A Tale of Two Companies


We’ve been talking about why it’s important to think of search engine optimization /search engine marketing (SEO/M) and Web 2.0 not as the be-all and end-all of your communications universe but as key ingredients in a complete, balanced diet. Of course what we mean when we say “Web 2.0” breaks out into three areas:

  • Rich Internet applications (RIA) including AJAX and Flash
  • Broadcast media such as streaming, RSS and mobile SMS
  • Consumer-generated media (CGM) like consumer reviews, wiikis, blogs and participation in forums
All of us who post on just about any business-focused blog want to talk about best practices, but today is show-and-tell: I’m going to show you how two companies approached this in different ways and how that has led to divergent results.

One company first came to life with “a name only a mother could love” that was not immediately product-descriptive, like iPhone, and on the other hand also was not one of those attention-arresting monikers that place it above the technological fray, like Adobe or (to go back to an extremely apt branding “well” again) Apple. It was more like, “With a name like Smuckers, it’s got to be good.”

So they saved the day by rolling out a comprehensive Web 2.0-driven branding, marketing and public relations campaign, right? Well…not exactly. What they did was: Hire a blogger, one of the new “opinion leaders” of the blogosphere. One of the people you may have naively thought was writing his own true opinions about issues in the market but, as it turns out, is being paid by the word (or more accurately, paid a monthly retainer for his words) as part of a covert marketing operation. One who at other times assumes false identities to pose as just another member of the blogging community when what he’s really up to is spewing happytalk about client companies and spinning FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about competitors.

I am all for people finding ways to make the cash register ring, and especially in today’s disastrous economic times I guess you can’t blame biased bloggers and their corporate masters for doing what they think it takes to survive. [Although if the firestorm that erupted across the blogosphere when a travel blog featuring a couple traveling the country by RV and camping in Wal-Mart parking lots turned out to be a fake created in whole cloth by Edelman PR–on behalf of client Wal-Mart–is any indication, many would not be so understanding.] The company did make a beneficial change in its core messaging: It changed its original name to one that makes it sound more intelligent. Yet the lesson this company was about to learn was that “portfolio diversification” is still the right way to roll, that muscling up on one component of Web 2.0 alone is like doing only one exercise in the gym: Overdeveloped in one place, underdeveloped everywhere else and in the long run that leads to injury.

So much for The Bad News. On to The Good News. A second company appeared on the radar in the first company’s space in early 2008 fitting the textbook definition of “Hit the ground running”: An attention-getting, above-the-technology brand that it seared into market consciousness through a strategy that integrated strong marketing and PR fundamentals with Web 2.0. As one of the strictly-overt, full-disclosure Web 2.0 opinion leaders I respect immensely has said: “Web 2.0 changed everything…and changed nothing. You still have to have a compelling offering, or at least an offering you can build a compelling story around. And you have to be able to write, communicate and market effectively.” By midyear 2008 this second company has already been acquired by one of the largest companies in that industry, a globally respected organization not known for making rash decisions or acting on impulse.

The principals from the Good News company have cashed in (or cashed out). They’ve arrived. They “got paid.” And the first company? Well, these days it is complaining to anyone who will listen, “We offer so much more than that upstart. We want to be acquired. Why them instead of us?”

Indeed.

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