Tag Archives: online marketing

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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Ikea’s Easy to Assemble video series breaks new ground in branded entertainment

Easy to Assemble is a wacky online video series created and written by Illeana Douglas and sponsored by Ikea.  It’s based on an earlier online show created by Douglas called Supermarket of the Stars. Douglas later pitched it to Ikea and adapted it for the Swedish home furnishings giant.  In both series, Douglas and the other stars (including Justine Bateman, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Pollak and Jane Lynch) play fictionalized versions of themselves.  The basic idea is that they have decided to get out of show business and start new careers as co-workers in the Ikea store in Burbank, California.  Sounds like a stretch, but the series is incredibly funny and entertaining.

And that’s the secret to its success as a brand property.  According to Advertising Age, Easy to Assemble has racked in 5.1 million views since first going online last year and the numbers are still growing.  Ikea had the vision to give Douglas the creative freedom to place entertainment ahead of marketing.  That doesn’t mean the brand is relegated to the sidelines.  The story takes place in the Ikea store, Ikea branding and products (including those famous Swedish meatballs) are weaved naturally into the story lines, and the brand isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, or at peculiarly Swedish traits that are at the heart of the brand and the company.  The ability not to take itself so seriously, something most brands sadly lack, makes Ikea all the more approachable and human.

In one of the spoof training videos that come at the end of many episodes, Nicole Bateman advises Ikea trainees not to inform customers who have left an important component behind by mistake.  When they get home, they’ll realize it’s missing, come back to buy it, and will probably pick up other items as well.  “And that means repeat sales.”  Of course everyone watching knows this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but most marketers would lack the courage for that kind of humor.

I’m also impressed how Easy to Assemble has engaged with Ikea’s online fan base to promote the show.  For the launch of the second season, Douglas engaged the services of CJP Digital Media, a company that creates, distributes and promotes branded entertainment properties.  CJP approached fan communities like Susan Martin’s IKEAFANS.com, which receives over 320,000 unique visitors a month, according to a post on tubefilter news.

CPJ went beyond just providing brand enthusiasts with YouTube embed codes.  It approached the top four Ikea fan sites and gave each an embeddable online player that only works on that site, where visitors could watch the shows.  The one that gets the most people to view the series will be rewarded by getting written into the second season finale.  This provides benefits for everyone involved.  Ikea and Easy to Assemble profit from the increased buzz and word of mouth.  The fan sites are rewarded by repeat visits thanks to recurring, relevant and entertaining content.  October was IKEAFANS.com’s best month ever for traffic and unique visitors, and Martin credits this in part to the show appearing on the site.

The influence and effectiveness of Easy to Assemble will grow in future.  Initially distributed only on YouTube and Metacafe, it now can be seen on CBS’s TV.com, My Damn Channel and Blip.tv.  And it should be showing soon on Hulu, Verizon FiOS and The Hotel Network’s DoNotDisturb TV channel, if it isn’t already.

I loved this quote from Susan Martin in the tubefilter news piece:  “Ikea has that most elusive combination of respect and love from their customer base.”  At Saatchi & Saatchi, we call brands that achieve that elusive combination Lovemarks.  Ikea certainly is one.  But as in any relationship, brands need to find ways to continually fuel that love.  By taking branded entertainment to a new level of comedy and quality, Easy to Assemble is a great way to do that.

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Peer Squared fast forwards the convergence of online marketing and social networks

Peer Squared is a new platform that allows people to share commercial messages with their online communities and earn points that are redeemable on Amazon.  It’s an interesting concept and the first one I’m aware of that actively encourages people to share brand messages on their personal social networks by offering tangible rewards for doing so.

Peer Squared Ducati

The motorcycle manufacturer Ducati just got on board, but I haven’t heard of any of the other four brands that so far have “programs” on the site.  So when Peer Squared calls itself “a peer-endorsed online marketing platform that rewards you for promoting the brands and products you love across the internet,” that’s only true if 1) a brand that you happen to love is there, 2) your motivation for promoting the brand is that you truly love it, vs. you’re only 1000 points away from that Sony speaker system you’ve been dying to get for free.

There’s the rub.  It’s one thing for brand enthusiasts to share messages and brand content out of their true love for the brand, with no motivation beyond the fact that when we find something we think is really good, there’s nothing more rewarding than being the source for others to discover and enjoy it for themselves.  And it’s perfectly legitimate for brands to help enable that, through widgets, links and sharable content.  That’s the beauty of social media marketing.  Your customers do the marketing, out of love for your brand, and that marketing achieves a new level of integrity and effectiveness.  But it’s quite another thing when someone’s motive for sharing information about the brand isn’t simply out of love, but out of a more self-serving objective — to get stuff in return.

And what does it say to our online social connections when we throw commercial messages in their faces, for products we in fact may not really believe in, for the sake of a few thousand Amazon reward points?  Is that what the social web is becoming?  A platform for shilling products to our friends?  “Hi friend, I interrupt my Facebook feed for this short commercial message.” With friends like that …, well, you know how the rest of the saying goes.

I’ve started a little experiment. I’ve signed up to Peer Squared and placed content on my Facebook page, Twitter and elsewhere.  I’m curious to see how fast I can accumulate points, and whether my social network notices, is indifferent or protests.

I’ll keep you posted.

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Said the advertising to the academic, “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated”

I’m a little late to this one but I’d like to share some thoughts all the same.

Last March, Eric Clemons, who is a professor at the Wharton School, one of America’s top business schools, wrote a post on TechCrunch entitled “Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet.” It caused quite a stir.  Professor Clemons’s key thesis is that online advertising will ultimately fail.  There will be less of it in future because in today’s interconnected world, people don’t want, need or trust ads.

While the piece’s title refers to online advertising, Professor Clemons goes further:

“… simple commercial messages, pushed through whatever medium, in order to reach a potential customer who is in the middle of doing something else, will fail.  It’s not that we no longer need information to initiate or to complete a transaction; rather, we will no longer need advertising to obtain that information.  We will see the information we want, when we want it, from sources that we trust more than paid advertising.  We will find out what we need to know, when we want to make a commercial transaction of any kind.”

Earlier in the post he asserts that “the ultimate failure of broadcast media advertising is likewise becoming clear.”  So he is not talking about the eventual demise of online advertising only, but of advertising in general.

There is much in Professor Clemons’s post with which I agree, as well as some excellent perspectives that really got me to stretch my mind.   Especially thought provoking is his description of paid search as “misdirection,” because it sends consumers to pages that are not necessarily the most valuable to them, but rather to the sites of companies that cough up the most money.  (For this reason he believes Google’s business model is probably unsustainable.) Anyone who knows this blog also knows that I not only recognize, but am inspired by the changes web 2.0 and social media are bringing to fundamentals of marketing, communications and brand-consumer relationships.

Still, I am not convinced by the good professor’s thesis that advertising’s role in the marketing mix — online or otherwise — is necessarily doomed to oblivion.  The reason is that Mr. Clemons has a very info-centric view of advertising, as you can see by the previous quote and in the definition of advertising below that he offers in his post (passages in bold are mine):

“Advertising is using sponsored commercial messages to build a brand and paying to locate these messages where they will be observed by potential customers performing other activities; these messages describe a product or service, its price or fundamental attributes, where it can be found, its explicit advantages, or the implicit benefits from its use.”

The rumors of my death have been wildly exaggerated

The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated

If you believe that the only role of advertising is to provide information about a product or brand, or for that matter, that a person’s rational evaluation of a particular brand’s attributes and benefits is the only basis for the choice of that brand over another,  than his thesis makes perfect sense.  But of course we all know that human beings are not especially rationale creatures, especially in their brand choices, and that advertising in many categories plays a role beyond simply conveying product benefits.  It may be out of style to say it, but the truth is that even in an online world where we have easy access to all sorts of information about brands, people are still influenced by other factors in their brand choices than a simple assessment of the benefits received relative to the price paid.

We all know that brands have dimensions beyond the attributes and benefits they offer.  Brands can represent an idea, connect us with a feeling, signify a particular attitude toward life, or express a value with which we personally identify.  Advertising plays a role in shaping those dimensions in our minds, and when the product attributes and quality of two brands are more or less equal, it can be primarily those emotional qualities that determine whether someone chooses one brand over another.

I doubt this will ever change.  It’s in the nature of who we are as human beings.  I remember reading somewhere that it is in our psyche to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects.  That’s what’s at the heart of our propensity to ascribe emotional and image dimensions to brands.  It’s through those associations that brands are one of the ways we define who we are to ourselves and to others.  And that’ something else I see no sign of changing.

This doesn’t deny that a brand’s image today is driven much more  than in the past by the thoughts, opinions and impressions that people can now share with thousands of others on line.  But even though online conversations play a bigger role than ever in shaping the collective perception of rational and emotional brand dimensions, this doesn’t mean that brand communications, created by marketers, no longer have any influence at all.  Brand perception is shaped by a myriad of sources — online conversations, ratings and reviews, personal experience, comments from others when we use the brand, our perception of others who use it, and — yes — brand communications.  Just because that last factor plays a smaller role than it did when we lived in a marketing world dominated by one-way messaging from marketer to consumer, it doesn’t mean it plays no role at all today or will play no role in future.

But even if you come from the information angle, I think there is still a role for advertising.  Just because I’m not actively looking for information about a particular product or category, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want information to find its way to me.  I’m a Mac fan.  I’m happy to get “uninvited” messages about a new Mac product or an upgrade to my current one.  Or even to hear about a new flavor of my favorite tooth paste brand.  (I’m a flavored tooth paste junkie.)

One of Mr. Clemons’s arguments is that advertising will fail because people don’t feel it is a trustworthy source of information.  But in future, it’s quite possible that advertising will gain in credibility because marketers will be forced to provide a higher level of truthfulness and integrity in their messages and claims, precisely because in a web 2.o world, any inaccuracies or attempts at deception will be quickly exposed and shared mercilessly.

There seem to be a whole bunch of people making extremely black-and-white statements about the future of marketing and communications these days, about whether advertising as we know it (or knew it) will fail or succeed, evolve or be doomed to oblivion.  No one really  knows, but certainly a lot of people seem to act like they do.  Rather than channeling all this energy into debate on these questions, which is a bit of a tempest in teapot, we should focus more on exploring and sharing what’s working, what’s not working, and how old and new media potentially work together.  And then see what happens.

Does that mean that this is the last time I’ll ever raise my voice in the debate?

Probably not.

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Suicide Girls shows how online communities can monetize by thinking small

If you don’t know George Parker, you should.  Creative consultant, 30-year advertising industry veteran — he’s known for his no-holds-barred opinions and perspectives.  He writes a blog — Adscam/The Horror — and is a popular guest on various marketing podcasts thanks to his bitting, comic commentary.  He’s a bit too hard-edged for my taste and his humor often depends on the below-the-belt put-down — like the jokes of Don Rickles, a comedian I never could stand.  But beneath all the rancor, George is a pretty smart guy, has seen it all, and is worth listening to.

On a recent episode of the BeanCast, which has become one of my favorite podcasts on marketing and communications, George enjoyed a healthy rant about Facebook and Twitter and the fact that despite their popularity and growth, they don’t have a viable business model.  According to George, they never will.  The problem is that they’re too general.  They’re trying to be all things to all people.  So they can’t create a unique, distinctive online social experience that people will pay for.  In George’s opinion — and he may be right — the future belongs to small, niche online communities that offer a unique package of services, content and ways to connect that are highly desirable for that specific community.  One that he calls out is Suicide Girls.

Picture 2

Suicide Girls is a web site tailored to the lifestyle and fashion aesthetic of young women (and men) who are into piercing, tattoos and living life well beyond the borders of  what most of us would consider mainstream.  You’ve got to pay $4.00 a month to join.  But that’s only the beginning.  Building on the common interests and attitudes of the community, Suicide Girls has grown into an “alternative” lifestyle brand that now includes books, DVDs, a magazine (how “old media”!), a burlesque tour and a fashion and accessories line.  Here are just some of the items you can order on the site:

The Suicide Girls Beauty Redefined Book ($40)

Women’s Huddie ($100)

Suicide Girls Graffiti Panties ($12 — that seems like a bargain!)

Suicide Girls Buttons (pack of 10 for $7)

According to Crunchbase, Suicide Girls has 5 million unique visitors a month.  So you can also imagine that the banner ad for the London Tattoo Convention in the photo of the SG home page above will garner a hell of a lot more clicks there than it would as link on Facebook or Twitter.  For the right advertiser, niche communities mean a much a higher ROI, boosting  the viability of advertising as an online revenue source for these narrowly targeted sites.  It’s not the quantity, but the quality of reach.

You can learn more about how Suicide Girls has successfully monetized its online community in this interview with its founder, Missy Suicide.  Her real name, of course.

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Get Satisfaction’s Company-Customer Pact augurs a new age in customer relations

Get Satisfaction is an online community that provides a place for consumers to come together and share information, tips and advice about companies, products and services.  They can comment, rant, rave, ask and answer questions, suggest ideas and even have conversations with employees of companies that are sufficiently web 2.0-savvy to recognize the benefits of this new way of interacting with the people who, ultimately, pay their salaries.  So this isn’t only a consumer community.  Companies, too, are encouraged to join the conversations.

Here is just a sample of questions and comments you might find on Get Satisfaction:

What happened to my chai tea latte’s flavor? (Starbucks.  Note the use of the personal possessive pronoun “my”!)

Why are you treating loyal Platinum members like dirt? (i.e. Me) (American Express)

Where do all the unsold cakes go? (Whole Foods Market)

Your strawberry, banana orange juice is orgasmic. It is the best orange juice I have ever tasted. Why is it so hard to find? (Tropicana)

It would be great if Amazon could make an iPhone app that would let you buy music from the Amazon MP3 Store.

Get Satisfaction Coment

You begin your journey on Get Satisfaction by entering the product or company name into a search box.  That search takes you to the applicable Get Satisfaction “community” where you can immediately see if company employees are participating.  For me, that alone earns a tremendous amount of good will.  (And makes the companies that don’t get involved look pretty lame.)

But I find one of the most inspiring things on Get Satisfaction is their Company-Customer Pact.  Fundamentally, it’s a set of guidelines for how companies and customers can best engage with each other for the mutual benefit of both. It reflects the new realities of a web 2.0-interconnected world that rewards transparency and the guts to really listen and respond to customers online, in a dialogue that is visible to all.  What’s also pretty cool is that the pact doesn’t place the whole burden of the relationship exclusively on the shoulders of the marketer.  Consumers also need to listen and be open to the point-of-view of the company.

It’s an excellent code of behavior for what I have called the concept of brands not marketing to, but marketing with, their consumers in a refreshingly human, open and social web 2.0 world.

Get Satisfaction ccpact

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Dell Outlet sales through Twitter are a bigger deal than I thought

Dell Outlet Home Page

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post questioning the significance of $3 million in Dell Outlet sales attributed to Twitter (Twitter has made money for Dell Outlet — is it just a big yawn?).  After all, $3 million is just a drop in the bucket of Dell’s total turnover.

On a recent episode of the podcast For Immediate Release, Neville Hobson interviewed Richard Binhammer, who manages Dell’s social media efforts.  Richard mentioned two things that place Dell Outlet’s use of Twitter in context and strengthen the case for Twitter as a marketing tool in this specific instance.

First, Dell Outlet is a small division and doesn’t have much of a marketing budget.  The cost of marketing via Twitter costs virtually nothing.  (Pun intended!)

Second, Dell Outlet has a business model that makes Twitter the perfect communications tool.  It sells discounted computer products and systems that have been used and refurbished, or were left over from canceled orders, or are the equivalents of “seconds,” that is, hardware that has some kind of cosmetic fault that doesn’t affect its performance.

Apparently the business model doesn’t allow for holding on to inventory.  When stuff  gets returned, even if it’s as few as 5 laptops, Dell Outlet has to move product fast.  They can’t afford to have excess inventory clogging up the system.  “I can’t think of any other venue in which we can do that,” Richard says.  Even relatively short newspaper lead times take too much time.  (Oh yes, and newspaper advertising costs money.)

This case raises an important point.  Everyone keeps asking the question, can Twitter and other social media communities be used effectively for business.  The answer is, “It depends.”  It depends on the business model.  It depends on the product.  It depends on the community, why that community has come together, what each individual hopes to get from being there.

Dell Outlet on Twitter is just one of many ways Dell uses, and continues to pioneer, social media for business.  For other Dell activities on Twitter and links to other Dell social media endeavors, go to this page.

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