Don’t give away the farm

The sales pitch goes something like this: you’re on Facebook, congratulations on joining the social revolution! Now you need to capture as many fans as possible and get them to like you. Wonderful. How do you do that? One of the recommendations is to use your media strategy (that is, your ads) to drive traffic to the page. In other words, “visit www.facebook.com/YourBrandHere to learn more!”

Some brand marketers might wince at the suggestion, preferring instead to drive people to their website. But the strategy does work and it’s a good one. The problem with it is this: have you ever actually used Facebook’s native analytics platform, Facebook Insights? It doesn’t exactly replace your existing web analytics platform.

For example, traffic to your own website results in a multitude of data being streamed into your analytics platform (such as Google Analytics or Omniture). Things like unique users, their computer OS and language, the time they spent on your site, what they did once they were there. It’s the cornerstone of any good digital marketing program and without that data you’ll be severely restricted in what you can learn, report and measure.

Back to Facebook. Now, they’re not exactly in the analytics business. They did revamp their Insights platform last year and included some good new features. Some of those features mimic what you see in other analytics platforms, such as number of unique users and what they’re engaging with on your Facebook Page. It also reports referring URLs and that, my friends, is pretty much where the insights stop.

I’m not going to rag on Facebook. They’re busy building an empire that currently represents the majority of the world population. Providing data analytics to advertisers is not exactly a core business. That said, to effectively measure the impact of including a Facebook link in your marketing efforts you really do need as many of those insights as you can get your hands on. You need to know what worked, what didn’t, where you can improve placement of the link and where you can consider dropping it. In short, you need analytics.

How do you get them? There is a simple and elegant solution that many advertisers are not using, one that will keep the initial set of analytics available to you for analysis.

Ready for it?

Try using www.YourBrandHere.com/Facebook instead of www.facebook.com/YourBrandHere. The resulting landing page can simply redirect to your Facebook Page, thereby giving you access to the initial referring data. As far as knowing what happens once your fans get to Facebook you’ll unfortunately need to use their Insights platform. You can use this same method for any social media platform you’re engaged on, FWIW, and you’ll be glad that you did. It’s your money, it’s your fan base. Keep as much of the data as you can.


Looking forward to 2012

We’re not yet halfway through December (woo!) but our attention begins to turn to assessing the year past and looking forward to the year ahead. I am closely following all of the trends that have developed in 2011 and have written about a lot of them. Assimilated here are some of my key predictions that will matter to brand leaders in 2012, in no particular order.

1. Mobile

I’m not just talking about broad “mobile growth,” which is pretty generic (although true). We’re going to see exponential growth in adoption of smartphones and tablets as well as exciting new commerce platforms that make mobile the next major retail gateway. This includes innovations on the retail side that enable them to take payments via mobile devices, a trend we’re already seeing with Google Wallet and Square. We’ll likely see the irksome world of digital coupons evolve into a platform that works for everyone in that ecosystem (retailers, POS technologies, consumers and marketers) and finally close that gap in the final frontier of the consumer couponing craze. This will bring massive scale to a marketer’s ability to develop relevant, customized and personalized offers for their consumers and to reach the middle of the adoption curve. I suspect by the end of 2012 we’ll be having very specific and frequent discussions with marketers about making mobile coupons part of their core outreach strategy.

2. Startupville

Let’s revisit a trend that repeats itself in Silicon Valley. A company, founded by quirky 20-somethings, develops something marvelous that immediately captures the imagination of millions and grows seemingly overnight, finding itself the subject of cover stories and bar conversation across the globe. Said company reaches an inflection point and decides to take the next growth step by going public. Newly funded and flush with millions (or billions) in cash, the company turns up the heat and the strain of its stratospheric growth begin to show. Meanwhile, somewhere, the cycle begins to repeat itself and a new story develops. This isn’t a perfect equation but I think many could agree it seems to be a general framework, most recently with Google and Facebook. If we believe the recent reports of Facebook’s IPO plans we’ll probably see a Facebook ticker at some point next year. That will certainly legitimize the cottage industry of developers and agencies that have built robust businesses around Facebook’s platform, and that will be a trend that continues. But I suspect we’ll also see new energy emerge at the outer reaches of that ecosystem and we’ll start to see signs of a new startup, a new story and a new thing for consumers to get excited about. Marketers, take note: you’ll want to be part of that story as early as possible. Consumers have increasingly high expectations of the brands in their lives and expect innovation even from their toilet paper brand. Be ready to pounce on opportunity.

3. Big Data

If you haven’t heard this buzzword already, chances are still good that you’re participating in it. Big Data is the accelerating emergence of massive sets of data, fueled by the social web and cloud computing, that takes equally massive amounts of computing power and expertise to mine and understand. If you’re doing sentiment analysis or tracking word clouds of conversation around your brand online, you’re already taking advantage of Big Data. Analyst firm IDC says this is an area where companies must have a develop a competency in 2012 (http://gigaom.com/cloud/its-cloud-prediction-time-idc-gartner-and-i-weigh-in/). I’d generally agree. I am seeing PR firms, digital agencies, brand teams and consumer relations teams taking advantage of Big Data now and that’s a trend that will accelerate rapidly early in 2012. It’s a competitive advantage to put that data to use for your brand, with a caveat…

4. Privacy

All that data in the cloud comes with inherent privacy concerns and none are more sensitive than a consumer’s personal information, credit card details or location. As brands have begun experimenting with the trends around Big Data, it’s leaving the heads of their legal teams spinning. I predict that brands and agencies will take a cautious stance toward emerging channels that require heavy personal information to participate (see trend #1, Mobile) until they can be assured that the necessary infrastructure is in place to protect that data. But it won’t take years for that process and 2012 will be the year many of those questions find accurate and permanent answers.


Follow the leader

This week’s afterglow of the remarkable piece in Business Week about Sheryl Sandberg’s vision and leadership at Facebook was cut short by the discovery of an ethically-dubious PR campaign undertaken by PR agency Burson-Marsteller on behalf of Facebook.

First, on the Sandberg piece, I have to say that author Brad Stone did a great job depicting her character and her genuine nature. I had the fortune to work with Sheryl at Google and all of the things that he reports about her are generally true. She has an infectious spirit that inspires the team around her.

Now to the dirty news that tarnished the good vibe: it turns out that Facebook hired a PR agency to bring attention to what it believes are privacy-related issues with its competitor, Google. The concept – as reported by Chris Soghoian, one of those targeted by the pitch – involved pitching and working with a blogger to draft an editorial drawing attention to the privacy issues which Burson would then attempt to place in a major news outlet. The client behind the work, Facebook, was not disclosed in the e-mail pitch nor in the follow up conversation with Soghoian. Only after independent review determined that it was Facebook who was behind the campaign did the company confirm it. Shortly thereafter Burson also confirmed the report.

The shocking thing about this is the questionable ethics behind pitching something like an op-ed without disclosing the interests of the parties involved. It seems noone took the pitch seriously, and for good reason. Burson claims all of the information in the pitch is public information although it would appear that they employed the longstanding and reviled PR tactic of hyperbole to make the pitch more enticing. The statements of both Burson and Facebook seem to take some responsibility for the poor judgement but also levies blame on the other party.

After reviewing the stories I’m torn – I can’t decide what element of this story is worse. What do you think? Vote below.

[poll id=”2″]

Friday Fodder: Are you ready for a mobile nation?

So much has been said and written about mobile lately that it almost seems passé to even suggest that it’s news. After all, nearly 2 billion people globally access the Internet via their mobile device. Morgan Stanley predicted in a recent study that mobile usage of the Internet will surpass desktop within 5 years.

And yet, a new study from Pew this week might suggest there are nuggets of news to be discovered here. Over the past 9 months, usage of SMS has increased among adults about 10 percent, suggesting that parents are catching up with their teenage children (who still reign supreme in speed texting, no doubt). The Pew study also confirms past data that Hispanic and African-American adults are more likely than caucasians to own a mobile device and use it for texting.

That’s the topic for this Friday Fodder: What does this mean for your organization? Are you ready for the reality of mobile? Is your organization even thinking about mobile as part of the marketing mix?

Friday Fodder: Target’s rough patch

Target Corporation is known for painting giant bullseyes on the top of its buildings. These are conveniently located near major metropolitan airports so that flying passers-by know there is a clean well-lit place to go shop (I guess that’s their strategy there, anyway). I always questioned the wisdom of painting a giant bullseye near Washington National Airport, in close proximity to the Pentagon, but that’s a topic for another day.

I wonder if they are rethinking their iconic bullseye image and brand name after being the actual target of severe outrage over the last weeks. A corporate donation to a Minnesota politician turned out to be an incendiary device, initially capturing LGBT outrage but now angering Target’s largest shareholders and democracy advocates as well. That’s a pretty broad spectrum of stakeholders. MoveOn.org picked up the Boycott Target cause this week by funding a flashmob stunt that has already reached half a million views on YouTube. That alone is chilling stuff to witness and a case study still in the making.

But here’s the thing – the consumer response online, outside of MoveOn.org and outside of YouTube, should be even more chilling to Target’s leaders. Go onto their Facebook page and take a look at their Wall (be sure to click on Target + Others). There is a fairly predictable collection of “Boycott Target!” posts which shouldn’t surprise anyone (many of them are probably not big fans of Target to begin with). What’s supremely chilling are comments like these:

“Just spent $280 for my college bound son at a competitor. I miss my Target. Please revise your position and stop being hypocritical. I would like to spend my money with you again soon.”

“Well. I am going out school shopping for my family today. Heading over to ShopKo instead of my usual school shopping at Target. I held off this long thinking that Target would correct this. Guess not.”

“Target, I gotta tell you… I just spent a small fortune on groceries and household stuff. My partner and I would’ve never intentionally ended up with three dogs and two cats… but I guess that is what happens when you combine families. Shew, pets are expensive! Did I mention I just spent a small fortune? Is it clear that it wasn’t at your store, Target?”

Parents across the country are in the midst of a busy back-to-school buying season, often involving hundreds of dollars in supplies and clothes. If you believe what consumers are saying, they’re not spending their money at Target although they’d really like to. Only Target knows the real impact MoveOn.org’s efforts are having but the fact that it’s taking place in a historically big season for retailers has to sting a little.

Target is considered a leading social media brand – they more than many others have leveraged the Facebook platform to grow their business and have been widely praised for integrating it into their philanthropic efforts. What’s notable to me in this situation is the complete lack of Target presence on these Wall conversations. Target should engage with the consumers who are crying out for some interaction. Target likely doesn’t have answers at this point, but a simple response would be sufficient. “We hear you, we’re listening. We’re very sorry we’ve disappointed you. As you may have read in the press, our executive team are reviewing our processes and policies for contributions and we will keep you posted on their progress.” Such a statement would be consistent with what the CEO is saying publicly.

They have a fair number of hyper-critics to be sure and it probably doesn’t make sense to engage with all of them (which would essentially be poking the bear with a sharp stick), but a lot of their consumers are clearly searching for some sign that they’re listening.

That’s the topic for this Friday Fodder: what should Target do next?

Why experiences are the new swag

Why experiences are the new swag

I’ve been in marketing for 15 years and have seen every manner of imaginable swag. Koozies. Water bottles. Pens. Buttons. Bags. Free merchandise. Even cars. I believe the era of swag is in major decline, and your brand is probably going to be better off for it.

There are many reasons for people’s shifting tastes. Some people see swag giveaways as wasteful, trading away either money or earth’s resources in exchange for a momentary hit of fading brand recall. “They’ll keep this on their desk,” desperate marketers think, “and remember us when they’re ready to buy enterprise software again.”

What’s really happening, though, is consumer behavior is changing. Research has already proven that the millennial generation is uniformly unimpressed with stuff. 3 in 4 millennials would choose to spend money on a desirable experience rather than buying stuff, and those experiences shape lifelong memories. The millennial generation believes they create lasting connections at live events, bonds that tie them to their community and to the world. They’re not wrong – people who experience something together regularly report it be more satisfactory. My friend Bryan Kramer has a whole blog post about that.

The millennial zest for engaging experiences is dripping over into other generations. New research from a team at Cornell University, led by Dr. Thomas Gilovich, has tracked the confluence of money and happiness for more than two decades. Their findings are startling and defy general convention (that’s called the Easterlin paradox or – simply – that money buys happiness). Gilovich’s research suggests that experiences, rather than physical things, are the root of happiness. Humans will adapt to an iPhone and eventually tire of it (maybe good news to Apple), but they will recall experiences for the rest of their lives and that helps foster happiness.

How does this affect your brand?

Well, clearly, if you count millennials among your target demographic, you already should be focusing on building experiences rather than giving away free stuff. Beyond that, it’s probably worth considering if you need to reset your promotions mindset – are you giving away too much, and creating too few experiences?

Experiential marketing itself has been around for many years and is generally thought of as a live event. But think about the digital manifestation of those experiences and you see how powerful they can become. Humans love to watch other humans react to situations, and experience is at the heart of that reaction. For example, you might recall a video, filmed in a cafe setting, where an angry customer feigned telekinesis to the horror of other customers. It was a stunt to promote the movie Carrie. No doubt for those directly involved the experience was borderline horrifying. The stunt has so far captured the imagination of more than 61 million viewers on YouTube. Experiential does not always have to be a live event to be memorable.

This thinking can completely change the game for marketers. Are you focused on continually giving away product, swag, merchandise or discount codes to keep people engaged with your brand? You are probably experiencing declining returns on that approach. Think instead about how you can use experiences to create enduring memories, and how you can use your digital ecosystem to sustain exposure to it.

If you create a live event experience that only a handful of lucky participants can attend, your exposure will be limited those few individuals and their social networks. That’s probably a weak use case for your budget. However, use your digital ecosystem to make the experience virtual and real. You can even use a tool like Periscope or Meerkat to make it a real-time engagement with your fans.

Experience is the new swag. That’s great news for your brand, and it should have you very excited.

Cautionary tales and the requisite 2011 roundup

2010 is officially winding down and the predictable ritual of pundit predictions for the coming year has commenced. Depending on what you read you will probably surmise that 2011 is going to be “the” year for a lot of disruptive brand innovations that we started hearing about this year, including these three:

  • Group buying will merge more closely with location-based technologies to create smarter targeting options for businesses of all sizes
  • Gaming will find solid footing and become more pervasive (that is, we’ll see consistent gaming experiences across devices and platforms)
  • Usability will drive functionality – the ability for marketers to leverage the tools unique to a mobile phone, for example, will enable them to provide richer and more engaging functionality than they could on their website (or gasp, their actual products)

One of the best sets of predictions that I have seen comes from Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT’s Sloan School (and brother to Elliot Schrage, who I worked with at Google and is now VP of communications at Facebook). His list of six innovations is refreshingly comprehensive and covers important territory – user design, politics and public affairs, gaming and digital coupons. I agree with just about everything he says, but there is a seventh missing prediction – marketers and will become increasingly savvy about measuring the innovations they’re testing within their brands. That will give all six of Schrage’s predictions some solid footing and ensure that they stick around.

There are also cautionary tales from the year, stories of brands that have tested ideas and executions that either didn’t work as intended or over delivered on their intent. There have been grumblings from some Groupon merchants that they were unable to handle the large volume of new customers that the 50% off deals drove to their business (funny how that happens). That is a kink that will have to work itself out if the trend is to get some wind in its sails for 2011. In other examples, companies have continued finding themselves caught off guard by the connectedness of their consumers, struggling to respond in a timely and/or appropriate manner.

The editors at Fast Company had an interesting overview of their recent social media experiment – dubbed “The Influence Project” – and the lessons they learned. The team hired Mekanism, a digital agency, who promised to make the social media campaign go viral. The campaign was met with some criticism which required both their time and their energy in response and defense, and challenges with the technology powering the campaign’s micro-site led to slow loading times and probably left some would-be participants on the sidelines.

Their take is that earned media is called “earned” for a reason, and that no wise marketer would hand over a campaign to a vendor or service provider and expect hands-free results from their investment. Those are lessons that a lot of brands learned in 2010, some of which resulted in “#fails” and punctuated our year with interesting case studies and lots “thank GOD that wasn’t me” wincing.

Innovation and change isn’t easy, and it’s far from turn-key. Instead of offering predictions for 2011, I’ve chosen to provide three simple bullets of advice.

  • Try small things first versus pushing for major investments. Even better if you can execute your ideas yourself, which will give you key learnings and insights into how your organization adapts to innovation and change that you can leverage in expanding your new program ideas.
  • Measure and be diligent about it. Brands and agencies need to do a better job of storytelling using solid metrics. This will mean different things to different organizations, but set some goals up front and be deliberate about measuring them. Don’t duct tape that piece on after the fact and hope for a good review by your peers.
  • Think outside what you know and what you’re reading. True innovation comes from within, not from reapplying others’ case studies to your particular situation.

That’s it – have a great end to the year and keep these recommendations and predictions top of mind as 2011 encroaches upon us. Happy holidays!

Friday Fodder: Agencies, are you helping yourselves?

Gary Stein writes in his ClickZ piece today about the increasing prevalence of would-be clients asking their agencies to demonstrate their social finesse, so to speak, by requesting info on the social media accounts of the team involved. Seems simple and logical, right? After all, if I’m a client I deserve to hire an agency that knows what they are talking about and can prove it.

The problem is, a lot of agencies aren’t helping themselves in this area. Many large corporations have published social media guidelines that give employees a general framework for how to behave online as an employee, and more often than not lean towards being generous in what they allow. This encourages employee participation and, from an external perspective, a perception that the brand and its employees “get it.” Intel is a great example of this.

Many agencies similarly encourage their employees to use whatever social media tools they are comfortable with, and many even provide training to help prod things along. Great. But the thing is, generally the client hires an agency as a collective whole, and while that whole is comprised of a smart group of talented individuals, the client will want to know that all that intelligence ladders back up as a team effort.

Agency leaders need to closely examine how they are using social media – collectively – to demonstrate the inspired intelligence of the people who work there. Is there a live stream of its employee’s Twitter feeds on the home page? Is there even a blog? Does the agency have a unique POV on Twitter, and have they established themselves as leaders there? The answer need not be the same – each agency has its own unique perspective to offer on the industry, and what works for some won’t for others. But simply encouraging employees to take part in social media isn’t good enough in this environment.

That’s it for this Friday Fodder: what do you think?

The new consumer purchase funnel

Image: GfK Custom Research

One of the marketing mantras that I have long struggled with is the traditional sales funnel, which lays out the journey a consumer goes on in the purchase of an item.

I say struggle not because this funnel is difficult to understand. Indeed, as a consumer myself I can see how this is a common-sense approach to the selling process and it helps frame marketing decisions against consumer insights and drive investments.

Where I struggle is that in our modern era this sales funnel just does not make sense. The funnel does not account for the rapid nature of today’s marketplace, and it doesn’t accurately reflect the new consumer or the touchpoints they use in their purchase decisions. It also skips an important element at the base of the funnel – advocacy. After purchase, don’t you want consumers to then tell others about their experience with your product?

Havard Business Review published an outstanding article this month that puts forth a new consumer journey. The new model places greater emphasis on loyalty and advocacy and better reflects the dynamics of today’s market. Instead of a funnel, the consumer journey looks more like rings of concentric circles. The inner core is made of brands to which the consumer is loyal, will advocate for or bond with online. The outer circle is essentially everything else.

One of the most important elements of this new approach to the consumer funnel is the role of the marketer. If we’re not there to initiate awareness of our product then what are we do to?

As HBR puts it: orchestrate. Organize resources as a utility to your consumer and make their job easier. Align internal marketing resources around the narrative of your product rather than the traditional functional areas and ensure that you are selling not just a product, but a product lifecycle. Know that your consumer will have a consistent experience before, during and after purchase so that you can break into that inner circle and join the ranks of brands for which that consumer will become an advocate.

The other important element: marketer as publisher. Think about the many ways consumers research and touch your brand and products. For example, in the consumer electronics space product reviews truly are the killer app. To meet that demand, consider putting unbiased, honest syndicated consumer reviews straight into your website so you can encourage consumers to do all of their research in one place. There are many other ways marketers can leverage the wealth of content already in existence, and there are plenty of opportunities to create new content that is meaningful to the consumer.

Clearly none of this is without challenges. In many cases this fundamentally alters the way a company is structured and how it executes marketing programs. Still, it takes a champion to begin making the case for change and if not now, when?

You want to be building the quickest possible purchase experience for the consumer and the easier you can make their job, offer them a product that delivers on the promises made in the marketing mix and keep their brand loyalty at its peak. This new approach to the sales funnel is helpful for directional guidance. Where you go from here is up to you.

Mobile and the purchase funnel

Mobile and the purchase funnel? No, it’s not the name of the latest YouTube phenom, although if you search on YouTube using those terms the first result is a wonderful recording of a live mobile event from Google:

That video begins and ends with this parable: in mobile, it’s not too late to be early. In this case, your opportunity to be early is rapidly vanishing and the crown being claimed by your competitors. If you are a consumer brand company of any kind – CPG, consumer tech, fashion, travel, food and beverage – why should you care about mobile?

There are some very long answers to that question but here is a simple analysis that should pique your interest: on the path to purchase for your consumer, mobile is at the tail versus the head. That is the say, when a consumer goes onto their mobile device they are most likely to ready to make a commitment to purchasing in your category and they’re looking for help. They want help finding a store, a phone number, a review or product rating or in many cases, a deal. This according to new data released today by eMarketer.

According to eMarketer’s research, nearly two-thirds of consumers visited a business after searching for it on their mobile phone. Read that again: two-thirds. If that statistic alone does not convince you to take action on a mobile strategy pronto, then maybe this one will. Overall, more than half of consumers made a purchase after their mobile session. That includes in-store, over the phone or online.

And that’s why mobile is at the base of the purchase funnel. At the point of engagement on a mobile device consumers are likely already considering your brand, they’re in the market to buy and they are seeking some guidance or direction in their purchase (which could quite literally mean a map to your nearest store or hotel). This is fertile ground for engaging consumers in a high-value transaction and should be high-stakes territory for you and your competitors. Looked at from a different perspective, if you haven’t conceptualized or realized a mobile strategy for your brand then you can feel confident in knowing that your competitors are probably celebrating as they pull in passers-by, would-be brand loyalists and deal seekers and capture that revenue for themselves.

So go back and watch that Google video above, listen to the insights then go read the eMarketer report. It should spark a discussion on how to jump into the mobile fray within your organization. Remember, it’s not too late to be early.

Load More