June 1, 2008

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Article

The New Media Mix

Social Marketing Reaches the Masses

Heather Stewart

June 1, 2008


Dear Utah Companies: Who are you? I mean who are you really? The super-hip youngster who has all the cutting-edge solutions, the stodgy retailer who is reliable but unexciting, or the familiar and friendly face around the neighborhood? Every company has a personality that consumers can identify and describe. For that reason, marketing is not so much about getting people to make purchases as it is about getting people to like and trust you. “Create fans, not customers,” is how Russell Banz, vice president of new media for Bonneville International Corporation, describes the goal of new media marketing. New media marketing comes in many varieties: online banner advertising, viral marketing, social networking, interactive Websites, blogs, podcasts…the list goes on. But no matter the tactic, the purpose is the same — turning potential customers into enthusiastic fans. “Build the relationship, build the relationship, build the relationship,” says Dion Jones, director of Internet marketing for Richter7. “Only then go in for the sell.” A Philosophical Question Will it blend? The simple question is odd, even whimsical. It’s also a three-word phrase that launched an Internet marketing phenomenon for Orem-based Blendtec, which produces and sells commercial- and consumer-grade blenders. The question arose after the company’s director of marketing, George Wright, wandered past the testing lab and noticed sawdust all over the floor. Blendtec founder and inventor Tom Dickson had been testing a redesign in his usual fashion: tossing a block of wood into the Total Blender to see if it would be reduced to sawdust or, instead, jam up the blender. I’d like to see that, thought Wright. And he bet others would like to see it too. “We took that concept and started to blend extreme things,” he says. Wright and Dickson filmed a series of five “Will it blend?” videos, which cost about $50 total to produce. Wright then posted the videos on YouTube. And the rest is marketing history. Since the first videos were posted in late 2006, the company’s sales have jumped 500 percent and its YouTube channel is among the top 20 viewed channels. Curious YouTube viewers have watched the Total Blender pulverize the iPhone, canned food (still in the can), Barbies and action figures, the handle of a golf club and even a handful of cigarette lighters, which produced a fireball inside the still-running blender. The phenomenon has attracted a tsunami of high-level media attention. Dickson has appeared on “The Today Show,” “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Modern Marvels” on the History Channel, and “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.” The company has also been profiled by national publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Fortune Small Business. In turn, all this media attention drives new viewers to download and watch “Will it blend?” videos on YouTube. The Total Blender “is a very aggressive, very amazing blender, but we had trouble finding a way to show people how it is different,” Wright says. Now, millions of viewers have quite willingly watched numerous demonstrations of the machine’s power. The company’s new media approach did not stop with YouTube. In addition to creating a blog and posting a profile on MySpace.com, Blendtec developed a micro-Website devoted exclusively to the video series. The site, WillitBlend.com, also allows viewers to submit ideas for upcoming blends, subscribe to RSS feeds and find recipes for (edible) Total Blender creations. “The real win here is that with the new social marketing, a small Utah company can, with some great ideas, have a big impact,” Wright says. Brave New World With Blendtec hitting the marketing mother load, you might think a swarm of Utah companies would be clambering to stake their own claim in cyberspace. Well, not really. Local advertising and public relations agencies are finding that clients need to be educated about the power of new media marketing. “Some of them may be sitting on the fence, or maybe not even sitting on the fence because they are not aware of the power of social media,” says Jones of Richter7. “Our clients are now just starting to dabble in new media,” says Christy Whitehouse, director of account services for The Summit Group. “We’re finding that we have to more proactively add that into marketing plans.” But there is good reason to begin looking at new media marketing of all kinds. Consumers are increasingly turning to the Web to find information about products and to research solutions to their needs — not to mention explore the myriad entertainment options. In fact, the time consumers spent with ad-supported media such as newspapers and broadcast television dropped more than 6 percent from 2001 to 2006, according to Veronis Suhler Stevenson (VSS), a private equity fund that extensively researches the media, communications and information industries. And as consumers turn away from traditional media sources, businesses are spending more of their budget on new media marketing. VSS found that by 2011, spending on Internet advertising will for the first time outpace spending on newspaper advertising, which is currently the largest sector in the advertising world. For Utah companies, all of this means it may be time to reevaluate marketing plans. “Our clients are aware of it, but they’re a little bit afraid of it and don’t really understand it,” says Whitehouse. “The clients that do it, they’re finding that it does benefit them, and it’s definitely part of their budget the next year.” The key is finding the right mix of new and traditional media. The Summit Group’s client, Bajio Mexican Grill, for example, used traditional billboards to drive viewers to a micro-Website, where they could download television ads or peruse the restaurant’s menu. A new media marketing plan can be developed for just about any type of company — online marketing reaches more than just younger, tech-savvy audiences. Indeed, Blendtec found an enthusiastic audience on YouTube, although its key demographic is 35 and older. “Initially, people thought the audience was young people,” says Jones. “But everybody is starting to gravitate to these kinds of sites on some level.” Additionally, as Blendtec’s Wright points out, consumers now have more control over the marketing messages they receive each day — zooming through advertisements on digitally recorded TV shows, for instance. For that reason alone, companies need to develop marketing messages that potential customers will actually seek out, as with Blendtec’s infotainment videos. After Blendtec dropped video clips on YouTube, it saw its sales increase dramatically; the correlation was crystal clear. But it’s not always that simple to measure the effectiveness of a new media campaign. “Awareness is hard to measure,” acknowledges Whitehouse. Many things can be measured on the Web: clicks on banner ads, clicks that lead to purchases, Website traffic patterns, items that are downloaded, items that are forwarded and comments left on blogs. “The Internet is ultra-trackable,” says Jones. “You can track anything.” Anything? “One of the things the Internet doesn’t get credit for is viewers who see banner ads, but don’t click on them. It still helped to build the brand,” says Banz, who is responsible for Bonneville International’s many online properties. A Traditional Stronghold Not surprisingly, traditional media outlets in Utah have spent years cultivating an online presence. Newspapers, TV stations and radio stations are finding new ways to interact with their consumers through vibrant, complex Websites. KSL.com receives up to 1.5 million unique hits each month. That’s 1.5 million exposures to banner ads and other online marketing — and an increasingly good advertising value for local companies. The Website has become a complimentary companion to KSL Eyewitness News and KSL Newsradio, rather than online competition that draws away viewers and listeners. “The Web provides some things that on-air can’t do and, on the other hand, on-air provides some things the Web can’t do,” says Banz. What the Web can do is allow viewers to become involved with the news experience in a way that TV and radio can’t. Breaking news, for example, is often posted to the Web several hours before the 5:00 news. Radio listeners and TV viewers can sign up to receive breaking news alerts, either as email or text messages — alerts that are often sponsored by advertisers. “The people that use text messaging are very passionate about it,” says Banz. When viewers don’t receive alerts, complaints pour in to KSL. Text message alerts are becoming even more popular as more people sign up for cell phone plans that include unlimited messaging. “It’s a win for the end-user, a win for the advertiser and a win for us,” says Banz. More importantly, the Web offers an interactive experience that draws people in (and exposes them to online advertising). KSL.com hosts photo galleries for viewers to post their own images of news and events in the community. Another extremely popular feature is the comment board; television news stories can result in hundreds of comments on the Website. Let’s not forget the classified ads — a component of the site for about a decade, KSL’s classifieds, which are free for users, have become the state’s virtual, 24-hour yard sale. “We don’t charge for the placement of [classified] ads, which is contrary to what a traditional newspaper would do,” Banz says. All of this brings viewers to the Website and hopefully keeps them there for as long as possible. But more significantly, it helps KSL build a two-way relationship with its viewers. “The viewer is an active participant with us as the media,” says Banz. “To everything we do, we want to benefit the end user. We don’t want to do anything to abuse the relationship or the trust.” What does all this mean for local businesses? It may be time to look at the online properties of traditional media outlets for advertising opportunities. Just Do It Because there are so many options and approaches, building a new media marketing strategy can be daunting. Developing any marketing plan boils down to pinpointing your objectives. Who is the audience you are trying to reach and what types of media are they comfortable with? Are you simply trying to increase sales or are you looking for ways to build brand awareness? “Part of the role of public relations is just to create that buzz, to raise awareness,” says Whitehouse. And new media has a place in building brand awareness, no matter the audience. Blogs and podcasts can be effective for business-to-business audiences, a highly interactive Website may draw in a niche consumer audience while an outright viral marketing campaign can reach the masses. Frightened of the unpredictable world of viral marketing? “Do it,” vouches Blendtec’s Wright. “Don’t be shy.” The absolute, number-one key to successful viral marketing is creating compelling content. “You have to have content that is awesome, that people will like and pass along to their friends,” he says. “Look at what you like as a consumer. What types of messages appeal to you? What types of messages appeal to your consumers?” Wright’s bottom-line advice is to keep the message short, keep it engaging and, above all, have fun with it. Spend time perusing YouTube to see what people are watching, read competitors’ blogs or other blogs that relate to your industry and look for ways that more traditional corporate Websites provide interactive opportunities for consumers. If your business does not lend itself to a viral campaign such as Blendtec’s YouTube strategy, find other ways to build relationships with consumers. Local eatery Zupas has sought out those ways with an interactive Website that lets customers submit their own recipes and travel stories, vote on their favorite soup, sign up for an e-newsletter, watch video clips and, of course, study the menu. Zupas’ Website extends the onsite restaurant experience into an interactive, two-way relationship. An active, online presence “is an opportunity for you to become a trusted advisor,” says Jones. Companies should strive to become the authoritative source for information in their industry, even going so far as to provide positive, trustworthy information about competitors. As Jones explains, many Web surfers are simply looking for information. An actual purchase might not happen until the consumer feels well satisfied about the research he or she has done. “Customers do business with people they know, they like and they trust.” Becoming a trusted voice in the world of new media hinges on another aspect of social media: authenticity. Raw, unpolished social marketing “doesn’t feel like a message that’s been crafted,” says Whitehouse. Your corporate blog, for instance, may receive comments that are critical. Think twice before removing these comments instead of responding to them proactively — such comments make your overall message seem more truthful and authentic. “It’s real consumers responding to your message and product,” Whitehouse explains. Businesses that are still afraid to venture into new media may be underestimating the local audience, which in general is highly educated and has unprecedented access to the Web at home and at work. “This market is much further ahead than you would expect from a market of our size,” says Banz of Bonneville International. “This is a great place to be doing new media.”
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