Buried in the final third of Highly Recommended is perhaps the book’s most important message. It concerns what Rand calls “the 90/10 rule”:
The 90/10 rule states that you spend 90 percent of your time engaging with people across your social networks. Informing them, entertaining them, educating them, sharing with them, asking for their input, and listening to them. … And then you spend the remaining 10 percent of the time actively sharing your brand messages or encouraging people into action of some kind. … Unfortunately, many brands follow the 10/90 Rule. Instead of engaging, interacting, educating, informing, entertaining, conversing and listening for 90 percent of the time, they spend only 10 percent of their time doing any of that. The rest of the time… they are actively blitzing their connections, friends, fans, followers, constituents, network, and so on with constant requests, calls to action, repeated referrals and so on.
Rand is spot on about the ratio, because the nature of the relationship between consumers and brands is more akin to the give-and-take of neighbors than it is to the wrestling of salesmen and prospects. And whereas in the past it was entirely legitimate for a brand to make the ask upon introduction, today’s consumer – and perhaps more importantly, the media that today’s consumer receives messaging through – demands something more.
He’s also right about the nature of that conversation – that listening is as important in this new era as telling them who you are, where you can be purchased, and why you’ll make their whites whiter than white. And yes, this is a quality that has always made salespeople successful.
And sadly, Rand is also right that most brands have the ratio exactly backwards. Why? First, because most people involved in marketing have not slightest idea of how to make a sale, what it takes to be convincing, compelling and trustworthy – and they create marketing that betrays that ignorance again and again. And second, because many companies still erroneously believe that their marketing is about them, when in fact it’s about what their customers need. The most successful marketing has always been that which explains to potential customers how the product will solve their problem – and not that which merely trumpets how fast, light, sweet smelling, cheap, or improved it is.
But perhaps the most interesting – and in its way revolutionary – aspect of Rand’s 90/10 rule is how, if it were implemented, it would completely change the nature of the relationship between advertising agencies and clients.
For consider the relationship today; even the best retainer accounts are simply glorified tentpole exercises involving a handful of TV spots, print ads and god-knows-what-else that are handed over to a media agency to shuffle through the usual suspects until they succeed or fail. Which is precisely the same approach that both agencies and clients use with social media: set it and forget it. But, as Rand writes:
It’s like any marriage that is working toward a long-lasting future; you can’t just have a nice ceremony, move in together, and expect it to just randomly “happen”. You have to tend it, nurture it, pay attention to it, and put the work in if you want marital success, let alone bliss.
In other words, social media – and the consumers who use it – demand actual reactive engagement, day after week after month. And that observation might be the thing that ends up saving ad agencies after all.
Ever since media departments walked out the door with their 15% commissions and became media companies, agencies have scrambled to create a new revenue model, one that provides a steady stream of revenue with a modicum of wheel re-invention. This 90/10 rule may be just what they’ve been looking for. For if clients were to embrace the idea that real social media isn’t just a vehicle, but a method of discourse, that it goes beyond merely fishing where the fish are to fishing the way they want to be caught, they would necessarily have to shift their spending from spikes of pre-packaged pitching to a steady stream of conversation. One that employed content creators day after day, year after year to maintain the relationship that the original concept established. Social media, in short, could be the advertising industry’s razor blades, air time, coffee pods, service agreements; the reliable revenue stream that supports the bright shiny objects that get the attention.
“Many companies make the mistake” Rand writes, “of ‘getting social’ as a one-time event, but truly social businesses know that active engagement must be a daily event and that, to be truly effective, it must become habitual behavior in every department.”
Valuable advice for any company. For ad agencies, essential.
Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business by Paul Rand was published by McGraw-Hill on 08/30/13 – order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).