The Buzz from BUZZ2009 – a SmartBrief Panel with Guy Kawasaki

I was delighted to be the email advocate on a panel on “Creating an Environment for Viral Marketing Success,” moderated by entrepreneur and author Guy Kawasaki last week as part of the SmartBrief Buzz2009 event in Washington DC.

The panel also included social media practitioners Brendan Hart, VP of National Geographic, Stacey Kane, Marketing Director for the California Tortilla chain of franchise stores in the DC area, and Andy Sernovitz, author and speaker on word of mouth marketing.

We got right into it. Stacey talked about marketing a brand based on the spunky personality of the California Tortilla founders, who have been connecting with customers via their Taco Talk email newsletter for years. It’s a quirky combination of food, diet, personal and health commentary – and promotions. So it was relatively easy to see how an authentic brand like that would be successful on Twitter and Facebook.

Stacey is not doing anything terribly complicated, but is having good success by keeping it real and keeping it simple. She posts a “secret code of the day” – good for a free taco – on Twitter and Facebook and also sends it out by email. While the rate of response is slightly higher on Twitter, perhaps because these are the “freshest” (most recent) subscribers, the largest number of people by a magnitude of 100x is on the email file. So, while Twitter and Facebook are “cool,” when she needs to bring people to the restaurants for lunch, email has the reach and response. And so email remains her best friend.

Brendan from National Geographic also enjoys the benefits of a really powerful brand. His digital marketing strategy creates and celebrates different interactive elements along with viral content like video and photography. He is able to synergize the promotions across email and social networks.

Guy Kawasaki is of course a widely heralded thought leader on entrepreneurism and social marketing. He has 175,000 followers on Twitter. He uses Twitter exclusively among the social networks to help promote his latest business, Alltop. He says that if you aren’t “pissing off” some people on Twitter, you aren’t using the channel properly. He admits that he uses it as a broadcast channel only. It was good to see that approach contrasted with what others are doing like Stacey (engagement) and Brendan (loyalty).

Guy started off the webcast with a 20-minute review of how he uses Twitter. He even automates some replies off select keywords using a service called TwitterHawk (at 5 cents each). This last was a bit controversial for the audience. Certainly it could be a great tool if used appropriately (and monitored), but it struck many as contrary to the authentic nature so central to social marketing success.

Andy Sernovitz gave a wonderful intro about how word of mouth success is the result of “making love” with your customers. Delight them, arm them with great sharing tools, and tap into what they already love about your products and services, he said. Andy also suggests that you don’t need to use all the bright shiny new technologies to be successful with word of mouth. Don’t get distracted, he advises, but focus on where your customers are already hanging out. Like email!

The discussion kept coming back to email marketing as the foundational element. Certainly email powers the social networks – it’s the biggest traffic driver. But more importantly, for most of us, email is the strongest link between your brand and the largest number of customers. Integrating social and email is a great idea, and I offered a number of tips to help marketers go beyond just cross-linking between the channels. I’ll share them with you and invite your feedback in my next post.

Check out the full webcast (90 minutes) here. Follow the Tweets using #buzz2009. Thanks to SmartBrief for having me, and thanks to Guy, Andy, Stacey and Brendan for a great conversation!

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