[Originally posted November,2007]
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.]
So how did Thomas “own the conversation by improving the conversation”?
What did you and he SAY that made the conversation different?
What did you say about Stormhoek that improved the conversation?
I don’t want to pretend I get this when in fact I don’t quite get what you are saying. So I guess I am looking for “case studies”- the tool of the trade for MBA students! (one of which I am not, just saying)
Backstory on Thomas & me: http://old.gapingvoid.com/2009/09/15/5055/
Backstory on Stormhoek: http://old.gapingvoid.com/2005/12/29/blogging-doubled-stormhoek-sales-in-less-than-twelve-months/
Hummm… I have read both of those. I have followed you closely for about four years. I read them again.
I am still not sure how to have a conversation about boring things…now I COULD have a conversation about South African wines or fine English suits, etc.
I see this: “maybe the way you relate to somebody as a human being plays a part in all this.”
Does that mean I send a client links on how to get her son involved in gaming tournaments? Or does it mean I help set up someone’s email when my product has nothing to do with setting up email?
The former seems like a conversation, the latter a customer service deal…
What role does tension play in propelling social objects?
By “tension” I don’t mean bad/negative tension (i.e. stirring up controversy for attention’s sake). I’m thinking more like the tension inherent in great storytelling. Tension that begs resolution. For example, a sports team is a powerful social object because it creates tension through an insider/outsider tribe. Gapingvoid creates tension/excitement by saying the unsaid, and finding the words.
It seems like social gestures that genuinely and sincerely tap into shared values, hopes and struggles have the best shot at spreading. Because within our values/hopes/struggles lie the tension/energy to live them out and somehow resolve them in the world.
I hope you will consider expanding on this at some point. I’m very interested in social objects and purpose ideas, and am currently reading Mark Earls’ book “Herd” to catch up on this thinking.
Appreciate what you do, Hugh.
Keith, I think you nailed it in one. Tension is key, as it is in all great storytelling….
I have this theory that I share often- few agree- basically it’s that “mean” people get ahead because everyone wants to be liked by everyone else. So if someone is “mean” to me then I will go out of my way to please them. Many people doing this propels the mean person upwards.
You do create tension Hugh. Something makes me follow your work. Your mix of business/art is unique. But mainly it’s because you don’t jump over yourself to please everyone. It’s called building respect. (This reply of mine is an example of the opposite…)
But like Keith said, “hope you will consider expanding on this at some point.”
I’ve been trying to find Stormhoek in Austin for years. Did it ever make it here? What ever happened to Evil Plans?