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


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).


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.


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.

The Inevitable Downfall of Native Advertising

I’d like to offer a word of caution for those who may be over-excited about native advertising. Native advertising works for a couple of reasons; audiences aren’t used to embedded corporate content, and these media forms are somewhat deceptive, and don’t appear as sponsored.

Those two factors create a bubble that will surely burst once readers and viewers get tricked enough times.

Just this past Monday a friend complained about a Buzzfeed article focusing on entertainment ideas that happneed to be sponsored by a potato chip company. The problem with the article its lack of disclosure, and every suggestion was followed by a push for X-brand chips.

I recently saw both SocialMedia.org CEO Andy Sernovitz and Edelman EVP Steve Rubel discuss the conundrums of native advertising. At both events, Andy and Steve discussed how important it was to clearly disclose paid sponsorship of any media promptly. Andy noted that many forms of native advertising are in violation of the FTC’s disclosure rules, and then coached attendees on best practices.

I’m not sure that’s going to happen without significant consequence. Though the FTC acts periodically, real impact will come in the form of decreasing results. This is inevitable as more and more consumers distrust content featuring brands, and the mastheads and social networks that publish questionable content.

The decline is already happening. Last year a study showed that most people view brands who engage in native advertising more negatively or not at all. I wonder how people feel now that we are almost done with 2013, and they have become more familiar with embedded promotions.

Like all advertising methods, a two percent yield will likely be enough to keep native promotions viable, but at the same time let’s not get crazy here.

As more brands move to blend content with ads, the impact will match every other tactic that becomes widely practiced by marketers. We can expect less consumer trust, lower yields, and a need for higher levels of quality to achieve success. Worse, rather than raising the tide of the overall marketing program, native advertising will negatively impact trust across all forms of digital advertisements.

Moving forward, contextual media will force media outlets and advertisers to get even more creative with their efforts to get in front of consumers. Intrusions will not be tolerated as openly as they are now. Perhaps the open sponsorship models of the 50s will take hold as brands pay to make relevant information available in exchange for a brief update. Who knows?

What do you think? Are we heading for a decline in native advertising success?

Featured image by the Altimeter Group.

We First’s @simonmainwaring on Cause Marketing

Simon Mainwaring

I first met Simon Mainwaring in Boston in September, 2011 when we shared a keynote on best cause marketing practices (thank you, Katya). Ever since then, I have admired Simon’s unwavering commitment to change the world through cause marketing.

His bestselling book We First is a must read for anyone who believes that businesses play a role in their larger community. I wanted to check in with Simon, and see how the We First project was coming along. Here’s what he had to say‚Ķ

GL: How has We First been embraced by the business community?

SM:Outright the business community has been very kind and open towards We First, welcoming both the book and its message. That said, the purpose of We First is to contribute towards substantive change through which the private sector tempers excesses that compromise the lives of others and does more to contribute towards positive social change.

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What Comes First, Multichannel Integration or Social Business?

FUTURISTIC HOUSE by Architect Ephraim Henry Pavie
Image by ephy1

Most of the online hype about organizational social media adoption revolves around the “social business” craze. In my conversations, most businesses say they’re grappling with the multichannel integration into marketing. It begs the question, “What will come first, the full integration of social media into the marketing wheelhouse or the widespread rise of socially-enabled enterprises?”

Last January, we debated whether social business was BS or reality. It’s a good question, and one that’s still not fully answered in my mind.

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People Keep Fighting Power with Social Media

Pink Frangipani Blossoms

The first chapter of Welcome to the Fifth Estate discusses social media empowered people that act independently of traditional media, government and corporate structures. Last Saturday night on WOR Radio’s The Business of Giving show I had the pleasure of discussing this tension with host Denver Frederick. From Syrian bloggers fighting the Assad regime to the anti-Komen Planned Parenthood social media fury in the United States, people continue to fight power structures with social media.

Average citizens feel a need to circumvent established media as well as traditional government and corporate structures with online tools. Their information needs are unfulfilled and voices are not being heard. So people activate themselves online to demand change and action, or to form new innovative ways of resolving their problems.

The Syrian Revolution

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Madison Avenue Strikes Back

Ad Agencies in New York City

When an industry is operating in a hype bubble, it creates statements like this one: “Silicon Valley Will Be the Next Madison Avenue.” While claiming that Facebook social ads are the coolest property out there, one forgets who buys the ads. Media, algorithms and tools are not agencies, nor do they replace marketing skills; they are just products that make Madison Avenue better. Meanwhile, Madison Avenue is adapting and thriving.

For some reason, technologists want to replicate the David vs. Goliath myth towards Madison Avenue. They believe small groups of people armed with tools are going to replace big agencies, when in reality big agencies just buy the tools. Tools don’t replace marketing or communications. They just enhance them.

Applied, small groups of people with more advanced tools can do a better job of competing with big agencies, for sure. But ultimately they can’t scale. Large corporations rarely trust small agencies to handle all of their marketing and PR. Instead they trust their large agency partners to partner, hire and find the talent they need to successfully navigate new environments.

A recent BusinessWeek article titled “Don Draper’s Revenge” nailed the current communications marketplace on the head. “‘All these little companies with fun names,’ says David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer of Omnicom’s (OMC) BBDO North America ‘we’ve kicked their butts.'”

How did the big conglomerates kick all of these little agency and technologist butts? They acquired agencies, hired solo practitioners (and adjusted their cultures to empower them), and bought the tools. Consider the fantastic teams being built at Edelman Digital, Porter Novelli, the emerging Dachis Group (now a big agency acquisition target), etc., etc. Work? How about Pepsi Refresh (Weber Shandwick) or Old Spice (Wieden + Kennedy), just to name two campaigns from 2010.

The same thing happened in the 90s when public relations was making inroads on advertising. Ever hear of Ogilvy PR?

Another parallel can found with the blogosphere. Five years ago, individual voices were supposed to beat out the media conglomerates. Now when you look at Technorati’s Top 100 blogs, major media blogs, blog mastheads that have been acquired by media conglomerates, or properties under the flag of new media conglomerates like Gawker dominate the list. Rare is the individual voice.

Advertising as an industry finds itself in the crossroads of digitalization. With online ad spends surpassing TV buys, it’s no wonder figuring out the marketplace leaves many professionals confused and stymied reading the tea leaves.

Big agencies aren’t going away, and online still only represents 35% of ads bought. Meanwhile, agencies adapt and get stronger by acquiring, well, Silicon Valley tools and the people that know how to use them. Until one of the big agencies moves its headquarters to Silicon Valley, look at such audacious statements as insider puffery in the midst of a bubble.