My Senior Study — Finally Finished!


I haven’t posted to this site in a while because I’ve spent the last semester finishing up the research and work that this blog was a part of.  As my last post here, I thought I would share the final product with you.  If you like, feel free to read and comment on it.  To download the paper, click below.



Massaging The Medium

Massaging the Medium: The Role New Media and Social Technologies Play in Sustainable Marketing and Public Relations


Creative Commons License
Massaging The Medium – The Role New Media and Social Technologies Play in Sustainable Marketing and Public Relations by Will Boyd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Starbucks Forgot Its Story

As I sit here in my new Seattle home, drinking the latte I made myself, yesterday’s news of more Starbucks layoffs is still fresh in my head. As a former Starbucks barista, the news seems a little shocking. How could a company that is so big and that seemed to be doing so well run into this kind of trouble?

I’ve heard people around here say that Starbucks grew too much too fast. Maybe. But that doesn’t fully capture the nuance of why Starbucks finds itself in this position. With the resources that the corporation has, it could well afford to open the stores it opened–as long as they were as profitable as the old stores. Scaling up the physical business was not the issue for Starbucks. Starbucks ran into trouble when their product wouldn’t scale up that quickly. And, no, I’m not talking about coffee.

If you think the success of Starbucks is about good coffee, you have probably never had good coffee. But that is just it, Starbucks doesn’t exist to serve good coffee to coffee connoisseurs. Regardless of what the too many idiotic business success books say, the core Starbucks story is not about happy crappy employees or good service or customization or even the (gag me) “Starbucks experience.” Taking the coffee shop experience to people who wouldn’t ordinarily go to a coffee shop is what Starbucks is all about–whether or not they know it. And, for a long time, they were good at it.

So, what happened? It’s my guess that, in order to grow as rapidly as they wanted to, Starbucks was forced to dumb down the role of the barista. Part of that coffee house experience that Starbucks sells is a handcrafted drink by a real barista. However, when you replace real espresso machines with fully automated ones, the role of the barista all but disappears. Now, in order to be a Starbucks barista, all you have to be able to do is memorize how many pumps of syrup go into the different sizes of drinks and know how to push two buttons–one for the automatic milk steamer and one for the espresso shots. Starbucks made the process so simple, that the hand-crafting of drinks disappeared. Now, people pay the same price for a fully-automated cup of coffee at Starbucks as they do for a drink made by a real barista in a real coffee house.

You know the process has gotten simple when McDonald’s joins the fray. If all it takes to be a barista is to push a couple of buttons, then why shouldn’t Mickey D’s get in on the profits? Honestly, it will be a cold day in Hell when I get a cappuccino from McDonald’s. However, I must admit the drinks are probably not that different from the over-roasted, often shots-not-calibrated-correctly espresso drinks I sometimes get at Starbucks.

Being more like McDonald’s and less like a iconic Seattle coffee shop is certainly not the Starbucks story that made them successful. I think that they now find themselves at a crossroads. Do they continue to make everything as efficient as possible in hopes of more growth in the future? If they do, the Starbucks brand will be changed. Do they try to remember and recapture that simple story of exporting the Seattle coffee house to the rest of the world? If they do, it will be a more complicated and labor intensive process in order to grow.

Even though I will always choose a local coffee shop over a chain, I hope Starbucks does recapture its story. I would encourage Starbucks to begin to build new stores with the old espresso machines and train the baristas to be real baristas. Maybe they won’t be pouring latte art, but in towns like my small, rural hometown in Tennessee, to have a real barista making a them a great drink would be an education and a treat for people who would have not otherwise experienced coffee in this way. And who knows, maybe those people would become lifelong customers along the way?

Nike Pulls Homophobic Commercial. Should they have?

Nike just pulled one of their new “Hyperdunk” ads that depicted a player dunking over another player. The ad shows the dunking player’s crotch in the other player’s face with the words “That ain’t right.” Nike has agreed to pull the ad due to the outcry that the ad promotes homophobic views.

Nike Homophobia

What do you think? Did Nike do the right thing? Was the commercial irresponsible? Comment below to make your voice heard.

The Marketer’s Dilemma

I haven’t been blogging much lately.  This is pretty much due to the fact that I just spent the last week driving across the country as my wife and I moved to Seattle.  However, I did make pretty good use of the time I spent in the Uhaul truck.  As I drove, I listened to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma on audiobook.  I hadn’t intended to use it in my studies.  My intention was to listen to it for pure enjoyment.

As I listened, two things struck me. First, I was struck by the way my route from Tennessee to Seattle coincided with what Pollan was talking about. From the cornfields of Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma to the massive cattle feed lots of Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming, I seemed to follow the path of America’s industrial eating habits. I hope my destination of Seattle fits with this theme as well, as Seattle is home to a great many farmer’s markets and local food options. However, we, as a society, are a good ways off from kicking our addiction to and dependence on industrial agribusiness and toxic foods.

The other thing that struck me about the book is the parallels between our food choices and our media choices. In particular, I was struck by how similar marketing is to farming. As Pollan described the differences between industrial farming, industrial-organic farming, and the organic movement, I couldn’t help but think about mass media marketing, new media marketing, and social media.

The similarities between industrial farming and mass media marketing are glaring. Both give little to no thought as to their impact on the earth or society. Both are concerned only with profit. At first glance, both seem to be very cost-effective ways of doing their jobs. However, both have costs that are paid, not by those reaping the profits, but by the public. Industrial farming comes with environmental degradation, poor water quality, poor nutrition, etc. These costs are absorbed by society. Mass media marketing comes with increased consumerism, increased dissatisfaction, a greater aversion to media, etc., which all take a toll on society.

On the other end of the spectrum from industrial farming is the organic movement. This movement is focused on sustainability and local foods. Unlike industrial farming, farms in the organic movement tend to take a more holistic approach to farming. Instead of seeing nature as something to be exploited for profit, farmers in the organic movement tend to view nature as a partner that should be worked with for mutual benefit. Social media is much like this. Where mass media sees consumers as a resource to be exploited for profit, marketers who understand social media realize that consumers are now partners that must be worked with. In the world of social media, people are no longer one-dimensional consumers. Everyone is a producer and everyone is a consumer. Marketers who understand social media also tend to realize that, in order for their messages to continue to be heard, they have to take care not to do harm in their marketing. Consumers, just like the planet, are starting to fight back.

Finally, in both food production and marketing, there is a strange middle ground. Pollan talks about this middle ground of food production as “industrial organic.” Industrial organic farmers are those that apply the same mono-cultural practices as industrial agribusiness. They only differ in that their inputs are certified organic. What this amounts to is the use of “organic” as nothing more than a marketing tool. The middle ground in marketing is similar. When corporations start blogging or join social networks or let users create content on their websites without themselves changing the way they present their message, they are using social media as nothing more than a marketing ploy. An example of this would be General Motors creating a site where consumers could generate their own commercials only to have GM take the site down when the messages seemed to be negative. When organizations try to use the tools of social media to broadcast a traditional marketing message, they are playing in that middle ground.

I guess it makes sense, but I am still amazed at how intertwined marketing and farming are. I guess it comes from the fact that modern agribusiness has foolishly adopted the idea that free-market hyper capitalism works in agriculture. When it comes down to it, both in marketing and agribusiness, there are a few huge corporations trying to convince us all to buy a bunch of crap. Eventually, most of that crap will end up killing us.

User Generated Content – The Future of Media is Here

I just got an email from my aunt. The email asked me to go to YouTube and watch my young cousin’s new stop motion movie. Besides being a little too centered on violence for my taste, I think he did a pretty good job for his first film.

When I watched it, what came to my mind was that he probably had more fun and got more enjoyment out of making that video than he would have gotten from a week of watching TV. I think one of the fundamental desires of humans is the desire to be creators. It is a powerful drive that has given rise to art and empire alike. Organizations that figure out how to encourage and empower people to be creators as part of their marketing and PR will be harnessing a power much greater than the power of the best traditional marketing campaign.

3 Things I took away from Podcamp Seattle

I usually hate using terms like “take away”, but I really did take a lot away from the recent Podcamp Seattle.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with podcamps, go to of the things I took away are:

1. a new appreciation of tagging. All of the attendees were given small labels and a pen and were told to tag our fellow attendees. It really revealed to me the social importance of tags and tagging.

2. a renewed hope for the future of marketing. Among some of the great sessions were some really good ones on social media and marketing. Eric Weaver and Patrick Byers gave two of my favorite sessions. Eric Weaver, of Edelman Digital, spoke about the need for organizations to embrace the social media space and gave some great direction for how to start.

Patrick Byers, of Outsource Marketing, gave a presentation all about social media marketing for social good. Through great examples of people changing the world, Byers showed how doing the right thing is not only right, but a good business move as well. Check out Patrick’s slideshow here.

3. new connections with real people. Just like the real power of social technologies, the real power of Podcamp Seattle could be found in the connections that people were making with each other. To me, that is what social media is all about. I met a lot of great people who are doing great things.

Socially Responsible Marketing…Can Liquor Marketing Be Responsible?

For pretty much all of my life, liquor commercials on television have been few and far between.  I believe their was some sort of prohibition on TV ads for hard alcohol products.  I am not sure whether or not this was self-regulated or an FCC thing.  To me, the only reason to prohibit ads from being on TV is if you believed them to be socially irresponsible.  In this case, it seems that the prohibition says that there is no way to responsibly market hard alcohol on television.  I’m not sure that I agree with this.  I think that there is a way to do responsible marketing for hard alcohol products on television.  If cable TV can broadcast adult shows, why can’t the marketers of adult products advertise on those shows?  What is the taboo there?  What do you think?  

Socially Irresponsible Marketing — BMW’s new commercial stoops low.

I just saw a new BMW commercial that is, in my opinion, the epitome of irresponsible marketing. The commercial starts as a couple of depressed-looking business men wearily pedal their bicycles up hill on a gray, rainy morning. The camera then cuts to an equally depressed business man riding a dreary public bus. Jump cut to a shot of a sign from a European petrol station displaying high prices. Then, Mr. Voice Over Guy announces that “Where we come from, high fuel prices are nothing new.” Just then, a shiny new BMW passes the bikers and the bus rider who follow the car with their longing eyes while Mr. Voice Over Guy brags about the number of fuel efficient vehicles that BMW produces.

So how is this socially irresponsible? As the debate rages about energy independence and we race towards peak oil, to paint public transportation and bicycling in such a negative light is despicable. BMW could have made the same point by showing other drivers in giant SUV’s lining up at gas stations and emptying their wallets. But no, instead BMW chose to attempt to stigmatize transportation options that actually make a positive difference in our world. That, my friends, is socially irresponsible. I wish I could afford a BMW just so I could intentionally not buy one!

If you’ve seen this commercial, let me know what you think. If you haven’t seen it and you still have an opinion, let me now that, too. Am I off base?

*********** Update ***********

In response to all those who have argued that BMW, and other corporations, are not concerned and should not have to be concerned with social responsibility in marketing, I wanted to share what I just read on BMW’s corporate website:

“The BMW Group sets new standards in the automotive industry. As an international company, we here at the BMW Group feel socially and ecologically responsible for everything we do, everywhere in the world.”

This information, along with some info on some really good and responsible things that BMW is doing can be found by clicking here and then choosing “Responsibility”.

It is not my intention to beat up on BMW.  If it has seemed that way, that is my fault.  However, I stand by my severe disapproval of the marketing found in the commercial in question. I do hope that they continue to try to improve on their commitment to social responsibility, especially in their marketing activities. 

Non-profit Marketing and Building Your Database

Christopher Penn’s latest blog entry on the value to non-profit marketers of building your database got me thinking. I won’t regurgitate what Penn said, but I would like your feedback on it. To read his entry click here.

My initial reaction is to agree that it is very important to gain actionable information from your campaigns…email addresses, phone numbers, etc. And, I also agree that awareness raising campaigns that are only awareness raising campaigns may not be the most effective use of marketing dollars. However, where I disagree is that I don’t believe direct marketing through email is the most effective use of marketing resources either.

In my opinion, the most effective way an organization such as a non-profit can do marketing is to build real relationships. Instead of relying on one-way communication such as email or banner ads on MySpace, organizations should creatively try to engage people on a level that gets them to invest in the cause past providing an email address. How will they do this? It really depends on the cause or the organization. One-size-fits-all marketing tactics are tired. New social media technologies like Twitter allow people and organizations to make real connections that widgets don’t. Widgets may not be en vogue next year, but conversation and connection has always been around.

To do this, non-profit marketers will need to forget that their title is “marketer” and start thinking like an organizer. To think like an organizer means that marketers will need to forget the traditional marketing tools and start looking for what will get people to take ownership in the cause. This may bed slower and less sexy, but I believe the long-term results of such marketing will make the sweat investment worth it.

Let me know what you think.