The Dour Marketer

The Scots have a word for the mood I’ve been in lately — heck the mood the entire world has been in the past couple months — and that is “dour” – which I’ve heard pronounced “dow-er” but think is more accurately spoken as “dew-ar” which is appropriate since a Dewars on the rocks with a twist is about the best recourse I can recommend for someone feeling battered these days by the dour news coming from the world’s markets.

With those markets off 40% from their highs in the fall of 2007, marketers are also feeling very dour right now, and despite feeble exhortations that now is the time to double down and crush the competition, all signs are in place for a major flattening and decline in global marketing programs from advertising to PR. It is an article of faith that one of the first expense items to get whacked in a downturn is marketing and other corporate services perceived as “soft” and nice-to-have versus essential to make payroll and keep the lights on.

Some marketing activities will survive and continue through these hard times, and I believe it will be the newest techniques and tactics which endure thanks to the simple fact that they can be measured so well. These are the days when every dollar or Euro spent on marketing has to defend itself from that king tyrant Le ROI.

I was talking to my friend John Bell yesterday. We were talking about how far the world has shifted since August when his firm, OgilvyPR’s Digital Influence Project helped my team run the Olympic athlete blogging program. That was the high water mark for Lenovo’s online brand efforts in 2008, and now, a mere three months later, I listened to myself declare to John that the next 12 months are going to be a dour test for this new wave of conversational/social/engaged/word-of-mouth/collaborative marketing that me and a gazillion other optimistic theorists have been blogging and tweeting and opining at one conference or council meeting for the past three years.

Fast forward to February 2009 and imagine yourself telling a CFO or someone in finance that you need cash to improve “brand reputation” through a “conversational marketing program” involving blogs, wikis, vlogs, photo sharing, tagging, twittering, and crowdsourcing. I guarantee the response will be something on the lines of “how many buggy whips will it sell?” I don’t think Social Media Marketing is ever going to go away – I am a huge fan – indeed I think it could be the tactic that actually thrives through this shitty economy, but only if practiced at extremely low cost and with some evidence that it can drive revenue.

So, henceforth, let me commit to a mini-series here on Churbuck.com on how to market online through a downturn. There are three groups who will be pissed off by what I have to say. I will say “sorry in advance:

  1. Agencies: Sorry, but these are the times when you better learn how to do-it-yourself. It’s like when I was 28 and bought my first house. I did the sheet rock, not Ned the Nailbanger.
  2. Vendors: Sorry. That $150,000 a year “reputation monitoring” system you want me to buy? Nevermind, time for DIY. That social media technical platform that offer single-sign on seamless interoperability between the company’s forums, blogs, and wiki? No license fees for me, it’s all got to be open sourced, in the cloud, and as close to free as possible.
  3. Consultants: Sorry. Consultants won’t be hosed – CFOs prefer contractors to full time employees during hard times – but theorists and strategists are a dime-a-dozen right now and these are the days when actions and direct revenue improvement are going to speak louder than the torrent of theory and drivel that has been skipping like a broken record or a scratched CD for the past year or more.

I will go out on a limb here and say this: any organization can extend its marketing reach for an initial investment of $0 by doing two basic things. The only cost will be time. The only risk will be reputation. I’ve complained about “101” level marketing advice being parroted over and over again by the analysts and consultants, well, here’s my contribution in the form of a simple action plan to do two essential things in the new marketing environment that won’t require a visit to your finance department.

  1. Open a blog. WordPress.com. Stop. Go no further. Go there. Open a blog. Go battle with your PR and legal teams and before you visit them do a quick Google search for “corporate blog policy” and print out one of the many policies held up as classics by the experts. Do a search and replace and put your organization’s name in the appropriate places. Get permission. Start blogging. Cost: zero.
  2. Monitor what other blogs say about your organization. Google Blog Search. Technorati. An RSS reader. Google Reader. Bloglines. Whatever. Learn them. Set up RSS search feeds on your brand names and start reading. “Engaging” with bloggers? Google search on the topic. There’s more advice out there than a herd of consultants could impart for a fee in a year. Cost: zero.

That’s enough dourness for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Next post – how to turn this stuff into sales and look really smart.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

9 thoughts on “The Dour Marketer”

  1. Imagine telling your CFO that you are going to do improve “brand reputation” with TV advertising, pressers, direct mail, WSJ full pagers, catalogs, events, sponsorships and sandwich boards. What will that get us? Funny to imagine.

    “Fish where the fish are” is what my grandfather always told me. The people you and others need to influence and brand reputate are online. Period. Doing good stuff there is hard damn work as you attest. If can’t be done for free, by you, by me or Bell’s team.

    I agree that checking the Facebook, search, blog and Twitter boxes on the checklist isn’t enough. But to really manage multi-channel in this way takes focus and yes, resources and dollars.

    Now more than ever, let’s stop with the traditional fluffery backed by fake stats and sales contributions and dig our heels in – Jaffe had a good post on this recently.

    Easier to say, “CFO, I’m cutting our traditional marketing budget in half, only stuff that can be measured stays. Our audiences are online and I’m taking $XX and going there with a coordinated effort from Mktg, Sales, Ecomm, and PR”

  2. Divvy the tasks up and get it done guerrilla style – the 40 hour work week is dead. Spread the word of mouth stuff across many desks and then perhaps it’ll get done.

    At least that’s what I’m hoping will work.

  3. Agree 100% on everything. “Social-media services and experts” have been incredibly over-inflated — from perceived value to price. Social media and community are new skills that all marketers must inject into their DNA. But it’s not hard. The only friction preventing marketers (or anyone) from achieving that is lack of interest and mild courage to immerse themselves. It was probably a bigger leap for the white-collar workers who had to learn how to use a telephone, photocopier or fax machine, when those technologies were brought to market.

  4. David, great idea for a series. Full disclosure, I’m one of the folks who worked on that Olympic campaign from the Ogilvy team, so clearly I work at an agency. And I’m not pissed off by this post. Actually, I believe any smart marketer working today shouldn’t be either.

    Why? Because what you’re talking about in your post is moving from the non-measurable to the measurable. I believe social media can do that, and do it well – building on the measurability of the online medium. And I think you’d agree that no client, no matter how smart, has the hours in the day to do everything themselves. Or do they want to. So I think what you’re pointing to is a future where the agencies that are feeding off old models of “cut and paste media plans” and launching hope based branding campaigns for millions of dollars will be out of work. But the ones that can demonstrate value, do a lot with a little, and consistently show results will be in high demand. Personally, I’d much rather be an agency guy working in a group like that.

    Actually, I believe I already am.

  5. Hallelujah, brother.

    I do believe you can say “brand-building” with a straight face so long as the next two words you say are “increased sales.” But it’s all about scrappy, roll up your sleeves action which has a appreciable business impact, i.e. sales or an acceptable proxy.

    The recession will suck. It will also drive all of us to put up or shut up about how to move business through social media. And act sincerely in regards to helping clients do same. Helping clients do same means helping them do a lot themselves. This new discipline – measurement – will demonstrate how social medi and word of mouth can move product through new and repeat sales.

    I, too, think that social media can demonstrate its real efficiency. Look for people who come at it from that angle first. We can’t stop innovating or else we will devolve back into impression-based models with diminishing returns. Every experiment and innovation must be scrappy and with a way of assesing perfomance.

    I do think that clients who look to outsource their social media initiatives like they outsource their media buy may be kidding themselves. Call it DIY. Call it team collaboration. Everybody needs to roll up their sleeves and help by actually “doing” something (vs. just talking as per your “broken record” of punditry won’t help).

    Now lighten up. We will go from dour to do-er next week. Today we kiss the kids, laugh at Uncle Joe, eat a bunch and watch the teasers for Battlestart Gallactica!

  6. David –
    I agree. Though to this:

    ….imagine telling a CFO or someone in finance that you need cash to improve “brand reputation” through a “conversational marketing program” involving blogs, wikis, vlogs, photo sharing, tagging, twittering, and crowdsourcing. I guarantee the response will be something on the lines of “how many buggy whips will it sell?” I don’t think Social Media Marketing is ever going to go away – I am a huge fan – indeed I think it could be the tactic that actually thrives through this shitty economy, but only if practiced at extremely low cost and with some evidence that it can drive revenue…

    I’d respond that proof of value must be driven by more than simple minded closed loop ROAS. You can harvest demand for so long, you also need to create it. And conversations, properly managed, can do that. See the Open Forum site for a great example, or Wepc.com.

    Which leads to your very good point about measurement. You noted:

    “Vendors: Sorry. That $150,000 a year “reputation monitoring” system you want me to buy? Nevermind, time for DIY.”

    At FM, we’ve done this, and much more, for you and it comes with the territory (IE, free for partners). It’s called the CM Toolbox, more here:

    http://www.clickz.com/3631168

    Anywho, I agree it’s time to step up and show value. But then, I’ve always felt that way. Thanks for pushing the conversation forward.

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