How Popularity Ends

Popular things can begin to grate on you. Sometimes you wonder when people are going to stop sharing or talking about X item. The good news for the terminally bored is that popularity can and often does end.

The bad news is popular brands and personalities may not like that. Of course, something else will become popular and we can all suffer through the trivial presence of and conversation about new popular thing Y. A select few popular brands will be smart enough to evolve and maintain their popularity.

I was thinking of this in relation to a recent article Richard Becker wrote about social networks losing some of their shine with corporate marketers and PR pros. This popular trend may be losing its shine because of the way social media-based corporate promotion is “supposed to work” versus the very nature of marketing. Rich had a good counterpoint about social networks over-conditioning people to act in certain ways. And he is correct, the like-fest is not delivering the same marketing experience as promised.

The conversation sparked some additional thoughts on what ends popularity, in general. Here are some causes:

1) Reality Sets In

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When a popular trend or fad hits, it often brings a promise. Bell bottom jeans thin your profile, that is until everyone starts wearing them and there is enough of a sample out there to immediately recognize the thin and the thick.

Or say you have a baby boy, and you decide to name him something that ends with an “n.” You like the sound, and want him to have a unique name. That is until everyone does it and the novelty wears off as soon as your kid gets to school and half the boys in the room are named Colin, Maven, Chillin’ and Whateverin’.

By the way, please don’t name your daughter Soleil. Thank you!

In all seriousness, I think this is the case with social networking-based marketing. Rich made this point pretty well in his post: The medium’s true nature may not lend itself to marketing, or the way communicators are being conditioned to market by both the networks themselves as well as industry thought leaders.

The hit or miss nature of many of these tactics creates a need for the analytical revolution of now. Big and small, company’s are tired of the latest gimmick (You need blogs. No, try Facebook and Twitter pages! Wait, it’s content! Now, it’s Facebook ads. Hold on, it’s Instagram for Business!). Experimentation remains the rule, but community activation and interest is an empirical must.

2) Boredom

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Let’s be honest, over-exposure makes popular things boring! I love chocolate mousse. But if I ate chocolate mousse every day I’d get sick of it pretty quickly. Particularly, if it was my own or my wife’s chocolate mousse.

This phenomena is what my friends at Power Supply like to call single source provider. When the same person cooks your meals over and over again, your palate gets bored. Your poor spouse’s cooking is probably better than you think, you are suffering from eating the same thing cooked by the same person over and over again.

Ever listen to top 40 radio? I do now thanks to Soleil (remember, you cannot name your daughter Soleil). I’ll admit it, I kind of like the recent Taylor Swift songs that came out, until I heard them a few hundred times. Now I am bored. I am also severely bored with songs that have sampled deep male bass voices rhythmically chanting “Hey.” Sorry, Maroon5 you were late to this game (love the 5 by the way).

Sooner or later something new comes along, a new innovation or just a different jingle. How does a brand survive? It continues to innovate. You may be tired of iPhones, but you have to admit Apple does keep evolving the product. Every time it release a new iPhone, people get excited. Brands like Apple, BMW, Coke and others possess longevity grounded in commitments to evolve, whether in product or in marketing.

This may be Faceboook’s primary problem right now. No matter how much Zuck and co innovate, they cannot improve the Like, nor can they make it more attractive.

3) Stop Evolving

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The other aspect of ending popularity deals with the behavior of the popular themselves. Perhaps they take their popularity for granted. They believe in their own myth, and then their behavior betrays their ego. There is no greater example of this than Lance Armstrong.

I would also argue that Blackberry lost its market position in spite of clear warning signs and competition. It believed its market form and IOS were superior, and did not respond to the challenges in time.

Or in some cases a personality or brand chooses different priorities, and simply stops taking the actions that maintain popularity. Have you ever seen a popular personality simply retire or retreat to focus on other things such as family matters? David Bowie literally disappeared for a decade to focus on raising his children.

In that vein, some brands choose not to extend themselves into other markets and form factors. They don’t innovate, and just remain true to their basic promise. However, the novelty of the item wears out.

I think Lincoln Logs are a classic example. You won’t see a Lincoln Logs movie anytime soon, nor will you see a Star Wars edition. Nor will you see a Madagascar edition with African animals. It doesn’t mean that Lincoln Logs aren’t a good toy. They are still awesome, but they lack the popularity of a brand like Lego which has expanded its toys and its marketing to meet the culture of now.

Whatever the cause, brands and people stop the actions that created their popularity. So they lose it.

What do you think about popularity and how it ends?

When the Wrong Mouth Speaks

Remember when social media meant talking with people online? Then when businesses began catching on, the early days of social media marketing revolved around relationship building via grassroots communications or word of mouth marketing. Well, a lot has changed since the mid 2000s. These days the wrong mouth is speaking way too much.

We have a problem, Houston. Marketers just want to broadcast, produce content, and position themselves as influencers in their business. But real interaction seems to escape most companies.

Talking with people connotates two or more people communicating in a dialog. But in today’s most common approach to social media marketing, brands deploy content to spark engagement. Now, while this tactic could be a great conversation starter, most brands deploy content becomes a vehicle to position one’s brand or self as excellent.

This is fine to some extent. Afterall, positioning and branding are worthy business outcomes.

The online medium demands more.

Consider going to a dinner party. Say your host is extremely well known. What would you think of that host if they prattled off the whole time and talked over every single guest?

You’d probably think they are a terrible bore.

Then there are the always publishing inbound marketers. These content creators have become lazy and are focused on a singular outcome: Inbound leads. Content, while certainly a powerful tool to aid nurturing, has a higher purpose in my mind, which is to serve stakeholders, start conversations, and ignite word of mouth.

The mouth you want speaking is that of the other person(s) at the party, not just the host. Even that is generous. Most marketers are not the hosts, rather they intrude with the rare exception of opt-in followers.

Inbound versus WOMM

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Word of mouth marketing (WOMM) revolves around the premise of other people talking about you. Success in this aspect of marketing, means that stakeholders talk more about the brand than corporate communications does. WOMM triggers a combination of media and community (on and offline) commentary about a brand and its offerings.

I think smart marketers — inbound, PR, email — all get this. Yet, today’s tactical discussions revolve around content for content’s sake. Is it any wonder that we have content shock conversations occuring?

Every study that comes out on trust always shows that earned media produces a stronger brand impact. That’s why companies who are looking to build awareness and use branded content as their primary means of promotion (sorry about that Facebook business page, folks) may face serious challenges with customers.

Inneffective tactic selection may have deeper impact than brand awareness. Branded content delivers less sales lift than earned media, says Digiday. Their commentary is based on a Nielson study (pictured below).

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Digiday goes on to say expert content fairs 88% better than branded content, and 50% better than user-generated content for “lift” or influence on sale. So people trust media more than they trust their peers, which in turn they trust more than brands. Brands come in last.

A Marketing Strategist Uses Tools within an Ecosystem

I have some doubts about the Nielsen study, but I agree with branded content taking last place on trust. Sure you can point to individual content marketing successes where customers go crazy, from Coke to the ever present Red Bull.

Exceptional case studies don’t constitute the mean performance. They only provide hope to those that aren’t there yet. Yet many marketers don’t see the incredible amounts of research (e.g. listening and studying) that top brands invested in serving customers with the right content, which in turn creates fantastic word of mouth.

Their content is useful. It fits within larger ecosystem of serving stakeholders with value that meets a brand promise.

One of the reasons I like Edelman’s approach to trust is the firm’s understanding of stakeholder ecosystems. Look at this chart.

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You can see all the ways a business touches people, and how it needs to communicate to build trust. You can argue the fine points, but I do think the chart captures the need for a business to look at its approach. A business operates in the customer’s ecosystem.

Never in the chart do you see the words “produces content” even though Edelmnan is a leader in native advertising and content production. That’s because content is a tool. It helps brands to engage. Content lets a company serve its stakeholders. For some brands — like those top performers — content becomes a product in its own right meant to please customers.

An approach like this helps brands create WOMM, third party validation of its efforts, and yes, referrals. The marketing strategist uses content and other tactics like customer service, direct interation, product marketing, media relations, speaking, etc. etc. to achieve an ideal state of building brand, generating leads and retaining customers.

When content is the alpha and omega of marketing, you end up with one mouth talking. It’s the wrong mouth from a strategic perspective. As a result, alone as the primary marketing tactic it fails to achieve large stakeholder and brand needs.

What do you think?

Featured image by D4Dee.

Who Cares More, Coke or Pepsi?

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Image by Orin Zebest

Much has been said about Pepsi’s falling market share and its social media driven Refresh cause marketing effort. Extremists have dubbed Pepsi Refresh as the iconic symbol of failure for social media as a marketing mechanism. Like many conversations about social media, this view is too simplistic. It fails to acknowledge several key issues, including product weaknesses, the fact that PR and advertising were well integrated into the effort, and the debatable use of cause marketing as the primary thrust behind Refresh. Meanwhile primary competitor Coca Cola continues to widen the gap with its marketing and quieter CSR initiatives.

The lack of a tangible theory of change, the over-focus on PR 2.0 participation metrics, and generally a failure to report the results of its community investments, lead one to question the authenticity of Pepsi Refresh. The market has been repeatedly told about the great marketing successes, and in context, there’s a notable under-emphasis on the social good results from Pepsi. On the cause side, nonprofits who have won grants have grumbled about the lack of post-award support from Pepsi.

Because Pepsi Refresh did not have a tangible theory of change, a measurable approach towards social good, one can conclude that these outcomes are natural. They also show a lack of understanding about corporate social responsibility, authenticity and social media. In short, now that the fanfare is over, what good did the company achieve, and how do people feel about their participation in the campaign since the primary reported result is that they posted about Pepsi Refresh?

Social good campaigns only work when people feel the company genuinely cares, and when social media is used that participants feel their contributions have had a societal impact. Pepsi has not successfully communicated either outcome. On the contrary, Pepsi’s approach to reporting Refresh results have been short sighted and undermined some of the good will built with community investments.

In fact, when closely examining Refresh’s “social good” and market leader Coca-Cola’s CSR efforts, one cannot help but question which soda company really cares more? Coke has taken incredible strides in water stewardship, and while it doesn’t market this activity, it actively communicates its strategy to resolve an issue that its products directly impact. It works with environmental partners, and reports back on lessons learned.

Let’s be clear, from a holistic standpoint, Coke’s CSR efforts are not ideal and leave a lot to be desired. They don’t even use many of these efforts to promote themselves, but at least the company works towards tangible end goals. There’s an authenticity to Coke’s efforts that one does not get from Refresh.

In considering corporate social good it seems that quiet authenticity is more effective than fanfare in the long term. The hare loses to the tortoise. The primary reason why is not the method, but the intent and purpose of waging social good. Who do you think cares more, Coke or Pepsi?