May 18, 2006 by Colin
A refreshing couple of days, that MESH conference in Toronto. There’s a danger in designing a conference around the obsessions of a large number of fanatics, afficionados, enthusiasts, devotees, and hangers-on. In most cases, the result is a packed agenda of seminars and “break-out” sessions where ideas and themes work in tight concentric circles, with little air for real introspection or iconoclasm. Group think at its most dynamic.
Down in the bowels of the MaRs building, however, MESH pulled together an amazing group of optimists, visionaries, fat bulging wallets and the men that carry them, hard chargers and philosophical fellow travellers. Community, communication, transparency were the topics discussed by all – only a few really, desperately, wanted to know how to monetize it.
The environment encouraged multi-layered discussion and commentary (like the #irc discussion projected over the heads of the “How to Engage the Blogosphere” presenters), as well as outright challenge.
Here’s a synopsis of the conference, quoting IBM’s Todd Watson:
“… If you want to reach them as a marketer, give them straight talk, not platitudes. If you want to involve them in your brand, don’t lie about your product’s excellence. Instead, be honest about its faults, and demonstrate to them that you’re taking some of that money you used to spend on marketing and putting it back into making the product better.
What a concept!
Because if you don’t, and your product isn’t any good, they’re going to make sure the rest of the world knows about it — and I do mean the world — in about three seconds. And there won’t be much you can do about it except watch the Google queries exponentially multiply and the sales drop like a lead weight off the Empire State Building. [shurely you mean the CN Tower?]
I couldn’t agree more. All I need now is an Orwellian out-of-the-box enterprise solution to quickly bring my colleagues around to the new mythology.
In the meanwhile, I’m staring at a desk covered in GTD flowcharts, Covey checklists, coloured folders, varying sizes of Moleskine notebooks, and the latest DiYPlanner.
May 16, 2006 by Colin
Day two of the MESH conference. A roomful of serial entrepreneurs, marketing types, online advertising specialists, public relations hacks (agency, corporate and us government types) and venture capitalists (who, you should know, hog the microphone during the interactive sessions).
The recurring themes, often not stated explicitly:
- why are readers avoiding my treeware publications?
- news aggregators are the devil. Damn the readers they send to my site!
- how can I monetize my blog without mortgaging my first born to Larry and Sergei?
- I’ve got a Web 2.0 app with nice rounded corners and a pastel palette: how can I clear the $85k overdraft on my Visa card and look cool to my friends?
- please don’t mention intellectual property issues until I’ve found an angel investor or convinced Paul Kedrosky to buy in.
- We, meaning the conference attendees and 5% of internets users, “get” social media. When will the rest of the world realize how brilliant, energizing, innovative and effervescent these new tools can make US ALL feel?
Unfortunately, Steve‘s session was nearly hijacked by his side comment that character blogs are useless. Turns out a lot of people see value in character blogs. All I could visualize was a mascot smackdown, with Steve in the middle. Sort of like that Jackass episode.
The fundamental questions for many attendees: “Does my elevator pitch improve after five free drinks?” and “Now that I have their business card, can I add them to my “provocative thoughts newsletter” and business pitch listserv?”
May 13, 2006 by Colin
Before there was MySpace and other social media, there were fan clubs and fanzines. If you had a personalized desktop, it meant you had plastered your desk with stickers and magazine covers of your favourite star, then covered it with plastic sheeting. The only custom ringtone popularly available was fifteen seconds of hissing and static as you waited for your bootleg cassette to wind around to the first track.
Back in the day, the only two-way interaction between a celebrity and a fan involved a lot of mail. Physical mail. Waiting on the porch for the mailman after school kind of mail. Newsletters. Christmas postcards. Envelopes stamped “with love from Olivia” or “from Leif.” “Autographed” posters from Bo Derek.
Those of us “of a certain age” remember Leif Garrett. His chest was bared in almost every one of his appearances in early celebrity magazines like Teen Beat. It was an eerie contrast to the hirsuite images of Barry Gibb and Abba’s Benny and Bjorn.
His fan club included a membership card, a fanzine and a “welcome message” 45rpm record from Leif, as we can see over at as ShortTermMemoryLoss.
An excerpt from the 45:
“Before I leave you, on this recording, that is.
I want to thank you for being so wonderful.
It’s fans like you who make me smile from my heart.
I can take it, just about any place.
It’s one of my favourite things to do.
And I’ve had a few opportunities to take it out.“
End of recording
I have NO IDEA what the boy meant by that. Maybe it was the heroin talking.
May 11, 2006 by Colin
Despite all the initial carping, I think MESH is shaping up to be a very interesting event – May 15 and 16 in Toronto.
Maybe I’ll see you there!
May 11, 2006 by Colin
Retailers may just have a problem with cooties and/or lurgi, that imaginary childhood plague that infects by association. The perception that an item has been handled or – gasp – even tried on can significantly affect a costumer’s decision to buy. Customers may want to handle, sniff or feel while making their buying decision, but it better be a pristine and virgin piece of merchandise.
The proof? A study by a trio of Canadian and U.S. consumer researchers has produced:
” … a theory of consumer contagion, whereby consumers are thought to contaminate the products they touch, consequently lowering evaluations and purchase intentions of other consumers for the same products.”
Apparently, these perceptioon of cooties on a product is magnified by the customer’s proximity to the well-known habitat of other, smellier and less careful, consumers: “…when the product was located in the dressing room or on the return rack, consumers may have thought the product had been more recently contaminated compared to when it was located on the regular rack.”
Knowledge@A.P.Carey describes their experiment:
The team added three variables to the process in order to test customer reaction to different levels of contamination, based on the proximity to previous contact, time elapsed since contact, and the number of contact sources:
· In the “close” contamination scenario, the sales associate informed the customer that somebody else was trying the shirt on. The associate then took the customer to a dressing room, where they waited while the contaminating customer exited the dressing room, leaving the shirt behind.
· For “medium” contamination, the customer was told the shirt was “over here on the return rack,” and was guided by the sales associate to that location, where the shirt hung.
· For the “far” scenario, the customer was merely told the shirt “is just over here on the rack” and taken to a regular display rack located a few feet away from the return rack.
At no point did the customer see anyone else — either the sales associate or the other customer — actually touch the shirt.”
The result? A distinct perception of customer cooties by participants.
How can retailers react to these results? By: clearly separating their merchandising areas from the display shelves; keeping the changing rooms clean and free of “soiled” clothing; limiting the number of on-floor samples available for “touching”; and regular tidying of their on-floor displays.
An area I’d like to see explored in future research is the impact of perceptions of “customer contagion” in the context of discount or factory outlet shops. The merchandising at Filene’s or a J. Crew outlet is always a constant battle against touching, trying and discarding, yet the apparent disorder only seems to increase (my) perception that deals are to be had and that the items on display (on the rack or on the floor) are desirable.
Perhaps management at these types of stores, long accustomed to dealing with customer’s perceptions of use, abuse and disgust, have learnt to manipulate pricing models to move merchandise despite those perceptions. For example: an easily washable dirt mark means 10% discount. Wrinkles on returned prom dress means 60% discount. Evident sweat stain on returned prom dess means 90% discount. White stain on blue Gap dress means …
More details from the study itself: “Consumer Contamination: How Consumers React to Products Touched by Others“, by Jennifer J. Argo, Darren W. Dahl, and Andrea C. Morales in the April 2006 issue of the Journal of Marketing.
May 9, 2006 by Colin
According to Helsingin Sanomat, civic activism in Finland is suffering from poor Q scores among the Finnish public.
Late on the night of April 30, a fire destoyed a railway warehouse complex frequented by activists (or demonstrators, depends on your point of view).
“No matter who started the fire, the public image of civic activism is now at rock bottom, Mikko Salasuo says. “After the night of May Eve, the image of civic activists among the public at large was negative. After the fire at the warehouses, the image is extremely negative.” Salasuo also predicts that discussion on the goals of civic activists will die down for at least some time.” (Helsingin Sanomat)
Startling to me was the government’s reaction to the fires: it called in a number of social scientists to discuss the event and recent civil disobedience (including increased vandalism and graffiti).
“The problem with discussions between decision-makers and activists is often that a common language is not found. Now we must open up new contacts for discussions between the interested parties”, Lundbom says. New contacts can include meetings, negotiations, and the drafting of common publications.
Lindholm admits, however, that the core problem – the uncertain working conditions of short-term employees – cannot be removed with one collection of articles. It is nevertheless certain, that this will not be the end of political activism.
Finland’s turn at the EU Presidency and the G8 meeting in St. Petersburg in July are a tantalising combination for the international activists’ network.”
More commentary on the fire, Finnish activists and the government’s reaction.
May 9, 2006 by Colin
I know, I know. If something’s made it to the front page of the WSJ, it’s likely old news to the trendhunters. So today’s coverage of “donk stye” LeSabres, Impalas, Cutlass Supremes and Caddies isn’t surprising to anyone who knows what Xhibit’s been doing for the last few years.
Still. Nona and Nono now have some fierce competition for their land yachts.
“… J.D Powers … reports that buyers 16 to 35 accounted for 35% of sales of 1989 Buicks last year, up from 29% in 2003. Similarly, the age group represented 34% of 1989 Cadillac sales last year, up from 20% in 2003.”
“… Chris Kilian first saw his 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme eight months ago in someone’s yard. He knocked on the door and asked the “older man probably 65 or 70,” who opened the door if he wanted to sell the car for $1,500. Mr. Kilian, a 25 year-old self-employed car salesman, tools around South Beach in his Oldsmobile, which is now lifted 56 inches off the ground on 26-inch wheels, and painted four different shades of pink.” (WSJ, May 9)
Too bad the WSJ had to ruin their quick flash of cool with the headline “Hip to Be Square.” What? Huey Lewis? He and “the Sports” are going to have to wait for this new 80s revivalist trend to really run its course before they get off the cruise/retro concert circuit.
May 8, 2006 by Colin
The surefire forumula for winning some soft feature coverage: take a common activity (like BBQ’ing). Add a methodologically suspect but topically appeallling survey. Time the release of your results to anticipate interest by feature editors preparing seasonal stories.
That seems to be the strategy for Weber Grills, who surveyed Canadians about their grilling habits. Great. It works. We’ll likely see Weber and their survey profiled as lifestyle editors roll out their traditional summer BBQ stories over the next four to six weeks. To guarantee coverage in community papers, it looks like Weber’s commissioned a rack of stories and recipes to be distributed through News Canada.
My problem? THIS SURVEY WAS COMPLETED IN SEPTEMBER 2005!
I understand that outdoor grilling tends to drop off over the long, cold Canadian winter. I recognize that the survey’s results are so soft and qualitative that they remain valid seven months later.
Still, there has to be some sort of standard for how long a PR team let a survey baste in order to maximize media interest. Otherwise, public and media irritation with client-commissioned research will only simmer and, eventually, fall apart.
May 6, 2006 by Colin
Soem thoughts from Yves Behar, the famed designer, which apply equally well to public relations professionals who truly want to provide creative and strategic advice – not rehash old plans and work off standard scenario templates.
” … In order to innovate, you need to work closely with all the different people in this product development chain. Whether it’s your client or manufacturing or the way a product is shipped or the kind of technologies that are integrated, it’s only by mastering all these different levels of complexity, while keeping a very strong point of view in a very strong direction, that one can achieve a good result.”
When you take on a new job, how many questions do you ask? How deep into your client’s organization do you search for information and insight?
Q – What is the biggest barrier when trying to bring your ideas to reality?
Yves — Most of the time it’s the ability to change the status quo that exists in large systems – systems of manufacturing, systems of marketing, systems of selling. And most of the time, you need to find a way that your work can be new and different while working within an existing system. That’s the biggest challenge.”
How do you move from concept to buy-in to approval to execution – without burning bridges?
Excerpts from an Eastman Innovation Lab article.
May 5, 2006 by Colin
Loyal. Dedicated. Vocal. Eager to win new converts and open up new territories. Am I describing a valued customer and contributor, or a hardcore biker? A theory is developing that many online communities depend on that one in a hundred user to populate and popularise the site. Just like the larger biker gangs fascinate and attract that one percent of bike riders.
Ben at Church of the Customer pulls together some disparate metrics to make the point. Wikipedia, he points out, depends upon 1-2% of users to contribute and edit content.
“… If we also add evidence from Bradley Horowitz that roughly 1% of Yahoo’s user population starts a Yahoo Group, we seem to have The 1% Rule: Roughly 1% of your site visitors will create content within a democratized community. (Horowitz also says that some 10% of the total audience “synthesizes” the content, or interacts with it.) …
It would appear that small groups of people often turn out to be the principal value creators of a democratized community. Over time, their work fuels widespread interaction that engages the non-participating community and attracts new ones. If continually nurtured, the community can become a self-sustaining generator of content and value.” (Church of the Customer)
Okay, I guess there’s a difference. It’s evident from definitive sources like the movie Hell’s Angels on Wheels: Eat my Angel Dust! that biker gangs tend to carry a lot of baggage with them to a new community – not to mention warrants. Still, as the movie’s radio promo (WFMU) promises, “when you see a Hell’s Angels wedding, you won’t believe it!”
“They’re not bad guys, individually. I tell you one thing: I’d rather have a bunch of Hell’s Angels on my hands than these civil rights demonstrators. When it comes to making trouble for us, the demonstrators are much worse.
- Jailer, San Francisco City Prison” (H.S.T’s Hell’s Angels)
May 4, 2006 by Colin
Last weekend, rail commuters in Toronto were befuddled by hacked in-car electronic displays that, instead of traffic and advertising notices, repeated “Stephen Harper Eats Babies” every three seconds. You may not know that Stephen Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada.
Apparently, the signs were not password protected and could be reprogrammed with a easily available “gadget.”
Two items of interest here for marketers: this message repeated, on at least five different displays, for THREE days before being removed. To solve the security gap, the railway authority will have to spend several days installing software currently being COURIERED to them.
I don’t mean to be uncharitable, but COURIERED? What, is the new security software on floppies?
This is one aspect of highly targeted marketing that may cause concern for marketers and clients: culturejammed billboards often have the creative range (and space) to display humour and satire. Your marketing campaign will still be highjacked, but at least the community may benefit from some element of artistic or cultural sensibility.
How likely is that scenario with new electronic displays – whether on store shelves, in subways or on buses? It’s quite possible that your campaign could be highjacked or sabotaged at multiple sites – with far more blunt counter-messaging.
“Commuter Gerry Nicholls said he thought he was hallucinating as he relaxed in his seat for the 35-minute GO train ride between Toronto and his Oakville home. …
“No one seemed to be reacting to it,” … “I kept waiting for the kicker,” he said. “I thought, there’s got to be something to this. It’s a joke, it’s an ad for baby food or something like that. It just kept going over and over again and I realized that this is something that could be pretty serious.
“I wasn’t even sure when I got off the train. Was I hallucinating?” (CTV.ca)
May 2, 2006 by Colin
Strumpette continues to rail against the PR blog establishment and their reaction to that blog’s satirical, sarcastic and often biting commentary. The latest jab, Championship PR Midget Toss Sets Record, apparently hit a little close to home, prompting a critical backlash (in the limited volume only possible in the insular world of PR blogging).
Among the attacks: Strumpette’s volume cannot be as strong as claimed. Why do PR pros always concentrate on the size of the splash, not the duration of the ripple? I’d rather have one good hit as a feature, not a mcnugget of news in USAToday. After all, for most campaigns it’s the motion of the ocean that’s important, not the size of the ship.
” … See… their dig is just an immature ad hominem attempt to discredit us. They are trying desperately to discourage readership. Like the Edelman Gang at the onset, they have a vested interest to take us off line. Their “Me2Revolution” is a load of hooey and they’re afraid that we will continue to point that out.” (Strumpette)
The blogosphere is still enough of a juvenile and amateurish playground that readers are unlikely to be dissuaded and repulsed by accusations of illegitimacy and sensationalism. If anything, public relations counsellors should have the capacity to judge for themselves how to read blog posts, interpret their meaning and evaluate their repurcussions for their clients (and maybe their own organization).
It’s evident that Strumpette is having a good time tilting at some windmills and knocking over some apple carts, all the while injecting some humour into a community that is rushing to adopt an increasingly doctrinaire approach to preaching the books of Long Tail, Web 2.0 and the old testament of Conversations. After all, what’s a blogging practice without catchphrases, eight point action plans, the reflected glow of big agency approval and oversized ambitions for business development?
Still, the sniff of righteous indignation hanging over Strumpette’s retorts smells a little funky to me. The claims that “the man’s trying to keep me down” ring hollow. You want a true voice for the oppressed and under-represented? I present Public Enemy’s Don’t Believe the Hype:
Was the start of my last jam/
So here it is again, another def jam/
But since I gave you all a little something/
That we knew you lacked/
They still consider me a new jack/All the critics you can hang’em/
I’ll hold the rope/
But they hope to the pope/
And pray it ain’t dope/
The follower of Farrakhan/
Don’t tell me that you understand/
Until you hear the man/
The book of the new school rap game/
Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane/
Yes to them, but to me I’m a different kind/
We’re brothers of the same mind, unblind/
Caught in the middle and/
I don’t rhyme for the sake of of riddlin’/
Some claim that I’m a smuggler/
Some say I never heard of ‘ya/
A rap burgler, false media/
We don’t need it do we?/
It’s fake that’s what it be to ‘ya, dig me?/
Don’t believe the hype…
Strumpette even tries to appropriate some of the “voice of the common man” mojo:
” … They’d like you to believe that being dis-ed by the PR bloggers and the “Nobodies Club” matters. No. It just doesn’t. They, by-an-large, are a group of self-important PR juniors and empty Shels. They are PR people whose power, and credibility for that matter, is a total fabrication and not real. We are more credible as a character than all of their resumes. (Strumpette)
And that is really quite weak, if you consider that Public Enemy was singing about political and social empowerment in the face of continuing societal oppression, and Strumpette is mad that three or four white guys are ganging up on him/her/them/the collective.
May 2, 2006 by Colin
Laura Ries thinks Dunkin’ Donuts should reposition itself as the fast alternative. That its strategy to “move out of breakfast” is misguided. That its efforts “chasing the latest trends” in bagels, sandwiches and soups will only result in “products for which they have no credibility.” In her mind, Dunkin’ Donuts should really corner the market on moving coffee – fast.
“… Sometimes the best ideas are the ones you borrow. Dunkin’ Donuts should use the same strategy that made Miller beer famous many years ago. At 5:00 p.m., after a long, hard day on the job, it’s Miller Time.
What Miller did for the evening, Dunkin’ Donuts can do for the morning. Make Dunkin’ Donuts your first stop. Your quick stop. Your only stop. …” (AdAge)
Whaaat? Credibility and food? What are we talking about here, Whole Foods? No. We’re talking about coffee and finger foods: donuts, muffins, croissants, biscotti.
Dunkin’ Donuts has a decades old reputation for delivering coffee and donuts. it’s the neighbourhood destination that doesn’t charge an arm and a leg. They had those ads, you know, the ones with the fat guy with the moustache? With the fresh donuts? What’s wrong with them making fresh sandwiches and fresh (okay, not-so-fresh) soup?
Dunkin’s marketers have your emotional heartstrings laying across the palm of their hands. All they need to do is play those heartstrings well.
Dunkin’s is the American version of Tim Hortons. Which used to be a donut store. And now sells sandwiches and soup as well as coffee and donuts. Most of its outlets do have drive-through windows, and you do get your coffee and food quickly. But their primary selling point is not “fast.”
Their selling point is fresh. And reliable. The brand has worked hard to build a reputation as a reliable neighbourhood meeting point. It’s part of Canada’s shared heritage and history. Tim Hortons and hockey. Tim Hortons and “roll up the rim.” Tim Hortons and Christmas gift sets.
And Tim Hortons is doing very well against Starbucks in Canada, thank you very much.
Fast? That I can get from the Korean grocery down the street or from the nearest gas bar.
May 1, 2006 by Colin
You’ve screwed up. You, or one of your employees, or your suppliers, has screwed up big time. The moment has passed for a quick 10% off the bill or the promise of a free shake the next time you pop in – it’s time for the company’s public relations counsellor and the lawyer to face off in the executive suite.
As always, effective risk communication principles should influence your decision making: your advice to your client should weigh the potential financial and legal liabilities against the public’s (or your stakeholders’) sense of outrage.
I’ve pasted a pull quote from an interview with Peter Sandman. Out of context, it really does sound horrible, doesn’t it? Like 1950s Politburo or 1930s Palazzo Venezia?
” … How best to apologize depends on the nature of the situation. A full apology includes acknowledgment of the offense, acceptance of responsibility, expression of regret, and a promise not to repeat the offense. But sometimes a partial apology—for example, the acceptance of responsibility or an expression of regret—is better than nothing.
Further, while apologies generally should follow hard on the heels of the transgression, lest the offending individual or institution be viewed as avoiding blame or as begrudging in its atonement, there are situations—for instance, when large numbers of people have suffered—in which haste makes waste.” (Harvard Working Knowledge)
May 1, 2006 by Colin
An exercise in difficult community relations: when your suburban cul-de-sac becomes a shooting location for porn movies, and how your neighbours react. In the LA Times.