Creative Marketing

The Future of Publishing And Content Marketing

Lately, I have done an impromptu talk with Murray Newlands and Oliver Roup on Future of Publishing with two other guests who run businesses within that space (Paul Edmondson, CEO of HubPages and Pirouz Nilforoush, President and Co-Founder NetShelter). Our discussion covered the nature of content quality for driving SEO and monetization initiatives, whether you a blogger, or a large ecommerce site. It is a 30 min video, yet here are the key points that outline recent changes in the world of social, search and publishing:

1) Authorship is key, it allows to discriminate the original author or source of the content and also helps to leverage social tagging and integrate editorial from multiple profiles. It shapes up a single (individual) voice and leverages the level of influence (what is rel= author tag?). Google Plus integrates all your publishing channels, as an example.

2) Universal search is becoming necessary for effective SEO strategy. A killer piece of content is multi-formated: video, photos, graphics, text, social media posts (tweets, Facebook comments, etc.) People love infographics, they tag and share them. Video or photo reviews with personality become key pieces of sharing and engagement: they drive demand and close the purchase decision. Brands and publishers have opportunities to gain search visibility by producing multi-format content on and outside their own sites. (In depths thoughts on universal search as future of SEO is shared by Mike Grehan).

3) Quality content is original, unique, not copied and a must-have to be Google friendly, especially post Pandas. It must engage users, be creative and relevant to users. Look at Amazon and Zappos product pages, big retailers add their own content in addition to the one provided by manufacturers. Other ecommerce sites engage audience & produce killer reviews, guides and buying suggestions, which are surfaced throughout the shopping funnel.

4) Fresh content becomes golden in order to surface or sustain visibility on search engines, thus ongoing content publishing cadence is rewarded given Google freshness algorithm change in Nov 2011. Sustained effort when it comes to content marketing is important to stay relevant and be able to enjoy successful content monetization.

5) Content monetization and site monetization must be balanced and prioritized. Your best converting pages might not include lots of content and your lesser converting pages might be just as good for the audiences that are still searching and deciding what to buy. Test your content placement and ad placement carefully and see what level is optimal for your conversion first, SEO & RTB second. Or optimize various pages on your site per monetization goals they have: is that affiliate revenue that you are growing or lead generation? Optimize your site on what takes importance and priority based on revenue stream shares.

Watch full video discussion on future of publishing.

15 Trends of How We Prefer to Shop Today

Being part of a human nature, the way we shop continuously evolves around new tools that we create, which accelerate the way we make decisions and expand on our wired tendencies how to hunt for a good piece of game or a bush of berries if you wish. There are 15 common trends of how we prefer to shop these days that I collected from my recent readings and some educational sessions from the latest Shop.org event. Some you will definitely find typical of your current behavior and some may help you connect with your audience that you are selling to.

1. Shopping is social. Who does not love shopping? It is almost embedded into every day of our lives. If you do not shop, you definitely engage into bartering with your fellow homo sapiens or homo neanderthals (if that is your preferred social crowd). Thus, shopping is a very social experience. It does not stop being social even if you live in the mountains with goats as your only companions, as you will still have an internal evaluation dialog with your own self on which hill to drive your herd towards to.

These days, we share our “likes” with our Facebook friends, show them what we buy and require their feedback. Or we might be simply feeling exhilarated in the actual store, when we find a great item and wish to show it before we buy. I did that with my recent Ann Taylor dress, after my girlfriend approved my choice and shared my joy. In the end, I got more stuff! Coincidentally, the same Victoria Secret experience was not supported by the staff on the floor, as they strictly said: “You are not allowed to take pictures here”, when I tried to snap a picture of my precious find into my SnapTell app! I explained my innocent try to validate my purchase decision, but was rejected again with a “That is why we have catalogs!” response. “Well, I do not have your catalog right now and do not wish to see it and I cannot share it easily with my friend to decide to buy it or not”, I retorted. But, no luck, as my response was met with a blank face of a sale associate with a cold, “your-behavior-is-not-welcome-here-and-your-money-too” look.  That drove me towards a competitive store right away and followed by my immediate returns the day afterward. Embrace the evolution, VS and see how other stores make extra buck on it. Stop punishing me for shopping at your store! (A tip to the online marketers of VS: make sure your efforts of driving traffic to the stores are not killed at the time when your customers are about to part with their money by old-fashioned strategy of your sale staff. Talk to them often, or sometimes maybe?)

2. Shopping is everywhere, anywhere, even in the private restroom time. So be sure you are present online, mobile, on Google maps, on Yelp and every desktop or mobile application your customers might be using. They will not reward your absence at the point of their utmost desire to purchase if you do not show up where they are because you have a different web strategy. “Your customer will not stop if they find nothing on your establishment on Yelp and go home to research about it on their desktop.” The odds are they will spend their dollars elsewhere. Do you really want that?

3. Fast shopping is rewarded by more shopping. I mentioned Amazon Prime in my prior post (see 9), but it is still the best player that capitalizes on the core truth: the impulsive nature of buying. They made buying so fast, that it becomes as natural as breathing. It is not a process, but 1-2-3 click action of mine, as natural as my urge to buy this book right now. Another example is iPad. “It is on right away as electricity, as opposing to your common PC experience of turning it on, going to take a rest in the bathroom, coming back and logging in and going to put on some tea and coming back when it is finally on.” Make your product consumption or shopping process as fast as instant gratification and you will have my soul, my money and my all! This is how all of us think on the reptile brain level and behave accordingly.

4. People talk about their shopping, so make use of those talks. 75-85% of online shoppers read online reviews, as was the latest stat reported by Bazaarvoice folks. If your product, company or even your name is not surfacing via online conversations, I would be more hesitant to be the first one to experience “whatever-mystery-experience” other buyers might have had.  Turn your online reviews on! Follow online conversations pertaining to your products and brands. Monetize your reputation!

5. People buy based on reviews of strangers, not friends and family necessarily. We used to believe that only closer social circles would allow us to sway a buyer into our shop. As it stands today, people buy based on reviews of strangers (“wisdom of crowd”) very easily, so more support for point 4 above.

6. Negative reviews convert faster. How so? We all are unique and our preferences are so specific, that we need context to make a better comparison. If you find a good deal for a hotel, a 4 star, as an example, but see a negative review, you want to dig in and see what’s going on. You find out that the only thing that the person did not like was that at 7 am, there was no chocolate mint on his pillow, all else was superb. My bet you will book that room right away. The qualitative piece of human context in those reviews allows to decipher where you are at the multi-dimensional relativity of product experience within unique perceptions on what is great and what is bad.

7. People do not shop for just the cheapest thing. (Even if you are a mass retailer, the cheapest deal is not what everyone wants. Yes, Expedia, I am talking to you!). Most of us are very brand loyal and base our preferences on our experiences and perceptions of a product. Or similar experiences, not even connected to the product that are communicated to us via advertising that is as old as the hammer and works every time. So, make sure you learn those emotional triggers that describe and visualize how great it is to have your product in our lives and how miserable it could be if we do not have it. Only then, you will know how to promote them effectively and make us buy again and again.

8. We are 95% slaves of our habits. Do not make me leave my daily-rewarded conditioned experience and place, like Facebook. So, if we are used to spend our mornings and afternoons on Facebook, publicizing our personalized “me-celebrity” lives, please do not make us leave it. Why would I leave my comfortable, ego-stroking environment to buy? Can I buy while I am there, with all my fans, real and “not-so-real friends”? Start selling your products to my majesty where I am, that is Facebook, at least for the next year.

9. Consumers create their own experience and content, which sells better than yours! Various contests that companies have run exemplify how customers can be very innovative with producing great, engaging content. Craftsman brand lately launched the ultimate picnic contest on Facebook and had the most creative ideas generated by their customers based on this principle of crowd-sourcing. The winning option became a staple and a popular selling product.

10. Real interactions with real people do deliver vs. a pretend presence. If you are present online, make sure you engage with your customers via Twitter, Facebook or some other form/app as a human being and help them promptly if there is a problem vs. passive web screening. If there is a great contribution by your customer to promote your product that he or she has done on her own and delivered numerous sales to you, please reward them, acknowledge the same way as you would, if you were a small town baker. Do not just say: “Cool, great job!” on the Facebook wall. Do something about it as a human would. Otherwise, people do see your one-sided fake presence and eventually tune out. How would you feel if you brought $$$ to your favorite brand or store and they simply and cheaply thanked you?

11. Consumers create audience pools, followers & tribes around their consumption. Hall videos, as Mitch Joel shared in his speech, are a growing powerful trend. A 16-year girl shops and posts videos of her shopping finds. She describes her experience and the rationale behind the buy. She has million subscribers and does it religiously very frequently. Perhaps, it is not long till she gets an endorsement contract from a “faster” brand or a few of them to capitalize on the sizable audience. She might as well does it as a natural way to express herself, but what a find she could be for a smart marketer!

12. Powerful bloggers can create a havoc for your product promo or inventory management. Another story shared was about some powerful blogger that got a reference from his friend about a good travel bag (he had issues with his prior product). Well, the endorsed brand delivered so much to the relieved blogger that he created a video and a demo with love and posted it on his blog. He happened to be one of the top 150 Power bloggers and the item sold out very fast. Do you know your power bloggers?

13. Great marketing comes in simple forms. The evident success of Woot, Groupon & similar sites/apps lies in its simplicity to deliver one value a day or at a time. Could you deliver greatly on one claim vs. promising the sky and the earth? See, if you could simplify your marketing and a new business model might be very well born!

14. Checking in with you = professing their love for you = contributing to your sales. As we see with Foursquare and similar platforms, customers are willing to share their consumption stats with the whole world at times. By doing so, they profess their love for your brand.  So, reward and make them check-in for more. Starbucks does a great job “loyalising” its customers, while utilizing the same conditioning principle of a reward for a check-in as smart wife does for her husband!

15. Selling online without ecommerce. This happens when some brands really get their customers and engage very effectively with them on various channels on a daily basis without the ability to sell. They still drive them later to the stores to buy, but invest more into cultivating the brand loyalty and the urge to be on the top of their audience minds every day. Koji trucks hunt on Twitter created mass popularity for that restaurant. “If the truck can do that, you can do it too!”

That is all for this month, enough to ponder and act upon for you, a smart marketer!

Respective credits to:

|1) Shop.org 2010 Keynote with Mitch Joel, Social Commerce and Emerging Trends (that inspired this post! many thanks!); 2) Buyology, Martin Lindstrom; 3) Habit, the 95%  of behavior Marketers Ignore, Neale Martin; 4) Neuromarketing, Patrick Renvoise & Christophe Morin.|

Top 5 Evolved Online Behaviors & Consumer Appealing Internet Experiences

Do internet technologies shape our behavior or our online patterns allow for their emergence? Similar to chicken-and-egg argument (which was recently resolved), there are new developments in how companies interact with customers or how our web habits and all the accumulated data reform they way we do things. The top 5 evolving trends worth noting and expanding on are as follows:

1) Companies integrate social networks more aggressively and transparently into the user shopping cycle or online behavior. Today, it is pretty much expected, not shocking to social savvy online audience to have the ability to integrate with their favorite brands online.

Ex.A: Amazon recently launched its product reviews feature with Facebook, providing a new social shopping experience that allows people see what their friends are looking for, buying, wishlisting and indulging into. That makes us all so much more connected and closer to each other! If that functionality catches on, it can truly change how we associate with each other, in regards to how fast we can screen each other in and out, or get to know as social human beings. It also has a potential to enrich our relationships since all that info will be available and easily accessible.

Ex.B: SimplyHired similarly showcases job leads with LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook connections on its pages  (which is visualized via the UI) to help its users to succeed with their job search and prompt them reach out to the people they already know. That site feature makes it easy for us to accomplish our tasks, get what we are searching for. If the A was “social shopping”, B would be “social sourcing”?

Ex.C: Groupon encourages us to buy in groups and share the benefits of discounted pricing, gently conditioning us to be always aware of “collective bargain hunting” and capitalizing on our natural tendency to share rewards with special folks in our lives. So many intrinsic benefits are interwoven into the experience!

2) Loyalty programs and applications grow in popularity with rewards focused on users sharing publicly/checking in into the stores and services, broadcasting those “visits” to their social networks of friends and contacts. Game element is also very much a must and present there. It works perfectly to keep the interest alive for a while, which is also backed up with tangible rewards and providing users the ability to feel important, accepted and happily justified about their purchases.

Ex. A: Popularity of Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt and similar applications exemplify this trend. On the marketers’ side, imagine the possibilities of growing LTV of each person with all that available data! It is a win-win situation for both marketers and consumers.

3) Most web products provide a simplified multi-network status update, catering to the newly evolved need or “common behavior” of an average person to check in online in various places. So even if the application engages you on the company specific content, this standalone feature develops a closer “bond” and provides you with another reason to engage.

Ex. A: Hot Potato now trains us openly into sharing our statuses beyond consumed services and attended events. It allows us being more social and expressive within our micro worlds in real time!  Here, we are experiencing exponential social engagement that definitely transcends our physical reality of engaging with only a limited number of folks at a time.

Ex. B: Yahoo! email allows users to respond to status comments via email. No need to login to Facebook now.

Ex. C: Seismic web, more of a professional application, now allows to manage multiple Twitter, Facebook and + accounts in one spot. It could very much spread into the adoption by consumers of a specific kind, i.e social media heavy users with multiple identities or roles.

4) Nearly all types of businesses now offer mobile versions of engaging with the brand or consuming their products: a growing mobile-ization of anything that was desktop access or print only before.

Ex. A: Digital couponing and mobile scanning are taking off.

Ex. B: Mobile web and apps are becoming a traditional, a given channel for many stores, sites, networks.

Ex. C: Sending postcards goes mobile too with an element of game with SwingVine (a Seattle start-up! Yay for the city!).

5) Companies empower its customers and prospects with a choice to have control on what to be served, personalize preferred content/advertising; or engage with its users on a more interactive, personal level, i.e. one-to-one marketing.

Ex. A: Our all times favorite Old Spice campaign actively engaged its audience with personalized videos and tweets. It did have two other success variables: hard to resist all-muscle body (sex appeal) and clever humorous creative! But, clearly, the biggest contributor to its success was the interactive element that allowed its audience to experience being personally addressed within the campaign. Customers and prospects now could become part of the campaign, not through the contest of touting the product, but through being in the spotlight, with a personal attention from the brand!

Ex. B: Shopping cart saver application, Olark, utilized on some ecommerce sites, catches its shoppers right when they are about to abort/not complete the purchase with the live person (via IM widget) that simply offers to provide human help! All that is based on the data tracked throughout the checkout process that also becomes useful to the other side of the IM to deliver personalized service when your converting customers need it!

Ex. C: Integration of clickstream analytics into the CRM tool, which also automates the creation of lead profiles, will surely scare off some of us. On the other side, how much more easily could we transfer our leads and prospects into the customers based on already “expressed” interest. From the potential customer perspective, how pleasant would it be to get approached by the company which seems to be capable to sense your emerging needs?

Ex. D: Groupon also lately launched the functionality to choose your deals of the day content based on your interests, which will definitely skyrocket its conversion based on all the relevancy and condition us, users to consume our favorite products more often and sometimes in a good company!

How fascinating, isn’t it?

Brilliant Marketing Gets Born When You “Become a Unicorn In a Balloon Factory”

How was your week? Really? Did you happen to create what you planned? Did you manage to create the reality you want? Or was it “just fine”? Or did you happen to hold tight to the status quo you worked for years and the work that you have done? Do you spend more time defending your projects versus creating them? If so, think again.

Creativity is an ultimate aphrodisiac of life. It is an ultimate catalyst for success in what you do. You know it. You experienced it before. Remember the time when you took over that pet project of yours that you grew faith for? Remember how fun it was to spend hours to make it happen? Remember the tribe of followers you created once the project got materialized more and more into something beautiful? You felt like an artist and you loved every minute of it?

Oddly enough, this very “seem-to-be-general” idea of finding happiness in what you do is also explored by Seth Godin in his new book “Tribes“. What I did not expect to see in the new book of a marketing genius of our times – such a simple, but yet, very prominent thought – “Create your own reality, take initiative and make things happen the way you see them, and success will follow”.

I grabbed the book with an expectation to brush up on the next “hot” marketing techniques and to my utter surprise, I find the similar idea that has been feeding my curiosity over the possibilities of life over the past few months. Seth points out that brilliant marketing happens when you lead, not just manage. I loved that!

In other words, if you ever felt like “a unicorn in a balloon factory“, or you feel like one today – in your organization – you might have opportunities for something spectacular to produce! Go and dare to make it happen! Do not ask for permission, take charge and show us what you can! We are all looking forward to your new masterpiece!

Creative Brand Awareness Campaign for a Good Product

When an existing product is revived by a new use case – miracles happen! Tide-To-Go exemplifies a stellar product already – it cleans the spots when you need it – right at the moment when they happen.  The product has been in the market for approximately two years if not more (according to my own discovery of it in 2006). However, it is only now that its powerful benefit will be known to the masses!

The new campaign – “Silence the Stain” illustrates good quality, creative marketing. It surely brings the product benefits to life in a humorous yet persuasive manner: a dirty spot becomes so distractive as it almost comes to life.  Brilliant theme and consistent messaging of this campaign are the standards to adopt while practicing the power of marketing! Check the ads for yourself and see which one speaks to you. My favorite – is the job interview clip.

Silence the Stain – Job Interview

Or the the marriage proposal:

or the date:

next one is a stop by police:

Managing Mature Products – Revitalization Strategies

The other night, I saw an ad from Kraft Foods on a “new” cereal – just bunches! Though, not a consumer of this tasty meal, the ad story got my attention immediately. What stroke me – is the way the plot unfolds in the ad – it does depict a process when adding a new value can revive an existing product or come up with an extension. All you do is magnify one feature or functionality (like increasing a TV screen produced a market for home theaters), or eliminate a feature (like with the above mentioned Honey Bunch Oats, no flakes – just bunches).

There are three core strategies that can  be examined in the market to demonstrate revitalization:

1. Adding a new value – usually this is the way to look for creative opportunities to redefine the product. Sony executed this strategy when it created the Walkman, while it replaced speakers with a headset. The minivan combined the benefits of a station wagon and a van. In can even go way further into creating a hybrid from two products that are so unrelated, but when merged create a “new” niche product.  Michael Gibbert and David Mazursky call those category revolutions or “cross-breeds” in their article on combining two categories to come up with new products.

2. Repositioning – involves creating a new competitive position in the minds of the consumers.  Many a times, it can be classified as a bit controversial or far-fetched from the status quo.  Examples include utilizing some social trend in a reverse manner – with a wireless technology being built in various products – some coffee shops or service establishments chose to create a demand for anti-technology while jamming some sections of their establishments to provide cell free and wireless free zones for its customers. Or like the mentioned Ikea store experience, where no sales assistance store experience is accepted by customers in lieu of other benefits (specific ambiance, cafe, etc).

3. Extending the base – implies increasing the adoption rate, usage rate or entering new markets. To figure its feasibility, product managers would profile the customers that tend to buy more than average or consume more than average and find out what causes them to do that.  Another way to do so is to find unusual customers or product usage patterns that lead to defining new segments.  Example of this approach is Superior Clay Corporation that reacted to its clay sewer pipes being replaceed by plastic.  It did discover a new niche for decorative chimney pots and fireplace flue liners.

Whatever strategy one might apply, sometimes killing a product could be the best solution. Thus, it is critical to assess its performance, demand and potential costs before exercising any of the above-illustrated options!

Use Demographic Segmentation Tools Not Only For Marketing

People always fascinate me: different lifestyles, different backgrounds, different races and different behaviors. I never get tired of observing more and more about what drives them, what makes them engage in certain activities and what happens afterwards once “the pot gets stirred” skillfully by social trends or sometimes by actions of fellow-marketers.  Simultaneously, this entire process serves my own purpose as a consumer of the environment I want to be in. What I find myself doing is segmenting the “market” of a social event or a city to see what experiences I can have as a consumer of a social interaction. Perhaps, all of us do that. And yes, nothing beats the hands-on approach of going into the “field” and actually experiencing all the combinations in that or this zip code yourself.  But, as they say, being forearmed is half the victory.

So, while thinking about potential move to a bigger city like San Francisco, Chicago or New York (with all the benefits we already know), I find it useful to utilize PRIZM or other demographic segmentation tools to see the degree of how those cities can be attractive to me based on the social crowd.  And it might not be the news as we all have learned about the stereotypes, and some, are, granted valid in describing what to expect, I still believe it pays extra to dissect the population into more statistically accurate attributes. By doing this, you can predict the quality of your social life, professional success and other experiences based on the patterns discovered. As consumers, at least here in the states, we became very sophisticated and educated at what we want, like, dislike and how it should be served. Sometimes, this thought scares me when I feel like I have to look for niche-services already since I know what works well.  Sometimes, I wish I were as open as a child – when simpler choices were of existence.

Going back to the segmentation tools, as an example, I wanted to first validate the accuracy of experiences I had in Seattle and only then quick-check the potential Chicago can provide. I also wish that US. Census got more up-to-date and more detailed reports, as most of the information is based on 2000 reports – Hello?! It has been almost a decade and people moved, changed in proportion due to natural causes considerably since then.  Thank God, we have commercial software that can solve those problems and allow us see the light or to be precise the stripes on the map.  What if you do not have access to this information through those tools? Again, US Census or city-data.com site can provide you with rough but workable ideas on the demographics (alongside some extra ads).  Example, for Bellevue showcases graphs on gender distribution, age, income and housing situation and I must say it is very close to accurate even if the site uses 2000 census data and 2005 projections. 

But, what I found most exciting is the information on foreign-born residents (remember, one of the attributes of the social mix I was looking for?), it provides a neat chart as well! It describes the following distribution of nationalities (hence potential social interactions flavored by cultural attributes): 

  • Mexico (13%)
  • India (10%)
  • China, excluding Hong Kong and Taiwan (7%)
  • Vietnam (5%)
  • Korea (5%)
  • Russia (5%)
  • Ukraine (4%)

Information like that can provide me with insights on how diverse the locality is and will the mix be appealing to my social taste?

Digging deeper, there is always PRIZM, a tool that can share the details on lifestyle preferences.  According to the report on my zip code, the groups are: 44% New Beginnings, 22% Young Influentials, 21% Gray Power, 19% Home Sweet Home and 8 % Executive Suites.   If we take Young Influentials into consideration, the tools describes the segment as ” Midscale, Younger without Kids yuppies that reflect the fading glow of acquisitive yuppiedom.  Today, the segment is a common address for younger, middle-class singles and couples who are more preoccupied with balancing work and leisure pursuits. Having recently left college dorms, they now live in apartment complexes surrounded by ball fields, health clubs and casual-dining restaurants. ” It also goes into the details of: median income ($47,976), lifestyle traits (plays racquetball, drives mazda 3), demographics traits (suburban crowd, midscale income, age < 35, mostly renters without kids, college graduates, mix of ethnic groups). Very neat tool! You can definitely learn much about your audience! How about a Lifestage group? “Young, hip singles are the prime residents of Young Achievers, a lifestage group of twentysomethings who’ve recently settled in metro neighborhoods. Their incomes range from working-class to well-to-do, but most residents are still renting apartments in cities or close-in suburbs. These seven segments contain a high percentage of Asian singles, and there’s a decidedly progressive sensibility in their tastes as reflected in the group’s liberal politics, alternative music and lively nightlife. Mainstream Singles segments are twice as likely as the general population to include college students living in group quarters.”  Each segment shares this level of granularity. Now, knowing all that does make a difference while making a decision where to live, work and play!

Too much information? If all that is too overwhelming, you can always turn to wikipidea that will outlay lightly some of the basics!  

 
 

From In-Game Adverts (-ising) To Expanding Your Emotional Experience, Identity and Behavior

In-game advertising (a.k.a. IGA) is not new in the gaming industry. However, it still has its challenges and victories. It is considered to be a very effective channel as you as an advertiser are inserting your messages into the experiential process – “when the user is in the process of consuming the pleasurable experience of the game”, thus more predisposed to react positively to your communications. It goes without saying that you should avoid being too overt in your pitch to make your offer make a smooth transition into the consideration set of your user. The message needs to fit seamlessly into the experience to be acceptable by the users. This is the advantage of the channel. The challenges vary from the decisions being made on how to make the communication process “seamless’, how to get the best conversion rate and still keep the user loyal and very engaged in the game.

With the idea to brush up on the latest trends, I went onto my search in the latest articles on the topic, which led me to a number of even more amusing discoveries that I would like to capture and share.

To visualize the structure and evolution of in-game advertising, it helps to list the types of the adverts you can see in the games. According to the Wikipedia, there are 4 types of in-game advertising:
1. Static adverts (billboards, dashboards, static “banners”, and product placement) – that prominently display the message on the user’s dashboard. I call them “the pre-evolution stage ads.”
2. Dynamic adverts follow next -(tailored ads to the geographical location, time of the day and time-sensitive offers (a new movie launch as an example)) that advertising agencies produce outside the development process. Very effective feedback can be collected due to the ad-tracking analytics available that can be re-communicated to the development process to enhance the game design based on the user behavior. Mental note to research more on that!
3. Online communities (like Second Life and other virtual worlds and Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games ( MMORPGs)are able to display persistent online adverts, with advertisers acquiring the space and providing their brands consistent online presence in-game.
4. Incidental adverts” billboard-like advertisements or blatant product placement for the single purpose of creating a more realistic gaming environment”, which seems to be almost the advertisers “la-la land” – as the gamers request those ads. I wonder how rates differ for this type of ads and who is the decision-maker here – the game developer or the advertiser? What is the compromise dollar-wise and content-wise reached in the transaction?

It is worth mentioning Nick Yee’s extensive research for the past two years on the psychology of gaming. We all heard about the wonders of Second Life and Linden economy , but my immediate fascination includes his study on the emotions and experiences gamers have, how much time they spend on what, etc. In Yee’s research, known to the public as the Daedalus Project, he shares his findings on the psychology and sociology of MMORPGs, (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) that are based on the survey data from over 40,000 game players. Some of the interesting comments from the actual participants can be found on his site.

As an example, the most memorable experiences gamers live through include:

- First were the ones that have high achievement elements in the process of competition (usually in the battle) and collaboration.
Relationships and memorable interactions with another person came second (with acts of occasional kindness, romantic interest and evolving friendship).
– The third was the near-the-death- or death experiences. I can see why! Scary!
– There is a forth aspect as well, that is classified under miscellaneous that included role-playing out of boredom or the initial euphoria of the new game (“stepping into a new world”) , being surprised or taken aback and meeting the guilds.

What entertains me most – is how similar our in-game most memorable experiences with a real life (aside meeting the guilds); we all can see the common trend: we take pride in the challenges that competitive experiences provide; we engage in relationships and we do remember our surprises, scary moments and fun roles we manage to play. If you add the fact that a healthy life is when you take it as a playful game, then the borders merge even closer (both Einstein and Edison played games to give a break to their brilliant minds). Plus, childhood psychology and development scholars proved that play helps develop thinking capabilities. We human beings do need fun to be able to live fully engaging and long lives. I am not saying let’s all start playing video games, as play can be found in various activities. But, what keeps me thinking (all that research sowed more questions!)– What effect gaming activity can have on our minds, let’s get rid of the other role playing to make it simple. Do people who play video games develop more capabilities to expand their roles in real life? Are they more resistant to stress? Do they live longer? How does the behavior change in the process? Do we change our personalities? To the last question, Dr. Yee and his colleagues already wrote a paper that describes well this process, also called as the Proteus Effect (the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior). Here is the link to the respective research paper for your leisurely reading.

Other top three interesting findings suggest:

1. Many people have expanded their emotional range by exploring the many different roles (including gender identities) that MMORPGs allow a person to explore. See the research by clinical psychologist, Sherry Turkle.

2. Gamers spend a considerable amount of time (often a third of their total time investment) doing things that are directly-related to, but outside of, the game itself - which explains the popularity of virtual worlds and online extensions of the games. (from the Daedalus Project)
3.Many players report that the emotions they feel while playing an MMORPG are very strong, to the extent that 8.7% of male and 23.2% of female players in a statistical study have had an online wedding.” (from Nardi, Harris, Strangers and Friends)” Talking about the drama in games!

Talking about the relationship and loyalty they (the gamers) have with the game! The commitment in terms of time, money, emotional and creative energy represents abundant opportunities for loyalty programs, creative content generation throughout the gamers’ lifetime and extensive market research that is applicable to everyday outside the game-human behavior.

Top Five Ads That Deliver the Message and Entertain Greatly

The key to a good ad is to reach the right audience at the right medium at the right time and deliver the right message with an emotional impact. Entertainment is omnipotent element of advertising that makes it a joy to produce it. Here are the top five favs that I am noticing these days:

1) Career Builder presents a common feeling that office folks experience these days in the corporate America, the ad speaks to the point, makes you laugh and connects to audience’s experience. I think – it is money well spent.

2) Cadbery creates a fun suspense with an always working gorrilla image! Who does not relate to those creatures? We all do. Remember the last time you visited the ZOO and its apes’ section – You always watch them closely, they watch you and the more you watch – the more you see your own reflection! I do. Loved this passionate drummer.

3) Herbal Essence skillfully involves reality and paradox in a fun enjoyable twist.

4) Jack Links Jerky’s campaign “Messing with the Sasquatch” deserves a place in the best ad humor panel. Some of the epizods are a bit crude, some are irresistably funny. My favorite is the one with the fire: loved the stone – it made a Sasquatch a here in my eyes!

5) Geico Caveman pieces are also the best. Always, hits the spot.

What’s in the Name? Naming New Products and Re-branding

Coming up with a new product name, creating new packaging and staying loyal to the master brand could be quite a challenge, especially when multiple stakeholders are involved. So, what helps us go through this creative process? What can we already apply for our benefit that was tested and lived through? – Provided that we look at every product launch as a truly unique experience (which it is), here are some nuggets from my research to share on the subject:

I. The branding signals beyond the name
II. The necessity to change names and logos when strategies change
III. The beauty of the unique names

Firstly, Allen Adamson in his book “BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed” points out the concept of bringing brand signals beyond the name. In other words, there should be some sort of a unique customer experience that reinforces your product name and transfers its meaning even further: instant perceptions of a product experience. This information can be of great value when you are to change the name of the service, product or even a corporate name. He calls these experiences – “power signals”. Examples of those signals could be:

1. People behind the brand – like FedEx employees delivering “reliability”. Before its expansion into the global markets, the brand had a name of “Federal Express”. It served well for a while till the company moved into a broader service scope both functionally and geographically. Federal Express became too limiting and not succinct in expressing the brand power and did not allow “capitalizing on what became a positive fact of life. “FedEx became a ubiquitous term everyone used for an overnight delivery. In 1996, FedEx was formally adopted as a brand name which followed the logo change as well. Moreover, FedEx is a fast, confident and super-efficient brand, so its employees! You have to deliver on the promise you have in your brand name –already!

2. Exclusive product placement –like Gatorade, can be another power signal. Its placement into the football game –“dunking of the winning coach” – almost became a very recognizable association. The trick though not just in the right placement at the right media and the right place – it truly evolves around the authenticity of the product benefit – it is created for the athletes and it does improve performance. So, it just makes sense to be endorsed in the football game placements.

3. The speed at which the brand is recognized – the power of the icon, can be very effective to communicate your meaning. KFC managed to get the attention of folks speeding at the interstate by using its recognizable icons. Originally, it used to be fully spelled out as Kentucky Fried Chicken with a pretty sizable image of Colonel Sanders. When the brand team had a re-design challenge, they first shortened the name to KFC AND increased the speed of service. Then, they reduced the size of the image to the postage stamp. What happened later is very interesting: customers perceived the change in the name (shortened version) as sensible, but interpreted the loss of sizable image as the indicator that the meal is no longer home-cooked quality. They wanted the image back. Colonel’s face was equal to Micky Mouse ears – highly recognizable.

4. The power of the first impression or a first mover – Genworth – (a spin off of the GE) – can be effective. The company utilized the parent cache of the GE brand and solved the challenge of getting to the market fast by differentiating itself through the parent company heritage (excellent management and credibility), leaving the GE in the name and by coming up with the “generation- worth-assets” meaning – Genworth.

5. Advertising – could rule? Couldn’t it? Yes, it could. The U.S. Department of Transportation had a success campaign “Friends Don’t Tell Friends Drive Drunk” utilizing the four fundamental principles of effective advertising: grab a viewer’s attention, communicate to the right audience, persuade and stimulate the action and be effective overtime to build the recognition. This was a vivid example of that.

6. WOM – Word of Mouth – was utilized by Blackberry to develop a community and a cult movement of Type A personalities: people who make things happen in the professional world. The functionality this communication tool provided directly appealed to the emotional need of those professionals to stay in touch –always! If your product integrates well into your customers’ lifestyle – you might use this power signal very effectively. Just launch a community campaign, make it interactive and integrative of the customer experience with the product.

7. PR – used by Dove – capitalizing on the simple benefit and an authentic statement (providing soap which consists of ¼ of a cleansing cream). Testimonials became the strongest part of the branding campaign: there was evidence to its claim to make women beautiful every day. However, the most effective research fact the company used is expanding the definition of beauty for its customers – that made more women feel beautiful! It showed variations of beauty in its ads further on, thus increasing the 2 % of confidence to potential 10%! Brilliant!

8. Experience, as was implied before in the previous items, can be quite differentiating: Ann Taylor maximized the retail space to provide a unique experience to the professional busy women: it always provided high quality, high coordination items – thus appealing to a broader demographic. It is like a friend who will always give you a sound advice on clothing! If you go there next time, pay attention to the fact how well the retail space is designed to make it a fast and efficient shopping experience when a busy woman can run there at lunch and have a perfect outfit in 15 mins due to its consistent layout.
Sephora did the same by redefining the experience of make up shopping by brining it to customers for play!

Secondly, Joan Schneider in her book “New Product Launch: 10 Proven Strategies” shares her extensive expertise and experience with the new product launch strategies. This is a great guide to the topic with solid cases. The ones, I particularly liked referred to Compaq and British Petroleum. The former used to be a 1000-dollar mini computer brand that expanded into other markets. It had a perfect name for its initial products, but failed to see the need for image change when it brought other products through acquisition. The old brand (name, logo, etc) did not coexist well with the new strategies, thus bringing confusion. Eventually, Compaq was bought by HP.

British Petroleum on the other hand, had a success story when the need for re-branding occurred. It already moved strategically into global markets and it did expand on the energy offerings beyond oil. Leveraging the brand cache of BP (initial letters) and integrating the “beyond petroleum” strategy, BP had an effective repositioning. Perhaps, it is a synergy between the senior management support and true marketers.

To the third point, Seth Godin proposes to use the strategy of making the names up as opposing to turn to the benefit-description techniques. He points out that the unique name not only moves you forward in the differentiation game, but also develop its secondary meaning in a short period of time –initially internally and later externally. “The entire point of “secondary meaning” is that the first meaning doesn’t matter at all (especially since you picked a name with no meaning to begin with). Over time, a surprisingly short time, your unique word, especially if it sounds right, will soon be the one and only word.”

And this is just a tiny glimpse into the magic of brand perceptions world! A combination of art, psychology and common business sense!

Summing it up:

1) It is imperative for you to understand that bold moves pay off if you set them right with solid strategic planning.

2) It is important to look at the entire initiative as a “gestalt” or a “whole” integrative movement (like in a chess game): where all your communication pieces are in play: logo, product name, brand cache, and power signals embedded in the product experience. This allows you to choose a wining strategy based on the wealth of available product launch and re-branding knowledge that is still highly focused on your unique brand case.

Expanding Marketing Tool Set With User Experience Design Model

Mingling with the UI (User Interface/User Experience) folks brought a number of eureka moments. I think User Experience Design should be more openly introduced to the marketing crowd as it helps to expand and reiterate powerful models that both professionals use – like storytelling.

Narratives are used by UI designers to generate and validate design ideas. Marketers use the power of a story to create a brand and help the audience visualize its character. Stories help us get connected with the products as if they were humans. Our social nature contributed to our overall evolution, so it is not as surprising that if we keep it in mind – we would design better products and we devise effective marketing campaigns.

Digging deeper, the personas seem to be another useful model that marketers can contribute to first and benefit from later. Personas are not market segments, but the former can be better constructed thanks to the latter. Marketing segments add demographic and relational framework to the persona development, filtering the research stage of the user design process. The difference between the two is that: marketing segments reveal demographics, sales and distribution processes, while design personas describe user behaviors, goals and motivations that represent a particular user group. At the same time, using the final personas developed in the process can be a great technique to develop effective promotional materials and sales training documentation. Imagine how useful it could be for the new product launch!

Marketers, mostly generalists, are fortunate to incorporate ideas and techniques while working with a number of other professionals, thus making it a constantly rewarding career.

P.S. To learn more about the User Experience Design, check out the site for Clear Sky Interactive that explains very well what the process entails.

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!

My Lifetime Value (LTV) as a Customer for Amazon


 

Last three weeks of the MBA…cannot wait till I am done and ready to pursue my next adventures! However, I promised to share my recent learning on calculation of lifetime value in the database marketing class. My individual project required the calculation of my LTV to a service I have an extended relationship with. Amazon was my choice.

Relationship and Frequency Data:
– Length of active relationship = 9 months
– Average purchase over 6 months is $ 36.57
– Average frequency: 1.5 per month
– Average order: 3 books
– 99% of orders are books

Assumptions:
– Acquisition costs = $ 25
– Variable costs = 18 %
– Retention rates: 95.9% for first 6 months, 97% for the next 6 months, 98% for the next 24

There are 4 levels of customer engagement:

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)

Each level of marketing programs reinforces continuous purchasing behavior, increases frequency and average purchase value that are paramount for increasing overall LTV.

Presently, I am a consumer on Level 3, as Amazon Prime Buyer. With the assumption of 3 years as my projected life experience with Amazon, the LTV amounts to $634. My switching costs are quite significant at this point and comprise of $79 of annual fee, ease of use, loss of automated purchase process, brand equity, security and trust that the service of the competitor might or might not be delivered.

As far as the effectiveness of this program, it did increase my frequency by eliminating time and quantity restrictions. I purchase twice as much on demand, increasing my total spending by 50 %. Simultaneously, it ensures committed 11-12 orders per year based on the annual fee that is a pre-paid shipping expense, thus increasing overall probability of purchase.

Retrospectively, I made a smooth transition from the prior 2 levels:

- Level 1 (Free Super Savor) made me buy in triplets manner which drove consistent purchase order to be roughly $28. At this stage, my LTV amounted to $348 over 3 year period.
– Level 2 (Buy 3 Get 1 Free) made me buy more books, increasing the level of frequency and ensuring that average order always amounts to $ 49. At that stage, my LTV was $ 507.
– Level 3 (Amazon Prime) increased my LTV to $ 634.
– Level 4 implies getting Amazon credit card. This could be a significant step transferring a heavy user, like me into a lifelong customer, however, the one time savings of $30 and the hassle of having another credit card is not enticing enough.

 


The 4 level approach works well while acquiring new users and transferring them into heavy users and ultimately into loyal customers.

Frequency of purchase, volume and average purchase value play a major role while affecting LTV, thus the following initiatives are advisable to expand into:

- Cross-selling is optimal to generate higher frequencies of purchase. Bundle packaging and offerings could be considered as alternative offerings based on the search data.
– Branding initiatives could help to seed awareness and repeat the message that online you can find it at Amazon: all the goods, ranked, recommended, traded – already pursuing community engagement
– Utilizing referral campaigns to potentially eliminate acquisition costs and carry the branding message (though the latter are quite low)
– Developing an alternative to the level 4 program (Amazon credit card), perhaps just a points card for customers that are not responsive to getting another credit card. It can still provide the same data, but alleviate the commitment factor implied in the financial decision of signing up for a credit card.
– Not sure how I missed it, but Amazon does a good job utilizing social media and web widgets to generate more interaction and customer involvement. Brian Oberkirsh has a great post on it here. I wish the design and usability of Amazon could be better and user friendly..too busy and too much going on for me when I sign up.

P.S. Just ran into a good chart on Bnet brought by iProspect on the Purchasing Power of Web Sites. Clearly, Amazon tops the score. (Added on May 15, 2007)
Purchasing Power of Web Sites (IProspect)

Why We Marketers Should Adopt Another Segmentation Tool – Personas from User Experience Design

The best discovery from last week was stumbling upon Steve Mudler’s session at Webvisions on personas . It almost feels like the more I learn, the more is out there still awaiting for discovery. Two weeks ago, I was rambling on the database marketing and its behavioristic approach to segmenting. I was thrilled and motivated to learn as much as I can about it. Last week, my attention radar caught the concept from the user design (scenario design) field – creating “personas” to segment potential customers and be able to communicate better with them, while resonating with their specific challenges. “Personas”, as a market segmentation tool does bring: focus, empathy, consensus, better designs and communications.

If I narrow down to the two major benefits of this technique, I would mention its flexibility and applicability to real life situations we marketers face and its fundamental psychological truth about discrepancies of people’s words and actions.

The greatest part about creating “personas” is that it allows segmenting your market while you engage into the limited market research initiatives. Let’s face it – most of the time, we (marketers) have limited budget and resources (people and time) and there is so much that we could do but we cannot afford….How do you find out what your potential customers will want and to what they would respond to if you only have 4 weeks, 4 people and no budget? You can only interview a small number of people, you can do so much as opposing to engaging in the ideal long and steady market research process that we learnt from the books or that is feasible if a specialized agency does it for us for a good sum.

Well, we have “personas”! Steve Mudler actually shares his expertise on it in his book ” The User is Always Right”, As an example, creating personas becomes a good segmentation alternative in the real life situation where you are developing a channel for a newly developed product or a “newly-is-still-in-development- product-that-is-has-to-sell-in-6-months”. There are three primary approaches, based on the type of research, scope and analysis performed:

• Qualitative personas (based on interviews, as an example)
• Qualitative personas with quantitative validation (interviews and surveys)
• Quantitative personas (surveys, data from the CRM systems, etc.)

Thus, it allows you to apply this technique to any scope of research that you are doing. Flexibility makes it a good model.

Another useful disclaimer that all of us – marketers performing research should always keep in mind is that what people say is not what they necessarily do. What they say is important as it reflects their goals and attitudes as well as perceptions and aspirations of being seen in a certain light. What people do is just as important, since actual behavior can reveal more about people than what they say. Behavior reveals patterns around which you can design your product or communication strategy. Again, the perfect combination of promise and action, if those are consistent – you got your answer and you are on the right track, if those are conflicting, you have to test your hypothesis again or change it completely.

The Power Of The Story

I had a chance to listen to the speech of Scott McCain, the author of the book “What Your Customers Really Want”.  Very engaging speaker. He expressed a great point that I wanted to share. We all hear about the elevator speech and short story that we need to tell our customers (I even blogged on it here). However, we sometimes forget about the “High Concept” of the story structure. If we think of our business story as a movie we are going to shoot, it makes it easier to construct a powerful piece. Just 3 simple things can help us communicate better with our audience and thus be more successful in our demand generation efforts:

Act One: Introduce the characters and the conflict.
Act Two: Tell about the various ways those characters try to solve the above-mentioned conflict.
Act Three: Provide the heroic resolution.

The three basic steps that can help us create a compelling story are good to keep in mind. Just imagine, you are shooting a new blockbuster movie about your product/service/program. What would you do, how the plot will unwide?

The more I learn, the more simplified versions of the same concepts I value!

Missed Oscar’s Night Ads? Catch up with the NYT Article

I am catching up on the Oscar night, watching E!, doing research and simply catching up on the Google Reader that simply serves a role of a TiVo for me. No matter if I got busy with the offline = real life, I can always catch stuff later. The most enjoyable item was the article from NYT on the ads shown on Oscar’s night. Go and feed your great ads cravings, especially when the presentation is so appropriate, in Oscar’s style! And of course, cannot get enough of Fergie’s song! Turn it on every morning to start a day with a smile!

Ads that Make a Difference

With the whole Super Bowl fever, which is a greatest time to see all the good work of advertisers, I went to old videos and some of them were funny, some were histerical, and some were truly thought – provoking and awakening. One of those was “Children see. Children do.” Very true, even though I do not have my own kids yet, it made me pause and think. All of us do not choose our parents, but we can choose what kind of parents we can be for our children. Seeing this type of ad is a good exercise to be able to understand other people around us.

  • RFID and Creative Marketing

    Wow, now we are talking about great marketing.  Using RFID, Mini Couper marketers talk to Mini Couper drivers and deliver customized messages. See the whole article by NYT. Can you imagine the first reaction of a driver that has not read this article or somehow forgot to remember what he/she signed on for? Creepy feeling of talking objects! Actually, I see the privacy issue come up, but it is nice to get personalized service from your favorite brands, talking to you, checking in with you and reinforcing your loyalty. Interesting aspect of interactive brand “romancing”.

    The Price of Being Creative

    Recent article in NY Times by Louise Story on how a Boston Marketing Campaign generated unexpected attention of the city police, caught my attention this afternoon. The campaign did work as eventually lots of media coverage is generated. However, there is some negative publicity that adds to the whole effect. The team was creative and used all the gorilla tactics (being enigmatic and puzzling the audience), however it is always easy to forget that someone eventually will be offended or hurt. In this particular case, I think it was a blooper not to be aware of the “suspicious black boxes” perception in the minds of at least US population. When I see a black package with no sign unattended, I make sure I am a number feet away of it, even if it seems paranoid. So, I thought it the team lacked the “due diligence” and forgot to notify the city authorities that it is part of the campaign. Marketers should keep taking risks, but perhaps ran the idea by a number of “unattached” folks or sleep on it to make sure such important details are not missed.

    People fascinate me!

    So, I was bored with my Harvard cases tonight and reached to check out some fun videos on YouTube. Of course, saw some funny videos, mock ups on mac ads and then I found this video by Happy Slip. This was not just great. This is another reason, why I stopped watching TV these days, as there is so much you can find on the web. Independent, creative people just start video blogging and sharing their talents…I could not help but watch a few more videos by the same actor-producer-vlogger. Check her out, witness her talent, it might inspire you too to do something different with your ideas :) http://www.happyslip.com/category/videos/#vidarea

    People’s profiles based on brands they consume

    It is not a novelty, but still an interesting phenomenae how people can be segmented or profiled by the products they consume. Another reason why marketing is great. You can find out so much about a person based on the info where she/he shops, what he/she eats, where he/she vacations, what he/she reads and what recreation the both choose. Ask 10 questions about the person’s lifestyle, ask the brand names and you can craft a profile. Perceptions do matter. Brands become ways for us to signal about our wants and needs, existent or aspired and this is a valuable piece of data!

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