Although they’re only on show #6 SocializingMedia has already had guests like George Neil, formerly of Apple and Motorola, now the CMO of Brunswick. Upcoming shows will feature thought leaders like Dawn Lacallade, formerly at Dell and now the Community Manager at Solar Winds.
I scheduled Steve’s interview to fall around the same time as Ant’s Eye View because seeing companies like ComBlu, Ant’s Eye View and Brains on Fire crop up next to one another you begin to realize the impact and scope that community engagement and consumer involvement has had on marketing today. The rules have changed and companies like ComBlu are early adopters in helping companies adapt to that change.
ComBlu’s specialty is creating community-based Word of Mouth programs by identifying customer evangelists and influencers, activating them (so they) impact loyalty and affinity and measuring that impact on sales, reputation or mission. ComBlu is all about ROI. The company has built and manages over 25 communities in 20 languages with over six million members.
What was the “aha” moment when you realized, “Our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been?”
About 7-8 years ago, we realized that there was a perfect storm that would be the catalyst for the way people sought information:
- Installed technology base and the emergence of social networkinng.
- Communications overload making it more appealing for people to ask their own trusted resources rather than search for information.
- The breakdown of trust in established institutions and channels; again a stimulus for people turning to each other for information instead of traditional sources.
This perfect storm was our “aha” moment. We knew we had methodologies to identify people with large social networks and who had a high level of influence within them. Because it was based on behaviors rather than traditional demographics, we realized we had lightning in a bottle. If our methodologies were properly applied, we could help companies find their best advocates and activate them as a powerful influence channel. We were way ahead of the marketplace, though.
What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
- The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited by Emanuel Rosen, an update of a WOM classic
- All Consumers Are Not Created Equal by Garth Hallberg
- Guy Kawasaki: Short and sweet tidbits
- TechCrunch: A futurist’s playground
- Mashable: A quick overview of tools and techniques
- Web Strategy: Jeremiah Owyang blog—great insights into where social marketing is heading
- Groundswell: Forrester blog…lots of good stuff
- Conversation Agent: Interesting, longer pieces on a variety of content and conversation marketing topics
- Social Media Today: Good bullshit detector
Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
- Liberty Mutual had done a great job. They started their “Do the Right Thing” positioning a few years ago and have evolved it now to include the Responsibility Project, which is a community that delves into ethics and societal behaviors. Quite interesting.
- Walmart’s current ad campaign is visually great and has highly resonant messaging for today’s economic times.
- UPS has a very engaging white board campaign and integrates it with online.
- Ford Fiesta has good integration of social and traditional media.
We’ve all read that the pitch/RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
Don’t wait until you need an agency to find one. Instead, build a community of really smart people who are your “advisory board.”
-Look to them for ideas and collaboration.
-“Cut” those who are territorial or afraid of offering up ideas because their competition might hear them. That does not cut it in today’s age of transparency and social collaboration. These people are more concerned with getting the largest share of the marketing wallet and not being part of a team focused on results and innovation.
When you need a specific project or ongoing counsel, build your own team from your community. An RFP is just a call to buy an existing team. Instead build a team of the best and the brightest who are equipped to collaborate. Match the team to the skills needed for the program.
What does the agency of the future look like?
McKinsey meets boutique:
Business acumen with executional excellence and agility.
Build shareholder value with measurable and sustainable results.
Bring influential stakeholders to the company; don’t bring the company to the marketplace.
Help companies socialize their workforce, their products and their stakeholder interactions across three nodes: Feedback, advocacy and support.
What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
A dashboard with teeth
Who do you admire and why?
I’ve been looking forward to this Ad Industry Innovator profile for a while: Spike Jones of Brains on Fire from Greenville [say, Greenvul] South Cackalacky.
Recently someone commented, “Ad Industry Innovator is an oxymoron.” Getting to know agencies like Brains on Fire proves that point of view a little ill informed.
The shops works with a wide range of regional and national clients including Best Buy, Fiskars Brands, Confluence Watersports, the American Booksellers Association, Rage Against the Haze (SC’s youth-led anti-tobacco use movement), Love146, Jason’s Deli, Michelin and BMW.
So you get a sense of Spike, one of my earliest email exchanges with him had this in his signature line:
I wanna be like Cap’n Kirk.
Get up everyday and love to go to work.
Don’t wanna be like Mr. Spock.
Wanna kick out the jams and rock the block.
Says a lot about Spike, I think, and anyone who turns me on to a new artist who sounds, at times, like Dr John and Taj Mahal’s love child gets props from me!
Brains on Fire are marketing kudzu.
Not this Kudzu
Once you see them they keep popping up everywhere.
Not sure where I first heard of them. They floated across my screen somehow and from there, well, things just kind of spread.
- In Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff‘s game changing book, Groundswell (Pg 147, if you want to look) and there they were, Brains on Fire.
- A PEMCO business event at the Space Needle at the premier of a new spot by previously profiled DNA-Seattle I met Sean O’Driscoll from Ant’s Eye View (also coming up on a future Innovator’s profile) who are tight with, you guessed it, Brains on Fire.
- Last month over my breakfast cereal and coffee I crack open the newest Fast Company and what should I flip to? An article about Brains on Fire.
- Based on my friend, Alan Schutte ‘s (Platt Hollow Road) recommendation to feature Norfolk, VA based Grow Interactive on an upcoming Innovator post, and who pops up on their site? Brains on Fire.
Next time the Brains on Fire team rolls through your town, go check ‘em out. Based on the places they pop up, they’ll probably be in your town next week. If you’re ever in Greenville and you drop in, as people in the South are want to do, take them food, coffee or beer, they’ll love you for it. (You’re welcome, Spike.)
1. What was the aha moment when you realized, “our company needs to be doing things differently than we have been?”
Well, this may come across as conceited, but Brains on Fire IS the ah-ha moment. We always say that Brains on Fire is a state of being. A condition. A movement. A cause. An attitude.
As for our current model, we found it in 2002 when we started a word of mouth movement that birthed Rage Against the Haze, SC’s youth-led anti-tobacco use movement. We didn’t have the funds to run ads like the TRUTH campaign, and we knew that even if we did, after the money ran out we’d be back to square one. So we created a peer-to-peer movement built on education instead of one built on fear. We used our identity/creative chops to bring it to life and RAGE has become one of the most successful anti-tobacco use movements in the nation (with one of the smallest budgets). At the time, we were just doing what we felt was right. A couple years later, the word of mouth industry came to be. Now we had a name for it.
2. What books are on your nightstand or great blogs on your Google reader?
I’ve been on a business book hiatus for a while, but I’m currently reading New York Stories: Landmark Writing from Four Decades of New York Magazine. It’s fantastic. And the last book I read before that was Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly. (You’ll notice an old-school pirate mentality around the Brains on Fire crew.)
As for blogs, I look to Adpulp for my daily dose of the ad world. I faithfully read Peter Kim’s blog, John Moore’s Brand Autopsy, Jake McKee’s Community Guy blog, Mack Collier’s Viral Garden, the Brand New blog (since Brains on Fire’s heritage is in identity development), and then, of course the FAIL Blog.
3. Give me an example of marketing you think is brilliant and why.
Maker’s Mark brand ambassadors. Turbo Tax’s Inner Circle. Fiskars Fiskateers (that’s ours). Any movement that is shoulder-to-shoulder with your biggest fans where you empower, engage, listen and join forces with your customers. Scratch that. Not your customers. Your brand’s best friends.
4. We’ve all read that the pitch / RFP process is broken. Many agencies aren’t even interested in competing in pitches. Do you see an alternative to this process?
Don’t get me started. RFPs represent all that’s wrong with the client/agency relationship. We don’t answer them. I despise them. What a waste of time. But that’s the way things have always have been done – and it seems that no big agencies or companies are willing to take a stand. And for every RFP we refuse to answer, there are ten thousand agencies willing to roll the dice.
Especially spec work in RFPS. Come on. Giving away the one thing that you have to sell is completely insane. For example, an international hotel chain called us up…
An alternative? How about sitting down and having a conversation with the agency? How about checking out what they’ve DONE instead of making them guess about what they would do? How about checking out their culture to see if they believe what you believe? How about basing your decision on tangibles? Stupid RFPs.
5. What does the agency of the future look like?
You think I’m going to say digital, don’t you? I’m not. The agency of the future will be the one that is willing to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and figure out how and why people connect OFFline. Let’s face it, 92% of WOM happens offline. Digital is getting to be the easy part. And those are tools. Just tools. We are humans. And we crave real interaction. The rise of offline focus – and I’m not talking traditional advertising – is coming.
6. What do marketers need that agencies are not giving them?
Long. Term. Actionable. Strategies. They HAVE to get rid of the “campaign” mentality. Build a movement first. Campaigns are short-sighted and tactic-driven. It’s a great way to quickly become the former agency of record.
7. Who do you admire and why?
That’s an easy one. John Saringer. This is a guy who saw possibilities in everything. He couldn’t afford college, so after his chores and work, he’d sprint down to the local university, climb the fire escape and listen through the open window to chemistry classes. John Saringer took nothing and turned it into one of the most respected cattle ranches in the state of Texas. He worked his ass off every single day of his life, but was quick with a smile, a kind word and there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for friend or stranger. Oh, and he was my grandfather.
But if you want someone who I’m not related to, I’d say pick someone at Brains on Fire. Anyone. Matt Reese, the First Impression and one of the smartest people I know. Kathie Conway, our CFO, who has a mind for numbers I’ll never have in a million years. Geno Church, the most forward-thinking WOM practitioner in the business. Greg Cordell, a principal and Inspiration Officer – the guy is freakin’ brilliant. Robbin Phillips, our Courageous President who has created a flat organization where everyone can thrive. Carrie Woodward, who manages one of the most successful WOM programs of all time – and never complains about the bad days. Simply. Amazing. People. And I could go on and on.
Next week after the Memorial Day holiday, check out David J. Deal from Razorfish on the Ad Industry Innovator series. The following week, Spike Jones from Brains on Fire. Then Scott Goodson from Strawberry Frog…and more.
It’s a jam packed line up. So tune in and don’t miss a thing~
Like this series? Tell a friend. Subscribe.
Know an agency or individual who you’d like to see profiled? Contact me.
New series from the client side coming up soon along with a chance to win an autographed copy of Guy Kawasaki‘s new book Reality Check.
Until next week, have a safe and fun holiday. Hope it’s sunny whever you are. And for our international readers: Happy Weekend of the 23rd of May! What holidays do you have coming up?