Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Adaptive Ad Model (Just-In-Time Advertising)

Steve Rubel, Edelman's guru strategist, wrote an article in AdAge a year or so ago talking about 3 digital ad models that would become the staple for brand marketers around the globe; the first was advertiser-supported advertising (we all know what that is), the second was advertiser subsidized devices, and the third was what he coined as "Just-In-Time Advertising". In looking at the current landscape (the one as of right now, not yesterday ;), I thought the latter two have taken on some new meaning as of late, especially as a hybrid concept.

Think of Dell's Ideastorm, essentially a dynamic repository for ideas coming from "superusers" to collaborate with Dell employees on developing new product, as a great example - and potential "supercandidate" - for this. I realize I've chosen a pretty popular and much debated example, but, in all fairness, Dell has done a lot of things right, and they seem primed to capitalize even further on the Rubel-inspired concept. So let's dig in, and call it "The Adaptive Ad Model".

Ideastorm, wisely, has a pretty robust presence on microblogs like Twitter. Their blog content - when you run a search on blog and brand monitoring tools - has a healthy presence across syndicated forums and bookmarking sites. Their assimilation into desired categories such as Healthcare and Life Sciences seems to be fairly seamless, and generating a considerable amount of participation and "spread". It seems that the real issue with its porting of information is that there is too much of it, and ironically, it may even be too democratic in the way it is developed and shared. 

Here's where things can take an interesting turn with the "adaptive" approach. If we use the advertising medium - in this case, your standard IAB banners - and were to create units that would only port relevant headline information, precisely targeted and dynamically updated in the environments where users or superusers sought information specifically relevant to that category, we may have an experience that takes on new life. 

Here's a theoretical user case.

You run a search on healthcare reform. You scan several results either on a Google page or Google-indexed portal landing page (an affiliate), and choose one, a medical portal. The page is customized to only run relevant text to your search parameters (keywords). This means that you only see exactly what you've requested - no text links, snapshots or preview panels - and you have the option of finding out more (link). You choose this option. The leaderboard unit dynamically populates the Ideastorm Twitter feed of relevant conversations, and suggests 3-4 topics to read, which may or may not reside on the Ideastorm portal itself. Without having to leave the page, you choose one or all of those options and can find the exact information you want, or, search for more. Any new keywords repopulate the page and the content within ad unit. If you decide to click on the unit, great, if not, the brand's utility is has left a positive effect on your experience and you will likely visit the Ideastorm site again to run other searches.

Now comes the part about devices. Ideastorm takes Kindle, or a like app, and bundles its relevant information for the user, and more importantly, adds a feature in which that user's posts and other contributions are indexed in real-time. Co-promotion, affiliate marketing, whatever you want to call it, the brands support and enable the user experience to new heights. A superuser might even have the opportunity to get paid for content that is repopulated and retargeted in units that are deployed in relevant environments, sort of an AdSense model in reverse. 

These are rather crude examples, but you can see where this is going: use the ad as a directory with "pull" potential, as opposed to a piece of real estate pushing messages at you. And this doesn't require anything flashy, just a little strategic foresight to optimize pages and pull relevant communities together.

In my humble opinion, with search indices as flooded as they are, it would behoove category experts and respective communities to band together to optimize consumer experiences. The idea here is that if you expand the marketplace, everybody's share of the pie is that much bigger.

It will be very interesting to see what comes of the new Twitter-enabled ad model; we know that TwitAd and the much scorned MagPie have already taken their lumps. But if we can think of advertising as a savior in all of this, as opposed to a culprit, we may really be onto something. Just as Mr. Rubel had predicted.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Adobe TV: Please, Don't Flash Me!

Adobe's recent announcement that it is offering Flash for your TV (and specifically your set-top box) presents a curious and conflicted look into the multi-platform user experience. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea of weaving interactive or conversational elements into broadcasts or on-demand video content, but I certainly don't want to optimize the intrusive nature of ads by giving them more pomp and frequency.

Maybe I'm missing something here. Or maybe not.

Dan Rayburn makes the strong case that this is a neat idea in theory, but the reality is that viewers want high-quality - HD quality - content and Flash is well behind the curve in this department. I tend to agree. There is a ton of mid-tail programming out there (such as cable shows you find on VH1 and the Food Network), all of which are produced affordably, but they are nevertheless well-crafted and viewed in HD. While they are also created for conversations online, these experiences have way more to do with social media utilization than they do an interactive function, meaning that, at the end of the day, function outweighs form.

Now, we do need to look at the other side of this. If Flash, particularly Flash Lite, and the many lingual iterations of the software, can be optimized in such a way that high-definition streams have a better way of reaching our eyeballs, then great. It is also highly conceivable that in-show games, dynamic chat streams and other bells-and-whistles will find better life in this new TV environment. However, we still have to contend with the fact that this presents more ways to throw ad messaging at us, and to even entice us into conversations we may come to find that we didn't really want or need. But I suppose you can say that about anything media-related.

Here's a simple suggestion for the folks at Adobe: whatever you decide to do, make sure that viewers can functionally opt-in or out, depending on the level of interactivity. This will likely become a shared responsibility with the platform and content providers, so don't shirk, because if things go really awry, you can bet that you'll be a little more than guilty by association, and that's never fun, especially in the currently fun but messy world of technology and content. Or the phenomenon we have come to wonder about, known as "branded entertainment".

In the meantime, perhaps we should chalk one up to innovation. Just don't flash me. Not yet, at least.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Market Branding Versus Brand Marketing

For years, all of us - whether on the brand, agency or product sides - have been attempting to play Nostradamus in determining who our audiences are as well as developing assumptions about their purchase behaviors. Now, we have brand monitoring tools that not only enable us to make more educated evaluations about who they really are and what they talk about, but we can also profile and segment those purchase inclinations into real personas. What this ultimately means is that we are creating markets of opportunity first, and marketing associated brands second.

Take for example the now famous KOGI Korean BBQ case study, in which various social media tools were used to geo-target specific affinity groups in order create coordinated offline experiences. KOGI looked at three key elements to their grassroots activation:

1. Associated interests and social graphs already a part of a larger community.

2. Physical spaces for food consumption tied to these common interests.

3. Types and patterns of media consumption that would keep conversations or buzz ongoing.

When you think about engagement in this way - in which the return on intent far outweighs a sale of an actual item or product - you then realize that product branding can be removed almost entirely from the equation. In other words, community activation relies on branding a phenomenon as opposed to a product. The KOGI initiative could've just as easily been an effort around a category or an industry such as "Korean BBQ" or even something broader such as "exotic Asian foods". The response patterns, particularly through microblogs like Twitter, spoke directly to an experience tailored around sharing fine food in distinct urban settings that engendered loyalty to this market.

This is why brand monitoring leaders like Scout Labs, Radian6, eCairn and Overtone play such a vital role - because brands no longer have to take on the inherent risk of launching a product through empirical guesswork. The nice part about this as well is the fact that in many instances, profiling and segmenting don't require a huge window of time, compared to the more traditional methods involving focus groups and product testing. 

So, in sum, perhaps it's time for brands to not look at themselves as needing to outpace their competitors in releasing new products, but identifying and supporting new market sectors that would essentially incubate a suite of products. Only time will tell, but it seems like we're already heading in this direction, and fast.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Proactive or Preemptive Relationship Management (How the Domino's Fiasco Could Have Averted)

By now many of you have either seen or heard about the infamous YouTube video that was posted by two Domino's employees, and the response video that was posted by the company's US President. This begs a curious investigation into what crisis or issue management really means, and the major difference between reactive positioning, and proactive or preemptive relationship management.

In watching the employee-posted video, if you put aside the sheer idiocy and disregard for human decency, you can also see a clear desire to self-express. The female employee even qualifies this at the beginning by saying how bored she is. The other male employee, a gay man, makes a couple of references to his sexual orientation and makes it clear that he is frustrated in his own way. Does this excuse their actions? Certainly not. But it does make a case for the notion that these impostors could have just as easily been evangelists if they were truly empowered to do so. By simply giving them a voice.

When you look at the internal branding efforts from companies like American Express (OPEN), Pfizer (Health Solutions) and Dell (several programs), you realize that empowering employees to express themselves gives the brand unprecedented access to new levels of sentiment. Further, when you look at the fact that people are thrilled just to be a part of brand exchanges, you also realize that negative perceptions can be reshaped through transparent conversation. For example, over 95% of all WOM conversations, no matter how negative the sentiment was going in, inevitably turn towards the positive by simply acknowledging the consumer or employee.

So, what does this really mean? It means a few things:

- Give employees and consumers an intranet and extranet platform to speak their minds before a crisis like Domino's happens; you can respond accordingly, and best case scenario, you can develop them into superusers and "uber" brand evangelists.

- Filter out "deconstructive" elements from sheer negative ones, and keep those touch-points alive throughout ongoing conversations so that brand perception can build up its own equity in an authentic way.

- Give the public "shades of the bad"; acknowledgment and accountability breeds credibility; like people, brands are imperfect and are entitled to act imperfectly, provided they own up to it when they do.

- Use a debate context within the organization - opposing sides - to enlist and engender points of view on the outside. Arguing is good, provided there are solutions available.

So, outfit your employees with cameras. Teach them to blog. Encourage them to tweet. Give them channels of expression that allow them to not only share their insights, but build community ties around them. That way, as a brand, it's likely you'll never find yourself having to apologize for something you didn't advocate in the first place.

Twitter, Local Search, and Social Relevancy

Twitter is inherently local, relevant, and social. They’ve organically created a powerful mix of content and relationships, and there are a couple of simple things that they can do to unlock more value, and that local businesses can do to leverage the platform.

Twitter has a great opportunity here to further develop a system that adds true social and geographic relevance to search. There’s much more to say about that, and this discussion is meant to focus on some specific UI changes that uncover more of the value in Twitter search from a social and geo standpoint. In the short term, it would be great to see an indication of social relevance: maybe a graphic bug that indicates how “close” the tweet is to me in my Twitter social network. Geographically, I like what they’ve done with the “near:” option in the search query, and for travelers or people that don’t read the manual, maybe a “show me results near me” checkbox could be a simpler solution.

As Twitter volume and usage grows, what are the opportunities in this area for local businesses?

Here’s an example I just took a look at. Lou On Vine is a local restaurant in Los Angeles that we really enjoy. The owner has an interesting and offbeat wine cellar, and their food is sourced from small farms locally and across the US. The menu changes regularly. They’ve gotten some good press, and are a little off the beaten path in terms of location. If they were up on Twitter, I’d certainly follow them if they announced new wines, menu changes, weekday specials, and so on. I might even RT if I saw something I was particularly enthusiastic about.

For the local business owner, this is simple, quick, and effective. Local businesses do not always have the time and attention required to create a full-fledged email program - maintaining lists, designing emails, writing paragraphs of content, and so on. This small effort brings them into a huge mass of potential customers that are already grouped – very generally – by common interests and social ties. If I re-tweet a LouOnVine message, it’s going to my followers – a group that is likely at least a little more interested in this type of restaurant than the general population.

And when someone searches on Twitter for “Lou on Vine” they’ll see that menu change or new wine, or my re-tweet. When someone I follow is in LA and searches for “good restaurants” and checks the “select results near me,” maybe they’ll see a tweet of mine referencing Lou On Vine , and that I’m very close to them on the social graph.

If you run a local business, don’t wait: start a business account on Twitter. It literally takes 2 minutes. Then at least once a week post relevant messages that are useful to customers and potential customers. Follow people in the area that are passionate about, or at least interested in, the types of services or products you provide. Twitter is a great way to get more out of your valuable relationships and content.

Other thoughts on Twitter and Local Search? Let me know on Twitter!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Snacklish in Action - Adaptive Targeting

A colleague of mine has been keeping me up to date through Facebook on the brilliant Snickers "Snacklish" initiative. What it represents are the first initial steps to interweave social media elements within a more traditional campaign construct. Everyday non-descript items are replaced within Snickers billboards and posters and the "adaptive" messages - really conversational points - are streamed through social nets like Facebook and other photo-sharing platforms.

There are two things that are absolutely cool about this:

1. It turns the notion of display advertising (of all types) completely on its head, making it dynamic; and

2. It allows consumer advocates to develop messaging alongside the brand, as well as see it displayed in more "organic" or "legacy" environments.

So in trying to avoid a deep-dive into semantics, we can also look at this as a new form of "adaptive targeting". Adaptive is the operative word here because the communication mechanism goes beyond a push feature that is location or content-based, and into a realm where conversation drives messaging in more of a ubiquitous sense. In other words, the medium really is the message, and that can exist just about anywhere and at any given time.

This is also an exciting peek into how "offline" media is starting to resurge, in large part due to the influence of social media. Just wait until real-time feeds (like those through Twitter) create more widespread activation...the possibilities are limitless!

The Theories Behind Connectivity - On Production & Products

On production and products...

You may know your product better than anyone. But what you probably don't know is what that product means to everyone.

Perception is key, and ever-changing.

Production is the art of understanding your audience.

Producing content is about aggregating ideas and reshaping them perspective and context.

Producing great content is about the experience you associate with that product, and one that you can share in perpetuity. 

33% of online Americans sat they engage in product research to help them make a purchase decision. (Insight Report from MarketTools, September 2008). Forrester estimates that almost $400 billion of store sales - or 16% of total retail sales - are directly influenced by the Web as consumers research products online and purchase them offline. This will grow at a 17% CAGR over the next five years, resulting in more than $1 trillion of store sales by 2012. Affluent visitors (with annual incomes of more than $75K) are most likely to research products online before buying (43%). (Insight Report)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Theories Behind Connectivity - Technology & Production

In backing up a previous post on The Theory of Connectivity, we thought it might be time to look into some of the development components of why people connect with brands, particularly as these conversations are conducted through select media channels.

On technology...

You can't be everything to everyone. But you can be everywhere at all times. Well, at least in theory.

You can mash up tools, but you're really mashing up people, as well as the ideas they represent.

Remember that people relate to people, not pixels.

Who do you think you're having a conversation with?

On average, 3.5 billion WOM (Word of Mouth) conversations occur daily in the U.S. Offline WOM accounts for 92% of these (75% face-to-face; 17% by phone); email, IM/text messaging and chatrooms/blogs account for a combined 7% (Keller Fay Group, June 2008)

On production...

Everything is "user generated", including the ideas behind your TV spot or print ad. Where do you think you got the idea in the first place?

The question remains as to whether or not you recognize that collaboration. "Traditional" and "non-traditional" are just descriptors to delineate actions, not experiences.

Your experience is your own and you can share it in anyway and with anyone you'd like.

Approximately 60% of Americans use social media, and an overwhelming majority of these (93%) say companies should have a social media presence, while 85% of social media users believe these companies should not only be present but should interact with consumers using these same channels. Among social media users, 59% interact with companies on social media websites and one in four interacts more than once per week. Some 56% of social media users feel both a stronger connection with and are better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment. (Cone, September 2008)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Time to "Twiggle"

Ok, so it seems that not only is Google running contextually-based ads (check out the Turbo Tax example), but there are the talks that Google will be acquiring Twitter to the tune of $250M. A few posts back we examined the possibilities of what Google's search prospects would be, considering the flood of queries that are now indexed by social media sites and related content. To no surprise of us all, Google is making a play, one way or another.

We can draw speculation all day on the value of a potential deal, but let's re-examine for a moment what this means for the purity of a microblog like Twitter, and consequently, for search engines.

First, are Twitter searches going to be mostly populated with sponsored links?

Second, are Google searches going to mostly index "favorable" Twitter keywords?

Third, is cross-linking via bookmarks going to be "strong-armed" by the Google index?

Lastly, if all indices are subject to query domination in this way, is this the pawn strike for the search giant to wipe out it's competition for good?

Let me just qualify this by saying that I am a Google fan, and have seen the company and its founders do some great things, not just for technology, but for humanity. It seems we've only scratched the surface on where its ties to social media and microblogging go. I just hope for the sake of all of us that Google doesn't lose site of its altruism in the quest to innovate.