For the third time in the last four weeks, I had the chance to attend a marketing conference this week. I’m usually not this frequent of a conference attendee, but I have been fortunate enough to tie multiple objectives together with each trip. Naturally, one of those multiple objectives is to unearth insights that I can share with you, dear readers, in this space. So I’ve risen at 5 a.m. on a Friday to tirelessly record my takeaways from the very insightful Ad Age Digital Conference in NYC. As with my previous blog summaries of the Economist and iMedia conferences, I share the most memorable points from the speakers who stood out most in my mind. Enjoy!
Fred Wilson, Partner, Union Square Ventures
We started the day not with a marketing mind, but rather with a venture capitalist who sees significant opportunities in the “chaos scenario” that is the field of advertising today. Wilson focused his presentation on the concept of “earned media.” Earned media is the antithesis of paid media, and happens when brands do something valuable or useful that itself attracts attention, rather than relying on CPMs and GRPs. Wilson presented a few examples of brands that are winning here. One example he shared is “Men With Cramps,” a humorous “mockumentary” created for the ThermaCare brand’s menstrual SKU. Our agency actually helped put that together for the brand two years ago, and it won an Effie last year.
My favorite story was the example of a business in L.A. called Kogi; it is a few trucks that drive around the city, park every so often, announce their locations via Twitter, and collect dozens of customers at each stop for their killer cuisine. The marketing plan involves the owners and operators blogging and tweeting their life experiences as they run the operation throughout the city. It’s winning because of a combination of great product (spicy Korean barbecue is novel), a unique and valuable service (traveling restaurant you can track around town), and an open, social brand that people can personally connect with. To me, this is the only model of brand building that will increasingly survive and advance.
Fred tossed out a few other valuable tidbits. He mentioned that CareerBuilder’s Monk-E-Mail viral earned 300 million users who spent 8 minutes each on the site and cost only $250,000 to build. That’s less than the production cost of an average 30-second ad, and got huge results without the multimillion-dollar media buy to go along with it. He suggested that this was a key change of the “earned media” model: less money to media, but likely more time and money toward getting a killer idea. Wilson talked about how he had read data that suggests “clicks from social media convert at 2x to 4x that of paid search,” which makes sense. He ended with examples of the kinds of companies he is investing in within the advertising space; his first question in reviewing a business model is: “Is there some kind of valuable service being provided?” I couldn’t think of a better fit with Marketing with Meaning. You can check out Fred’s presentation on his blog.
Josh Weiss, Managing Director, Delta.com/Self-Service/CRM
On a panel about how technology changes your company, Weiss provides some interesting perspective. First, he shared the good news that Wi-Fi will be available on the entire Delta fleet by the end of 2009. In terms of marketing, he shared the story of how Delta was close to putting open consumer comments on the front page of its website redesign as a way to visibly show that it is a new kind of company, post-bankruptcy. But after much debate at the highest levels of the company they admitted that they were not quite ready for it, and instead launched a separate site, blog.delta.com. It’s a good admission and probably the right call for now. Weiss also admitted the challenge of deciding which mobile platform to design for; he shared that he personally has an iPhone and BlackBerry. Each phone has different benefits, and the fact that he has both is proof that no single option is prevailing.
Bob Kraut, VP of Marketing Communications, Pizza Hut
Who knew that Pizza Hut was taking digital so seriously? Well, with nearly a billion dollars in online orders, it now has to. Kraut shared the experience of his company seeing these sales spike, and increasingly shifting pizzahut.com from a branded vehicle into its largest single “store.” I enjoyed hearing that the company has moved from trying to have a “sticky” home page that keeps people around as long as possible toward a “slippery” page that gets online orderers in and out quickly. Kraut has found that people ordering online are higher income, less price sensitive, and very picky about the right to choose. Kraut also told the story of Pizza Hut’s recent April Fools’ prank, in which it leaked plans to change its name to “Pasta Hut.” The effort earned a lot of buzz and Pizza Hut was a Top 10 in Google Trends (a very interesting new media gauge of success in itself).
Steve Rubel, SVP, Director of Insights, Edelman Digital
Rubel hosted a panel on “What’s Next, Before It’s Too Late.” To be honest, I didn’t hear any breakthroughs from the panel, but Rubel provides some good quotes. He called Second Life “digital marketing’s Vietnam War.” Rubel also captured a key insight, that most brands that edge into social media are only doing it in support of a limited-time creative campaign. He said that “social media is like soylent green; it’s made out of people,” and called on brand marketers to personally get in the social media space on an ongoing basis. The recent Skittles story, for example, was less effective as a one-time stunt, and missed the opportunity to forge a relationship.
Mark Sapir, VP of Marketing for Sports & Entertainment, Topps
Sapir revived many memories of collecting, sorting, and trading baseball cards as a kid. He shared the story of how Topps is evolving its entire approach to a new generation. Baseball cards used to be the main way that kids connected with athletes; at a time when there was no TV or stats in the sports sections of the newspaper, the baseball card was the only way for a kid to really “see” the players. Fast-forward a few decades and kids can watch SportsCenter 24-7 and look up live stats online. So Topps needed a new way to stay relevant and add value; in other words, it needed Marketing with Meaning. So the company has launched ToppsTown.com, which essentially mirrors the Webkinz model. A special code in each card allows kids to unlock virtual cards on the site. Once there they can view their collection, trade with people, read real-time stats, and play games. In the early days of the site and new baseball season, ToppsTown already has 200,000 members.
Simon Clift, CMO, Unilever
Clift had one of the most-discussed presentations of the two-day event with Wednesday morning’s keynote address. I was most pleasantly surprised by his story of Greenpeace protests against the company’s use of palm oil from rain forests. The group created a viral video mocking the company’s “Onslaught” viral video with its own version called “Onslaught(er),” which showed the effects of deforestation. Clift admitted that his company needed to listen and respond to the protests, and ended up working with Greenpeace on a plan to develop more sustainable sources. I believe it took remarkable emotional intelligence for Unilever to partner with the group after a fairly unfair campaign.
I also enjoyed hearing Clift talk about how smaller efforts seem to be more successful in this world of connected consumers and social media. He threw out three of my favorite quotes of the event, all of which point to a new way of approaching marketing: with less media-budget bang and more meaning:
- “It is possible to become famous on a dollar and a dream. Imagine what’s possible to do with our brands and our resources.”
- “We may be ahead of some of our competitors. But we’re most definitely behind consumers.”
- “I’m convinced fat media budgets help make people lazy, and we’ve thought about [whether we] should cut media budgets on some specific projects in order to force people to come up with better ideas.”
Joe Rospars, Founding Partner, Blue State Digital, and Former New Media Director, Obama for America
The story of Team Obama’s success with social media has been told many times in many places, but I still pulled a few new takeaways from Joe’s interview on stage. I found it interesting to hear that a key early decision in the campaign was to create a specific New Media team that was separated from the IT group. Traditionally campaigns had lumped digital marketing into IT, but this separate group helped elevate the discipline, and the team had its own seat at the strategy table. I also learned something new about the power of small donations; it seems that many of the 3 million people who donated gave around $5 each. The campaign looked at small donors less for their actual gift, but more as a way key to binding them personally to the brand. This reminds me of why we participate in the General Mills Box Tops for Education program at my children’s school, where I am president of the board; these box tops add up to only a small amount each year, but every time parents cut one out and bring it in they are building a stronger bond with us. But these small donors did add up for Obama: The 3 million online donors ended up making 6.5 million donations that totaled a half-billion dollars.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Facebook over the past few years. I love the service as a user but hate the overpromises on its advertising platform, which is literally invisible to users. But Sheryl Sandberg earned more love with her fascinating story of how the service is improving people’s social networks in a session titled, “How Many Friends Can You Have?” She broke down various types of networks that people have as follows:
- Our brains can handle about 150 personal relationships at any one time, which is called Dunbar’s number.
- Most people know 500 to 5,000 people.
- Facebook members have 120 friends on average.
- The majority of our communication is with 10 people on average.
- We have a close support network of only two to three people.
Sandberg claims that digital technology, especially Facebook, is creating a new concept called the active social network. She defined this as people who: (1) you know something about what they are up to lately; and (2) you communicate with them somewhat regularly. She claimed that Facebook is proven to double the size of people’s active social networks.
She went on to describe the four types of relationships that people have on Facebook: friends, family, coworkers, and “public profiles” (brands and celebrities); and she shared the three distinct types of communication on Facebook: inbox, chat, and wall-to-wall.
Overall, it was interesting to see that Facebook is really getting scientific about its study of human social interaction. It suggests to me that the company aims to become much more meaningful, rather than just waiting to cash out on a new ad model and IPO. In fact, I was blown away that Sandberg admitted that Facebook has realized that traditional banner ads will not work for the firm or advertisers. Rather, they must create marketing that fits with the core idea of the social network itself. Sandberg ended with the example of Honda’s “give a heart” program, which got 1.5 million interactions and 100 million impressions in four days.
Lucas Watson, Global Team Leader, Digital Business Strategy, P&G
I’ve gotten to know Lucas well over the years that we have worked with him at P&G, so it was great to see him represent the world’s largest advertiser on the digital stage. On a panel about “Redefining the Media Mix,” Lucas suggested that the key for brands is not to choose a cutting-edge media innovation first (i.e., “let’s do something on Twitter”), but rather to start with a killer idea, and then see where all kinds of media, both old and new, can make it come to life. He also had a good suggestion for brands thinking about social media: The key is to create a “social media framework” early in the form of a good database that you communicate with regularly. Then, when your idea is ready to go, the network is available for your launch.
So, overall, another good conference where I’ve learned a few new tricks to apply to our clients’ businesses and our Marketing with Meaning concept. My next blogging/tweeting conference will be at the Mobile Commerce Summit in Las Vegas June 3. I’ll be presenting a workshop on mobile+financial services. See you there!