November 29, 2011

The Paris Hiltonization Of Marketing

People like to talk about the things they spend money on. They are particularly inclined to talk about sexy things -- cars, electronics, movies. They are far less inclined to talk about mundane things -- butter, socks, gasoline.

This is not new. Chattering about what we purchase has been a regular feature of consumer society for a long time. It helps us define for others who we think we are. What is new, however, is that chatter is now measurable.

Previously the chatter was done verbally and privately. Today much of the chatter is done publicly on line between one person and a group of friends or followers. Because this type of chatter is measurable, there is a lot of attention paid to it. As my former partner used to say, that which is measured is attended to.

This does not mean that chatter is any more important or influential than it used to be. It just means that we marketers are more aware of it, more sensitive to it, and more able to make a buck on it.

What is also new is the belief that this chatter is fungible -- that is, it has monetary value. There is very little data to demonstrate that this is true. Nonetheless, the whole discipline of marketing seems to have made a seismic shift toward the belief that one of the most valuable assets a brand can have is online "conversation" or "cultural currency" or "buzz" -- or whatever you choose to call it.

Of course, one of the difficulties with this argument is the problem of logic -- does a brand become popular because it has online chatter, or does it have online chatter because it's popular? Or, even worse, is online chatter just vapid blather whose only consequence is to generate more vapid blather?

An interesting case in point is a story that ran in The Wall Street Journal last week about the relationship between online buzz and real-world viewership of TV shows.
"A new television show that generates a lot of online buzz before it airs won't necessarily draw a host of viewers, according to a new study, which found little or no correlation between the amount of such buzz and the size of the audience that ultimately tunes in.
The study, by ad-buying firm Optimedia US, one of the first to examine the issue, raises questions about the effectiveness of social media as a promotional tool for TV."
The study measured social media chatter about new TV shows. It included Twitter mentions, Facebook "likes," and Google searches, as well as Klout scores. In addition to finding no correlation between online buzz and real world success, the Journal also reported...
"By contrast, some shows with low early levels of online buzz, including CBS's comedy "2 Broke Girls" and its mystery series "Unforgettable," ranked highest in viewership."
There is no indication that this finding holds true outside the TV industry. But why shouldn't it?

TV viewing is a high-interest category in which "cultural currency" is assumed to be an enormously important factor. It certainly seems logical that if these findings are true, online "conversations" might have even less impact in other categories. On the other hand, how can you have less impact than none?

Is "the conversation" really a barometer of business success? Or is it just chatter without value -- the Paris Hiltonization of marketing?

Book Update
I was truly astounded by the reaction to my book release yesterday. At one point it was the #2 best-selling ad ebook at Amazon and #3 among all ad books, including paper. Thanks to everyone who bought it, tweeted about it, blogged it, or just talked about it. A lot of the success of the release of the book was due to social media. Does this mean I've changed my mind about social media? Tune in later this week for "My Social Media Overnight Success."

No comments: