Sunday, June 26, 2005

Open source marketing

As a result of my work for iMedia Communications and my past board role with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), I came up with an idea to have much more open and useful case studies of marketing campaigns that would not only speak to the "why" of Internet advertising & marketing but also to the "how". I thought I'd coined the term "open source marketing" until I did some digging around. I didn't want to be the "Al Gore" of Internet marketing and imply that I'd invented something that was already around. While it certainly hasn't hit the mainstream media, you know the term is hardly a secret when Robert Scoble and Steve Rubel post about it here and here. There's even been a "ChangeThis" manifesto published with the term. I pitched my vision of what an Open Source Marketing campaign would be to iMedia and they bit hard and have launched a new series.

The first example is a company called SugarShots. The hub for the campaign is interesting. It lays out what the marketers' goals are and then is giving a blow by blow of the strategy behind the campaign. With that introduction, they are now in the process of sharing the ongoing results. In addition, you have thought leaders from the Internet marketing community such as Doug Weaver and Eric Torres adding their perspective and analysis.

It should be interesting to see how this concept catches on.

The following is the republished iMedia article introducing the rationale for an Open Source Marketing campaign that I wrote:

Seth Godin recently wrote a book entitled "All Marketers are Liars" but the subtitle ("The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World") captures the real issue of why to pursue an open source marketing plan. Furthermore, in this age of blogging and Sarbanes-Oxley, corporate transparency is de rigeur.

Any corporation that has an offering that doesn't require trickery to sell should embrace the idea of "opening the kimono" on portions of their marketing plan, so long as they have other elements of their strategy that give them competitive advantage (and thus don't want to share with their competition). In addition, marketing departments are expected to be accountable more than ever before -- both to their shareholders and even their customers. With this backdrop, it stands to reason that virtually any marketer would be interested in a case study that shared unprecedented levels of results and background that proved (or disproved) various elements of the marketing mix.

Why not an open source marketing plan?

The notion of open source marketing borrows from how open-source software projects (such as Linux) have developed. With open source software, developers collaborate to make a compelling piece of software. Likewise, an open source marketing plan should develop a compelling marketing campaign that leverages the talents of the marketing community and, increasingly, the product's own customers. For a recent example, see Joseph Jaffe new book, "Life After the 30 Second Spot," where he discusses the strong trend of customer-created marketing.

Plans could be developed in both the commercial and non-profit worlds, bringing together appropriately experienced and passionate marketers and customers. Obviously, the definition of open source marketing will evolve over time, but as the person who coined the phrase -- at least within the iMedia community -- here are my thoughts:

  • The project leader would define the overall goals that the marketing campaign is intended to achieve. In addition, they'd develop a "creative brief" that would outline more details on the organization's target customers and the actions the project leader wants prospective and current customers to take. The leader would also disclose his initial thoughts for various marketing tactics that would be considered a "stake in the sand" to start generating ideas.
  • Once the project leader shares the above information, the marketing community will get engaged by sharing their ideas and building off of other ideas.
  • The project leader/team would then be responsible for coalescing the feedback into an initial plan that gets put into action. This is where the real work begins as learning starts to take place.
  • A communications tool -- such as this newsletter or a blog -- will communicate ongoing campaign results, insights and course corrections. Through this process, the entire marketing community can benefit from the collective input and learnings. Undoubtedly, there will be active debate on how to evolve based on the results.

Wise crowds

The concept of an open-source marketing plan also borrows heavily from the ideas outlined in James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations." (You can read my iMedia Book Club review of it here.) The author outlines four elements required to have a wise crowd:

  • Diversity of opinion: each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
  • Independence: people's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
  • Decentralization: people are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
  • Aggregation: some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.

Why it's important to share details -- some background

My thinking about open source marketing goes back to when I was working on behalf of iMedia to look at what was holding back the interactive marketing industry's growth -- recognizing there was a major disparity between media consumption and media spend.

iMedia has a somewhat similar mission to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, where I'd previously been the Chairman of the IAB's Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) council. Here is iMedia's mission statement:

To advance the business of interactive media and marketing by serving as the primary conduit between buyers and sellers. And, to inspire marketers of all types to explore and embrace interactive marketing strategies.

After speaking with dozens of CMOs, agency heads and media publishers, one of the key findings was that decision makers -- while they found studies such as the Cross Media Optimization Studies to be useful in understanding the appropriate weight for online media -- wanted the strategy and detailed results behind the topline results that were shared. Unfortunately, the brands (Ford, Universal, Unilever, McDonald's, et cetera) that participated in these studies weren't interested in sharing details.

Sugarshots steps up

After my experience with XMOS, my question became "which marketer would be willing to share more details?"

Since I spend the vast majority of my time studying and working with emerging businesses, I felt some of these companies might be willing to share in a quid pro quo exchange for some free exposure and opportunity to tap some of the leading minds in the marketing world. One such company has stepped forward -- Sugarshots, the test brand for iMedia's first open source marketing case study.

Sugarshots is a player in the Consumer Packaged Goods Industry selling premium liquid cane sugar specifically formulated to sweeten gourmet coffee, tea -- just about anything -- better than granulated sugar.

People often ask Sugarshots how they came up with this idea -- liquid cane sugar. Like countless other people everyday, the founders were literally having lunch one day and we started complaining about the sugar sitting idle at the bottom of their iced teas. But what choice did they have? Expose their bodies to artificial sweeteners with their saccharines and phenylalanines? All for what? Dissolvability? Fewer calories? There had to be a better way. So they looked for a better way and found nothing. Like many entrepreneurs before them, they decided to build a business to solve that problem.

Sugarshots has taken that entrepreneurial sense of adventure and boldly agreed to be a pioneer in "open source marketing." They have agreed to share some of their key marketing goals as well as their initial thoughts in key areas of their marketing mix. The goal of sharing those goals with the marketing community is to give marketing thought leaders enough information to provide recommendations.

The virtual marketing team will embrace and synthesize the strategy recommendations into an ongoing marketing campaign that we'll continue to report on and evolve the marketing strategies based on what does and doesn't work.

The question now becomes: will the marketing community embrace this collaborative effort?

My hope is that the collaborative spirit that is present at iMedia Summits will extend itself into this realm.

I hope you prove me right, as it will be a fun ride.

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