Our Interview with Boston-based Media Maven, C.C. Chapman

If you are an active member of the social media community, particularly here in Boston, then you undoubtedly know the name C.C. Chapman (@cc_chapman). A Co-Founder and Managing Partner of new media consultancy The Advance Guard, and an avid blogger and podcaster, C.C. specializes in helping brands to better understand the social web and how to leverage the conversational and social nature of new media to build more dynamic and lasting relationships with customers, fans and prospects.

ccRead on to learn why a brand’s customers can also be their best salespeople, how service-selling companies can get started with social media, and why Boston is primed to remain the hub of “inbound marketing” activity.

Q: You’ve formulated a great presentation about passion, specifically how “passion is contagious.” Could you give us a high-level summary of why brands should be leveraging the passion that their fans/customers have for their brand, and how the social web is the perfect place to capitalize on the contagious nature of it?

Think about the last time you bought anything. More then likely you went out online looking to see what people had to say about the products. This might be a quick Google search, or reading reviews on a site like Amazon. Either way, what people have to say about a product or service has a direct effect on purchasing.

We also know that each of us loves certain gadgets, tools and other things that we use on a daily basis. Why wouldn’t a brand want to encourage and empower someone who is passionate about their products to talk, share and expound on their passion in whatever way they want? I think this is something that most brands are completely forgetting about. They get hung up in messaging and the layout of a print ad and completely forget that people are people. They are going to talk about it in the way they want to, and not what someone has written up for a press release.

Q: Could you provide an example of a brand that is doing an excellent job here?

Zappos is really doing great in this lately. They’ve asked people to take pictures of themselves with their products. They did a whole series of videos around people opening up their Zappos box when it arrived to capture their excitement.

Don’t forget Zappos doesn’t actually make anything and yet people love the company and are passionate about purchasing from them. There is a lot to be learned from how they are approaching their customers and why it is working.

Q: How engaged should brands be with their customers online? Should they just create the platform (blog, contest, etc.), and let the users run with it, or should there be a system in place to respond to comments/suggestions?

This really depends on the culture of the company. Some companies just won’t be able to deal with interacting with their customers in the way they should online. That being said, if they can’t, then maybe they shouldn’t be doing this sort of thing because it probably won’t be successful.

To be successful, the brand needs to engage with their customers. Yes, setting up the contest, portal or platform is a big step, but the most passionate people will be excited by having someone from the brand talking with them. They want that contact and personalized approach. They crave it.

Q: Should brands be identifying “brand ambassadors” online and leveraging them to keep it up? For instance, what if a very active account on Twitter (with a host of followers), constantly raves about how they love Starbucks? Could there be a paid relationship?

Sure, there could be a paid relationship there, but that depends on the person, the company, and the deal that is made. But, at the same time in that example if the person already loved Starbucks just think what sending them a $100 gift card and a hand written thank you card would do for them as well. They’d love it!

The idea of finding your biggest fans and then somehow making the relationship with them more formal and beneficial to your company is a great idea. Yes, you have to tread carefully and smartly because this isn’t some actor you are hiring to be a spokesperson. It is different and many companies will approach it in that fashion and blow it. Talk TO the person and figure out what works best for them. They may have some strong ideas on how you can work together, but if you come in with an iron fist it could completely turn them off.

Q: What about a company that offers a service, say a law firm or an investment bank. The passion for these brands may be harder to find and difficult to quantify and broadcast. Do you have suggestions for these types of brands that want to utilize social media for their benefit?

Certainly a lot harder indeed. But, start out small and smart. Begin establishing an online footprint using the various and appropriate platforms so that people can find you. Don’t forget that this is not a quick hit solution, and rather it is something you are going to have to grow over time so it may take a while, but people will start coming to you.

There is no silver bullet solution, but consider setting up a Facebook Page for your service and then doing a few weeks of targeted ads to the towns around you to drive traffic to the page. It is a great cost effective strategy to see if your audience is there while not breaking the bank. The key is to think long term and build a strategy that helps you reach your goals. What works for one company is not going to work for the other.

Q: We like to use the phrase “inbound marketing” to classify the shift we are all noticing in marketing (and advertising and public relations). What’s your go-to terminology?

Honestly, I go back and forth on this because it is changing every day and while a few years ago everyone was saying “new marketing” or “conversational marketing,” I feel neither of those truly capture how things are today. Even “social media” is getting a bit old because the nature of how we do everything online is beginning to play along the social graph and becoming more conversational and social in nature. The last thing I want to do is add any new buzzwords to the world. I’ll let someone else decide what to call it!

Q: Boston, as reported in Scott Kirsner’s piece and has been well evidenced, has become sort of the hub for this industry. Why do you think that is? More importantly, did Stuff at Night miss the boat by not including any of the thought leaders like yourself in their “Players” issue?

There was a Players issue? Guess they must not have promoted that well online since I didn’t see anything about it. *laugh*

I’m a life long New Englander so I think it is very easy. People who live here love to talk to other people, help people out, and come from a variety of backgrounds. With all the colleges we have here, people come from all over the world and never leave. That mix match of people makes for not one set of ideas and I’d argue that it mimics the web in that nature.

People seem to forget that this are has always had a strong tech footprint. Rt-128 may be littered with the shells of a lot of companies, but they are being replaced by the new generation and that is exciting. While I love San Francisco and New York City, you’ll never find me leaving New England. We’ve got something really special going on here.

You can read more from this Boston-based “Media Maven” by visiting his blog at http://www.cc-chapman.com/

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451 Marketing Featured in the Boston Business Journal

240988-120-0-1Today’s issue of the Boston Business Journal reports how 451 Marketing has repositioned itself for success. Read the full article below:

Taking the lead: Interactive marketing agency bolsters position with new media strategies

Boston Business Journal

by Sean McFadden

May 15, 2009

http://boston.bizjournals.com/boston/stories/2009/05/18/smallb1.html

A costly error in judgment can cripple a small organization. It can also be a blessing in disguise if that misstep pushes the business to focus on what it can do best.

That’s the lesson the principals of Boston-based 451 Marketing LLC say they learned from a short-lived division of their company last year.

The ensuing financial crisis, says co-founding partner AJ Gerritson, 32, “was catastrophic and almost broke the back of our company. It was also the single best thing that ever happened to our agency.”

As an “inbound marketing” agency, five-year-old 451 specializes in connecting its clients with their prospects when those prospects are looking online — whether it’s through search engines or social networks, says Gerritson, who serves as one of three partners running the agency, along with Nicholas Lowe and Thomas Lee.

The agency’s value proposition, says Gerritson, is that it can help its clients develop quality sales leads using online channels that are typically less expensive than traditional media: “The one thing people seem to be willing to spend money on right now is what we sell.”

While the 15-employee firm’s niche today lies in online lead generation, its focus wasn’t always so defined. Somewhere around the third quarter of 2007, the agency took a gamble on expanding its service offerings by introducing 451 Promotions, a subdivision of the company focusing on events production and promotion. It seemed like a natural extension of the agency’s in-house public relations capabilities, says Gerritson.

Emboldened by the success of two smaller events, the partners decided to tackle something on a much larger scale: a professional boxing event, dubbed the “Celtic Invasion,” which was held at the Orpheum Theatre on St. Patrick’s Day in 2008. Their intent was to fill the 2,500-seat Orpheum to capacity, but only about 500 patrons showed up.

The result is that 451 lost close to $90,000 on that event.

Admits Lowe, 34, “There are things we did well, and trying to extend it into 451 Promotions, I think, was putting too much pressure on our brand and stretching us too thin.”

So, the agency decided to refocus its services in a way that could better leverage the founders’ expertise as tech-savvy marketers; Gerritson and Lowe have 10 years and 11 years, respectively, of interactive marketing experience (Lee, who came aboard in 2007, had a traditional PR background).

The agency immediately suspended the 451 Promotions division and made three layoffs within that division. The partners also tapped into their personal accounts to help cash flow.

It was a familiar self-funding scenario: Gerritson recalls that when he and Lowe launched the firm in 2004, they used their own financing.

Early on, they were involved primarily with more traditional marketing and PR services, such as Web site design and development, and collateral development. Those services evolved with advances in media technologies.

Today, online lead generation, which would include search-engine marketing and social media marketing, now represents 40 percent of 451’s total billings, says Gerritson. Thirty percent comes from Web 2.0 design and implementation; 20 percent from public relations; and 10 percent from traditional creative work.

After hitting $778,000 in revenue in 2007, followed by around $1.17 million in 2008, the agency is targeting between $1.8 million and $2.2 million this year, Gerritson says.

The firm’s diverse client roster includes Hollister Inc., Healthworks Fitness Center for Women and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development.

Elizabeth Hailer, vice president of client development and marketing at client Caturano and Co. PC in Boston, says, “Their competencies range from traditional new media marketing communications to innovative, cutting-edge experience in this whole area of search-engine optimization. On the technical side and design side, they’re top notch.”

One of Gerritson’s mentors and advisers, Fredrick Marckini, chief global search officer at Isobar, with local offices in Boston, and founder of iProspect Inc. of Watertown, says, “AJ correctly identified the mega-trends in social media, digital media and search-engine marketing. Two years ago, he was already moving toward evolving his communications firm to leverage digital and combine his existing traditional PR practice with social media and search-engine marketing.”

Gerritson himself believes 451 is now better positioned for growth: “Yes, we took a huge hit last year, but that same hit might be the one that enables us to thrive, I believe, while many firms are struggling.”

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How exactly should we be using Twitter?

mm_twitter1Quite often we receive this question from individuals that possess varied amounts of online savvy. Some have a solid grasp of how to utilize sites like Facebook and LinkedIn for personal and professional purposes, but they struggle to understand the benefits (and the “point”) of Twitter. Others are just confused about everything that is going on in the world of new media and find Twitter to be the most perplexing.

The fact of the matter is that there is no easy answer to the question. As an individual, you can do whatever you want to do with Twitter. You can follow your favorite celebrities, follow your favorite news site for real-time news updates, or you could just follow a few of your friends in order to communicate with them all within one channel.

But there are plenty of ways to get more out of the time and energy that you devote to Twitter. For the job seeker desperately looking for employment opportunities in a recession, there are hosts of individuals, recruiters and businesses available to follow and add to your network. If you are gainfully employed, you should follow those individuals and organizations that can provide insights that are relevant to you and your industry–journalists, competitors, trade groups, thought leaders, etc.

The key to running a Twitter account for your business differs a bit. As a brand on Twitter, it is important to be even more engaging with users, and also mindful of all of your brand mentions. Every Twitter user out there should be considered as either a customer or a prospect. The opportunities to respond to customer complaints (brand management) or prospect inquiries (lead generation) on Twitter are extraordinary. But bear in mind the importance of maintaining a human feel to the Twitter account. No one on the social web wants to interact with corporate robots so make sure that you develop a personlity for your brand. Focus on posting quality information rather than massive quantities of untargetted SPAM. PC World provides a more extensive examination of how businesses should be using Twitter here.

Are you doing anything differently for yourself or your company on Twitter? Let us hear it.

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Boston Globe: Increasingly, marketing isn't just one-way street

The Boston Globe’s Scott Kirsner ran a terrific piece in Sunday’s paper about the emergence of the “new” approach to marketing that we continue to embrace– non-interruption based, inbound marketing. The piece specifically mentions how Boston-based companies (and individuals) have pioneered this shift, and will continue to foster it’s progression.

Here is the link to the article and the text is below:

/2009/04/26/increasingly_marketing_isnt_just_one_way_street/?page=1

Increasingly, marketing isn’t just one-way street

April 26, 2009

The Boston Globe

By Scott Kirsner

Is advertising dying – and Madison Avenue just hasn’t realized it yet?

Some influential writers, ex-agency executives, and consultants in Boston are making the case that a major change in the way companies sell things is taking place – and that most businesses and their marketing partners aren’t yet aware of it. Instead of interrupting you in order to get your attention – this column is brought to you by Dunkin’ Donuts’ New Ultra-Caffeinated Turbo Roast Coffee – their strategy is to let you stumble across their products online. The essence of the new strategy is to spread useful information about a given topic (like how to brew the perfect cup of joe) through blogs, social networks, Twitter, and video sites like YouTube.

“Before, you had to buy access to the consumer in some way, like purchasing a direct mail list or buying an ad in the Yellow Pages,” says David Meerman Scott, a Lexington author and speaker best known for his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR.”

“Now, companies can talk directly to their customers.”

Scott is one of the organizers of a thrice-yearly conference called the Inbound Marketing Summit, which got its start in Boston in 2008; the next one takes place this week in San Francisco. Boston is also home to several companies that aim to profit from the advertising revolu tion by selling software or services to help companies communicate with customers in new ways, such as BzzAgent Inc., Brand Networks Inc., and HubSpot Inc. And the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council is convening a summit Thursday to explore how companies can measure the returns generated by this new approach to marketing.

Lots of different terminology is being tossed around to try to describe the shift, from social media to content marketing to social marketing to inbound marketing. The word “social” implies that the personal connections between individuals who can help spread your message to others are increasingly important. “Content marketing” alludes to creating content that people choose to spend time with, whether it’s a list of tips for maintaining a beautiful lawn or a funny video, like the “Will It Blend?” series created by the Utah blender maker Blendtec. “Inbound marketing,” coined by the Cambridge-based software company HubSpot, implies that a company has a prominent presence online and is delivering value to customers so they’ll come find it, rather than simply broadcasting “outbound” messages and hoping for the best.

A recent survey by Cambridge’s Forrester Research found that 53 percent of social media marketers expect to increase their spending, even amid the recession, and 42 percent expect it to stay about the same. One reason is that it is perceived as less expensive and more efficient than traditional marketing.

The new kind of campaigns can seem logical – or a bit abstruse. Helaine Smith, a Boston dentist, has posted YouTube videos demonstrating her purportedly pain-free approach to anesthetizing patients; she also offers a free, downloadable e-book on the connections between good oral health and one’s sex life. (Sex always sells on the Internet.) For the career site Monster.com, Boston-based Brand Networks created a free application that Facebook users can install, which delivers a constant feed of relevant job openings. More than 80,000 people have chosen to add the application to their profile pages, according to Jamie Tedford, BrandNetworks’ founder and a former executive at Arnold Worldwide, a Boston-based ad agency.

To promote a tech-oriented home makeover show on Verizon’s FiOS TV network, the Marlborough agency Advance Guard devised a somewhat bizarre idea: One of the hosts of the show altered a robotic Teddy Ruxpin doll so it would utter messages sent to it via Twitter. For a time, the Twittering Teddy could be viewed live on a Web video stream.

“At first, the client was like, ‘What?’ But when they saw the response to it, they were wowed,” says Advance Guard founder C.C. Chapman. The teddy – and the show – got lots of free exposure on well-trafficked blogs like BoingBoing Gadgets.

“I’m not classically trained in marketing, but most people in this space are not classically trained,” says Chapman. “It’s about street smarts as opposed to book smarts.”

This new wave of advertising can be traced back to pivotal books like Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing,” published in 1999, and “The Cluetrain Manifesto,” published in 2000, which urged marketers to think about carrying on a conversation with customers, rather than a monologue.

What’s interesting is that very few of the thought leaders of this emerging field hail from the biggest marketing, advertising, and public relations agencies. “When you see a paradigm shift come along, the people who dominated the previous age don’t necessarily do well in the new ones,” theorizes Paul Gillin, the Framingham-based author of “The New Influencers.”

“Ad agencies are in some ways crippled by their own incentives and culture,” says Mike Troiano, an entrepreneur who earlier in his career worked at ad agencies Ogilvy & Mather and McCann-Erickson. “The guys at the top of the food chain are the guys who do television ads, and below them are print, and then direct marketing, and then you have interactive. I think you’re seeing a lot of those sophisticated digital media people moving out of agencies and into their own shops.”

Most of the new shops are still small. BzzAgent, which operates a network of “agents” who sample new products and services and then “buzz” about them online, has 90 employees. HubSpot, which sells a suite of software to help companies manage blogs and their position on various search engines, has about 85. And those are two of the largest. But even the smaller firms and sole proprietors command very loud megaphones. Chris Brogan, president of New Marketing Labs, the organizer of this week’s Inbound Marketing Summit, has more than 60,000 followers on Twitter, for instance.

If there is a clubhouse for these new marketing mavens, it may be the Kendall Square offices of HubSpot. Every Friday at 4 p.m., the company hosts a live Web video show that chews over some of the new dynamics of the company-customer relationship. Beer is served, and the live studio audience usually numbers 50 or so. Guests have included Gillin, Scott, Chapman, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone, and rap star/entrepreneur MC Hammer. Internet viewers can communicate with the two hosts via Twitter messages.

“Madison Avenue was the center of the world for the old style of outbound marketing,” says HubSpot chief executive Brian Halligan. “If inbound marketing is what’s happening next, then we think Boston has a chance to be the next Madison Avenue.”

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An Online Dilemma, and an Opportunity, for the News

An article in today’s New York Times examines the “free-versus paid online content” debate that is currently on the minds of all members of the newspaper and magazine publishing industry. Amidst a decline in their subscriber-base, many publications embraced the internet as a channel to help build their audience and increase revenues. But the recession has forced advertisers to tighten their spending across the board, leaving newspaper executives to grapple with new ways to turn a dollar newspaper1from their online content.

The biggest issue here, is, as the article points out, “How do you get consumers to pay for something they have grown used to getting free?” The reporters draw a parallel between the industry’s current situation and that of the recording industry. Music fans spent years downloading songs illegally for free from sites like Napster and Kazaa, but today, many of these same individuals have reverted back to paying for their music through iTunes. The difference is, of course, these individuals switched their habits because of the nascent fear of the possibility of legal action against them.

None of those fears exist here. With a few exceptions, internet users have come to expect to read their papers for free on-line with no questions asked. It won’t be easy to change those habits. As the article states, “Getting customers to pay is easier if the product is somehow better — or perceived as being better — than what they had received free.”

So what can publications do to make their content worth an investment from their readers? To paraphrase what Mark Mulligan, vice president of Forrester Research, says in the piece, it may be all about “chasing niches.” Finding what certain readers need on a daily basis, targeting them separately, and charging them for it.

It sounds a bit like the industry could use some more help from an inbound marketing campaign and other new media tools. Newspapers and magazines need to better capture their reader’s information; what they are reading, what sections they check most frequently, what journalists they read religiously. As some publications already do, requiring the readers to input their contact information into a free online form before reading certain content is a good way to start (it may be necessary to make sure this content is downloadable for tracking purposes). The reader won’t be forced to pay a fee, but will give up his/her e-mail address, providing the publication with a better sense of the content that they find necessary to have access to. Over time the publication will have a network of data on all of their most frequent visitors and will be able to engage certain individuals with exclusive, relevant and targeted offerings (podcasts, reporter chats, blogs, invitations to roundtables)—for a fee.

There is more to it here that should be considered. RSS feeds, text alerts, and other features can be tailored, or utilize existing content, and offered exclusively to certainly readers. Think of a way to aggregate all content for someone’s favorite sports reporter (their articles, blogs, Twitter feeds, etc) and package that offering to your “premium” subscribers. The key is for the industry to leverage the web to capture a better understanding of their audience to discover what exactly it is that they won’t be able to live without.

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