing Can Help Your Business

5 stages of a blogger's life

5 Ways to become a Better Blogger

Keep in mind, this is just a recent sampling of the “Fives” -- Ten seems to be the preferred list length, Letterman-style. But whatever the length, the List Blog Post is getting very tired. In fact, if I were to list my Top 5 Things I Dislike about Social Media, Lists would be on the list. And solely in the interests of completeness, here's the other four items:

  1. Authenticity
    There's a lot of unnecessary punditry claiming a greater authenticity in social media; A belief that somehow bloggers, Twitterers and the rest are encouraged by the form to exercise greater veracity and to hove closer to the facts of thing. Apparently, it just doesn't do to overtly sell, blatantly misinform or pretend to be other than who you are. Why social media should change a long media tradition of peddling falsehoods eludes me. Not that I'm advocating this, mark you, just that I have a more realistic expectation of what people do. And indeed, are doing. Social media is no more authentic than any other medium – in fact, the form invites some invention and evasion. While it might be theoretically best to be authentic and open, the evidence suggests social media hasn't changed basic human nature much at all.

  2. unNews
    More is often less. There are 20 zillion bloggers and countless online news organizations, but there really isn't any more news in the world. Almost everything we read online is regurgitation, the retreading of actual news from other places. What social media has done is given everyone the right to express an opinion; A noble thing, but often confusing and sometimes an obfuscation to the facts of the news.

  3. Paradigm Shiftiness
    I'm tired of reading how social media is changing the known universe, reinventing marketing and altogether turning our world upside down. The shifty characters peddling paradigm shifts have some well-argued points to make, and there's no question that the media landscape has forever changed. It's also true that many of these experts stand to make money if we all buy into their paradigminess.

  4. Polarizing Bears
    When Sarah Palin talks about her Momma Grizzly Bears, she could more accurately be referring to Polarizing Bears. Especially in political circles, social media has become hostage to extremes. Instead of encouraging dialogue it encourages division. It has become the home of the zealot and the fringe.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Barcelona Declaration

Copyright: Diesel
When you're in the business of buzz it's very easy to get an enlarged sense of self. Marketing and PR types are professionally prone to ego-inflation; it just comes with the territory.

This came to mind when I heard about the recent Barcelona Declaration, an initiative from the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) and others that attempts to provide standards for public relations measurement. What initially stuck me wasn't the ideas presented but the name chosen, with its evocation of a great place and a hardly accidental allusion to other great places and monumental ideas: Yalta, Camp David, Reykjavik. It sniffed of self importance and grandiosity. It made me think of Churchill chomping cigars and dividing up nation-states, not dudes in suits thinking of clever ways to find the value in a press release.

Well, its clear from the IPR's introduction to the Declaration principles that I have this wrong. If anything, these guys are underselling. See if this doesn't quash your expectations:

The [Declaration] language may not yet be perfect - and on the surface, some of the principles may seem obvious - but this is a credible attempt by some 200 people from more than a dozen countries to address the need for clear standards and common approaches to measuring and evaluating public relations results.

Let me first agree that most of the principles are indeed obvious, but this doesn't mean that they're not valuable. We might all agree that goal setting and measurement are important, or that measuring both quantity and quality is critical to good measurement. Hardly the partitioning of Berlin, but it needs to be said.

Later principles talk about outcomes-over-activity and the need to link PR (and marketing) to business outcomes. This is where the Declaration gets serious and meaningful.

My question is, why now? The answer, I suspect, is because now we can. The advent of online technologies, social media and advanced CRM systems make finding the complex equations that link activities to business success (sales, in my world) possible. Traditionally, a lot of marketing value was linked to ideas of awareness and familiarity, but rarely beyond that. Today, we can see how marketing campaigns play a role audience actions. And this means measurement becomes critical.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Is it really time to bury the marketing funnel?

Last week, Forrester's Steve Noble wrote an excellent blog who's title pretty much says it all: It's time to bury the marketing funnel. In marketing circles this is the rough equivalent of John Boehner telling Congress that, come to think about it, tax hikes just make a whole lot of sense. The Funnel is a matter of marketing doctrine and woe betide anyone who says otherwise.

Lest we've forgotten, The Funnel is the way marketing tracks raw awareness and the subsequent conversion to consideration and eventual sale. Critically, The Funnel serves as a way of tracking leads and provides a handover to sales. It is also the usual way for marketing to justify value to the business: Various metrics around opportunity value are common and give a gage of the net return campaigns generate. Sales management tools all use some variant on The Funnel as a way to instill discipline and process around marketing and sales. The Funnel has been around for eons almost unchanged. It works well, by and large.

So why change things? Why muck around with success?

Noble has some good arguments: Customers exist in a lifecycle; marketing isn't a conveyor belt process; the model ignores complexity; it's really geared toward a volume sales model. All true. And Noble proposes a new model that is indeed a lifecyle. I like his proposal but I'm still reluctant to leave The Funnel behind... Here's why.

First, I think there was always an acknowledgment that the classic Funnel was a simplification. Real life is convoluted and nonlinear and irrational. Customers don't behave is a fixed pattern. We all tend to behave differently in high and low involvement purchasing situations, we're fickle and have changing attitudes and desires. We suffer from buyer remorse. But these complexities have been known for a long time and arguably one of the benefits of The Funnel is it irons all this complexity out, and provides a neatened way to track meaningful outcomes.

Second, things definitely have changed in marketing - customer behavior may have changed. For sure, that behavior is more transparent and measurable in our always-online world, which also draws attention to certain attributes of prospects and customers that may have been hidden in the past. I definitely agree that this new insight should be used to inform marketing better, but does this mean we flush The Funnel?

All this said, Noble's right to focus on the marketing model. Marketing is undergoing a noisy revolution, provoked by technology, changing consumer behavior, and a renewed interest in refining processes to more accurate reflect our complex world. Getting the model right will inform everything else: process, programs and metrics.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Secrets and Lies

It's no secret that there's no secrets anymore. We all live untidy online lives and leave behind a trail – little pieces of information, small actions, and fragmented facts – that others can too easily follow to reconstruct a whole picture of Who, What and Where.

Secrets come in many flavors. Google's Eric Schmidt boasts about his company's ability to identify our predilections, better to serve content and advertising. An amazing 5% of the US population was a victim of identity theft in 2009, accounting for $54 billion in fraud. Popular computer repair outfit The Geek Squad have become the new best friend of the Feds, discovering and reporting illicit content on computer hard-drives.

The newest fertile ground for uncovering our secret selves is social media. Technorati calls social media a “playground” for ID thieves. A friend who advises High School kids on how to stay out of trouble has one big admonishment: if you think it's risky, don't photograph it, don't post it, don't IM it. Everything is evidence. Loose lips used to sink ships; now they sink careers, reputations, and lives.

Social media have long been active in this newly capitalized muckracking. Twitter, Facebook and the rest need to make money, and this means that they need to infiltrate our online identities, and use or sell the information they gather. This can be as innocent as matching anonymous demographic information to placed advertising, or as nefarious as data mining exquisite details about our finances and friends.

And now, social media metrics tools are being put to the same end, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Journal reports that Nielsen and its social media business BuzzMetrics opened an account at PatientsLikeMe, then began to siphon off information about participants on discussion groups. So, even if social media sites themselves provide safeguards or permission barriers around your personal information, monitoring and measurement tools can still scrape data about you.

It may be too easy to find our secrets, but it is often impossible to isolate the truth of things. In this month's Atlantic magazine, Michael Hirschorn reports on how online discourse allows all sides to invent their own set of facts, and that this has pernicious consequences. Twelve percent of Americans believe their president is a Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center. An amazing 41 percent of Republicans believe Obama was foreign-born, which if true would make him ineligible to be president. Opinion has always blurred facts, but increasingly it's impossible to take anything on face value – even so-called news.

In an old post I'd borrowed the old joke, “on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog” to illustrate how easy it is to mask reality online, and how vital it is to establish authenticity and source credibility. This is true, but things are also more complicated: It's hard to reconcile that our personal identities – the facts of who we are- are being strip mined, yet at another level it's all too easy to propagate patent lies.

There is so much information today, and who controls it matters.