Creating a buzz..

Buzz means business! Big Buzz means big bucks. But how does one go about creating that Buzz?

Buzz Through The Decades
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60's

Timex
VW Beetles
Timothy Leary
troll dolls
plastics
miniskirts
love beads

70's

Rubik's Cubes
electronic calculators
sensitivity training
Volvo station wagons
mood rings
platform shoes

80's

Cabbage Patch dolls
Reeboks
total quality management
The One Minute Manager
premium ice cream
Trivial Pursuit

90's

cigars
snowboarding
Beanie Babies
reengineering
bottled water
VW Beetles
Martha Stewart
E-mail

 

Buzz needs an igniter--a circumstance, a surprise, a shortage, an inside scoop, a juicy tidbit, the right timing, a giveaway, even some ambiguity. The most celebrated igniter in our midst is Oprah, as both Texas cattle ranchers and booksellers can attest.

Buzz travels on the thrum of conversation; it's what large numbers of people can't stop talking about. More than anything else, word of mouth stokes buzz and keeps it alive. Like a faraway radio station, buzz can be faint and fuzzy and tricky to tune in. Ironically, that limitation only adds to its persuasive allure: the just-out-of-reach quality that characterizes buzz--especially incipient buzz, which requires that you chase the story--holds people in thrall. The key question for owners of growing companies is whether you can produce buzz by scheming and planning and plotting and contriving, or if you just have to wait to get lucky.

The first place to start creating your Buzz is through the massive power of the media. A simple press release picked up by a larger newspaper or TV show can inform a sizable audience--second to none.

If your buzz is truly buzz, you can bet other media organizations will jump on your buzz. Have you ever watched EXTRA, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD, E!, or one of the other 15 or so "industry gossip shows". Chances are if you've watched one, you'll see the same stories covered over and over again. Why? These media organizations are quick to jump on the latest and greatest stories of the hour.

Where do they get their gossip, and why is the same story seen on 15 different shows? Press Releases!

That's right! The buzz starts to flow when just one major media organization runs your story. You can be sure each of these media outlets is certainly watching over the other. If one picks up your story, chances are others will follow. It's this repetitive story telling through a number of media outlets that will initially create your Buzz.

Other Buzz factors

* Product Placement:
There are a number of agencies that specialize getting your product seen or mentioned on TV. You could often achieve this yourself (with a little help form Buzz).

Consider the Dancing Baby, a weird, surreal-looking animated infant that cha-chaed its way into TV-land last January by showing up in two episodes of Fox's hit series Ally McBeal. The boogying baby was one of 12 characters introduced two years ago by Kinetix, located in San Francisco, a multimedia division of Autodesk Inc., which is headquartered in San Rafael, Calif. (With revenues of $617 million, Autodesk is the fifth-largest software company in the world.) "It was a simple tutorial for our customers," says Kinetix general manager Jim Guerard, who tapped bargain-priced freelance talent from a three-person company called Unreal Pictures, in Palo Alto, Calif., to imagine and design the characters.

About six months later Kinetix got wind of E-mail floating around with the Dancing Baby clip attached. "Users modified the files," Guerard says, "and shipped them around the Web to their friends," and that's how David E. Kelley, the creator, producer, and writer of Ally McBeal, got onto it. It was perfect for an episode in which lawyer McBeal (played by Calista Flockhart) worries about her biological clock.

Baby buzz has been a godsend for Kinetix, which has sought to raise its profile, especially in the entertainment community. Guerard says the bopping bambino has built brand awareness and visibility with minimal cash. Hits to the Kinetix Web site have surged, as has traffic to the best unofficial Dancing Baby site, run by Seattle high school student Rob Sheridan. Merchandising is likely (you can already get a Dancing Baby screen saver), with more clips to follow this year.

Kinetix was quick to realize that customers created their own kind of baby love, and the company wisely capitalized on that. To do otherwise--to attempt to build buzz by force--would have killed it. Instead, Kinetix made it easy as pie to copy the digital baby file, modify it, and pass it on. Only when the baby bombination was clearly audible did the company start to put together some PR, in case the craze continued and people wanted to know more.

* Giveaways

There's another commonsense principle at work here. If you give stuff away as fast as you can, you whip up interest, which is the down payment buzz requires. It always surprises me how businesspeople devote so much time to building barriers to entry when they'd be so much smarter to let it rip!

Creative giveaways are practically a credo for Little Earth Productions, a $3-million Pittsburgh-based company that recycles license plates, bottle caps, and street signs and turns them into belts, bags, and datebooks. With an assist from an agent or two, Little Earth's just plain cool products have made guest appearances on TV shows like Home Improvement, prime-time exposure that didn't hurt the company's sales. But some of Little Earth's other marketing maneuvers to create buzz are more backyard.

When a Pittsburgh woman was crowned Miss Pennsylvania this year, Little Earth sent her a fleet of their "Cyclone" purses, shoulder bags made from old license plates. Miss Pennsylvania kept the one made from Pennsylvania plates, and she gave those made from other states' plates to her sister contestants in the Miss USA pageant. Little Earth was betting on those Cyclones to see plenty of shutter action in the media frenzy that preceded the March pageant.

* Creating Demand

Ty (makers of the infamous Beanie Baby toys) has an ingenious custom of "retiring" a number of its plushy critters every year. As any collector will tell you, the rarer something is, the more valuable it becomes. Super-hard-to-find retirees can fetch more than $1,000 each; few things can get Beanie devotees off their butts faster than, say, the breaking news that Bumble the Bee is about to buzz off (and it did, in 1996). The company keeps such a snug lid on which special Beanie is about to be yanked that grown-up fanciers have built their own complexly structured networks aimed at tapping into early Beanie Baby buzz. Ty's own Web site averages more than 20,000 hits every day. That's smart marketing--is it ever!--but it's also basic psychology. People go nutso for what they cannot have: Brownies. Butter. Beanie Babies

 

* Controversy

 

Certain controversial situations are a kiln for buzz: agitated debates (abortion, flag burning, medical marijuana); touchy subjects (adultery, ethics). The collision of strongly held points of view is talk radio's stock in trade: Dr. Laura stands for moral character, and the devil take the hindmost

The main thing to understand is that buzz is always going somewhere. If you try to stop it, buzz grows stronger. You can launch it from nothing, by giving stuff away and by using a spokesperson to seed conversational clouds. If your ear is good enough, you can pick up on the prevailing buzz and build on it. When it moves on--and it will--something new takes its place: a hot movie, a favorite food, a new buzzword. Sometimes big-time buzz even comes roaring back again, after a couple of dormant decades: miniskirts, fondue, that hideous lime-green color that just screams '70s, Saturday Night Live (when it was funny), minimalism.

One thing I can say with total confidence is that buzz is way, way more fun than any other act of communication. It's rebellious and contagious. You're in for a heck of a ride.

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Excerpts from Nancy K. Austin who is the co-author, with Tom Peters, of the book--A Passion for Excellence.

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