Archive for the ‘social’ Category

Some “Big Data” Musings

Wasn’t really happy with this post when I first wrote it because it didn’t really have a tight “so what” conclusion to it. I revisited it today and…still no big conclusion…yet, they work as musings so how about I just share them anyway.

1. Just as the Art Director / Copywriter pair are the key to great creatives, the strategist / analyst pair will be key to great marketing strategy where the analyst is the number crunching quant and the strategist knows which questions to ask of the analyst.

2. Social media has dominated the marketing punditry discussion in the past couple years but pay-per-click advertising uses, gives, and optimizes Big Data. Expect a more balanced PPC / social in marketing plans.

3. Infographics, standard issue in the PR and B2B arsenal, will go consumer and become more dynamic and consumer facing (e.g. more Infogrpahic billboards with real-time updates)

4. Expect to see greater use of ‘frictionless sharing’ and it’s cousin, something I’m calling ‘private IRL tracking’.

On the frictionless sharing front, Nike+ got the ball rolling years ago with people sharing their runs straight from their shoe device. Spotify and various news readers (e.g. Washington Post) are making their way into our newsfeeds. But there’s also broadcasting your electricity use and rewarding savings in an attempt to get households to use less.

On the IRL tracking, I’m thinking more stuff like that track foot traffic at specific locations, Mongoosemetrics which tracks phone calls, and someone ought to invent a device that sends your car’s trip meter info straight to an expense tracking app.

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.

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.

Social Media Sacrilege: Influence vs. Popularity: Semantic Argument?

As the headline suggests, I’m about to commit what amounts to sacrilege within the digital marketing world. For the past couple years digital marketing pundits have been blogging and tweeting until they’re blue in the face about the importance of reaching online influencers and yet have been made it painstakingly clear that influence does not equal popularity.

But then a thought came to me. Maybe when we hear the word “popular” we think of the popular kids in high school and the superficiality of that whole scene and therefore the word leaves a bad taste in our mouths. But isn’t popularity a component of influence? I Googled “define: popularity” and Google’s definition was “The state or condition of being liked, admired, or supported by many people” Wictionary goes even further, “The quality or state of being popular; especially, the state of being esteemed by, or of being in favor with, the people at large; good will or favor proceeding from the people;”

“The state of being esteemed by, or of being in favor with…good will or favor proceeding from the people” Why, that sounds almost noble…almost….influential?

Here’s a “Yes, but…” answer. There’s two caveats.

1. Influence, like fame, might not last forever

2. Context + Influence matters even more

There’s a lot of similarities between influencer marketing and celebrity endorsements, the key difference being that the influencer doesn’t usually get paid (apart from free product and/or perks but it pales in comparison to what the celebrity gets). And celebrity endorsements only work, as Laura Ries put it “when the consumer has a credible belief that the celebrity would be interested in buying and using your product or service despite being paid to do so.”


1. Context first

2. Popularity within context is an important element of influence

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.

Why Quora Might Stick Around

Yahoo Answers, Google Answers, Mahalo, Q&A sites have been around for over a decade which means forever in Internet time. Google Answers is no longer, Yahoo Answers (check compete and google adwords, and Mahalo (again figure it out). Yet Quora has caught the attention of the digital chattering classes as the”next big thing”. From my own cursory observations I’ve noticed that both the questions and answers seem to be of a higher quality than most other Q&A sites with the exception of some specialized forums and LinkedIn Answers (LinkedIn is an Edelman client)

So why is Quora getting everyone’s attention? Why does it seem Quora might make it where many others have stumbled. A combination of authentic identities, good functionality, and an appeal to ego.

Authentic Identities

Behind the veil of anonymity, people are more willing to ask silly questions and give silly answers. It also creates an environment conducive to troll-like behaviour. With Quora, while you can sign in anonymously, no one seems to do so. From my poking around the site, most people are signing in with their twitter handle. Since it’s their public facing self asking and answering questions, some thought (or at least some thought behind humour) has been put into most of the questions and answers.

Good Functionality

This is pretty much table stakes for any online presence. If the user experience sucks, no one will use it. Quora’s pretty intuitive and easy to use. Signing up was easy and the method of searching questions is fairly robust so you can see if a question has been asked. The twitter integration is great. There’s always room for improvement but it’s a pretty good for version 1.0

Appeal to Ego

I like how the site eschews points, badges, and honorifics and sticks to little surprises that delight. Rather than ranking answers a questioner can thank each sincere answerer. The most popular answers can get voted up. Answerers who need to further show off their brilliant response can easily broadcast it to twitter.

New Features I’d like to See

Geo-targeted search: Makes it easier for those who want to answer questions in a particular jurisdiction such as lawyers and accountants .

Specific Requests: Send out your question to everyone but a lot of questioners would love for certain people to answer. It would be great if you could notify them. Of course for privacy reasons, they would have to opt-in to receive notifications.

Authority Rankings by Topic: Most people know a bit about somethings and not a whole lot about others. No Q&A site has cracked this nut. Authority rankings cover the overall quality of a person’s answers but this means nothing. I want to know if they’re smart in the particular topic area of which I asked the question.

Online + IRL -> Real Action

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Finally got around to reading Malcolm Gladwell’s controversial New Yorker article excoriating technophiles and technoutopians for overrating social media’s ability to effect social change. For those who don’t want to read the whole article, here’s the Coles/Cliffs Notes version.

Gladwell believes that social media activism is overrated. The #iranelections twitter campaign was largely a phenomenon in the West with little traction on the ground in Iran. Same with the so-called twitter revolution in Moldova. Yes, there is strength of weak ties (indeed the Tipping Point depends on it), but BIG CHANGE in the face of GRAVE DANGER requires strong ties and hierarchies. The master storyteller illustrates his point by recounting the story of a civil rights sit-in in Greensboro, NC, the sit-in was started by four friends who planned it for months and endured a barrage of sneers, taunts, and threats of violence. But because they were friends, because they had strong-tie connections, because they knew that their co-conspirators had each others back, they persevered. Weak-tie networks work differently. They mobilize a large number of people quickly to participate in a low-risk activity. The weak-tie collective can yield results whether it’s raising money for a cause (Save Darfur), saving an individual’s life (social media found a bone marrow transplant match for Sameer Bhatia) or ensuring justice is served (through a social media a stolen LG sidekick was returned to its rightful owner) but in Malcolm’s mind, these are hardly status quo game changers.

Only they are. Not in the sense that the world was changed (both the Bhatia and the LG sidekick stories benefit single individuals); but in the speed and relative ease in which movements get organized.

How do movements get started? Derek Sivers points the way in his 3 minute TED talk. “First, of course you know, a leader [of the movement] needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed. But what he’s doing is so easy to follow. So here’s his first follower with a crucial role. He’s going to show everyone else how to follow.” the first follower is crucial because he “transforms a lone nut into a leader.” Then two, three, four, people follow, momentum build, the rate of new followers accelerates and a movement starts. And why do more people join? “…as more people join in, it’s less risky. So those that were sitting on the fence before, now have no reason not to. They won’t stand out. They won’t be ridiculed.” The Greensboro civil rights sit-in was started by 4 boys, then grew to 27 the next day, day after that 80 and day after that 300. The “grave danger” Gladwell felt was so critical for real movements to happen were only experienced by the original four. The risk was significantly lowered for the 296 others.

So now that we know how movements are formed, how does social media facilitate them? By making it easy for first followers to find their “lone nuts”. It’s propelled Twestival from a small gathering in London to a 200 city party and it’s what turned Movember from a single challenge made between a bunch of friends in an Adelaide, Australia pub to a worldwide phenomenon. Let me be clear, the organizing, the action, the “doing part” of the movement happens in real life. Social media helps you find collaborators needed to turn a little idea into a movement for social change.