Responsible Marketing - Interview with Patrick Byers from Outsource Marketing

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Patrick ByersPatrick Byers, CEO and President of OutSsource Marketing talks to us about responsible marketing, passions, and what social benefit organizations are missing out on if they neglect social media.

Tell us about Outsource Marketing

We've been around for 11 years, and we got started because I was working with an organization that needed a marketing department, but couldn't build one on its own. As our name implies, we provide a marketing department to businesses who don't have their own, and provide more horsepower to those that do.

Tell us about "Responsible Marketing"

We also champion what we call "Responsible Marketing" in order to remedy the fact that marketing is broken. Whenever I give presentations to business owners, I'll ask them if they're happy with their marketing results. I'm lucky if anyone raises their hand. It's clear that there's something wrong with the industry if that's how marketers' work is perceived.

We think there are three reasons for this.

First of all is the fact that we're all overwhelmed by information. As consumers, we're bombarded with over 3,000 commercial messages every day. Who's supposed to make sense of all this? The average white collar worker's IQ drops by 10% each day because of information overload. Smoking weed would only drop their IQ 4%! Now, by no means am I advocating that people light up a doobie instead of going to work, but it's clear that something's seriously wrong. Our minds aren't processing this information, and they're shutting advertising out.

The second issue is that we, as consumers, have become cynical about everything. Hundreds of the country's leading companies have been embroiled in scandals over the last two decades. There was a time when everyone believed that corporate America took care of its people. You'd get a job and spend your life working for a company, and it'd take care of you and your family into retirement. That clearly isn't the case anymore, and people simply don't trust corporations. They've lost their goodwill. Why on earth would anybody buy into the information they're hurling at us?

The third issue is that marketing—as a discipline—itself is broken. Marketing is seldom media or discipline neutral, nor are corporate marketing departments cast based on work defined in a strategic marketing plan. When we start working with clients, it's expected that they're not simply aren't working within a marketing strategy. So they're not planning, they don't have the right staff or appropriate budgets, and they're not operating with a long-term view.

We believe Responsible Marketing can help solve these problems. There are seven principles of responsible marketing that we've identified. Strategic responsibility, message responsibility, casting responsibility, execution responsibility, environmental responsibility, social responsibility, and ROI (return on investment) responsibility.

I won't go into all of them, but it should be clear that these 7 responsibilities clash all the time. For instance, sending direct mail is great from an ROI perspective. It may pencil, but what about the vast amounts of paper that gets recycled or thrown into the trash? How should a marketer reconcile her need to deliver a good return on a campaign if she's going to waste countless resources executing it? How are you going to reconcile these two responsibilities? It's a hard question, and we're constantly trying to answer it on The Responsible Marketing Blog (responsiblemarketing.com).

The three responsibilities that NetSquared readers are probably most passionate about are message, environment, and social responsibility. The way we see it is that it won't be long before companies are obligated to be responsible in these areas, just as they're expected not to employ child labor today. We try to convince our clients that they're going to have to brush up in these areas now or be forced to play catch up later.

But what about greenwashing? Just because a company claims to be responsible, that doesn't quell my cynicism.

It's a huge challenge, and we're constantly looking for ways to combat the impulse to just fake it, so we try to find concrete, tangible actions that companies can take to be responsible. For instance, if they're going to run a mail campaign, we ask them to use Forest Stewardship Council Certified Recycled Paper. It's a certification that stands up to scrutiny and points in the right direction and opens consumers' eyes to the importance of recycling.

The Recycling and Environmental Services department of King County Solid Waste recognized our company as a Best Workplace for Recycling in 2007, and we're being recognized for it again this year. We wouldn't be able to ask our clients do be more responsible if we weren't doing it ourselves. We hope that companies' increased responsibility will influence their consumers as well.

We work with tons of clients who are doing great things. They're on boards of charity organizations. They donate thousands of dollars to their communities, but they don't realize it because they never take the time to take ando a full audit of their good works. They don't understand how much good they're doing. We need to help them highlight that because it not only makes them look better, it might help their customers learn more about opportunities to give or participate in their community.

Like a local theatre or museum that someone may not have known about.

Precisely. Companies that have the resources to give can and should be examples to other citizens in their community. But the benefits extend beyond the satisfaction of being a good example to the community. A good reputation helps a company maintain business and charge higher prices. Imagine where Halliburton would be right now without government contracts. No one trusts them, so no one would want to do business with them. Now contrast that with Google. Being responsible helps maintain a good reputation, which is good for business.

There's still a lot of work to do, but I don't think you have to be religious to understand what I mean when I say "Jesus walked among the sinners." Someone needs to work with business to help them find their way.

So what does any of this have to do with social media?

Social media is essential to help companies build and maintain their relationships. Corporations need to be blogging. It allows for greater transparency. It allows their customers and clients to understand them better. The same goes for any social benefit organization. People who are passionate about certain causes are eagerly seeking more information about what's being done in that area. Give it to them. They might never leave comments on your blog, but that doesn't mean they're not listening. And then, every now and then someone who really wants to talk to you about what you're doing will show up, and they might be able to help in really unexpected ways.

Beyond blogging, social media helps companies connect with their customers in places where customers are expressing their passions. Social media allows people to connect with their passions, and as Jesse Berst once said, "People don't unsubscribe from their passions."

There are a few products that draw passionate followings. The most obvious example right now is the iPhone, but what about people who love the Honda Accord? There might not be that many, but some people do! These people are self organizing online, which is what's so great about social media. They'd love to hear from Honda. I'm just giving an example, so I don't know if Honda is reaching out to groups online. It's unfortunate that so few brands are actually reaching out to these groups on social networks.

It's more unfortunate that the same can be said for non-profits. People are usually more passionate about issues than brands or products. Social media because provides all of these tools that people are flocking to naturally, and social media organizations can get people where they're already interested. For instance, my father had Parkinson's disease, so if you're talking about Parkinson's disease, I'm listening! And I'm not alone. There are millions of people joining groups online about things that they care about.

Social media gives non-profits a whole slew of powerful tools to raise money that they've never had before. They can get people to donate on the spot. Just take a look at Facebook's Causes application. They've raised over $2.5 million over the past year. Barack Obama's campaign is another good example of a group that has enjoyed success by connecting with people's passions. You can see a lot of other examples in my deck on using social media to create social good that I presented at PodCamp Seattle.

Not everyone is ready to jump onboard. I'm on the board of an educational non-profit, and despite my ability to influence people, they keep insisting that they're not a social networking type of organization. It's frustrating that an organization that is so inherently social and involved in people's lives, but are is resistant to using these tools to help their constituents connect or to find more people to get involved.

I wish you didn't need to evangelize these tools because I think they sell themselves. They allow you to connect with people and learn from people in huge ways. The other thing is that there are tons of lurkers in social media. People who are there just gleaning information. They might not be speaking up right away, but they're there and they're all potential donors or potential clients. If you're working for social good and you're not using social media, you're missing out.

You know, as you mentioned that you join the groups you're interested, it reminded me of how I used to worry that the internet was going to allow people to balkanize themselves. Let them find their niches and shut themselves away from the rest of the world. Maybe I'm just speaking for myself, but I think that social networks have really expanded my interests and increased my awareness of issues because I've connected with people whose interests overlap with mine, but not entirely. They end up introducing me to new things beyond our shared interests.

That's why social media is important. What you're talking about, this fear, was actually predicted, especially because of RSS. There was this idea that people would subscribe only to the feeds that interested them and cloister themselves. This is where social media saves us again.

Social media helps remove that cloistering and better represents the real world around us.

Sometime last week, someone posted something about yarn on twitter. I don't know anything about yarn, but I know someone else who does, so I put the two people in touch. It didn't even take me 15 seconds to connect them.

Another great example is how I came up with the deck on using social media to create social good. I started Googling to find resources but quickly realized my mistake. Why would I go to Google when I'm connected to so many smart people working in this space. ? I asked my friends on Twitter to recommend some examples of people doing good with social media. Guy Kawasaki and Chris Brogan stepped up and broadcast my call even further. The response was fantastic.

I used del.icio.us to make sure that everyone can have easy access to the research I compiled. You can see all of the sites mentioned in the deck and all the sites recommended by people on twitter at del.icio.us/patrickbyers/socialgood.

First of all, I should point out that your deck is why I got in touch with you for this interview. Hopefully this interview will help it, and your great research travel further. Secondly, your ability to research this way reminds me of a conversation I recently had with a friend about how our brains are apparently wired to only be able to handle so many relationships. Social media tools seem to give us a chance to "game the system" and keep tabs on such a larger number and wider variety of people.

It's funny you mention that because Outsource Marketing is organized on these principles. We have hundreds of sub contractors, but our core team is about a dozen people, and we like it like that. Research shows that once a group is larger than 25 people, people quit caring about one another. We plan to keep our immediate group that size or smaller. Further research has shown that once an organization surpasses 150 people, it's ability to innovate and respond to opportunities is dramatically impacted. For that reason, we've We've decided that if our operations grow past 150 people we need to do some kind of spin off.

Is there anything else you want to say to our readers?

I just want to encourage anyone reading this to stay involved and share the benefits of social networking as much as they can with every organization they know. These tools are powerful and free. They connect us and help us learn from one another. There's no reason not to take advantage of them.