About David Appelbaum
David Appelbaum is an award-winning marketing professional and accomplished musician specializing in pre-IPO companies who is fascinated by the nexus between commerce, art, and psychology and how technology impacts them all.
Latest Posts by David Appelbaum
We’ve been discussing how there are 2 strategic programmatic loops that clever marketeers run in tandem in order to ensure lasting consumer loyalty, devastating competitive attacks, and rapid attainment of your organization’s financial goals. These are the TAC Loop – corporate activity and messaging to ensure community creation around your brand and the OODA Loop – which creates a highly effective and strategic attack framework which enables you to rapidly outmaneuver your competitors. So what ties this all together? What we started talking about at the very beginning – Social Media!
Marketeers have been struggling since the introduction of blogs, wikis, VLogs, Podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, etc, how to use them effectively as part of a corporate marketing strategy. They question its efficacy in B-to-B marketing, they worry about the loss of control of their message, and all the other excuses you hear at the different conferences. They understand it in the context of consumer marketing – selling breakfast cereals, new video games, movies, soda, etc., but they simply don’t understand it’s place in the “serious” world of business to business marketing. If there is one simple concept that every B-to-B marketeer needs to understand is this: All marketing is consumer marketing. Period. No matter what products your organizations develops, you’re selling to a common entity – a consumer. Business consumers are motivated and influenced by the same tactics as when they’re purchasing personal products. This is exactly why social media has such power and is the fuel that keeps your OODA loop rotating with such speed and force.
So what’s a marketeer to do? How do you utilize social media as part of your Loop strategy? Content, content, and still more content. Content that’s fresh, that’s relevant, that’s entertaining. It doesn’t just have to be directly related to your products but about associated services, other products, partners, and if you’re feeling truly bold you could include negative reviews of your competitors. It could also be about social or leisure activities that other consumers of your products have in common – things like videos, personal financial advice, recipes if they cook, or special cultural events they enjoy. In addition to creating content internally, search other blogs or websites and link to them. Nothing helps drive SEO levels then link love! The key is that your content is relevant, fresh, and compelling to the community you’re looking to build. It also needs to be self-referential – each vehicle you employ needs to populate the next in your communication chain. Your blog feeds your podcast which in turn feeds your Twitter stream which in turn feeds your newsletters, which in turn feeds your website, and on and on and on. You create an integrated content stream fully re-enforcing your key messages and pulling your community together.
The goal is to turn your website – the most important element of your communication strategy – into a destination portal; the place to go for your community to get information on anything that is related to their interests and their careers. By providing content directly to your consumers along with the means for them to interact with it, you start both your loops spinning faster. The more time spent with your content – the less time they spend with your competitor and the greater the relationship they start forming with your company.
You position your organization everywhere your consumer is and provide multiple opportunities and multiple contexts for them to interact with you and your content. The more interaction the better. More importantly, you allow them the opportunity to tell you what they like and what they don’t like. If they like certain content over others, you can deliver to them exactly what they want. That’s the beauty of Social Media – it enables you to get immediate feedback – from direct commentary to usage/visiting metrics to direct focused response programs. It enables you to bring together a diverse group of consumers and turn them into a community better than any other method.
So how do you know it’s working? Besides the usual metrics of increased leads, PR coverage, and the return website visitors that all marketeers measure; the key metric is competitive impact. Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery and the surest indication you’ve drawn blood. When your competitors begin to try and do what you’re doing, you know you’ve jumped ahead of them.
The key now is to not let up. You need to maintain the same level of intensity and commitment to content freshness as when you started the program. Once you start the loops spinning, you have to keep them in the air or risk looking ridiculous in the eyes of your audience. Remember – the OODA loop feeds your TAC loop. The TAC loop is all about Authenticity. If you’re not authentically going to embrace and execute with intent, you might as well never start. This is an all-in strategy – you either commit to it in full or just don’t start. In our next post, we’ll go through a case study on a highly effective loop campaign and how the combination of social media and video created highly measurable and lucrative results for one company and built a lasting community along the way!
The one notion that’s been carried through this blog is the concept of the TAC Loop. As a refresher, TAC stands for Transparency, Authenticity, & Community. When a consumer is able to gain transparency into your company and your company’s activities align with your messages, you create community. Community ensures continued loyalty to your company, it’s goods, services, and is the most effective and efficient brand creation mechanism a marketeer can have. While it can be a double edged sword – see Whole Foods & stupid CEO comments – your consumers create your brand for you which in turn gives them a stake in the success of your company. They have internalized your brand and made it a part of their personal identity. The reason why Apple, Nike, Peets Coffee, and countless other major brands enjoy the popularity they do is because they’ve created a powerful TAC loop and their consumers associate their affiliation with the brand as part of their self image. Many of these brands have stumbled – Nike and the sweatshop scandal comes to mind. But, by and large, once a powerful loop is established it can be repaired if broken – once. The buying public is generally forgiving but you only have so many chances to make it right.
It would seem that creating your loop would be simple. Flood the market with insight into your company, provide plenty of comment areas, gauge the reactions to create your message, then provide ways for your fans to connect with each other and build out the community. It is simple – in a vacuum. The one problem: competitors. While you’re busy trying to entice consumers to read your content, you’ve got competitors out there – sometimes with bigger budgets, larger staffs, and better established market positions doing exactly the same thing. The mind of a consumer is fundamentally limited real-estate. There’s only so much space dedicated to absorbing information pertaining to products, goods, services, etc,. This problem is compounded by the volume of data out in the market and the number of media vehicles in which to present that information. As we’ve been saying – the power rests with the consumer to change the channel, click the mouse, turn off the radio, plug in the ear-buds, etc. It has never been easier and harder all at the same time to make contact with the consumer while fending off the competition.
So what’s a marketeer to do?
The key is another kind of loop – a loop that runs parallel to the TAC loop and is called the OODA loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act). First developed by the great modern military strategist John Boyd in his seminal briefing document “Patterns of Conflict”, this concept was initially formulated to win aerial dog fights with high performance jet fighters in the early 1960s. In an arena where milliseconds count, speed and accuracy of thought and action is everything! The OODA loop at first glance is a simple diagram of how people make decisions. But dig deeper and it’s a brilliant construct for creating competitive advantage. Thinking and acting quickly and boldly to outthink and outmaneuver rivals — will, Boyd wrote, “make us appear ambiguous, and generate confusion and disorder.” You effectively change your competitors’ strategy from focusing on consumer acquisition and mindshare to defending against you and your tactics. It’s a bold strategy – one that requires a high tolerance for risk, but if executed properly means victory in the end.
Perhaps one of the best examples of a company using the combination of a TAC Loop with the OODA Loop was Microsoft in the late 1980′s-early ’90′s. At that time, it was far from a foregone conclusion that Microsoft would become the powerhouse it is today. It had real and viable competition across every one of it’s core technology businesses. Novell, IBM, Lotus, Borland, WordPerfect – all these companies had dominance in their particular areas: Novell for networking, IBM for OS’s (OS2 & DOS), Lotus in spreadsheets, Borland in PC databases and programming languages, and WordPerfect for word processing. How did Microsoft beat them? They used the exact same strategy every time they entered a new market: they let them all beat themselves.
The first thing they did was create a TAC Loop. They invested millions in creating a loyal coterie of developers, systems managers, IT professionals, and 3rd party consultants/add-on product developers by giving away tools and eval software (at a time when the price for an average seat license of DOS software was close to $700!), creating a professional certification program, and providing wide distribution of beta software. This created incredible loyalty in the market – people owed their increasingly advancing skills and careers to Microsoft. With a strong community behind them, Microsoft would then announce their intention to enter a new market. They would create a huge media event – fancy venue, lights, videos, flashy demos featuring Bill Gates (they were the first to create the Super Star Geek CEO!) and announce a comprehensive roadmap. They would then undercut their competitors with upgrade pricing – practically giving it all away. These actions ran contrary to the software industry’s best practices of the day. Though many competitors would use some of these tactics; Borland the competitive upgrade, Novell the professional certification programs, no one used them all together and with such agility and laser focus. They would literally freeze the market until they released their product – as much as 4 – 6 months sometimes. Even if the product didn’t work as well as the competitor’s upon release, it usually worked well enough, was cheaper, and they had a loyal community who trusted that they would get it right – eventually. Time and again competitors were caught flat-footed! They could not believe that they would be hit with a frontal assault in their core markets by a company with no track record in their market. They would consistently underestimate Microsoft and would then have to respond – after they received a crushing blow. Now, instead of playing their game according to their own rules, they would focus on Microsoft. In fact, beating Microsoft became more central to the culture of these companies than doing right for their customers, i.e. reenforcing their TAC Loop. It became personal and it became obsessive. All Microsoft had to do was play it’s own game and not worry about what their competitors did; they just continued to build trust with their community and propagate their software – everywhere. They could then roll up multiple divisions in large companies that were using their products and the next thing you know they had extremely valuable site licenses sewed up. They owned the PC IT infrastructure – from networks to operating systems to the productivity applications in every major corporation in the world. The speed with which these once powerful companies fell was astonishing and literally changed the complexion of the entire PC computing industry in less then 5 years.
This is perhaps the most striking example of how using concurrent TAC & OODA Loops can help you formulate and run your most effective campaigns. In short – make your consumers love you, your competitors fear you and thereby taking themselves out for you. In the next post we’re going to deconstruct the OODA Loop and show how you can utilize it to frame your next campaign!
We’ve been discussing the importance of experience. More importantly, how to use experience as a means of bringing consumers into your TAC loop (Transparency, Authenticity, & Community) to create truly valuable brands, maintain solid reputation, and fulfilling customer relationships. Social media is a critical set of tools for savvy marketeers to build a foundation for creating experience, delivering new information & content, and then providing a multi-directional forum for interaction between you and your consumers, consumers and their peers. Sounds simple and easy – at least it should be. But why does it seem so difficult and why do so many people make such a mess of it?
First of all, let’s clarify terms. When you get past the vocabulary - blogs, vlogs, Facebook, wikis, podcasts, video, web 2.0, let alone twitter; they all fundamentally do the same thing. Although each technology does excel in its own special mode of communication that works best in specific contexts (which we’ll review in greater detail in another post.), social media is any kind of technology that can enable people to create, augment, and/or share content among multiple interest communities and peer groups. That’s it. But there are key benefits unique to these media which is partially why they’ve captured so much attention and marketing budget. What separates social media from legacy marketing, CRM, as well as PR, is based on 2 simple attributes:
- Social Media by it’s nature is permission based.
- Social Media let’s you gauge and adjust your message & media in real-time.
Let’s discuss what these mean and how you can best optimize them.
As much as we like to highlight the creative, all marketing is based on rules & etiquette. There are rules of taste, of language, of etiquette, when addressing a consumer that you must follow or you will immediately lose credibility and obscure your message. To be effective when approaching a consumer, you must ask their permission to address them. Once given, you can then deliver your full palate of media & messages at full speed. In traditional marketing, permission was granted tacitly. Because media choices were limited and entertainment content required subsidizing in order to keep television and radio service free; marketeers had tacit permission to present their messages – it was an understood cost of consuming the service. It was just that simple. Today, where media is pervasive and marketing-free quality content can be broadcast for free – or as a paid-for premium, requesting permission is critical to create a level of trust between you and your consumer. This simple act of courtesy delivers such a strong impact on the minds of consumers that they in turn will be far more open to accepting the experiences you can offer and more likely to enter your TAC loop. Permissions can be as simple as offering a “Do Not Contact” button prominently on your page, offering a reward for registering, even as complex as assigning automated RSS feeds to specific subject areas. By doing things like this you offer the consumer an active method of rejecting or accepting your attempt to communicate with them. Anyone can turn the channel, move to a new webpage, or shut it all down if they’re not happy with what they’re seeing. But every time someone moves off your content without active participation with your content you’ve lost a critical opportunity to interact with that consumer. “No” is just as valuable as a “Yes”. It alerts you that your messages, offer, or content is inappropriate and needs to be retooled. Because you’re working in near real-time message delivery and response, you can more easily identify a virtual test community from your “No’s” and re-try your refined messages again – one more time. Hopefully with a better result. Word of warning: you cannot spam them, be overly aggressive, etc., You’ve got one more shot. If they took the time to give you a negative response once, it’s not unreasonable to try them one more time with a refined message. So the rule is – always ask permission and an active response – even a negative response – is vastly better than being ignored.
The real-time nature of social media is also critical. While we touched on it in the previous paragraph, the benefits go far beyond what we discussed. With social media you have not only real-time delivery of content but you have real-time response and then response to that response, etc., In short, you have community. It may form itself around a single issue, comment, or piece of content and can disappear just as quickly, but for a moment, you have a flash community that’s all yours. Digital lightening in the bottle! Think how important that is – how by watching consumers in your core demographic react to your content and with each other you discover significant amounts of rich psychographic information that you can then use to re-enforce your campaigns and your messages! This is the true value that underlies all social media – you can create immediate entry into your TAC loop – create a community that will interact with your brand, their peers, and help guide you with their unguarded input as to what will make them buy – as long as you keep faith with them with corporate Transparency and stay Authentic in how and what you communicate in relation to your corporate actions. Without Transparency & Authenticity you may attract a short term community, but you won’t keep them and you certainly won’t create a valuable brand or build consumer loyalty.
As marketeers, we’ve never had such immediate and truly powerful technologies like this at our disposal. We’ve never been able to broadcast a message into the air, see who’s receiving and responding to it, and then who’s responding to the responses all in real-time. When used properly, these tools can truly turbo-charge your marketing campaigns and enable you to build strong customer relationships and a valuable brand. Used indiscriminately they can tank your brand faster than arsenic in the Tylenol bottle. Social Media is truly social – so all the etiquette you’d observe when going to a party holds true for this – dress to impress, don’t be a boring, don’t be a know-it-all, and most importantly, don’t get too drunk and insult your guests!
Previously, we discussed the importance of creating real experiences for a consumer to better pierce their natural skepticism and apathy so they would then be more receptive to participate in our TAC (Transparency, Authenticity, & Community) loop. The question was – how do we create experience?
In the old days, marketeers generated interest through advertising, the logic being that ads would essentially flood the potential consumer with images and messages, thereby gaining enough traction that they would more likely purchase product. The more money they had, the more media they would purchase – all showing the same images and messages. Ad agencies spent millions on market research, demographic studies, and psychoanalytics so they could create a perfect profile of their target consumer.
This was great when media choices were limited, information on companies and products was scarce, and consumers were far less sophisticated in the ways of marketing tactics. Today, according to many marketing pundits, advertising is dead. And in many respects that is true. As a primary selling tool, unidirectional advertising is indeed dead. You can no longer present an image and a message without the ability for the consumer to interact with it and expect it to generate sales.
Many marketeers try to overcome this by releasing their ads on YouTube or Flickr and hope to create the ever elusive “viral” ad. While this approach still has some legs for well-established brands – Coca Cola, Budweiser, IBM, etc., (one could posit that brands so well-entrenched shouldn’t even bother advertising/marketing outside of direct point of sale marketing – but that’s a topic for another day), for smaller, newer companies, the old approaches are doomed to fail. Why? They’re applying old rules to new media, a changing consumer demographic, and hoping it will work like it used to.
So what’s a poor marketeer to do?
The first commandment from the old model still holds true today: know thy consumer! The level of knowledge around who is your consumer, what do they like, dislike, where do they shop, what do they value, how do they speak, where do they go for leisure, what media do they consume for fun – all of this data creates an extremely valuable psychological profile. The more data you have, the better model you can construct and the more targeted you can be in the experiences you create to appeal to this person.
Secondly, you need to find a way to entertain your demographic. This is the critical element. If you take away one message from this blog it is this – entertain your public without strings and you will be a hero in their eyes! Your message is secondary – you need to provide your consumer with what they want – and that is to be entertained. Something that will make your target consumer stop, look, respond, and think about it. Then and only then should you add your corporate name – as a sponsor. That’s it. No message, no sales pitch, no product information, nothing. You should never dilute the pure experience created by the piece you deliver. Entertainment = experience = entry to the TAC loop = sales.
One of the greatest examples of both how and how not to do this was Mentos. Many of you saw the video of the men dropping Mentos into bottles of Diet Coke in time to music. It was hilarious, fascinating to watch and had thousands of people duplicating it.
At first, Mentos was furious. They tried to have it pulled from the YouTube site. However, within a few weeks they discovered a tremendous spike in people purchasing their product – all based on the strength of this video. As many of you know, Mentos ads are somewhat bizarre in the first place; originally created for German TV they change the voice-over to English and run them untouched in the U.S. This video, though, was the best ad they’d never run! It was a prime example of experience selling product. It entertained and it created buzz without explicitly pushing product.
Now imagine if Mentos took the next step and created a video contest to have others duplicate the experiment and do even more outrageous set-ups. These would then be broadcast via the Mentos website with comment areas for people to vote for their favorite or discuss them. Imagine if they followed that up with live events in multiple cities where the winners could perform them. Have a band there, invite complimentary products from their parent corporation to exhibit there, etc., Make it a Mentos Lollapalooza!
What do you think that would have done for their brand and their product sales? It could have been astronomical! Every piece of advertising, radio spots, PR, etc., would be aligned to support these events – that focus and that concentration of messaging would have truly broken through the clutter and could have created a massive success for them. This would not have been that expensive to do – given what they currently pay for prime-time TV they clearly have money – and the publicity and the interactivity would have created a phenomenal community around their brand.
But alas, they didn’t, and so lost one of the greatest opportunities ever handed to a marketeer. That alignment of media all in the service of supporting the initial experience is what then creates the force to penetrate the clutter and effectively touch the consumer. You envelop the consumer in your messages after they’ve joined your TAC Loop and effectively freeze out your competition. This takes discipline, focus, and the willingness to take risks, but it works!
So is advertising dead? As a sole source of outbound messaging and communication it surely is. Ad budgets are way out of proportion to the amount of influence they generate. However, ads in support of interactive and experiential programs are a key tactic in the ongoing struggle for hearts and minds of the consumer! Marketeers need to seriously re-evaluate how and where they’re spending their dollars and look to those programs that will deliver entertainment/experience first – message second.
As they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If your first impression is exciting, interesting, and entertaining, WITHOUT strings – you’ll have many many opportunities to make that second, third, fourth, etc., impression! It is a risky strategy – how many CEOs will sign a proposal for creative that barely mentions the product? Not many – but it’s important to push the limits! Once you bring a consumer into your TAC Loop you effectively own them. And by the way, this works just as well in B to B marketing as it does for B to C marketing – contrary to popular belief! More to come on the importance of TAC Loops and social media coming in the next post!
So let’s take our previous post to the next level. As a marketeer, we need to create Transparency, Authenticity, and Community (TAC) for our companies in order to build brand and strong customer relationships. But the fundamental question is how do we project our desire to engage? The market has never been more crowded, the chatter has never been louder, the media choices more varied, and the dollars we’re all competing for – and have to spend – have never been more scarce. Our consumers are more sophisticated, media-savvy, and are fully aware that they have the ultimate control. If we’re striving to implement a TAC strategy then not only can consumers easily choose to interact with us but they can just as easily choose NOT to interact. Bottom line – it’s never been easier for us to turn them off and for them to tune us out as we ply our trade.
So what’s a poor marketeer to do?
How can we not only get our virtual foot in the door – but get invited to stay for coffee? The answer – Experience. Not experience in terms of expertise or know-how, but “a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something”. It could be something amusing, it could be thought-provoking, it could be scary – but whatever it is, it creates a visceral impact that imprints itself on the psyche of your prospect. It is that instantaneous impression that a great piece of music, poetry, a great sports play, a person falling on a banana peel; anything which invokes an immediate emotional response which diverts attention from maintaining the mental guard rails so finely tuned to keep us out. Hit consumers quickly and emotionally and suddenly they’re vulnerable. The combination of speed and emotional impact is simply irresistible. Think about the best campaigns you’ve ever seen – you don’t just see them or read them – you experience them. They can become part of the popular zeitgeist well beyond the “messages” of the product they purport to sell. And they succeed in seconds. Given the varied forms and especially, the cost effectiveness, of multi-media available to today’s marketeers why is experience so hard to convey? Why aren’t there more interesting, exciting, and effective marketing campaigns & innovations going on? Why are we just seeing pale repetitions of MadMen marketing – methods that are over 40 years old – in the digital age? The answer is simple: people hate risk and business people REALLY hate risk. When dollars are scarce and competition fierce no one wants to be holding the bag of a failed campaign especially if that campaign has utilized new media, delivery technologies, and techniques. As marketing has become a more numbers driven science, we are in danger of losing the art – just when advances in production, digital media, and pervasive distribution have become truly cost effective. If we’re going to create the climate for meaningful consumer – company interaction – the definition of success – we have to take risks to spark that flame. We need to use the new media and new methods to their fullest potential and that means casting off the old models. We need to liberate our strategy from the simple tyranny of “metrics” to the fine art of creating experiences – that elusive first touch. The ROI of the initial touch in this model cannot necessarily be measured in and of itself, but you will see the benefits in the subsequent interactions between your company and your prospects. You will see more consumers willing to interact with you and re-enforce your TAC loop. You just need patience, imagination, and the willingness to take the risk. Experience sells!
Recently I posed this question to my friends in the marketing field and the answers I got, while certainly not incorrect, all showed a decided slant towards a single theme: entice people to buy something. While this is clearly a marketing function – let’s face it, none of us would have jobs if there wasn’t gold at the end of the rainbow – with new technologies at our disposal we can now enjoy a level of creativity & customer interaction far beyond what legacy marketing could deliver. Thereby creating higher value brands and higher value transactions.
The goal of legacy marketing was to enable unidirectional communication from company to prospect. If you had enough money you could to do it pervasively and saturate the market – print, radio, outdoor, TV, etc. That model is obliterated as the demographic of our consumers skews younger, the media they consume in great quantity is digital, and the values that motivate purchase have changed dramatically. In short, they have a very high Media-IQ and are very sophisticated consumers. Marketeers who ignore these trends do so at their peril.
Today, the holy trinity of marketeers has to be: Transparency, Authenticity, & Community. In order to successfully engage a potential prospect, the marketeer MUST provide a clear window into the company & the products they deliver. How they’re made, how they’re distributed, how other customers enjoy them – or not. They must provide significant amounts of information – not just self produced puff pieces, but as much 3rd party content as possible. There are so many outlets for consumers to get disinterested 3rd party reviews - Yelp,Angie’s List, etc., that trying to white wash a bad reputation is worse than having the reputation to begin with. The more content you can provide – and easy access to that content – is the way to begin a beautiful relationship.
Authenticity relates specifically to the promise of the brand you’re trying to create and the reality within which your company operates. Are your communication vehicles aligned with your image in a way that is both meaningful and consistent? For example – as an old-line manufacturing firm should you invest in viral advertising? You can, but it’s probably not the best use of your marketing dollars. If you claim social responsibility/green as a corporate value does it make sense to have billboard trucks running around cities spewing CO2 along with your message? Not a good idea. If you are trying to brand your company as a progressive and compassionate company, comments by your CEO in the WSJ that run contrary to that image – not a good idea. The alignment of action with image with media has never been more important. Digital means forever and the cost for misleading your customers can be devastating.
Finally, let’s talk about community. If there is anything the digital revolution has accomplished is the creation of virtual communities. Communities form around everything and any thing! By helping to build a shared sense of mission and purpose centered around your company - enabled by your Transparency & Authenticity – you will truly be able to build a meaningful brand. Remember – you cannot create your brand – your customers do. A vibrant community can be built with company sponsored events, contests, outreach, blogs, social media, etc., Any medium or activity which enables consumers to speak about you amongst themselves without censorship (within reason of course). With today’s technology you want your customers to touch you back and in the process, re-enforce your Transparency & Authenticity loop. That creates your brand. If your company is willing to take the risk, your marketing will be creative, purpose-built, and highly effective.
So what do we talk about when we talk about marketing? We talk about how to create Transparency, Authenticity, and Community among our core constituencies so as to create a sense of personal ownership of our company and our products among our target consumers. The money will follow….