The Power of Being Second

First, congrats to me. The Viral Garden now has over 500 links.

Second, congrats to David, as Logic + Emotion passed the 500-link mark a few weeks ago.

When you read the above, what did you think? Probably something along the lines of 'Hey that's great for David, but wow Mack's full of himself today!'

Why? Because we don't want to hear people sing their own praises. Many marketers and advertisers have never figured this out.

What's the tagline to Pedigree's latest campaign? "Dogs Rule." If you're a dog owner, what do you want to hear; that dogs kick ass, or that Pedigree kicks ass?

Let's say tomorrow you need to buy dog food, and you're trying to decide between Brand A, and Pedigree. While you are trying to decide, you remember that in their ads, Brand A says that they rule, while Pedigree says in their ads that "Dogs Rule." Since you also think that Dogs Rule, and you think that Brand A is busy tootin' their own horn, you'll probably buy Pedigree.

Because Pedigree went second.

Here's what Sarah McLachlan said about the creation of the music video for her song 'World on Fire':

"I wanted a video that wasn’t about me and wasn’t preachy, but one that would help shine a light on the tragedy and turmoil in the world and also show the beauty and strength of the human spirit.”

The video wasn't about Sarah, it was about helping people around the world. And it did, the $150,000 budget was instead given to charity, and over a million people had their lives bettered, as the video detailed exactly how this happened.

And Sarah even got a Grammy nomination for a video which many people believe to be one of the best music videos ever created.

All because Sarah went second.

Kathy Sierra explains how Creating Passionate Users is in the Technorati Top 100, and how her Head First series of books sell so well:
The secret is simply this: you have a much better chance for success when your business model makes what's good for the users match what's good for the business, and vice-versa. Our books are best-sellers not because we're better authors or teachers (a meritocracy), but because they were literally labors of love.

Then she adds this:
Nobody cares about your company, and nobody cares about your product. Not really. They care about themselves in relation to your product. What it means to them. What it does for them. What it says about them that they use your product or believe in your company.

Remember Dove's wildly popular 'Campaign for Real Beauty' spot that became a YouTube sensation? The spot was such a huge success in great part because it put the customer first. It told women that it was ok if they weren't a supermodel, and in fact that they shouldn't try to be one. It removed the guilt. Selling their products wasn't the focus, the customer was.

But their follow-up effort for Dove Cream Oil Body Wash wasn't as well-received. For this spot, which was seeded on YouTube earlier this month, the commercial was shown on YouTube's front page, with the instruction from Grey Anatomy star Sara Ramirez to help Dove create their next ad for the Oscars.

The reaction from the YouTube community? Disgust. In fact the video got so many negative comments that Dove turned off comments on the video, which led to the angry YouTubers migrating to the Dove brand channel on the site to voice their displeasure. One commenter explained: "OK, you have money, so you bought your add[sic] on front page. But it ruins the meaning of YouTube-sharing videos and commenting [on] them."

Why the disconnect in the reaction to the first and second Dove spots? Because Dove put the customer first in the initial spot, then tried to 'capitalize' on the viral success of the first spot, by focusing on selling more product in the second spot.

We don't want to hear from companies about how they are first, that doesn't inspire us. And we don't want to be sold to. We want to buy from companies that are smart enough to realize that if they put us first, they will earn our business.

That's it. So simple, and yet so rare to actually see.

posted by Mack Collier @ 8:45 AM,


At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Cam Beck said...

Mack - I understand conceptually what you're saying, and I agree philosophically. However, there is too much evidence that we are drawn to packs and the popular to dismiss it outright. The bandwagon appeal -- although I loathe it -- still carries weight in all sorts of contexts.

I'm not happy about it, but it is what it is.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

But how does that popularity get its spark? How does marketing attract attention, and build buzz?

Is it more likely to happen when the marketing puts the customer's wants and needs first, or the company's?

I'll vote for the former.

At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Jordan said...

I think they can be coincidental. A brand can put their customers first, claim to be the best and indeed be the best in their industry, all at once. And no harm done, IMO. Being the best is still the greatest way to get traction, and to foster brand loyalty.

Congrats on 500 links! Nice work.

At 11:26 AM, Blogger Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Mack- This is an awesome post! I love it.

Putting the customer first is really big in my mind and the way I think. I need to remember that for my future marketing a little more often.

Thanks for the reminder.

At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Lewis Green said...


Great post! A client recently suggested telling folks that they offered the best solutions within their industry. I nixed it, saying that it would make a great testimonial but coming from the client, it means nothing. And Sarah has it exactly right--customers want to know WIFM.

Okay, another dumb question: Technorati says this about my blog: Rank: 8,659 (701 links from 347 blogs). In reference to your opening statement, does this mean I have 701 linkd or 347 links?

At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Cam Beck said...

Mack - I think it has to be an organizational philosophy, not merely a directive of marketing, to put the customer's wants and needs first. This should not replace, but be an addition to the profit motive all companies must have.

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Lewis I actually misspoke in the post concerning links. I have over 500 blogs linking to me, in the same way that you currently have 347 blogs linking to you. Of course I wasn't trying to work my links into my post to 'brag' about them, but as an example of how if someone is going to toot a horn for us, that we'd rather it was someone else doing it, as I did for David.

Cam I get what you are saying, but my question is, what if the current mindset of 'Let's make more money, and the best way to do that is to find ways to make stuff that people will buy', was instead shifted to 'Let's satisfy the customer's wants and needs and in return, we will earn their business'?

The difference being, let's don't put the priority on making more money, but instead on taking care of the customer, with the realization that if we do so, that in return, we'll make more money. The end result is that the company's culture and marketing going from looking through the lens of 'does this help us make money?', to 'does this help us satisfy our customers?'.

Again, I think being second can make you #1, but it's an admittedly tough sale to many companies that are used to 'having it their way.' It's just human nature to want to take care of ourselves first.

At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Lewis Green said...


I agree with Mack, that putting people first will trump putting the bottom line first. In other words, when everything a business does is motivated by meeting consumers wants and needs, their bottom line, and more important their margins, will be greater than if everything a business does is motivated by making money.

I can't take the space to explain why but much of it has to do with productivity and WOM as opposed to cost cutting, which is driven by the bottom line mentality.

You are of course correct that this business model needs to reflect upper management's thinking, if it is to work.

At 5:27 PM, Anonymous Cam Beck said...

Mack - Again, I agree with you philosophically. That is the way it should be - both morally and economically, as it will, in fact, generate the best results, as long as one looks at it from the big picture.

Let me give an absurd example just because it most effectively shows what I'm trying to say.

Do you know what's better than a widget for $5.95? A free widget! And customers would love to get tons of free widgets. A small-picture view would be, "Customers wants free widgets. Let's give them free widgets!"

A big-picture outlook recognizes that, however much customers may want free widgets, giving them away is not a sustainable enterprise, and the widgets would eventually run out when the business financially loses the capacity to produce them. Thus, companies must consider the financial impact any decision has on their business, because going out of business denies everybody widgets.

So all I'm saying, I guess, is that every customer demand still has to be put to the test of reason before giving away the store.

That, and some companies are still going to use the bandwagon appeal regardless of all your reason and eloquence, because that tactic has been shown to work on a scale that is acceptable to corporate bean counters.

At 5:45 PM, Anonymous Lolly said...

Mack - congrats for the links!

Have you seen Dove's Pro-Age Campaign? That's a controversial one. So strange I haven't seen a single American blogger blogging about it yet... Apparently the ad was banned in the USA...

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Cam I'm not arguing that companies can't make money, I'm saying that customers are far less willing to buy from companies that obviously aim their marketing at simply making money off them.

And as for giving away the product for free, I'm not convinced that's what customers want. Any more than the business wants to give their product away. Just as the business realizes that giving away their products/services will lead to the business closing, the customer realizes this as well.

And again, there's more to the marketing mix than price. But my point is, if a company understands its customers well enough to know what their wants and needs are, and focuses their marketing mix on satisfying those wants and needs, that approach will trump the 'me-first' approach of trying to make money off your customers first, and if you just so happen to satisfy their wants and needs in the process, well that's a happy coincidence.

I have no problem with Company A making money off me. I just don't want to deal with them if that's their primary motivation. I'd rather deal with companies that see my initial purchase as the start of a relationship.

At 6:15 AM, Blogger Nick Wright said...

Hi Mack,

I couldn't agree more that the customer should be put first but I don't know about the Dove user-generated ad campaign. Although the ad may have received some negative comments on YouTube, Dove seem to have also garnered some pretty positive responses. 700 videos for the contest isn't bad and marketingVOX had an alternative view that pointed out the video got far more favourable responses on AOL video. Blogpulse generally calls up hundreds of blogs commenting on the cool free soap they gave away as part of the promotion, rather than criticising them for being "corporate wh**es" like on the YouTube forums. The YouTube/MySpace audience probably wasn't the way to go...not quite a Chevy disaster story though.

The ad for Dove Cream Oil was trying to showcase consumers but also doing the same for its product. I think it struck the wrong note in an understandbale way. It didn't inspire creativity, it just gave voice to spontaneous brand advocacy. The end result of this is a fairly tame commercial that just looks like a cheaper, more amateurish version of a normal ad. Did they misjudge their customers? I don't think they did. Did they misjudge YouTube and the community on there? Certainly.

A simple case of marketing in the wrong place? To see how serious the criticism got though, check out the video from oneparkave on YouTube:

At 5:49 AM, Blogger Chris Brown said...

I get what you're saying... Just like you started the Z-List. Putting the other blogger's first, don't add your own name... that's how you got 500+links. Don't you think that it's a little manipulative when it's "go second, so I can go first plus, plus"?

When Wal-Mart did their flog (fake blog) everyone got mad because they didn't disclose what they were doing... And Sony too with the PSP blog. Makes sense. Very deceptive.

But Wal-Mart has given more people with no marketable skills jobs than any other company around. (1.6 million employees at last count.) And has given more $$ to needy causes ($245 million in 2005) more than any other business in the USA. They try to put their customers first with the low prices... But even with all that, this same YouTube constituency really loves to hate Wal-Mart. How many jobs have they created? (Especially for people without marketable skills!) How much money have they donated?Oh, am I ever going to be blasted for sticking up for Wal-Mart… talk about an unpopular position!

Don’t get me wrong, I have my own problems with Wal-Mart, but my point is that the problem with "going second" is that it works for about the time of a hot blog post. Couple of days. By next week, people forget.

I'm not saying "going second" isn't good. It's great. But it's got to be balanced by "going first" too.

Dove didn't try to hide what it was doing, they were very upfront. It's just that they obviously wanted to make money from the process.

It got flamed by idealistic consumers who think that if you're a good guy everyone will buy your products. But the movie "Pay it Forward" still ended with the kid getting knifed in the belly. Maybe I'm a bit cynical, but I think you've got to have a balance.

At 5:54 AM, Blogger Chris Brown said...

Plus, the product manager in me wants to know how much product they have sold by the end of the year and how that compares with similar product launches. And what the A/S ratio is for that launch...

Let's look at the numbers a year from now and find out how significant the YouTube flamer's voice is in the grand scheme of things.

We need a good market research test product example.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

"They try to put their customers first with the low prices..."

That's not putting the customers first, IMO, that's a strategy to make more money. We've all seen how Sam Walton preached to his workers to be in constant contact with the customer. To constantly be smiling and going out of their way to offer help and assistance to the customer.

Think for a second, and recall the last time that a Wal-Mart employee came up to you and asked 'Can I help you?' I go to Wal-Mart about 2-3 times a week, and I honestly cannot remember the last time anyone at Wal-Mart said anything to me other than the cashier, and the greeter. And about half the time, the cashier never says a word to me. They will check me out, then when they are done, look at me as if 'what are you waiting for dumbass? me to tell me what your total is? read the damned register!'

I think Sam really did believe in putting the customer first. I think that believe has long been trampled underneath the weight of making as much money as possible.

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous Roger von Oech said...

Congratulations on reaching 500 links.

If you were a Roman, that would make you a D-list* blogger.

Best wishes,

Roger von Oech

*(D = 500 in Roman numerals.)

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Mack Collier said...

Thanks Roger, you're going to be hitting that mark pretty soon yourself, and probably quicker than I did. But honestly, I think 1,000 links would be more realistic to determine who the 'A-List' bloggers are.

And again, none of this Letter-Lister stuff really means anything. When you can walk down mainstreet USA and even ONE out of a hundred people can tell you who Robert Scoble or Michael Arrington are, then I'll start to pay attention. IMO we may NEVER reach that point. This A-Lister stuff is just so us bloggers can feel important, no one else cares, or knows to care.

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous David Reich said...

Great discussion here. Thanks, Cam, for pointing me to it.

It seems likle there are no hard and fast rules here. Certainly there's the herd mentality saying "let's do this or buy that because everyone else does." That's why some ads proclaim theirs in America's best-selling whatever. We're a nation of sheep in many cases. Like Cam, I personally dislike the bandwagon appeal. But it does obviously appeal to many others.

The Avis "We're #2" campaign from ages ago was brilliant for both its positioning of the brand and also because it got the public's attention. The slogan became part of our everyday lexicon. Avis gave us a good reason (they try harder) to take a chance and not go with the bandwagon.

Anyway, lots to think about from this post and discussion. Thanks.

Btw Lolly, I've seen the Dove Pro-Age ads here in the U.S. Can't recall if it was on TV or in a magazine, but it's running here.


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