Insider 222 - Marketeers/Publicists Herders
Strategic Handlers are Useless in the Here-and-Now, Viral Environment
By Miles Weston
We sat on the patio of an industry analyst friend's home watching the sun set beyond the Golden Gate, talking about the difficulty of launching a company/product, getting them understood/accepted, helping them prepare for the next great breakthrough.
He said that a marketer/publicist couldn't be strategic, couldn't handle anything unless he/she understood what was going on well out at sea and could deal with the immediate sea conditions he/she was in.
"The here-and-now issues/questions/problems are the ones that separate these people from pros," he commented. "If you can't handle them, don't leave shore."
His disdain was a "little" apparent. He listed their shortcomings:
- He calls them handlers, gatekeepers who attempt to block access, control/manage meetings, escorting managers and media
- The handler barely contributes to a discussion of the technology, the applications, the future direction, has no clue as to the market/competition
- He recalled once asking about a product's return rate. The individual looked him straight in the face and said almost nonexistent. A senior executive later said returns were running about 10%, which was pretty apparent skimming the user forums, tweets, social media posts, blogs. "The little b***** knew it existed - or should have known - and he lied straight to my face. 10% is not nonexistent!" he said
- He has asked these people about the company's position on current industry standards and the individual didn't know about any standards, company's involvement, dropped it there
- He has asked:
o for a comparison of their products with competitive announcements getting nothing -- blank stare
o about market share - Aaahhh
o most common customer issues were - huh!!
Watching the sun edge toward the Farallon Islands 26 miles beyond the Golden Gate, he noted that in addition to not being able to (or not interested in) handling the issues in front of them, handlers are less than prepared for changes such as:
- One billion new middle-class consumers entering the global economy from emerging markets
- Cloud computing bringing an end to the brick-and-mortar office
- Demographic, social, economic, technology shifts
- The blurring of age, culture, gender lines of influence
- Relating, working with the nontraditional Web influencers people turn to for purchasing information/assistance who reside
Today's business/marketing strategies, market dynamics change at the speed of light.
Competitors, partners and customers have instant access to "your" information.
Seasoned marketing, communications types have that information or know where to get it instantly.
Tablets, smartphone apps, private clouds are just a few of the technologies that have moved to the peak of inflated expectations on Gartner's Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies.
Do you know where your products are on the hype cycle?
If people can't or won't bother to determine how they can place themselves on equal ground with management and the customer, what value do they provide?
Putting together a news release, blogging, tweeting, Facebooking when told to do so; setting up an editor/analyst meeting don't earn anyone a place at the management table.
Today's marketing/communications people have to be comfortable with soft issues, rather than hard facts.
They have to be uncomfortable with their ability to control/shape news, opinions, issues.
They have to be able to read, interpret, synthesize market changes and be an influence, contributor in every aspect of the company--particularly the bottom-line.
It is a rich opportunity for people to demonstrate and prove their strategic, tactical value because professionals are uniquely qualified to handle the uncertainties, the opportunities.
Despite what many blogging, Web, Twitting advocates might claim, media people (print, radio, TV) continue to be the trusted source of information for consumers.
Research firms like Pew Research Center and online influentials like Adrianna Huffington note that solid journalists and standard fare media will continue to be the mainstream source of information for middle income citizens around the globe.
The Internet has opened a dizzying array of new, exciting placement opportunities. But for validation, mainstream people still rely on traditional news/information/fact sources.
At Your Own Risk
Firms can ignore or usurp them at their own peril.
At the same time, well-founded pros have a unique opportunity to deliver results in the new soft facts arena of viral marketing communications.
Viral marketing isn't new, but word-of-mouth has gained traction because of the broad, deep and instant reach Internet vehicles deliver.
General and industry/application sites have shown they can shape consumer opinion almost instantly.
Blogs have grown in terms of their quality and influence.
Social community locations such as YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest have become important places to monitor and be seen.
A World Gone Video
Viral consumer how-to, application, educational and helpful hints videos - rather than hard sell pieces - don't simply attract viewers; they spread the news, information.
Audio and video podcasts still have reach and still provide narrow segments, special interest groups with tangible results...positive and negative.
Most viral messaging fails or perhaps it would be better to say management says it isn't worth the time, money, effort because:
- the informational/educational/entertainment value is squeezed out or killed because someone dictates that it has to have a product message...and a very strong product message
- it lacks pass-along potential - news/information has to have that magical something that makes people bring the message to the attention of friends, family or colleagues
- information is presented from the company's viewpoint rather than the viewer's, listener's desire to learn something or solve a problem
- the content simply is not optimized for search engines (search engine optimized - SEO)
- management is "sold" to believe there will be instant gratification, instant results even as the "news" is being spread word-of-mouth, word-of-click around the globe
- viral audio/video campaigns fall short by either being as polished as TV ads or as long and laborious as advertorial shows (anything over three minutes is lost). Some of the most effective efforts have been done in an amateurish manner
Blogs, podcasts and web locations have become regular destinations for hundreds of thousands of people who want to learn more about a specific subject or product category.
Few can be allthingsd, engadget, toms, readwriteweb, alienbabeltech, arstechnica, bizymoms, bestsideofnews, DigitalMediaNet or any of the thousands of destinations.
They aren't "mass media," but they can have mass impact on your products, your company, your future.
Value of Words
What is the value of a few positive words in our analyst friend's column or a passing mention when he's being interviewed?
The WOM audience for reliable information continues to increase.
These folks can become your best friend, worst enemy or both.
They don't respond to/tolerate publicists, handlers.
They know their category thoroughly.
They expect "sources" to have a similar depth of knowledge/expertise, a sense of urgency.
Handlers who can't take the time, effort or energy to understand these people, their expertise, their passion and their connections; can quickly find themselves on the wrong end of the word of mouth influence.
The only strategic part of job is the commitment to deal with them professionally, accurately and rapidly.
Doing it is tactical.
The professional activities that keep marketing, PR pros at the table are the ability to track short-/ long-term trends, quickly change direction and be comfortable with the new goals, demands.
As the sun set and we looked down the hill and saw what can happen to marketing/publicity handlers in the new environment...road kill!