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Cool Is For Fools: An Interview With Romi Mahajan

If you haven't been following Romi then you've been missing out. Romi blogs on the Research Access site and does a series of webcasts that are truly first rate. His restless mind tackles all types of topics and he is always provocative, funny, and thoughtful.

 Romi Mahajan is Chief Marketing Officer of sentiment analysis firm Metavana. A well-known speaker on the technology and media circuit, Mahajan serves on a variety of Advisory Boards and speaks at over a dozen industry events per year.

If you haven’t been following Romi then you’ve been missing out. Romi blogs on the Research Access site and does a series of webcasts that are truly first rate. His restless mind tackles all types of topics and he is always provocative, funny, and thoughtful.

He is also an author, and after reading his book great new book “Cool Is For Fools – The Poetry Of Marketing” I thought it would be fun to do an interview with him. So….

LFM: Thanks for taking the time to chat Romi. You’re a busy guy: blogger, author, CMO, and all around mover and shaker so we have a lot to cover! First, let’s talk about Metavana; what is the “elevator pitch”?

RM: Hi Lenny, Metavana is a company devoted to a singularly simply proposition: that resident on the social web are countless expressions of sentiment, emotion, and opinion that, when interpreted and channeled, provide companies and individuals a treasure trove of useful information.  The numbers are staggering.  450M tweets a day, 900M+ people on Facebook, countless blogs and social fora. Estimates are that about 180 Billion comments are made per month on the social web and it’s clear that the products and services of any company of appreciable size are being opined about on the social web.  So for us to be able to separate the signal from the noise, categorize and offer sentiment on these comments, and help companies identify influence, intention, and other predictive parameters is very powerful.  We believe we sit at the interstice or convergence point of some really fundamental trends- the progress of unsolicited, social commentary, the singularity of marketing and technology, and the rise of the expressive consumer.

LFM: You launched a partnership with Satmetrix to offer a “Social NPS” score; can you tell us more about that and how it’s been working so far?

RM: We are thrilled with our Satmetrix partnership.  Taking a venerable concept like NPS and making it “social” is a slam-dunk for us and our partnership.  Ultimately, the solicited/survey-based view of information gathering, while it might have its place, is no longer the only way to understand the customer and her intentions.  To “socialize” NPS and to say that every second of every day, you are being promoted or detracted on the social web is really a sea change, and a good one, for the industry.  Check out www.spark-score.com for a sneak peek at the power of this concept.  Satmetrix has been an exemplary partner; we couldn’t ask for more.

LFM: You’re a prolific blogger and recently published your first collection of essays “Cool is for Fools” (which I loved by the way; I have some of my favorite “Romiisms” high lighted!); what prompted you to put all of that great content into book form?

RM: Lenny, as always thanks for asking about my writing.  As you know, my writing (as it applies to marketing that is) is about a few fundamental things- 1. To reclaim the profession of marketing from banality and excessive quantization; 2. To inject ethics and morality into what we do as marketers; 3. To inspire young marketers to do wonderful things for their profession and their communities and customers.  Therefore, the most fulfilling part of my day is writing.  I really wanted to put the blogs into book form for continuity and flow and to offer a “package” that is appealing to readers of all walks.  So far I’ve felt very gratified by the reception and the reviews to date and by the comments I get when I do book events.  Book writing for me is not a profit-motive-based exercise.  It’s a passion and a happiness-builder.  Could that change?  Who knows.  For now, I am enjoying writing from the sidelines.

LFM: The state of the social media analytics space is rapidly changing, with many new entrants, approaches, and use cases emerging regularly. Where do you see the market today and what should we expect in the next 12-24 months?    

RM:  My strong sense is that analytics for the sake of analytics will no longer be sufficient.  Too often, analytics are gathered and shared as a “checkbox” exercise, suggesting that many companies believe that the “fact” of analytics is good enough. In reality, for progress to be made, analytics have to be used, have to be included in the very warp and woof of your business process.  So I think you’ll start seeing a lot more emphasize on the implementation of analytics and closed loop processes.  Forgive me twice for saying this but right now ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) is in high demand!

LFM: How are clients that might otherwise be reticent to engage with social media analytics responding to the Spark Score concept?

RM:  The elegance of Spark Score is its intuitive simplicity and the clear set of reactions it can and should provoke.  A “score,” derived from the social web, that allows a company or brand to see the fluctuations in perception and whether people are promoting, detracting, or remaining passive is a very powerful concept because it’s not only incredibly graspable but it’s possible to time-correlate these fluctuations to “events” – providing instructive data.   Reticence is often a function of perceived complexity –Spark Score is utterly simple but incredibly powerful.

LFM: You write a lot about the new consumer empowerment culture and the value equation brands have to adjust to in order to be effective in that paradigm. How do you see this shift progressing from here? What does the marketing model of 2015 look like?   

RM:  I like to think of this new trend as the era of the “expressive consumer.”  In some ways I think the concept is being oversold so I think we’ll see a bit of a *partial* return to the “traditional” sooner than we might think. In some ways, it’s here to stay so all companies are erecting listening posts, whether or not they implement them effectively.  In reality, too many people are beguiled by the notion of “listening” while actually getting all the small things wrong.  In other words, a marketing model HAS to be varied, multi-channel, and mixed.  It cannot be predicated on narrow notions like too many are today.  So 2015 will bring back an old guest of ours- a mixed marketing program with audience at the center.

LFM: You are obviously incredibly literate (I am jealous of your writing skills!); who are your influences in both thinking and style?

RM:  Lenny, thanks.  That is such a wonderful compliment and I hope false modesty on your part!  I do think of myself as an avid reader and a busy thinker and if I’m good at anything, it’s seeing the connections between different areas of inquiry—which is why my writing is interspersed with politics, history, sociology and replete with my fulminations about all manner of things.  In some ways I’m very lucky- I come from a very scientific-yet-literate, logical-yet-artistic, technical-yet-empathetic  family so in some ways I imbibed my worldview from mother’s milk and in some ways I developed my own specific style as a function of experience.  My influences are, almost to a one, those so seek fairness and justice.  In terms of style—I really thank you for this question because many folks HATE my writing style- I feel I have developed my own nuance though of course much  credit goes to those from whom I’ve learned over the years.  Writers and thinkers who can combine flowery prose with punchy, terse one-liners are ones for whom I have a great love.

LFM: Do you plan to write more and if so, on what topics? Also, here is your chance to plug the book: where can folks find it?

RM:  In fact, my second book, about honesty in marketing, will be released in the next 30-45 days.  After that, I have 3 books contracted for that I expect to be released within 12-18 months.   Cool is for Fools, which can be found here is really an experiment in terms both of content and form.  So far, while I’ve had detractors, people like it so hopefully book 2 will receive some great feedback as well!  Either way, writing has been very enjoyable and I hope that my readers have shared that enjoyment with me!

LFM: OK, final question. What message do you think brands need to hear most concerning the marketing  shift you are describing?  

RM:  I think brands have to stop the nonsense.  If you are a bottled water company (not a fan of these btw) then don’t tell me your product will make me healthy, just say it will quench my thirst.  A workout machine won’t transform me into Mr. Olympia but it might help me reduce my BMI 2 %.  Stop the nonsense and stop insulting the consumer all the time!!

LFM: Sage advice indeed. Thanks for making the time Romi. Talk to you soon!

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