Monday, June 12, 2006

Reflections on Dave Balter's Visit To Class (BzzAgent)

Our class welcomed Dave Balter, co-founder and CEO of BzzAgent, Inc., to campus on Thursday of last week. I have had the pleasure of knowing Dave since December of 2004 when I contacted him about collaborating on a research project regarding the similarities and differences between everyday and institutional forms of WOM marketing communication. Since that time we have also collaborated on a project about the role of disclosure in organized WOMM programs. Additionally we have been on a panel together and invited to co-present at another venue.

Students loved his presentation on integrating WOM into a broader media plan and were impressed with his degree of openness and transparency about the inner workings of BzzAgent (more on that below).

We were fortunate to be the first classroom audience to hear some of the latest details about BzzAgent's "media channel" model of WOM marketing (apparently he's only presented about it to a couple other audiences so far). He used the Hershey's Take 5 program as an example to illustrate a new kind of relationship among the client (Hershey's), the advertising and promtions agency (Arnold), and the WOM media channel (BzzAgent). He gave us some insider-access about the program, its goals, as well as how the campaign is going so far.

He also shared with us his vision of the future of WOM. Specifically he sees the media of the future as "people platforms," which he calls "Media+". Media+ is made up of segmentation + marketing + 2-way dialogue (a key ingredient missing in existing media, he argues) + analytics.

Since BzzAgent's inception they have been a one-stop shop for a WOMM campaign, providing all of the following services: client management, WOM catalyst, strategic planning, creative development, program components, project management, network access (agents), program guidelines and standards, recruitment and management of the agent network, and data analysis and reporting. But under this new model the services are different.

Dave sees the next 10 years as a marriage of marketers and people platforms. The marketers would provide the WOM catalyst, strategic planning, and creative development, while the people platforms would provide the network access, the agent management, and the data analysis and reporting. The process would work by the marketer 1) booking a media slot (much like you would a TV spot), 2) choosing the agents (based on a profile that fits with the desired campaign), and then 3) having those agents report back to BzzAgent (through "BzzReports"), and then in turn, BzzAgent would provide the analysis and measurement.

This vision of WOM's future is not without controversy (see here, here, and here for some examples) and it will be fascinating to see how this plays out over the coming months and years.

Dave was also generous enough to share some of his tips and tricks when presenting to clients. This was a special request I made before his talk since my students are busily preparing for their own client presentations as part of the Designing Organized WOM Marketing Programs Assignment (PDF). I won't post his secrets here but the students appreciated his insights. One interesting stat I will share, however, is about the process of closing a deal. Dave said that it takes 82 days on average from the time the client initially calls in to close and sign a contract. I think students were surprised that companies even calculated such stats.

Towards the end of the talk there was an interesting exchange about what could and could not be blogged about. Dave said students could blog about any part of his presentation, which caught even me a little off guard. For past speakers we've given them the option of sharing certain details of their company in class (such as what they charge for their services) and agreed not to blog about it. But Dave eschewed that idea. He feels that companies keep hidden from the public too much information about their inner workings and that they need to be more transparent. A look at the BzzAgent blog and 90 Days of BzzAgent experiment gives a sense of the opportunities and limitations of Dave and BzzAgent's vision of organizational transparency.

So, in putting the proverbial money where Dave's mouth is, I'll share some of his thoughts on the rates for BzzAgent's services for how it reflects on the current state of the WOM industry. Depending on the type of service (a BzzBlast or a full-fledged BzzCampaign) and/or the number of agents participating, clients might invest anywhere between $150K - $300K for a campaign. One of the points Dave mentioned is that BzzAgent isn't the place for $10K and $20K campaigns but instead BzzAgent focuses on larger-scale projects and clientele (he did mention that there are some other great companies where a client could go for smaller projects). He felt that setting the bar at this level, and delivering on this investment, was a move forward for establishing WOM as a legitimate and respected industry. And setting this level of investment for BzzAgent's services seems entirely consistent with their move to the media channel model.

As I've mentioned with all of our other presenters, Dave's undergraduate major was Psychology and he received his B.A. from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Dave said we could share his presentation on the class blog so feel free to check it out.

Thanks for a great class Dave!


1 comment:

kenw said...

I want to be Dave Balter. I was actually going to write a post with that title, but I'm a big procrastinator. Also, the fact that he looks exactly like the Daily Show's Ed Helms made his presentation even more entertaining. Aside from the WOM-related value of his talk, though, I think we can all learn from the conversational and relaxed manner in which he delivered his presentation. It felt less like a lecture and more like a dialogue than any presentation we have seen before. I found this concept extremely valuable when preparing for our own client presentations.