Why is it that we as an industry wants brands to become people and people to become brands? This manifests itself with a corporate brand online talking like a human being, but without identifying the people behind the communications. It seems like a disaster waiting to happen. When brands act like people — cursing, drinking, or making bad jokes — we pounce on them. We’re mortified for they have betrayed the behavioral norms that we expect of trusted brands.
To think that people, um, that is brands would do such things. The outrage is a result of expectations that supersede the human condition. Brands that act like people inevitably stumble.
Of course, asking people to act like brands only creates the opposite issue. Fake, shiny plastic people. Yay! But let’s not get mired in the ills of personal branding (which apparently is something our European counterparts like to make fun of when discussing American social media).
The problem with the personality conundrum is that transposing roles fails. The reality is that a brand is created by humans for humans. The brand fulfills a means to interact for a promised purpose (in theory) between people within the branded entity, and other people in or outside the organization. It is a very narrow type of communication limited to the business of the brand.
Why confuse the issue in the name of social media? There’s an old saying that half measures avail us nothing. In trying to be human, brands want to add personality to their brand palette, but in reality brands are just marketing vehicles, not people.
Personality can best be seen in a company by using the brand to highlight people within the entity. Afterall, organizations are made of and led by people. Some of the more consistent efforts online like GM Blogs and Bank of America‘s Twitter customer service take this approach, showcasing the voices behind the brand.
This, of course, requires a team approach with a greater depth of transparency which many brands haven’t become comfortable with yet… Teams are needed to counterbalance the negative effects that individual personal fame under a brand can have. Transparency is needed to trust people to identify themselves as a member of the organization. Rare is the brand management team that’s willing to do the latter, afraid of the worst case scenarios of the human condition.
Yet, when these situations occur in real life, people don’t assume that madmen engage in workplace violence or white collar crimes on behalf of the brand! On the contrary, people understand that wayward employees are really just lost souls who have crossed that terrible line we all fear. That is the dark side of the human condition.
Brand managers who cannot understand this will never be able to circumnavigate the personality conundrum. Instead they will be mired in half measures, trying to infuse personality into their brand while controlling their employees. Then when the inevitable brand failure happens serious meetings will occur to create new policies and eradicate future human outbursts.
Let brands be brands, and let people be people. By using one to highlight the other, a brand can show the human side of its company, and protect itself. In the worst cases, the brand can simply state that an employee made an error (or worse), and apologize to or reassure stakeholders. It really is that easy.
At some point, every teenage boy looks around his bedroom and realizes it’s time to grow up. The little league trophies. The Star Wars sheets. The Elle McPherson poster (okay, maybe those last two can stay). But anything that’s going to embarrass you when you bring your college girlfriend home has got to go. You don’t need anyone to tell you—you just wake up one day and know it’s time to move forward.
Just like you wish your Little League career had, in just a few years, the term crowdsourcing has lurched out of obscurity to become a major part of the world we live in, especially within the marketing lexicon.
Most marketers have either first hand experience with crowdsourcing, or at a minimum have heard the term and know they should learn more. But crowdsourcing has evolved beyond just crowdsourcing for video and graphic design to include complex research, micro-financing and vast ideation. And while the teenage kid may not know what crowdsourcing is; he knows as he watches the Super Bowl each year, that a few of those ads are lot funnier than the others. He also doesn’t realize, that he’s witnessing a powerful new marketing trend. Because crowdsourcing may actually be most well known through the Doritos and Pepsi contests that premier each year during the Super Bowl.
First in 2007, Doritos was ahead of the crowd, no pun intended, when they turned to the masses to source what they hoped would be an entertaining commercial. In using the Super Bowl as the platform to launch these videos, Doritos, along with their agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, took a considerable risk. Less than one year earlier, Chevrolet experienced a PR nightmare when it used a crowdsourcing contest to mash up Chevy Tahoe ads resulting in less-than-brand-loving tag lines such as “It’s Global Warming Time” and spots that touted the killing power of a large SUV. Yet, surprisingly, Doritos’s results were not only brand-friendly, catching and entertaining but generated endless buzz about Doritos and the power of creative crowdsourcing.
After taking one Super Bowl off from sourcing commercials, and turned to discovering unknown musicians through a crowdsourcing campaign, Doritos and its parent company Pepsi, came back to crowdsourcing for the 2009 Super Bowl and has stayed with the user-generated content approach each year since.
There is no question that they have delivered highly entertaining ads across the years by turning to the crowdsourced approach. The ads have consistently proven that crowdsourcing can produce great viral content and guaranteed viewership.
Now fast forward to 2011 and Doritos’s fourth trip to the crowdsourcing well, and one thing is clear, physical and childish humor seems to be content that rises to the top. In every year that Doritos has turned to crowdsourcing (including this year where sister brand Pepsi Max joined the competition) the majority of the crowdsourced ads selected for the Super Bowl are ones based upon physical comedy and sexual innuendo.
This is not to suggest that these aren’t effective ads. Especially for teenage boys. They continue to score very well on the USA Today Ad Meter. But the ads make a convincing argument that crowdsourcing needs to grow up and be less about men being hit in the groin.
Given the right incentive or a well-constructed crowdsourcing model, there is no reason why this year’s hugely popular Volkswagen Darth Vader spot couldn’t have been crowdsourced. Even Chrysler spot about Detroit could have been created (without the Eminem’s appearance of course) through crowdsourcing. Neither ad needed multimillion-dollar special effects, or multi-location scouting. It simply needs a big idea and talented production team.
This isn’t to say that these quality ads aren’t being generated already through video crowdsourcing sites, but the lessons brands need to learning from Doritos’s success aren’t about the power of crowdsourcing. Time and time again, when major brands turn to crowdsourcing for ads, they often set up creative briefs asking for sophomoric story lines.
You can generate just as much buzz and online discussion with an emotionally powerful crowdsourced video as you would with any cheap laugh. Brand managers and agencies need to trust in the production companies and freelancers of the world to create content that can bring you to tears from sentimental emotion just as easily as getting hit in the crotch can solicit a laugh.
Peter LaMotte (@peterlamotte) is President of GeniusRocket, a Curated Crowdsourcing company. The Curated Crowdsourcing model relies upon a vetted community of experienced and professional production companies, writers, and advertising veterans to deliver high quality commercial video content at a fraction of the cost of traditional means. Peter previously worked at Corporate Executive Board, IBM, and Apple. He holds BA in International Business from Rhodes College, and MBA from Vanderbilt University.
A Book of Five Rings, written by Miyamoto Musashi in 1645, is one of the world’s classic sources of strategy. Its influence extends beyond military schools to the entire Japanese business culture, and has made its way into Western culture, too. Musashi’s work is one of the texts that comprises the foundation of Zoetica’s strategy services. This blog series looks at each of the Five Rings (chapters), and discusses how some of the phrases apply to the modern communications market.
The Water Book is the second primary chapter of the Five Rings, following the Ground Book. This book primarily focuses on the The Five Attitudes and Approaches to strategy; Upper, Middle, Lower, Right Side and Left Side. Here are interpretations about how these approaches apply to today’s communications marketplace.
“Your attitude should be large or small according to the situation. Upper, Lower and Middle attitudes are decisive. Left Side and Right Side attitudes are fluid.” Musashi.
To be successful in strategy, one must be able to assess the situation, which in turn determines your approach. This requires research to garner a basic knowledge of the marketplace dynamics and stakeholder motivations. By assessing this data, a strategist should see obvious paths towards attaining desired outcomes, and choose the one that is most likely to succeed with the resources at hand.
In social media, the meme is to listen before participation, content marketing and other actions. This is no different than focus groups in advertising or public relations, market research studies prior to product marketing, or competitive research in all fields. The market landscape, current attitudes and opportunities should be revealed in research.
Dell is one of the better modern examples of consistency when it comes to listening and research. From its original online reputation turnaround campaign Dell Listens to its current social command center efforts in Austin, the company constantly reads its community to anticipate response and direction.
“The Middle attitude is the heart of attitudes. If we look at strategy on a broad scale, the Middle attitude is the seat of the commander, with the other four attitudes following the commander.” Musashi
Whenever possible, marketers and communicators want to directly interact with their primary stakeholders. This is the best and fastest way to achieve an outcome, if it is mutually advantageous to all parties. Whether that is sales, donations, input on ideas, agreements on civil action, public resolutions of customer or donor issues, customer reviews, or other actions, direct communications are more likely to produce outcomes.
One of the great benefits of social media to the strategist is the ability to build relationships and conduct direct interactions. Direct community interaction through conversation is one of the most powerful Middle Attitudes that a strategist can take.The travesty of the media form has been the use of it like a PR newswire or advertising media, when these media clearly lend themselves to different tasks.
Other direct interactions include a true opt-in email list (in some cases a preferred interaction to social media for core community members), live events like conferences and trade shows, and direct mail. Some of these approaches are more effective than others, and depend on execution. Integrating several approaches may be necessary for success.
One of the best examples of direct community engagement remains the Lance Armstrong Foundation via its LIVESTRONG brand. From its very visible Facebook, Twitter and blog efforts to its grassroots fundraising platform, email efforts, and experimental marketing via platforms like Gowalla, LIVESTRONG consistently directly engages its community with great successes.
“In the second approach with the long sword, from the Upper attitude cut the enemy just as he attacks… In this method there are various changes in timing and spirit.” Musashi
The Upper attitude is one where media and influencers are used to “inform” the marketplace about the right direction. One addresses the marketplace from a position of authority, in essence hoping that the position of media voices and bloggers are enough to trickle down to the community and persuade it.
This has varying levels of success depending on the communicating organization’s position of trust within the community. When an organization has a prominent place in the market and is trusted, it is likely that the approach will be accepted easily. Apple masters this approach better than any company or nonprofit in the marketplace. Consider how Apple successfully uses blogs to leak information, media to report on blogs and vice versa. Every product announcement is like watching a symphony.
When trust is not in place, dissent occurs. Both Facebook and Komen suffer from dissent because they are not fully trusted.
If an organization does not have either a prominent place or trust, than at best influence can buy the entity an opportunity at success. Quora’s hype bubble and subsequent reduction in traffic, and Jumo’s unsuccessful launch are both examples of the inherent weakness in this approach.
Top down PR and PR 2.0 approaches are good as a primary tactical direction when an organization can dominate a market, or cannot engage with its community directly. Otherwise it should be used as a tactic to galvanize a community within a larger strategy.
“In the third approach, adopt the Lower attitude, anticipating scooping up. When the enemy attacks, hit his hands from below.” Musashi
A more powerful, yet difficult approach to successfully garnering strong community interaction is the Groundswell, as first discussed in concept by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. The Groundswell and its Technographics ladder helped dissect online grassroots actions, but really word of mouth and grassroots efforts occur just as frequently offline as online. A synergy between both is ideal as the Obama presidential and GOP 2010 midterm elections have shown us.
To successfully influence a market using a groundswell, one most focus on both content creators and critics (commenters). Both have voices, and as they continue to speak they create momentum that trickles up until the heart of the community is abuzz. There are a variety of ways to achieve groundswells and word of mouth, including David Sifry’s Magic Middle theory on the social webs, a trickle up media relations theory via trade press to influence mainstream press, and the use of community gatherings to drive larger community and media attention.
In many ways, the Middle East uprisings with their blend of community protests, behind the scenes, organizing, social media peer-to-peer networking activities, and blogging from outspoken dissidents created the most powerful groundswell we have seen since Europe’s nationalist revolutions of the 19th century. On the for-profit side, one of the greatest examples of word of mouth is Zappos.
This is a hard strategy that requires time, patience and constant effort. Do not assume you can achieve it over night. It takes practice.
5) Flanking Techniques
“Left and Right attitudes should be used if there is an obstruction overhead or to one side.” Musashi
The techniques discussed so far — the middle, top and bottom — are from the social, public relations, networking or direct marketing disciplines. But sometimes there is no community in place at all, no way to engage with the media, and/or there may not be time or the means to use a direct approach. This could be because of lack of market attention as a start-up, the need to circumnavigate an entrenched market leader, or other market factors, such as restraining communications or legal policies.
It is in such times when flanking techniques such as advertising, content marketing or SEO must become a primary thrust for a communications effort. BP’s failed communications effort last year — grounded in ethics issues and fear of liability claims — resorted to advertising and SEO placement to combat negative publicity about the Deep Horizon oil spill.
All of these strategies work best when integrated as part of a holistic campaign, but invariably one technique or another is the primary lead for an effort. In addition, the Water Book has many more interpretative lessons to offer from bearing and stance to specific tactical technique.
Specifically, the United States as a country gives nonprofits a lot of lip service, but when push comes to shove, we fail to change. Consider all of the talk about environmentalism, yet America still consumes more than any country in the world. We fail to act, and though we emote, our collective actions as a society are demonstrative of a deeper apathy.
Groupon thrust our hypocrisy into our faces, and we responded with wrath. We eat Tibetan food, instead of taking action for Tibet, or a Brazilian wax instead of helping the rain forest, or a ticket to a water amusement park instead of helping to save the whales. Think about it. We talk mindfulness while we walk vain consumption.
“We thought we were poking fun at ourselves, but clearly the execution was off and the joke didn’t come through,” said Mason. “I personally take responsibility; although we worked with a professional ad agency, in the end, it was my decision to run the ads… To those who were offended, I feel terrible that we made you feel bad.”
Were the ads well executed? To create this kind of visceral reaction, the ads hit home harder than anyone at Groupon or their agency imagined. The joke fell flat, and the message felt like a punch in the gut. In that sense, yes, the ads were in poor taste. But the message remains.
The blogodrama should end with Groupon’s apology and pulling of the ads. Now it’s time for the crowd to look deeply within to understand why it became so enraged. Compassion means more than idle conversations.
Kudos to Chrysler and Eminem for an incredible advertisement that reinvigorated spirit into Detroit, an economically ravaged city. Some Super Bowl ads do hit the mark.