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Don’t Get It? Don’t Worry!

I came across this article in AdWeek on Coca-Cola Hunts for Social-Net Formula: The company’s online marketing highs and lows show an old brand learning new tricks. On the one hand, they have spent millions and millions trying to “get” a new media/social strategy that feels like a win. OTOH, they haven’t hit the proverbial home run yet, and to their credit, are still in the game playing.

The schizophrenic responses show the uncertain embrace Coke’s made of social media as it tries to translate its over 50 years of success in the traditional marketing world to the new terrain. The pitfalls the company has faced and concessions it’s made highlight the challenges faced by big brands navigating the new marketing playbook.

What is driving this post from me is that me and my colleagues bemoan daily on Twitter and other social sites about how many companies “don’t get it.” But you know what? It’s not easy getting it, if you haven’t been raised on the internet, like we have.

So let’s stipulate these facts into the record:
# It is really hard to get it, especially the bigger you are. You are too shielded from people who will tell you the truth and who will take risks and who actually have any experience down here on the streets of the web where all of the market disruption and social media creation is taking place.
# There is a level of chance and unpredictability involved. Going “viral” is not something you can plan for and purchase off the shelf. A viral response online is just like it is in biology – an unexpected mutation that takes off in an entirely new direction.
# If you have any hope of having a concept go viral however, you FIRST have to get out there and make media, have conversations, and take risks. It ain’t gonna happen in the safety of a board room with your usual suspects. If you don’t know who they are, email me and I will explain it to you in private.
# IMO, any company serious about developing a social campaign should have BOTH the stable of brand agency players as well as a young upstart new media expert firm in the planning and execution. I’ve written previously about errors made by such luminaries as Walmart and Ford who spent a lot of money on big agency misfires. Remember, big agencies have the “big” problem too. See #1 above. You want a tour guide who speaks the language natively, not someone who just bought the Cliff Notes, on your team.
# Please have a tolerance for messiness. People raised online cannot be controlled, and you will only lose more, faster, by trying to do so.
# Try and get over your addiction to big numbers. They were mostly meaningless in terms of actual response rates.
# Relax. The internet is not going away. You have time to experiment, to see what works for you and the nuances of your corporate culture. The marketplace on the one hand is very harsh on people who try to game the system, but incredibly forgiving of those who are willing to have a meaningful, valuable exchange of ideas, products, and services.

Gaurav Mishra is writing a book-as-blog experiment and recently discussed Patricia Martin, author of Ren Gen. There are numerous good points but I want to leave you with this one as you think about how “to get it”:

People Want Authenticity: A related trend is that we want real and authentic experiences, instead of packaged formualic one. So, when we travel, we are not satisfied with the usual photo-opportunities; instead, we want to participate in adventure sports, or immerse ourselves in local culture, or go off the beaten track and explore nature.

Just remember, you can’t buy authenticity. You earn it, one transparent conversation at a time. That’s nothing to worry about, just something to start practicing. Maybe even in a staff meeting today!

13 Comments on “Don’t Get It? Don’t Worry!

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  2. You raise some good points here, and I’m going to read the Messy Audiences and Big numbers articles now. Looks interesting.

    But getting back on topic, it seems that the main difficulty large companies have to adapting to the net is the main problem they have adapting to anything: it’s difficult to steer such a huge ship.

    The fact that they weren’t brought up valuing transparency doesn’t help either, and I look forward to seeing how the internet age is going to change corporations in the long term.

  3. @Kaykoa – yes, I think there are many unsung heros in our midst who are willing to embrace change against all -odds- entropy. For those who reach out though, there is a lot of support in the blogosphere.

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  8. @Roxanne: Yes, authenticity is a core personal aspiration for many of us now, and since we often realize our aspirations through the brands we buy, we are now demanding that brands be authentic too.

    Well, brands, like all economic offerings, are inherently inauthentic, so we are really talking about brands becoming ‘more authentic’, or brand trying to ‘cue authenticity’.

    I have been digging into the philosophy of authenticity of late, and I have realized how difficult it is to be authentic, for both people and for brands.

    Like you, I love the promise of social media, because social media is one of the few places where brand can participate in authentic conversations with consumers and citizens. It’s messy, and it isn’t easy, and not many brands ‘get it’, but I’m teaching myself to be tolerant of brands who at least try.

  9. @Gaurav – thank you for your comment. I think many of us (me included) can learn to apply more tolerance to those who are willing to try. It begs of the question of “enabling” in some circumstances though.

    One of my favorite aspects of the social web is being able to see all the many personalities. As often as not, those with a crude delivery style can also have very good points! I am reading Rohit Bhargava’s new book, “Personality Not Included” by the way. For a company of any size to not fear the different styes within their ranks is part of the muscle-building process IMO.

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