Bands and Brands: An interview With Unmarketing About Shifting Business Paradigms

Ever since meeting him at SOBCon I’ve been impressed with Scott Stratten’s down to earth, humanistic approach to marketing and his mad karaoke skills (photo below courtesy of Steve Hall). Scott, aka @unmarketing, is the bestselling author of “UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging” and was one of the highlights of BlogWorld 2010. I sat down with Scott at Blogworld to talk about bands and brands, Klout, and avoiding missteps in social media.

How did someone with a background in the music industry turn their focus toward online marketing ?

You’re in a bubble wherever you work. Take for example putting up a band’s posters on walls or light posts and expecting people to show up; if you step back for a second and step out of your little bubble you realize people don’t wander the streets looking for random signs of bands they’ve never heard of and say to themselves, “Hey, I think I’ll see this band.”

You see  I actually went to school for human resources. There was a lot of psychological stuff I was interested in and I realized that human resources and marketing have a lot of similarities. One is internal to a business and the other is external, but the job of both is similar. In human resources you help companies obtain and retain their employees. In marketing it’s a similar concept but with customers.

I then started thinking about the techniques we were using to promote bands and what got people to shows. I asked myself why do we market to people in a way that they hate to be marketed to? And realized that question transcended the music industry. I felt I was on to something, that there was a different way of doing things and I started talking about it.

The relationship between bands and their fans is an interesting one. You see music fans complain about the fact that the band has sold out or the band no longer really takes the time to communicate with them.  I think you could use that same example when you look at large brands. Was that the trigger point for you?

That was exactly it.  It’s kind of that rock star mentality. In the music industry it used to be that once you made it you distanced yourself as much as you could from the fans. You became great and made yourself untouchable. And instead of the musicians the only voices you heard were the voices of the labels.

Today I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Now the music community has a strong voice; both the bands and the fans. Everybody is relevant and everything is immediate. Musicians spend a lot more time and have a lot more tools to be responsive.

You can see that same path with brands, as well, who engage with their communities or their fans. The biggest brands out there used to ignore the conversation, like they are pretending it’s not happening and it didn’t matter. But ultimately whether huge brands actually like Twitter or Facebook is irrelevant because the conversations are still happening with or without them. You have to decide as a brand whether or not you want to be part of it.

The stupid thing is to ignore the conversation. Ten years ago if I walked into a CEO’s office in of any major brand and said that “I have a tool that you can listen to the ongoing current conversation about your brand, your industry, your competitors and you can jump in if you want and engage with your consumers where they live” they would have paid me a hundred grand a month to access it. Now that social media is free, I still see big brands questioning why they should use it. It blows my mind.

What kind of shifts are you seeing because of social media that are overturning old ways of doing business?

I really think it’s leveled the playing field. It’s given much more opportunity for the small to medium sized businesses to compete with the larger ones.  It used to be the people that got heard the most were those with the biggest ad budget regardless if it was a good message or a good product or service. Now smaller size companies can get heard because the community spreads the message and the community can’t be bought. There really is more authenticity now.

Of course there’s always exceptions to the rules. You give away an iPad to a bunch of geeks and everyone would sell their mother for the incentive. But true conversation usually can’t be bought and that’s where I see the bigger corporations screwing up. They hear about social media and some guy in their headquarters at his big oak desk in his office says, “I heard about this Tweet thing and we’re going to use it to get a million followers” and then they try to buy their way in.

But that is not how you get into a conversation. It’d be like going to a party and handing everybody fifty bucks.  I’m sure everyone will fake how excited they are to meet you but that is not how you create real conversations.

One of the things I’ve seen is big brands do is treat social media only as an arm of their customer service.  Do you think that is a mistake?

I do and I don’t.  If you hook customer service and social media together it is a good way to get your company interested in social media. It’s hard to go out there to your boss and say “I’m not sure how it ties into our everyday business but we need to go out there and be social. It’s huge everybody is doing it.” It is not going to fly.  You can’t ask your boss or manager to give you thirty seven hours a week to tweet because it’s nice to talk to people. But if you tie customer service to social media it’s a good way to get a company’s feet wet.

I don’t think social media should be relegated to customer service. It’s not one-on-one, phone call to operator; it’s not email to receiver; it’s one to many, and it’s wide open.

If a company has poor customer service that will be apparent very quickly in the community.  The bottom line is of course the company giving a damn about their customer.  I don’t think companies should solely focus on customer service but they should also not treat it like the bastard stepchild of their online efforts. I think it has to go hand in hand with sales and marketing.

One of the things that scares companies about social media is criticism. How should a company deal with flaming when it happens? Also do you feel there will be some sort of corporate backlash to overly catering to certain influencers?

It’s an interesting question. I could sit here and say you should treat everyone equally but the reciprocity isn’t equal.  Kevin Smith loses his mind about Southwest when he has to buy a second seat and suddenly his voice is reaching a lot of Southwest’s customers in a way Southwest doesn’t want.

The problem of course, from the business standpoint, is having responses be scalable. If you have a known brand like Southwest or Comcast, I don’t know if it’s possible to answer every tweet out there because there is so much going on. There is so much venting by people who use Twitter or Facebook to update their status.  I think there’s a fine line to draw between being proactive in your responses and being overly responsive. However, I do think it’s a dangerous precedent if companies start to only answer the top twenty percent via say their Klout scores.

Speaking of Klout they are here at BlogWorld and having people show up at the Palms to display their Klout scores. The implication being eventually your Klout score will get you into say a nightclub and not what you look like or how much money you have in your wallet.  Is that a good trend or a bad trend?

Well, I love it because I could never get into clubs before. (Laughs)

It’s like the geeks have finally taken over and can finally get into the clubs. It’s awesome. I saw Megan Berry, Marketing Manager of Klout, speak at a conference recently and the question came up of isn’t Klout judging? Megan had a great answer; she said “We’ve always been judging.  This is just something now, that through analytics, you can see if a person has some kind of influence.”

What are the top two mistakes businesses just starting out in social media should avoid?

I think automation is a huge thing you need to avoid. Whether that automation is linking your Facebook updates with your Twitter updates, or auto tweets when someone follows you on Twitter, they make people just want to stab people.  Be present in the medium or the tool that you want to use.  Always be there ‘cause that’s the way you get known in this industry. That’s the way you get heard within the field.

The other suggestion is to focus on one platform at a time. Especially for the smaller sized businesses that don’t have five people in a department to potentially look just at social media. If you just have one person in that department you dedicate to that community side of things, or that person is you, don’t build every silo at once. You know it’s really hard to blog, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and everything else all at the same time. Focus on one and you can build momentum and then I think you can expand instead of trying to be everywhere at once.

Often businesses have high expectations about sales when it comes to social marketing.  How would you counsel businesses what are interested in driving actual sales volume through social media to approach the market?

Well, you know there is the examples people always bring up. They talk about Dell and their Twitter stream that made $3 million in ’09. And Virgin Airlines had one of its biggest sales days because of a Tweeted special, and so you’ve got these examples that everyone tosses around.

If you’re a well known brand, establish a channel that manages expectations.  Say you’re a travel company and you want to open a channel to move your underselling trips, you can basically set up a deals page on Facebook, as long as your followers are under the expectation that is what they are going to get in terms of communication and content from you. But the problem is that most companies just dictate things. When a follower asks a question nobody ever answers them because it is an automated feed of deals. If the expectation is not set for what the page is then that can turn into a bad experience quickly.

Now if you don’t have a known brand or your brand awareness, is not big enough those type of sales only channels won’t work.

You really need to space out your sales with your relationships.  For me, I’ve pitched, I’ve sold through Twitter, and I’ve also Tweeted 61,000 times.  75 percent of those Tweets have been replies.  So 40,000 times I’ve been in conversations. The ratio needs to be skewed heavily towards conversations, not sales pitches.

Do you feel that’s why Early Bird (@earlybird) failed?

Yeah.  I think that was one of the main reasons. They tried to look for ways to do old school sales and marketing in the channel. But I think there are many more examples of @earlybird failures than there are of Dell success stories. And we only hear about the sexy ones, not the many, many failures.

Your Keynote is one of the highlights of BlogWorld 2010. What attracts you to BlogWorld?

The crowd.  I love the people in it. The sessions are always interesting because there are special niche ones there. There’s the book lobbying tract, the internet monetization tract, the niche real estate blogging tract all the way up the spectrum. You see bloggers come from all different worlds and I think it’s fascinating finding out about them. To me blogging is based on passion and I love talking to people about their passions.

About Angel Djambazov

Born in Bulgaria, Angel Djambazov has spent his professional career in the fields of journalism and online marketing. In his journalistic career he worked as an editor on several newspapers and was the founding Editor-in-Chief of Wyoming Homes and Living Magazine. Later his career path led to online marketing where while working at OnlineShoes he earned the Affiliate Manager of the Year (2006) award at the Affiliate Summit, and In-house Manager of the Year (2006) award by ABestWeb.

For four years Angel served as OPM for Jones Soda for which he won his second Affiliate Manger of the Year (2009) award at Affiliate Summit.

Currently Angel serves as OPM for KEEN Footwear and MedicalRecords.com. His former clients include: Dell, Real Networks, Jones Soda, Intelius, Graphicly, Chrome Bags, Onlineshoes.com, Vitamin Angels, The Safecig, and Bag Borrow or Steal.

Angel is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher for ReveNews.com and ReveNews.org.

Angel lives north of Seattle, spending his free time reading up on obscure scientific references made by his wife MGX, while keeping up with a horde of cats and a library of books.

You can find Angel on Twitter @djambazov.

2 Responses to Bands and Brands: An interview With Unmarketing About Shifting Business Paradigms

  1. @mckra1g says:

    In addition to leveling the playing field, I believe that social media helps smaller firms/businesses/brands actually exert a disproportionate amount of "influence" if properly applied.

    By truly beginning with the end in mind, analyzing the platforms (their strengths, their users and their purpose) and aligning your message and content to work WITH the medium instead of against it (hello, invasive broadcast), there is a greater chance of really making something happen in the space. I think of social media as the TIE fighters against the Empire: nipping at the heels of traditional media and being highly strategic and effective by micro-targeting areas of influence where they can own truly shine.

    BTW, Scott is the genuine article. He is gracious and actually gives a rat's ass about people. I enjoyed meeting him at SOBCon as well previously this year.