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Let’s begin with an oversimplified summary of marketing macro-trends from the past five years. Advances in technology have led to rapid innovation cycles, an open door to startups, and greater competition in virtually every major industry. Increased competition places greater pressure on marketers to successfully position, target, and reach new (fickle) consumers, thus leading to increased budgets but greater scrutiny. Concurrently, channels of distribution and social media proliferation have reduced the overall effectiveness of traditional paid media (TV, radio, print). Investments in digital media continue to rise, but these tactics run the risk of becoming just another billboard until a standard measurement scheme is adopted…impressions no longer count, folks. Marketers find themselves faced with too many options but the same old dilemma…how to reach the right eyeballs with a relevant message to drive funnel activity? Relax, you don’t have to do it all alone…

Your Brand is No Longer Yours

As mentioned above, the proliferation of digital media has become an open invite for informal journalism and product critique. Consider your personal news feed, anyone with a Twitter handle, Pinterest page, or YouTube channel can pose as a resident authority for a given topic. Combine this with a human tendency to seek recommendations from trusted networks at the speed of “fiber”, and all of a sudden pay-for-play review services like Zagat, Forbes, and Michelin become a little less relevant. Similarly, a brand’s ability to tell their own story objectively is in itself oxymoronic. Consumers yield more power than ever in curating brand experiences for rebroadcast with greater organic reach than any single brand or network can provide. So how can you make heroes out of your customers and are you comfortable with passing the mic?

beck song reader site(ex: Beck’s Song Reader)

Never Discount Vanity

We are all a few clicks away from becoming professional storytellers, kickstarters, and journalists…and some clever folks make a pretty good living doing so. Since we all now have the ability to live in bits and bytes, we also own digital brands to build and protect. Consumers tend to curate the best of themselves in photo, video, and text, and if advocating your product or service can help them in their quest, you just earned more efficient advertising than you could ever pay for. Yes, altruism still exists and deep-down most of us share information with the hope of helping others. But there is also selfish pride in being viewed as a source of discovery for news, humor, products, or deals, which can double as brand sponsorship. Do you have the ability to locate your top advocates, make them feel special, and hand off something exclusive enough to share? Does this help them build their individual digital brands?

warby parker 2

(ex: Warby Parker’s Home Try-On)

Just Cause

If traditional media effectiveness is in perpetual decline, you no longer own your brand, and customers control their own path to purchase, how can you win? The most progressive brand marketers recognize that modern consumers, specifically digital natives, want to elevate beyond the transaction and require their share of wallet contribute to more than corporate profits. This can be a win-win for both brands and consumers, with corporate cause efforts (CSR) are perpetually constrained by resources and priority, when aligned with marketing they can build brand equity and also contribute to customer acquisition. As mentioned above, if this also helps consumers attach altruism to their digital profiles with minimal keystrokes, they will support your cause through commerce.

toms

 (ex: Toms Improving Lives)

In the grand scheme of advertising, digital media is still in relative infancy. This is precisely why I find it so valuable to study patterns of communication and subliminal intent to predict behavior. One thing is for certain, no single brand can afford to continue feeding the diminishing returns meter, a.k.a. traditional paid media. In order to scale your brand message in the most organic way, you must enlist your customers (and their respective networks) to participate. Word-of-mouth still happens largely offline, but online sharing platforms are fertile ground for brand advocacy. However, this must be a true value exchange, whereas if a consumer offers you a piece of their digital real estate, your product or experience must deliver incremental value in their personal brand building campaign.

Google cause

 (SOURCE: LBGT Advertising, How Brands are Taking a Stance on Issues)

 

“It’s not me, it’s you” – a familiar relationship phrase you’ve either used or perhaps even had spoken to you, except you might notice it’s significantly altered. In a different type of relationship, that of a client and an agency, the altered phrase should be the one that clients hear from their agencies.

For the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of working on the client side with some of the most-loved brands in the nation. Yoplait, Cheerios, Progresso, Nature Valley and others at General Mills, as well as Reese’s and the many brands at Hershey, have legions of dedicated consumers. During my time with these brands, I worked with several agencies and had some great working relationships and some that were just okay.

There are lots of lessons to bring back to the agency side, but probably none more important than the philosophy that the clients’ goals have to be first, so to clients I say, “It’s not me, it’s you.” Sounds very elementary, I know. However, the most successful agency relationships truly put my brands’ goals first. Those agencies weren’t blatantly trying to grow their business by always pitching to do more work and meet more potential clients within the building. Ironically, these successful agencies did receive more work and meet more potential clients within the company.

Agencies should deliver great ideas or strategy and then follow up with excellent execution, all while putting the brands’ goals first. What results is trust, which most people agree is the foundation of successful relationships. And, trust grows over time.

One of those successful agency relationships was with WCG. A phrase I heard from one of my main contacts was, “whatever’s right for your business.” So, in addition to being ahead of the curve with what’s next in digital, WCG put my brands first. I also liked that WCG had one P&L, which meant it was easier to do the right thing for my brands.

Back to the title of this post, today I’m pleased to announce that I have joined that agency, WCG, to lead our soon-to-be opened Midwest office, located in the Twin Cities. I’m really looking forward to helping brands achieve their goals because it truly is about “you,” not “me.”

 

Water has amazing properties.  It is in continuous movement.  When it is “organized”, it can move together with tremendous force. But it can also evaporate, condense and fall down as precipitation.  If you try to pick it up, it simply slides out of your hand. In many respects, water decides what water wants to do.  It appears to be predictable in its patterns, but it can surprise you at anytime.

Same for customers online.

We are entering the age of the Liquid Network after wallowing through the age of the Illiquid Network….one filled with catalogs that you get whether you like it or not…emails that repeatedly show up in your inbox…ads that pop up in front of you…..all ways that companies decided to communicate to you…at you…..

In the world of Liquid Networks, the game is different.  We can access the world’s greatest operating system – the web – by ourselves.  We can access content of our choice wherever or whenever we want.  We are starting to decide more and more how we want to be reached by companies and each other.  Our loyalty to communities can last over time, but if there is a reason to move, we move.   We constantly evolve who is in our network.  Essentially, we are in control of our own liquid networks and we decide how they work best for us.    And we don’t hesitate to change them.

I believe there are five key principles of the Liquid Network.

#1 – Word of Mouth Drives Interest & Action – whether we know it or not, we generally like to see what is cool.  We may decide on our own which news is worth listening to, which communities are fun to join, which apps we talk about, but we also naturally gravitate to what is interesting, new and hot, according to our peers.  Word of mouth matters online.  If the content is interesting, we listen and learn.  We count on our friends to share what is important.  And we adjust our content flows as our needs change.  We’re not locked in to a pattern that we are aware of.   We’re fluid and we’re listening.

#2 – We Decide Who We Listen to at Work – we used to be limited to what our department manager told us in conference rooms or via memos or other closed systems.   Now, with Yammer and IM and internal blogs and forums, we decide who is relevant to our work.  We decide who we will listen to….and we don’t overtly tell anyone this is the case, since we don’t need to.  We morph our network based on our needs, not based on the mandate from headquarters.

#3 – Our Learning Habits Change with Technology – as video has matured, we have decided that YouTube is a great place to have fun, learn and share.  It’s why YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine.  We may not realize it consciously, but we can absorb content far quicker visually than we can via the written word.  We’ve decided that twitter is useful, so it takes off.  We decide what is successful and make it happen by our actions.

#4 – We Decide Which Communities Matter – not so long ago, many folks said Facebook would never attract people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  However, people in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s never heard this and have flocked to Facebook.  The Liquid Network doesn’t listen to prognosticators, they listen to their friends.

#5 – We are Technology Agnostic, but Results Driven – we don’t care about the name of the software or platform.  We simply want our content in the device we want it in whenever we are ready for it.  We’re loyal to getting the right content and we’ll go wherever that is.  Results matter more than the name of the technology.

Liquid Networks will change based on personal desire, peer influence and technology.  They will change far faster than the average company can plan against.  Only folks who are actively involved online each and every day will see the subtle changes at work as the networks they are participating in change.

The reality is we’re all part of Liquid Networks and that’s the way we roll.

All the best, Bob