Tuesday, April 28, 2009

When did viral become funny?

I'm sad to say that I caught a few minutes of the latest "Apprentice" the other night. The two teams had been asked to come up with a viral video for a laundry detergent. The results were beyond disastrous and in the boardroom Trump asked the teams why they both selected humor to deliver the video. The response was "...the client asked for a viral video."

This happens a lot. The assumption that for content to be worth sharing it must be funny. This is the case with a lot of the online examples and works on occasion. Yes, most of these examples get thousands of views - but works on occasion was meant to imply that the right people share the video and actually connect with the brand. I love the use of humor in all advertising, but I think that in some cases it is too easy to jump to the conclusion that viral = humor. If you look at why we share something, it's usually funny, exciting, shocking, puzzling, self-assuring, or some other emotional response that drives us to find someone else to share that something with. The point is that we tend to only share things that are interesting. I'd avoid the word if I could - but it just needs emotion. Sometimes funny is the cop-out. The cheap trick. There can be more done with this strategy if we continue to push it past the comfortable.

Thinking interesting means using the media for what it can deliver, rather than what it does now.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Is cost per sale an advertising metric?

How do you know your latest campaign worked out? After six weeks did sales jump? Or did your neighbor mention how great the new campaign was while you were working on your yard? Chances are it's a combination - most corporate marketers rely on the this combo to push for a pass or fail from their agency.

I am a believer in the web analytic's model that says if someone likes your ad, they will reward you by clicking it (or engaging in it). I'm also a believer that most people don't know what they are looking at in the run of a day to be able to give a solid reflection of a particular campaigns effectiveness. We are all often very bad judges of what we think we (and others) actually like. This bring up a tough point - How do you gage your advertising effectiveness?

I don't think that (in most cases) it is as black and white as something like the cost per sale. It works great for an online business or a business built to be flexible enough to react and proactively adjust to the consumer mindset - however most big companies are too slow for this. Using a cost per sale method for a larger organization doesn't take into consideration the high value of an existing customer base, the internal management structure (manage the management), the effectiveness of a sales team, the call-to-customer service times, public relations, the brand equity or even the competitive environment. So what works?

Look at an organization who has got it right. Chances are they look at all those things that make up the consumer experience and opinion. The departments a large company often spend resources maintaining often build barriers between employees and consumers. In those companies which are exceeding expectations, these department have been taken apart to change focus to the consumer. Actually, even successful companies that measure cost per sale do so by taking into consideration all those other factors that influence the purchase - and they make each employee of their organization consider the impact of their action on the consumer purchase.

The role of marketer changes when the result becomes the consumer experience (rather than action). I think that for certain strategic execution in advertising we should measure the action - but as a marketer we should be more concerned about consumer experience. We can change attitudes well before we influence behavior. The need for companies to change focus from what their advertising is doing, to what consumers are experiencing is the first step to supporting any marketing initiative and finding out what works.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Why the act of delivery matters

I have a new product I’m trying to sell. Basically it will transport you to anywhere you want on the continent within hours. If the product fails, you’ll probably die. The product is also severely impacted by things I can’t control – like the weather, my competition and the economy. I can’t even guarantee that I can transport you to your destination at the time I promised when you purchased from me. To add insult to injury – occasionally armed criminals will take-over my product, keeping me from fulfilling my promise while putting all my consumers in jeopardy. Because all these things can impact the product I’m selling, my support staff can occasionally get cranky. They can be rude, but most of the time you don’t have to worry because they’ll just be indifferent. The saving grace for my product is that I have only a few competitors who pretty much deliver the same thing and if all else fails I can just drop my price.

If you haven’t guest my product is an airline. You also might disagree with the last two lines about service as you probably have that one airline in your mind that stands out and reinforces the reward of traveling. This is an important point. Most of us look at our industry or job and think about how tough it is – how the status of our industry has been established and written in stone. When we market our business we look around at what everyone else is doing and try a different spin - but nothing that will rock the boat too much. We make excuses for our own fear of forcing the change that's needed within our company to actually produce something remarkable. Something that would stand out in our consumers mind just like that airline that stand out in yours. Don't hide behind your industry or that "what would our consumers think" chances are those are just corporate excuses.

Let's take a lesson from the airline industry. It was written in stone that you could deliver just good enough service so that you would not interfere with the real reason we fly – we don't by a ticket to fly, we buy a ticket to get to the destination. However – in the last decade the occasional (very occasional) airline will pop-up that focuses on you. They acknowledge the fact that the industry is broken. More importantly, they acknowledge that the service they provide can actually increase the benefit we feel from traveling.

Your service will impact the product benefit. Positively or negatively - it's your choice. Even the best products can be outsold by a better experience. They are not separate in the mind of the consumer - so they should not be separate in your organization.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Social Media Myth #2: It will stand on its own

I mentioned in a previous post that many companies make the mistake of moving towards social media and viral campaigns because they think this is a cheaper strategy to reach the masses. Saving on the bottom line is rarely the result of such an effort. The budget just shifts. It used to be 90% media spend and 10% creative/strategy. In the online space it's flipped – with 90% creative/strategy and a 10% media spend.

The problem with looking at the budget as a model in this way is that it creates a restriction on the silos of work/formula. This takes me to the second myth of social media: It can stand alone as a marketing model. The fact that many companies are blindly jumping online, going for the cheap spend and opening the doors to consumer conversation will ultimately leave a lot of folks sour towards social media. No marketing strategy works on its own. A killer ad campaign is useless if the product sucks. 25,000 followers on Twitter won’t help your brand if you use as a spam medium. Stirring up buzz with a viral video will not serve the brand if your front line doesn’t understand it – or even knows it exists.

Rohit calls this the real joke about marketing. Lack of integration is the one constant in the marketing space at this time. We are placing more weight on the shiny new social thing and hoping it will deliver corporate harmony.

Maybe the thought of integration doesn’t work for your company. Maybe you have no choice in the matter – you're just one of a team of one hundred putting out product campaign. Then think of it this way – substitute integration for thought-intensive strategy. Direct the strategy to involve the organization as a whole while reaching the most profitable segment of your consumer base. That will sound more realistic to your peers,and will keep the focus on the end benefit for the company (not the silo of business).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two tales of brand cultural integration

There is an interesting parallel being played out in the young/hip/artsy consumer market. The new team in the game is Nissan and it's star (for now) is the Cube. The vehicles design and the approach echo the pioneering leg work that Toyota successfully laid down almost seven years ago.

In 2003 Toyota launched the Scion - a brand within the Toyota brand that tried very hard to avoid association with it's large corporate father. The car entered the 'mass' market with no traditional mass strategy. Scion knew it's consumer and half a million trying to reach this consumer - not through television, social media or billboards, but by focusing its efforts on integrating the Scion into the target consumer culture. It placed the vehicle outside raves, inside art galleries, dropped them off to a few bloggers, a few niche zine editors - and ended up winning, as sales of the Scion far exceeded the expectations and grew substantially over the next few years.

Jump to 2009 and we have Nissan tapping into a very similar market with a very similar looking car. The Cube is taking its own approach to cultural integration. Focusing on a sub-culture turned mass-cultural medium - Twitter. The Cube is running a contest to aware 50 fine citizens with a new car. I know this doesn't sound like cultural integration - but it's not really the tool that makes this story interesting - it's the strategy.

The contest was open to everyone. If you wanted a free car - if the design spoke to you or [better yet] if the brand meant something to you - it was up to you to define what the vehicle stands for and why you deserve it. As a result thousands of entrants started blogs, tweeting, producing videos, stunts, art exhibits, and other reflections of their cultural communications to spread the word and generate buzz. Then Nissan selected a short-list of 500 and have left it open for public voting. This has only increased the buzz generating efforts of the chosen 500.

The underlying impact on the Cube is twofold:
  1. The brand is being defined by those who will ultimately buy into it. The catch is that it is being defined in a multitude of ways - as each contest consumer has a different opinion or connection to the brand.
  2. Through generating buzz the Cube is finding its way into the consumer culture it needs to be successful. The beauty of the online space is that it can create a substantial echo that reaches far beyond the reach and time originally planned.
The Scion approached the underground culture with an aura of secrecy, hoping to intrigue the key influencers (think Gladwell's Tipping Point). By creating curiosity and allowing these influencers to own the buzz/brand - it was able to leverage the independent underground and evolve a brand within the culture. The strategy wasn't 100% driven by key influencers, but it did manage to hit all the right people at the right time.

The Cube is assuming that those who are working so hard to prove they are worthy of a free car will become influencers during the process. A more open ended approach, it has forgone the secrecy that accompanied the Scion and went for full disclosure - but in a targeted consumer effort. As a result this campaign has the possibility to reach a wider audience and be less of a strict underground/alternative brand. A mass friendly approach to grass roots advertising.

The story has yet to finish. The Cube has just narrowed the list to 500, and we are a few months away from seeing whether the strategy will lead to a win on the car lots. Regardless of the result, a contrasting case study of two similar vehicles using the tools of the hour to reach a narrow band of consumers promises to be entertaining.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Social Media Myth #1: It's a low cost alternative

Sometimes I get the feeling that companies request new media or social media ideas for the wrong reasons. Sure, they are probably sick of their current media strategy - usually radio, print, a bit of TV, a handful of online ads and maybe even a microsite for a special offer. It could be expected that these old tools offer little ROI, fail to reach consumers in a relevant way, or do not 'tap into the conversation' that is the newest (and oldest) buzzword amongst marketers. But I think that expectation is usually false and presents the wrong motivation. There are at least four myths that go into the decision by most companies to enter into the new media/social media space. For this post, we'll focus on one:

New Media and Social Media are low cost alternatives to the old marketing plan

This myth has been supported by marketers and the perception of free content online. We are used to consuming content online for little to no cost. We are also used to the cost/quality of producing a television commercial. When we view that new viral video in our inbox and see the relevant quality versus our television spots - we're thinking 'that's entertaining and looks like it was made on a shoe-string budget'.

The problem with this perception is that the cost to reach the fragmented online audience and the cost to build a brand using non-traditional offline media is not nearly as free as the content it creates.

Do you remember when the Scion was launched? The Scion - built by Toyota - never produced a television ad or entered the mass advertising space during its brand launch (although it did eventually enter the main stream). It opted for an underground approach to marketing; lending the new vehicle to editors of small niche magazines, block parties, art gallery's, and other not-so-obvious marketing events. This stuff worked, the car brarnd sold 125,00 Scions in 2005 and saw increases each reach after. The reported budget to plant the seed for this new brand? $50 million.

Then there is the commonly known energy drink Red Bull. Rob Walker dissects the launch of this brand in this book "Buying In". No big television spots, no huge radio buys or billboards- this brand started out targeting extremely niche markets and influencers by lending its name to events, organizing odd sporting competitions and dropping product into the hands of the consumer to generate word-of-mouth. This at a time when the Energy Drink was not even a beverage category. The results were huge for Red Bull and it successfully established a market that did not previously exist. You couldn't find a magazine or website that wasn't praising these creative low-cost marketing efforts. In reality Red Bull was spending $100 million a year to reach it's target audience. They knew who they were talking to and they were motivated to reach these people in a way that would embed itself as a lasting brand in the minds of these consumers.

The decision to forgo your traditional ad plan requires greater thought and a more substantial motivation than money. If the cost to acquire new customers or keep existing customers seems to high, it is time to rethink your consumer insight. All the successful brands or campaigns stem from remarkable consumer insight. No amount of marketing or budget cuts will cover for a poor understanding of your consumer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

1500 people every second

It's easy to send an email. It's increasingly easier to send an email to that list of 200,000 names you've collected over the last two years. If you've collected them, you probably feel that you have permission to email these people. That's where things get foggy. One easy way to keep this in perspective: If you have a list of 200,000 (or 40 or 35,000) names always consider the opportunity to piss 200,000 people off equally as great as the opportunity to positively connect to these people.

When the Canadian no call list was instituted in 2008, there was a period of time where 1500 people every second were requesting to be added to the list. Could the Canadian consumer base be more clear about how welcome sales messages were in their personal space? The 'masses' we try to reach have never been more united. The telemarketers ruined it for themselves. There is no chance for a noble company or the sale of a life changing product because this side of the industry has repeatedly burned the trust of consumers. It is only a matter of time before these same consumer get sick of sending unwanted emails to the trash or managing a blocked e-mail list. How many Canadian consumers would sign up to a no email list today?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Newspapers and Twitter

Yesterday my post about the Chronicle-Herald in Halifax mentioned it's absence from Twitter along with a few other possible opportunities for the newspaper.

It turns out they are on Twitter, but I hadn't noticed. The paper has 242 followers and joined back in September. There are two things I wonder when I see this:

1) Did they join as part of a greater shift in engagement strategy? I don't mean a social media strategy - I'm thinking a holistic shift. Does this signify a priority on growing readership over advertising revenue? I'd be interested in knowing the strategic objectives.

2) Does it make sense that they follow those who follow them? A lot of national publications do not. However on the local scale there may be a few benefits:
  • Local followers are usually close to or a part of local news. Following these people could lead to new sources of news and real time access to local events.
  • Following these people could also provide real time editorial and a pulse on the mood of this segment of the online community. This would allow content to be tailored - further increasing audience engagement.
  • Advertisers always benefit from knowing more about the audience they are talking to. Engaging the follower base on Twitter may allow the Chronicle Herald to present the local advantage of their more online reader base.
  • Perceived Value. Twitter is a bit egotistic. People enjoy being followed. Even the perception that the Herald might be following them may increase engagement and readership of the tweets/content. This is not the most moral of reasons but it does hold some validity in the short term. In the long term people will know whether you are actually listening and care what they say, so action would need to follow.