As I’ve begun to explore the possibility of perhaps entertaining the idea of considering once again working for the man, it’s forced me to think a lot about who I am, what I believe in (and don’t believe in), and what my value is as a co-worker, a manager, a piece of talent, and just as a person.
Because regardless of what I do next, it is of critical importance that what I consider to be my value, is aligned the way whomever decides to lock me up thinks about my value.
The ultimate output of this thought (and something I am actively working on) is going to become my “platform”. Sort of like political parties have their stated platform (so you know where they stand, and can join them or fight against them) - I am going to have my own. And I am going to create a page on my site, and let it live there.
However, getting all of those thoughts organized is no small undertaking it turns out. And as an early step in the process, I’ve begun to just jot down disorganized thoughts and snippets of things I believe. Hoping that at some point, it will all come together somehow.
And I want to share those raw bits here. Partly as a way to see how they feel when I throw them out into the real world, partly as a test to see if I am able to live up to and stay true to them, and partly because I am really curious to have feedback/input/additions from other people…should you feel so inclined.
So, in no real order, and with zero polish (I am literally slapping this list together from scraps of paper and emails to myself with no editing), here is a working list of things and thoughts that I feel are central to me as a marketing professional, a creative thinker, an advertising guy, and as a person.
Again, it may be shit, but it's
Be convicted - but know/admit when you are wrong, owning it and changing course appropriately
Use your brain
Have an endlessly open mind
Embrace your ego
Be irrepressible and insatiable in your desire to know more
Know how to sell ideas
Know how to make ideas real
Look people in the eye when you speak to them
Be genuine - even if that means some people don’t like you
Read things that aren’t industry things, but look at them (and apply them) like they are industry things
Know what matters and what doesn’t matter - be relentless about ditching the latter
Question norms and don’t be afraid to ignore the prescribed path
Know the difference between data and insights
Keep in touch with everybody
Learn how to play politics, but do so nicely. It’s sucky but it will matter.
Don’t always focus just on the most important person in the room, but always know who that person is
Respect people’s time
Really avoid meetings with more than 4 people in them
If you have to have a meeting, make it short make it productive and focused
If you’re in a meeting that you realize you don’t need to be in leave the meeting
Most requests via email fall into one of three buckets - do it, dismiss it, or delegate it. Learn when to do each.
Don’t use your inbox as a to-do list
Observation is not strategy
Get out from behind your desk. If you work in the strategy or creative business - or any business that sells to or markets to people - be out with those people as much as you can
Fuck best practices
Don’t care if it’s been done before
Be the case study
Big ideas win business, consistent execution and results keeps business
Every brand or product has a story, find it
Every brand or product also has a conversion event, some way to track your success, find that too
Know where you are trying to go before you start going
Don’t pre-kill ideas with data. Use predictive analytics only as a guide, and use trailing analytics to optimize and inform decisions
Don’t go down with the ship. If an idea is bad, or something is not working (and you know it), get out and move on.
If you work in an advertising agency, your job is to tell your client the truth, not just what they want to hear
Think about how to create media, not just how to buy media
Have an opinion
Make things that people want to spend time with
Think like your consumer (but just refer to them as people)
People are not neatly package-able into demographic composites
Focus groups are usually a giant waste of time and are just risk mitigators. Avoid them unless absolutely necessary.
Listen well and read between the lines. What the client really wants isn’t always in the brief, but often comes out in the hallway conversations or a chat over beers.
If you can’t help someone, try and connect them to someone who can.
If you live the principles of the strategy, the things you can count will go up.
Don’t try to get fired, but don’t be afraid of it either.
Several weeks back, the folks at BevNET and Brewbound invited me to speak at their craft beer business conference in Boston, the Brewbound Session.
Specifically, they asked me to do a talk entitled “Evaluating, Shifting Marketing Priorities As You Grow”, which was meant to be my broad take on where craft brewers should spend their marketing time and money as they grow.
The first draft of this presentation, was actually 60 slides, and clocked in at almost an hour when I did a run through. But since I only had 20 minutes on stage, I had to dramatically cut this down to fit the format.
Which given how much I like to talk, was quite a challenge.
Below is the final presentation I gave at the event, cut down to 34 slides, along with my original speaker notes (which are written conversationally - as I presented).
The audience was a couple hundred brewers and beer industry folks, and despite the fact that I talked very quickly while on stage, and tried to cram as much content into the allotted time as possible, I think this was pretty well received.
Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for coming today, and thanks to BevNet and Brewbound for inviting me. My name is Andrew Teman, and I’m the founder of a creative agency here in Boston, called Heart.
I’m here today, to talk about how you (as craft brewers), can think about and prioritize your marketing efforts, as a means to breaking through in this increasingly competitive space.
Because just as a bit of a level set - and this is something I know you’re all acutely aware of - this is what the average consumer is facing today when buying beer.
The sheer amount of choice is simply overwhelming.
I actually snapped this picture a week or so ago, at a liquor store not far from here.
These are bottles in the craft beer section, literally covered in dust, because they’ve sat untouched for so long.
And these aren’t way down on the back bottom-shelf. These are left side, eye level - a prime spot.
So, it goes without saying that to even stand a chance, to even have a hope of being pulled off of the shelf, you need to stand out. You need to break through this clutter and noise.
And when I ask people in the beer industry how they are approaching marketing (especially those just starting out), what I hear most often, is this:
And I get it. I understand completely why this is the starting point for everyone.
There is a perception that it is free.
That it’s easy.
That you can do it effectively without any outside help.
There is a perception that beer is inherently social, and thusly, everyone will just naturally talk about you and your product organically.
And while some of this may be partially true, relying on just doing social media alone, will not get you very far - I promise.
Social media is a tactic (one of many) that’s part of a larger communication framework through which you tell your story.
It sits alongside things like PR, events, your packaging, the product…all of the ways you can communicate your brand to drinkers.
So what I want to do today, is get a bit broader. A bit higher level, and give you a framework that hopefully will allow you to better organize and prioritize how you market your brands and your products.
And to keep things really simple, I’ve broken the world down into four pieces. Four pieces that I think can work for everyone, regardless of whether you’re MillerCoors, or two guys in a garage. All things you can be thinking about, and doing today, regardless of your size or your stage.
And we’re going to talk a bit more about what each of those things means in practice.
Let’s start with making a great product.
This is my friend Todd - some of you may know Todd, he’s been around the industry for a while. Todd worked at Sam Adams with me and ran the customer relations end of the business.
But his true passion is (and always has been sake). His commitment to the product, to the liquid, is second to none. He pours all of his heart and energy into making the absolute best sake he can.
And this is where it all starts - with that passion and that determination and that commitment to making an amazing product.
And this part, this is something I can’t help you with. Because all of the marketing in the world, can’t save a bad product.
And I trust, just based on your presence here today, that you are all people that have this step knocked.
So let’s build off of that and get into what happens next.
Which is having a great story.
And when I think about story, I think about it in terms of how each of you, in this room, would answer this question.
If I grabbed any one of you, and said “What is Backlash Beer?” or “What is Portico Brewing?”
Would you have an answer that’s clear, differentiated, own-able, uniquely yours, and above all…interesting?
Some of you would, I’m sure. But lots of you would probably respond with a long pause. Or some rambling monologue that’s hard to follow and ultimately trails off into nowhere.
Or you’d talk to me about being small, and independent - or having quality ingredients. Which I hate to tell you, isn’t story - it’s cost of entry to the category.
And it certainly isn’t unique or interesting.
And the reason story is so important, is that it’s your story. YOUR story, that becomes the basis of that emotional connection you need to build with your drinker in order to break through the clutter we talked about.
Capturing people’s hearts is the first step to capturing their wallets. And capturing hearts, has everything to do with having a great story.
That one simple truth, that uniquely-yours thing that guides everything you do, make, or say.
And while we could do a full day conference on story and brand positioning, I wanted to give a couple of real quick examples of what story looks can begin to look like in its simplest form.
First, Toms - one of my favorite brands, is built on a simple principle. A simple story that guides everything that they do. Whether they get into footwear, or eyewear, or even coffee. Their story is about social entrepreneurship.
And industry example, a beer example - Clown Shoes.
While this is personally not the direction I’d go in if I started a brewery, I do have an enormous amount of respect for what they are creating with this brand.
It is what it is, and it’s unapologetic about what it is, and it’s origins.
And from my perspective, this story is pulled through beautifully in the products that they make - certainly in how they are named. It’s a great, simple story.
And frankly, so much of its strength comes from it’s polarizing effect. The fact that it’s unabashedly not for everyone, is a big part of what makes it resonant. It forces a decision to be with them or not. And there’s great power in that.
But regardless of the angle, regardless of what your story is, it needs to be rooted in an authenticity, an honesty, a heart that bleeds through and is undeniable.
It’s cliche, but it’s true.
So begin with what you believe. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What is that one simple thing that can guide everything underneath it?
Because once that story is defined and strong, the rest becomes so much easier. The advertising, social media, packaging…it all has something to be guided by.
But of course a great story poorly told, isn’t going to be of much impact.
Because it isn’t in the idea, it’s in the execution. It’s in how this story comes to life and begins to work hard for you.
So to that end, I want to go through some of the ways you can bring this story to life, in service of growth.
First, and maybe most importantly, is to tell great stories through your products themselves.
I know we are in a world where we’re all chasing the latest, hottest, most interesting, underground and extreme thing.
But there is enormous strength in having your brand and product stories map to one another.
I’ve always loved Dogfish, and while their portfolio is pretty eclectic, they (to me) are great at telling a brand story through their products. Product becomes a proof point for the stories they tell.
Next, package design - something I see far too many brands skimping on.
My advice is to invest in great design early on. The liquid inside is moot if no one pulls it off the shelf first.
And this matters more than you may think. Package design is key to what Proctor and Gamble called “First Moment of Truth” - which they described as the moment “when consumers stand in front of a store shelf … and decide whether to buy a P&G brand, or a competing product.”
Eyes lead people - colors, patterns, objects of beauty.
And trust me, designers are DYING to do beer branding work. I’m not saying exploit them, but know that they WANT to do this work. Engage them, and design something beautiful from day one.
Beyond just jumping out, design matters, because beautiful and interesting products become badges. They become social objects and vehicles through which people self-express.
This is Method, another brand I love.
Eric, one of the founders talks about how he knew people wanted cleaning products that they didn’t have to hide under their sinks. Genius. Totally upended the category style, and turned household cleaners into objects of desire.
What they’ve done with cleaning products (creating something beautiful) is going to quickly become a cost of entry - a necessity to compete, in the beer industry.
And I know so many of you may only have one or two styles in retail now, maybe a few more. But as you approach design, think in foundational systems. Think about creating a design system, that is consistent enough to create that retail billboarding effect, but also elastic enough to accommodate growth.
Because people pattern match.
This is Pastene. People may not know the brand name Pastene, but they damn sure know the Italian brand with the yellow label.
And this design makes it easy for Pastene to introduce new products and cross-sell existing ones. Because they’ve created a system of visual communications that works hard for them and makes it easy on shoppers.
And “system” by the way doesn’t mean bland and templated.
I look at Pretty Things for instance, and every label for each different style is so unique and so intricate. But there is an unmistakeable style that they have. So those individual parts, as unique as they are, sum to something greater when on a shelf together.
Social media and content - which to be clear, I don’t think is totally useless, I just don’t believe that it’s the ONLY thing.
What I absolutely do believe, is that we, as beer folk, create great content simply as a byproduct of what we do every day. And that these visuals, these simple, light content pieces are a great way to tell your story.
These are some examples of “content” that I “created” when I was with Sam Adams, and almost with no captions, they tell wonderful stories
Remember, that what you are doing is interesting. Most people sit in offices, and wear ties, and create TPS reports. You guys are making beer, and that’s cool in itself. Don’t complicate it, just own it and give people a window into your world. Share the awesomeness that is working in the beer industry, with those who don’t.
Lastly, another place I’d focus on and spend in if I were a brewer (in addition to design) is PR.
Aside from huge reach, these magazines like GQ, Women’s Health, etc…provide third party validation, which has great value. With these placements, you are able to borrow equity from other established vehicles as a means to build your own.
Same goes for awards and festivals. Enter and win.
My sister in law covets the Boston Magazine Best of Boston award for her day spa every year. And not just because winning is awesome. But that ability to badge, and get the press that comes along with winning. It’s such phenomenal validation - that borrowed equity is so strong.
But whatever the medium, and whatever the story, as Dan Weiden (one of the most famous advertising minds of our generation) says, “Just move me dude”.
Lastly, I want to talk about media.
Marketing with a capital “M” - giving all of this story a boost, and making sure people actually get a chance to see it and hear it and experience it.
Back to social media for a minute, and this idea of just “doing social media”.
Again, what I understand the logic path to be, is…
Social media is free
Social is about engagement
Engagement is good
Beer is social
We will get engagement, because beer.
Not sure if we have any South Park fans here, but most social media approaches I see, are a bit like the underpants gnomes from South Park.
But the harsh reality is, that Facebook and social media are now unambiguously paid platforms. Even Facebook themselves has said so.
Beer, no matter how inherently social, is not immune to this reality I’m afraid.
And the data proves this.
If you do not pay for ads on Facebook, you simply are not seen. You do not exist.
The latest data (this is from Ogilvy Social), says that only about 6% of a page’s fans are reached with its content.
So do the math. Without paying…
For every 1,000 fans you have, you’re going to be lucky if your posts _even appear in the newsfeeds of 60 peopl_e.
And appearing is different still from being seen, or from having any impact.
The good news is, the targeting abilities on these platforms, are amazing.
For instance, here is a quick cut I ran.
Let’s say for instance, you make a stout and distribute in New England. This targeting segment would allow you to get content in front of people in New England, that have indicated they like Stout, and who have an upcoming birthday.
3,000 people now (that aren’t necessarily fans of yours) that you can reach with a specific message - like “celebrate your birthday with an XYZ stout” or something like that.
Getting WAY outside of social media, and going in a totally different direction….
One of the first things we did at Heart, was a billboard. I’ve been a digital guy for 15 years, the last thing I thought we’d do would be a billboard.
But we did, and they ran on Route 93 and the Mass Turnpike here, for 3 months. Total media cost was around $XX,XXX. The artwork and production end is not terribly expensive either. Maybe half that.
And from a pure reach + resonance standpoint, this actually outperformed everyone’s expectations. We STILL get mentions of this billboard, months after it’s come down.
Radio and TV, also tend to be overlooked, but are not nearly as crazy or expensive as you may think.
Sam Adams and Jim Koch did so many things well (they still do), but one of their smartest moves, was buying TV. It was a huge part of what allowed them to blow past the competition and become a category leader.
And recently we’ve seen folks like New Belgium and Kona start experimenting with TV also.
So to recap…
Make a great product - that’s all you
Have a great story - know your reason for being, why you exist, who you are and who you aren’t
Tell it well - take that story and be considerate of every touchpoint you have with a drinker, from product stories to content stories. And make sure they all build towards something greater.
Give it a boost - Don’t be afraid of paid media. You’re in an extremely crowded space, and for short money, you can start to force your way above the fray.
Lastly, I want to leave you with one more framework to help put all of this into a time and priority context.
And in the name of broad applicability, this is obviously grossly simplified.
But as I’ve mentioned, I’d start thinking about building relationships with three important partners sooner rather than later…
A creative partner
A PR partner
An advertising partner (media + creative)
And look at deploying those partners, roughly along this timeline.
After a lot of thought and internal conflict, I’ve decided to step away from Heart and take the rest of the summer off. With no plans to return to the agency.
As I’ve begun to tell people about this plan, the first thing they ask me (unsurprisingly) is “why?”. So here is an attempt at an answer.
And let me state up front, that it has nothing to do with the health or prospects of the business. Heart is going to continue its ascent, and remain strong without me. Thomas (my partner at Heart) has always been the creative force behind the business, and he, along with the rest of the awesome team, are going continue to kill it.
The reason I am stepping away, has everything to do with where my heart (lowercase “h”) lies today.
Thomas has a great little framework that he always draws, which provides a really simple and smart way to prioritize one’s focus, as a means to happiness. It looks like this:
The essential idea here, is to demonstrate that if you start mapping all of life’s annoyances and problems onto this little spectrum, you begin to realize that most of your energy is largely spent worrying about shit that you can’t control, and that simply doesn’t matter.
And if you work in advertising, you’ll likely reach the even sadder realization that MOST of your stress and worry triggers tend to sit quite firmly in that lower left quadrant.
Which is where I’ve found myself living these days, and it’s making me rather unhappy.
I’ve become buried under the stresses of building a business, slugging through work I’m not excited about, arguing over what’s a good idea and what’s a bad idea, and just generally trying to push a big rock up a steep hill as we try and change the advertising game from the inside.
It’s been bumming me out, it’s been exhausting me, and more importantly, I can’t control it (as much as I’d like to) and I’m not really sure any of it matters (to me, today).
Not compared with what’s on the other side - which is a new family that needs me to be a better husband and dad for a while, more than they need me to be a better ad guy.
Because for too long, work has been in competition with family, and for at least a little while, I need to let family win.
I need to look at the things that matter, that I can control, and shift my energy there.
So starting this week, I'm going to take some time off. Like, completely off. I’m taking the back half of June, all of July, and perhaps some of August too.
My central focus will be to spend some more time with my family, looking after my infant daughter and supporting my wife in her new job. And just generally doing things that make me (and hopefully my family) a lot happier.
At some point though, I’ll need to return to the working world (likely end of summer, beginning of fall). So I’ll be looking to stay sharp in my downtime.
I’m going to try and write/publish more, I’m going to read the stack of books I’ve been collecting, I’m going to seek out lots of beer/coffee conversations with interesting people (get in touch!), I’m going to tidy up some of my dusty tech skills, and I’m generally going to be really deliberate about getting setup for my next move, whatever that may be.
Because looking back, it’s clear that my entire career has been nothing if not some combination of luck, hustle, opportunism, timing, and a near frenetic changing-of-mind and continual re-shaping what I love and believe.
I’ve always led with my gut and my heart, and this time is no different.
Broadly speaking, I’m a big fan of Dyson’s approach to product design. But I came across this in a Wegman’s recently, and it’s a great example of the fine line between design for design sake, and design for usability.
If users of the product need to cover the beautiful design with a sign informing people how to use it, the design is a failure.
Based on some of those conversations and responses, I did want to add some more thoughts to the original ramblings.
First, I’m not saying never ever ever ever shall any brand spend time or money in building a social media community and fostering some sort of engagement through it.
Where there is some (relatively) clear connection between the core assets/function of a brand and the natural user consumption desires/behavior on a given platform, therein lies some potential opportunity for gain, and a decent argument for an investment creating and building a brand-driven social media presence.
But what I am saying, is that instances in which this strong natural intersection exists, are the exception, not the rule. Most brands are awkwardly forcing this connection at best, and all things being evaluated equally, it’d make more sense for them to reduce their focus in social down to near zero.
Because my central point in all of this, is that every marketing plan should start from zero, and channels should be chosen unsentimentally, prioritized based on their ability to drive the bottom line. Which more often than not, would put social media pretty far down that prioritized list. If on the list at all.
Some of the specific points that people brought up in response to my post were:
What about customer service? Yes, sure. Social media has most certainly shaken up how brands and businesses need to address unhappy customers. Though I’m not quite sure anyone's really cracked that nut yet. The most common tactic I’ve seen throughout the industry to date, seems to be the GFTO (get the fuck offline) approach, where social media managers play whack-a-mole, and try to herd complainers into established offline channels (phone/email/web) as quickly as possible. So, again, the resource case we’re making feels a bit disconnected from the reality of what’s actually being addressed - since most social media “customer service” amounts to a copy/paste apology and link to a form so reps can “take it offline”.
What about purchase influence? Jess made the point that social presences give the undecided users a sense of the brand. While I have a lot of love for Jess, I don’t necessarily believe that active exploration of a brand’s social channels is a deciding factor (or even an influencing factor) in the majority of user journeys. I’ll buy that people visit Yelp, or read Amazon reviews, or check out Consumer Reports, but I just don’t see Facebook pages as being an important part of that purchase path. Again, this feels like another tenuous hypothesis we inflate in order to justify what we’re doing.
What about awareness? Can a brand’s social media presence help drive awareness? Some, sure. Any interaction, or even noticing of any brand anything, can theoretically raise awareness of the brand in some small way I suppose. I’d tend to think though, that if you’re already a fan or follower of a brand, your awareness is likely quite high as it is. So maybe that content your posting, at best reinforces awareness. But I’m not sure that your owned social channels are creating any awareness where it didn’t previously exist. And frankly, your ability as a brand to even do that much, is basically going away as we speak.
Again, these are just my opinions today, and this is an evolving point-of-view that’s based on a lot of recent observations and conversations I’ve been having of late. Nothing I’m saying is a 100% truism or universally unassailable fact for every brand out there.
I do believe however, that brand marketers should be more assertive in asking the question (“is social media really worth it?”), and that they shuld be looking objectively at the channels they spend against, versus diving blindly into checking the boxes thrown in front of them.
And I’m also asking those who sell social media tools and strategies, to dispense with the fantasy, and to re-focus on bringing your clients the plans and recommendations that they actually need – not just the ones that you can best profit from.
I’ve been asking the following question of my peers (as well as myself lately), and getting some really interesting answers - if any answers at all.
If you are responsible for allocating marketing budgets for a brand (any brand really), how do you justify spending a dollar on social media over some other channel (print, tv, pr, content, etc.)?
Or, even more directly:
Why bother spending any time or money on social media?
And for clarity, I’m talking about the earned, organic, content-calendar, community manager, lets-build-conversation, engagement stuff here. The things that require man-hours, software, creatives, listening systems and the like. Not buying ads on social platforms (that’s just advertising).
Unsurprisingly, these questions, when asked directly, seem to cause some rambling panicked responses, and momentary crises of identity amongst my social media practitioner friends.
Because deep down, they, like me, realize that the charade is over. That the once grand promise of social media as a beautiful brand engagement tool, has gone generally unfulfilled.
It’s a tough realization, and I’ve taken no small amount of angry shit from my colleagues in pushing these questions. In part, because there’s this sense that if you’re in the game, you’re in the game.
We’re all in this together. The agencies sell the platforms, the platforms sell the engagement, the other agency sells the measurement (which always says “it’s working!”), and we all get paid. By the time anyone starts asking questions, it’s too late because no one in this industry stays anywhere for more than a year or two and we’ve all moved onto new jobs.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
But that hyperbolic collusion rhetoric aside, there are some real, honest questions about the efficacy of social media and value of investing in the building of “brand communities”.
The biggest problem that we can’t just sweep under the rug, is that broadly speaking, the average person gives zero shits about your brand at all, let alone connecting with it. In social media or otherwise.
We’re trying desperately to force a selfish narrative (that people want to engage with brands), when in fact the exact opposite is true.
People far smarter than I, have put this more eloquently than I ever could, so here are some quotes on the topic that I love.
Start by understanding that no one cares about (the brand). People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are–it is a token, it is a badge. It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.
Our challenge is that people are not paying attention. Our challenge is that people really don’t care. Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm, but overcoming indifference.
So then, why are we spending so much money trying to make social media work, when the audience doesn’t care, and the efforts lag so far behind other mediums in terms of driving business growth?
Seems like your time and money is still better spent on the classics - paid search and email. It may be un-sexy, but it’s hard to argue.
“But brands that set smart social goals, are making it work!” you say.
I’d say that this is a false construct peddled by those who benefit from the idea that social media works and is necessary. Meaning, we’re creating arbitrary social media goals to justify what we’ve already decided wewant to do, versus allowing broader business goals to lead us into the proper channels with the proper investment. Which often times, won’t be social. When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
“But we’re getting great engagement on our content!” you argue.
“But Facebook fans of XYZ brand spend twice as much than non-fans!” you plead.
This has always been a favorite of mine. Aside from the fact that the “data” here is dubious (“much of the data thus far has been anecdotal”), this argument is also a wonderful case of the confirmation bias approach that the industry takes to justify its existence. Is it also possible for instance, that heavy spenders are more likely to become fans? I know that’s an inconvenient possibility, but it is a possibility, yes? I fully expect select parts of this J.Crew story to be used ad infinitum in social media presentations henceforth.
I could go on, and talk about the myriad other arguments that I hear in support of social media, but my point is a fairly direct and simple one:
If you are an individual who is responsible for deciding where to spend your marketing resources (time and money), you need to ask your agency and your team why you should bother with social media at all. And you are owed good, honest answers to that question.
I met with someone last week, a marketing director for a near 100 year old financial institution that catered to immigrant families and the local community. She was concerned that they were “behind”, because they didn’t have a robust social media presence. As the discussion went on, we all agreed that they’re not losing customers because of their social media absence, and they’re not likely to grow the business based on their social media presence.
But prior to our chat, she’d seen a parade of agencies talking about big digital ecosystems, and the need to “engage” with their customers in social, as if not doing so made her a marketing pariah.
Of course each of these recommendations came without any consideration as to how doing these things would help her business - or even if at the most basic, whether or not these were the right channels for her to focus her limited time and resources on.
They were selling her what they had, not what she needed.
So I’d ask again (as I did in that meeting), why bother?
I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in my career, working on digital and brand strategies for service companies. And the one thing I hear from every single one at some point or another, is this:
We get a ton of awesome emails and letters from happy customers, but all of our online reviews skew negative. How can we get our happy customers to post their positive reviews online?
In fact, just in the past 48 hours alone, I received a frantic text from my brother-in-law (he runs marketing for a health club chain and was agonizing over a negative Facebook review), had a conversation with a client concerned with overcoming their 2-star Google rating, and then my wife forwarded me this gem.
These bad reviews, and company’s inability to surface the good ones more easily, is something that makes brand managers, marketers, and PR folks go insane. I’ve seen it and heard it dozens of times.
But while these brands are all looking for some technical fix (build me a system to make it better!), the problem isn’t a mechanical one, it’s a behavioral one. It has to do with motivation, and why people choose to review their experiences where they do.
Here is how I observe it.
People are compelled to post negative reviews online, publicly, because their motivation is to warn and help others (“beware of this company/product!”), and also (I’d imagine) to gain some level of retribution against thecompany they feel wronged by, through public shaming (“I really showed them!”). It’s one of the sharpest weapons an individual can wield against the big bad organization in the face of conflict.
People tend to send positive reviews directly to the people that they are praising (via email or postal mail), because their motivation is to show appreciation to theindividual that helped them, by thanking them specifically. In many cases, the feeling tends to be that some single person at the big bad organization, stepped out and helped you. So the positive review becomes about repaying the good feeling to another human, that they gave to you. It’s a shared moment of two people helping and appreciating each other, and thus, doesn’t really need to be public.
Of course, every company wishes that this was reversed. They want the good reviews to be public and the negative ones to be private. Behaviorally though, it just doesn’t work that way.
This is merely an observation/pseudo-insight, and I am aware that I’m not offering a solution here. Just something I was thinking about this morning though and wanted to get down on “paper”
If anyone has any thoughts/expansions on this though, I’d love to add to it.
This morning I had a plumber come to the house and replace a jammed up shower faucet. The entire process took ninety minutes. Five minutes of pleasantries on either end (a hello, some explaining, and then a goodbye), eighty minutes where the plumber left and went to three supply stores to get the right part, and another five minutes replacing the piece itself.
So, essentially, five minutes of actual labor, which basically involved him removing the old piece and snapping the new one into place.
It all looked terribly easy, but it will end up costing probably $150. And I’m fine with it. I’m not going to complain that their rate is $100/hour and it was really onlyfive minutes worth of labor, so it should really only cost me $12.
Because I didn’t pay the plumber for the time it took him to do it. I paid him for the knowledge he’s built up over years, that allowed him to come in, assess the situation, and know exactly what needed to be done before doing it.
I paid him for the talent that made it possible for him to do the job (and to do it right) in five minutes.
Could I have tried to do it myself? Sure. I could have bought the same part, at the same supply store, hacked my way to getting the piece off (likely with the wrong tools and wrong technique), and hacked my way to getting the new one on.
I probably would have saved a few bucks on the way to a less than ideal final product, and then probably would have had to pay double to the same plumber, just to have him come fix the mess I’d made.
When you’re in the service industry, the battle you most often fight, is not against other competing practitioners, but rather it’s against the potential clients who all think that they can do it themselves.
Whether it’s plumbing or creative strategy, you’re constantly fighting against the “that doesn’t seem so hard” arguments, and the “that didn’t take very long” arguments.
It’s a bit of a wank way to think about it, but you don’t pay for a piece of art, based on how long it took the artist to make it.
So why then, do we still evaluate these sorts of industries (services, skills, crafts, etc) in terms of billable hours and time taken, versus output?
Glass has the potential to change the way we function as humans. It symbolizes the promise of a new era in communications, in content creation, and in day-to-day living. What it lacks, however, is subtlety… or, that element of “fitting in.”
But what I think everyone is missing here, is that Google Glass is supposed to look weird. It’s supposed to stand out. It’s supposed to elicit stares and questions and strange looks.
Google could have very easily partnered up with Warby Parker, and made Glass look like this (and they likely will at some point):
But Google Glass is for the early adopters. And part of being an early adopter, is letting people know that you are an early adopter. It’s not about blending in. It’s about standing out in ways that show people, that you are on the bleeding edge. That you are ahead of the curve.
Remember the Honda Insight? When it came out in 1999, it was one of the first true hybrid-electric vehicles put out by a major auto manufacturer, and it looked like this.
It was meant to stand out, and look like a spaceship. It was meant to cause curiosity and put drivers in the position of looking like the forward-thinking futurists they wanted to be perceived as. It was meant to cause other people to ask “what is that?”, just so they’d have a chance to tell them.
Some fifteen years on, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius still hang on to a bit of that “look at me” style, as both models are still for the green-types that want to be seen as green types. But as we’ve reached mass acceptance of hybrid automobiles, and as the technology has become commonplace, so has the design.
The shift in hybrid car design is now about blending in. And at some point, the same will be said for wearables like Glass.
Instance #3 - Back when I was helping get Pangea Media up and off the ground, we were literally doing everything ourselves, in house. Coding, writing, designing, media buying, everything. And as is often the case in a small company, I found myself outside of my comfort-zone, and designing a banner ad one day (which is not my forte). My masterpiece is below, and to this day it is the single best piece of content I have ever created in terms of performance. It drove nearly 65,000 SIGN-UPS in a single day. Not impressions, not clicks, but full registrations on a silly IQ test.
If stuff like this works, why then, do we bother pouring time into meticulously designing banner ads? Fussing with copy, and calls-to-action, and wasting piles of money on things that people have become trained to ignore?
Now go to their Facebook page or Twitter feed and what do you see?
Maybe a car that’s rooting for a football team? Perhaps it’s a box of cereal that wants to know how your weekend was? Or it could be a stick of deodorant that’s curious to know what you thought of the Breaking Bad finale.
And it’s all fucking awkward.
Every last post.
Because we as marketers have somehow lost our way. We’ve somehow gotten comfortable with a set of social media “best practices” and “standards” that are as phony as they are foolish.
We’ve somehow bought into this silly idea that brands in social spaces, should act like people. That the key to success in social media is to “humanize” your brand, and it give it “a voice”.
And as a result, that’s what every ding-dong community manager and stuffed-shirt social media “expert” is doing.
They’re just clumsily attempting to animate brands like some fumble-thumbed puppeteers at the worst community theater puppet show you’ve ever seen.
Hence the awkwardness in a cup of coffee becoming sentient and asking you what you think of this weather, on Facebook.
Seriously. I barely want to talk to my human friends about the weather, let alone a faceless corporation.
But social media pros have been selling this bullshit approach for so long, that I think they’ve started to believe it themselves. Or maybe they legitimately don’t know any better. It’s hard to tell.
Either way, it’s time to stop the nonsense.
It’s time to stop writing tone guidelines, and internally coaching your community managers on how to make your ketchup or snow-tires or dog biscuits sound “approachable”, “quirky”, and “fun-loving”.
It’s time to stop hiding behind logos and stock photos, content calendars and platitudes.
It’s time to hire the right social media brand stewards, and then trust, empower, and elevate them to roles of front-facing prominence.
It’s time to stop saying “human” and start being human.
Because if you’re not prepared to put a face (an actual face) and name (an actual name) alongside your brand in social media, perhaps you shouldn’t be there at all.
When people tell me that brand doesn’t matter, I point out this pair of flip-flops.
Generally speaking, they are flip flops like any others. Fifty cents worth of rubber, maybe another thirty cents worth of plastic. The same flip-flops you’d find in a bin at any beach-front store, selling for $2.99.
But these flip flops have an extra 10 cents worth of plastic affixed to them, in the form of a small Tory Burch logo at the toe.
For a good part of 2010, and for some part of 2011, I was in charge of the social media channels for Samuel Adams. And though I only spent a short time at the helm before moving onto Hill Holliday, I learned more about community management in this role than I had before or have since.
And I don’t mean “best practices” sort of stuff, like when the best time to post is, and what formats get more engagement. None of that actually matters as it turns out. That’s all nonsense. More on that in a minute.
What I learned, was that the key to running a successful brand community in any social space, was to be part of the community and never above it. Here’s what I mean…
Every person that works at Samuel Adams is a beer person. They fucking love beer genuinely. Regardless of what your job function is at the company, from Jim Koch himself, all the way through to the finance department and the interns, every person in that building shares one thing in common. And that’s their love for drinking, tasting, making and talking about beer.
So therefore, the approach to social for Samuel Adams was a simple one - connect with people over a shared love for beer, by being part of the community, not by lording over it or patronizing it.
Tactically, and on a day-to-day, post-by-post basis, I looked at it like this:
We ALL loved beer. It was the common thread between myself and all of the brand's fans and followers. And in particular, we all loved Samuel Adams. But it just so happened, that when I got up and went to work in the morning, I’d walk by Jim in his office, tasting Boston Lager samples, or step over hoses being used by Bob Cannon as he washed the brewery floor. Or maybe I was part of a homebrew taste panel. Or perhaps I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at our most prized creation.
Whatever the particulars, I was Charlie and this was the Chocolate Factory. And my job was to help get your mind off of TPS reports and the humdrum of office life, by giving you access into my world.
And by taking this simple approach of sharing my genuine excitement and wonder at what I had access to every day, I was able to connect to fans on a level that wasn’t manufactured authenticity, but was actually authentic.
Since I’ve left Samuel Adams, I’ve had the occasion to work with lots of people, who in some way or another, are responsible for over-seeing or managing brand communities. And what I see more often than not, are content calendars, best-practices outlines, tone/voice guidelines, and other devices meant to operationalize authenticity and connection with the people in these communities.
We all talk about the importance of connecting with our communities on a human level. We all talk about being personal and having a voice. We all talk about doing the right thing. But then we go out there and literally do none of those things. We treat these channels like a sales-brochure, and we post rehearsed, tone-deaf, advertiser-centric junk, that everyone sees right through.
So my advice is to ignore best-practices, don’t make content calendars, and for god’s sake, please try and see the irony in formalizing documents on how to have a voice and be authentic.
Instead, hire smart people, and match those people by interest, to the brand communities they oversee. If you have a fashion brand, staff that community manager role with someone who genuinely loves fashion. Have an automotive brand? Get a car-nut in that community manager’s seat. Don’t waste your time looking for people with “community management experience”. Look for people who already have a voice and connection with the community, and the rest will be easy.
If you go this route, you won’t have to spend time teaching someone to have an authentic voice, because it’ll just be there naturally.
Two quick thoughts on social media for this Monday morning.
First, we need to stop checking boxes, and start thinking a bit more. Or maybe it’s that we need to start thinking a bit less. Not quite sure.
Either way, I see far too much social media “strategy” that goes like this, and it needs to stop.
List out all of the “current” social media platforms that we an think of (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine, etc).
Try and find/make things to put into each bucket.
We need to cut that shit out.
Instead, start with an idea, a goal, or a desired outcome that you want your brand and messaging to have when someone encounters it. Now go out and make things that drive towards that outcome. You’ll figure out which channels/platforms to use, and which to ignore.
Second thought, is that we need to consider social media as being bottom-up as much as top-down. Maybe even more.
What I mean by that is this:
Top-down is explicitly driven by the brand and pushes the user to do something. Think contests and calls-to-action, that sort of thing. Brand tells user what to do, when to do it, and where to do it. If you rely on this method, there’s a good chance that you and your brand are inherently uninteresting.
Bottom-down is creating awesome products and experiences, that have talk-value naturally built in. Your brand becomes social because people want to talk about it, not because they’re part of some Pavlovian Facebook experiment. Strong, confident, secure brands and strategists love this approach and do it well.
I think it might be time to stop putting hashtags in television commercials. Or maybe it’s just time to get a bit more honest about what their place is, or isn’t.
For starters, putting a hashtag on the end card of a tv spot is not a social media strategy. It’s a ham-fisted thing that marketers do, so they can somehow map tv spend to any associated social media conversation as a means to better quantify ad performance. At best, it’s an awkward swing at adding a tracking and measurement layer to the campaign, that everyone can see.
It’s sort of like if your end-card URL had ?src=AdCreative1&medium=television tacked onto the end of it, and you expected viewers to run to the web and type that exact string into their browser bar so you could better track how the spot was working.
The wonderful @fart (yes, I am quoting @fart to make a point), put it a bit more succinctly:
In my opinion, the big issue here is that a hashtag in a tv spot only provides value to the advertiser, and gives nothing back to the viewer. It’s really just our way of instructing users on how to tag their conversations, so we can more easily organize and count them. There’s nothing in it for the consumer at all.
To me, an uptick in hashtags on tv spots doesn’t in any way demonstrate that advertisers are now better getting social media, or that users are caring any more about brands than they did before. It just means that like all good marketers, we’ve found a neat trick to get people doing something, that we can all count.
And to be clear, I’m talking about advertisements, not television shows or content. In those instances, there can (and often is) actual community and conversation, the organization of which, does in fact provide real value to the user.
If you’re a startup, vendor, ad agency, or anyone else that’s looking for some new revenue streams, here’s a free Saturday morning idea for ya - in presentation purchases.
As an advertising strategy wank, I run a lot of client meetings, where I present ideas and insights, that ultimately lead into strategies. I always thought it’d be fun to treat these presentations like app makers and publishers treat freemium content.
Meaning, give the audience just enough of a presentation so that they want more, and then charge them (in the meeting) to unlock the content that they really want to see.
For years, I worked on the vendor side of the vendor/agency equation, and I was continually frustrated with my inability to crack the code and get business going with the big league ad agencies
I had great pitches, I had great products, and often times I even had great direct contacts. But I never got anywhere. Ever.
And it wasn’t until I switched teams and became “an agency guy”, that I truly understood why I had failed so hard, for so long, at getting one of those elusive ad agency deals.
As it turns out, the reasons for my failure (and likely the reasons for yours) were really fucking simple. So what I’m about to say here is pretty obvious. But having had experiences on both sides of the fence, I can confidently tell you that this is where 99% of vendors go wrong when approaching ad agencies for business.
You’re trying to sell me what you have, not what I need. This is, without qualification, the single biggest failure of vendors that try to pitch ad agencies. I, like many of my colleagues, literally get 10-15 cold-calls, and nearly twice as many emails per day, pitching me software, services, conferences, apps, and other wares that are ostensibly designed to help my clients and I.
And almost all of these pitches are in the form of a mass email or generic overview deck. Rarely (if ever) does a vendor reach out with any specificity or attempt to solve for a potential need that we may have.
Our client listing is right on our website. Our work for these clients is out in the open on the web, tv, Facebook and Twitter. On my LinkedIn profile, I even list the clients that I personally work on. You can find out a lot about my clients, my potential needs, and me before you even pick up the phone.
But you usually don’t. You just dump a generic Powerpoint on me, followed by a request for a meeting. We’ll get to that second part in a moment.
If you want to break through the clutter (and man, is there a lot of clutter), the best way to get someone’s attention, is to be specific and offer to solve a problem.
I know that you don't know precisely what my needs are. But take an educated guess. Because even if you’re wrong, this little attempt at understanding my needs, does two things. First, it sets you apart from your copy/paste brethren, and second, it tells me that you’d likely be a good partner. One that takes the time to understand the issues, and works to solve them.
You’re not clearly articulating what makes you the best/different. “Best in class”, “revolutionary”, “ROI”, “multi-channel”, “measurable”, etc etc etc.
Skip the buzzwords and sales speak, and tell me why you’re different. Again, most of us get bombarded with pitches every day. I guarantee that not only are you the fifth social media ads vendor of the day, but you’re also the fifth one to use what appears the be the exact same argument (down to the word) for why we should use you.
Give me something specific that sets you apart. Tell me what you have (specifically) that your competitors don’t. Give me a feature, an access point, a relationship or a data set that no one has but you. Know your advantage over the unwashed masses, and focus in on that.
You’re not mindful of timing. Back in my startup days, someone once said to me, that when you call on someone at an agency, they are only interested in your pitch if you are solving a specific need that they have in that very moment.
I now understand what he meant. Which is that a call placed to a mid-level media planner, pitching a media platform for instance, is only going to be fruitful if you happen to time it to perfectly coincide with that media planner’s schedule of planning for a buy.
The way to get around this (obviously), is to better understand the timing of your target. In this example, the media planner.
You need to get in the know, and figure out when budgets are being set, when they are final, when planning happens, and when buys happen. If you understand the cadence of the process you’re trying to insert yourself into, you’ll be far more likely to land that call at the perfect time.
As it happens, the best way to figure out this schedule, is simply to ask. If and when you do get someone on the phone, ask them when these critical times are. Then make note of them, and call back (again, with a solve for a need) when the time is right.
You’re carpet-bombing my entire team. HUGE pet peeve of almost everyone in the world, not just ad agencies. DO NOT go on LinkedIn, find everyone at an organization, figure out the email structure, and send us all the same sales email in a short burst.
Chances are that we all sit close to one another, and we’re all getting your email at the same time. We’re also all asking one another if we got your email, and when we realize we did, we are all deleting it in unison.
Pick one person that you think makes the decisions, focus on them, and do the above. Don’t be a spammer. And yes, sending the same email, to 20 people at once, is spam. Even if you are sending it from Outlook.
You’re asking me to meet in person. Slow down.
Don’t cold-email me asking to set up an in person meeting as a first step.
I’m not trying to be a precious prima Donna here, but my most protected resource is my time. Trying to schedule an in-person meeting is a giant pain in the ass. I need to coordinate schedules (usually with multiple people), find a meeting room, ensure we have the proper A/V setup, clear you with building security, and then try to rustle up co-workers to join the conversation. Usually, all so you can come read aloud to us, the generic pitch deck you probably just sent me.
Start with an email (and again, make that email count), and I promise you, if we like what you’ve got, and have a need, we’ll ask you for the meeting. Trust me.
If there are other agency (or in-house brand for that matter) friends that have other tips to add, I’d love to hear them. Follow the above though, and I promise you, you’ll have better luck breaking through.
This sign is on the front door of Master Printing and Signs in Somerville. A shop, that as far as I can tell, handles the commercial printing needs of small business. Signs, brochures, banners, that sort of thing.
And this is one of the most prominent signs on the storefront. It’s literally affixed to the entrance at eye level.
What strikes me as odd about all of this, is how the sign likely came to be. At some point (presumably) so many people came into the shop trying to buy copy services, that the shop owners decided that something needed to be done. And what was ultimately decided on, was a sign telling people (firmly) that they DO NOT make copies.
When we work on experiential, digital and social programs at Hill Holliday, one of the first things we look for, is what people are already doing naturally. What existing behaviors and gravitational pulls exist, that we can build on top of to make successful programs.
It’s always tempting to have your own idea of what people SHOULD do, and then become overly precious to that idea, often to the point of self destruction.
But however strong those temptations may be, my experiences tell me that it generally pays to draft off of what people are telling you they want, versus what you insist that they have.
Social media has created an unrealistic sense of entitlement amongst customers, who are quick to use economic threats to get their way.
To go a bit beyond my 140 character allotment, what I mean here is this.
There is no denying that over the past several years, that social media has materially changed the dynamic between consumers and corporations. The net effect of this shift (in my opinion) has been an overwhelmingly positive thing. Consumers are now more adequately armed with the tools needed to fight back against companies that mistreat them or poorly service them, and this is a good thing.
But with this newfound power, comes some sense of responsibility that seems to have been lost on most of us.
Emboldened by this ability to wield our social networks as weapons, we have become bloodthirsty, and quick to shoot when we feel the slightest bit wronged.
Proper service, expected results, and a timely response are no longer enough. We want to be catered to. We DEMAND to be catered to. And if we are not personally satisfied, if our individual needs are not fully met, we are quick to use the stick and dole out social media punishment to those we feel have wronged us.
This punishment tends to come most often, in the form of economic threats. You changed the logo on my cereal box? I’m switching brands. You charged me a bank fee? I’m going to find a new bank. New design on my orange juice container? Never buying it again.
And though threats like these are generally representative of an extremely small minority, when well placed, they can send the most seasoned marketing professionals into a tailspin, and force them to become irrational.
I’ve seen it dozens of times with colleagues and I’ve been there myself. One pointed, nasty threat to stop doing business with a brand, dropped haphazardly onto a Facebook page, can upend months of thinking and millions of dollars worth of work. The second-guessing begins so easily on the back of a statistically insignificant number of negative comments.
I love this quote from Markus Frind, creator of dating site PlentyOfFish. When asked how he has resisted adding commonly requested features, such as chatrooms and video profiles, he responded
“I don’t listen to the users,” he says. “The people who suggest things are the vocal minority who have stupid ideas that only apply to their little niches.”
While this may read as harsh, it’s an admirable position, if not an extremely tough one to stick to as a corporate entity.
And while most big brands would never dare say what Markus has, I’m sure most of them would love to. Either way, I think it’s an interesting piece of commentary that reveals how adversarial the relationship between consumer and corporation has become in the social customer service space.
As brands, we need to understand that the evolution of social media has put is in a position where simply providing adequate service is no longer enough. Providing amazing service is now table-stakes.
As consumers, we need to remember that often times, each party simply knowing that the other is armed, will cause everyone to behave a bit better. And that the more we use our influence as a weapon, the weaker it will become over time.