"Tolerate nothing less than 'Departmental excellence and coolness.'" Tom Peters
This biographical passage is starting where others typically end. Why does David Meerman Scott always use his middle name? To distinguish himself on search engines from all the other David Scotts—one of whom walked on the moon! David Meerman Scott was vice president of marketing at NewsEdge Corporation, an online news distributor with $70 million in revenue at the height of the dot-com boom. As such, he controlled a multi-million dollar marketing budget, learned that traditional marketing strategies don't work, and began creating content-based, "thought leadership" marketing and PR programs on the Web. Even though the advertising agency for NewsEdge told them not to put valuable information "where competitors could steal it," they created a monthly newsletter called TheEdge, with articles about the exploding world of digital news. It was freely available on the home page of their website because it generated interest from qualified buyers.
In 2002, NewsEdge was sold and David started his own business to refine these ideas, work with select clients, and teach others what he'd learned. He developed a one-day seminar called New Rules of Marketing. The subject of all this work: Reaching buyers directly and driving more revenue using online thought leadership. David is the author of numerous magazine articles and several books, including The New Rules of Marketing and PR, Tuned In (with Craig Stull and Phil Myers), Cashing In With Content, and Eyeball Wars: A Novel of Dot-com Intrigue.
For our interview, Erik and David discuss his new book that will come out in March 2009: World Wide Rave: Creating Triggers that Get Millions of People to Spread Your Ideas and Share Your Stories.
[Bio adapted from his website: www.davidmeermanscott.com.]
tompeters.com asks ...
David, what is a world wide rave?
DMS: A world wide rave is when people talk about you and your ideas, spreading information from person to person, typically online. You don't have to do anything; your ideas are being spread by people on their own.
This is what we have heretofore known as viral marketing, isn't it?
DMS: It's similar, but there's a very big distinction. Viral marketing refers to an idea or an advertisement spreading like a virus. I'm making the distinction between ideas and advertisements. A lot of advertising agencies are using viral marketing to try to spread messages online. Typically, they use games, corny contests, and bait-and-switch banner ads. It works; it spreads like a virus.
World wide rave is a term I use to describe people talking about you and spreading your ideas because they're genuinely interested in what you're doing and what you're talking about. There is no coercion involved.
It sounds very similar to word of mouth marketing.
DMS: I call it word of mouse, as in a computer mouse. A world wide rave is typically online.
Rave sounds a bit nihilistic or anarchistic.
DMS: The phrase is partly a take-off on World Wide Web. As for rave, a rave review is a really good review. So a world wide rave is when people all over the world are saying good things—raving—about you, your products, or your ideas. They're extending your reach by telling your stories for you to people who wouldn't normally be exposed to them.
Think of people doing the wave in a soccer stadium. One person with an idea stands up, gets five or ten people right around her to stand up, and causes 80,000 people in a soccer stadium to rise on cue. It's much the same thing if you have a really great idea or an interesting concept that people want to talk about.
This stuff used to happen accidentally. You're saying we should shift things a bit and take the power of this easy way to share things, through YouTube [http://www.youtube.com] and the like, and use it to our advantage?
DMS: That's a really good summation. In the early days of the Internet, a few viral things popped up occasionally. Do you remember the dancing baby?
DMS: That must be 13 or 14 years ago. Things like that began to spread accidentally; you're absolutely right. Somebody named that viral marketing. Then advertising agencies that were steeped in the traditions of magazine and interruption-based broadcast television advertising developed online viral marketing techniques involving, as I mentioned earlier, games and contests. Win a free iPod by pushing the virtual basketball through the hoop. Yes, it spread, and yes, there were a lot of people doing it. But it tended to be people who liked games and people who liked to win iPods.
DMS: Yeah. The guys at YouTube wanted a way to easily share the wardrobe malfunction clip and they found that there wasn't an easy way to share a clip online. YouTube is a very new phenomenon. People saw that things would spread like crazy on YouTube. The opera singer Paul Potts has 39 million views of a clip singing Nessun Dorma from Puccini's Turandot. I mean, how cool is that?
Yes, you can harness that power and virtually anybody, if they're smart about creating something interesting, can generate something that will spread. Now, that's not to say that everybody can generate a million views of a YouTube video, or that if you do something, everyone in the world will know about it. I'm not saying that at all.
Within your marketplace, among the people you're trying to reach, if you have a niche product, it's still absolutely possible to reach a large number of your potential customers online with something very interesting. It could be a video, an e-book, some kind of chart or graphic, a photograph, some data or metrics, or an interesting way of looking at what's going on in the marketplace. It's possible to spread any one of those things. Yet most companies haven't been creating information with the idea that it's going to spread. Instead they've been creating information with the idea that they have to ram it down people's throats. It's a very, very different technique to create something that is primed to be shared.
The word fun appears a lot in your book. I'm noticing more people, marketers and such, using that word, wanting to reach out to folks. Why is that so important?
DMS: There are a number of predictors as to whether something is likely to become a world wide rave. One is if it's funny. Another is if it's outrageous. Another is if it's remarkable. Those are some, but not the only predictors. A classic example of a worldwide rave is the Will It Blend? Blendtec videos. They're fantastic.
DMS: They have 50 million views on YouTube. The last time I spoke with the folks at Blendtec, they told me their sales in the consumer market have gone up five-fold as a result. The idea that you can create something that costs no money to put on YouTube and your sales can go up five-fold is amazing.
Yes, the Blendtec videos are funny, remarkable, and outrageous, but lots of things that have turned into a world wide rave aren't funny or outrageous. Instead, they're just incredibly valuable pieces of information, helpful guides about something that's never been articulated before, or a valuable set of metrics.
Take MailerMailer for example. They're in the email marketing software business. They sell a software package for marketers to send out emails to their clients or customers. They created a report called the Email Marketing Metrics Report. It has data like, What's the best day to send out an email newsletter, Thursday or Friday? What time of day? Should I send my email newsletters in HTML format or text format? That's valuable information. It's not funny or outrageous, it's just really valuable. Tens of thousands of people have downloaded it.
People like to share something that's going to give other people pleasure. If you go to the trouble to post something to your blog, Twitter, or Facebook, you want to amaze people, make them laugh, or provide something that's incredibly valuable.
Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, wrote an article called "The End." He wrote about what went wrong on Wall Street. It's become a world wide rave. Everyone's been sharing it. And is it funny? Oh my god, it's not funny at all! It's about the financial meltdown. But he explained it in a way that was easy to understand. And that, in my mind, is a world wide rave.
Good information is equal to funniness.
DMS: Yes. I think people like to spread something that they know will be appreciated by the receiving party.
Microsoft's Windows Security team tried something called 42Projects. They were trying to draw a multi-generational staff for the project. They decided they needed to do something fun because for younger people, fun is a motivator and you have fun with people you trust. They wanted to show that the older staff members were both trustworthy and fun. In your book you have an equivalent story about IBM.
DMS: Right. IBM has a series of YouTube videos called "The Art of the Sale" by Tim Washer. They're trying to convey that IBM is more than your father's IBM. My dad's friends worked for IBM and he told me, when I was growing up, that everyone had to wear a white shirt, a conservative tie, and a dark suit. That was how it worked.
The videos are about the IBM mainframe, which is not a very exciting category of product. The YouTube videos are funny and they put a human face on an organization that for many people really didn't have a human face. That's why that particular series of videos worked so well. They've been viewed several hundred thousand times. That's a pretty amazing feat, to get a hundred thousand views of a video about a mainframe salesperson.
What are the rules for posting content that you're hoping will turn viral?
DMS: There are six things that are important to think about. Traditionally, the online presence of a business focuses on their products and services. If they're in the computer business, their homepage is about computers. My first rule is to remember that nobody cares about your products except you. People are taken aback when I say that, but it's true. People care about themselves and they care very deeply about the problems that they face. So if you're an organization that wants to create something that people will share, that might become a world wide rave, you have to create information that's not about your products, per se. It can include something about the product, as in the case of IBM. The star of their video series is a mainframe salesperson. There's nothing else about the product except the fact that he happens to be a mainframe salesperson. Anything you create should be focused on the people that you're trying to reach, your buyers, your potential customers.
The second rule is no coercion. As we discussed earlier, a world wide rave is different than viral marketing. You don't have to coerce someone to share your stuff. You don't have to use a prize, game, or some trivial reason to share it. If it's interesting, funny, remarkable, or outrageous, people will share it.
The third rule trips up a lot of people. The rule is lose control. For the longest time, when we as business people, organizations, or government agencies have communicated with people online, we've exerted control over our messages. We've exerted control over the information that we provide. A classic example is the white paper.
I've always hated that term. Whenever somebody says white paper, my soul crinkles up inside.
DMS: I think that's true for a lot of people. I've done a bit of informal research on white papers. During around a hundred speeches, I've said to people—tongue-in-cheek—"How many people love white papers? Raise your hand." Nobody raises a hand.
I'm glad to hear that.
DMS: It's a setup. If you raised your hand, people would think you were weird. Admittedly, it's not valid research.
But hey, since when did that matter?
DMS: Still, my guess is that there are hundreds published each week. And when a company publishes a white paper, they do exactly the wrong thing; they try to control it. They say "Here's our white paper. This is something that we want you to read. However, the only way we're going to allow you to read it is if you give us your email address first." They intentionally put up a speed bump or a gate to access it.
In order to have your information become a world wide rave, to give it a chance to be viewed by not a hundred people but 100,000 people, you have to remove all barriers. You have to lose control of your information. That can be really scary for people. For a white paper, not only should it be totally free with no registration required, it shouldn't be called a white paper. Call it something else. I prefer calling it an e-book. Make it totally free and use a Creative Commons license which says to people "You may freely share this. You don't even have to tell us. As long as you don't change it, you can post it on your own website."
People who have done A/B testing on this have provided evidence that the ratio of people who will download a gated piece of content versus an un-gated piece of content is between 20 to 1 and 50 to 1. That's a remarkable difference. In addition, almost no blogger will point to a registration-required piece of content. They just won't do it.
That's a good point.
DMS: I just published a free e-book on this called Lose Control of your Marketing! Why Marketing ROI Measures Lead to Failure.
Bloggers, podcasters, and people who Twitter will happily mention something that's free because it's beneficial for their readers or listeners. They're providing something of value to people. But a blogger is very reluctant to say, "Download this. By the way, you have to enter your email address and they might spam you afterwards."
A fourth rule is put down roots. You don't have to do all of these things, but does it make sense to have a Facebook presence? Does it make sense to start a Facebook group? Should you Twitter? Should you join an online community? Should you have your own blog or comment on other people's blogs? Are there forums and chat rooms that are important for your industry and can you join those? Once you become known in the appropriate online communities, it's much more likely that people will share your stuff because you're a known entity.
The fifth one is to create triggers that encourage people to share. First, figure out what the right kinds of information are to create. Then present them in a way that's really easy to share. There are simple things, like making sure the URL is short, easy to type, and never changes. Make sure that the title is descriptive and has keywords that are attractive to search engines.
Right. Using TinyURL or is.gd is useful for shortening long URLs. I hate getting long URLs in emails that are longer than one line, so they break and are no longer clickable.
DMS: That can be useful, but I actually wouldn't recommend using TinyURL because it doesn't point directly to you, so you'll lose the search engine benefits. For the e-book that was a precursor to World Wide Rave, I called it "The New Rules of Viral Marketing," so that it uses the keywords viral marketing. The URL is simple: http://davidmeermanscott.com/documents/viral_marketing.pdf. It's interesting information that is easy for people to share and the title contains keywords. As a result, my e-book is now number four on the Google search results for the phrase viral marketing among something like five million hits.
The last rule is point people to your doorstep. Once you've created all this really interesting stuff, be it an e-book, a piece of data, or a YouTube video, you have to lead people to reach the conclusion that they want to read more about you and do business with you.
The ultimate point of all this—for businesses at least—is that you want them to say "Wow, IBM's a really interesting company. I want to do business with them." Or, "It seems like MailerMailer knows a hell of a lot about email marketing. Maybe I should do business with them."
Be sure that once people find you, you have more of interest to offer. At the very least, have contact information, but maybe it's appropriate for your business to have a special offer, a sample, a free trial, or a newsletter.
Right, or more good information.
DMS: Or more good information. "Like our blog post? Why not subscribe to our email newsletter?" Or "Like our e-book? Sit in on our next webinar."
Those are the six things that are required for a world wide rave. You have to think about them when you want to create something that has the potential to be shared.
I read on Jose Castillo's blog about Motrin's ad fiasco. Are you familiar with this?
DMS: Yes, the one about women wearing their babies?
Right. That carrying them in slings and backpacks makes your back sore, so you need Motrin. Apparently a lot of women took exception to this.
DMS: It was a pretty big social media flare-up, a lot of people were talking about it. In my mind, they didn't create that content for the people they were trying to reach. It violated my first rule that nobody cares about your products. The unwritten part of that rule is that people do care about themselves. So, if they were creating that particular ad in order to reach those women they should have understood whether this was going to be something that was considered offensive.
Somebody speculated that they actually intended it to backfire in order to get people talking about the Motrin brand. I don't subscribe to that theory but I thought it was an interesting theory. I think creating something that you know is going to receive negative attention is going too far. I think they probably did what a lot of people do. They said "Oh, this is going to be really clever." And they never reached out to thirty or forty mothers as they should have done.
It's an example of why a lot of big companies are going to be slow to take this route. It's so cheap. A marketing department's going to feel pretty threatened that all of a sudden a huge budget for advertising isn't necessary.
DMS: I think there is some of that. Take Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of Motrin, for example. They're so used to spending money. Let's say they pick up my book and think it's a good idea. They call up their Madison Avenue advertising agency and say "I want to buy me some of this world wide rave stuff." And the agency says "Okay, budget a million dollars and we'll create something for you." And then they do something that isn't really in the true spirit of a world wide rave. Instead it's some kind of trumped up online Madison Avenue advertising that might go viral. A world wide rave is people spreading ideas because they really like it and they want to.
A sweeping generalization would suggest that this way of reaching people is probably better for underdogs or upstarts, the companies that started last year and are competing against the guys who've been around for awhile. I have an example in the book, a dentist named Dr. Helaine Smith, who used to spend $2,000 a month on yellow page ads in the phone book. She created an e-book called Healthy Mouth Healthy Sex, and started a blog called "The Successful Smiles Blog." As a result, she's getting $10- to $15,000 of new business every single month. She canceled her yellow page ads. So, maybe the right people for these ideas are those who don't have millions of dollars to spend on Madison Avenue advertising.
I like that story. I noticed that on Twitter today, you asked your 5,000 plus followers what they think about yellow pages advertising. What did they say?
DMS: I blogged about it, too. Yesterday, I heard thumps outside my office door. It was someone delivering yellow pages phone books around the building. I put mine on the table in the hallway of my office building thinking that maybe somebody else would want an extra copy. I don't need one, because I use Google. I went about my day, and when I came in this morning, there were eight or nine copies on the table, with still more lying in front of other doors. I thought, "Wow." So I blogged about it. At the end of the post, I said "This seems to be a waste of resources for people to print and distribute these millions of yellow pages that go unused. What a shame for the company that's still paying to be listed in the yellow page directory that very few people use." Those larger ads in the yellow pages can cost thousands of dollars per month.
In about six hours, around 50 people responded to the posts on the blog and Twitter. The vast majority said that they personally don't use the yellow pages. Now, granted, these are people who are plugged in. They're on Twitter, they're commenting on blogs, so they're not exactly representative of the market. But what I thought was a good representation of the market was the fact that of the yellow pages that were distributed in my hallway, my guess is that less than 20 percent were actually taken. The rest of them were put on the shelf to be recycled.
Well, we hope they're getting recycled and not clogging up landfills.
DMS: Right. My office building is populated by lawyers and accountants and psychologists. I think that's fairly representative. They don't know what Twitter is, what a blog is, and they barely have websites. It's interesting that the ways we're getting information are really changing.
Even people who aren't tuned in at all these different social media levels are still going to go to "the Google," as former President Bush would say.
DMS: The Google, exactly. It's just another piece of evidence that the ways people are solving their problems are different today. They're looking online first. And if they're searching on Google, maybe they'll find your piece of information, maybe your video or e-book. That's what's so cool about this stuff. You can just do it yourself and throw it out there. You don't have to pay the yellow pages $2,000 to get your ad in there. You just do it.
I saw an interview with you online by Mark Gladding in Australia. There's a picture of the cover of your book on posters pasted up on telephone poles. What's the story with the posters?
DMS: I've sent out a few hundred of the posters and they're starting to come back. People are volunteering on their own accord, no coercion required, to take a picture with the poster in interesting places. If you visit WorldWideRave.com, you can see the results.
David, this has been very pleasant. Thank you.
DMS: I appreciate your time, Erik, it was good talking with you.
Email: david (at) – davidmeermanscott (dot) com