Winner's Edge

Focused on strategic communications

Breaking through the noise of social media

Proven sources like academics and experts gain influence as people become more skeptical of peer recommendations.

Way back in the 20th century, “buzz” was the je ne sais quoi of the marketing world. Every company wanted it, but few presumed to know how to get it. Back then, corporations generally lobbed their products into the marketplace, bombarded consumers with repetitive messages and sat back and prayed that buzz would magically appear.

That, of course, changed as companies learned how to harness the Internet. And, as social media like MySpace and Facebook emerged, marketing became less of a monologue and more of a multiparty conversation. It suddenly wasn’t enough for companies and their spokespersons to speak down to consumers from the mountaintop. The new challenge was how to get consumers to say good things about a product to one another.

The rise of social media has been part and parcel of the devolution of authoritative information and the flowering of a million cacophonous voices. It not only changed the way companies looked at consumers but how consumers looked at each other. By 2005, surveys showed that when it came to the marketplace, Americans were beginning to trust their peers more than well-known authorities and experts. The following year, according to the Trust Barometer Survey conducted by Edelman, an international public relations firm, saw the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible spokesperson for companies and products.

By 2010, nearly four in five corporations were planning to move money they once spent on television advertising to some sort of social media campaign. Two weeks ago, Pepsi chose to forgo a high-profile TV spot at halftime of the Super Bowl for a social-media-driven charity campaign that will award the nonprofit organizations that muster the most votes through virtual social networks. Could there be any better proof that social media is the future of marketing?

But hold on, now comes Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer. The latest findings fly in the face of that formerly new conventional wisdom.

According to the survey, since 2008 the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of consumer and business information dropped by almost half, from 45% to 25%. Similarly, in the past year, the number of people who view peers as credible spokespersons also slipped. Even more strikingly, however, after a precipitous decline earlier in the decade, informed consumers have regained trust in traditional authorities and experts.

What’s going on? Are Facebook friends turning on each other? Did we lose faith in ourselves? Is social media just a fluke?

None of the above, says Gail Becker, Edelman’s Western regional president. After sifting through the data, she concludes that consumers are merely rebelling against all the noise and reflecting the effects of uncertain times.

A few years ago, when peer-to-peer trust was at a peak, social media was still relatively new and its circles were manageable. But since then, the number of friend networks has exploded and every kind of business, for-profit and not, has sought to harness — we might say, exploit — them for their gain. That, according to Becker, has made people more skeptical of peer recommendations.

“Social media is more professionalized now and less organic,” says Becker. “It’s harder to know who to trust.”

And in troubled times, such uncertainty is magnified. All of this explains the rise in the number of people willing to pay attention to sources like proven academics and experts. After indulging the thoughts and opinions of anyone who was “just like me,” it seems that people are now looking for a firmer guarantee of clarity, objectivity and accuracy.

Although these findings are mostly about business and financial matters, they surely also have broader significance. They suggest that the flattening of authority may not go on forever, and that there are limits to Americans’ belief in Everyman.

I’d like to think that this bodes well for one of the old, authoritative sources of information, the traditional media. Unfortunately, so far the survey also shows that the credibility of television and radio news and newspapers continued to take a beating over the past two years.

Cacophony and crisis prove the need for objectivity and expertise. What a relief. Call it old-fashioned, hierarchical or elitist, but in an era in which issues are only becoming more complicated, it’s about time.

(reprinted from Los Angeles Times. OpEd by Gregory Rodriguez)


February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Telling Your Story: Translating Tech Talk into Plain Talk

You know you’ve got the facts on your side. You’ve spent millions on a world class environmental study, investing in top notch science and data collection. Or, perhaps your team has spent thousands of hours compiling exacting documentation of the law and economics that support your regulatory case. Whatever your situation, you’ve put major resources on the project because the upside potential — and perhaps the downside risks — could be enormous, maybe even a game changer for your organization.

Having made the up-front investment to get this far in the game, and with so much at stake, it’s time to ask yourself whether you’ve done everything possible to enhance your chances of success and reduce the risk of failure.

Here’s the question: Can you tell your story in a way that’s so compelling that you will win the day? Policy makers, legislators, regulators, juries, the general public — these decision makers control the destiny of your project, but they generally do not have the technical background to understand massive volumes of data and reams of argumentation. You must help them understand and believe in your case — in your story.

Every set of facts can be summed up by a compelling story, a logic train that makes clear why your efforts – your facts – should matter to those making a decision. A compelling story opens up a gateway of understanding, making it possible for your audience to easily grasp the gist of your case, and to achieve emotional buy-in.

Finding the story behind volumes of technical information and crafting that story into compelling words, diagrams, charts, pictures and video — while remaining true to the underlying facts – these story telling skills are the essential element in the process of persuasion.

How do we go about developing and telling your story? It’s a multi-step process, customized to each client’s needs, but based on some fundamental principles developed over decades of work on hundreds of complex and challenging public affairs situations.

To begin, we study and absorb all the details of your fact case. Only when we understand the nuances can we craft the most compelling story that will win over sometimes very skeptical audiences.

Next, we use our understanding of your information and your story, on the one hand, and the interests of your audiences, on the other hand, to bridge the gap between you and them. Every communications situation, no matter how dry or technical, offers themes that help us forge this bond.

We do this by weaving your facts and themes into a story that is designed to appeal to your audiences on multiple levels and lead to understanding of your efforts and agreement with what you are trying to achieve.

Finally, in presentations, fact sheets, white papers, brochures, website materials, speeches, documentary films and other communications tools we tell your story in a manner that optimizes for success and protects against failure.

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Added Value

Most companies are eager to stretch their advertising budgets as far as possible – which is why media buyers frequently negotiate perks for their clients beyond the price of the advertising itself.

15 second television ad

15 second television ad

These benefits – known collectively as “added value” – can come in the form of bonus commercials, sponsorships, free PSAs, on-air promotions, public relations opportunities and/or online links. How much value they add to a paid advertising campaign depends upon their execution and their relevance to the company. In many ways, it depends upon how well the media agency knows its client.

With careful planning, thought and collaboration, a small “added value” benefit can not only add tremendous value to a specific advertising campaign, it can transcend its immediate purpose and support other business objectives as well.

Case in point

As the agency of record for Southern California Edison (SCE), Winner & Associates produces branding commercials and seasonal commercials for the utility’s various energy-efficiency programs – for example, tuning up central air conditioners in the spring, recycling refrigerators in the summer, and switching to CFLs in the fall.

In 2008, when SCE began seeking new ways to tie their discrete seasonal programs together to raise awareness of the many ways customers could save energy, money and the environment, Winner & Associates negotiated added-value air time with TV stations running SCE’s branding ads. The result: we produced a handful of 10- and 15-second spots starring three SCE employees delivering energy-saving tips.

Soon after the spots began airing for the general market, SCE expanded the program into six ethnic markets. The award-winning ads were well-received – both internally and externally – and helped SCE exceed campaign goals for all three seasonal campaigns.

Buoyed by the success of the initial energy-saving tips campaign, Winner & Associates expanded the tips campaign in 2009. For one week in April, Winner & Associates and SCE auditioned nearly 600 employees. “We really only expected about 100 employees to be interested and were thrilled by the overwhelming response,” the utility’s corporate communications manager said at the time.

In the end, 37 SCE employees were selected as “on-air” talent for the 2009 campaign, and Winner & Associates produced a total of 80 spots in six different languages – English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Korean. Already, the tips have increased traffic on SCE’s website by 50 percent, and they’ve enhanced employee morale.

“All I could hear when walking anywhere in the office was, ‘Good morning, superstar,’ and ‘Can I have your autograph?” said one SCE engineer who appeared in the ads. “I was bombarded with all kinds of questions concerning the filming and the audition. It was a great experience.”

Now that’s added value.

September 24, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment