The Web as Door-to-Door Salesman II

By Nancy Wong Bryan, Originally posted on April 05, 2004

The Web as a Door-to-Door Salesman articles (I, II, III) were from an interview I did a decade ago. Although some of the examples are now extinct, a lot of this is still super relevant today … in some ways more than ever.

Grad Conn, vice president and managing director of Grey Worldwide Canada, sees the Web’s next marketing evolution happening in online communities, like blogs. They push interactive advertising toward an interpersonal communication model with a heavy emphasis on relationships — especially in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) vertical. In part one, he described these new networks and the value of “re-broadcasters” in disseminating trustable information.

iMediaConnection: How can marketers take advantage of these new networks?

Conn: There are three core buckets. The first bucket is probably the most important one today. There’s an old rule in marketing called the 80-20 rule, which means 80 percent of your volume is purchased by 20 percent of your consumers. In fact, in the beer market, it’s very highly skewed at 95-5. Five percent of the buyers of Budweiser are drinking 95 percent of the Budweisers. They’re young guys who buy a pair of forties and bring them out to the pickup. That’s where all that beer is going. What the packaged goods marketers have never really been able to fully exploit is how you take advantage of that.

Yet the packaged goods marketers also realize that people who are heavy users of a product also tend to be highly engaged in the product itself. They don’t mind going to a Web site and getting newsletters and hearing more about a product. So the very heaviest users are the ones who have the highest propensity to visit your Web site, sign up for newsletters and become part of your program. That’s fantastic news, but make sure you’re building something that’s relevant to these people, deliver information they find useful and create a brand experience.

To drive people to their sites, [packaged goods marketers] let these users know in lots of different ways. They’ve got some online media, but they’re not finding that as effective. What they’re finding more effective is to get consumers where they are: on packages, in ads and wherever they get the end experience of the product.

iMediaConnection: What’s the second approach?

Conn: Another thing that’s being used — not as heavily used in the packaged goods space because it’s seen as being a bit riskier, but being heavily used in the consumer space among marketers like Reebok, Trojan condoms, guys that are willing to be a little bit more out there — is viral marketing.

Reebok is a good example. These guys create stories that are so interesting, that when people see it on the Web they pass it to their friends. I got the first “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker” video from a friend who said, “Hey, you’ve got to watch this.” It’s a commercial for Reebok, but it’s so funny and so unusual, that you’d never see it on TV — it’s too controversial for TV and it works. It drove me to the site, I signed up for the newsletter, and they got me through a friend of mine. The great thing is you can take more chances with this stuff because it’s friends who are passing it to friends. It’s not being broadcast through all the FCC rules.

Viral is becoming more common, and that to me is very exciting because I think it’s a real opportunity for a creative revolution. Most advertising has become really boring, sort of BS. This stuff, because of the nature of it, the only way they’re going to get anyone to pass it on to someone is to make it riveting. It forces creative discipline. The most exciting advertising being done today is the stuff that’s being done from viral.

iMediaConnection: What’s the third approach?

Conn: The third way is not as heavily used right now, but it will be over the next three to four years. If you look at social software networks like Friendster, and blog networks like Dude Check This Out, experts are emerging in these communities. There’s an old expression that at any one period of time, 90 percent of the people don’t even realize there’s a parade going on, 8 percent of the people are watching the parade, and 2 percent of people are in the parade. And that’s kind of how this works. There’s a group of people who are information mavens, and they tend to be hubs. And there’s a bunch of people who are interested in what they say.

What the marketers are not doing very well right now is getting to those mavens and getting them to help them sell their products. They sell products all the time right now, but they do it in a way where they’re perceived as being disinterested third parties because they don’t get paid for it. Figure out how to pay these guys for their valuable opinion, and influence people in a more compelling way than you can do it on TV.

There have been attempts. Dr. Pepper tried it with its milk product introduction to the United States They got a bunch of bloggers to do it. But they did it sort of in secret, and people don’t react well to that. The experimentation is just starting right now, but that is the future. There’s a full community of people in blogspace who are now the new trusted media experts, and nobody has monetized that yet, but that’ll happen eventually.

They want it to happen, but they need to keep their impartiality so their reputation remains intact. But mostly they’re trying to figure out a way to make money off it. They still gotta eat. It’s not even a question of risk. A lot of these guys are doing this on their own in their basements, and not getting paid anything, even for their server costs. A lot of them still exist on donations, but as the bandwidth costs go up as they get more popular, it’s tricky because whoever is donating the bandwidth starts to say we need an economic model for this.

iMediaConnection: In your opinion, is this a change for the better?

Conn: It’s a hundred times better. You cannot ever get excited about a model where only a very few people control the message. It’s a very dangerous model in a democracy. I think a model where you’ve got thousands of voices is always better than a few. There’s way more diversity, way more connection with people. There are more conversations, more controversies and more interest. It’s an exciting time to be alive.