The FTC Wants to Regulate Word Of Mouth. Should They? Can They?

(originally posted on Friday, February 5, 2010)

Ronald Reagan is elected President. The US men's hockey team beats the Soviet Union in Winter Olympics XIII. Pac Man is released to the public and begins swallowing millions of dollars in quarters. John Lennon is assassinated. The FTC updates its rules regarding the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising.

What do these events all have in common? They all happened in 1980. That's right, the last time the FTC updated their rules and regulations for advertising was almost 30 years ago. Given the advancements in media development, particularly the explosion of social media over the last 1-2 years, the FTC decided to integrate new media into its oversight purview.

The meat and potatoes of the FTC's plans are pretty simple. The same rules that apply to traditional media now apply to social media. Any blogger, tweeter, poster, etc. needs to disclose any sort of compensation or corporate relationship to their audience. Meaning for example, you can't pay or compensate a blogger to endorse a product without disclosure (I suspect this has something to do with income taxes as well). For the vast blogosphere this is meaningless, but many bloggers have hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of readers every day. This makes them bona fide media outlets. So the FTC wants them to play by the rules like everyone else.

But social media is different. It is user-community policed and regulated. It provides the user free access to publishing power. It is both a personal interaction and a media interaction. Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Flickr, YouTube and the rest of the spectrum of social media outlets are controlled by the people, right?

For large companies and international brands these new guidelines can be a welcome change. Now the Wal-Marts and Sears and Coca-Colas of the world have something to go by when stepping into the social media market. Until 2009 there had been mostly skepticism on the power of social media marketing, but now there are projections showing explosive growth in this area over the next 2-3 years. These new guidelines might help grease the skids to result in a huge influx of dollars into social media marketing budgets.

However, there are many who believe these guidelines are too vague, and too hard to enforce. Social media creates a conversational form of marketing whereby thoughts and opinions are constantly flowing back and forth to create the power of peer review. It sounds more complicated than it really is when you consider that social media is nothing more than modern day word of mouth. Word of mouth has always been the best advertising, but now it is perhaps the most visible and most interesting and most creative form of advertising. That's what scares marketers and advertisers--the customers control the message to a large degree because they now have a global voice through the internet. People are now the media, and this is a good thing for marketing.

The Weinstein Organization (TWO) believes that Social Media Marketing (SMM) gives marketers the ability to personalize and microcast your marketing message to specific touch-point customers, which motivates and empowers them to help spread the word about you and your brand. Peer group actions are the new analytics for brand quality and response measurement. And it is the viral nature of social media marketing at its most effective that all marketers strive for. Viral is word of mouth. Good pub or bad, viral is the holy grail action of SMM.

So TWO wants to know: Can the FTC regulate word of mouth? Can the FTC impose the same guidelines on bloggers and tweeters as they do on celebrities and athletes who endorse products?

SMM may be considered the most honest form of advertising in years to come, simply because it is peer-endorsed. Marketers who excel at finding the right target audience catalysts to drive their message from friend-to-friend, instead of hiring someone to do it scattershot to the masses, will dominate the competition.

And the marketing agencies who lead their clients into SMM will invent new techniques the FTC hasn't even dreamed of yet.


Places TWO Go: Goodwin's

(originally posted on Wednesday, January 27, 2010

With so many dining options in Chicago's Loop and surrounding areas we often forget to mention some of the good old standbys that get us through the lunch hours and busy days. While you'll likely always remember that impressive, pricey, once-a-year-on-your-anniversary dinner, it's the simple yet delicious sandwich or salad that warms the soul and recharges the batteries for a busy afternoon. With that in mind, The Weinstein Organization (TWO) would like to give props to a place that has become a TWO favorite: Goodwin's.

Goodwin's is located at 175 N. Franklin St. in Chicago's Loop, and is as unassuming as the stores and restaurants that surround it. The modest storefront leads you downstairs to the lower level of the building in which it resides. Delicious aromas fill the stairway and out the door during the lunch hour rush. Goodwin's has about 20 different sandwiches and wraps, along with delicious soups and salads made daily. Probably the best thing about Goodwins is how fresh everything tastes. They use high-quality meats, breads and cheeses, and that is evident from the first bite. And for vegetarians, they have a surprising amount of options--we have a few vegetarians at TWO and they never have a problem getting a fabulous meal at Goodwin's.

And what good would this review be if we didn't offer a few suggestions? Some of TWO's faves are the "Vail", "Ravinia", "Rexburg", and "Rosie's Sloppy Veggie Wrap". Another plus: you can order a side of fresh tortilla chips with Goodwin's own guacamole or salsa.

Goodwin's is not a groundbreaking new concept in dining. It is quite simply a sandwich shop, but what makes it so great is their attention to detail and high-quality ingredients they use. Great service, delicious food, and a fun twist on ingredients make Goodwin's a winner in our book. If you haven't been there in a while we urge you to go back. If you are in from out of town, or work outside of the Loop, we highly recommend Goodwin's as your break from the everyday lunch.

Check out their website for more information: www.goodwins2go.com


Email Marketing-The Perfect Compliment To Direct Mail

(originally posted on Thursday, January 21, 2010)

Looking for a cost-effective way to reach your customers without sacrificing maximum impact? Interested in opening a new, alternative channel of communication with an existing customer without being redundant? You should consider email marketing.

"Email ad spending will jump to $677 million in 2011, from $492 million in 2008."--eMarketer, "Social Media and E-Mail Spending to Rise"
www.emarketer.com

E-mail marketing is an efficient way to provide timely updates, and beneficial promotional information to your customers. Designed to encourage and prompt the recipients to take immediate action--buy, download, sign-up, or direct them to the nearest store location.

Besides offering a unique creative palate for direct marketing solutions, the benefits of a well-integrated email marketing component as part of your overall strategy are numerous:

1. Inexpensive - no postage costs

2. Multi-Channel Strategy - complements all components of your strategy

3. Measurable - analyze results: open rates, click-thrus, and conversion rates

4. Easy To Test - try multiple offers, introduce a product before rolling out

5. Targeted - segment your audience and vary messages for each recipient

6. Top-of-Mind - keeps your company name and contact info in front of customers while generating awareness about new products and services

7. Builds Relationships - often resulting in customer loyalty and trust

8. Increases Credibility - increases awareness and brandishes image as industry expert with timely news and valuable tips

9. Quick Turnaround - perfect for communicating time-sensitive information

10. Immediate Action - sales, downloads, inquiries, and registrations instantly

At The Weinstein Organization we've been integrating email marketing within our clients' overall marketing campaigns for several years, and the results have been impressive to say the least. For more on how cost-efficient email marketing can complement your direct marketing efforts, contact your TWO account representative today.


Social & Mobile Media: Saving Lives And Making A Difference

(originally posted on Friday, January 15, 2010

The horrors of the Haitian earthquake are absolutely tragic. But perhaps more than ever before it is now possible to quickly form and mobilize groups of people to help with relief efforts, raise money, or simply build awareness that help is needed.

Almost immediately after the news emerged from the impoverished island nation of Haiti, the formation of relief and awareness groups started to spring-up on Facebook. Phone companies began making donations to Haitian relief funds based on text messages. People began to search for information on the safety loved ones in Haiti via Twitter. And viral videos directing relief efforts from celebrities such as Wyclef Jean have started to make their way around the internet at speeds the traditional news media could never match.

The Facebook group "EVERY PERSON THAT JOINS WE WILL DONATE $1 TO HELP PEOPLE IN HAITI!" has attracted almost 600,000 members in just a few days, and has posted over 2,500 additional links to help promote the cause. Are they actually making these monetary donations? Hard to say from our observation, but a quick glance reveals peer-to-peer sharing of information for other relief efforts from the American Red Cross, OXFAM, and others. So at the very least, this group is an outstanding platform for information sharing.

One of the most visible relief efforts comes from Wyclef Jean, a celebrity musician with Haitian roots. He has used the power of his fame to spread the word about how you can donate money by texting "Yele" to 501501. Wyclef (@wyclef) has over 1.3 million Twitter followers and has dedicated his profile to spreading the word on how to help.

But the most impressive results thus far have come from The American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), who at the time of this writing have raised over $8 Million for Haitian relief by urging people to text "Haiti" to 90999. They didn't do it by spending money on mass media--they just had a great idea for raising money, and they literally put the power to act in the hands of the people.

We are witnessing the maturation and mainstream acceptance of social and mobile media. By raising millions of dollars to save lives in Haiti, social and mobile media are quickly becoming two of the most powerful and effective communication tools on the planet.


Our TWO Sense

(originally posted on Monday, January 11, 2010)

After 17 years of developing response marketing campaigns and brand building for our clients, The Weinstein Organization (TWO) is proud to announce a re-branding of our own. Our new web site, URL, and logo design all reflect TWO’s continuing evolution as an integrated marketing agency. But what does that mean to you: our clients, friends and business partners?

For one, it was time for a fresh new look. We streamlined our web URL (www.twochicago.com), re-fashioned our logo, and re-designed our web site with creative and navigational energies that reflect the people who work here. Our core competencies of strategy, creative, tactical implementation, measurement & response tracking, and ROI are the same as always, but they’re being acted upon with breakthrough ideas, broad perspectives, and innovative techniques.

Some of those techniques now include an expansion of our email and web site development services, Viral Video & Digital Content Production, Social & Mobile Media Marketing, and Search Engine Optimization. So while we’re knocking down the walls of familiarity, we thought it made sense to apply that spirit to our own brand as well.

Besides the vibrant, new design, you’ll find a lot of new features and communication platforms on our web site. We expanded our portfolio to display more of our work in a dynamic array. We laid out our corporate philosophy and workflow as a statement of dedication to what we do and how we do it. And we gave you a peek inside the personalities of the people who work here—so you know who we are, what makes us tick, why we love what we do.

Thanks for reading, and we look forward to interacting with you.