Chris Brogan has probably done it all in his 12 years in the digital space of online networks and social communities.
Now a best selling author, his latest book Google+ for Business tries to help businesses understand how Google+ offers tangible opportunities that aren't available anywhere else.
I had a chance to meet Chris in person a couple weeks ago at Blogworld. Normally I'd cut down my interview and weed out the additional exchanges, but because I enjoyed the interview so much I left the whole conversation in.
You’ve been kind of what I would consider a pioneer in this space and so what drove you to the digital world?
I was born and raised in Maine and the experience I had as a child was I was into superheroes and Star Wars and whatever and my neighbors were into the Boston Red Sox and cars. I liked cars for about 5 minutes but that was it and I could care less about the Boston Red Sox.
So my early experiences with the online world, pre-web, were dialing into a modem and connecting to some bulletin board service somewhere and talking to people about what I was into. I was like wow. When I started realizing that most of life up until that point was a product of geography, I wanted to be in the geography of my mind. I wanted to be a product of interest so that has driven me since early childhood.
I guess if there’s three parts of the recipe, its finding like-minded people, it’s a passion for community because every project I’ve ever worked on has some elements of community to it, and third is a strong belief that customer service is far stronger than marketing as a business tool.
I know everyone’s talking about community and why they should include community involvement in their business, but how do people do it right?
Well everyone’s talking about community but what they’re saying is "I want you to paint my fence a la Tom Sawyer or please come fill up our bucket."
What is Facebook? Facebook is Mark Zuckerberg making a tool that everyone wants to populate and is quite often quoted, "If you’re not paying for a very interesting product that is because you are the product." So how does one do community right? You have to actually remember that they operate in service of the community.
Rackspace, for instance, operates in service of their community. I pay them to keep my primary website, chrisbrogan.com, alive but I’m with them because they’re furiously crazy, passionate, and committed to customer service. They call it fanatical support.
For the companies that do it right, I rave about them. I mean they don’t pay me. I don’t have any reason in an interview to tell you I love them. But I rave about them. I rave about the Roger Smith Hotel because again, they’re committed to making people the center point of their business, and you either have a transaction based business or you have a relationship based business.
As far as customer service is concerned, who do you think is doing it right as far as big businesses?
It’s so cliché to say Zappos so don’t let me.
You know, there’s companies so on the verge of it. Like Molson up in Canada - they’ve been a client in the past, but they’re not right now so I feel like I can say that without seeming like a promoter.
But Molson believes in customer service because if you’re in the beer selling business, essentially, what do you have? I mean you sell a fizzy product we hope is better than any other fizzy product, so how do you market besides hot babes and snow? Once you get past hot babes and snow, what you market on is "we understand your community."
You know who else is an interesting community? Now I don’t know how well they’re doing. I just know that I was surprised by their online presence, and that's Diet Mountain Dew, which is PepsiCo. I went to tease them and make fun of them when I looked at their Facebook page because one of their things was they wrote was a four word post that said “Diet Dew goes fast."
I thought "Oh boy, I can’t wait for these comments. I bet they’re going to be funny and maligning to Mountain Dew drinkers," but no, they were like “oh it sure does, I just ran out of a case” and “I’m out” and “I’m going to go crazy” and it was like a wave of them with 390 little thumbs on that one little post.
Then I thought I don’t get the fanaticism but it’s there, so what do you do. I mean how do you work with that? That’s the holy grail I think.
But how do you work with that because when the fans are fanatical, they’re fanatical about the product, but they can also turn as well.
You have to equip your customer for success. I mean if that was the one sentence I could put into every big company, B2B as well, is how do you equip your customer for success.
Let me go back to Rackspace. They make me not have to think ever about my site and the time I spend with them. My first big speech at SXSW, my site went down dead, and it was not with them at the time. It took 11 days to get my site back online, and that was my bread and butter at that moment.
So Rackspace took over. I have tweeted them “Hey Rackspace my site is down.” The first time this happened, I got a phone call, and an email, and a tweet, and I was just like okay wow. Come on, I’m all good. But that’s how committed they are.
I think that living in service of your community, equipping your customer for success, these are not things people say in the boardroom. People say we need more sales. That begets more sales. But we buy from people we like.
Your latest book has come out around Google+. So what do you think about that as a community? I feel like they kind of forced us into it.
Yeah we are forced into it. Google said "Get in here or else. We give you all these free things now come back."
The number one search engine in the world has said we get it now, sorry, we’ll try to make social make sense. The reason it had to come to that point is because no giant company makes that decision just because the customers ask for it. Economically and what not, it was seeing that its pageviews and algorithms were being thwarted by things like Twitter and Facebook because Twitter and Facebook were passing links much more humanistically, and it was wrecking its algorithm.
So its algorithm couldn’t predict the way humans would do things and so Google said we need to put a platform in place that would change the way sharing is done so that we can have a say in this game.
Around that same time is the time that Twitter stopped letting Google index much of its tweets, and Facebook had never let Google index the insides of Facebook. Search is so vitally popular and important to business. 68% of traffic in the US that comes to a website comes starting from search, and that’s mostly from Google.
So if the number one search engine in the world believes that it is going to put a social network together to help better understand where the best of whatever is, it’d be kind of silly to say "You know I’ve already figured out Facebook; I’m not going to make the jump."
I’ve asked people with such distain “hey, how’s that MySpace topic going for you?” and “Are you an AOL keyword back in the past?” because you don’t get to pick the platform. Humans migrate: it’s in our nature. You’re not from here. You’re born and raised elsewhere, but you’ve moved. Why wouldn’t we presume this in our technology?
The other thing that I’m always big on telling people is that you should never marry a platform. Always marry the customer because they're going to move somewhere. So if you say to me I put 5 million into my Facebook, I say that’s awesome, can’t wait to take your AOL money from you because it’s the same thing to me. I would put 5 million into my customer.
Tom Peters, a really great speaker, has written so many top-selling books and has gotten me in trouble so many times. I’ve seen him speak, and I’ve been very fortunate to keynote some of the same places. He does this great thing. He comes in and says you are so wrong. You are doing it so wrong, and he does that for like 30 plus minutes and by the end of it, you’re like "Oh my God I am the worst person alive: fix me."
I would say that he’s not wrong in saying that we spend our money on the stupidest things. We spend our money on a new logo.
I worked for PayPal during the rebrand.
Oh Merry Christmas.
I was like yay, it looks faster!
That was the best line. Your quote is better than my interview.
That’s exactly my point. When one spends money, one should spend it on what does this do to make my customer love me more?
What would you suggest? I mean I know people are migrating to Google+, but there are a lot of people saying that there’s no one there even though there are.
I think it’s because it’s a new way about thinking about sharing and being part of it, but what are businesses going to do? We’re inundated with all of these platforms and spaces.
First of all it’s a marathon, and you don’t start a marathon by a week before going ‘I think I’m going to run 26.2 miles’ so you might as well get in there and start practicing. People are like no one’s there so I’m not going to show up.
I’m saying you have the prime opportunity to be the leader against your competitors because they’re not there. Right now, at the time of this interview, CNN has no major presence on Google+. I’m stunned by this. Reuters is quite active in there and in the news business where they’re all selling the same thing, what’s news? News is the observation of an event. So there are a gazillion people observing events and writing about them: Why wouldn’t you come and try to establish your beachhead ahead of everyone else?
A lot of these really bizarre success stories, like some of the celebrity success stories on Twitter back in the day - MC Hammer, Alyssa Milano, Aston Kutcher. There is no reason Kutcher is one of the most famous people in the world or on Twitter except that he was an early believer, and he did exactly what I said about engaging people.
Every company has the opportunity to be the Aston Kutcher of their space, and I think that it’s ridiculous to say I’m going to wait until everyone else shows up because I like competition. That’s like me trying to hit on you and saying I’m just going to get 12 other guys to show up first.
That’d be awkward as well.
Yeah and I’d lose because I’m not a big competitor. I’d be like no, you go.
So how is someone going to get buy in to move into these new spaces?
Revenue. Find revenue. No one gets kicked away from the table for earning money.
My conversation with marketers repeatedly is you’re not a marketer; you’re a sales person. You’re just up the stream. So when I ask a room of marketers who is doing sales and no hands go up, I go oh that was a trick question. You’re all in sales, or you’re a barista who’s in customer service. Then I make the face like; now put your hand up.
I think we’re all in customer service. We’re all in sales, and so what I say is find revenue.
In any company in the world if you say I’m going to do this pilot and I’m going to bring you 100 units just as a test of whatever or however much is going to make an eyebrow rise, then they go "Oh I had no idea."
If I’m General Motors, what they’re doing right now is showing off car commercials that they play on TV all the time, and I’m like oh that’s awesome, good for you. That’s really making me want to buy one. I think I saw that commercial on a television. What Red Bull is doing is keeping and expanding a lifestyle and saying "Oh you’re the kind of person that likes falling off of a bicycle? We’re for you."
There’s so much opportunity to use the tools to tell the story that means something to your business, but do that and then make money. Influence whatever the sale cycle already was. If the sale cycle is to get test drives of cars, then why is GM doing nothing to get me towards a dealership to get a test drive? It’s the baseline marketing tool. If this is the start of the sales cycle, then get me to the start of the sales cycle.
The other thing is customers don’t buy and go into the sales funnel anymore, it doesn’t exist. Digital marketers who think in terms of a funnel, who think of words like target, are inappropriately using the technology.
Customers come much more prepared to the buying table than ever before, and they do that by research. Create material for them to research. Don’t let it be marketing fluff. Do not say next gen, blah blah blah; show it working. In the music business, there are two companies competing in the same space for my services right now. One of the companies has about 700 YouTube videos at the moment, several of them created by people (like 13 year old boys) and not the company. The other has about 4 videos and it turns out that by watching these tutorials, I feel like I understand that product now.
That’s marketing. That will cause my dollars to leave my pocket and go to that device. You can do that in every marketing organization, even if it’s B2B. You’re selling the same way. B2C is convince me or convince my wife, and B2B is convincing me and 20 bald men. It’s the same business.
Is this going to make me more money? Cost me less money? That’s business to business marketing in a nutshell. Same methods work.
When you say B2B a lot of people think that it’s radically different than B2C, but I don’t think it is. How can I get them to see that?
I’d try to make them prove it. What I would also say is let's agree that I’ll let you try to prove it to me, but let’s also agree that every time you use a dogmatic word, I call dogma and you have to use a five year old word, actually six is better. Dr. Ken Hadge taught me "tell it to me like I’m six years old," and it was the best business advice that I ever had.
I don’t use big words if I can help it, and I think that there’s no sense seeking obfuscation as opposed to just clouding things.
I want to end this by asking are there any words of wisdom or top tips that you would give to people who are embarking on this space?
Yes. Be there before the sale. Do a lot to be helpful before you try to extract value from the dollar. Brevity. Learn to think in 120 characters instead of befuddling.
We spent none of this interview talking about listening, but you have two ears and one mouth. Listening technology is the least spent marketing dollar, and how are you going to know how things are going? From the reports?
The reports are the emperor’s new clothes. Never ask an encyclopedia salesmen you need a new encyclopedia set. So I think that those are my ideals. Be helpful, be there before the sale, be brief, and listen.