Sam Fiorella: Where Culture Derails Social Influence Marketing

Where Culture Derails Social Influence Marketing


During her 2005 tour of Japan, world-wide music superstar Madonna publicly praised Japan’s “Washlet,” an “intelligent” toilet that provides – among other features – posterior-cleaning water jets, hot air dry function, ambient background music and odour-masking technology. “I’ve missed the heated toilet seats,” the pop-diva promoted upon leaving the country. She was not alone in her praise, many famous and well-connected people have gone on record promoting the virtues of the ultra-modern toilet.

It’s the earned media and public advocacy that brand marketers would die for, the type of public promotion many try to emulate when accessing social celebrities and socially-active people with high Klout scores. Find people who are perceived to have a popular voice and get them to talk about your product and their audience will beat a path to your door, open wallets in hand.

Yet, while the ingenuous toilets are found in 70% of Japanese homes, hotels and businesses, they’re one of world’s best kept secrets. Hiromichi Tabata, head of the international division at Washlet-maker TOTO does not hide the company’s desire to become a major player in international markets. They’ve been attempting to crack foreign markets, including the lucrative US market for more than 10 years with little success despite the volunteer endorsements by many internationally known celebrities and business executives. “It’s because of the cultural taboo over talking about toilets,” reports Tabata. “Americans avoid talking about those kinds of things so we can’t expect success from word-of-mouth, even if they recognise our products are excellent.”

Influence Marketing vs. Purchase Decisions

The lesson learned from this case study is that influence marketing (marketing campaigns oriented around individuals perceived to have influence over a larger community), are ineffectual on the consumers’ purchase decisions when they are not interwoven into a more complex influence campaign that takes into account other decision-making factors such as culture, purchase lifecycle, context of the relationships between “influencers” and their audience, etc.

Too many businesses have been quick to jump on the bandwagon of early adopters such as Klout and Peerindex, allocating large marketing budgets to thin influence programs without proper consideration of the customer’s decision-making process. It’s the dichotomy of social media; it has inspired the creation and popularization of these platforms but also created an environment that generates disruptive forces in the communication paths between advocates and customers.

I’m not suggesting that social scoring platforms be ignored or thrown out; rather, I’m suggesting that the focus and blind faith being attributed them be rechanneled towards the customer’s decision-making process.

A new influence marketing blueprint is required.


Originally published 26 November 2012 at Sam Fiorella is Partner and Chief Customer Experience Strategist at Sensei Marketing and can be followed on Twitter @samfiorella.