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3 Lessons for marketers from the Ray Rice affair

By now, the free world has become privy to the awful video of Ray Rice‘s lowest moment, when he leveled his then-fiancee. The emergence of that footage has galvanized everyone around the plight of abused women, and I hope that some good comes out of this. I am not smart enough to comment on any of the social aspects of this case except to say that my heart goes out to the victims of abuse anywhere. My expertise is in marketing and technology, and I must say that there are some lessons for companies that should not be ignored.

This incident should put marketers on notice that:

  1. Emotional videos move people in powerful ways. Note that no new facts came out in the case. To anyone even remotely following what happened, it was abundantly clear from previously available information what had happened in that elevator. But when people saw that tape, it had a power that no written word had. Think about this. What about all the abusive incidents where there is no camera? We know in our rational minds that they happened. We know that the victims didn’t make things up. Men have been found guilty. Men have even pled guilty, so there is no doubt about what happened. Still, without a video, it lacks the emotional impact. Note the power of an emotional video to not only change the conversation but also to reach many more people. I’d love to have a buck for every solemn news anchor who intoned, “We need to warn you that this is a disturbing video is tough to watch” before showing it 600 times. Yes, if it bleeds, it leads. Emotional videos move people powerfully and they also reach many more people than any other form of information.
  2. When making decisions, act as if everything you know is already public. The NFL had to know that there was an excellent chance that such a video existed, even if they hadn’t seen it. (I’ll let smarter people investigate whether they did see it or were aware that it existed.) It matters not whether they saw it–they could easily imagine what it showed, they could assume that the video did exist, and most importantly, they needed to assume that it would eventually surface, because that is the natural order of digital information. If the NFL had made that assumption, they would have taken stronger action the first time around. Big Data means that you have to assume the evidence exists, that it is stored somewhere, and your decisions need to hold up when that evidence surfaces.
  3. The bigger you are, the more is expected of you. As you watch the NFL’s image blasted all over talk radio, cable news, and TMZ clones, you might say to yourself, “Well, that will never happen to us.” And you might be right. But what could happen to you could be just as bad. The reason that the NFL is being excoriated everywhere is because their customers are everyone. If you have a sleepy B2B business, maybe you won’t end up on CNN when your VP of Supply Chain Management abuses some poor victim on video, but you might end up on YouTube in front of all of your customers. If all of your customers see it, it doesn’t matter whether it was on TMZ or YouTube. And your customers expect better behavior and better decisions when you are more powerful, as the NFL is. They expect better investigations. They expect that if anyone could unearth the video, you could. It doesn’t matter whether this is fair–what matters is it’s true. Outsize companies suffer from outsize expectations.

If you aren’t dealing with these new realities as you make decisions in your business, you are waiting to become the next poster child for corporate irresponsibility. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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