November 5, 2007
"social gestures beget social objects"
Chris Schroeder riffs on my whole "Social Object" marketing schtick with this very salient thought:
If your company wants to succeed, it needs to have a social object marketing plan.
Amen to that. But note what Chris also says:
I don't know about you, but when somebody walks by with an iPhone, I notice. If I see a kid stroll by me in some limited edition Nikes, that registers with me too.
Therein lies the rub. The Social Object idea is easy to get if your product is highly remarkable, highly sociable. An iPhone or the latest pair of Nike's are both fine examples of this.
But I can already hear your inner MBA saying, "Yeah, but what if you don't work for Nike or Apple? What if your product is boring home loans, auto insurance or... [the list of boring products is pretty long].
My standard answer to that is, "Social Gestures beget Social Objects."
Which is another way of saying, maybe the way you relate to somebody as a human being plays a part in all this. Maybe describing the product as "boring" is just one more bullshit lie we tell ourselves in order to make the world seem less complicated and scary. Hey, my product is inherently dull and boring, therefore I get to be inherently dull and boring, too. Hooray!
Nowadays, thanks to folk like Nike, we think of sneakers as "non-boring" brands. This wasn't true when I was a kid. Back then sneakers were those bloody awful $3 plimsolls we wore in Phys Ed. But it took companies like Nike and Adidas to come along and by shear force of will, raise the level of conversation in the sneaker department, before sneakers became bona fide global social objects, bona fide global powerhouse brands.
The decision to raise the level of conversation isn't economic. Nor is it an intellectual decision. It's a moral decision. But whether you have the stomach for it is up to you.
Like I told Thomas almost 3 years ago re. English bespoke tailoring, "Own the conversation by improving the conversation." And hey, it worked. His sales went up 300% in 6 months.
It wasn't the change in product that made Thomas' suits Social Objects. It was changing the way he talked to people. The same applies to Stormhoek, which 3 years ago was an $8 bottle of South African wine nobody had ever heard of. Conversation. Matters.
So all you corporate MBAs out there, here's a little tip. When you planning on how to embrace the brave new world of Web 2.0, the first question you ask yourself should not be "What tools do I use?"
Blogs, RSS, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook- it doesn't matter.
The first question you should REALLY ask yourself is:
"How do I want to change the way I talk to people?"
And hopefully the rest should follow.
Think about it.
[Bonus Link: For a more academic take on social objects, check out this post from Anthropologist, Jyri Engestrom.]
Posted by hugh macleod at November 5, 2007 3:28 AM
Sorry we missed each other last week. I think a very practical way companies can improve their "social approach" is to sound human. 99% of company websites are very "corporate-sque" in their copy writing. It feels as if a robot made these words up. I also think they are filled with a lot of jargon.
Question for you: What about social objects for intangible goods (like a network service). You cannot see it, you cannot feel it, nor touch it. If it works well its ignored and when it does not people raise hell.
Absolutely agree. And in a world where we are all super social, twittering all day about the sandwich we ate and the socks we bought, we'll discover that what really matters is content. It matters in blog posts, in mails, in videos and in personal conversations. Good content is the best way to improve the conversation and thus 'own' the conversation. If you are able to brand your content with an unusual style then you'll own the purple cow of social marketing ;-)
The biggest bullshit is to talk youself into thinking that companies like Nike have any moral or social approach. There are sweatshops and exploitation behind all that marvelous blah, blah we are fed every day and personally I don't buy it. So maybe before asking a question: "How do I want to change the way I talk to people?" you should ask yourself how big is the gap between reality and your message.
I agree about calling a product boring
being a cop out.
If you're not interested in the product,
please do not work for the company.
I, as a consumer, approach employees
because I AM interested in the product.
The last thing I want to have
is an employee disparage that interest.
Let's take the shoe example by Adidas. I don't think it was the company that made the shoe a social object, nor was it their intention. It was the consumer. RUN DMC gave meaning to Adidas shoes by making them part of their image, writing a song about them, etc. The whole trend about wearing your shoes without shoe laces came from people in prison. Wearing shoes without laces meant you were tough. So while there is no question that shoes succeed as social objects, you can't really use Adidas to justify designing your product that way. If there is too much conspired thought behind it, consumers will see that. That's why I think the real design comes with encouraging, or giving your consumers the opportunity to connect with your product and make it their own. Spam as art for example.
Just look at insurance. Can it get any more boring than that? But Progressive was able to make it interesting by looking up other companies quotes for you.
Kimber is is right about the "boring" factor, that is a mental adjustment for the employee or service provider.
Consumers want their choices validated by companies and service providers who believe and are enthusiastic about their product. That belief and energy makes an outsider feel like an insider....
Exclusivity, or seeming "exclusivity" helps the consumer buy into the company or service provider.
I think that is part of the reasoning behind developing "Raving Fans" of your product, or service.
What about the GEICO Insurance ads? Are ads about lizards and cavemen part of an intentional social approach, or do they just happen to catch on with the public and the news media?
I really enjoyed that post. I think you are right on with your post. I would have used another example but I get it. The way you talk about your product or service can help how the conversation goes. Glad I was told to check this post out.
I think Geico is having a bit of fun with their name and doing a bit of clever word association (difficult to remember Geico as it is a made up word, Gecko, quite easy).
And my Mom, for example, calls Geico Gecko.
Course she also pronounces UPS as up's (instead of U.P.S.).
(And yes, English is her first language, I married into Chin).
Speaking of Stormhoek, it's available in Houston Texas at Spec's Liquor (~$9). It's the 2004 vintage with some rather ordinary label, but it certainly was tasty!
When I asked the clerk if they had it, he knew the name ("they spell the hook funny, right?") and took me right to it.
FWIW, the design and explanation of the Freshness Indicator was not obvious or intuitive on this label.
It's not just about changing the way that you talk to people ... it is about social currency -- giving others a reason to talk about your product or service. By creating a conversational asset, you allow others to own the conversation that features you.