Mesh magic: The Future of Marketing

Stuart MacDonald talks with Steve Rubel of Edelman and I slipped into the session just in time to hear a
few of the questions. Here’s what I’ve heard:

Q: I have an issue with your take on character blogs. Sorry, but you’re portraying character blogs as a negative thing, but you’re endorsing feeding branded messaging to bloggers to put out in the world. How is that different?

It’s very different. In the Walmart example, here is a resource for you, you can do whatever you want with it. A character blog is a controlled message. It puts up a big shield between you and your audience. It says to me as the consumer that people don’t want to talk to me as humans. I think character blogs – I’m sorry – they shield people from their audience.

Q: b5media. I hear where you’re coming from, I really do. I think Tris’ point is valid. You’re creating entertainment, value for the users. I don’t think that you need to say that the character is a human person. The character is the character. I think that if Darth Vader blogged, everyone would read it. (Applause.)

Let’s just try it, let’s see how it works. Traditional PR is in the same situation: how to demonstrate in a marketing revenue way the validity and value of PR. What I think is going to be really interesting is to see lots of people try lots of things and starting to get data. Don’t be afraid to fail. This feels like 1996, generally speaking, with regards to online as this shiny thing in the sky. We’re so earlydays into this that I don’t think anybody has the answers. Put yourself three years down the track and looking back…

I think it’s heading toward a shift. I think social networks is huge. I think that dealing with sites like YouTube… There are going to be sites like YouTube that are going to come up and be huge and then fade away, like Friendster. I think there’ll be an overall shift or a new budget for creating (?..).

What’s the message to agencies?

Step 1. Know where your people hang out. Know where your customers are hanging out. Where on Myspace that is, what blogs they’re reading.

Step 2. Develop the infrastructure to develop a conversation. Figure out how to listen to that conversation. Everyone’s gotta do that.

Step 3. Engage the audience in dialogue. Walmart example. We’re engaging in dialogue with the audience.

Step 4. Empower the audience. What do they want to achieve, and how can we help them do it?

Q: I think that the uestions about character blogs show something important. They’re entertaining, but they don’t engage.

I’ll probably get myself in more trouble if I talk about character blogs. Maybe I can jump in. I think that what’s happening with this sort of thing – I talk, you listen, but call it a blog? … Make a podcast instead. I think “I talk, you listen” still happens, but the more real “I talk, you talk” is, the better.

Q: Blogging – truth in advertising?

Blogging is going to force companies to be more open and honest. The bloggers are the best fact-checking machine in the universe. It’s very easy to smell something a mile away now. If it’s high interest, they’ll know.

Three years from now, is it going to be possible for a consumer-facing marketing organization to control the blogs?

I don’t think it’s ever possible.

Q: Posting various opinions on discussion forums. Gathered huge following all over the world, started charging… Public companies came to me and started asking if I could write about them. My response was that I will if I write whatever I want to write about. They don’t have any control over the message. What was great was that when the mass audience started following me, they knew I was being paid and I was still being as objective as possible. Didn’t skip a beat. I see blogs in the same way.

I think corporations have moved into the neighborhood, and that people are comfortable as long as it moves the community forward.

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