Thursday, March 26, 2009

Replacing ANTI-Social Marketing

For most of the twentieth century and even through the first decade of the twenty-first, marketing has been anti-social. The three primary modalities of advertising have been Interruption, Entertainment, and Information. While these methods were effective in a one-way mass media world, they are failing in a mass-connected social world. It is time that marketers learn to replace these anti-social marketing methods with three new social modalities - connection, collaboration, and support.

Before I explain how the new approaches can replace the old, it may be useful to once again explain why the old approaches are failing and are anti-social, even in a dictionary definition way,
Antagonistic toward or disrespectful of others; rude.
Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at the Wharton School of UPenn offered this very interesting article on Techcrunch, "Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet" and Doc Searls followed up with "After the Advertising Bubble Bursts." A pleasant half hour can also be spent on John Willshire's "The Future of Advertising in One Afternoon" (available as an easy to skim slide deck).

What all of them are talking about is that the transition from a one-way broadcast media to a deeply interconnected two way communications medium is, to use Clemons' word, shattering advertising. Ultimately the goal of the three strategies of interruption, entertainment, and information is the same -- get attention for a company's brand, product, or service. The common theme here is that companies must now work to earn attention through the social communications medium as opposed to being able to simply buy attention from the control points in the old mass media model.


For awhile now the old ideas of interruption marketing have been receiving challenges. Seth Godin offers a great description of the underlying problem of interruption in his book Permission Marketing and nicely summarized in this short essay by Angelo Fernando entitled "So Interruption Marketing Isn't Working"
Let’s say you’ve gone to the airport early morning. Someone walks up to you, and asks you directions to a gate you’re not familiar with. Since you have time to spare, and don’t mind the interruption, you try to help the person out.

Now imagine it’s later in the day at the same airport. You’re late for your flight, and someone asks you the same question. Will you give him the same attention? Finally, a third scenario: You’re late for the flight, the airport is crowded, and this is the fourth person to ask you the same question. What are the chances you will pay any attention at all? You’re probably going to even develop a strategy for avoiding further interruptions –not making eye contact, brushing them off, refusing to help.
This is the simple case - information overload or "smog" - as a reason that interruptions are not working. So many interruptions are competing for our attention that we have developed strategies for avoiding them. But there is something else happening here as well, something deeply anti-social.

When advertising was presented as part of the one-way stream of information arriving on our porches, radios, or televisions we accepted that advertising as a part of the total experience of the medium. But once the medium for information becomes two-way, interruption advertising becomes disrespectful or even rude. Imagine yourself in a conversation with another person:
You: How did you like that episode of Heroes?

Friend: It was great I really liked the special effects

--interruption-- Buy Heroes T-Shirts NOW --interruption--

You: Anyway, as I was saying...
This conversational example is an anecdotal way to illustrate what happens when the directed engaged communicating online user is interrupted with advertising - even when it is "contextual." To expand on this illustration, consider two shifts at work here that contribute to the downfall of interruption --

(1) Freedom of Choice -- more and more information sources are emerging which have the relevant information that we may want. Sources which are free of interruption and easy to navigate will be preferred over sources which are choked with interruptions. In addition, we have an increasing array of strategies to eliminate the interruptions from the information we consume - Tivo, pop-up blockers, etc. This expansion of choice also leads to the second shift...

(2) Seek vs. Browse -- when we received a bundle of information which happened to include advertising, we would browse through all of it and select that which was most interesting (sometimes even advertising). Now an increasing amount of our media diet is search-originated and it is much more difficult (and unfriendly) to interrupt someone when they are pursuing information in a directed mode. Even how we browse is shifting with more of it happening in social spaces in which we are browsing what our friends are doing, thinking, watching, reading. Learning about something interesting to read from a friend is a much more difficult (and unfriendly) mode of behavior to insert interruptions.

Interruption, the corner stone of the advertising industry, is "shattering."


When is an interruption not an interruption? When it makes us laugh? When it is art? Although not everyone can agree on what is funny, or what is art, or (more broadly) what is entertaining, a stand-by of the advertising industry to rise above simple annoyance has been to create advertisements which in some way entertain.

And sure, the "bud - weis - er" frogs were amusing. The first time. Which is why the company has had to run thousands of different "funny" advertisements over the past few years -- once a particular punch line has been laughed at, it's time to move on to the next one. Very few "entertaining" advertisements are as entertaining the second, third, or fourth time we see them.

And this may not be the biggest problem with entertainment as a method of advertising. The biggest problem is more likely to be -- does it even work? Do people watching an entertaining advertisement actually remember what brand was associated? And if they do remember, is the association positive or (as in the recent case of the Superbowl ad) can you actually do damage to your brand?

The core problem is that the "entertainment" is probably not core to the brand value. So while a scantily clad woman may get attention, it doesn't actually communicate anything related to running say, an Internet service (as in the case of

Obviously entertainment products can be a lot more successful using entertainment as a building block for an interrupting advertisement. A snippet of a song, for a singer. The movie trailer. Any excerpted material from an entertainment product can itself be entertaining as well as remaining core to the brand value -- sometimes the trailer IS the core value and is better than them movie itself!

But leaving aside entertainment products, why should a beer company, an auto manufacturer, or an accounting firm use entertainment as the content of a strategy for getting people's attention? Because it is less irritating than an interruption that doesn't entertain?


Finally, the last of the core modalities of twentieth century advertising - provide people with information. What a great idea. People need information and companies can be the source. Want to buy a new Ford Taurus? Get all the facts at or should you? Why would you trust the company that wants to sell you the car to give you honest information about the car? According to Edelman's "10th Annual Trust Barometer"
Trust in corporate communications like press releases, reports and emails fell to 26% from 38%; a company's own Web site to 24% from 31%; and corporate or product advertising to 13% from 20% among informed publics ages 35 to 64 in 18 countries. (emphasis added)
Just 13% of people "trust" advertising. And you can expect that this 13% is the most trusting of any communications from anyone -- not the best audience on which to build your business strategy.

Of course the other problem with information based advertising is getting it to the right person at the right time. While I may be interested in price information on a new car when I am making a purchase decision, I am definitely not interested in such information a month after my purchase. Search engine marketing is the one place where an advertiser has a high likelihood of success in placing information in front of a potential customer at the moment of interest, and for this reason it is, so far, an enormously successful advertising medium.

But given a choice between information from a peer and information from a company, there is no doubt (as Edelman's survey shows) that people will chose to heed information from a peer when making a purchase decision.

Even advertising as information fails when social communications reaches critical mass and exceeds one-way broadcast as the way in which we gather knowledge and entertainment.

Next post -- How the new will replace the old - connection, collaboration, and support.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Facebook Missed the Whale (and it's OK)

UK blogger (and deep thinker) Chris Thorpe writes on his blog jaggeree "Why Facebook Shouldn't be Twitter" opening with a tweet from Tim O'Reilly
FB redesign also shows the danger of paying too much attention to competition, instead of thinking more deeply what you are about. It's hard
As Chris writes, "...he’s nailed it again" and I'd have to agree. Chris goes on to provide some good thoughts on why the "activity stream" that Facebook had served a quite different purpose from the "status stream" of Twitter. In particular he highlights the difference between these two different "communities" of people which helpfully points out why the two different design patterns work well for the way in which those separate communities work. All of which sort of explains my sense of loss every time I look at the new Facebook page and don't see my activity stream.

Expect a lot more of that over the coming days and weeks - and expect the activity stream to return in some form. Facebook is looking over its shoulder and worrying that they are missing out on new ideas like Twitter - and perhaps they are irritated that puny little Twitter turned down their acquisition offer. But most importantly they are looking at an engagement model that may become more compelling than their own for constant connected repeat usage.

Which gives me an excellent opportunity to revisit one of my favorite topics over the last 10 years - how we are slowly building up a set of online communications tools to support all of the different modalities of communications we have in the physical world. Its also a good follow up to my April 2007 post in which I first attempted to explain Twitter.

Looking at the graph to the right, you can see my attempt to more visually explain the idea from that past article of "Presence, Scope, and Permanence" as defining the three axis of a communications cube that we operate within. From that earlier article, here is a more complete description of these axis:
Is it necessary for the participants in the communication to be present at the time the communication is created? For example if you are taking a class, you need to be present in the classroom to get value from the lecture. But you can read a book thousands of years after it was written. The recipient must be present to receive the lecture but is usually not present when a book is written. Similarly, a phone call is a synchronous form of communications -- both speaker and listener must be present. Voice mail is asynchronous -- the listener need not be present at the time the recording is made and the speaker need not be present at the time of listening.

Classrooms engage a defined group of people in a conversation, newspapers engage an undefined group, a phone call typically involves just two people. Scope is about the number of people involved, the relationship between those people, and the privacy of the communication.

Information has a shelf life (or even a half life). Some information is valuable for thousands of years, other information is valuable for only a moment.
Each of these two different communications tools - Twitter and Facebook - fit into different (albeit adjacent) section of the cube. But they are NOT the same -- and the successful design pattern for each will be quite different. In fact, the only axis in which the two clearly share an edge is Permanence -- and even here, Twitter is now being used in ways which might actually move at least a part of their database toward more permanence, whereas Facebook (or at least the old activity streams) are very much about ephemera. Not that Twitter isn't mostly also ephemera (or what Chris calls "nowish" linking to this great visualization on Flickr by moleitau). But there are aspects of how Twitter is being used which can usefully be searched meaning that they have retrospective value.

But along the other two axis - Scope and Presence - the Facebook activity streams and Twitter status updates clearly play(ed) different roles. The reciprocal nature of Facebook meant that you were really only talking to your friends, whereas on Twitter you might be talking to friends, stalkers, the Federal Justice Department -- of course you could control access, but the design pattern didn't make that an attractive usage. And on Presence, Twitter existed as a stream with most tweets being relevant if you were near-immediately present, whereas a Facebook activity update remained a prominent part of a user's profile for as long as that user left it there.

In considering this analysis that I have presented, please do not rely solely on the user experience offered by the two companies, but consider instead the larger user experience created by the communities. In the case of Twitter in particular, look at the 100+ products that have been built around this "message bus" for how people are really using the service.

All of this is why in the end there really are two different businesses here and Facebook will migrate back toward activity streams and someone else will have to challenge Twitter for the status update business. The strategy that Facebook has been following of trying to absorb every part of the communications cube is flawed - the strong anchor for them is SCOPE - this is about reciprocal relationships. For Twitter it is PERMANENCE - this is about ephemera and occasionally about how that ephemera is transmuted into something more permanent because in aggregate it teaches us something new.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Butterfly of Change

A number of very good posts on the future of News (and media in general) out in the past week. Struggling newspaper SF Gate offered this summary (via columnist Mark Morford) The Geek gurus all weigh in on the end of dead-tree media. Are they wrong? It's not a bad question, despite an opinion piece full of what seems like bitterness or frustration. After all Clay Shirky's article, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, and Steven Johnson's speech at SXSW, Old Growth Media and the Future of News didn't seem to be a "...pile on the I-hate-mainstream-media bandwagon..." that Morford insinuates.

But it is certainly reasonable to look at all the Morfords (and Alan Mutters) out there and all the Shirkys out there and ask - how can these two groups of very smart people be so opposed to each other on the basics and how can anyone understand where this is really going?

To this debate I offer a visual aid, the butterfly graph which I have thus named because you could see each of the loops on the left and right of the image as wings and because I like the idea of catching the winds of change... allow me a little poetic license.

But here is how to read this graph -- The red line is the "old way" of doing things and the green line is the "new way." The slope shows that the old way declines in efficacy as the new way increases. At some point the pace at which the old way is declining accelerates and then flattens again as many niche uses hang on over time.

The blue bar in the middle is the period of confusion during which the old way is still working, so adherents can claim that there is a path ahead for their existing model of how things should work -- and their claim is bolstered because the new way isn't yet clear and working.

One of the really interesting characteristics of this blue period is that the old way will take on attributes of the new -- which will both hasten its demise as well as suppress the emergence of a new way that works. An example in the news business is the "free content" which is so hotly debated now amongst the two sides of the future of news argument. Early on in the process, the economic rationale of providing free (advertising supported) content made sense to newspapers eager to build online audiences. So instead of radically re-examining their businesses (and maybe creating craigslist or newspapers continued to pursue the product logic of the printed world but with a digital distribution. So for this reason every online paper reproduces the print version horoscopes as one example.

But as the "old way" declines -- in this case physical paper distribution becoming less desirable to consumers than instant online access -- having adopted the model of free content and retaining the bundling logic of the physical media, prevents newspapers from radically rethinking their model - they simply don't have the economic wherewithal to experiment. And at the same time the continued flood of free high quality content is dampening entrepreneurs ability to accelerate new models effectiveness. It will take many more Rocky Mountain News and Seattle P-I failures before the slope really shifts and we start to see a crossover of new experiments working and the old recognizably being dead and done.

So to Morford's reasonable complaint to Clay Shirky that he "...has no idea what will replace newspapers and professional journalism." I would answer that Morford himself as a stakeholder in the future of journalism has a better chance of answering the question than Shirky the professor -- answer by stop supporting the old print media and start experimenting in the new digital media. Yes as in other periods of revolution there will be a period in which many of these experiments fail. But the seeds of the new are already planted and growing and the strong ones will fully replace the old over time. And I don't agree with the pace -- I think it will be years and not decades.