April 07, 2007

Are Marketing Bloggers Positive, Critical, Or Something Else?

From November 1990 to March 2007, I worked at very large companies (Lands' End, Eddie Bauer, Nordstrom). And during that time, I read a lot of content about the companies I worked for from trade journals, and in recent years, from bloggers. My perception (the key word is "perception") was that "pundits" frequently took potshots at brands, that online commentary was overwhelmingly negative.

But is this reality? Is this what marketing authors actually spend their time doing?

To validate my hypothesis, I decided to "MineThatData". I reviewed 188 blog posts from April 1-7, 2007. These blogs were in Mack Collier's most recent list of the Top 25 Marketing Blogs. At the end of this post, I list the blogs that I tracked in this analysis.

Blog posts were categorized into nine categories:
  • New Technology. These were discussions about how new technologies impact the world (Twitter falls into this category).
  • Brand Analysis, Positive: These were general, positive discussions about brands. For instance, a blogger might complement Sprint for having outstanding phone design strategy.
  • Brand Analysis, Negative: These were general discussions about brands, discussions about missteps that brands took. Maybe the blogger listed eight things that Starbucks can do to get back on track, as an example.
  • Strategy/Opinion, Positive: These are posts where bloggers talk about strategic innovations that companies are implementing.
  • Strategy/Opinion, Negative: Similarly, these are posts that bloggers talk about strategic innovations that the blogger didn't like.
  • Links/News: Links to other sites, or announcements about news.
  • General Commentary: Topics that don't fit neatly into previously listed categories. A "Gaping Void" cartoon about being "pink" might fit into this category!
  • Blogosphere / Web 2.0 Commentary: Any discussion about other bloggers, use of "Social Media" or "Web 2.0".
Results were classified for the Top 10 Blogs, Blogs Ranked 11-25, and were aggregated in total.

Here's what the data tell us about the blog posts.
  • My hypothesis about "negativity" is over-rated. Only fourteen percent of the posts are about brand commentary, about sixty percent of these articles were negative or critical. Interestingly, the top ten marketing bloggers were largely negative when talking about a brand. Bloggers 11-25 were largely positive in their commentary about brands.
  • When talking about marketing strategy, this group of authors was positive by a margin of two to one. In other words, when describing a marketing strategy employed by a brand, the authors largely praised the strategy. Brands were criticized, as a whole, but individual strategies employed by brands were largely complemented. I did not expect to see this, going into the analysis.
  • Twenty-two percent of the posts were about blogging, use of social media, or other "Web 2.0" issues. This is interesting to me. I suppose this strategy depends upon who reads these blogs. I'm fairly confident that the marketing departments in corporate America spend a lot less than 22% of their time discussing these topics --- though I could be wrong. It raises an interesting point --- should marketing blogs be aligned with what marketing departments frequently talk about? I'd say there is no reason for alignment.
  • There is a difference in writing style between the top ten, and bloggers eleven through twenty-five. The top ten were more promotional, overwhelming more critical of brands, talked more about strategy, and talked significantly less about blogging/social-media/Web2.0.
I didn't change the world with this analysis. But I did prove to myself that there are a lot of positive comments about what companies are doing, and a lot of positive comments about marketing strategy that are useful to folks. If the reader wants positive, useful commentary, s/he simply has to go out and find it. I left having a better attitude about what I'm reading than I had going into this analysis.

What do you think? What do you think marketing authors should write about? What interests you most? What turns you off? Do you find bloggers to be largely positive, negative, or somewhere in-between?


Blogs Included In This Analysis: Seth's Blog, Duct Tape Marketing, Gaping Void, Marketing Shift, Marketing Profs Daily Fix, Drew's Marketing Minute, Converstations, New School of Network Marketing, The Viral Garden, Influential Interactive Marketing, Logic + Emotion, Coolzor, What's Next, Marketing Hipster, Brand Autopsy, Church of the Customer, Marketing Headhunter, Diva Marketing, Marketing Nirvana, Jaffe Juice, Hee-Haw Marketing, Spare Change, Experience Curve, Pro Hip-Hop Marketing, Emergence Marketing. Creating Passionate Users was left out, for obvious reasons.

15 comments:

  1. Paul McEnany3:27 PM

    Kevin-

    Well done!There's some really interesting stuff in here. I'm shocked that 1-10 was actually the more negative bunch.

    Thanks for putting that together!

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  2. Kevin ... this is interesting. I'd love to see the raw data behind your analysis.

    As the author of a blog in your study, I question categorizing some posts "Brand Analysis: Negative" or "Brand Analysis: Positive." For example, my posts on things Starbucks must do to regain its remarkability shouldn't be viewed as "negative." Constructive criticism with proposed solutions is different than just a diatribe on why some brand sucks.

    Help me to understand what you mean when you say the Top Ten blogs were more promotional.

    Kudos for taking the time to do some analysis. I just wanna learn more about your approach and see the data you collected.

    BTW ... would you consider this comment to be "Strategic Analysis: Negative" or "Positive"?

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  3. "The top ten were more promotional"

    If you have the time, at least for your own curiousity, check and see the avg. age of the Top 10 blogs versus the rest of the Top 25. Or more specifically, look at the Top 5 versus the rest of the Top 25. I think the Top 5 or so are the A-Listers, and lets be honest, many of the A-Listers got there due in great part due to longevity, and promotion. Content plays a factor, but not IMO as much as some would have us believe.

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  4. Thanks for the comments, Paul & John. It was nice of you to hop on and say something!

    My categorization about the top ten blogs being more "promotional" means that top ten folks were more likely to tell readers about something they were doing, regarding their blog, book, work assignments, etc. For instance, Seth mentioned a new blog about his new book --- I classified that as promotion.

    In terms of brand analysis being positive or negative, I struggle with this concept all the time. If the post focused on "the brand", and not as much about one specific element within the brand, I called it "brand analysis, negative".

    There were several comments about Sprint. One was about how the author enjoyed the product. There was one comment about Sprint where the author was frustrated because s/he were forced to re-up for two years if s/he wanted to switch plans. While this is a perfectly valid concern that a customer can/should voice, I still classified it as "brand analysis, negative".

    There was a post on Daily Fix about DirecTV which I classified at "brand analysis, negative". The poor author was on hold for ten minutes trying to get resolution on a problem.

    If I were to do this again, I might create two categories. "Brand Analysis, Negative" could be split into "rants" and "suggested improvements". That might be a better approach.

    I viewed "Strategy/Opinion" differently. This is where a blogger chose to address one specific topic --- maybe it was Apple and DRM-free music. This falls into Strategy/Opinion, and can be positive or negative. These posts were generally positive.

    Blogosphere comments include stuff like "Most Valuable Blog" tournaments, participation in book writing activities among 100 bloggers, etc. These are discussions that are largely relevant to the bloggers who read the blogs.

    I wish my analysis were more technical than that -- but it's not. I purposely didn't categorize the content by individual blogger, my goal wasn't to clobber or praise any one individual. I just sat down with a white sheet of paper and a red pen, read 188 posts over the course of almost three hours, and counted where the posts fell, based on my subjective opinion.

    My original perception was that marketing bloggers were generally negative.

    The reality is that, in this study, marketing bloggers are generally positive. In fact, only 18% of the posts had some element of negativity in them.

    And as you say, negativity is subjective --- if there is a suggestion for improvement, that isn't necessarily negative.

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  5. John, I failed to answer your final question. Since you have both positives and suggestions in your comments, and I feel there are more positives, I'd classify it as Strategy/Opinion positive.

    Mack --- well said, I hadn't considered that point of view. I struggle with promoting books & speaking engagements on my own blog. I did check out the blogs, and you, in general, have a point regarding longevity.

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  6. Nice analysis, Kevin. You spent some good time documenting your assumptions. I especially like your follow up in comments to Paul and John. Also your 3rd of 4 conclusions - that 22% of posts were about blogging etc. I had to chuckle - if our marketing department let me talk about blogging 10 minutes out of every hour everyone's eyes would glaze over :) - I think its fair to say no alignment is needed. Wonder what if it did align though?

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

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  7. Hi Bob --- thanks for the comments, I subscribed to your feed!

    Maybe you have to have nearly a quarter of your posts be about blogging or Web 2.0 or whatever folks want to call it, so that marketing departments eventually hear enough about it to eventually become interested. At least that's been my experience ... the message has to be told repeatedly, and in a positive manner, for the ideas to take root.

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  8. Hmmmm. Interesting study. If I were to go through some of my posts, it would be difficult to discern what's "positive" and "negative". How do you classify non-snarky constructive criticism? Is that positive or negative.

    Seems like that decision alone (neatly classifying positive vs. negative) is not an exact science.

    Cool study though.

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  9. In some cases, I took your content and put it in the Blogging/Social Media/Web 2.0 bucket. That way, you could get away with calling folks who are uncomfortable with "twittering" as fools (The End of Thought Leadership Post you wrote yesterday), without being dinged for being snarky.

    In Brands +/- and Strategy/Opinion +/-, I made sure that the blogger was writing about something that an actual company did. To me, you often get your point across without clobbering folks at a specific company/brand.

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  10. Really interesting approach, Kevin. It would be interesting to see if this changes over time -- whether these perceptions shift with trends or as trends. Plenty to think about!

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  11. Kevin - Thanks for your time and efforts on this project. Very interesting, especially the way you segmented. I would not have thought that the top 10 bloggers were posting so differently from 11-25. Does that mean pundits are more critical or quick to judge?

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  12. Gavin --- you have me thinking about categorizing the topics over time, so that I could do a "retrospective", if you will, of what was important six or twelve months ago. That might be interesting.

    Toby --- this is only my personal opinion. I didn't think the top 10 were intentionally trying to be more critical. After reading 188 posts, it seemed like the top ten have a bigger platform, and maybe more confidence to speak their mind.

    I had an instance back in October where I was critical of vendors in my industry --- and within just a week, I lost half my readership.

    After spending months getting back to where I was, and then finally breaking through and getting a decent number of readers, I don't lose everybody when I go sideways in a manner that offends folks.

    So, maybe my experience is unique to me --- but I sense that in the confident the top ten have verses numbers eleven through twenty-five.

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  13. Kevin

    Nice EDA.

    But, as one statistician to another. Are you not in danger of making unfounded generalisations about blogging based upon a hugely inadequate number of observations.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

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  14. Hi Graham --- yes, I'm absolutely in danger of making unfounded generalizations. Well said!

    I suppose I need to go back to what I was trying to accomplish in the first place.

    I had been frustrated by what I perceived was a lot of negativity.

    I looked at a small slice of information, and found that small slice to be more positive than I expected it to be.

    Given that the commentary was generally positive, I decided to say something about it.

    Somewhere in the late 1990s, I made a transition away from my statistical heritage. As I sat in on leadership meetings in the companies I worked at, I saw that there were so few problems that could be solved by a 95% confidence interval. Most of the problems executives were asked to solve were problems that had too little data. If I had stuck to my statistical guns, I'd have struggled to make decisions.

    So, a lot of my experiences over the past decade spill over into what I do now. And in this case, you're 100% right --- this is too small a sample to make broad, sweeping generalizations. That being said, I'd write the post over again, because I was sharing that folks were writing positive things, even if for just a week.

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  15. I believe it sounded like you have problems yourself by trying to solve this issue instead of looking at the problem in the first place.

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