Community Powered, Live from SXSW: Rohit Bhargava


Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvy

Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvy

Next up in the #CommunityPowered podcast series featuring Susan Bratton of DishyMix, is Rohit Bhargava, SVP, Strategy & Marketing at Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence. By way of background, Rohit is a founding member of the pioneering 360 Digital Influence team and author of the award winning new marketing book, Personality Not Included. He also writes the Influential Marketing blog, one of the 50 most popular marketing blogs in the world.


During his conversation with Susan, Rohit advises that brands looking to get started with social might want to take a look internally to see if there are existing employees/stakeholders that are already engaging in Twitter, blogging etc. vs. just handing it off to PR. Rohit also tackles the common question of “what if someone says something negative about our company?” Oh yeah, Rohit is looking for new podcasts to help him “learn” during his soon-to-be expanded “drive time.”

In addition to reading him on his Influential Marketing blog, you can follow Rohit on Twitter at @RohitBhargava.

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NEXT UP: Peter Fasano, Global Interactive Marketing, Social Media Marketing Manager at The Coca Cola Company.


I Would Join a Donut Community

donutWithin Powered, we’ve been mulling over the question “Is Social Marketing for my Company/Brand?” more than usual lately, mostly because we’re working on a white paper addressing that question.

Evaluating your situation as a marketer relative to the social marketing program opportunity is something we’ve addressed a lot in this blog, particularly with Aaron’s popular “Would you Join a Toothpaste Community?” post, along with follow-up posts where Aaron tackled a few challenging products from a community-building perspective. I also sounded off on how the brand is your bridge to community strategy.

But should you build a community? It really comes down to two phases of evaluation. First, is what you’re selling community-worthy? I call this “genetic fit,” because if you’re selling toothpaste, that isn’t going to change overnight, along with other things like your marketplace positioning and branding. Some types of products and services just generate more natural community activity than others.

Second, is your marketing organization and larger company culture in a place where you could pull it off? I call this “cultural fit.” This actually can, and does, change over time – more easily than the genetics do.

But let’s talk about genetic fit, since it’s the one that you really can’t change. And donuts.

I love donuts, but I eat them pretty infrequently – they are something I treat myself to every now and then. Despite my love for the occasional Boston Kreme, I certainly wouldn’t name donuts as one of my passions in life.

So would I (or anyone) join a donut community? Well, maybe for a little while. It would be diverting to go and rate my favorite donuts, debate the virtues of filled donuts over glazed with others, and discover the origin of the bear claw. But would I return again and again over time? Probably not.

Ok, now let’s talk about Dunkin’ Donuts. This changes the discussion a little bit, as I’m now seeing donuts through the prism of a brand. I can visualize Fred the baker from the old commercials getting up and saying “time to make the donuts.” I’m thinking about how good their coffee has always been, along with pretty tasty donuts. Finally, I’m recalling some of the funnier ad spots I’ve seen lately featuring their latest brand campaign “America runs on Dunkin.” Would I join a Dunkin Donuts community? Hmm, a little more interesting than just plain donuts, but again probably not a place where I would return after the initial visit.

dunkin-donuts-logoBut let’s think a bit more about the Dunkin Donuts’ brand. How does Dunkin Donuts get you interested and get you in their store? How do they connect with your needs? A good place is always to start with the tagline – “America runs on Dunkin.” Are they really selling donuts and coffee here, or something more important? Something more basic?

It sounds to me like Dunkin’ Donuts is selling energy. Something that powers you. In a literal sense, the sugar and caffeine is a boost, but energy is something people struggle with – managing your energy level throughout the day is tough. The popularity of energy drinks is escalating rapidly because people are looking for pep. The concept of energy could extend beyond nutrition and the daily grind, too. What about Motivation? Long-term Achievement? Entrepreneurship? These are all principles of energy . . . and things that also fuel the American perspective, a nice tie-in with the tagline. Ok, so what about a community focused on your energy, powered by Dunkin?

Suddenly a fairly compelling community idea is coming into focus that is relevant to the Dunkin’ Donuts brand, and is about something that people care about on a day-to-day basis. I would join this community, and I would come back. Perhaps I would learn and chat about everything from how to avoid the post-lunch doldrums, to the physiological effects of energy drinks, to how to write a business plan for that idea I’ve been trying to get off of the ground. Immediately and over time I would see Dunkin’ Donuts as a bit more than just a brand that makes great donuts, but as the brand that “powers me.” In the end this is what the 30-second spot is trying to do, but this does it in a much more powerful and lasting way.

My involvement in this type of community would significantly affect my Dunkin brand loyalty, and now because the brand isn’t just about donuts to me anymore perhaps they could sell me other things. More products from their expanding home coffee line (perhaps this is the entire initial thrust). An organic energy drink. Baking mixes and cookbooks.

This all started with a donut. And all great brands and businesses start with something that simple. The evolution of your genetics might happen faster and in different directions than you think, dictated by relevant opportunity. Part of understanding what your online community might look like is thinking about what your company might look like, someday.

Your Brand: The Bridge to Community

Bridge to CommunityMy colleagues Aaron Strout and Bill Fanning have gotten a great conversation started around the difficulty of connecting community with a brand that seems not quite as “community ready,” starting with a recent post titled “Would you join a Toothpaste Community?

This is a question we get all the time in initial sales calls with savvy brand marketers. They get social marketing, but can’t quite see how people could ever get excited about their product – that is, excited enough to engage at a deeper level within a branded community. Aaron suggested a nice approach where you categorize your offering and look to commonly effective strategies. I’ll add to that by suggesting an additional approach that is a little more zen.

Alright, clear your mind. Let’s imagine that you are in a room with your ad agency and you are trying to brainstorm a new ad campaign. They will likely put you through a series of exercises designed to explore what you want your brand to mean to consumers. What are you really selling? Where is the point at which your product or service connects with something your potential buyer really cares about? Answering these questions allows your agency to produce a 30-second spot or a print campaign that more powerfully engages your target audience.

You might offer auto insurance, but you’re really selling safety and comfort. You might serve coffee, but you’re really selling opportunity and energy. You might be a toothpaste manufacturer, but you’re really selling health and good looks.

Before someone ever considers buying your insurance, coffee, or toothpaste, they have to be in the mode of being safer, being opportunity-driven, feeling healthy. That’s why TV commercials never start with the product that’s being sold, they start with images that evoke those feelings and then end with product. What I would suggest is that while these lifestyle elements are the secret to effective ad campaigns, they are also your bridge to an effective, high-return social marketing strategy.

What about a social marketing program centered on how to make your family safer: in your home, on the road, on the Internet? What about a program about how be more productive, more organized, more energetic? What about a program centered around total health, personal appearance, effective presentation? These are passion points for people, and it’s where you already get them to care about you. So why not deepen and broaden that brand-relevant interaction with online community? Bring in experts, engage celebrities, turn your compelling 30-second spot into a compelling conversation.

As in many things, the secrets to success here aren’t necessarily in some new playbook. They are hidden in what you already know. Why do people care about what you’re selling?

Photo Credit: Originally Uploaded by Carolyn from Lucky Planet Photography

From Flat to Round: The New Brand

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldI draw a lot of parallels between marketing and storytelling, and I’m certainly not the only one. But recently, I’ve been giving some thought (mostly as a result of it being a hot conversation on the web) to the branding dimension of marketing, how it’s changing, and how it relates to the art of telling a good story.

Branding is to me most like characterization in the storytelling paradigm, the ability to develop convincing and compelling personalities with whom the reader (a.k.a. consumer) can identify and form a firm relationship. When you read a book, see a play, or watch a movie where characterization is done well, your emotions (love or hate) for the characters are amplified. The actors are full, their flaws and their strengths are detailed, and you can get to the point where when the story ends you want to see more of them. Good brands are like that – you feel like you know them, you feel like your association with them says something about you, and you want to see more of them.

A little bit of research into characterization rendered this from the Department of English at The University of Victoria that digs a little deeper:

A flat character (also known as a type, or a two-dimensional character) is defined by a single quality without much individualizing detail. A round character is a complex individual incapable of being easily defined. The degree to which characters are given roundness and individual complexity depends upon their function in the plot–some only need to be seen at a distance, like strangers or acquaintances, rather than known intimately.

I would argue that most brands today, and in the old world of marketing, are “flat characters.” A brand’s time with us has been hindered by our inability to choose with which brands we spend that time, as offline marketing channels feature a more-or-less complete lack of consumer control. As a result brand-marketers have had to keep branding simple. Every commercial break has been like a round of speed-dating where you have 30 seconds to get to know each of the brands involved.

That’s changing. With the web now a major force in marketing (and driven by consumer choice, spread primarily by word of mouth) consumers now have the means, and the ability, to choose to spend more time with brands they like. Brand marketers have to be ready for that. They must build “round characters” – the kind with depth, complexity, even flaws. This is why many people define the new branding as more conversational, more social. What they really are describing is the process of brands shedding their archetypical trappings and becoming more like real people.

Two good examples that go part of the way, but perhaps not far enough, are a couple of great efforts by Dos Equis and Palm. Dos Equis’ “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is a crusty old guy who looks like a cross between Chuck Norris and Antonio Banderas. He is surrounded by women, and described by phrases like “his blood smells like cologne” and “his personality is so magnetic that he is unable to carry credit cards.” He’s a great character for beer drinkers, myself included. You can become a fan of him on Facebook, and you can visit a website where he is featured, but you quickly get the sense that, well, he’s not really that interesting. While I give kudos to Dos Equis for some great ad spots and a slick website, opportunities are missed here for a deeper and longer-term engagement. A similar treatment was given to Claus, Palm’s metro-hip version of Santa Claus. Great character, but a bit flat for the web.

So what is a “round brand” on the web? Isn’t it a huge effort to develop all the backstory on your character for the few that are interested? Actually, it might be less work. By merely pulling back the marketing curtain and exposing the personalities and voices of the interesting people on your marketing team (through social networks and through your own socially-enabled website), you can contribute those personalities to your brand – rounding it out. Just look at what Dunkin Donuts is doing on their Twitter account. And it might be more than just a few that become interested, as word-of-mouth spreads at the speed of the web.

What brands do you think have character?