Monday, June 16, 2008

Do We Need to Embrace the Fan, and Other LA Conference Thoughts

Recently, I attended OnHollywood. It sucked. Really, nothing else to say about the conference than that. From sneaking a look into the conference center, no one was really paying attention - or attending - the sessions. From watching the demonstration stations, people just stopped doing demos and looked bored. They had an open bar sponsored by (no, not a gay porn channel - and yes, I thought that too), and the event was best characterized by someone else that was down from San Francisco: SF is about networking, LA is about cliques.

A few months back, I attended Forrester's Marketing Conference in Century City.

We were sitting in Century City - a city I used to work in - and Harley Manning, the VP of research, pointed out that the reason that the Forum is being held in LA is that this city is a marketing city. Just look at the name of the streets - Avenue of the Stars - and this city embodies marketing (mostly of itself and entertainment).

Marketing's new imperative for success is engagement. You see it in the change of how brick and mortar stores are set up, such as the family setting of Jordan's furniture and all the bells and whistles. Or look at how Nike set up a community to engage it's customers - running tips from pros, a full community based on running.

I think he's wrong - yes, LA is a city of marketing but it is not an engagement city, but one of dreams and schemes. The city is built on falsehoods, on dreams, and never has had a foot in reality. It's fakery - the people and the industry - and it sells dreams. Sells them so well that it's not hit as hard during recessions (people will always use entertainment to escape).

Also at the Forrester Conference, Brian Haven talked engagement and understanding your customers.

It's a hot topic - and most marketing publications are covering it. But it is also risked becoming a buzzword. No, it is a buzzword ... and one that seems to be built on more what we want than what customers may want, or what corporations might want.

As an example, Haven talked about the launch of the Cincinnati Ikea - a hardcore fan of Ikea that was lobbying to bring Ikea to Cincinnati. She is passionate, she is an advocate, and she brings people to the brand. There was a connection to her with the brand - but the brand did not give back in that relationship ... to the point that legal came in and asked for a disclaimer and then asked for her to give up her blog domain bc of the Google juice was getting better than Ikea's.

Um, is Ikea wrong, though? Ikea has a responsibility to its shareholders, to its customers, to its brand to be ... on brand. This woman, to be blunt, was not on brand. No, I am not naive to think that everyone in Ikea is from Sweden ... but I do want the people to look a certain way, and the woman did not fit that mold. She looked Midwest, for lack of a better or tactful way to say it.

And, why do brands have to embrace its fans ALL the time? Let's not forget that fan comes from the word fanatic. And, well, fanatics are scary and can be detrimental to your brand.

According to Haven, Ikea should have engaged the Cincinnati Ikea fanatic, given her scoops on the store, outfitted her with new technology. They should have reached out and embraced her ... but that's wrong. Did they want to embrace the fanatic that took to camping out at their store prior to opening? Do they want to be associated with a woman that made up puppets and Saint Ikea, and other things she did? Or does the brand have a responsibility to stay on brand, and protect the brand?

Back to OnHollywood, the most interesting discussion I had was with Taz Arnold from SA-RA. We were talking rappers, Jay Dilla, Lupe Fiasco, Wale, and how the music industry is changing. If you think about it, the rap game has always had its own distribution system that was different than the rest of the industry - there was (and still is) the underground mix tape market, where people find new voices and sounds ... and might buy them. You still can catch people in different cities selling their CDs on the corner. When I was in LA for the last E3, I bought a CD at Roscoe's. Wasn't too bad.

"What's the deal with this rap stuff? Since Napster, the sales been crashing - and since Napster the game has been flooded by has-beens and never-wll-be ringtone rappers." Wale, The Mixtape About Nothing

Arnold and I were talking about the merchandising of rap, and how that is where the game is going. You have x million people buying a single - it's not about getting them to buy the ring tone next, but what about the clothing line? What about clothing lines or other merchandise? It's what Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco have expanded into, as well as the Neptunes/N.E.R.D and the Billionaire Boys Club. You have an audience ... you work with them to keep them in love with the brand, this time a rapper.

I love that one of the three interesting and smart conversations I had at OnHollywood was with a rap producer. He had a better grasp on the market than most of the so-called social media experts I know, and a lot more interesting thing to say than quite a few of the people speaking at the conference.

Also, I had no clue who Arnold was when I was speaking with him ... and then I see his cool "Hood" "Love" rings in the Estelle/Kanye "American Boy" video. And then him. Hmmm, typical me.

Writing this on the plane home from BlogPotomac reminded me of the ethics panel. Social media experts are SO caught up in their only little world - their own circle - that they cannot think of what might be accepted practices in other communities. Just because "we" don't like character blogs, does not mean they do not have their place (and, sorry, some of them are much better than other corporate blogs with real people, or the top social media bloggers). Just because we beat our chests about transparency and disclosure does not mean that campaigns are not being done with fake comments or fake stories by marketing and advertising firms. Social media purists got their panties in a twist about LonelyGirl15 not being real ... but the audience did not care. And, Hollywood points to Blair Witch Project as a great online campaign ... but if you remember, it was presented as a true story. Sacrilege in social media ... but did people care, or would people care nowadays? Shit, I got that stupid video of the office worker going insane 10 times one day ... and I looked at it and said fake (the rows were too narrow for wheelchairs, so ADA would have been all over their ass).

It is different in LA, and while the city seems to be behind in social media ... does that mean the industry here is wrong, or is it that the purist techniques from the digerati have no place down here, that it's a different market and different mentality? I watched the taping of Valley Girl/The Jesse Draper Show and thought "this would never play in SF" ... but maybe that isn't their audience (heck, talking transparency, the co-host "Coco" is not even her real name). I watched them taping, and realized I'm not their audience. The hostess did seem nice, and shy. When she walked by me, she gave a shy smile and little wave and because she was so tall, she seemed to be to be slouching. Embrace the height.

One perk in LA so far? The nice folks at SAS did handwriting analysis at the Forrester Marketing Conference. I'm a rockstar.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Art of Strategy. Or How I Like to Say No, and People Hate Me for That.

Tomorrow morning - or today, depending on when you read this - is BlogPotomac. It's an unconference, so more on the conversation and less on the one sided-lecture.

It's even a Powerpoint free. And while at Communitelligence's Executing Employing Social Media Conference, I noted that I'm not big fan of the verbose PPT presentation (I spoke on crisis in social media and influencing the influencers - btw, there is no such thing), I did prepare a one page slide for BlogPotomac.

All it had was one word big: Why?

This fits in to the pre-conference interview I did with Debbie Weil, and the recent question from Joe Ciarallo from PR Newswer. And, well, for people that really read my blog, sorta fits into what I have been saying for the past five years.

Any social media strategy should start out with that one question: Why? Think of yourself as a five-year old child and continually ask questions. Ask why.

Why does this make sense? Why are we doing this? Why is this the right strategy?

Social media strategy is that easy. No, I'm serious - and even though it won't play well in large agency life (btw, the days of real counsel and strategy and client push-back seem to be dead) - it is always the first question. And second question.

If the answer is "well, everyone else has a blog" - you're launching a strategy for the wrong reason.

If the answer lives in it's own world and is not connected to the overall public relations and/or marketing strategy, it's the wrong answer and disconnected from what is really needed.

Social media is not a separate strategy. It should not be a separate strategy, but an overall part of the public relations strategy. Social media is COMPLEMENTARY to the overall public relations strategy.

Here's a perfect example of charlatan social media experts giving out shitty advice: my Mom is a realtor, and social media is becoming hot there (and, since realtors tend to be luddites and late to things, Facebook should be over soon). Some asshat gave a presentation in Phoenix and told all the realtors to join LinkedIn and Facebook.

Why? Well, it really never trickled down what he was trying to explain (or, more to the point, he's like every other social media "expert" that spouts out buzz words and talks a lot ... but does not walk the walk and had no real point). The point he was trying to make is to network and grow ... but are you really going to search for a new realtor or look for a home on Facebook? Or are you going to throw a sheep at them? Yes, I got nothing but love for LinkedIn ... but in real estate, face-to-face networking needs to be the first step.

But, seriously, I hear the same things spouted off by the so-called experts that speak a lot ... but that's just it, they speak a lot.

If your agency or consultant spouts out to start a blog, bitch slap him/her. And hard. And many times. If your agency or consultant just says "engage" but has nothing beyond that, lay down the pimp hand. Repeatedly. If your agency's or consultant's sage advice for you during a crisis is to start a blog and start engaging (a true story that lead to a large stupid agency losing a large portion of the business of a client in finance), it's obvious that the agency or consultant has no idea what they are doing.

I blame the disappearance of the PR generalist and the rise of the specialist. It's the death of PR, and is getting worse with the silo-ing of talent. When I started PR, we had to be able to write, pitch, cold-call, do media AND analyst relations ... or we were pretty much told our career would go down one path of a specialist - with a sneer.

Don't call me a social media specialist or expert. I'm a mutha-fucking generalist.

But, hey, watch BlogPotomac here tomorrow - here on my blog!! You can watch me say no and ask why, see what I'm wearing, and talk about the Tao of Why in social media.

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