Breaking down the walls separating the “marketed to” and the marketer

One thing I often talk about is a vision I have of social media breaking down the wall that has existed for ages between the corporation’s marketing department and the great unwashed — that means you and me — on the other side of that wall.  The “marketed to.”  The social web has ushered in the potential for unprecedented collaboration between consumers and marketers.  It can potentially lead to an age in which companies don’t market to consumers, but instead, market with them, for the benefit of both.  And even possibly improve the image of marketing as a profession beyond its current position slightly above “used car salesmen.”  (No slight to used car salesmen intended.)

A recent study released by Forrester shows that this vision can become a reality.  As the title to a piece on ReadWriteWeb about the report says, Consumers Will Not Only Buy, They Will Help Create.  Indeed there are many consumers who say they would be willing co-creators, but not so many marketers who have chosen to take advantage of that fact.  According to the report, 61% of consumers would be ready to help companies design new products and improve existing ones.

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Online communities help marketers stay in touch and build advocacy

Econsultancy examples of online research communities

Follow this link to a good blog post from Econsultancy on how Mercedes has set up two online communities to get closer to existing and prospective owners.  An increasing number of companies are doing this, recognizing that engaging with consumers in an informal, social online setting encourages spontaneous and open discussion,  yielding a truer picture of people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas than more “lab-like” techniques like focus groups and surveys.

You can find other examples of marketer-created communities in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s outstanding book Groundswell, Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and in Bob Gilbreath’s book, Marketing with Meaning.  I like how Bob describes them, which I think is at the heart of why they allow for richer insights than more traditional research …

“… these communities are inhabited by anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand members; the topics are free-flowing and the discussions self-generated, allowing members to feel as if they own and run the community.”

The result is that you obtain perspectives and insights based on what consumers feel is important rather than merely what the marketer is trying to find out.  Community members also feel recognized and appreciate the fact that the company is really listening, which helps to drive brand advocacy.

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digiday SAMMY Awards — a new award show for the best in social media

This will be a short one — pressed for time this week needing to get extra work done before an upcoming vacation.

But just wanted to alert you to the digiday SAMMY Awards, a new award show that recognizes the best efforts in social media and marketing. (Not to be confused with the Scholar Athlete Milk Mustache of the Year Awards.)

Among the judges are such notables as Scott Monty of Ford and Paul Beck from Ogilvy Worldwide.  Awards are handed out in 12 categories, among them Best Engagement Campaign, Best Social Community and Best Viral Video.  There’s also an award for Best in Show, which sounds a bit peculiar, as I only know that classification from dog shows.

This is the inaugural year of the competition and a gala event will be held to recognize the winners on September 17th at The W Hotel in New York City.  You can find a list of the nominees and winners here.  Unfortunately, there are no links or profiles of the campaigns.  Perhaps something will be prepared for the gala which will then go online.  Hope so.

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Helped by the internet, “the times, they are a-changin” in Egypt

I got home yesterday morning from a three-day trip to Hurghada, Egypt.  Hurghada is a sprawling resort town on the Red Sea frequented by scuba divers.  I was there to complete my PADI Open Water Diving certification.  As it happened, I had the April 5th issue of The New Yorker magazine with me, which featured an article by Joshua Hammer on the upcoming Presidential elections in Egypt.

The current Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, became President in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat.  He has since been “re-elected” every six years by national referendum with no opposition candidates, except in 2005 when the Bush administration pressured him to allow multiparty Presidential elections.  The fairness of those elections has been challenged, with human rights watchers reporting massive suppression of the opposition in the weeks leading up to the voting and on election day.

Election year 2011 looks to be different, with several factors potentially ushering in real change.

One is that Mubarak is now 81.  While he once told the Egyptian parliament that he would stay in office until his last, dying breath, he has recently been grooming  possible successors, including his son Gamal.

Another catalyst of change is Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who recently returned to his hometown of Cairo for the first time since retiring as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.  ElBaradei was the man who questioned the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion and urged that inspections continue.  He has now heeded the call from different constituencies in Egypt and is assessing a possible run for the Presidency.

And finally, there’s the internet.  According to the New Yorker article, 16 million Egyptians are now online, most of them under the age of 35.  That’s relatively low for a population of about 80 million.  Nevertheless, Gamal Mubarak, who is trying to position himself as the leader of Egypt’s youth hosted a recent webcast with college students, and more are planned.  (One could also imagine him launching the Arab equivalent of The Great Schlep, the online campaign that mobilized young Jewish voters in the U.S. to get their non-internet affine grandparents living in Florida to vote for Obama.)  ElBaradei has created the National Front for Change, which includes a web site that is collecting signatures for adjustments in the law to make the election fairer.  And unknown to him, supporters also created a Facebook fan page.  Joshua Hammer reported that there were 76,000 fans at the time he wrote the article.  I just looked and there are now over 91,000.

Bloggers are also active in Egypt, although those critical of governmental policies have been called in for questioning and in some cases jailed.  Referring to these incidences, Mohamed Gamal, a leader in Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, said, “There might be some individual cases, but no government can crack down on the internet.”  One wonders if that statement is just a propaganda ploy to play down the ruling party’s efforts to suppress criticism online, or a sincere acknowledgment that in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, the times, they are a-changin in Egypt.  One hopes it’s the latter.

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Twitter for Madmen

I may be the last person who knows about this, but as I’m a fan of Madmen, I just had to share this in case it went by any other Madmen fans who read this blog.

Betty Draper is on Twitter.  (Latest Tweet: “Staring at myself in the toaster.”) So is Roger Sterling, Joan Harris and others.

Since the series started, fans of the show have created fictional Twitter accounts for there favorite Madmen characters.  In fact there are as many as 90, according to Brand Fiction Factory, a company that develops online content for brands and companies engaging with consumers through social media.  Indeed Brand Fiction Factory writers are the real world minds behind 16 of these accounts and they were recently named as a SAMMY Awards finalist in the category Best Twitter Branding Campaign for their Madmen endeavours. If I understand correctly, these writers weren’t paid, but created the content out of their love for the show, so this may be the first time we’ve seen a fan-based campaign recognized in this way.  That is if you can really call it a campaign.

Hat’s off to AMC, the company that produces Madmen, for recognizing the power behind this fan-based enthusiasm to intensify involvement and commitment to the series.  It’s amazing when you think about it.  The fans are extending the fictional narrative beyond television, and AMC has relinquished control and let them go with it.

I imagine Twitter could be used in a similar way for certain iconic brands to fuel the myth and stories that surround them and strengthen the emotional connection with their users.  What would The Marlboro Man tweet about, I wonder?  “Just back from the rodeo, my ass feels like silly putty and I need a bourbon and smoke.” He isn’t on Twitter.  (Although there is a real life cowboy from Nebraska who tweets under the name of marlboroman.) How does Betty Crocker manage to get through her day?  There is a Betty Crocker Twitter feed, but it’s hosted by the brand, not Betty herself.  Any thoughts on other brands that might do this?

By the way, you can also find Betty Draper on Linkedin, and she writes a blog.

Are we all going mad, men and women?

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Foursquare and Gowalla enable true “when and where they are receptive” messaging

Foursquare and Gowalla are the most well-known location based social networks.  They’ve been around for some time, but like Twitter before them, have now reached a Tipping Point of online social media conversation and debate.  Both were much discussed at the recent South by Southwest conference in Austin, as were location based services in general.

Are you signed up yet? To find out more about them, check out Crunchbase.  In a nutshell, both services use geo-location technology to pinpoint where you are.  When you log on via your mobile device, a window shows stores, restaurants, museums, cafes, etc. in your immediate area, and when you check in to one of these locations, you can automatically let friends and followers know, write a message or leave a comment, tip or rating.  You can also read other users’ comments about the location.

Foursquare also incorporates gaming elements through a system of badges that you earn when you become, for example, the most frequent visitor to a place, or have visited a certain number of new places.  As odd as it sounds, people really get into this and it obviously provides promotion and merchandising opportunities for businesses and retailers. Foursquare works with businesses to provide stats based on audience check-ins, so a local restaurant might offer a special deal to its “mayor” (the badge awarded to the most frequent visitor) and his followers to drive loyalty, increase frequency of visits, or motivate lapsed visitors to come back.  Businesses can also set up loyalty programs for customers to earn points every time they check in, redeemable against future purchases.  Those are just a couple of examples of how local businesses are using Foursquare to boost traffic and sales.  You can find more information on Foursquare’s information page for businesses.

Indeed, much of the discussion of around location-based services has been about their marketing value to small, local businesses.  But as these services develop and add on new features, they will become just as valuable for major brands and businesses as well.

An age-old tenet of traditional media planning is to reach consumers when and where they will be receptive to the message.  Indeed, one could argue that a major issue with the traditional one-way, one-to-many communications model of the last 150 years — aside from the fact that so much advertising was, and still is, tedious and boring — is that too many messages reached the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time.   Location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla can change all that.  What’s especially exciting is that these services can deliver those messages precisely at the moment when buying decisions can most likely be influenced and acted upon, at the point of sale.

Imagine you’re a mom, it’s Saturday morning and you’ve checked in at your local Tesco or Safeway using Foursquare.  Among your Foursquare friends and followers are other moms like you.  Let’s pretend Foursquare has an interface that allows you to list the categories and brands from whom you’re happy to receive information, as well as an opt-in function that lets you choose when you receive that information and when you don’t.  (It will happen soon enough!)  You opt in because this is precisely when and where you are receptive to hearing about the latest deal on diapers, the newest flavor variety of your favorite salad dressing brand, or a new recipe suggestion for preparing a quick dinner for your family that evening.

Some other ways Foursquare might help you out:

You point your iPhone at a new item you’re considering, and Foursquare immediately shows you comments and reviews from your friends or the broader Foursquare community.

You check in to Foursquare and you receive a personalized thank you message from Tropicana Orange Juice for buying Tropicana each of the last three times you went shopping at this location,  with a 50% off coupon for your next purchase.

Gerber Baby Food lets you know that 10 moms in your Foursquare network also buy baby food and if you all buy $5,00 or more of Gerber this week, you’ll all receive a buy 1 get 1 free offer the next time you visit the store.  You message your friends to let them know.

None of these functions are available yet, but it’s only a matter of time until these or others like them are.

Social media purists may find the notion of using Foursquare and Gowalla as a channel for marketing messages anathema.  Many would say that it’s fine for brands to participate in social media, but if they do, it needs to be in a genuine way, with a human voice, through personalized one-on-one conversations.  I agree that the possibility of the social web to enable more human, collaborative exchanges between people and the companies they buy from is one of the most exciting aspects of the new, post-broadcast age.  But it’s not the only way of doing things.  If a social media service empowers consumers to receive promotional messages from companies and brands that are of interest to them, where and when they want to receive those messages, and on top overlays that information with additional opinions and commentary from their peers, I don’t have a problem with that.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the main reasons that people become fans of branded Facebook pages is that they want to learn about special offers, free samples and promotions.  So apparently consumers don’t have a problem with it either.

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“Search and save” on Facebook, Twitter?

In episode 533 of the For Immediate Release podcast, Shel Holtz provides a remarkably lucid and convincing defense of companies and organizations creating Facebook fan pages.  This was in response to comments from members of the FIR Friendfeed room predicting the end of commercial fan pages on Facebook.

Shel points out that many fan pages are indeed ineffective, because the creators have clearly not put much thought into why people might want to come visit the page.  One of the main reasons customers give for visiting a fan page is to find out about special deals and offers.  Like this one from Starbucks, which was in my Facebook newsfeed this morning.

Of course, there are other reasons people interested in an organization or brand might become a fan and be motivated to return to the page regularly.  As Shel points out, patients with chronic illnesses might become a fan of their local hospital to learn about seminars that help them to manage their condition.  It’s not hard to imagine other reasons as well.  A local retailer could keep its customers up to date on sales or the arrival of a hot new product.  Museums could announce new exhibits, or alert people to slow days when popular exhibits might be less crowded.  Presuming not everyone buys their books on Amazon, a local book seller could let literary types know when a new novel was in stock or its author would be appearing for a reading and book signing.

The point of course is that a successful fan page starts with the consumer.  What do they need, what might be of value to them, how could a Facebook fan page help?

Another aspect is particularly important. Companies and organizations can of course feed this information to people elsewhere on line, through their own web sites or email, for example  But that demands more effort and time than most people have today.  It has to occur to them to go to the web site, they need to take the time to remember your URL or find it in their “favorites” list, or consciously decide to click on your email vs. all the others that are cluttering their mailbox.  For more and more people, Facebook is where they are anyway.  And when they’ve opted in to your fan page, you are there with them, because everything you announce shows up in their news feed.  They don’t have to go to your information, your information goes to them — automatically.

Which brings me to the last point.  Most of us don’t have our eyes constantly glued to our Facebook news feed.  The same goes for Twitter.  Facebook should create a “search and save” tool, like an RSS feeder, but for Facebook posts.  It would have a function that allows you to enter the names of the fan pages from whom you would like to receive posts, and then automatically collects those posts for you to review at a time that’s convenient, with the reassurance that you didn’t miss the latest big deal or event.  I’m not aware of a tool like this, either on Facebook or Twitter, where it would also make sense.  Do you know of one?

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