Separating Brilliance From Blabber

Top Marketing Bloggers try to Make Sense of Shifting Relationships Among Consumers, Companies and Media

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Blog eat blog world: Advertising Age recently moderated a meeting of prominent bloggers at its New York office.
Blog eat blog world: Advertising Age recently moderated a meeting of prominent bloggers at its New York office. Credit: Andrew Walker

What's on the minds of the most influential marketing bloggers?

Advertising Age Editor Jonah Bloom recently led a roundtable discussion with some prominent players from our Power 150 network to find out. Contributors included Power 150 founder Todd Andrlik of Toddand; Paul McEnany of Hee Haw Marketing; Anna Farmery of The Engaging Brand; David Armano of Logic & Emotion; Matt Dickman of Technomarketer; Daryl Ohrt of Brand Flakes for Breakfast; Ann Handley of Mp Daily Fix; Mark Goren of Transmission Marketing; Rohit Bhargava of Influential Marketing Blog; Lewis Green of Biz Solutions Plus; Servant of Chaos' Gavin Heaton; Sean Howard of Crap Hammer and Geoff Livingston of Livingston Buzz.

What follows is an edited transcript.

MR. BLOOM: We're talking to a lot of large media operations, who frankly -- while they might not admit it -- are scared that the old method of doing things, whereby they aggregated large audiences and sold content next to that, is in the long term not going to provide enough engagement with the consumer. If you were talking to the large consumer-media guys, what would you tell them?

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LEWIS GREEN: You've got to be ahead of what we're doing. You've got to educate the agencies, because they're the ones who for now are buying a lot of your advertising. So how do you help them see the next best thing? Blogging is going to be superseded by something bigger and better, and people like you, editors, need to know what that is. Because it's going to bubble up from the people.

MR. BLOOM: Is it, though? Haven't we only ever seen one direction in terms of media? We started off and there was one printing press, and now we've got [dozens of media]. There's going to be something else that's going to come along that's suddenly going to aggregate people? I don't think so. Aren't we talking about a technological solution?

GEOFF LIVINGSTON: I would say there's an attitude right now in marketing that "we have to create blogs, we have to create content, we have to push, push, push!" And you know what? People are like, "I'm sick of hearing that. How are you contributing to the larger whole? Why do I care about this?"

So the question for big brands and media publications is how can I be a part of this larger whole? And how can I fit in and contribute and also maybe pull back from people so they can land and I can capture them as a reader, so they may see an ad. That's the question.

ROHIT BHARGAVA: The other thing that's interesting is that we're focusing so much on content, when a lot of us are doing branding for a living. The question is: How do you take the brand that you've got, which is a reputation asset, and bring in the content that bloggers are all creating to propel that brand even further?

MR. GREEN: I came out of the corporate world as VP of marketing, and I'm not going to do any of the things you guys are suggesting, as a VP of marketing, because you haven't told me how that gives me more customers. I only care about social media if it helps me to create more loyal customers. As a VP of marketing for a major brand, I don't care about filtering and aggregating, and I don't care whether you give me a link or not.

MR. BLOOM: You made a very good point: Do we need more content? Or do we need something that's actually more useful for their consumers?

MR. LIVINGSTON: Think about Harley Davidson. I don't want to see a Harley Davidson blog. But maybe I would like to get into a contest to take a photograph of my sweet, customized Harley, and win a contest to be February in a Harley Davidson calendar, and then buy the calendar. I don't want to read some crap blog about how they are going to re-engineer their rubber. ... It's about engaging people, not just publishing.

PAUL MCENANY: Yes, but there is still a point to be made for content, because there are some brands that just don't play themselves that way. Most brands aren't Harley or Apple. So on some level they do need to get into content production, because there is only so much they can do with bottled milk or whatever.

MR. GREEN: But that's where traditional media can move these brands: If traditional media isn't talking about this stuff, some of those big brands are going to be going away, because they aren't hearing a reason why they should care about social media.

MR. BLOOM: That places too much importance on us. The fact is that if it's not sufficiently inherent in your corporate DNA and what you do as marketer to provide value to your customers, we won't be able to change that.

MR. GREEN: I came out of Starbucks. If you ran a story about Dunkin' Donuts making a ton of money doing something, Starbucks would pay attention.
Talking style and content: (from l.) Sean Howard, David Armano and Matt Dickman
Talking style and content: (from l.) Sean Howard, David Armano and Matt Dickman Credit: Andrew Walker

SEAN HOWARD: The conversation that needs to be had with big brands is this: They are looking at how media is changing, they are talking about fragmentation, about spend, about all these things. That's not the game. The game is that behaviors are changing. So the discussion we generally get into is to focus on understanding the shift in behavior. Once we start to understand the shift in behavior, then we can start talking about things like context and relevance, which is really what we're talking about.

MR. BLOOM: We see in a lot of our conversations there is still a perception of marketing as an outbound communication. And what you're talking about in terms of behavior has always been covered by the notion of research. How much of what all of you are hearing -- from marketers and others you speak to -- is them wanting help understanding behavior?

MR. ARMANO: It seems like they get the media, and they get branded entertainment, but all this other stuff they're grappling with. They don't really understand the behavior at a deep level. Because if it's not a focus group or it's not metric-sure research, they don't go there.

MR. BHARGAVA: Sales lift is directly attributable but sometimes you can't equate that to the sort of stuff that we do. The other thing they'll understand is customer loyalty, that you can equate to what we do, because you're able to personalize what each individual in your company is doing. ... I mean, I may not go to Starbucks because I love the coffee. I may go because I have a great relationship with the person who works there in the morning.

MR. BLOOM: But I think the question I'm asking you is whether they really have any interest in understanding that audience? And if I were playing the devil's advocate: Is the problem to some extent that they don't see, or it's too complex to scale?

MR. BHARGAVA: Scale is the No. 1 biggest issue for big brand marketers. We worked on a campaign where there was a big Yahoo home-page ad buy, and they were reporting 50 million impressions. And I'm telling them I can get them 50 blog hits. Now in our space, 50 blog hits is great, right? But how are you going to explain to a brand marketer that 50 million impressions over here is worse than 50 blog hits? You can't.

MR. GREEN: The Fortune 500 is never going to lead anything. The Fortune 500 [are] going to be the last adapters. I work with what I would call midsize companies ($100 million companies). It's uphill with their marketing people, but they are willing to listen because their margins are thinner, and some are public and some aren't. And that's where I think we have to do a better job. Because it's not going to come down from above. It isn't. The Apples and IBMs and Microsofts -- when the time comes, they are going to do the mergers and acquisitions to get what we're all talking about.

MR. MCENANY: The difficulty is a lot of these budgets aren't growing. They're just shifting where those dollars are going. When they're buying television, when they are looking at things like sales lift, you can buy television and do a two-week run, and see where the sales went up during those two weeks. And you can't do that with social media. It's a much longer cycle for the buy, and when you start looking at targeting based on behavior, things like that, you also need to take a much longer view.

MR. HOWARD: A lot of big brands they use third parties for research, and they spend a lot on them. Let's say it's a [consumer-product-goods] company: They know what people eat, when they eat it, how they eat it. They know a lot about human behavior around their product. You then go to their marketing department, and who do they get to do their research? Their media company, who's going to be buying advertising. It's amazing! It's such a conflict of interest. No wonder they aren't getting real behavioral feedback.

MR. BLOOM: One of the marketing world's great myths: They always talk about supply and demand in all the different media markets. "Well, but of course, it's a market like any other, with supply and demand." You've got a TV buyer who's incentivized to buy more TV and a TV seller who's incentivized to sell more TV.

MATT DICKMAN: The other conversation inside the agencies that I'm seeing now is there's so much confusion. Really, because the PR shops, Fleishman, Ogilvy and all those guys are doing the digital stuff, but the client may have a digital agency, and then they have an ad agency that also has a digital group, and there's all this confusion on who has control of that space. And it's worse for the client, the marketer. Trying to educate them on how to deal with that situation to get the most out of their money -- it's very confusing.
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