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Online Lifestyles Are a Norm? Yes, They Are!

December is always a special month for me as it is a time when all the checks and balances occur, when all the moments of the year are revisited in memory again – relived, pondered upon and signed off as lessons and discoveries. It is also a time for predictions, wish lists and anticipation! So with the respect to my passion for marketing, I am contemplating on the passing year with a reflection on online lifestyles or call it digital lifestyles that became a norm. Little by little, our activities move online: online shopping, online banking, online dating, online networking, online socializing!

According to the Stanford University study on Internet Usage Report, published in internet stats, “the longer people have been web users the more hours and the more activities they report engaging in. While self-selection may be playing a role with early adopters, the data strongly suggests a model of social change with not only a growing number of Internet users, but with web users doing more and more things on the internet in the future.” Though, I am not sure about the number of respondents and who they were, since according to the chart -if you have been online for 5 years, your average usage hours per week can be close to 9. Well, I totally can see myself spending 30 hours per week, excluding business hours, though I discovered internet in 2000 only (yes, I know it is late, but try to keep me from it now!)

Paid search is getting on the top hot list and though it is not a new way to reach our customers, it is the most profitable and on the target! Why not to love it? You pay for actions, purchases or performance. Besides it is so interwoven into everyday’s consumer behavior – no wonder it works! If I think about all the new things I want to buy, learn and get to know – what do I do? – I go online and search. And if before I was only paying attention to unsponsored results, now if it comes to the specialized services in the area– I prefer paid links. My rationale comes from the following – those folks might be mature and sophisticated enough to advertise online, thus the service /or business they are in – is taken seriously. What did people do before search engines? Yellow pages…did work well then with the phones. Now, we want to do everything online – as the majority of us is there 24/7.

Peer reviews, consumer reviews and any bad experiences – I look for those as well before I buy. This brings us to the second nominee on the list – social networks where people interact and recommend stuff. Social networking became so everyday-vital – almost like email. And even though for online and “everything internet” skeptics it =(being online 24/7) might seem too over the board or a sign of no life (remember, second life – no life cartoon?) – Online lifestyle is a norm. On the contrary, the majority of people on social networks are the most extraverted –social folks that stay in touch with far more people at a time than one could imagine long time ago before internet. It is also a great opportunity for the introverted to express more, to share more and to be surrounded with the personalized attention without the overbearing voice of extraverts! And thus, with the increase of time we spend in our networks, with the ease we express our wishes, share the knowledge – we bring our lives online and plant very obvious patterns of our daily consumption. What are the greatest opportunities are those for online advertisers! They can cater to us personally – with all the data that has been collected about our daily habitual interactions.

Rich media would be the third favorite of mine – acquiring hearts, eyeballs and attention span of millions of people. Sharing videos, audio files and such became so easy and fun. You can become a TV star, a radio star and an international celebrity thanks to all the rich media capabilities internet offers.

With that, I wish you all Happy Holidays (be that Christmas, New Year, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or Eid-al-Adha) and more fulfilling online experiences in your digital lives!

Top Ten Interactive Marketing Trends Observed Throughout 2007

I have been thinking about the top ten interactive marketing trends that I can name on the top of my head that are still pursued by the fellow marketers. I came up with a list of those that was not as surprising as I wanted it to be. At the same time, it reminded me how long marketing as a profession has been around. Reading and tracking various industry publications (Brandweek, AdAge and NYT) as well as googling the term “Interactive marketing trends 2007” for value-add opinions in the top marketing blogs, brought me to the following top ten list:

1. Advergaming
2. Online video
3. Consumer generated media
4. Social networking
5. Mobile social networking
6. Interactive TV
7. Relationship marketing
8. Evangelism marketing, or word-of-mouth marketing
9. Paid search marketing
10. Community-powered search

Regardless of the research executed on the topic, this list does represent somewhat subjective professional judgment. Simultaneously, the top ten list is not necessarily prioritized by significance of the item.

Advergaming has been on the market for two years and according to Zodiac Interactive’s EVP-Sales & Marketing Rick Howe noted, “Advergames are compelling, sponsored interactive content that enables leading brands to attract large, targeted audiences and effectively promote their brands across multiple platforms. Custom branded Advergames and contextual in-game advertising are considered to be one of the most effective and stickiest vehicles to engage consumers in deeply engaging online experiences. Similar to product placements or ad placements in movies, in-game advertising is subtly placed throughout the gaming experience in a form of banner ads or fictional placements to make a game more real. It is almost surreal to live without advertising! Internet games are filled with products like Cheetos, Mountain Dew and Laffy Taffy. Advertisers know that tomorrow’s consumers are today’s children and they utilize this knowledge in shaping brand loyalties like gardeners growing an orchard.

Online video is very popular these days thanks to its captivating effect as a medium and a number of easy-to-use online applications that fully support its production, sharing and editing. YouTube, Jib Jab and the rest became so common that everyone knows how to use those and does it on regular basis. Online accessibility provides for wide consumer coverage and the interactive video effect allows for better envisioning for potential customers how the product can be used and what the actual benefits are. One of the best examples would be the animation effect in email marketing that a chocolate provider used. According to Amy Johannes from Chief Marketer, the marketer was able to boost its sales by 49% by utilizing animated images in the promotional emails. They also ran a Valentine’s Day promo. “Clickthroughs on an animated e-mail were 203% higher than those showing just a static picture, the study found.” Consumers are used to rich media applications and they expect messages directed at them to be animated, interactive or some sort of participatory.
Finally, it is almost a fact that every strong marketing team is able to produce or to induce the production by customers of humorous online ads and distribute them virally through social media channels, where YouTube is one of the players. According to the eMarketer article on Online Video: Seeing the Whole Picture, “it projects that the number of online video viewers in the US alone will rise from 114 million in 2006 to 183 million in 2011. “
As B2B April article states the point of view of Matt Ross, president of McCann Worldgroup San Francisco,” Entertainment engages, and entertainment sells. People will grant you a tremendous amount of time if you make it rewarding and worthwhile.”

Consumer generated media, or in other terms user-generated content was a very loud marketing term in 2006. Everyone in the marketing community was thrilled at the opportunities and effects it provided. According to Jeffe Juice, one of the marketing bloggers, “Everyone from Doritos to Mentos, MasterCard to Panasonic, Chevy to Oreos, offered user generated content programmes. And not without good reason. Consumers really responded. The UGC programme that Renegade created for Panasonic was great for engaging the action sports community. Mentos’s effort to ride the wave of consumer interest in watching Coke bottle geysers has created a corresponding explosion in sales (up 17% over the previous year). Looking ahead, however, marketers will need to raise the stakes if they hope to get consumers involved in such campaigns. One way will be to offer cash (or other incentives), not just for the winners as Doritos is doing, but for all UGC that other consumers end up watching. This “pay for play” approach is certainly gaining traction with the emergence of Current TV (which is paying for ads) and Revver.com (which is paying for content). Creative consumers will undoubtedly follow the money.” These days every third American has a blog, or knows how to produce a video and get paid for it. A lot of small businesses and specialty agents started using YouTube channels and blogs for self-promotion and business development due to the interactive intimate touch this medium provides.

Social networking showed its popularity especially with the techies (early adopters) and the young teenage audience that grasps every new online tool at the speed of light. At present one can see the movement goes mobile, when social networking sites get support through mobile applications. “I do not use email any longer; just use Twitter that is incorporated on my Facebook page.” says Jeremiah Owyang, one of the online top web strategy bloggers. eMarketer digested the research on attention measure in social network sites done by Complete and suggested that “the top six social networks all saw increased attention, and the top 20 social networks received over 15% of all attention in June. MySpace consumes an outsized share of Internet user time overall.” There is a potential for marketers to engage the audience and utilize this attention on those sites.
The UK is similar enough in Web usage that it can serve as a directional guide to Internet behavior in the US. In the study, 68% of UK social networkers said they had visited another Web site after seeing something on a friend’s social network page. Just under half used a search engine to learn more and 35% had forwarded the space, ad or link to a friend. Behavior targeted advertising is believed to be a solution for richer engagement of this audience towards products and services that their friends are using or referring to.

Mobile social networking provides a great opportunity for location-based marketing. According to eMarketer and Juniper Research’s “Mobile User-Generated Content: Social Networking, Dating and Personal Content Delivery” report, “Mobile end-user generated revenues worldwide from social networking, dating and personal content delivery services will increase to more than $5.7 billion in 2012 from $572 million in 2007.” Mobile phones become the main means of online access and communication. There is a great potential for integration of location-based marketing and mobile social networking to make it for a rich customer experience. Imagine with what ease decisions could be made by consumers when they socialize and get instant notifications from the social networks sites and simultaneously they are presented with the service/product offerings that can continue the social experience. The best example would be someone who just arrived to a new city and gets a notification from a friend to meet in an hour for a dinner in a certain area. Simultaneously, a listing of context-driven places is displayed to allow the parties agree fast on where to meet. The whole interaction can take 5 minutes, which usually might have taken 20 provided that one of the parties was familiar with the location or was thinking about it in advance.

Interactive TV proves to be much more effective than ads, as the level of audience engagement brings significant results. The audience interacts with the content displayed and gets engaged into purchasing decision-making process. According to the May article in Television Week “DirecTV Hawkeyes Interactive Spots”, “viewers are responding to interactive ads about 11 percent of the time, exponentially higher than the response rate for Internet ads.”

Its effectiveness might be due to the multitasking behavior that expands in all levels of an average user. The most recent example is Nike’s interactive campaign, “Quick Is Deadly” for its Zoom training-shoe line. “It would include more than 20 minutes of interactive content accessible to Dish Network subscribers with DVRs.” This is about 30% of the network’s 13 million subscribers — will be able to click into 30- and 60-second TV spots starring San Diego Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson and other fleet-footed Nike athletes. Nike gives them the option to view interview footage of the football star discussing his exhaustive training regimen. The footage of Mr. Tomlinson’s signature spin move in different speeds. The Nike-branded game designed to test viewers’ remote-control reflexes and a three-dimensional demo of the Zoom shoe. Using ZIP-code information in each Dish unit, users will also be able to find stores carrying the shoe at the click of a button. The campaign does not give users the option of buying the shoe from their set, although the technology does enable that function.”

Relationship marketing has it origin from direct marketing and is evidenced to be relevant in the current environment where consumers became sophisticated enough to demand personalized service tailed to the individual needs. Customers today are demanding more in their expectations of how they are serviced and the levels of service they receive. More often than not, a level playing field between many businesses today means the only real differentiation and competitive advantage we can develop and sustain will be the relationships we forge with our customers. Obviously, the more personalized the catering, the more engagement marketers would receive from their customers. Amazon, as one of the leaders in the transparent customization process, illustrates the benefits that relationship marketing can bring in order to retain its existing customers and acquire the new ones. As an online retailer, its audience and markets is very broad and diverse. It is segmented by geo regions, however its demographics is not clearly defined due to the scope of retail industry. However, the total online shopping market comprises over 26 billion people. Clearly, Amazon utilizes behavioristic approach to segmentation, using database marketing. Its acquisition strategy starts with Level 1 (mass marketing), it is not discriminated but slightly targeted based on searching, browsing space and search words, which is an appropriate acquisition strategy for an online retailer. Amazon’s marketing programs follow the pattern of customer differentiation process matrix in its communications and benefits to the users. It comprises of 4 levels:

Level 1: Beginner (Free Super Saver)
Level 2: Purchase patterns captured (Buy 4, Get 1 Free)
Level 3: Heavy user, hooked (Amazon Prime)
Level 4: Heavy user is rewarded by savings (Amazon Visa Card)
Obviously, Amazon’s strategy is reflected through its marketing programs where it moves along the entire quadrant in the full new user transfer into customer circle, while utilizing its mass customization capability that is transparent to the end user. From the standpoint of current customers, most of its programs imply the development of 1:1 marketing, while upgrading services and offering for the loyal customers.

Evangelism marketing or word-of-mouth marketing keeps its relevance in the marketers’ tool kit. Word-of-mouth marketing often targets influencers — people who are passionate about a product category, and who are perceived as credible sources. The theory is that reaching more influencers increases the odds that they will spread the message. The interactivity piece comes into play in the ability of those individuals to build credibility and relationship easily due to expertise or their own investment into the service/product they promote. There is also some sort of role-modeling that those individuals exercise that allows for effective promotion. According to the Bridge Ratings/University of Massachusetts study published in August 2007, getting just about anybody else besides advertisers to convey the message would seem to be more effective. The study also revealed that 93% of respondents said they were moved to take some sort of action by WOM influence. eMarketer estimates that 20% of US adults will be WOM influencers in 2011, up from 17.5% in 2007. Web sites, blogs and other technology are making it easier to spread the word on a favorite topic.


Paid search marketing
is continuously growing according to David Wigder from the FutureLab, Marketing Strategy and Innovation Blog, as a core tool for online marketers. There are several reasons for search’s continued dominance as an interactive online activity. Search allows marketers to:

1) Engage consumers as they actively seek information in market, thus providing them with relevant content during the selection process of the buying behavior when they need it.

2) Connect consumers with relevant content based on self-identified interests.

3) Pay only when consumers click on a sponsored link, no waste in marketing expenditures.

4) Scale spend in the channel (to a point).

5) Enhance the productivity of other channels, while integrating other communication channels.

It is almost a fact of life that prospective buyers receive information from a variety of channels and do engage into online search before they purchase. Paid search provides for easy-access, relevant information based on the messages communicated through TV, radio, print and word of mouth.

Community-powered search finds its relevance in interactive marketing when “consumers are hungry for relevant content, but prefer to trust their peers, friends or expert community. More relevant consumer experience is of value that community-powered search engines provide. Customized search engines such as Eurekster Swicki, Rollyo and Yahoo Search Builder are likely to become more popular as search results are informed by the collective experience of the community.”

In retrospective, there has to be something else, something new in the marketing tool box that is not there yet publicly known. My gut feeling and overall assessment says that all the top ten “trendy” things already reached the masses or to be precise the mature crowd. The early adopters are up to something new and hopefully I am about to run into that in the near future.

Interactivity and Engagement Grab Attention, Build Connection and Make Us Buy

People do not like to be sold, but we like to buy. Thus, it just makes sense that conventional commercials bombarding, be it a TV ad or a sales speech, does not work very well. Interactivity aspect became the key ingredient for making a connection to customers’ hearts and wallets. Touching customers at the moments of their experience while enjoying their passion, hobby or interest works wonders. It creates a connection that is weaved into already positive experience. That is why ad placements work best: be it traditional movies or games or mobile communications. According to the e-marketers recent article, “Advergames like the 3.2 million units sold at Burger King over the holidays have been a success, and in-game placements have music labels competing for exposure in the latest sports games. But it is online gaming that holds the best promise for targeting during specific time slots, as is possible through XBox Live and other game ad networks.”

Another way to look at it is through the lenses of experience design field, where cognitive psychology and consumer behavior are taken into the account. David Armano shares a very compact foil set, illustrating this concept on his blog. Experience design requires more “thinking” energy and planning though. With product placements, you are simply rewarded by doing your homework and using the info on where your customers “hang out, lounge and mingle”. With experience design applications, be it an event or a product, it has to do more with a new creation where prior knowledge is practiced. It could be more challenging and time-consuming as production and testing takes time. At the same time, what can be more rewarding than creating a new experience that your audience will definitely engage into and be able to enjoy the connections it builds with your product? The greatest part here is not about the product, but a user, consumer, as he/she is thought of, cared for and catered to!

Attending Workshops at Web 2.0 expo – Community Evangelism

I started my Sunday morning with a workshop at Web 2.0 expo on Community Evangelism with Deborah Schultz and Anil Dash. I thought I can get away without much effort of focus on a Sunday morning and I did not bring my laptop. Well, once you see Jeremiah Owyang running around with a camera video-streaming live the event and Mario Sudhar liveblogging, one cannot get away from the energy those folks generate.

What are the takeaways from this workshop? Why should we care about community evangelism? Here are the ideas that Deborah and Anil shared with us.
Community Evangelism is an ideal customer referral program made feasible to execute via various web technologies like blogs, forums, podcasts and other social sites. It allows companies reaching their customers and transform transactional customers into loyal ones through building the relationship, making an emotional, personal connection.

Persistence and awareness are the key to maintain relationships online. If you ventured a blog for your company, you engage into a social contract, a sort of committment to ongoing conversation with your customers. This implies a continuous sharing of value content. You expand your relationship with a customer into a more enriching experience.  Continuity of a two-way communication process provides for creating meaningful life moments that your customer records in his/her memory. A good example would be books, CDs, movies that we buy or get as gifts from other people and might never read, watch but keep being attached to them as they connect to someone we care about. Connectedness, continuity and non-disposability = all due to the value of a relationship that carries it through.

Awareness is not just about notification. Providing your customers with a control to chose how they get information about the product and services – this makes your communications effective. Why? Think about products people absolutely love: iPod, TiVo, Wii. They empower consumers to be in control when to consume content, service, product. So, do the same with your marketing communications to make them more effective – provide those in RSS, blogs or other format that your customer can choose to control both in the reception phase and content scope.

What’s Evangelist? He/she is a

  • customer advocate
  • educator
  • among the people interacting with the community where they live
  • human face of the company
  • cross-functional, not just a marketer
  • a foil for the company

Human skills needed to be successful as a community evangelist:

  • listener
  • connector
  • catalyst
  • critic
  • partial geek
  • detective
  • diplomat
  • juggler
  • driven by relationships
  • approachable
  • intuitive
  • inquisitive

Pursue evangelism with passion, be present where your customers are mentally and physically. Use what you got and have fun!

P.S. I just found out how messed up my blog looks like in Firefox! Tried to contact technical support and it is temporary closed! What do I do? I have to fix it, otherwise it is simply embarrassing.

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