Thursday, 11 June 2009

A Checklist for Elevating Experiential Marketing to the Next Level

The XM Conference in Toronto’s Palais Royale, June 2, 2009 had its good points and some 'areas for improvement', but the key points Dan Hanover, Editor of Event Marketing Magazine made helped prove the point that when experiential marketing is handled strategically, it is an unbeatable tactic.

Net Take-Away From The XM Conference

Bob Garfield’s keynote was hurt by technical glitches, but most of all by the fact that he set the stage for why the marketing industry is about to go through a major shake-up (“The Apocalypse”), but left all his predictions of what will happen next in his soon-to-be-released book! Sharing some of his insights with this crowd of experienced XM folk would have seemed apropos.

Without intending any offence to the presenters, the five (5!) case studies were of little value to the veterans in the room. Value would have been generated had the clients given us a quick overview of the stats regarding quantities of primary, secondary and tertiary interactions, program breadth/duration, costs and ROI estimates (even if only broadly) and then got into what went well and what they’d have done differently. A round-table with the clients arguing XM vs. ATL/other tactics would have been useful.

The ‘Shopper Marketing” panel discussion was unfortunately rather lacking in any clear message/points, as well, in large part because there were no major retailers represented. A subject change to something like “ How XM Efforts Impact Shopping”, or having a pro-con debating team (Ooo! A couple of dinosaur agency/TV media reps vs. XM folks!) might have lead to a livelier debate. A debate over what role ‘social media’ might have in the XM sphere would have sparked some thinking.

TELUS’s Tammy Scott presented an excellent overview of why XM is where the big dollars will shift in the coming years, but the slide and her enthusiasm for XM got sidelined by the need to cover-off her case study. Still, she made several great points throughout about the power of experiential. She could be an XM Ambassador in the industry!

Although somewhat disjointed and bit frenetic, the hit of the day was Dan Hanover, the editor of Event Marketer magazine, who tossed out a flurry of key learnings about XM effectiveness that made the entire event worthwhile. He promised “15 XM Trends to Bet On”, but delivered far more (26 that I counted!). I re-organized his insights into three general categories, all of them generally making the point that when the XM segment applies the kind of in-depth consumer and effectiveness research and strategic analysis/thinking to their efforts that CPG firms and the dinosaur agencies use, XM becomes almost unstoppable because its results are unbeatable.

Dan’s points follow (plus one from the clients), with the point “ XM is Now ‘For Life’” being the single most important insight of all:

Big Picture, Strategic XM Thinking

  1. Dead” vs. “Live” Marketing Efforts: All other marketing efforts are ‘dead’, inanimate — only XM is LIVE! (What do you think consumers prefer?)
  2. All XM Agencies are CONVERTERS: XM efforts convert non-buyers into buyers — XM influences behaviour while advertising drives awareness.
  3. Re-Think XM Efforts: How can we use the experience to drive consumers from a single ‘trial purchase’ to becoming loyal users who buy 6 times in a row?
  4. XM is Now ‘For Life’: Always bring multi-year experience plans to every client RFP where each year is a chapter in a life-long ‘book’ of experiences that consumers will have with that brand. When XM agencies start thinking this way, about experiences that come back in relevant but different ways year after year, XM shifts automatically from being tactical, to being an indispensable strategic marketing component.
  5. Tactic Agnostic: Apply strategic analysis to every single XM effort — don’t just re-use last years’ program, EVER! (What’s different this year than last in the marketplace, with the brand? What can be done better/differently?)
  6. Embrace Scale: Insist on multi-media support for ALL XM efforts (advertising drives awareness!).
  7. Frenemies (point from the Canadian clients): Royal Bank of Canada now insists on a single brief for all agencies — they all must work together, dinosaurs with DM, XM, digital and promo. Budweiser does the same, because in Canada this is possible (this cannot be duplicated in the US due to scale, so Canadian case studies are becoming the gold standards for XM cross-over multimedia campaigns).
Targeting Strategically (and Following-Through)

  1. Hyper-Target (Micro-Target): Know your consumers in minute, in-depth detail (Obama’s campaign leveraged this). Xbox breaks ‘18-24’ into 16 separate psycho/demographic segments.
  2. Find the Friction: Identify the consumers’ issues/barriers with the product category or brand, then give them a ‘solution experience’.
  3. Target ‘Influencers’: There are trend-setters and there are trend-spreaders. The latter may never buy, but they’re more valuable. Who are the real opinion leaders you need to target for any given product? Volvo gave nightclub bouncers cars for a full month — only if they agreed to park them in front of the club every night and chase people off “their” car.
  4. Experience Profiling: Relevance is everything -- develop different conversations and experiences for different micro-targeted types of consumers. Sidetrack individuals who are not the target to ‘busy stations’ in order to spend quality time with the core target.
  5. Measure! (...or come up with a different experience that can be measured!): Intel’s XM budget increases year on year because they MEASURE every experience’s impact on sales and/or brand equity.
  6. Re-Contact: Always collect contact info, build DBs and send reminder/follow-up messages. (Think about how to create ‘clubs’ that consumers can feel like they’ve become involved members of.)
  7. Data-Mining/Lead-Indexing: All leads are NOT equal, cut the likely non-buyers from every herd. Rank-order high-value leads.
Designing Experiences Strategically
  1. Conversion is Key to XM, NOT Awareness: When the experience has ‘heated them up’, DO NOT let them ‘cool down’ -- drive them to commit/purchase. SMART Car, prior to US distribution, got 30,000 deposits on new cars through XM efforts. (Nokia is pre-selling the new N97 in the US to keener/early-adaptors and has an online ‘club’ for fans.)
  2. Speed Up Conversion: Use the design of the experience itself to push consumers from merely ‘more likely to buy’ to ‘current user’.
  3. Trial Focus: Use experience design to make people WANT to try the experience, not simply do it because it’s there. (Build hype and anticipation, like the artificial line-ups outside of dance clubs.)
  4. User-Generated Participation: Give them options in the experience — offering simple choices or opportunities to input both drive engagement.
  5. WOM 2.0 (word of mouth): Ensure relevant, interested target consumers are given reasons to ‘share’ the word with their cohort. Make the experience something that they’ll talk about (New Balance ‘touched’ 6,000 but drove 60,000 pairs of that model of runners). Use HouseParty.com to set up willing hosts for XM events in addition to your agency’s efforts.
  6. Backdoor “Blueprint” Viral Impact: Can you push sales surreptitiously, through unexpected, unconventional experiences? Lowes drove unprecedented home safety product sales by setting up an inflatable house at schools and giving students a home safety inspection lesson, then invited them to return with their parents on the weekend to show-off their new expertise.
  7. Condense the Distance (between the experience and purchase opportunity): Ensure that there is a way for consumers to purchase at the experience (in store), Or bring the store to them (van, pop-up store), Or arrange transportation to take them to the store afterwards, Or have online shopping available at the event, At least facilitate/drive the purchase with coupons or an incentive to go to the online store.
  8. Time Economics — Engagement Duration: Identify the optimum time period for any given demo — is 90 seconds better or worse than 180? A cell phone firm used free shoe shines to trap business execs for exactly 90 seconds. Can consumers be moved from top to bottom of the purchase funnel in 2 minutes? 3 minutes? Southern Comfort found 11 minutes were necessary to convert young men into fans, so ClickSpring created mobile cocktail-mixing schools where the experience lasted at least 11 minutes.
  9. Reduce Regions (Increase On-Location Time Spent): 7 days in 1 location has proven more impactful than 1 day each in 7 cities.
  10. Less is More! Reduce the number of products you cram into any experience -- fewer products lead to higher overall sales volume. Intel has reduced, through testing, their event booth product line-up from 95 to 11. And sales are up!
  11. Green is Now Mandatory: Build it in automatically, but distinguish between dark (seriously) green and ‘lite’ green (lip service) brands.
  12. Digital: Build interactive/online elements into EVERY experience, and track the engagements (volume, time spent, return visits, etc.)
  13. No More “Event Only” Websites!: From now on winning XM-related sites will be linked to the brand sites, not ‘stand-alones’ like “BoldBlast.com” e.g. Www.Blackberry.com/JohnMayer and www.Blacberry.com/CES

Trust the Old Farts to Evaluate the REAL Value of Participation in Social Networking

Comment to Gaetano Pollice's article on OMMA today: Focus: Boomers Crashing the Social Media Party

It's the undercurrent of articles like this that I find fascinating. When I was a kid, stamp collecting was all the rage. In fact, my friends and I, like youth in any era, were contemptuous of anyone who WASN'T into stamp collecting. Those others simply weren't on the leading edge, they weren't participating in what we judged to be a worthwhile expenditure of our time.

Decades later, all that energy, time and money that was invested by hundreds of thousands of people into stamp collecting is just... Well it's gone, evaporated, of no real consequence. It was a popular hobby trend that passed out of favor -- a way of spending time, of MAKING time, to participate in a hobby that is no longer considered cool.

What few commentators say about the involvement of the more mature and seasoned generations in blogging, Twitter and social networking is that they are a different sort of 'filter', they bring a different set of evaluative brains to these social/technology experiments. Facebook has already seen the wave of time-spent on-site amongst the more mature set of 'invaders' drop off. Busy professionals see SOME measure of merit in blogging to share ideas and raise their professional profiles, less so with the way Twitter is currently being used (the jury is still out on what real value there is in sharing 100 comments a day about either your choice in breakfast cereal OR quantum equations -- I'll wait for the published paper re: the latter). The mature users are quicker to apply a cost-benefit analysis OTHER than a 'popularity index' or 'volume of posts index' to these new ways of spending time on what are really not much more than trendy hobbies.

The contemptuous undertones I'm seeing in so many "Social Media Marketing" posts/articles is wearing a bit thin with industry professionals who have the experience and analytical ability to see long-term value, or not, in trendy new hobbies. I believe we can look to the older participants to judge what the underlying value of Facebook (allows me to stay permanently in touch with my lifelong collection of acquaintances), blogging (allows me to maintain a record of my most insightful thoughts and share them with like-minded professionals) and Twitter (allows me to publicize my blog posts to a large audience at no cost to me).

Yesterday, Lon Safko on FastCompany.com posted what I thought was an entirely self-serving "10 Commandments of Social Media" (a plug for his book) that would have seen all of us, as individuals and companies, spending 24 hours of every day posting frenetically on all these media in an effort to beat out our competitors/colleagues with the quantity and frequency of our 'participation in the online conversation'. Where is the quality in this? Where's the real value? What contribution is anyone making who is spending so many hours doing this instead of working at a job that actually makes a difference in terms of analysis and the creation of new concepts and advancements in technology?

I'd suggest we should look to the experienced professionals for their evaluation of these so-called 'social tools' before writing them off as nothing but hangers-on who are ruining the potential of these experiments. Friendster is dead. SecondLife is a fascinating technological experiment that was an interesting hobby for a while. Show us old farts the REAL value in these latest trendy 'hobbies' and we'll be more than happy to either make worthwhile use of them, or leave a generation who 'invests' so much of their time engrossed in video games. That's not an implied criticism, it's just a choice we all make about how to use the time we do not spend working at our jobs.

Some media are ripe for injecting advertising into them, others are simply communication media like telephone connections or IM groups -- they are useful for monitoring conversations and listening carefully to consumers' issues with our brands and their interests in general, but they are not suitable for marketing efforts. Yes, there's a youthful 'party' going on via social media, and forgive the parents/grandparents for checking in on what's going on, but don't try to convince us you're hard at work with all that time you're spending socializing! In the end you'll find we won't spend long enough at the party to ruin it for the youngsters -- we have to be up early tomorrow to get some work done.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Social Media Are NOT Ripe for Injecting Advertising/Marketing Into Conversations

Comment on Lon Safko's article on FastCompany.com: The 10 Commandments of Social Media

Lon, please excuse my use of a rude acronym, but WTF?!?

I have to ask you, if you take off your "I've bet the farm on 'social marketing' being my personal gold mine" hat, what happens when the novelty/newness factor wears off Twitter, blogging and Facebook (the older demo has already left the latter) and everyone realizes that these technological "Pet Rocks" are just a colossal waste of time? Yes, the geeks, teens and narcissist/celebrity-wannabes are all over them right now, but geeks move on, teens grow up (and have low disposable incomes) and the narcissists rush to wherever the audience has moved. I understand that you have to take a shot at fame and fortune while the wave is cresting, but your 'commandments' seems a tad self-serving!

Thinking strategically, long-term, what is the real value of investing a HUGE amount of time and energy following your 'commandments'? Sure, at the moment my product might catch a bit of buzz, but when you really apply your analytical skills to so-called 'social media', is attempting to inject your company or product/brand into people's conversations via a blizzard of non-stop blah, blah, blah REALLY something that consumers want? (Remember, the consumer is in charge now and what they are shouting is that they NEVER wanted 'push marketing'). Isn't 'push marketing' exactly what you're advocating? Isn't it really a lot like interrupting a private phone call between two people with an ad?

Certainly, from a PR standpoint (NOT a marketing standpoint, per se) we all have to respond quickly to issues about our company or brand that come up in social conversations, but what you are suggesting is to shift efforts from legitimate marketing activities and spend a HUGE amount of effort on trying to control/guide consumers' conversations. There is a subtle, but important, still relevant distinction between PR and marketing.  I have to agree with Mike Weiner's comment and the Maccabee Group's version of the '10 Commandments' of social media marketing (note that they are a PR firm!), they have a far less intrusive take on how to participate in conversations online:

Yes, innovation is a 'commandment', but I'd suggest that ANY 'medium' carrying the banner of 'social' is, by its nature, not an arena for advertising. Advertise in new media, by all means. Advertise in display ads on Facebook. Create free apps that both add value and are relevant to your product or service. Market your products in ways that people actually appreciate, as in face-to-face demos and the conversations that take place during the demos, but trying to elbow your message into the midst of people socializing is only going to be seen as an unwelcome intrusion and yet another example of overzealous marketers killing a golden goose.

There are 1,000 other media out there, both new and old, to carry marketing messages. The real value of 'social' is research and listening, not interjecting advertising. When you read all the 'best-in-class' advice being offered up about how brands can benefit from 'social media' involvement today, it is all speaking to PR efforts and benefits, NOT marketing.  Sorry to burst your bubble, but then this is just one guy's opinion!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

More on the Evolution of the News Supplier Business Model

Monetization is the real issue when it comes to the future of the new supply business, and IDEO hasn't really addressed it in this Fast Company article: News Flash From the Future: What Will Journalism Look Like?

I suspect we're finally reaching the ‘maturing’/saturation point of blogging and Twitter, the place many pundits suggested we’d eventually get to back in 2003, where people finally tire of ‘free’ news and opinions and are willing to return to paying to have someone clever, experienced and trustworthy sort things out (research and edit) for us. 
I really don’t want to read 100 ‘tweets’ a day, 1,000 blog entries a week, check 6 social networking sites, nor do I want to get stuck in a cycle of reading only one tight, narrow-minded group of bloggers who are all inter-linked. I want to read the Economist, CNN, Newsweek, AdAge, Time and a local news provider to get a cross-section of different reporters’ views and I want those experts to filter the bloggers and feed me Seth Godin’s blog only when it is pertinent and relevant (and worthwhile).

In other words, contrary to this IDEO notion which is riding on the current popularity of what is largely a lot of experimenting with new technology and, as such, is not necessarily where things will net out in 2 or 10 years from now. Recent research demonstrates that the 35+ year old segment is already tiring of Facebook and walking away from it. You could argue that they're not the target, but they do communicate what people who value their limited time want. Just because 12-24 year olds spend all their time on something today, doesn't mean they will when they have jobs and two kids, nor because a bunch of geeks or fame-hunters gleefully tweet 100 times a day today does this mean the late adopters will do so tomorrow, especially after those early adopters have moved on to the next new thing.

One key to success for news suppliers would be for a service like Pay Pal to offer a ‘universal subscription’ service. I’ll pay a few cents for an article, but won’t pay $49/mo. for access to ONLY ONE publishers’ archives. If, instead, I can pay $129/mo and get access to EVERY news publishers’ archives on the internet, with the service sorting out payment distribution as iTunes does (perhaps with so many cents per X words and a Google Ad Word-like ‘quality algorithm’), I’d do it in a second! 
We ALREADY pay for news providers to filter and pay AP newswire for articles today with subscriptions, but I have to renew them constantly and half the time I’m not 100% interested in any given edition, so I’d like to NOT have to pay for it. A universal news subscription, aggregating what I now spend on a local Toronto newspaper, plus Wired, Marketing, AdAge, Fast Company, National Geographic, Newsweek, MIT Tech Review, Strategy+Business, Harvard Business Review, etc. and allowing me global access, now THAT’S a big idea!

If I'm paying a subscription fee (versus getting free access), I’ll complain if they push too many ads at me, but if they TRACK my behaviour -- and they’ll have to in order to pay the sites I visit -- then the ads I’ll see will be more addressable (relevant to me) and I might even enjoy the ad feeds!”

Just a thought.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Consumer Spending Habits Have Changed Permanently

Nat Ives in Ad Age points out that it's most likely that this 'economic readjustment' has made a permanent change in the buying habits of the masses.  While I suspect people will return to injecting a similar amount of money into the economy in the next couple of years, I think there'll be a profound change in where they spend their money, illustrated by this chart from Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker in a presentation to the Web 2.0 Conference on Nov. 5 of '08:
The key issue here is the gap between the sudden decline in the US personal savings rate in orange that began in '85 with a rise in investment in the Dow Jones in green (added by me) and the home equity increase in red and  that began in '95 due to incentives introduced by 'Housing & Urban Development' (HUD).  This shift of savings into 'investment opportunities' created the enormous shared risk necessary for the current crash.  The steep increase in the percentage of home ownership above it's formerly stable level proved unsustainable (people who could not afford the mortgages were behind the rise).  This means 'investment' in real estate will have to drop, while the losses in average peoples' investment funds has created a wound that will remain painful for many years.

The result?  A market-wide shift from 'investment products' to 'savings products', along with a healthy culture shift from rampant consumerism to more level-headed spending patterns.  

P&G and the globe's other major marketers are right to be concerned, this change in culture will mean permanent shifts in the sales of their high-end products.  It's not that demand for these products will vanish, just that it is likely to be lower than it was.  PLUS there will be, as Nat points out, a much more intense scrutiny by consumers into the true value of every product and service out there, which will have an indelible effect upon the demise of 'push marketing' and the continued rise of 'pull'.  

As I've often pointed out, what THAT means is the shift of marketing spending from traditional 'push marketing' media, formerly called ATL, to interactive, face-to-face and socially credible efforts of the kind predicted by Doc Searls and David Weinberger in chapter four of the "Cluetrain Manifesto" back in 2001:  people interacting across a table laden with goods in a marketplace, just as we have for millennia.  What THAT means is a surge in the fortunes of the folks sufficiently visionary to have invested in creating experiential marketing agencies!

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