Friday, December 28, 2007

Doing Good by Working the Web

A colleague recently brought a Facebook post by Alnisa Allgood to my attention. It describes the efforts of two brothers (who, for a year are communicating only via their vlog, but that’s another story) in behalf of the Project for Awesome. Hank and John Green’s basic idea was to get people (Nerdfighters) to post videos in support of their favorite charities on December 18. By all posting at once they would attract more attention.

It worked! The project had virtually all of the most-viewed videos on that day—shared only with Mike Huckabee, according to one of the brothers--Hank, I think, in this video. It’s about 4 minutes long, but worth watching completely for the ending.View the video here.

The project made its big splash on December 18, but it’s ongoing. There are about 4 thousand videos uploaded under the Project Awesome channel. It’s worth scrolling through several pages to see the diversity of causes represented. It’s also worth watching a few of the participant videos.

This effort reminds me of two things. One is the post I made in October in support of Blog Action Day, which focused on the environment. According to their stats, over 23 thousand posts were made that day. Some were targeted blogs like ours; but some of the best-known blogger names as well as corporate blogs also participated. This, too, was a volunteer effort, although it appears to have had back-end support from Google. So this kind of “flash mob” on the Web works in the short run. Does it create engagement with causes in the longer run? I don’t see how it can do anything less, when a person goes to the trouble to write a blog post or create a video.

The other reminder was my interesting class experience with the Gap participation in Project Red. Young people are looking for causes to believe in and support. Non-profits won’t reach or engage them by traditional methods. Both the New York Times and the Financial Times have recently written about the importance of web-base efforts to a variety of organizations.

Non-profits have work to do. Corporations and local businesses can help and support. There are two questions:
1.How to engage young people on their own ground, on their own terms.
2.How corporations can help—and how non-profits can take advantage of their help—without seeming (being) crass.

Witness the frenzy over “green” at the moment and the hype and misinformation that sometimes accompanies it. How can we do better?

Your thoughts?

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Consumer Needs and Social Media

Today’s newsletter from the Center for Media Research references an interesting new study from marketing services firm Communispace. They’ve used a framework of personal needs and motivations to explore the benefits that consumers can gain from various types of social media. This chart summarizes their framework and benefits of various types of social media.
If the categories sound familiar, that’s because they are based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which we’ve all met in social psych and marketing courses. The hierarchy itself is rather global in nature, but when applied to specific subject matter it becomes interesting. Their adaptation produces five social needs people can meet by participation in social media and points out that they are increasingly seeking to fulfill these needs online. Meeting deeply-felt needs results in an increasing sense of connection to the site or business that is responsible for the community.
Two points are especially worth noting:

1.Different social media are used for different consumer purposes. Blogs are by definition a means of self-expression. Community requires groups of some type, whether they are consumer generated or formed by an outside entity.

2.From the marketer’s perspective all the social media represent the voice of the customer and we should be listening intently.

I’ve repeatedly noted that the social media give marketers the ability to engage customers in ways that are mutually beneficial. If communities form, either spontaneously or with marketer sponsorship, it is because the interaction fulfills a real need. The CMR newsletter says that:

People want to be reassured of their worth and value, and seek confirmation that what they say and do matters to others and has an impact on the world around them.

I agree with that perspective on consumer needs. From the marketer’s perspective, I suggest that we develop online spaces where like-minded people can meet, interact, support one another, and—in time—perhaps become evangelists for the sponsor.

This strongly implies that social media initiatives cannot be—or be perceived as being—a heavy-handed promotional activity. Each one has to meet one or more basic consumer needs in order to be welcomed and integrated into customers’ lives. That requires a kind of delicate sensibility that is the opposite of traditional advertising and promotion. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for many marketers to grasp this new way of interacting with their target audience.

You can access the complete report here.
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Friday, December 21, 2007

Singing Pringles Usher in the Holidays

What could be more appropriate for the holidays than singing Pringles? You might have ideas of your own, but if you’re Procter and Gamble the answer is, “Nothing.”

Yesterday Ad Age reported on the Pringles Christmas contest P&G held in the UK. They started out looking for a new jingle. They liked this video so much they declared it the winner and will air it on Christmas Day. Here it is; it’s season-appropriate and perfectly charming. The page has other finalists as is common in these contests.Enjoy the video here.

I agree with the comment on—why not play it in the US as well as the UK? I don’t know if that has to do with the non-standard length—40 seconds—or with the cult-like popularity of Pringles with young Europeans. Whatever the reason, it is an engaging way to sign off for a few days of family fun and fellowship.
Best Holiday Wishes to All!
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where Are The Viewers Going?

Yesterday the AlwaysOn newsletter published a video interview with Tina Brown. As the former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, she is a respected observer of the media scene. Admittedly “a print junkie,” she has scathing things to say about network news and interesting observations about online news, current and future.
View the video here.

The video led me to Beet.TV, which seems best described as a channel of BlipTV, the video hosting service. BeetTV focuses on media, so it’s a site marketers might keep an eye on.

It also led me back into my files to review some of the data on how consumers are using their media time. The data from eMarketer is about what most of us would expect, except possibly the continued gains of television (overall) in terms of viewing time. Other viewers seem to feel like Tina Brown does, though; network TV is not faring well. The chart from Forrester may help explain why. As the Boomers age and retire, they are watching more TV. That’s not true of younger age cohorts, as we know.

They are watching video and a Harris study quoted today in Marketing Charts gives data on what and where they are watching it. In an article entitled “Viewers Want More TV Episodes and Movies Online,” they summarize key findings:

•Online video viewership has increased overall in the past year (81% versus 74%).
•YouTube’s viewers have increased the most: Nearly two-thirds (65%) of US online adults say they have watched a video there, compared with 42% at the same time last year; the greatest gains were among those over age 25.

Viewers over 25 are discovering YouTube; wonder how far that will go. But if anyone doubts this is an ongoing trend, these data should put that to rest. The only real question is how to incorporate these trends into your media buy and your branding plans.

Think consumer behavior. Think consumer engagement. Then proceed to find out what consumers want to hear from you. Marketing research that follows in the tracks of the Harris study would be worthwhile. Interactive experiments are likely to be even more effective. Your website, newsletters, and blogs can all allow you to track individual pieces of content—how often they are accessed, where viewers go/what actions they take subsequent to viewing your content. Let your customers tell you what they want!
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Widgets Go Mainstream

Widgets are all over our desktops and the websites we visit. You may have downloaded a local weather service for your home page, an icon that offers news about your favorite sports team, or you may have reached this blog by an RSS feed. These are all icons of one sort or another that provide access to content or other Internet functionality with a single click.

A well-known one is the Southwest Airlines Ding widget that provides reduced-fare alerts. It is credited with over $150 million in ticket revenue in about 2 years of operation. Their widget program is ongoing. If you look at Southwest’s Travel Tools, they have a new Wireless Alert for your mobile phone using the standard RSS icon.
With all this going on it’s no surprise that Widget platform Clearspring has just announced an advertising network for widgets. Here’s some background on the subject:
•In June comScore announced a metrics service for widgets. In April 2007 they said that widgets reached almost 178 million people worldwide.
•For a good, quick video explaining how ad networks work, see “The Evolution of Ad Networks.”
•Clearspring helps users develop widgets. Widgetbox is one of the many free platforms for DIY widgets. All the large portals have them also. I pointed out earlier that even I could develop one using Google’s freestyle widget template.

Widgets offer exciting possibilities but before you dash off in all directions, this is a good time to study Google’s Open Social platform. It’s stated purpose is to make it easier to share what they call “social gadgets” between social applications. Some of the larger ones like MySpace and LinkedIn are already part of the network.

Do you need to deploy anything from content to marketing offers to people who are willing to hear from you? Think widgets!
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Monday, December 17, 2007

Consumer Reviews Are Positive

Not long ago I wrote a post for the eBrandMarketing blog urging marketers to encourage consumer ratings of their products. Data keeps rolling in that shows the power of this user-generated content in the consumer decision process. Not only do consumers use peer reviews; those who do spend more money. According to eMarketer:

Some 27% of the respondents who read customer reviews reported average spending between 5% and 10% higher than those who did not read them. Another 21% of review readers reported average spending between 1% and 5% higher than that of non-readers. Nearly 7% of respondents who said they read customer reviews reported average spending 20% higher than other online shoppers. (Newsletter, December 4, 2007)


A few days ago eMarketer reported on a study that should reduce—if not eliminate—manager’s worst fears. They worry that customers will say negative things. While I can, and do, argue that negatives should be heard (and acted on!), that’s another issue. This data comes from BaazarVoice, a company that helps retailers with social media applications. They analyzed their data for a single month, and found most reviews positive. If this was a five-point scale, 36% were “Always” and 51% were “Most of the Time.” That’s 87% in the top 2 boxes. That’s amazing! That’s huge! The main reason for writing the reviews (90%) was to help other customers.
That’s nice of them, but, given this data, it would behoove retailers to be proactive about reviews. I referenced ShopNBC in the earlier post. Amazon recently asked me to review purchases, see the email above. Since these are automated messages, it doesn’t cost the retailers much, and the results may be significant!
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Does the Marketing World Need a Blog Council?

Once again I owe one of my students, Amy Yen, a vote of thanks for turning up an important new web activity. A group of corporate leaders has formed The Blog Council, “dedicated to promoting best practices in corporate blogging” under the leadership of Andy Sternovitz, CEO of WOM consultancy GasPedal. The founding members are a roster of leading corporate names, many of which are already well known for the success of their blogging efforts.

With a blog that’s dedicated to exploring marketing applications of social media, in which I’ve written about blog transparency, I couldn’t be more pleased to know there’s a best practices group. I’m fortunate to contribute to a major corporate vertical blog, eBrandMarketing, while I interact with smaller businesses and non-profit organizations. In a nutshell, large corporations need a way to engage with their customers. Smaller businesses and non-profits need a way to get their message out in an environment where mass media are expensive and increasingly ineffective.

However, we all know there’s a tremendous amount of hesitance to “join the conversation”— with thanks to Joseph Jaffe whose phrase (and book) I find to perfectly capture the spirit. I don’t think it’s any more true of large or small organizations. All are wary. Many have spent years building their businesses and brands and are reluctant to open them up to new media. It’s a scary world they don’t know much about. The smaller ones and the non-profits, however, have fewer resources to devote to learning about it and in some ways they need the access even more.

So I wish the new Blog Council well. In creating an environment where they can openly and freely discuss best practices, I hope they’ll also consider how to share their expertise with a broad set of marketers who need guidance even though some of them don’t even know it yet.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GPS Meets Mobile in New York Taxicabs

This video is a light-hearted look at a GPS-driven system for taxi passengers in New York City. Apparently the system has also been authorized for testing in a small number of cabs in Boston. I haven’t been exposed to it in either place, and I’d like to try it out. I’d also be happy not to have to be sure I have enough cash when I take a taxi in either city.View the video here.

GPS in our transportation systems has not been without controversy. New York taxi drivers initially threatened to strike over the system, which was viewed as costly and a potential invasion of privacy. The strike didn’t happen, but the drivers still don’t sound happy about it.

I was reminded what happened in Massachusetts last year when GPS systems were mandated for all snow plowing contractors. They also were not happy and threatened to strike going into the winter season—not acceptable to Massachusetts residents. So the state put off the requirement for a year, but as far as I know, the GPS systems are going to be required of all contractors this season.

As you view the video, think about the advertising opportunities it opens up. As usual in mobile, Asian countries are far ahead of us. I found another light-hearted look at taxis, with Japan and Singapore having especially interesting applications.

If this gives you an idea for a last-minute Christmas gift, CNET is keeping an eye on what’s available!
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Creating Brands Online

I’ve been writing about online branding for quite awhile, in my textbook and some marketing encyclopedia articles. The chief point has been that we have a whole new set of interactive tools to use on the web, whether we are creating new brands or strengthening existing ones. The tools are:

•Co-Creation of Content
•Purchase-Process Streamlining
•Brand Community

Many online marketers use several of these tools well. Amazon has pioneered some of them and uses most of them well; I’m not sure they engage in dynamic pricing. What I am sure of though, is that when you do it well it can become an information product. When I ordered Christmas gifts from Target online I was given a choice to use their checkout process or Amazon’s. That was a surprise, but no big decision. I have my account set up on Amazon, I trust that they take care of my data, and I’d use them whenever given the chance. Seeing Amazon in that context didn’t do any harm to their brand image either!

There are new branding opportunities inherent in Web 2.0, as the description of Verizon’s recent branding activities in today’s iMedia Connection suggests. And that article doesn’t include Verizon’s My Home 2.0 promotion I discussed earlier—different agency I think.

Having suggested a new media model that reflects that new reality, I’ve been thinking about branding. I posted my thoughts on the eBrandMarketing site. Hope you’ll take a look and tell me whether you think this is the way it can work in the Web 2.0 world.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Is It Content or Context?

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to hear a talk by Lisa Gregorian, EVP of Worldwide Marketing at Warner Bros. Television Group. She spoke about “Making the Old New: Marketing Television in the Web Age.” She had a lot of fascinating things to say but ones that particularly impressed me included her emphasis on professionally-created video content and the dominance of the ad-supported business model. I spend a lot of time thinking about user-generated content, so that was a useful perspective for me. I was also intrigued by the ability of the content creators to tailor content to the needs of the narrowcast channels. Think The Closer for TNT.

The next morning when I opened my inbox there was a link to a presentation by Andrew Heyward, entitled “Content Isn’t King Anymore.” He is arguing that context is king in the world of consumer-controlled new media. View video here.

Heyward’s “rules of engagement” in the new media environment are worth considering. They are:
•Value — beyond relevant content to the ability to serve many needs, perform many related tasks
•Affinity -- a chance to connect with like-minded people
•Simplicity — “ask little, deliver a lot”
•Recognition — reward consumers for interacting with the brand
•“Working the web” -- by giving up some control to users.

What’s interesting is that the content creator and the advertising advisor are both talking about the same thing. Consumers want content in many forms, through many channels. Sticking with video we can distribute content over broadcast, cable, Internet or mobile media--each of which has hundreds, maybe thousands, of channels these days. Making the same content work across multiple channels is no small feat but it’s absolutely necessary. Even though you may be reaching a smaller niche market with targeted content, some of your targeted viewers still prefer to sit on the sofa and watch TV while some want to watch on their laptops from wherever they happen to be. And with mobile coming into its own as a medium of communication, it will only get more complicated.

The marketer has to react by understanding that consumers are receiving the content on demand—consumers’ timing not the marketers—and in the context—medium and channel--of their choice. That puts Heyward’s rules of engagement front and center. Marketers have to provide value and the other kinds of meaning he talks about whenever and wherever the consumer chooses to interact with the brand.

Interesting hypothesis—does that bring us back to a core value proposition that we communicate in various ways? In other words, does it focus us on marketing basics, including our customers, not just on clever uses of all media, old and new?
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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Mr. Clean Makes A Video Splash

Here’s another contest to think about. Procter and Gamble’s Mr. Clean has a line extension of Magic Erasers. I’ve tried them and they really do work—to the extent that I’ve recommended them to friends. The warnings suggests they are full of some pretty strong stuff, but that’s another (important) subject.

The contest is similar to others featured in this blog. Create a video for the Magic Eraser line. The contest is now closed and the winner is to be announced on December 8. You can choose your preferred video if you like; they are all posted. It will take you awhile because the contest drew 96 official entries. There were a lot of daily prizes (Magic Erasers, I think) that kept the interest level high.
It also spawned some that can best be described as disgusting (I found 90+ videos on YouTube, many of which don't appear to be contest entries) and another that was too late to qualify but funny.

If my new media model is on track, these people are brand evangelists, most of them with a positive message. Does this kind of activity create a bond with the brand—a feeling of ownership, even? I think it might.

At the very least a lot of people have Magic Eraser samples. And Procter and Gamble has a lot of consumer insight for relatively little expenditure!
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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

New Media Model

The Internet changed the way marketers interacted with their customers. Permanently. Irrevocably. The social media of Web 2.0 are doing it again. That’s the theme of this blog.

Don Schultz describes the old model of how marketers use media as “linear.” It looks like this.“Linear” is a good description, but we all know the old way no longer works. There are a lot of suggestions, successful experiments and terms like “engagement” floating around. As far as I can tell no one has yet successfully put it all together.

Here’s my perspective on how it works. Notice that it does not use the terms “advertising,” “promotion,” or even “communication.” That’s intentional. Those terms are becoming as irrelevant as the linear model. So here’s how I think it works. Note that the overall context is one of trust—trust in the brand, the message, and the company that sponsors the communications.
Attention. We first have to attract the attention of the prospective customer. Television has always been best at doing that because of its huge reach. Between ad zapping of all kinds and the fact that television simply doesn’t reach some consumers like young males, it has lost much of its effectiveness. Online often works. Marketers can use many techniques to attract attention, from video clips to relevant content on websites.

Engagement. The next step is to engage them in our content to the extent that they not only spend time on our site but return to it. Advergaming is one way to reach the young male and the constantly expanding universe of gamers. Videos and interactive content work. The interactive content ranges from “build your own ” to “comment” to “rate this product.” It keeps people on the site longer. Even more important it draws them and gives them a feeling of ownership.

Commitment. This gets to the attitudinal component that is key to old models of media use and branding. People need to form positive attitudes about products, brands and businesses. Continuing to interact with them in a way that is relevant to their interests and respectful of their time and intelligence is essential. It adds to the context of trust in which all interactions must take place.

Conversion. Attention and interaction are wonderful, but at some point marketers have to create a customer. Online marketers often follow the direct-response model, using incentives to convert the prospect. That works, but there are other techniques that are potentially more effective and perhaps less costly. They range from word of mouth marketing to product ratings to viral content of all kinds. These techniques have the common advantage of coming from trusted personal sources not from advertising or any obviously-marketer-sponsored communications. Marketers must also be mindful of the fact that much conversion still takes place offline and integrate their strategies accordingly.

Loyalty. Old models stopped with the exhortation that marketers must create loyal customers. That’s still true. A quality product is a large part of that but this is an age of mostly parity products. If the product is not the keystone for loyalty, what is? It is the customer experience—from a consistently user-friendly and customer-responsive site to all the elements of the offline user experience. Think JetBlue. A reasonable business model and outstanding customer service created strong customer loyalty. That loyalty allowed them to weather (pun intended) the experience on Valentine’s Day, but customers made it quite clear that continuation of major customer inconvenience was not an option. David Neeleman, JetBlue CEO apologized publicly and insists that he is listening to customers. A touch of humanity never hurts.

Evangelism. Loyal customers are likely to be evangelists anyway. Give them tools to be more active. “Post your,” “Share this with your friends,” “Join our community discussions” all leverage the incredible power of WOM.

Evangelism and social media tools complete the cycle. They attract the attention of new potential customers. The marketer has to be ready to start the cycle over again, not when it’s convenient to broadcast a marketing message, but at the moment the individual customer enters the process.

Inside the process circle are two elements that keep it going:

Content supplied by marketers is the “new advertising.” It is informative, relevant and available on demand. It is presented in ways that engage as well as inform.

Contribution by customers (and others) is the immeasurably valuable input from the previously-voiceless “mass market.” They have found their voice and it’s not going to diminish. The “voice of the customer” will only increase as time goes on and more people become comfortable with the interactive techniques of Web 2.0. It adds to marketer-supplied content—a highly credible addition. It’s the voice of the customer, spoken directly to the marketer. What more can we ask for?

Trust is both the beginning and the end. Without trust other marketing efforts will have little impact.

That’s the way I see it! How about you?
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