My good friend and our Chief Technology Officer, Mike Wilson, is one of the smartest people I know. One of the comments he made at a presentation last year is that FedEx should have gotten into the email business long before Yahoo! or Hotmail. His belief is that FedEx should have followed its higher-level purpose—to transfer information with speed and security. Instead of allowing a few guys in a garage to build ad-supported email with all of its limitations and spam, FedEx could have done it right, earlier. At best it might have created a powerful new revenue model, and at worst created a meaningful marketing tool for millions of people. Alas, FedEx thought it was in the physical package delivery business, and now it must pay other people to put banner ads on the websites of Yahoo! Mail. But I recently discovered one way that FedEx is attempting to make up for this miss.
I was recently reading a great paper by one of my favorite bloggers, advergirl (aka Leigh Householder), and William Faust from the Design Management Review. The article, “Get Real and Prosper: Why Social Media Demands Authentic Brands,” is an outstanding read. In fact, there are several case studies that show Marketing with Meaning in action. One in particular that I discovered was that of a FedEx Facebook app that was launched in May 2008. Called “Launch a Package,” this was a value-added way for the brand to engage with the large social-media platform. From their article:
One of the limitations of Facebook is that you can’t attach a document or image to a message the way you can in email. So FedEx built an application called Launch a Package that met that need and fit its core brand perfectly. Members who download the application can add an attachment to any Facebook message in one click.
The results were immediate: 100,000 installs in 48 hours and more than 50 percent of users returning more than 10 times after install. The tool became the first branded app to hit #1 on Facebook’s Most Active page.”
An Adweek article on the tool went on to show that two weeks after launch the app had been installed by 258,000 members and was actively used by 15,000. Steve Pacheco, director for advertising at FedEx, seemed to recognize the need for the brand to think bigger about delivering on its brand purpose through digital communication: “We want to own virtual delivery. It’s the next logical step for FedEx.”
Alas, what could have been a great launching pad for more meaningful marketing seems to have fallen apart for FedEx. According to the app’s page, only a little over a year after its launch there are now only 723 active users of the Launch a Package app. There are only 28 reviews, and the average review is 2.6 out of 5.0 stars.
What happened? I don’t know for sure but can guess a few things. First, it’s not the greatest user experience as a tool. The priority of design seemed to be on marketing experience, with Flash actions, virtual gifts, and a form to fill out that looks like a package. While cool, these bells and whistles distract from the core utility of the tool. I also disliked the limit on file size and inability to send .zip files. So likely many people tried the app a few times, had a so-so experience, and moved on.
The second limit I see is that this seems to have gotten little focus from the core FedEx business. It’s a fun tool from the marketing department and advertising agency, rather than a real “product” of FedEx—and certainly not something that is “owning virtual delivery” today. I’d bet it would be much better if the entire company got behind using digital tools to better transfer important communication.
I hope that this experiment has led FedEx to do more thinking and strategizing around social media, digital services, and meaningful marketing. My fear is that the rapid decline in usage of the Facebook app frightened the company away from doing more. Either way, this makes a great case study for those of us trying to figure out how to make marketing meaningful in the social-media space.