This time out, a look at how social networks are moving from the old school net to the mobile
Rick Mathieson: You contend that online audiences are self-segmenting into micromarkets, where, as a marketer, you can't really approach them on your own agenda anymore. You have to talk to them about theirs.
Christopher Locke: Yes. Used to be, to start a television station, or a radio station, you had to sign up these big sponsors with high-ticket items - car dealers, car companies, and so on. It worked in that medium. Here, the market is fragmented.
But what's happened is that the big companies just repeat the same stuff online as they do everywhere else. You have NBC, ABC, CBS, all hawking the same homogenized crap.
But that's the beauty of the Internet. It's just not one place, it's scattered all over. And audiences dig around and turn each other on to places that they like: "Well, have you heard what this guy is saying, or that woman is blogging," and so on.
The community that you volitionally participate in is always more true than a segment a marketer places you in. And that's the power of these micromarkets. They're not demographic abstractions. They're actual communities of discourse. Communities that are really talking to each other, and are not based just on interest, but passionate interest in how to make clothes for your kid, or how to powerboat, or snowboard, or write Java code, or thousands and millions of obsessions. If you approach those kinds of communities saying, "Hey, buy our new tires for your SUV," it's like, "Huh? Where the f---k did you come from?" It's like a guy walking into a party where people are in little groups around the room, talking about stuff that they're interested in, and here comes the used car salesman who wants to tell you, "Hey, I'm with Joe's Pontiac, and boy, we've got some great specials this week." How long woud that guy last at a party? They would throw him out the damn door.
RM: So what's the alternative? How can brands effectively communicate with, and capitalize on, these social micromarkets?
CL: Start by looking inside your own company at interests that your employees have - at passions. Not about your product. Not about the 9 to 5 work. But what are your people really interested in? What do they care about? What do they do with their spare time?
Find those interests, because they are intellectual capital that has been left laying in the dirt, unrecognized. It's what they want to get the next paycheck for, so that they can go buy the motorboat, or the snowboard, or the trip to Vail to go skiing. Find those interests among your people. Figure out which ones would map into your market in general.
Then, go out on the Web and find similar passions and interests represented by Web sites that are doing a good job, that have a demonstrable ability to be engaging - funny, well-written, graphically adept - and form relationships with those sites. Give them money. Give them technical resources.
It's almost like third world development, where you grow them and ink legal relationships with these Web sites, so that you can intersect the people inside your company with that outside network, so when people hook up together, they're not talking to shills from Ford or Motorola or whoever. They're talking to people that are talking the same language about stuff they're interested in, and by the way, they're also meeting actual real people in those companies that they begin to have a feel for.
At some point, people say, "Hey, I need help with this or that," and a conversation starts that can end in a big sale. Along the way, you'll probably earn the kind of brand equity you've always wanted, in a way you never expected.
There are people who are highly, highly motivated and enthusiastic about certain aspects of the world, and there are usually products or services relating to those people in some way or another. Take fly fishing. Advertising fly fishing stuff on television probably doesn't make a lot of sense. But online, a company can sponsor or underwrite a fly-fishing contest, seminars, or an excursion, or tips on the best fishing sports this week. That can be very powerful.
But trying to get a bunch of sites to adhere to your notion of what you want the customer to hear is trying to drive the square peg into the round hole with a bigger hammer. And if we're not careful, that's what will happen here. It used to be that really intelligent people saw what was going on and were attracted to the Internet because it was different. Now, you turn it on and it's not different at all. It's like turning on the television. Yeah, I can get my flight information faster, and I can get my news without having to get those wet newspapers off the front porch. But the really radical stuff that's possible in this medium is in danger of falling by the wayside.
It's so much more powerful to go to these sites that are out there, give them some money to help them make their trip. And in each case, the money is a tiny fraction of what it would cost to do traditional advertising. It's about going out there to build goodwill, to build relationships, to build, ultimately, not just a place to advertise, but a place to participate in those communities, and bring new ideas into your company - real intellectual capital - and to get people really understanding what the company is doing, rather than just saying, "Buy my product."
RM: How will the mobile Internet give this trend pervasiveness?
As the connection gets more ubiquitous, as you're freed from the desktop, as you have the ability to be more constantly connected, you can tap into your network anytime.
It's getting easier to go to your blogger, and say, "Hey, I'm at the corner of Walk and Don's Walk in New York City, and I'm looking for a good Chinese restaurant." It's fast enough that six people could come back and say, "Oh, you've got to go to Hop Sing's."
That's getting closer to real time, and guess what. It's more fun. Because somebody else that you trust can say, "Oh, you know, Charlie's telling you to go to Hop Sing's, but actually, that sucks. What you really want to do is walk three more blocks and take a left, and go to this other place that nobody knows about, but it's fantastic."
It's like an instant, always-on community giving you information that you trust because you've trusted them in other areas.
RM: A reputation system built on some kind of 21st century version of the Old Boy's Club?
CL: Yes, that's a good analogy. Or the Alumni Association. You go to a new city, and you say, "Charles, where do you think we can get a good cigar?" You're going to trust Charles because he's from your class. You've got more tie-in to him than if he's some guy wearing a bowtie talking to you too loud.
“Through persuasive arguments and Q&A's with the major players in advertising, Mathieson makes an excellent case for greater creativity and outside-the-box thinking backed up with solid ideas."