Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Truth vs. facts: The sequel

Back in April, we commented on TiVos impending challenge to the Nielsen TV rating hegemony in influencing advertising rates: Truths + Facts: Belief systems being challenged [here].

Now, the worst fears of those who extract value through an opaque relationship between TV ad impressions and ad performance may be realized: Google is entering an agreement with TiVo to use its data on ad-skipping in a pay-for-performance manner [here].

So What?

The implications of better data on which TV ads are being seen (as opposed to skipped) exist on a plus or minus scale of positive to negative impacts...if you sell ads based on extrapolated audience deliveries (e.g., based on Nielsen Household Survey data) it may weigh negative. If you want to pay for performance, you'd certainly think it was a positive to have data supporting the invoice.

Of course these are the self-evident truths we hold when stereotyping TV as an old school sales game and Google's pay for performance model as the all knowing oracle of answers to questions we haven't even thought to, er, Google.

Here's three reasons I think TV networks will find a deal like TiVo-Google a good one:

  1. TV networks can objectively support their advertising value in the pay-for-performance era and define themselves as a viable part of that mix.
  2. Knowing under what circumstances ads work (i.e., which ads don't get skipped) can help networks create more flexible ad packages around second-by-second behavioral data...a single advertiser with a consecutive series of 2, 7, and 50 second spots in a pod might make as much sense as multiple advertisers in a single pod. 
  3. Flexible pricing models that enable auction-style bidding (similar to pay per click search marketing) may bring new advertisers to the networks by removing cost barriers.

Certainly there are many other positive implications to be realized. And while it's easy for some to incessantly describe the imminent doom of Big Media, the reality is that knowledge, accountability and transparency are good for everyone in the long run. The alternative---ignorance, irresponsibility and trading in secrets--has no productive place in a social construct--like advertising--that relies on trust.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More than meets the eyeballs: seeing differences through social media

Much is made of growth. Growth is about energy and possibility. It's heady, exciting, and fun. In life, growth defers hard questions about the future to...the future. Which, for some, has the distinct advantage of always being tomorrow.

In business, likewise, growth sings a siren song of temptation...putting off hard questions about profitability, efficiency, and change in the name of doing it, scaling up, gaining critical mass! People jump on the bandwagon, join the fad, and ask each other "hey, have you seen and heard?". Marketing is genius when growth is the mode.  And this all works...until it doesn't. What then?

Take social media. Here's Compete's comparison chart of 12 month's traffic for Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

What's notable isn't that Facebook continues to grow. Rather, what seems notable is that MySpace is in essentially the same place it was back in February 09. It ceased to grow sometime ago...and now it seems to have stopped shrinking. Of note, it has double the unique visitors of the now-flatlining Twitter.

The stats are here to make one point only: Growth is good, but it seldom lasts forever: and when it stops, that's when marketing gets harder.

What about that isn't obvious?

Danah Boyd has an article in the November issue of Interactions titled "Implications of User Choice: The cultural logic of MySpace or Facebook?" The article speaks to what isn't always obvious in marketing's social media embrace: there is more to marketing online than meets the eyeballs.

Though not specifically addressing marketing, Boyd's interviews and research illustrate the many ways online audiences define themselves and how these definitions affect where they engage with social media: often in different terms than marketers use.

For instance, how many Nielsen or MRI reports identify social media audiences as Wangsta's, Emo's, or Honors kids for instance? And yet, it's precisely this type of engagement around cultural differences that is driving many choices about social media selections among teenagers. Is it such a stretch to think that an adult accountant by day might be a hipster online?

So What?

The promise of teh interwebz has been described, among other ways, as a great force for democratization of communication.  Online, noone knows your a dog. Or a dork. Well, ok, you can probably figure that out pretty easily.

The good marketers take steps to avoid letting their own biases drive decisions about who and where their customers are online. They recognize that their brands have to be wherever their prospects are...and in a context that reflects who they are's not so much the other way around.

It's easy to see a world of hip, middle income, early adopters using iPhones to update their Facebook Walls, clicking on ads when that's you. It's important to remember that customers online engage with others around powerful long-tail self definitions of their own making. Definitions that may look nothing like what we see in the mirror.

And that's when marketing through social media gets harder than it already is. Because growth isn't a's an outcome. And eventually, when growth flattens, every one of those self-defining prospects + customers becomes precious.

Question is, were you there for them...and did they see themselves in you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thinking different: products as services

Back in the day, as part of the world's largest management consultancy firm, one of our partners used to routinely invoke the following pointmaker: People don't buy drills, they buy holes.

The thinking was like this: everything about a drill is configured around the idea of a product...if you are the manufacturer, the distributor or the retailer. You may have entirely separate business units for design, marketing and service of the drill. You most certainly have product beauty shots in your advertising.

But if you are the customer, the drill is a provider of a is part of a larger life experience...building a kitchen, assembling a swingset, hanging a mirror...drilling a hole. Experiences too numerous and rich to be captured in a single company department or in an advertising image with a mere 10,000 words in its vocabulary.

The partner's point was that reconciling these two views is important. Because if a product plays it's part in the customer's experience poorly--through ambiguous or incompatible relationships to the other parts of the system--then all the marketing and advertising in the world can't prevent a single product from suddenly carrying the entire burden of a poor customer experience...fair or not. Just ask Microsoft.

Now before you accuse me of going down the rabbit hole to pop-marketing-wonderland, please let me explain: I'm not suggesting that marketers abandon product thinking, or that every manufacturer of nails needs  to contemplate architecture in its marketing...I'm only suggesting that incorporating broader thinking about the customer system into which a product fits is an imperative for marketing.

Many of you already do this, and I'd be grateful for any thoughts and experiences you can share that would do a better job of explaining this matter than I can. For the rest, here's my shot:

Why should I care?

It's how people experience most of our products...Chemicals, couches...product choice is not what customers typically lack. Customers have a multitude of choices among a sea of oftentimes indistinguishable features and benefits. 8 megapixels, 12 megapixels...all that is lost if you can't figure out how to get the image from the camera to grandma. That's the system the product exists within...the service it is expected to perform.

Our colleagues are already doing it. An iPhone isn't a phone, it's a service for every occassion from finding red light cameras to evaluating the risk of your midnight sushi.  You don't have to be Apple though. Mattress Firm takes mattresses into the broader world of sleep. Business-to-business companies often design and deliver products as part of a service package that may include access to experts, supply or distribution services, financing or end user support.

No product exists in a vacuum (with the possible exception of vacuum bags).  At the most basic level, all products are tools...whether they help build self esteem or tear down a wall, tools exist in service to the task against which they are applied. As the nature of our tasks grows more complex and interrelated, products that provide service to the larger system will find new ways to stay relevant:  they may even end up being used in ways originally when a search engine suddenly creates the opportunity to become an advertising company or a computer enables a company to become a TV station...or movie theater.


The tricky part is tricky because it's easy to understand but difficult to implement. Systems thinking means changing the way the product organization works. Here's three of the biggest challenges I've observed for marketers:

1. Everyone owns the customer experience: Marketing has long professed to represent the customer. But product design + engineering, sales, and especially customer service are all responsible for understanding and delivering on the brand promise in the customer service system to which a product belongs. Cross functional teams may be better at owning the total experience than more traditional, specialized business unit silos. In all cases, specific and accountable individuals should be aligned and empowered with the experience. If you can't deliver beyond the product, don't let your advertising and collateral say you can.

2. Think of everything, act on some things: No organization, with the possible exception of the GoogleBorg, can successfully manage the entirety of a customer's experience. The first step, as they say, is admitting that. The second step is figuring out what can be managed. This happens when as much of the total system as possible is identified. What does the customer want to do? How do they do it? What other products are used (beyond the one we're selling)? Who do they interact with? Formally and thoroughly identifying and mapping the total experience system enables an organization to identify opportunities and priorities on which to focus. Marketers already have access to many of the tools, such as ethnographic and other market research, for helping to map the system.

3. Be yourself: Behind every marketer, product manager or engineering title there is a real person. And every real person in any capacity at a company has a story about a product's failure in their personal experience. From the home entertainment system with five remote controls to packaging that requires a jackhammer to open. Asking how one's own products can remove unanticipated angst from the customer's lives isn't being cynical or negative...when it's accompanied by ideas for improvement, that's innovation. And like the customer experience, we all own innovation.

Marketers have a critical role to play in helping their organizations move beyond product thinking alone. Fulfilling that role might require marketers to think like someone other than marketers on occassion.

How do you think different?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Calculating combinatorial explosion: a tool for word of mouth marketing

I am not a big fan of the term 'viral marketing':  the swine flu pandemic (or H1N1 for those who think pigs are being unfairly singled out) has certainly reminded us that 'viral' things haven't historically been perceived positively...especially by those who are infected.  And yet, some in marketing and PR circles continue to let the term fly when discussing why social media should matter.

Word of mouth, on the other hand, seems to focus more explicitly on all that is wunderbar with social media. Influencers tell influencers who tell influencers...and so on and so on...and when it's digital, it's free!

Of course, when everyone is an influencer at some level, marketers might wonder just how many influencers it takes to get a critical mass of pass-alongers. One tool to help in the planning stages uses simple factorial math to calculate the reach that a viral word of mouth approach might achieve.

I've posted a simple spreadsheet version of the tool you can download on the Dialogue Marketing website, here. (MS Excel file)

The idea is relatively straightforward: capture a few assumptions and see how many people you might actually reach.

The assumptions in the tool include:

1. Number of initial influencers (or seeds) the campaign will contact
2. Expected pass along (i.e., retweet, email, linkback) percentage
3. Number of  people these influencers will reach
4. The number of pass along cycles (the 'and so on' part)

By structuring the capture of assumptions, enabling easy development of goal scenarios, and keeping the math in the background, the tool provides campaign planners with an easy to use expectation setter.

Try it out and let me know what you think.