Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Why I’m out of Foursquare, and Why Some Apps Succeed

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

And so another personal venture into the new is complete. Following in the footsteps of services such as Second Life and Pointcast, I have now decided that Foursquare is no longer for me. It has gone down a personal “hype cycle” in my life–going from interesting to integral to ignoble in just a few months. Where once I was checking in with glee and sharing my whereabouts with new collections of friends, now I’m moving on with life and onto Facebook Places. My personal journey is one that others have also reported, and I think a look into why Foursquare worked for a while, and how others continue to be a part of my life, shows a path to meaningful platforms.

What I Loved About Foursquare

I got into Foursquare big-time back in March 2010 during the annual SXSW event. I attended with a small group of Bridge people and we had fun checking into new places and tracking each other’s locations around Austin. I was immediately attracted by the fact that you could walk into a restaurant and find a digital trace of other people who had been there in the months, days, or minutes before. The app allowed me to share my experience with Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and I was delighted by the chance to earn fun badges. And as a digital marketer I also saw firsthand the promise of location-based services.

Over time I tried to build Foursquare into my routine around town. I would meet people for a drink at a bar and excuse myself to check in, and I would dutifully add new locations to the service in order to “get credit” for my appearance. As a digital marketing consultant, I also began to speak glowingly of the possibilities of this new service

Where It Fell Apart

But soon the bloom came off the Foursquare rose for me. The first negative came in my attempt to work with the company on behalf of some of our very large clients. Phone calls went unanswered and scheduled phone calls ended with me sitting on the line waiting for their side to pick up. I quietly advised my teams and clients to wait until the company got its act together before we went further down this road. As a user, I also started doubting the value of this once-cool toy. I began to hear stories of people getting burglarized when they were not home, and my wife wondered why I was telling the world when I was out of town and she and my girls were alone.  The “Honey, I need to understand what’s new in digital because it’s my job” excuse goes only so far, especially when there is no real utility in Foursquare at the end of the day.

And here we come to the real issue: There is no clear reason to install and use Foursquare. It is a toy that entertains for a few days or weeks, but at the end of the day there is no reason to make this a habit. Hardly any stores or restaurants pay attention to the service by, say, offering free offers with check-ins. The mayorships and badges seem silly after a while.  And your friends tend to get tired of seeing where in the world you are.

Meanwhile, Facebook has come into location services with something that works much better. You can utilize your current friends list rather than starting from scratch with a new network, and check-ins can link directly to the Facebook pages of where you happen to be. Stores and restaurants can do marketing on their Facebook pages and offer information or special deals. Foursquare is still figuring out how to build a business and service users and marketers. But Facebook has this down already.

The Lesson: What New Apps Need to Succeed

In looking at a wide range of new digital services, I believe some patterns begin to develop. And the biggest one that I see right now, across everything from mobile apps to social media services, is that success comes in degrees based on whether the new company has the following:

  1. The Toy Factor — When people can download your app, try something new, and show their friends you have yourself a great “toy.”  Foursquare is a toy. It has novelty, a link to the real world, and some games including the chance to earn badges. This is enough for people to download and play with for a few days or weeks, but it won’t last forever. The gang at Foursquare is still keynoting conferences and now has some investment dollars, but I believe the time has gone. The company should have built these next two factors into their initial design.
  2. A Valuable Tool–Once past the toy factor, your app needs some kind of useful service in order to succeed. Facebook, for example, started out for most of us as a clever toy that allowed us to play with self-expression. But many of us started using the service to communicate regularly with our friends. And because it was so useful, we built it into our daily habits and rituals. Foursquare could have created a simple way for retailers to communicate with the people checking into their businesses. Or it might have been launched with a focused purpose of helping people find money-saving offers on the places they visit. Now an app called Shopkick is showing it the way in this direction.
  3. Meaningful Marketing Model–Here’s where a lot of services have still not cracked the code, and where there is still tremendous opportunity for today’s start-ups. For marketer-supported services, you need a business model in which the advertising itself adds value to the service. Facebook is a great tool, but it still hasn’t shown that the little-seen ads on the right-hand side can drive marketers’ business. The best example of success here is Google and its AdWords service. The company started with a new search algorithm based on human link sharing. This was immediately a new “toy”–and because the results were so much more accurate, Google became a valuable tool. When the company created an advertising model based on search, everything came together; Google search ads are relevant to the searcher, and the marketer pays only when a desired action takes place–so there is a win-win-win that has created a +$20 billion business for Google.

I’m obviously simplifying the world of digital services and apps here, but I think this list helps to put a lot of things competing for our attention into their place.

Pringles Tests Spontaneous Facebook Fun

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

I’ve read far too many articles and white papers about how brands should approach social media. Most make the topic more complicated than necessary—most likely in order to suggest that they have some secret sauce that is available at a convenient hourly rate. But complexity makes marketers even more frightened of jumping into the social pool. So here’s a simple suggestion: Listen and add value. Thanks to digital technology, it is extremely simple and low cost for your business to do both. As an example, let me share our work on the Pringles brand that just hit the social scene last week.

For well more than a year now Pringles has been very active in social media. We chose to embrace this as a focus of our digital marketing work because the brand fits within the world of entertainment and social sharing. The brand itself aims to create moments of unexpected fun. One of our first steps was to pull together many brand and consumer-generated Facebook groups. Within a few weeks Pringles became one of the top five brand Facebook accounts with more than 3 million fans around the world. In the months since, we have used the space mainly to share how others are playing with the brand. For example, highlighting fan-created videos such as this one.

We also used the Facebook page to share our “Can Hands” banner ad last summer. The ad that you can’t stop clicking became a minor sensation on sites where people share what’s cool (rarely advertising)—such as Reddit, CollegeHumor, BuzzFeed, and Fark. Over one weekend we had 300,000 people play with the banner on our staging server. Many completed all 95 clicks to get to the end.

But as much as we like to seed the engagement ourselves, a lot of Pringles social sharing comes from consumers’ passion and initiative. For example, in January someone created a Facebook page titled: “Dear Pringles, I cannot fit my hand inside your tube of deliciousness.” The group apparently arose as a humorous “protest” to the size of the can, and some people’s inability to reach down for the last few crisps. We watched as membership grew to 10,000 fans within the first week, and then to 100,000 fans over the first month. When the group reached 1,000,000, we knew we had to do something.

But what to do? Well, the most obvious solution when people are having fun with your brand in the social sphere is to join in on the fun—even if it means poking fun at yourself in the process. Our team worked with our global client to answer the buzz with something that could be quick, cheap, and meaningful. It’s important to call out why I chose these words:

  • Global: Pringles is a global brand and Facebook is a global platform, so we had to be broad.
  • Quick: The passion around this Facebook page might dwindle over time, so we wanted to act before it faded.
  • Cheap: You never know whether an idea will catch fire or not; in fact, the odds are against it. So better to try something that works on a small budget. Further, when you spend a little to test an idea it means you have to have fewer conversations about various approvals and ROI measures.
  • Meaningful: Again, the key is to add value to the community. People love to see a brand get involved, as long as its participation adds to the fun versus sucking it out.

Our agency and client team worked on ideas together and ended up choosing to use video to “respond” to people who are having trouble getting their hands into our cans. We developed ideas and shot video in an extremely short time period, and just uploaded them to YouTube and our Facebook page last week. You can see one of the directions we took in the video above—a tongue-in-cheek exercise video for people to work on their can/hand skills. At the end of the day, the Pringles can is engineered to protect the crisps and maximize value for consumers. A shorter can would mean fewer crisps, and a wider can would result in more broken pieces. So we’re not changing the can, but we can have fun with it—even building in the solution to consumers’ frustrations: “Tip & Enjoy.”

Another miniseries takes the form of a taunting voice from the bottom of the can. Check out one of these videos below:

It’s far too early to call this a success. We just launched it last week and will be doing a few things to seed it in the weeks ahead. Whether this becomes the next great social-media case study or not, we have entered the conversation in a meaningful way and will definitely learn lessons that will make us more successful as we continue our venture into social media. No matter what white papers you read or how many social-media experts you hire, there is nothing more valuable than getting firsthand experience with your fans.

Marketing Lesson from an Oil-Change Business

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

village quick lube

I’m a little bit ashamed to not have written about Village Quik Lube in this blog until now. After all, I’ve been writing here for nearly two years, and I pass this little dose of Marketing with Meaning every day when I come and go from work. I guess it was this small business’s new Facebook effort that gave me the final push to feature it hereas another example of how social media best works as a way to bring an entire marketing strategy to life.

Village Quik Lube is a small oil-change business located in Newtown, Ohio, a small suburban Cincinnati village just about 2 miles from my home. The shop is known by everyone around as “the place with the funny sayings”as the owner of the business updates the sign above a couple of times a week with a new joke. Some are funnier/cornier than others, but every time the sign changes we are compelled to look and laugh. Aside from this sign, the shop has several other remarkable features: There’s a fish pond outside, chairs made up of old-car seats and barber chairs inside, and the parking lot is often the host of grill parties and fund-raisers.

What I love about the Village Quik Lube is that it brings some personality to a business that most people grudgingly tolerate every three months or 3,000 miles. Most of us are used to going into the cookie-cutter Jiffy Lube and car-dealership services, which feel more like a trip to the dentist. Just like these competitors, Village Quik Lube has a convenient location and all of the periodic maintenance services we expect at a fair price. But this business spends the time between our visits making us smile on an otherwise boring commute. We appreciate the owner’s attempt to lighten our day, which leaves us almost looking forward to making the stop in for an oil change and tire rotation. All it takes is some time to think up the signs and change them a few times a week.

So it’s no wonder that Village Quik Lube has gone into social media with a fan page on Facebook. Interestingly, Facebook offers a direct transfer of the company’s “offline” marketing strategy for the online world. Facebook has become the virtual vehicle of our daily commute, so of course people who enjoy driving by and stopping at the shop would want to continue the relationship online.

But Facebook offers benefits that the signs and store itself cannot do alone. For example, the owner recently asked his 200-plus members if they would like to see some of the ideas for signs that were a little too racy for the road. I learned that he actually gets complaints on certain topics and has toned down the humor over the years. Of course the members said “yes”and we were treated to jewels like:

Did you hear about the new vitamin just for men sold only at golf pro shops? It’s called Tiger Wood.”

Of course this one is a little too daring for the G-rated public thoroughfare, but I laughed out loud at this and some of the others I found on Facebook.

Reading further, I got to see photos from this intersection in 1970 “when there were cows grazing in the field nearby.” I saw that the shop staff is thinking about raffling off the chance to drive a demolition-derby car. And I learned how the owner was told by a Quaker State executive that his store would be out of business within six months; that was 12 years ago.

If you really think about it, Village Quik Lube is not new to social media because of its Facebook presence. Rather, this is a business that has always been about social media. Its goal is to make people smile and give back to the community. In return, it earns loyalty and positive word of mouth. Digital social media is just an evolution of what it has been doing successfully for 12 years.

When I read about the brands that are doing the most in social media, it seems to mainly be small businesses such as Zappos and the Kogi Korean BBQ truck. They have succeeded by starting out in social media and created businesses around this core approach, rather than just bolting on a Twitter feed or having an agency monitor buzz.

I believe there has never been a better time to start a business than the present. Large companies’ advantages in mass scale are falling away as people become more interested in niche products and meaningful brandsand marketing is as simple as telling your story on a blog, tweet, or Facebook page. The future of business might look like millions of passionate owners connecting with a handful of customers by adding value through products, services, and marketing.

Facebook Makes Birthdays Better

Friday, December 4th, 2009

facebook charity

This week I’ve had fun writing about how technology companies are marketing themselves in meaningless and meaningful ways. I want to end the week with a timely surprise from Facebook that made me smile.

I have to admit to you, dear readers, that my birthday is coming up in a few days. I’m one of those people who really dislike birthdays. I don’t think I’m that “old,” but I find that once you graduate from childhood and reach the last cool birthday of 21 (legal drinking age in the U.S., for those international followers), the birthday is just a reminder that you’re getting older. It also doesn’t help that I have a birthday that’s pretty close to Christmas. When your “special day” is completely overshadowed by Thanksgiving and Christmas, it tends to suck. Until recently, only my family and a few close friends remember when my birthday arrives. But now, thanks to Facebook, a couple of hundred additional people now get reminded to wish me a Happy Birthday.

I am sure that a lot of you know the drill by now. Your birthday hits and suddenly tons of people in meetings and online take a minute to wish you a happy one. Facebook isn’t the first social network or tool to remind users of others’ birthdays. I recall Plaxo doing this a while back. But Facebook is the first truly mass social-media tool to take off, and its ability to call out this personal event has made a small, noticeable impact on people’s lives.

For years, Facebook has been doing nothing more than highlighting the day, but this year I got a message from the service a week ago that invited me to ask my friends to make a donation to a cause of my choice. This immediately got my attention for several reasons. First, the message was sent when I was aware of the big day coming up (and starting to dread it). Second, Facebook noticed that this is a great opportunity to use the power of friends’ attention to promote special causes. And soliciting donations for a cause is much more meaningful than giving yet another gift. It’s easier than shopping and better for the world than more junk.

The simple, straightforward “Birthday Wish for Charity” can be seen here. Within a few minutes you can choose a cause, explain why you believe in it, set a fund-raising goal, and share with friends and well-wishers. It made me feel like my birthday attention could be directed to something real and positive. I will admit that there are a few flaws in this tool. For example, the number and diversity of charities represented is very small. I found about 15 total causes, and about 12 of them were related to animal issues (noble, but not my first priority).

This idea is not necessarily a mass marketing tool that is going to help Facebook generate another 25 million members, but it does hit every single member in a meaningful way and special time of year (every year). By helping people share and support their values, the tool helps people get more value out of Facebook. Simply put, it’s Marketing with Meaning, and I hope to see many more examples like this from the company in many more birthdays to come.

MoMA Matches Facebook Interests

Monday, August 31st, 2009

Many, many brands and their agencies are asking themselves the same question: “What is my social-media strategy?” This is absolutely the wrong question to ask. The problem is that social media is not a strategy; rather it represents a group of tactics that can be creatively used to solve business problems and deliver on a marketing strategy. To further explain this point, let me use the example of a summer trip planner from the New York City Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Not only is this a great case study in the right process of utilizing social media, it helps prove my point that social fits under Marketing with Meaning.

In my upcoming book I spend the entire second half of its 300-plus pages walking through a simple framework that brands both small and large can use to deliver meaningful marketing. Sometimes that process yields a compelling opportunity to use one or more social-media tactics. Let me offer a crash course in the process here by providing my assumptions on what drove MoMA’s killer idea:

Business Objective

Summer is an important time for any kind of tourism-based business, including museums. Each year MoMA must put together permanent and temporary exhibits and events to draw its fair share of visitors to New York City. I believe “share of visitors” is actually a key business objective for the organization. It is unlikely to convince people to come to NYC just for a visit to MoMA, but it can set a goal of getting X% of people who are already planning to spend vacation time in the city. This becomes that business objective that kicks off the strategy process.

Customer Insight

With this clear focus on vacation visitors, MoMA marketers can begin to learn about how this target audience makes its decisions about where to visit, and any issues or barriers that are keeping them from putting MoMA on the list. I believe a little thinking and likely not a lot of new research could uncover the following: First, people are spending a lot of time online in the weeks and months ahead of a trip, looking at the websites of places they might visit. Second, I believe a key barrier for MoMA is that the average visitor might be intimidated by modern art, which means this option might drop down on the priority list. Third, when looking at direct competitors, MoMA lacks some of the history and must-see art that other museums benefit from.

Strategy/Creative

Put this objective and these customer insights together and you can start to see a strategic opportunity: MoMA can gain incremental visitor share by providing online tools that help people learn more about why a visit to this museum is right for them. With a strong online research experience that helps people discover what fits their specific interests (down to the best day to go), MoMA can rise higher on the list of to-do’s for tourists. I believe this represents a simple, direct strategy that could then be the focus of a briefing for the creative team.

In turn, the creative team in this case likely thought about how people use the Web and social media. The brainstorming process might have gone something like this: People are doing research at MoMA.com, and there is an opportunity to learn about their interests and when they are visiting so that we can offer up some valuable personal recommendations. But instead of hoping they fill out a preference form, what if we just read their Facebook profiles to automatically generate recommendations? This would make it easier for visitors, and add a bit of fun and buzz to the tool. Plus, it would encourage people to share this with their friends. As you can see, this doesn’t come from “What do we do on Facebook?” but rather Facebook becomes a tool that makes the personalization strategy best come to life.

And so a great idea is born: Summer at MoMA. It’s a mini-site that simply asks you for the dates that you are in the city and permission to connect to your Facebook profile. A slick Flash interface returns with what I found to be very accurate recommendations that you can browse by day. The tool allows you to build a plan, and explore other options that were not specifically recommended. To drive word of mouth and encourage families and friends to get in on the planning together, the tool allows users to post to Facebook and Twitter.

This idea not only helps deliver on the immediate desire to secure visits, but because it increases the chance for a great experience when people visit, it can drive repeat visits when people return to NYC in the months or years ahead.

Measure and Adjust

We’re big believers in watching new launches closely and using early data to gauge success and make adjustments. A tool such as this offers many ways to track engagement with users. Overall site traffic can be compared to the previous year, and the specific tool can spin out numbers such as total users, time on site, and amount of sharing via Facebook. Users of the tool can be pinged later to ask if they actually visited the museum. And because MoMA gets direct customer interaction through visits, it can also survey entering or exiting visitors about whether they used the tool, whether it drove their decision to stop by, and if it made their experience better.

While these activity measures can be important, if you don’t measure success against your original Business Objective there is no way of understanding if your effort paid off. If we go back to a Business Objective of “share of NYC visitors,” I am sure that there are survey services that MoMA and other area tourist destinations can use to nail down this number, hopefully over many years.

Conclusion

If you and your team are sitting in endless meetings wondering about your social-media strategy (or mobile strategy or in-game advertising strategy, etc.) you should now have the knowledge to be able to raise your hand and suggest that the group is considering the wrong question. Turn it around and come back to the key businesses objectives and challenges that you have been struggling with for years. Then take the time to consider where new developments in social media (or mobile, or gaming, etc.) might be able to help address the objective or challenge. That clarity will drive your success in old and new media alike.

(Thanks to Adverblog for finding this example.)

Local Sandwich Shop Scores on Facebook

Friday, August 28th, 2009

There have been many of the same, tired stories circulating in marketing-guru circles about small businesses that are using social media. There’s the bakery in London that installed a special device that tweets when fresh bread is baked, and there’s the Kogi Korean BBQ truck in L.A. that people chase around at 2 a.m. through Twitter and Facebook for killer tacos. These cases are great, and show the power of social media to impact small businesses, but do you really need special devices and a whole new business model to win in this new medium? Nope. Any small business can get on the bandwagon, including a local sandwich shop near our office. All it takes is some courage and a little personality.

I have spent many, many meals at La Tea Room Cafe over the past five years that I have been working at Bridge Worldwide; it’s a solid but not special lunch spot a few blocks away from our office in downtown Cincinnati. It offers a good range of salads and sandwiches and plenty of room to sit down and chat. The staff is friendly and conversational. A few weeks ago I was wasting a couple of minutes on Facebook in the morning and saw a recommendation that I become friends with La Tea Room, based on the fact that others in my network were connected to it. I checked it out and decided to give it a try. Right away I got a message that the daily lunch special would be the Buffalo Chicken Wrap. I’m a sucker for just about anything that’s been “Buffaloed” and I had no specific lunch plans, so I grabbed a friend and headed over for lunch and an experiment in social-media marketing.

I walked in the door, and immediately said I was there for the special that I had read about on Facebook. The usual counter guy informed me that actually this was going to be tomorrow’s special, and they had made a mistake. He apologized, but I was disappointed that my social-media experience had ended poorly. I got another sandwich and placed a comment on La Tea Room’s daily special announcement to the effect that I was let down.

When I returned to my desk I saw a direct message reply from La Tea Room on Facebook. It read, “WE’RE SORRY!” and went on to offer me a free sandwich and drink the following day. I had already forgiven them at the store, but this was a very nice touch.

This little story, my friends, can teach just about all you need to know about how to succeed with social media for your brand, whether you’re a small business or a giant national airlineFirst, provide useful information that your audience appreciates. Seeing the daily special is a good piece of info, and it tends to come in the late morning when you start to think about lunch plans. Other offers and promotions also make sense, but note in my screen grab above that La Tea Room doesn’t abuse the friendship; it only sends an update about once per day.

Second, be human. That means you have to write with some personality and show who you are. It’s even OK to screw up once in a while; just apologize, offer something to make up for the error, and move on. In this case the only flaw I see with La Tea Room is that the account does not identify an actual named person.

The benefits here are very obvious: In just a few short weeks this sandwich place has gotten more than 50 nearby diners to accept daily marketing messages. These people are leaving positive comments on the food and showing their friends that they are following. Each one is a key influencer surrounded by other working stiffs who make daily lunch decisions. And the cost? Well, it takes one person probably 10 minutes a day to craft a single post and monitor responses. If one more sandwich a day is sold this effort pays out.

But this is more powerful than just selling an extra sandwich. Social media such as this helps establish a true, human relationship between the company and its customers. This generates loyalty beyond reason and begins to court “regulars” who like to give their business to people who work hard and seem to care. And once again I ask: If the local sandwich shop can succeed with social media, why isn’t your giant brand making an effort?

FedEx Adds Value on Facebook

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

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.

Testing a Twitter Business Model

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

A few weeks ago I shared in a post here that I was working with a small group at Bridge Worldwide to develop a business model for Twitter. Quite a challenge, of course, but we came up with a very compelling idea that fits with our belief in meaningful marketing. At worst, it is giving us a nice strategy-plus-technology learning exercise. Since we started this R&D project a few weeks ago, I’ve been paying more attention to other developers’ attempts to wring cash out of the mighty growth of Twitter. Over the weekend I discovered a service called “Featured Users” and wanted to share my experience here. Overall, it looks compelling at first glance, but my results suggest this is not a big idea for marketers or investors.

Featured Users is an advertising network for Twitter application developers. The home pages of services such as Friend or Follow and Twibes.com agree to place a Featured Users ad unit prominently in their pages. The general idea and hope is that users of these free and valuable services feel compelled to repay them by visiting their sponsors. I decided to test the service because of the lost cost of trial ($10) and the chance to learn something for our work and this blog.

Setting up an account and program takes just minutes. For $10 on PayPal, I was able to buy 1,000 impressions. In the screenshot above you can see what that unit looks like. It is automatically generated by your current Twitter account, and thus includes your regular icon, Twitter address, account description, and the three most recent tweets. The results-tracking interface is basic but effective, showing the number of impressions, which sites they appeared on, and information on clicks (who clicked, when, and from which site).

My going-in assumption was that I would get something like a 2% click rate, or 20 clicks. This is far higher than the industry average for banners, which is about .1% and falling, and the rate on Facebook ads, which I have found to be as low as .02%. My rationale for believing in better results was that: (1) the ad placement is front and center; (2) Twitter users tend to be very interested in finding new people to follow (and getting followers in return); (3) this type of ad unit is novel, which means people haven’t learned to fully tune it out of their visual fields yet; and (4) I felt that there would be some “karma power” as people felt compelled to pay attention to sponsors for this free service. I believed that my Twitter account description, above, was fairly interesting. While my guess was higher than most ad units, I also went in believing that the results could be a lot worse. As a marketing investment, $10 for 20 new followers, or $.50 each, “felt” like a pretty good result.

The Results

My 1,000 ad impressions were exhausted within about 24 hours. This is the first lesson: It takes a while to burn through a very modest media buy. This suggests that the traffic on these affiliate app sites is fairly low. According to Featured Users, I received 6 total clicks on my ad. That’s a click rate of .60%, which falls below the service’s total average of .87%. That means the cost to me is $1.67 per click. That’s far less than my gut opinion.

Now, what I don’t know for sure is how many of these clicks resulted in followers. But if I look at my email account for messages about new followers, and compare them to the time on the clock that people clicked on my ad, then it looks as though I recorded zero new followers among my 6 clicks. Again, I might be wrong, but the evidence I have does not look good.

There are many reasons why results are so poor. First and foremost is the fact that people are just not interested in clicking adsperiod. They are on the sites for a very direct purpose, and cruising off to a sponsor’s page is not on the agenda. Second, the ad units are completely untargeted. My marketing-related Twitter ad goes out to every single user, and I am guessing that click results would be better if I could, say, choose to show it only to people who have “marketing” or “social media” in their profiles. This would actually be simple for Featured Users to do, but it would mean far fewer opportunities to show my ad. This, in a nutshell, is the main reason we don’t see much hyper-targeting on the Web.

Now, there are probably a few things I could have done to improve my results slightly, of course. Featured Users suggested a few things such as ”include the words ‘if you follow me, I’ll follow you’” and “original and odd bios tend to fare better.” Yes, yes—this might help a little bit, but these “tips” are fairly gimmicky, and a slight improvement in the click rate would not have helped my total results much.

My Take

Featured Users is difficult to justify as a marketing investment. I love the fact that I can see clearly the cost of each new click at $1.67, but I likely gained zero new followers for my money. And even if I picked up a few followers, it is difficult to put a dollar value on the type of person Featured Users sent my way. We all still have a difficult time estimating the benefit of a subscriber. For me, the goal is to attract people who may be interested in buying the services of my company (Fortune 500 marketing employees), or those who buy my book when it comes out in October. It is certainly possible that new followers will somehow drive revenue, but it’s not clear enough to keep investing confidently.

The best way to attract Twitter followers is to create great content and work with your social network to spread the word, and this is a microcosmic example of what’s going on in the marketing world today. I attract dozens of followers on Twitter, for free, when I share a thought-provoking comment that my existing followers choose to “re-tweet” to their own networks. I received 18 new followers yesterday alone because people discovered my blog (more content) or found me through other search and recommendation services. People don’t see, want, or trust traditional “telling and selling” ads, but they will heap attention on those that provide valuable content—in other words, Marketing with Meaning.

Finally, I believe Featured Users is not a big idea as a business model for Twitter, either. On paper it’s a great way to bring a service to marketers and a business model to many app developers. Like Google AdWords or Amazon affiliate programs, it attracts some money for sites that have zero today, but the traffic isn’t high enough and results are not strong enough to attract a critical mass of opportunity.

So we’ll keep our Skunk Works R&D project on a meaningful business model for Twitter goingand I’ll keep creating content here and on Twitter to earn your attention and word of mouth.

Social Media for Auto Sales

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Last week I drove the 90 miles from Cincinnati to Lexington, Kentucky, to present Marketing with Meaning to the local Ad Club. The lunch-and-learn session drew about 60 people in all.

During the Q&A session after my speech, one of the people in the audience asked me how her company, a local BMW dealer, might better use social media. I answered her on the fly but wanted to explore the question here as a way to show how to start strategically, rather than jumping on the bandwagon of what’s hot today.

For the exercise I’ll use a simplified version of the step-by-step model that comprises Part Two of my upcoming book. Let’s assume that the BMW dealer has a gut instinct and interest in social media but is looking to test the rationale and do it the right way. Also let me make it clear that I have never had a car dealership as a client and did not conduct extensive research solely for this blog post. So please take this as a guts-and-opinions strategy.

Step 1: Setting Business Objectives

A local BMW dealership could choose from many key business drivers across the purchase funnel, from Awareness to Consideration to Purchase to Repeat business. Let’s leave Awareness and Consideration out of the picture, as I believe most people who arrive at the dealership already have narrowed down their choices based on national marketing from BMW and word of mouth from friends. I also believe it’s difficult to focus on the point of purchase at the dealer level, as people increasingly come armed with facts and look at the dealer conversation as if they are entering a battle. I believe improving Repeat is probably the single biggest business opportunity for a BMW car dealership. People are increasingly drawn to lease deals, which means they are shopping for a new car in less than three years after purchase. For buyers, there is also a large opportunity to benefit from revenue through maintenance and aftermarket add-ons. Let’s classify all of this as Repeat revenue and focus our efforts here.

Step 2: Uncovering the Insight

Here we work to understand the question of why people do or do not return to their previous dealership when it is time to buy a new car. In theory, people should almost always go back to their last salesperson; after all, each car brand increasingly has a wide variety of models and prices, and many dealerships sell multiple car brands. I believe one of the reasons this is more rare than expected is that car buyers often suffer from buyer’s remorse. In such a large purchase, which is intense and stressful, they tend to feel like they didn’t get the best deal after the sale was done. High-pressure tactics by sales and finance people don’t help, of course.

Based on my personal experience, this could be solved if salespeople could develop personal relationships with their customers. Salespeople of big-ticket items such as luxury cars should treat each completed sale like the start of the next sale, and work to cultivate a personal connection that will last for years. There is nothing as powerful as relationships in life. They create trust, loyalty, and mutual benefit. In the agency business, we have a saying: “Clients don’t fire their friends.” What that means is that if you have a good relationship with your client, they will feel more comfortable giving you the feedback you need to improve when they are unhappy, rather than picking up the phone and ending the relationship. The same goes for cars, thus our key insight: Personal relationships with the salesperson are the key to Repeat.

Step 3: Developing Meaningful Ideas

It is certainly not a new approach for salespeople to try to build personal relationships with their customers. I remember a salesperson at Macy’s who used to call me when there was a sale on suits at her store, for example. But developing relationships can be difficult. They are long-term investments at a time when short-term sales pressure is always high. Writing letters and making phone calls to each individual contact also can be extremely time-consuming, and when done tend to be focused on making the next sale. Personal relationships need some space to talk weather, sports, and family.

But new technology is allowing people to build stronger relationships with more people. This is where Facebook can play a huge role. The tool helps people create, maintain, and strengthen personal relationships. We can log in at any time and see what our broad network of connections is doing, and with a few clicks and words we can “touch” them and strengthen the bonds. And in the business world, Facebook is helping people share a little bit about who they are and how they tick. By understanding who we are as people, versus just clients or sales guys, we become closer.

So my suggestion is for car dealerships to encourage their salespeople to become active on Facebook and use it to build personal relationships with their customers. At the close of each sale, the salesperson should ask the customer to connect on Facebook. The pitch should be that it is a great way to keep in contact and allow for follow-up service questions. Once connected, the salesperson should use the service to “touch” the customer every few weeks. This doesn’t mean continually pitching the weekly oil-change special, but rather even adding things such as a quick comment on an uploaded photo, or a line that reads, “Did you get to drive your 5 Series in the great weather this weekend?” Not every customer will be on the service yet, which is actually a good thing to allow for some time to become comfortable and efficient.

Step 4: Measuring Meaning and Business Results

I believe that marketing should be measured both for its impact on customers’ lives as well as the bottom line. In terms of measuring meaning, this idea would be successful if customers are accepting salespeople as Facebook friends and responding positively to the “touches” that are made. Any outreach from customer to salesperson is a big win, as are referrals from customers’ friends. These are all numbers that can be clearly observed, tracked, and compared across individuals.

Business impact is simple to measure because we focused on a single core score, Repeat revenue, and because individual customer names are known and tracked. The dealership owner can track the specific number of maintenance appointments, follow-up sale rates, number of cars per household, and the overall price of each car.

Conclusion

I believe social media is an incredible tool that marketers are just now barely understanding and applying. One of the biggest barriers is the pressure to “go do something on Facebook or Twitter.” My hope for this post and the upcoming book is that you see how a strong business objective and insight can help your brand understand the opportunities for social media, and the right way to execute ideas and measure results.

Takeaways from the Ad Age Digital Conference #aadigi

Friday, April 10th, 2009

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!

(Here are some of the best Ad Age articles on the event.)