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Stop. Go.

It snowed early in the morning yesterday and as the clouds cleared, I grabbed this shot. I’m digging on Hipstamatic again. I’m trying to force myself to take shots with the same lens/film combination for an extended period to see if I can learn the algorithms of the software in how it vignettes, texturizes and applies its groovy.

Daily affirmation: Have a great soundtrack.

* * *

Headed to the Dad 2.0 Summit. Strange to be headed to Austin without being in Austin proper. I’m on a panel, Return on Engagement: The Great Debate Over Measuring True Reach, I’m looking forward to meeting my fellow panelists in person and talking about the importance (or not) of follower counts, Facebook Likes, Klout, etc. The panel is moderated by Adam Keats. My fellow panelists are Casey Petersen, Manny Puentes and Matt Thomson. Should be a great conversation. Honestly? These are heavy hitters. I’m hoping to contribute from an indie publisher perspective. Can independent publishers compete for marketing dollars in an environment where an increasing desire by marketers/advertisers to measure return on engagement through social networks relies on seemingly arbitrary measures? For example, getting Facebook Likes is easier for somebody with deep pockets and a willingness to advertise on Facebook specifically to increase “like” count. [1. cf this post from May, 2011, talking about some anecdotal numbers involving brands who advertise on Facebook. Abstract: Their assumption is that Facebook makes $9 million dollars a day from like advertising. The numbers are derived from a Facebook exec who said that 50 million likes are clicked for brands every day. The author of the linked post suggests through some quick math that Facebook has a $3,285,000,000 US market in brand reputation advertising revenue.] While popularity is always an initial draw to advertisers (popularity equals influence, right?), how does that translate in the online space? This AdAge article points to some research around how people are influenced to make purchases:

“But more-recent findings from Columbia researcher Duncan Watts refute the claim that a small subset of people drive larger purchasing patterns. Rather, it is the “pass-around power of everyday people” that really drives viral sharing. It is this latter definition that seems to be getting ignored more and more lately as companies strive to create scores to identify the uber-influencers.”

The thing is that celebrity spokespeople have been used for years in all kinds of marketing and advertising media. That is not going away any time soon. How do our pass-arounders find out about that great product or brand? Somewhere they were influenced. Oprah has sold a lot of books. So does an author appearance on The Daily Show [2. The Big Picture (not the photoblog) post from 2009 talks about the influence of the show on book sales from an insider perspective]. Some overlap in audiences, but the books being discussed can be markedly different. Glenn Beck used to be influential in book sales as well. Oprah, Jon Steweart and Glenn Beck are all what marketers would call influencers. Getting your book on any one of their shows in a positive light is going to have an effect on sales. So there is some competition in datasets around influencers and their influence. While it may be true that we rely on a network of trusted friends in our circle to learn about new products or get brand recommendations, we are expanding the very definition of what that circle looks like through our online activities. The above linked AdAge article ends with this:

“Creating true influence as a brand means investing time in building deep relationships with consumers, and creating an extension of your brand nationally or globally.”

Which can seem screamingly obvious to anyone in marketing. The problem is that the importance and quality of those deep relationships is grasped by very few people in the world. Apple immediately comes to mind. Look at their stores. They create an experience that is aspirational, inspirational and entices you into their world. Once you are in their world, they complete the execution of the relationship by delivering stunning products that are shown to enhance our lives. If we have to use a computer every day, shouldn’t we love that computer? Same with cellphones. Companies that understand the importance of brand experience and follow through with their products will win. On some level, the product is the marketing. The experience is the marketing. And in that way, Apple creates an almost subliminal marketing message that says we care about your experience and we want you to love our products. Apple is very much a case of doing and not saying. Touch an iPad for 30 seconds and you see the level of attention to detail in delivering on the promise of a great relationship. It seems so simple. It’s not so simple and it’s not so easy.

Which is why I love the idea of the panel discussion. If independent publishers/content generators bring their influence to the online marketing game, surely there can be positive results. The question remains for me, why are we still stuck in a direct marketing model of online marketing when brand experience is the more critical driver of business success? In other words, the only success metric of any marketing effort can’t be bogged down in miles of spreadsheet cells. It has to be the bottom line. Does your marketing as a whole generate revenue? Is that revenue going up or down? How are you using the internet to aid your marketing efforts?

If we look at brand experience and brand messaging, influencers can have a huge impact on a business’ bottom line. Will marketing dollars be spent on smaller, yet still very influential, niche sites that cater to desirable market segments? It remains to be seen. I’m of the belief that serious money can be made from online content, but we’re not even close to there yet for the indie publisher. Maybe in 5 years, a similar model to what the New York Times has done with their digital content? There are still ads in the digital subscription model, but there is the added revenue and marketing potential of a subscriber base. Will there be a technology wave to help generate revenue for smaller sites the way that blogging software surpassed very expensive content management systems? Are social media buttons the start of that?

Wow. That all sounds pretty preachy. Must be the high altitude WiFi. Stay tuned. I’m going to talk about what I think is right and wrong with digital marketing, but today won’t be the day I do that. If this was all wonky and nerdy, The Management apologizes, but would still like you to flush the toilet when you’re done in the restrooms. THANKS.

  • Jessie Powell

    I still say the stoplight is winning.

    • blurb

      And you would be correct.

  • CateinTO

    I like the wonky nerdiness.  Carry on!

  • Sophia768

    Hi John –

    I was struck by the following in your post: “Companies that understand the importance of brand experience and follow through with their products will win.”

    As an analyst following enterprise IT, who used to work in SW product marketing, I think this is where marketers get ahead of themselves sometimes (assuming I’m interpreting your statement correctly).  In fact, I think it’s the reverse – companies that focus on creating truly superior products, services and customer experiences and follow through with good marketing will win.  If your product or service isn’t compelling, outstanding and easily differentiated, no amount of marketing/advertising – digital or otherwise – really matters.  In my experience, too many product managers forget the product and focus on the brand/messaging/experience.  It has to be a complete package, or it doesn’t work.

    I’m sure you’ve read the Ad Contrarian; heck you probably know him.  :-) I personally think he has tremendous insight regarding what makes all forms of advertising successful, digital or otherwise.  Most of the time?  It has to start with a great product.

    Safe travels –

  • Kristen Romano

    I don’t know…wasn’t betamax superior to vhs?  And yet it ‘lost’ in the marketplace.  And there are still arguments about PC vs MAC.  As I look around the marketplace, it is not the highest quality product that wins in the end.  And it’s not the product with the best follow-through on marketing.  All too often, a product wins by reaching that illusive combination of ‘good enough’ and ‘affordable’.

    • hilaryfranklin

      Yep, my parents have both Beta and VHS VCRs because they research the hell out of anything they purchase and all signs pointed to Betamax being the superior product. And then they  had to buy VHS a few years later.

      I have to wonder if cost was a factor there.

  • Theresa Boisseau

    As a newbie to blogging, I really appreciate this entry.  I am not really in it to do it for a living, I have a ‘day job’ but you never know what could happen I guess….

  • Theresa Boisseau

     I just picked up my badge for the film portion of SXSW and even though I have lived in Austin for over 20 years, this is my first time back to SXSW since it expanded into Film and Interactive.  Not sure I will last the entire week and the crowds!

  • Ryan Waddell

    You say: “And in that way, Apple creates an almost subliminal marketing message
    that says we care about your experience and we want you to love our
    products” – there’s nothing subliminal about it.  Look at every single keynote that Steve Jobs did.  The man was SO focused on making sure that people loved the products that he made.  The company has made it VERY clear that they want people to enjoy using their products.  It’s inspiring, even if it DOES lead to some policies that I don’t necessarily agree with (their walled garden approach to apps, for example). 

    The rest of your post pretty much went over my head, I’m afraid to say.  Lol.

    • blurb

      But when you use the product, you aren’t seeing the notion that the machine and your experience is a kind of marketing. 

  • cjmama

    Great post.  Despite the fact that I work in marketing and business development, I am so busy producing, going to meetings and trying to hit deadlines that I rarely have the time to give serious, in-depth thought to these types of things.  I really appreciate it when someone like you takes the time to do so and share it with everyone else.

    • Alexa B. Johnson

      I think this comment is telling. I, too, work in marketing (branding and creative) and our systems, processes, directives etc. are focused on production. Doing. Not doing better. There’s always a push from the bottom up for this type of thinking and remaking, but it’s hard a toehold to wedge yourself into when the push from the top down is to produce. Plus, marketing is still, by and large, a copycat industry. As @chernevik mentions below, most of us do what we know: we don’t push, really push, to become and do something better.

  • chernevik

    “why are we still stuck in a direct marketing model of online marketing
    when brand experience is the more critical driver of business success?”

    – Brand experience is deeply embedded in product design and construction.  Hard to move that quickly, and those who aren’t getting it right may never understand the point in the first place.
    – Online marketing is marketing, handled by marketers, who are trying to adapt skills from the preceding media technology palette to the contemporary one.  They aren’t product guys.  Marketing guys think about Marketing.

    Re: Soundtrack.  If you’re listening to something new or off the beaten track, that you think worth sampling, I’m sure a lot of us would be willing to check it out.

  • Alexa B. Johnson

    I just wanted to add, as a challenge to us all and in gratitude for what Jon is saying with his very targeted questions at the end of the post, that it’s got to be more than just asking questions and thinking. There has to be risk-taking, mindful remaking and action involved.

  • nicjohns

    As an Online Marketing Head who has worked for a SuperBrand (albeit a mainly UK based one, though you will have heard of it in the US) and an SME, I’ve seen this from two sides. 

    Lazy marketeers look at volume of likes, its just the most basic of indicators and any agency who allows them to look at the potential of a campaign in this way is failing hugely. Its surely about influence, its about a publishers ability to engage with an audience, to invoke passion in them and to have a relationship that encourages action. 

    Give me 30 smaller publishers that have an effect over 1 who has a million likes any day.

    I would write more, and with some cohesion, if I didn’t have a blistering headache. Hope Dad 2.0 goes well!

    • blurb

      Late response, but this is great: 

      “Give me 30 smaller publishers that have an effect over 1 who has a million likes any day.”

  • wr3n

    Should be an interesting panel. The Internet has leveled the playing field quite a bit for “the little guy.” Andy Warhol was right about everyone getting their 15 minutes. Social media fits in there but which bandwagons to jump on? Your comments about the experience are spot on. Apple is the little engine that could. I remember thinking they’d eventually fold as PCs dominated the marketplace with falling prices in the 90s. Then iPods came along, then the iPhone, and now the iPad. These devices have made Apple’s popularity explode beyond the core devotees. They made a serious investment in quality and time to get where they are now. Very few companies today are willing to put in that kind of effort to develop and retain a following.

  • Tek Gomez

    The other thing that makes Apple stand out is that they know their demographic, not just who is buying but who they want to sell to and they make sure that those two circles overlap in a big way. I like their products but i’m not their demographic. Apple doesn’t seem to want to sell to 3 million. they win by selling to 1 million, 3 times.

  • Rebecca Ary

    More of this please!

  • willself

    I think the important question is, did you get to go to Radiohead? I certainly hope so. I got to see them in Houston and Dallas prior to the Austin show. Had to give meself a reality check to stop at 2 shows.

    • blurb

      Unfortunately, no. I hear you on the Radiohead reality check.

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