Earlier this week, I went to Las Vegas to be part of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) Summit 2007. Part of the reason I went was to be a speaker there. The other reason was to meet up with some old friends and to make some new ones.
Audience-wise, it seemed like a mix of PR and Marketing agencies, along with some folks like me who represented corporate brands. I got a chance to meet with several folks representing corporate brands, and guess what? We’re all wrestling with the same issues.. how to mesaure the effectiveness of word of mouth or social media initiatives, how to build communities beyond self-serving reasons, how to let go of the control that we may have (thought we) had in the past. etc.
One of the highlights for me was Richard Tait’s keynote. He is the Grand Poo Bah over at Cranium, which is a company that makes games for all ages. Cranium sets out to make products that bring people together give everyone a chance to shine. As a father with two young kids at home, those goals mean something. What impressed me the most is how Richard set out to create a company culture who believes in that concept and it shows. Spending a few minutes on their company blog will give you a sense of that culture. I also noticed that their recent 12 Thanksgiving Questions post got over 1,200 comments in a single day. But Cranium’s doing more than building a passionate community (Craniacs in their vernacular)—they’ve grown to become the third largest company in their market behind Mattel and Hasbro. Since the majority of their marketing has been driven by word of mouth, they’ve earned that spot with only a fraction of the marketing budget of their competition. In my view, Cranium is a company that understands that it’s not just about making great products or figuring out how to distribute them more efficiently in retail—it’s also about giving their customers a reason to feel passionate about the company.
Another really cool thing was to get to spend more time with Virginia Miracle and a few others on the Brains on Fire team (see photo of Spike Jones below). If you are not familiar with Brains on Fire, they refer to themselves as “a naming and identity company” who helps thier clients connect with customers, word of mouth is one of the biggest tools they use to help do that, and they use it very effectively. If you have any reason to be interested, I would highly recommend reading their blog. And if you think your company could benefit from their services, from what I hear, the initial phone call to them helps set the tone for what to expect from them as an agency.
Now for a little backstory on Virginia… She had worked at Dell in the past, but I didn’t know her then. I met her through the blogosphere. She was part of a handful of bloggers (and I do mean handful) who were supportive of Dell joining the blogosphere. Her post back then prompted me to read the Brains on Fire blog, and I’m glad I did. I write this as a reminder that the in the blogosphere, the human element always matters—I remember the folks who were supportive in the early days, primarily because they helped me and many others here at Dell through some rough sledding.
My presentation (see intro image of intro slide below) focused on explaining why we started with a credibility deficit, what we’ve been doing to try to fix that, and how companies can avoid getting into that position in the first place. Sorry Todd Zeigler, the folks at WOMMA asked me to talk about Dell Hell, so I did. I did poll the audience a few times, but only to understand how much context to provide on the things I asked them about.
Not surprisingly, I went a bit over my allotted time. A couple of things I didn’t get to mention that I had hoped to… both are examples for the is it worth the risk question.
Thing#1: You may have seen our reaction to Seth Godin’s post. In a sign that things are starting to change at Dell, I got an e-mail from James T. not long after Seth’s post went live. Jeff is a Dell employee in Nashville who saw the post, agreed with Seth and wanted to do someting about it. That’s what started the internal discussion and led to us making some changes in that process. It’s a small step, but an important one.
Thing #2: Back when Jeff Jarvis came to Dell, he met with several of us. At a meeting with me and some of the digital media team, he asked us if we were the first Cluetrain company. All of us in the room were stunned—both by the question and the fact that it came from Jeff himself. Here’s my answer: we’ve got much work to do before we can even think about living up to that concept… but man is it a good goal for us to keep working toward.