Thursday, August 27, 2009

No yodelling: Yahoo plans to show or tell?

First, Yahoo CEO Carol Barth tells analysts that she needs to spend to protect the brand. Then new Chief Marketing Officer Elisa Steele says a new slogan might be something like "Yahoo, your home on the web' (here). Now, rumors are that what Yahoo learned in the Microsoft deal is to spend like a drunken sailor on advertising (here).

Starting in September, we can expect a media blitz on why you should make Yahoo your home on the web, which is interesting for a few reasons:

1. According to this article (on Yahoo, nonetheless), Yahoo's prospective new slogan and reference to 'the Web' seem, I don't know, dated? If they were hip squares, maybe they'd go with 'Yahoo: your pillow in da' cloudz'.

2. But seriously, speaking of vaporous ideas, the notion that Yahoo wants to be the home base for our online lives is sweet. Unfortunately for Yahoo, we're not currently homeless online. We have many homes...all LinkedIn, Twittified, and FriendFeeded...inhabited by our online relationships. Yahoo can be a part of that...a mail account or a forum in one of Yahoo's channels...but Yahoo is a tool. And a hammer does not a home make.

3. Which leads me to tools (no, not the kind on VH1's Tool Academy). If Yahoo wants to elevate the brand, or reposition it, I'd suggest investing in creating something useful, usable, and Google continuously does (tried Google Reader?), or even, ahem, Microsoft (Office 2010 anyone?).

For a company like Yahoo, advertising should generate awareness of great new functions...the functions will take care of the positioning through the user other words, design the right functions, and you've designed the Brand Experience.

I have to confess, I still have MyYahoo set as my browser home page. Yahoo has a wonderful history of creating things, like My Yahoo, that work. They've lost their way in middle age, though, trying to be so many things but special at nothing. They haven't stayed with the pack.

So here's to hoping that any advertising investment is actually based on articulating wonderful new tools that redefine the My Yahoo brand experience. Tools that actually help people in a manner that reflects the user's centrality in the brand experience. Rather than telling me your mine, make yourself mine.

The alternative would be trying to re-position via advertising alone...that's not merely a 'cost that is in the system', it's a pretty traditional approach. And that looks alot like the whimsical road they've been down before: fun ad, unmet functional expectation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monkey business: Seeing the brand within

In the August 14 issue ofthe journal Science, a report (summary here. Full text requires subscription) on the effect of mimicry between monkeys + humans leads to an interesting conclusion: monkeys prefer exchanging tokens for food with humans who mimic the monkey's behavior.

After exposure to humans acting like monkeys, and to those who acted like, well, humans, the monkeys spent more time looking at their human imitators, spent more time in proximity to them, and interacted more frequently with them than with humans who did not mimic the monkeys.

So What?

While it certainly would be a stretch to read too much into the behavior of humans monkeys, the experiment and protocol tested social interaction based on a phenomenon known as the 'chameleon effect'. The effect is a widely studied phenomenon of unconscious mimicry among--wait for it--people: it can be simple as when a baby returns the smile of a parent or as complicated as when one leaves a bigger tip than they otherwise would because of the example of another person. Sort of like chameleons changing color to mimic their background, but let's limit our posting to two species, shall we?

But what does monkey business have to do with people business?

A general lesson for a company or brand based on the chameleon effect might be as follows: to create a heightened sense of affiliation with a brand, to increase the time spent with a brand, or even, to develop a preference, have the brand mimic the prospect...through insight into their beliefs, aspirations, behaviors or, dare I say it, their personalities?

But don't we already do that as marketers? I'd suggest that we don't often. Generally, we ask the prospect to see themselves in the brand...through a singular personality and positioning. We seek to find a singular insight to drive personality and positioning for a singular, homogenous, idealized group of monkeys humans, aged 25-54, with a gender, a race and an income.

I'm simply suggesting that marketers flip that around. Have multiple insights drive multiple positionings and personalities that conform to the unique microsegments that define our differences. It's how we monkey people behave in the real world...the people with whom we choose to affiliate, spend time and conduct all manner of non-branded interactions. How does a brand personality fly above these human realities?

Some big brands seem to be experimenting with multiple personalities in their traditional marketing: Geico being but one example with its gecko, caveman and wad-o-cash personalities. And though traditional advertising may be an expesnive place to exhibit multiple personalities, customer service, line extensions and loyalty programs seem ripe with possibility for asking questions and listening...and thus enabling the kind of personal, relevant, dialogue-based marketing that sees itself in the customer's eyes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Emotion detector: What blogs tell us about mood

In the Journal of Happiness Studies: An Interdisciplinary Forum on Subjective Wellbeing (yes, for real, here) a paper by two University of Vermont statisticians claims that the nation's mood can be determined, in part, by the tone of it's blog postings.

Here's a chart from the paper (available here) showing an increasingly happy nation over the last four years (hearts are Valentine's Day and green trees are Christmas):

Of note is the overall upward trend (didn't political acrimony seem high back in 06?), the periodic declines in July/August (summer doldrums/stock angst anyone?), and the incredible sadness apparently felt among the blogogentsia over Michael Jackson's passing.

You can validate the statistical and research methods and conclusions for yourself (here). Essentially, they boil down to an automated index of blogs using a standard list of rank ordered words shown to convey particular emotions. Then, a magic algorithm is applied that enables age and geographic filters, among other things, to be applied to results and, voila`, the Emotion of The Crowds.

So What?

In some regards, the idea of a collective happiness index is similar to what pollsters have been attempting for decades...except that the sample size in the blog survey is much larger and is near realtime (it's automated afterall). It's also less representative of the diversity of the population.

And as fascinating as the idea of a global barometer of happiness might be, the idea highlights the challenge inherent in defining something as uniquely personal as happiness for such a large group. The paper's authors certainly concede that opportunities for improving the approach exist. They even go so far as to suggest that the approach could be more useful as a means of evaluating 'social contagion' and 'predictive theories' of social interaction...which sounds a bit like what stock markets seem to have become.

For marketers, however, it is a useful reminder that high-level trends can be valuable in scenario planning, ideation and in direction setting. It's also useful in reminding us that what may appear to be true and meaningful at the level of the group can break down completely when applied to the individual...that's as true of messaging, positioning, and creative as it is of our own happiness.

For those of you made happy as RUSH completists, here's the Emotion Detector demo tape:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Social Media Metrics: Culture, Commerce + Conversation

One of the questions that frequently arises in client conversations around social media concerns metrics: How should we measure social media's impact?

One answer is: The same way you measure marketing impact.

And while that may seem self-evident, if not obvious, it does reflect the oft-obscured truth about social media: it is but a different means to accomplish the same ends. Those ends, of course, are the marketing objectives.

When social media metrics are clearly tied to marketing objectives, therefore, you will have answered the question at the start of this post with more than a steaming generality.

Yes, but how?

One tendency among the measuring class is to find a number and fixate on it: click-thrus as a singular view on success or failure, for instance.

Meaningful metrics, however, tend to be directional...they identify trends or, um, direction over time. These metrics may embody the principles of a Balanced Scorecard, where a larger set of financial and nonfinancial measures, in aggregate, indicate the directional health of the activity or the enterprise. Here are some prior posting's on metrics (here, here, and here)

So getting back to Social Media metrics, what type of marketing objectives might make a social media deployment sensible?

Of course it would be silly to make proclamations that may not reflect the practical realities of a specific organization's situation...BUT...there are three general types of objectives that I've found applicable to social media.

For any enterprise that operates as part of a highly networked, always-on, marketplace of ideas, marketing objectives must reflect the real-world way in which enduring human relationships are built: at the intersection of Culture, Conversation, and Commerce.

If your organization is prepared to operate in these three areas in a balanced way, then it may be ready for a social media deployment as part of it's marketing efforts. Here are some sample marketing objective categories for use with social media:
  1. Culture: Demonstrate the shared attitudes + behaviors that reflect a commitment to the organization's or communities mission and values.
  2. Conversation: Ask for and respond to dialogue among and between an organization or community's members, employees, customers, and prospects.
  3. Commerce: Support promotion + sales
What follows, then, are a few sample measurements for each of these objective categories...these are not comprehensive lists. They do provide examples of the type of measurements one might use to assess the direction of culture, conversation, or commerce objectives supported by social media:

  • Percent of interviewees who mention the organization or community's social media channels during the interview process
  • Percent of organization's associates who Friend/Follow/Participate in the organization's social media ecosystem
  • Number of customers who reference social media presence
  • Sentiment Index: Ratio of positive comments to negative comments on social channels
  • Engagement Ratio: Total Unique Visitors/Total Visitors; Tweets/Retweets; Post/repost; Visit duration
  • Dialogue Ratio: Number of comments per posting
  • Conversation Bandwidth: Number of inbound links; Page rank
  • Return on Investment: Cost per visitor, Cost per minute of engagement, Cost per feed subscriber
  • Raw referrals from social site to eCommerce site
  • Transaction dollar value/completion ratio
  • Transaction dollar value/referral ratio
Many others exist of course. Hopefully, these examples provide a place to start.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Value-based billing: Agencies at the table?

Bloomberg posted a story on P+G's decision to move Grey Advertising's work on Pringle's to a value-based compensation setup last month (here). All I can say is, it's about time!

I've worked at two companies whose billings were tied, in part, to performance-based incentives derived from the client's overall success. And while the P+G move (along with several other consumer companies) comes later in the game, it's also a bit more comprehensive.

Some in the advertising business are worried that it is merely a ruse to reduce fees. Others seem to embrace the concept. Here's four reasons I think it's a good thing:

1. Results: In my experiences with value-based billing, the discipline of evaluation creates discipline in the thinking. I'm not talking about stifling creativity. On the contary, agencies get passionate about the work...the risk is that they get wedded to an idea even when it can't deliver results. Value-based approaches that rely on meaningful measurement ensure that outcomes are considered throughout the ideation and execution.

2. Trust: When an agency's financial success is tied--directly--to the business success of the client, it makes the partnership more meaningful and easier to understand for both parties. Both parties can trust that they are working together for the same thing. And of course, trust is a key element of any long term relationship.

3. Strategy: Much talk is made of being strategic in the agency business. However, much work ends up being quite tactical in the context of larger business go-to-market strategies. When agencies are seen as partners, sharing the risk based on business strategies, they may find themselves earning a seat at a much larger table.

4. Inevitability: It isn't going to go back to the way it was. For decades, marketers half jokingly used the quote that "half their advertising worked, they just didn't know which half." But now the precise measurability that comes standard with all things digital is seeping into the expectation of all marketing and advertising.

Of course there are risks to the agency...that's the shared part of shared risk...some clients may use it as a means of giving agency billings a beat down. Others may pursue ill-conceived or simplistic measurement schemes. And the biggest risk is that the agency's work is held directly accountable for things it can't impact directly.

But while these risks are real to agencies, it may be wise to remember that clients has always taken a very real risk with their agencies when payng upfront or for hours worked. It may just be that, like their customers, companies have decided they'd like a little less risk in their worlds. Agencies that embrace value-based approaches may benefit by getting a more enduring seat at the table...instead of a place on it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Making promises: The Chevy Volt

You made me promises promises
You knew you'd never keepPromises promises
Why do I believe

-Naked Eyes

CNN's money section has a headline screaming about the Chevy Volt (here):

"Chevy Volt to get 230 mpg rating
Ultra-high mileage for GM's electric-drive Volt could give it a marketing boost."

First the claim: 230 mpg. The article discusses the complications with the mpg's not as simple as figuring 'x miles/y gallons = miles per gallon'.

As an owner of two, more traditional hybrids (one the Toyota Hybrid Synergy drive and one the Honda integrated motor assist), I can tell you that mpg ratings are guidance...your actual mileage has far more to do with how you actually drive. And the EPA estimates are usually reflective of the best practical mileage.

This can be a major disappointment for those expecting to save megabucks on petro, but at least the comparisons between hybrids and conventional gas autos make sense (i.e., miles driven/gallons consumed). The Volt isn't so easy.

Now let's look at the subhead: ultrahigh mileage could give marketing a boost.

The complications associated with the EPA rating and the role of the driver mean many are surely to be disappointed by their actual mileage. And when they are, you can be sure the online dialogue-0-sphere will be humming.

So four marketing and PR-related questions come to mind:
  1. In what way does overpromising and underdelivering give marketing a boost?
  2. In what way is a 'marketing boost' an important news story?
  3. Can PR manage such an overpromise in the 24-hour, networked news cycle?
  4. Does GM have savvy marketers who might try different selling propositions?

To Chevy's credit, communications to date haven't focussed on much more than the 'first 40 miles without gas/no emissions' claim (though I do think the footnote ought to be proportionate to the impact of the disclaimer). More on the Volt here.

All will be told when, or if, the Volt actually hits the lots at "a month and year to be announced". In the meantime, I'll be asking why we should believe the headlines we read.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Teens, Texting + Twitter: age old marketing questions?

The teenage mind is notoriously fact, science! [conjure Thomas Dolby song] has suggested that the teen brain pares nearly 60% of its neurons during this formative phase. This biological focussing leads to forgetful moments + ever changing obsessions that could make even a veteran ping pong observer dizzy.

So how come teens don't use Twitter? It would seem to provide a realtime center stage from which to lifestream one's short attention span theatrics. Aren't these two hallmarks of the all-powerful teenage marketing segment's mindset?

According to Neilsen they don't use it as much as their parents. And while parents would be the easy answer, they DO use Facebook, YouTube and other social features-disguised-as-applications that their parents also use.

So what?

Aside from the fact that the graph has some odd segmentation notions (2-24 year olds? do 4 year olds use Twitter? Are 24-year olds really like 12 year olds?) three questions marketers might want to ask themselves come to mind from this story:

1. Why would they use it? Teenagers were early adopters of SMS/Text Messaging. Twitter is more difficult to use as a mobile application and more limited in capabilities. So, what does Twitter enable that they can't already accomplish? (see useful, usable, and desirable here). "What's in it for the user" is an important consideration for marketing to anyone, but especially when the fundamental function has an equivalent already in place.

2. Who knows what they think? Given the notoriously fickle allegiances established during adolescence, isn't the real story that Twitter is being adopted by so many people in pre-Y generations (i.e., the largest population segments)? Even if teenagers tell you what they are thinking, do you ever really get it, er, I mean understand?

3. When does they become you...or me? As in any other story based on age (or gender or race or....) we burden ourselves trying to assign people to pigeonholes. When we use singular dimensions to describe the complexity that is a person, we are left to wonder why such explanations seem unsatisfying when applied to our own behaviors. If the point of social media tools isn't to enable individual expression through social connections, then to what end do we employ them differently than traditional media? Interests, rather than age, are a more reliable predictor of a person's behavior.

I asked my own 16-year-old about Twitter (doesn't use it) and here's what she said:

"It's all status updates, no real interaction. Facebook allows you to do more. It's [Facebook] more convenient and that's what we're already doing. Texting comes with the phone. Some people have it [Twitter], but mostly its to follow celebrities like the Jonas Brothers. It doesn't seem like Twitter is really for us, more for adults."

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Recycled brands: green positioning, worm poop, and marketing accountability

I was walking thru the aisles at the local Super discount-department-store-with-concentric-red-rings-that-look-like a, um, target, when an oddly deformed form factor for a consumer brand grabbed my head, twisting it in place, while the rest of me kept walking a few steps. Hanging at eye level were what appeared to be food package wrappers. Not packages, but wrappers. Empty. Like you see run over in a parking lot...or next to a trash can. On closer inspection, they turned out to be folders and pencil bags for use by school children.

$1.00 Wrapper Trapper and Pencil Cases

Terracycle has an idea for what it calls eco-capitalism. It started with fertilizer made, not from petro-consuming, nitrogen-producing chemical processes, but from worm poop (here). Now, it's targetting the children of America and their back-to-school-shopping parents.

So what?

Much green washing backlash has been whipped up against brands attempting to claim in-name-only environmental cred (see The Truth about Green Advertising here). And while sloppy and disingenuous claims are easily spotted by all but the most uninterested, one can certainly appreciate marketers calling attention to brand attributes that, though always present, have only recently held more massively appealing appeal.

But what happens when a brand built on consumption crosses paths with a concept built on reducing, reusing and recycling...Is there such a thing as win-win in a zero sum game? I think so.

Terracycle has enlisted food + packaging manufacturers to support collection and recycling of their empty product containers. Terracycle remanufactures the recycled packages into useful folders and pencil pouches. Terracycle pays people to collect the packaging, underwritten by the brands whose packaging is being collected.

Here are three impacts on marketing enabled by this approach:

1. Brand stewards in affiliated companies can move upstream...beyond simplistic notions of logo placement and copy conformity to higher-order notions of demonstrable commitment and real action...the logo doesn't have to add a snipe noone believes [e.g., 'now with ecogreenalism']...the new product embodies it. Besides, who can control where your logo will show up when it's a trapper-keeeper.

2. Measurability is built in to the recycled product...success need not be measured solely on awareness and perception of a brand's greenality. Instead, financial metrics (cost reduced/sales repeated), participation metrics (groups collecting, wrappers returned...a boxtops for education program that doesn;t stop at the top of the box) and environmental metrics (pounds of waste stream diverted) are all additions to a balanced scorecard of key performance indicators available for marketing's use (more on that here).

3. Marketing to consumers can coexist with marketing to less consumption. The brands involved in the Terracycle program lend more than words to ideas of sustainable living. If you want to do your part, you can do it by generating demand (for the recycled product) or by providing supply (collecting recyclable material). You need not live in a damp, dark cave to do your part to save the world. And you won't have to give up your cookies either.

In the end, we're all worm food. But brand marketers who can find ways to sell us ourselves as the answer may just be the future of eco-marketing.