(Note: Cross posted on the Ogilvy Fresh Influence blog)
We are 10 days away from PR Blackout Week – a week for mom bloggers to get back to the basics of blogging and temporarily ignore PR folks and brands – being organized by mom blog aggregator MomDot. Opinions have varied as to whether or not this is necessary or is a PR tactic in its own right. Regardless of your position, it is a wonderful invitation to discuss the state of union and give current practices a good sniff test.We see PR Blackout Week is a timely call to refocus all of us who love blogs on the value exchange that must take place in order for them to maintain their magic. This sounds soft, but it is very real – the whole notion of “Digital Influence” is the changing sources and forces of influence around us. If blogs went the way of infomercials, we would start blocking them with our Personal Message Shield(TM) along with the rest of the noise that bombards us daily. Absolutely everyone in that scenario loses.
I participate at all levels of this particular food chain – I’m a mom, a PR professional, a blogger, and a blog reader. When I think about this value exchange issue, I ask myself a few questions in front of the mirror in harsh flourescent light:
- Am I, as a PR professional, providing something of true value to the bloggers I would like to work with?
- Are bloggers, by working with me, in turn empowered to share something of value with their readers (insights, a new experience, media, meaningful pass alongs, etc)
- Am I acting in the best interests of the ultimate blog readers when I work to craft a blogger experience?
- Am I as a blogger delivering great content to my readership?
- Am I actively supporting the bloggers who provide me with great content, ideas, experiences, and laughter?
While PR Blackout week may not be for you, there’s no time like the present to look at your own RSS reader, your blog, or your blogger engagement programs to reassess whether or not you pass the test on adding value to every link in the chain.
It’s hard to believe it, but I am only 3 days back from a wonderful vacation to Folly Beach, SC. I learned a lot of things while I was there – the wonders of a planter’s punch with lunch, the beauty of the Charleston Place Hotel, the calming presence of the SC Aquarium for toddlers and…the power of THE PIG.
You may think of Piggly Wiggly as an old or outdated brand. So did I. Upon driving into Folly and seeing that there was also a Harris Teeter, I planned to buy food there. Our hosts, however, kept joking about ‘The Pig’ so when it came time to stock up, that’s where we headed.
Piggly Wiggly had what you expect them to have, plus lots of surprises – including tiny shopping carts for kids to push and occasional visits from “Mr. Pig” who played some patient Peekaboo with the youngest Miracle. Because of the fun, going to the store wasn’t a chore at all. We went often and spent heartily. The Pig took a lot more BSOW (Beach Share of Wallet) than one would expect from a grocery store. In addition to food, we purchased: Pig Coozies, Giant Pig cups, shockingly fashionable sunglasses, and local specialty Benne Wafers and Blenheim Ginger Ale (fan site for this shockingly HOT ginger ale here) for gifts. We’re back in DC, but I may still order the toddler “big on the pig” shirt.
You know what the Pig has? Fun, Personality, and oodles of conversational capital. They are *not* trying to be Whole Foods, nor they your everyday cheapo store. The Pig is not trying to be anything other than what it is – a great family southern chain that understands its audience and embraces its kitchiness and the surrounding nostalgia. I would say that I wish we had The Pig here – except removing it from its surroundings would kill the authenticity, heritage, and magic. The Pig has truly bloomed where it was planted and we will be running back as soon as we can.
The economy may be down, but the entrepreneurial spirit is in full bloom. Recently, I had the pleasure to catch up with 2 former colleagues in the midst of amping up their online businesses. After both conversations, I realized that the first step in WOMM is different for new vs. established businesses.
The first T in Andy Sernovitz’ 5T framework (a worksheet for which can be found here) is Talkers. Who is going to spread the word about you? An established brand can do research to determine who is already talking, analyze what they organically talk about and use that as a good starting point for a word of mouth marketing program. A new company, however, does not have that luxury.
New Site/Service Step 1: Identify which micro-audience will derive the most value from the differentiation of your offering. They will be your talkers. They can be your beta testers and your product development focus group and your conscience as you make decisions about the business.
The challenge? Like minoxidil that was designed for high blood pressure and now treats baldness or Dr. Martens shoes that were designed as gardening shoes for the elderly and became a symbol of the punk movement, sometimes your most valuable talkers are not the ones your originally had in mind when you went into business. Here are some thoughts on finding them:
- Family & Friends – Ask family and friends (real and Facebook) to test the site, provide you some feedback, and suggest what THEY think the value of the site is and what the ultimate user profile would be.
- Research, ID and start to follow bloggers in all of the different profiles/specialties that your family and friends think might be your ultimate users to gain insights into their needs and desires.
- Ask a handful of bloggers to check out what you’re building and provide you with some feedback on your beta.
- Gauge which segment has the most significant need/value from your offering and prioritize their development requirements.
- Develop new features, and repeat from step 3.
As promised Sunday, this was the gist of my feedback for Recipecomparison.com. What else do you tell the entrepreneurs who seek WOMM advice from you? Do you have any other thoughts for this site in particular?
On a recent trip to Austin, my family paid a visit to my favorite toy store on the planet – Toy Joy on 29th & Guadelupe. While I have been making excuses to frequent Toy Joy for almost a decide, I feel totally justified shopping there now I have an actual child for whom to buy toys!
When we walked in, baby in tow, we saw a row of brightly colored blow-up…somethings – burros? ponies? It wasn’t clear. We were staring at them quizzically when one of Toy Joy’s incredible helpful sales staff directly asked us “Would you like to hear the story of Rody?” Who doesn’t love a great story? Here is what she told us.
- Rody is made in Italy (subtext: not China).
- The company that makes Rody ONLY makes the Rody – it is their specialty.
- Rody is safe for small children but can be inflated further as the child grows – safe to 400 lbs.
- They keep one of the store models a little more inflated so the adult staff can play.
By the time she got to her last point, 2 things had happened:
- The saleswoman had mounted a blue Rody and was happily bouncing away.
- I was whipping out my credit card convinced I would be depriving my child if he did not have one of these to play with on his first birthday.
When was the last time a salesperson told YOU a great story? Did you buy?
Even for someone who is privileged enough to have some pretty remarkable work weeks, this one stands out. I began the week as a panelist at an event featuring a presentation from Jennifer James of GfK Roper and with fellow panelists Gabby Nelson of Select Comfort and Jennifer Sparks of the Society of American Florists. The Roper presentation centered on the changing trends in attitude and behavior of the American consumer. The Roper presentation contained a lot of great information on the 2008 search for leadership in an increasingly uncertain world and the assembled group had lots of great questions following.
One of Jennifer’s examples of brands allowing consumer to educate each other was new to me. McDonald’s in the UK has an innovative site called Make Up Your Own Mind. From the home page: “The site has been set up for you to find out anything you would like to know about McDonald’s food, business, people and practices“. Customers are invited to submit questions (15,000 to date) and then other customers are invited to serve as reporters/quality scouts to share their findings with the world through the site. They report on everything from the cleanliness of the restaurants to conditions at the farms where ingredients are being raised & grown. The image I included above is from a part of the site that directly addresses the Happy Meal. Charlotte, a teacher and “Mum”, is featured in a video where she investigates how chicken McNuggets are made and confirms they are made with the same quality breast meat as what she could find in the supermarket. The site also frankly discussed the nutrition content as compared to other options for children. The questions appear to be completely uncensored and this transparency certainly makes me think about McDonald’s brand a little differently.
The interesting thing to note is that McDonald’s hasn’t actually changed (or doesn’t claim to have changed) anything about its organization, practices or food. It has just proved that they are willing to share what they are doing and be open to examination. French Fries are still bad for you (if you hadn’t gotten the memo), but if McDonald’s lets you in on how they are made and what the comparative nutritional choices on the menu are, then isn’t it your fault for putting on those extra 10 lbs? By inviting customers to experience the inner workings of the brand, have conversations, and building a platform for them to take place, McDonald’s has diffused our ability to criticize the wizard behind the screen by bringing us face to face with him. Maybe this is the type of effort that Starbucks should be looking into now – reminding the world of their extraordinary business practices – instead of asking us to hatch up the next latte drink or granting us Free WiFi about 3 years too late over at My Starbucks Idea.