is he dead or did he invent the turducken?

It was just the other day I was having a conversation with someone about Paul Prudhomme. I don’t remember the specifics of the conversation (or even who I was having it with), but at one point the question came up whether Prudhomme was even still alive.

Actually, Prudhomme is still kicking and extremely successful (when he’s not dodging bullets). You just don’t hear from him that often (except when he’s dodging bullets).

Sidenote: Most interesting line in Prudhomme’s wikipedia entry is:
Dom DeLuise is sometimes confused for Prudhomme. Both have a similar body shape and enjoy cooking. They both often wear “newsboy”-style cloth caps and beards.
Look that up in your Funk & Wagnalls.

But I do remember my conversation involved the over-saturation of another Nola celebrity chef – Emeril Lagasse. There’s really no doubt that Emeril is still alive. He’s everywhere. Cooking on a morning show. Bam! On a talk show. Bam! On a grocery shelf. Bam! In Vegas. Bam! Etc. Bam! Etc. Bam! Bam! Bam!

It’s easy to think that mass attention and mass exposure means marketing success. And in many cases, it does.

But true long term success does not involve 24/7 exposure. It involves dedicated followers.

The great unwashed masses will latch onto anything for awhile if it has sufficient exposure in the culture. And they’ll forget it just as quickly as the next thing comes along. Long term successes are built on the following of a dedicated few that truly believe in the product/person and spread the word.

To use a cooking analogy — While Emeril is sprinkling Essence™ on the entire surface, Prudhomme has been deep injecting a marinade into certain areas of the carcass.

Stop trying to get everybody. You can’t. There’s not enough time, money or attention.
Find a group of dedicated followers and be a huge success with them. Who cares if the rest of the world thinks you’re dead?

customer misservice

After years of building customer service infrastructure (like outsourced support numbers, online service chats with robots, on-hold purgatory, etc) that distances a company from their biggest asset (their customers), the customers are now catching up and biting back with their own technology rush.

Here’s a very nice overview article from Jena McGregor at Business Week via MSNBC about the customer backlash against bad service with technology.

As anyone who is on the web knows, angry and disgruntled customers with an internet connection can easily wreak havoc on a company’s brand. Got a problem that the company won’t fix? Upload something to YouTube, start a blog, leave feedback on a shopping site, or flat out email the CEO and someone will pay attention (either the company or other customers).

This new age of the “customer service conversation” has been swelling for years. I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg. There are lots of companies who are doing a good job reacting to the community and providing great customer service. But even more are not.

The online marketing community is well aware of the dam bursts like DellHell, ComcastMustDie, and iPhone rebates. And while those make great examples for case studies, I really think they are in the head of the long tail of disgruntled customers on the web. There is a great unwashed mass of negative customer experiences stretching out in the long tail that I don’t think anyone has picked up on. In other words, while companies may have been talking for the past few years about this new rise of the customer, no one has any idea how big it really is.

Here’s the question. After years of trying to distance themselves from the customer, how will those companies react to the new realities of customer service that are just now starting to go mainstream? And will they be too late before they realize that the mass collective has grown to a point that they can’t respond?

Reality Check

Recently, I spoke to a group of late teens/early 20-somethings about online media. These students were in an honors class in one of the top journalism schools in the country.

In all, they threw me for a loop on what “the online generation” is doing.

Granted, it was only about 90 minutes with 18 people. But perhaps before you invest heavily in online platforms, you should get your head out of the blogosphere where “everyone” knows all about the potential of Web2.0 and you should drop in on a few of the people out in the real world.

Don’t trust bloggers

So…today I’m in a meeting discussing an online venture and the topic turns to blogging.

Of course, I say that it would be a great addition to an online portfolio. But one of the meeting’s participants was completely turned off by the concept of blogs as a marketing and information tool.

“I think people want to get information from a “real website”. I don’t trust all these Joe Blows ranting their opinion on blogs.”

Keep in mind that this person is intelligent, keeps on top of current trends, and is fairly tech-savvy. Of course, I don’t think he knew that a “blogger” was in the room.

And everywhere, it’s the same. The other day in South Bend after my blogging presentation, a member of the audience raised her hand and asked me,

“I don’t mean to be rude, but what kind of person would want to be a blogger or read a blog?”

Blogging has gotten a reputation similar to infomercials and telemarketing. Whereas marketers know the value of these applications when they’re done right, the masses see them as ways to sell Ginsu Knives and interrupt your dinner. And now it’s the same with blogs. The term “blog” to John Q. Public means “my-space-political-rant-here’s-what’s-happening-with-my-cats-unabomber-manifesto.”

What’s the cause? Well, there ARE a lot of weird hacks in the blogosphere who are ranting about an obscure opinion and/or telling 3 people what they just had for lunch. These people are loud and their version of “blog” has become the public perception.

But, in reality, blogs are a way to connect with a niche community. There are lots of bloggers who have dedicated focused communities. They are the new town square where everyone has a voice. If you’re wanting to reach a narrowly defined market who can communicate with you on a two-way street about their needs, a blog is one answer. (but not the only answer)

I’ve said it before….(and probably said it best here)…that blogs are not mainstream and are still a long way from being mainstream. And maybe that’s where they need to be.

But as “social media” grows (not just blogging), we’ll see people gathering information from all these web communities and using it. Instead of one mass media message being sent out from one source, people will pick and choose the information that matters to them from hundreds of sources.

And to marketers and advertisers who are despondent about the fact they’re losing the ability to reach an audience through media, the reality is the exact opposite. There’s a better opportunity. Instead of wasting dollars sending a message to a mass audience that consists of 99% of people who aren’t interested and don’t care…just to reach the 1% that do, social media offers the ultimate in pinpointing a targeted market and being able to deliver information that consumers are willing to receive.

Habenero Ice Cream

I love it when I’m right.

I predicted a few months ago that the C-level masses were going to take the concept of The Long Tail and corrupt it.

And today, I received an email newsletter from the CEO of a major online media CMS. And while he was in the neighborhood of being right, he was leading his readers in the wrong direction. I don’t think he realizes that most of his customers still want the majority of their market.

You can’t sell the idea of niche markets to mass media. They don’t match up. It’s not about keeping customers longer and having them more involved. It’s about finding the FEW people who are searching for something to be a dedicated fan of.

The long tail is a great place to find customers, but you have to sell more than vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. You can’t be the place where “everyone is going to find something they like”. You have to be the place where people search you out because you’re the only place that sells what they are passionate about.

And that takes courage for a business to do. It’s much safer in the meaty left side of the tail. It’s a little riskier over in the sparse right-hand side, but the reward potential is much higher.

I’m Chris Houchens and I approved this message


Flickr image from shenghunglin

Two years ago, I wrote an article for a marketing publication about the politics of marketing…or the marketing of politics…whatever. There are some relevant points in the article to this election cycle I want to expand on and there are some new ones.

Just as with all things it touches, the new social nature of the web causes ideas and philosophies to be spread more quickly and to a more targeted audience. But as I say time and again, the web is not the whole banana…yet. You have to remember that the population that’s on the web and the population that will stand behind the curtain on November 7th are not the exact same group. There still has to be some traditional marketing done to those voters who are not on the net-train yet.

And in a larger sense (or maybe a smaller sense), is the new nature of the web helping or hurting the way that politics are marketed? Sure, the Long Tail is great for picking out people who like the 2,987,535th most popular book on Amazon and “creating a community” around it. But is sure is hard to get 51% of the vote with a niche.

So is traditional marketing the way to win an election? You wouldn’t think so by seeing what the campaign ads look like the last two weeks of October. It’s a ton of wasted money. If there was a campaign strategy, it’s thrown out as political ads start having conversations with each other…….(“Abe Lincoln splits logs. He kills trees”…..”My opponent says I split logs. Well, those trees were already dead”…..”Abe doesn’t know that someone had to kill those trees”….etc….etc.)

It’s the same thing I see happen all the time with corporate marketing. They create a solid well-researched marketing plan…and they stick to it until the competition sticks his head up and says “Boo!”. The company throws the plan out the window and starts marketing re-actively…which is the single worst way to market.

And could we possibly get some better creative pieces? It would help since the spot is on every commercial break. EVERY political ad uses the same voiceover people, the same graphic look, and the same generic stock footage. Way to stand out in the crowd.

And these are the national campaigns with people who supposedly know what they’re doing. It gets progressively worse as you get more local. The local campaign strategy is to litter the roadway with tacky signs. Here locally, there’s a candidate who’s using the signs from the last campaign he lost….to run for a completely different office. He’s saving money and confusing the voter.

In the end, what is the purpose of all this? Even after seeing 300 signs in people’s yards and a commercial every 15 minutes, can you tell me the political positions of most of these candidates? I can’t. And isn’t that the message they’re supposed to be marketing to us? They’ve failed.

tags::

Viral Purple Cow Synergy

(inspired by the recent good-natured sparring between Hugh and Tara…. )

Life cycle of good ideas:
1) Forward thinking individual(s) come up with groundbreaking idea/theory/method/etc
2) Group that surrounds individual(s) takes idea and runs with it…improves it…communicates it.
3) Sales/marketing/ad folks take idea and corrupt it. (book may be written at this stage)
4) Original thinkers shun the idea
5) Rinse. Repeat.

History of late is full of “buzzwords” that initially were great ideas, but then were destroyed by the unwashed masses.

Watch out. The Long Tail is next.

tags::

The Wrong Tail

People love the bandwagon. They hop on it whenever they can. For the public, it’s the latest reality show. For business, it’s the latest book. If fact, I’ve thought of writing a business book entitled “Raving Guerilla Cheese Movers” It’d be a hit.

I’ve said some things about marketing books that I still believe. “X”..whatever it is…is not going to be the solution to all your problems. People need to stop hopping on the latest business trend that’s being promoted down at Borders and need to start looking holistically at their business and marketing.

That’s why I thought this Slate article from Tim Wu was great. He reviews Chris Anderson’s new book, The Long Tail. Of course, the Long Tail is a concept that most of the blogosphere and forward thinking people already know about. But beware, the masses are about to grab hold of it…a sure sign that the idea is about to be corrupted.

Wu brings up some of the shortcomings of the long tail theory which might be good for some bloggers to read. After reading some blogs, you’d think the long tail could go pick up your dry cleaning. We’ve been corrupted already. It’s a good idea that we’ve tried to apply too broadly.

I still think you should buy Chris’ new book…and encourage others to buy. I think the long tail is an essential concept for the new times. And it does work for many things. But, just don’t expect it to solve all your problems.

tags::

Cultural Marketing 2.0

This week, I was contacted by a gentleman in Bangkok, Thailand about working with his company to develop their branding strategy. While I’ve worked with international clients before, I’m hesitant about taking this project because my knowledge of Thai culture stops after ordering Pad Thai in a restaurant.

If you’re marketing to any group, you have to know that group’s culture. And cultural barriers in marketing are difficult to work through. We’ve all heard the old cross-cultural marketing and advertising tales such as these:

  • The Chevy Nova failed in the Hispanic market because Nova means “it doesn’t go” in Spanish…
  • “Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation” means “Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave” in Chinese…
  • Gerber baby food with a picture of a smiling baby on the label didn’t sell at all in parts of Africa. The reason? Because of the high number of illiterate Africans, African companies put pictures of what’s in the jar on the label…

The problem is that all these stories are not true. (Chevy Nova) (Pepsi ancestor) (baby food)

But here is something that is true about marketing to other cultures. Because of super segmentation, targeting of markets and the rise of a million niches in the Long Tail, marketing blunders similar to these will actually happen. And they will happen within the United States and within markets that you THINK you know. Companies will initially have no idea why the marketing isn’t working.

You can see it happening now. We’ve all seen several examples of a new corporate blog rising up, attempting to contribute, and immediately being seen as an imposter or wannabe by the residents of the blogosphere. The company can’t figure out why they’ve been rejected. It’s because they don’t understand the culture.

Following the success of entertainment models such as The Last Temptation of Christ and the Left Behind of books as well as the recent upswing of red-state politics, Hollywood saw an open market opportunity. However, with offerings such as The Book of Daniel and The DaVinci Code, Hollywood has wound up deeply offending and insulting the market that they’re trying to reach. At the core, it’s because they really don’t understand the nuances of that culture.

The cultural nuances…those are what makes a culture unique…not the big things. The nuances are also the things that are the hardest to replicate and communicate with outsiders.

If you’ve always thought cultural influences were something that just international marketers had to worry about, get ready. You’re going to start having to think about those cultural issues in marketing not just with different ethnic groups, but with the person who looks just like you that lives across the street.

tags::