Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

Teens understand public and private just fine. It’s the adults that are behaving badly.

Read a fascinating story in Read Write Web about university admissions in the age of Facebook. Here’s the gist of it. University admissions officers are creeping on prospective student’s Facebook Pages to help them judge their admission-worthiness. Knowing this, some high school students beef up their privacy settings. Others take a more inventive approach and pepper their timelines with admission-worthy ‘accomplishments’ such as ‘What a rewarding night serving food at the soup kitchen’.

I’m certain that the first thought going through some readers’ minds is, “Shame on them for lying like that.” But consider this.  Certain scholarships require that the student “friend” the sponsor before being considered (I guess to get around the student’s privacy settings). Now why are these scholarship judges so prying? Shouldn’t the essay the student has to write be enough to go with? And isn’t it kind of creepy that you’re snooping on some teenager’s timeline that’s likely filled with a few party pics?

C’mon adults set a better example. Judge students on merit not whether they post a few party pics to share with their friends. Besides, a lot of these ‘character’ based judgements were originally meant for discriminatory purposes anyway.

All Brands Need is Love

The other day a colleague pointed me to BBC’s 1 hour documentary on Steve Jobs called “Billion Dollar Hippie” (I’d send you a link but then the copyright owners might yank it. Google it for now). There’s a line around the 40 minute mark of the video where they’re telling the familiar story about the iMac and how its success was attributed to its unique design and how Apple managed to make a computer fashionable. Then came a line that not only captures the brand essence of Apple, a quote from iMac’s designer, Jonathan Ives, “We have to make this something people will LOVE![emphasis added by me]. “Love” according to my colleague, should be the thing to which every brand aspires.

Every brand? I wasn’t so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘love brands’. I’m typing this post on my beloved MacBook. I have a protective case and an InvisibleShield screen protector for my iPhone. I find Porter Airlines and the Toronto Island Airport (Yes I know it’s officially called Billy Bishop Airport) experience absolutely lovely. I think I’m falling in love with this (new to my neighbourhood) frozen yogurt chain from California called Menchies. As a professional marketer, I love to work on ‘love brands’. And yet, there’s a ton of no-so-loved brands that do perfectly fine if not thrive in the marketplace. Take a look at the top 10 companies in the 2011 Fortune Global 500…only one of them, Toyota, still going strong despite its massive recall in 2009 and the Tsunami, has some ‘love brands’ in its roster.

  1. Wal-Mart Stores
  2. Royal Dutch Shell
  3. Exxon Mobil
  4. BP
  5. Sinopec Group
  6. China National Petroleum
  7. State Grid
  8. Toyota Motor
  9. Japan Post Holdings
  10. Chevron

You see what I mean. While I’m uncomfortable to say it, the evidence suggests that you don’t have to be loved to be successful. So that got me thinking…maybe love and not-so-loved brands can co-exist in the same marketplace. While being loved can be a competitive advantage, there must be other ways to gain competitive advantage and maybe being loved is something a marketer can choose a brand to be or not to be.

Enter Advertising Age’s ad critic Bob Garfield, someone not known for jumping on the latest marketing bandwagons. In what I think will become a landmark cover story, Garfield writes, “Say goodbye to positioning, preemption and unique selling position. This is about turning everything you understood about marketing upside down so that you can land right side up. This is about tapping into the Human Element. [bold face added]”

Notice that branding was not in his goodbye list. That’s because branding and brand building is more important than ever before. “…you are being evaluated 24/7 in countless conversations that have zero to do with your ad slogan. On the contrary, they are about your brand’s essential self–which behooves you to think very hard about your essential self.”

“Your essential self.” In other words, we judge brands pretty much like we judge other people. We dislike insincere brands in the same way we dislike insincere people. We love those that we connect with emotionally and who we trust. Why do we tell brands to be authentic? It’s the same thing we tell people before their date…”Be yourself!”

Authentic, trustworthy, brands with whom we emotionally connect have staying power. The others do too…but they won’t get our love. Imc2’s “Brand Sustainability Map” charts out this brand universe where the love and not-so-loved brands co-exist.

Brand Sustainability Map

At the top-right are the familiar “love” brands but next to them and below them are brands that have enough to keep them going for a while. Emotional relationship brands aren’t maximizing that connection to its full potential or are missing something. In the bottom left are the reluctant relationship brands. These brands have traditional competitive advantages like high switching costs, high barriers to entry from competitors, patents, etc. which might explain why there’s a phone and cable company in that quadrant.

So love brands, not-so-loved brands, and even bland brands can co-exist. It’s the same with other people in your life. You don’t love everyone you know; some people are just friends and some people are that bland acquaintance who’s a friend of a friend who you see at parties but don’t pay much attention to ’cause they’re kind of…meh.  So here’s the thing. No one wants to be that ignored bland guy. Most of us want to be loved…or at least…not be bland. So how we get there? That’s for another post.

Well @MeshCon, It Seems We’ve Crossed the Chasm

Mesh Marketing 2011 did not disappoint. Eloquent speakers sparked intelligent conversation. The camaraderie of the geek community was deeply felt. And yet, there was something different about this year’s edition. It seemed…calmer…mellower… in a good way. And I think I know why.

I think we’re out of the gee-whiz-isn’t-this-cool phase of digital marketing and social media. The social media/web 2.0 whatever you want to call it revolution is beyond the new normal, it’s just plain normal. We’ve crossed Geoffrey Moore’s chasm into the early majority phase. Instead of chasing shiny new objects, we’re into  more sober topics…like how to operationalize social media communications into business processes…and what to do with all that data?

Joe Fernandez‘ influence rating service, Klout, sparks mixed feelings among many but his appearance at Mesh disarmed a lot of cynicism. He doesn’t want to recreate high school popularity contests, he’s just trying to show that a lot of people have more clout (with a “c”) then people recognize and he’s trying to do it with 20 terrabytes of data a day! And seeing him in a panel with the inventor of Watson, Rod Smith, was amazing to see.

But the show stealer of the day was Marcus Sheridan. If you need proof that digital in part of the DNA of everyman, read his blog and watch his videos. The Sales Lion injected some straight talking street smarts to a conversation dominated by geekspeak. Finally someone makes it clear that SEO is still immensely important and that digital and social serve to generate leads and sales. Sandra Gornall has an excellent summary of his solo talk here and I can’t wait to link to the video.

A big thank you to the @meshcon organizers and volunteers for a great event.

Do People Really Know What They Want?

With the resignation of Steve Jobs comes a plethora of retrospectives and many lists of quotes. This one really stuck out for me.

“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
BusinessWeek interview, May 1998

It’s very similar to something Henry Ford allegedly said, “”If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

I’m a digital and social media marketer. I don’t do focus groups. I do a somewhat digital equivalent. I do conversation audits. Rather than take a panel of a few supposedly randomly chosen people, pay them roughly $50 and ask them a bunch of questions about a product, I look at what people are saying online “in the field” so to speak and derive insights that can inform a client strategy or guide the big idea for a digital campaign. In one respect you could say that I’m trying to figure out what people want and in the Jobsian sense that might mean I’m crowding out the ability to come up with a truly creative or innovative campaign.

Except, when I look at conversations online, I’m not trying to figure out what people want. The conversations that people have online reflect an in-the-moment thought (Twitter, Facebook status updates) or an introspective thought (blogs, tumblr). They’re not answers to leading questions, they’re ‘real’ thoughts. I’m looking for patterns. Patterns in random conversations that will inspire a eureka moment, an insight, so named because you cannot see it until you dive in. If done right, it shouldn’t lead to an incremental improvement. Incremental improvements are somewhat obvious. It should lead to a discovery that sparks something innovative.

How Google+ has forced us to Rethink the Spectrum of Friendship

Growing up as a child in the pre-Facebook era, my friends were people I played with, or hung out with regularly. They lived in the neighbourhood or I met them in school, or they were kids of my parents’ friends. I suspect that’s largely the same for kids today.

As we grow up and attend different schools or expanding our horizons with other activities: sports leagues, camp, music, part-time jobs, full-time work, moving to a different city, town, or country our friend network expands but also compartmentalizes itself into circles of friends. While you the individual deftly floats between your circles, the friends in each circle rarely meet each other. This is most noticeable at weddings where the different tables at the reception often reflect the different circles of friends and relatives for the bride and groom.

And there’s another thing tends to happen when we expand our social network. Individuals start falling on a friendship spectrum. On one side are your true friend, your BFFs, your confidantes, the people who know you really, really well. On the other side are your acquaintances, people you know in passing, whom you might stop in the street to say hi but the conversation almost never veers beyond small talk. Then there’s those in between. “Work friends” whom you see every day who know a fair bit about your personal life but you still feel the need to keep some professional distance. “Co-mingled friends” people who you met through someone else and love to hang out with them but you never get together except with that someone else. “Family friends”, the relatives of your friends or the friends of your relatives. “Old friends” who you don’t see as often as you used to but still maintain ties.  And a whole slew of others.

Then Facebook came along and acquaintances, work friends, old friends, family friends, co-mingled friends, old friends all got mashed up together in the same news feed. It was both refreshing and complicated. The lines got blurred. Stuff you’d share with one circle of friends would be seen and commented by others and vice versa. On one hand, you got to know those on the weaker side of the friend spectrum a bit better and they got to know you a bit better. On the other hand, you got to know those on the weaker side of the friend spectrum a bit better and they got to know you a bit better 🙂 Eli Pariser can fret all he wants about filter bubbles but in some way Facebook opened us up by getting to (sort of) know our spectrum of friends better.

And now, here comes Google+ asking us to choose our friends and put them back into their circles. I understand the zeitgeist that inspired these circles. The voyeur aspect of Facebook was interesting at first but now that we’ve tested our limits with public-ness, we want to regain some control over who sees what. But now we’re faced with a rather awkward conundrum. The spectrum of friends, the degree of friendedness was heretofore a pretty much unconscious classification. It wasn’t something we’d say out loud and we didn’t really think too much about it. Now, here they are, staring us in the face. Our pre-frontal cortex, responsible for reasoning, is now given the unfamiliar task of classifying our friends, of pigeon-holing them into labelled groups. If algorithms created the first wave of online filter bubbles, the next wave might be created by us.

Your Real Name or a Pseudonym on Twitter

In the old days of the web pseudonyms were the rule. Anonymity was the web’s allure. You could escape from your real life and be whomever you wanted online. Then Facebook happened. Real names, real pictures. Authenticity starts ruling the interweb. And now Twitter. Seems like half the people go with a pseudonym (though most will have a real name in the bio) and the other half go with a real name or a variation involving initials. When a newbie wants to join Twitter, I’m at a loss to advise which format to go with?

I had a conversation about this with a colleague (who goes by his real name on twitter) and his theory was: If you’re going to be tweeting actively and often and you have a clever name, go with that memorable pseudonym. When you rock the twitterverse with your 140 character wit, the pseudonym adds a new dimension, maybe a level of mystique, to your personal brand. On the other hand, you know your real name, others know your real name, it’s your name why not use it? I suppose authors with pen names and actors/musicians with stage names go through a similar thought process…adding more fuel to my long-held belief that social media turns us all into public figures.

Twitter: Television’s Peanut Gallery

During this year’s Oscars, I had two screens going. The big one was showing the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. The smaller laptop screen was showing the #oscars feed.

In some circles, this “social viewing” habit might be the savior of TV. Some people believe this second screen is the savior of event-based television programming creating a virtual living room and restoring the old shared experience that once was a staple of TV viewing habits everywhere. Well, like most virtual things…it’s not exactly the same thing. When it comes to things like Superbowl parties and Oscar parties…I go mostly to socialize, the event provides an excuse to get together and a theme for the party. The twitter takes one element from that…the snarky heckles we do to the TV as we’re watching. That’s it. It’s one big virtual peanut gallery each person trying to out-snark the last comment in the #oscars stream.

It’s funny. It’s a nice accessory to the Oscar viewing experience…but it’s not social viewing.

Twitter Serendipity

Last year I wrote a post about how mobile internet access was killing serendipity. For example, rather than just go into that neat looking funky restaurant I just happening to be walking by while hungry, I end up checking it out on Yelp or UrbanSpoon first and only if it’s highly rated by a critical mass of people would I enter. I might even order the dish recommended by the majority of recent commenters. I read my Surowiecki; I’m following the wisdom of the crowds. But there’s an excitement of not having a map (or the Google Maps app) in turning down that alleyway or pedestrian walkway and sampling some random place that just looks good and feels right.

Well last week, I experienced a bit of twitter serendipity. It was already a quarter to one, I was hungry but not sure yet where I wanted to go for lunch. Just then I noticed that a friend of mine had tweeted that he was wondering if anyone was available for lunch in my neck of the woods. I checked the time of the tweet and it was 2 minutes ago, so I told him I was game and we met up. Turns out someone else also noticed his tweet within a few minutes and the three of us had a delightful lunch with great conversation in a new place I had never been. One tweet and I discover a new place and meet a new face. Serendipity has been restored!

Fame vs. Influence

Over the past decade, marketers have been obsessed with influence. The pedestal on which influencers have been placed is tantamount to marketing sainthood. Thousands of hours have been spent finding and cultivating relationships with these influencers in the hopes that our products will fly off the shelves after their ringing endorsements. Under this premise, an influencer is someone who can get people to take action (and generally the preferred action is to buy the marketers’ products though it could also mean advocate for a position or vote for a certain political candidate).

I have no quibble with this definition of an influencer, I do wonder, however, if we actually choose our influencers on the basis of their influence. The measures we use for whether a blogger makes a given list are things like number of visitors and Google PageRank but these don’t measure the influencer’s ability to get others to take action, this measures the reach or “fame” of the influencer. Under this model, a blogger piece pretty much acts like a cheap (or sometimes free) and minor celebrity endorsement and we know from Laura Ries that celebrity endorsements need to be believable in order to work i.e. the reader has to believe that the person would actually use the product in order for it to be effective and the celebrity would be perceived to be an authority on the product’s quality.  Hence, NBA players are good for endorsing basketball shoes and PGA golfers are great for endorsing clubs and golf balls but when they endorse cars and shaving creams, the celebrity effect is muted or non-existent. And so it goes with online influencers. A sports blogger may watch a lot of games on TV but he or she is still less of an authority on the quality of a given HD TV as a consumer electronics blogger. A mom blogger is an authority on diapers only if her kids are still in diapers and even then only if she’s experimented with different brands of diapers. As marketers, we have to be vigilant when we choose our influencers. Are we choosing them because they have authority on our product category and therefore real influence on their reader’s purchasing decision or they merely famous. Believe it or not, fame doesn’t necessarily sell.

Games Without Frontiers

After seeing Gabe Zicherman at Meshmarketing 2010 and after watching several talks from TEDster Jesse Schell, I’m starting to drink the gameified kool-aid. I’m fully convinced that the “game” is the best metaphor for marketing.

This is a good thing. The old metaphor for marketers was military and the jargon in many a brand planning meeting would be riddled with military terms like “targeting”, “positioning”, and “mindshare”. The social media era had marketers turning to a new metaphor, two-way conversations and the jargon shifted to participatory language such as “engagement”, “shareable content”, “crowdsourcing”. The problem with the former was that it treated consumers as trophies of conquest. The latter metaphor often got so engrossed in solipsistic banter that it forgets about the business goals. Perhaps a new metaphor might be more approrpiate for the current times. The Game.

Gamification refers to a broader system of challenge and reward, it’s not all badges and points. It’s the process of using game thinking and dynamics to engage audiences and solve problems, The best games tap into key drives and motivations that govern human behaviour. Marketers as well can tap into these drives in order to influence consumer sentiment and behaviour.

Take the Costco shopping experience. A quarter of its products change regularly. One day it’s a designer sweater is for a really good price; another day it’s an LCD TV. It’s not just a big box store…it’s a “treasure hunt”.

Now look at Groupon. It’s not just coupons. You can’t just buy a coupon. Other people have to buy a coupon as well. You have to gather allies to get the prize and there’s a new prize every day.

FourSquare. It’s game potential is just starting to be tapped. Right now it’s points, badges, and mayorships with a few retail promotions thrown in. In other words, status, bragging rights, and prizing. But the company is just starting to really tap into the competitive and co-operative spirit involved in game play.
That’s right, competitive and co-operative. A study performed by Richard Bartle, a professor and game designer, identified four kinds of game players: Achievers, who seek success and prestige; Explorers, who look for new and unknown things; Socializers, who want interaction; and Killers, who thrive on competing against, and defeating, other players. A skillfully designed game directs the energies of different players towards the same, or mutually supportive, outcomes.

The applications of game dynamics are at their infancy and I’m excited to see where they lead down the road. I leave you with a thought from Gabe Zicherman: Were he born today, William Shakespeare might remark that all the world’s a game, and all the men and women merely players.