Friday, July 23, 2010

Buzzword Bonanza!

Every profession has jargon that is used as shorthand, and that’s great. Using jargon is necessary so a carpenter doesn’t have to say “that big metal doo-hickey” and so scientists don’t have to use long, boring explanations to explain what a uberthermodynamic enthropic reaction is (disclaimer: that’s not real). Buzzwords in business, however, seem to be around to confuse everyone.

We’re not very fond of buzzwords. Tiny Fey and Alec Baldwin of 30 Rock aren’t fans either. Buzzwords are overused in our line of work. Being the marketing and PR superstars that we are, we have a pretty decent idea of what they mean. We’ve waded through our share of acronyms and ridiculous “concepts” (Example: The Hedgehog Concept. It means “do what you are best at.” Really.) Naturally, we’re a bit jaded.

We recently saw an article about the most overused buzzwords in press releases. We realized nobody really knew what they actually mean. So we’ve created a layman’s dictionary of buzzwords you’ll encounter in business, PR and marketing. If this blog was a tabloid, we’d call this article “The Meanings THEY Don’t Want You to Know!!!”
  •  Innovation: New product or technology. Pretty simple idea, but when you think about how many times something is called “the most innovative thing ever,” it gets a little annoying. Artificial light was an innovation; that new flavor of Mountain Dew is not. 
    • Usage: “Announcing a new innovation in the way you drive to work!”
  • Real-Time: Just like it sounds. Instant feedback or answers. We’re in a real-time environment. Twitter is real-time feedback from the world. Morse-code on a telegraph was real-time feedback, too. Remember that. 
    • Usage: “Delivering real-time answers to all of your innovation needs!”
  • Dynamic: Quick-changing. Today’s industry and technology is a lot more dynamic than it used to be. 
    • Usage: “New, dynamic innovation that provides real-time answers to life’s problems!”
  • Groundbreaking: A really awesome innovation (see above). Changes the industry, sometimes the world. Not always great. (Right, hydrogen bomb?) 
    • Usage: “Controlling fire was a groundbreaking technology for cavemen.”
  • Best Practice: We’re pretty sure this means agreed-upon strategies that provide value in an industry. (Wikipedia confirms.) 
    • Usage: “A best practice in the fishing industry is to use bait.”
  • Cutting Edge: New, groundbreaking product or technology (see above). 
    • Usage: “Pre-slicing bread was cutting-edge slicing technology
    • See also: “Bleeding Edge,” meaning something was SO cutting-edge that it made you bleed.
  • Product Integration: AKA “Product Placement.” Paying for your product, logo or service to be in the media. Reese’s Pieces in the movie “ET” is considered the grandfather of product integration. 
    • Usage: “But sir, putting Marlboro in “Toy Story 3” sounds like poor product integration!
  • Seamless Integration: One thing and another thing go well together without any problems. Used most in mergers and acquisitions. I imagine this comes from the garment-making industry. 
    • Usage: “Marlboro is seamlessly integrated into “Toy Story 3” because one of the main characters is a cowboy!”
  • Think Outside the Box: Novel and creative thinking. Term coined by someone who probably never actually thought outside the box. 
    • Usage: “They must have really thought outside the box when they put cigarettes in a children’s movie, because now I really want a Marlboro!”
  • Synergy: Oh, synergy. Poor, poor synergy. Whipping boy of the buzzwords. The scapegoat. It’s a medical term adopted by business that basically means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” It’s not always a great thing in medicine, but businesses LOVE synergy. 
    • Usage: “By combining our businesses (chocolate and peanut butter), we can achieve synergy by making an incredibly delicious snack! This peanut butter and chocolate candy is better than if you just added peanut butter and chocolate together!”- Whoever invented Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
  • Low-Hanging Fruit: Some sort of fruit-picking metaphor adopted for business. In reality, it just means to reach the easiest goal without much effort. If you were a lion, it would mean to eat the slowest and fattest antelope. 
    • Usage: “We can capture the low-hanging fruit of the fast-food industry by targeting fat kids who already like our cheeseburgers!”
  • Secret Sauce: This was new to us before the list came out. Apparently people use it. Presumably, it’s derived from the fast food industry and means “Thousand Island Dressing,” but in reality it just means “your strategy or product that gives you an advantage over everyone else, but your competitors can’t figure out what it is.” 
    • Usage: “We need more secret sauce! Put that mayonnaise out in the sun!” (Disclaimer: That quote is from The Simpsons) 
    • Business Usage: The secret sauce of McDonalds’ success is its consistency between each store; a Big Mac in New York is the exact same as a Big Mac in Tucson. And the secret sauce of McDonalds’ Big Mac is actually the secret sauce.
  • Paradigm Shift: This should mean “using your secret sauce and thinking outside the box with a groundbreaking, innovative, cutting-edge technology that provides synergy and allows you to capture the low-hanging fruit with more ease to get real-time, dynamic results.” However, it just means something new and different is happening that revolutionizes the way people see your industry, business or environment. 
    • Usage: “Social media has caused a paradigm shift in public relations.”
Captain Buzz
There are hundreds and hundreds more, but it’s your turn to find them. Really, there’s a time and place for everything. Even these buzzwords. We’re not condemning their usage, just their frequency. Writing with buzzwords is like going out for a night of drinking (maybe that’s why they’re called “buzz”words?). Think about it: if you have a few buzzwords or have a few drinks, you feel smarter and more confident. After a few more, you start to feel dizzy and unbalanced. After too many, you feel like vomiting, nobody understands what you’re saying and you wake up in the morning feeling terrible about yourself. Remember, the content you create and the strategy you come up with is more important than the words you use to describe it. Use these words in a way that provides actual value and understanding. Buzz responsibly.

What is your favorite (or least favorite) buzzword? If we get enough responses, we can have a sequel!

(all images via Creative Commons)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Think Responsibly

Back in the day, businesses were only concerned with one thing: profit. In recent years, these same businesses have realized both the benefit to their company and their community when they get involved. Sponsorships, food and donation drives and fun runs are all great examples of such opportunities, and we would never discourage taking that approach.

But, with the advent of the social media craze and the wide-spread acceptance and support of altruistic endeavors, helping out is suddenly one of the best ways to showcase your creativity and make a significant difference. Some really amazing concepts led by large and small organizations across the nation exemplify this new mentality, and while they’re all unique in their own right, they also share a common strategy which has made them so successful.

Chipotle wants your junk
Premise: As part of Chipotle’s “Food with Integrity” campaign, they are claiming there’s no junk in their food. They also believe there shouldn’t be junk in school food, and they’re asking customers to get rid of their junk as well… that is, junk mail. Participants can forward their junk mail to, and for every 100,000 emails received, they’ll donate $10,000 to The Lunch Box, a NPO with an aligned cause.
Consumer feel-good factor: Consumers get to help the cause in an active, non-monetary way (you’ll notice this is incredibly important in increasing participation). They can feel like they’re contributing to the greater good without busting their budget or taking a lot of time.
Consumer me-me factor: Clean email boxes make this cause a quadruple win for Chipotle, The Lunch Box, kids’ health AND the folks at home who want to increase the size of their “special parts” and get cheap drugs from China.
Easy factor: You can do this without thinking or getting out of your chair, and that means you might actually peel your eyes away from “work.”
New and exciting factor: We’ve never seen this clever concept, and we bet you haven’t either. Donating junk mail? It’s genius.

Pepsi Refresh Project
Premise: This on-going, monthly project allows participants to submit their ideas (they take 1,000/month) for making the world a better place, and then anyone can go to their website and vote. There are several categories – health, arts & culture, neighborhoods, etc. – and different grant sizes depending on the idea-givers’ resources. Winners receive grants ranging from $5K-$25K.
Consumer feel-good factor: Tons of people have ideas about the types of changes they want to make… if only they had the money. Now there’s a chance! And for the people who don’t want to take all that on, hey, just vote! Again, active participation in a non-monetary way.
Consumer me-me factor: Non-profits, schools, businesses and regular people have their names attached to the idea, and anyone that visits the website will see… aka free publicity on a pretty big platform. And of course, if they win, they get to start their own project!
Easy factor: Submitting an idea and voting takes seconds. Literally, seconds.
New and exciting factor: Each month the game changes, and every day new votes are counted. Plus, the concept is just pure good.

Shade of Hope
Premise: This one’s local. The dynamic duo of the Houston Furniture Bank and is hosting a community arts fair to raise money, awareness and support for The Furniture Bank, an organization that turns houses into homes for the less-fortunate.
Consumer feel-good factor: Being at the event shows your support for the community, The Furniture Bank and the local art scene.
Consumer me-me factor: Participants get to hang out, view amazing art and listen to live music. FOR FREE.
Easy factor: Show up. All you have to do is show up.
New and exciting factor: First of all, we didn’t even know furniture banks existed, so that’s super cool. Secondly, it’s an EVENT. Filling up our calendars with hip, artsy stuff is always exciting. And, if you check out their website you’ll see there are some pretty interesting activities happening that day (artists are painting shades!)

Naturally, Black Sheep is a big fan of these creative causes. Heck, we’ve even had some success with our own. Keep in mind the factors we mentioned (feel-good, me-me, easy and new and exciting), and you too could be on your way to generating a positive impact… and showing off your innovative excellence too!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Twitter, je t’aime

You know how you’re totally addicted to social media? And how we always say it’s essential to a marketing plan because of the connections you can make with your customers on an emotional level? Now, thanks to this really fascinating article in Fast Company it all makes sense.

This article discusses the correlation between levels of oxytocin (affectionately referred to as the “cuddle hormone”) in your bloodstream, its effects on your emotions and why, as a result we can’t get enough.

Allow us to nerd out for a minute. Oxytocin is responsible for love, trust and empathy, and for the longest time, scientists thought it was primarily responsible for the reason mothers bond immediately with their babies. Now, thanks to some hefty research involving voles (basically fancy rodents), we know that oxytocin affects little receptors in our brain that give us that warm, fuzzy feeling and long-term attachment… you know, love. Furthermore, we know that this feeling is totally addictive (yes, Robert Palmer was right). The parts of the brain affected by love and this hormone are not the same as other emotions like anger, jealousy or even friendship. In reality, your response to oxytocin is more like your response to COCAINE.
Kind of cute, aren't they?

So that’s fine and good, but what Dr. Zak from the Fast Company article has discovered (albeit he needs a little more statistical evidence), is that oxytocin can do more than just make us fall head over heels. After giving a group of college students oxytocin or a placebo and then asking them to watch various PSAs, those that received the hormone were nearly 50% more likely to donate to the charity. It stands to reason– with elevated levels we are more inclined to trust and empathize.

But here’s the kicker. In another test, a before and after blood test of someone conversing on Twitter for 10 minutes showed an elevation of oxytocin levels rise as much as 13%! This is comparable to a similar test of a couple on their wedding day. Again, we need more conclusive research, but IF this turns out to be commonplace, its implications could be huge, essentially suggesting that companies interacting with people on social media are not only connecting on a higher level, but connecting at the moment when trust and empathy are at their peak.

Earlier in June a New York Times article documented a family whose addiction to technology was indicative of a much larger trend in our society - the need to be tuned-in, available and communicating as much as possible, sometimes to the detriment of our mental state. To us, it seems like this can further be explained by Dr. Zak’s findings and the addictive nature of oxytocin and consequently social media. Who among us hasn’t been a little distracted at the onset of a new relationship? When love takes over, we do crazy things, and just think – social media might have the same degree of influence.

So to everyone who questions the quality of social media relationships and worries about the decline of communication and real conversation, take note. These platforms could be even more powerful than we think, and the opportunities for capitalizing on this huge forum are endless. And, props to the voles (switch the letters and it spells “loves”!) for taking one for the team… you know we can’t support animal testing, even if it is for the sake of marketing.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

OK Go: Not your run of the [tread]mill viral campaign.

If you’ve had access to the Internet in the past 4 years, you’ve probably heard of indie rock band OK Go. But you don’t have to love their music to have spent hours watching and sharing their videos on YouTube. In fact, some might say that their YouTube fame precedes their music, and more often than not these videos receive better critical acclaim than their albums.

Their first viral video launched in 1998 (so, yeah, really early) and their most famous, career launching video featuring choreographed dances on treadmills debuted in 2006 with the song “Here It Goes Again.” We’ve embedded the video just to “jog” your memory.

And now, their latest Rube Goldberg inspired video creation for “This Too Shall Pass” is following suit, garnering heavy attention (media and otherwise) as well as oodles of plays.

Based on their video success, you’d think they’d be one of top iTunes downloads and leading the charts. Wrong. Well they must make pretty good music, then, right? Not really. It’s certainly not as creative as the videos.

With plummeting record sales, especially from their latest album (about 20K), yet soaring video plays (more than 16 million for “This Too Shall Pass”), they are kind of a marketing enigma. In a recent interview with 944 Magazine, they divulged that their creative process starts with a video concept for which the song is written, and that their sale of funny hats brings in more revenue than their albums and concerts.

At first glance, they seem like they’re doing all of the right things – making watchable videos, capitalizing on cross-marketing merchandise and getting their music heard by people through really successful viral campaigns. But what about the sales?!? This made us totally freak out! From our perspective, everything is working but still not producing what seemed to be the primary goal… album sales.

The truth is, Ok Go is a new breed of band that doesn’t necessarily see their first artistic motivation as the music itself. Nor do they seem to care that they are financially dependent on secondary revenue. While many mediocre bands like them have come and gone because they haven’t had the musical panache to differentiate themselves, Ok Go is still out there making music. And, even if the video counterparts are stealing the show, they’re still being watched and allowing them to get attention and exposure.

The lesson we can learn here is that no amount of marketing is going to make people want and need your product. But really GOOD marketing can give a lackluster product a fighting chance and the opportunity to create a following. Imagine if Ok Go hadn’t made these videos and started campaigning? They’d probably still be at home playing in their garage and selling even fewer albums.

The Black Sheep verdict: They may have OK music, but their marketing is a definite “go.”

Here are some more of their latest little nuggets of genius: