Practical marketing information for small to midsize marketers from Nader Ashway in NYC

Archive for the ‘Internet/Tech Thingys’ Category

Rainbow-colored Research

fb_pride_pic_maker

So, were you one of the millions who “rainbowed” your profile pic on Facebook to show your support following the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage? I was, and quite happily. Then the Atlantic ran this story,  speculating that perhaps Facebook was conducting some far-reaching “experiment” on its users. It also speculates (in the subtext, of course,) that Facebook has likely done this before, and leads readers to surmise that the company may even be actively doing it for pay.

Facebook has never made any claims that it is NOT collecting your data, even on a random Wednesday. In their data policy, which you can find at  https://www.facebook.com/policy.php,  they clearly state – in a jillion different ways:

“we collect the content and other information you provide when you use our Services”

and

“we collect information about how you use our Services”

and

“we collect content and information that other people provide…about you”

and

“we collect information about the people and groups your are connected to”

and

“if you use our Services for purchases of financial transactions…we collect information about the purchase or transaction.”

Now, it’s likely that out of the billion or so users on Facebook, approximately 23 of us have probably read the privacy policy in its entirety. (Busted!) In a previous post on this blog,  I’ve asked about why consumers are so busted up about online tracking, when it makes our lives so much better, and more streamlined. As I said then, tailoring makes our lives better. Cookies make our lives (and our online experiences) better.

If we boil this down to its essence, we’d likely see that the average or typical social media participant is more than okay with the idea that their information and online activity are being tracked in an effort to achieve various ends, like a cooler/faster/more contextual social media experience, or more targeted advertising, or even for social studies. And although we don’t typically read the privacy policy, we’re probably pretty much okay with it, as long as you don’t snag my credit card and go buy $800 worth of frozen pizzas at Wal-Mart.

And so what if Facebook WAS conducting some big-data test with the pride-your-profile-pic exercise? Big woop.  It’s astounding that, in an age where we share more personal information than ever, that we’ve become so hyper-sensitized to that information maybe kinda sorta being “used” for some purposes other than my Grandma Susie seeing my latest motocross bike race. (It was kind of badass, by the way.)

Whether we like it or not, we’re slowly but surely crossing the threshold from web 2.0 to (the social web) to web 3.0 (the predictive web) as a result of all this data tracking that’s going on. It, too, will ultimately make our lives better in ways we probably can’t even imagine right now.

So let’s do a snap poll – provide a simple YES or NO answer in the comments section below (and of course, any comments you care to share are more than welcome):

Are you okay with social media corporations like Facebook and Twitter monitoring your online activity to make assumptions or test hypotheses, whether they be theoretical or commercial in nature?

I’ll start. YES!

Affiliate Retargeting: the next, next thing?

In marketing, there’s almost nothing new under the sun. Even new developments in mobile and RTB are just platform-leveraging automations and algorithmically-enhanced functions of previous procedures. But what would happen if we took two sort-of-new concepts and smashed them together?

Here’s what I’m talking about: we all have a pretty good idea of what affiliate marketing is. In this arrangement, a marketer pays an affiliate on a performance basis for referral clicks from prospects. Clicks are more likely to occur when the prospect has trust in the content provider and understands that there’s an implied endorsement of the marketer’s product or service. The financial model is typically a revenue share.

 

affiliate_model

 

We also have a clear understanding of what retargeting is. In this arrangement, a cookie is dropped on a potential customer’s computer after they’ve visited a particular site. For a period of time, that prospect is served display ads for that site/product/service, creating context and recall. The financial model is typically on a CPM basis.

 

retargeting_model

Both of these are used in many ways, with varying degrees of frequency, and usually as a component in an integrated digital marketing plan. But what if we took these two models and smashed them together?

I’d call it affiliate retargeting.

In this arrangement, a prospect visits a site and consumes or browses content. A cookie is dropped on that prospect’s computer, and then contextual and relevant ads would follow that prospect around the web for a period of time. However, the ads would not be simply from the site the prospect visited, but rather from affiliated, relevant marketers that have made an arrangement with the content provider around certain keywords and targeting variables. (I smell an algorithm cooking!)

 

affiliate_retargeting_model

For vertical marketers, in either consumer or business marketing, this could create much deeper context and help prospects connect the dots. Here’s a simple example:

Let’s say you have a prominent blog in the popular music category. Let’s call the blog “MusicToday.com.” The site gets serious traffic, and discusses all the latest news, releases, tour information and more for various artists, categorized by genre. A prospect visits the site, reads an article about a country artist like Carrie Underwood, then exits the site. For the next several weeks, any number of marketers may be interested in serving ads to that prospect, especially if we could ascertain some basic targeting parameters:

  • A television network may be about to broadcast a special featuring the artist and is looking to increase tune-in. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.
  • The record company may be trying to push a Carrie Underwood greatest hits album, or tour dates. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.
  • A fashion brand may have a co-marketing deal with the artist, and wants to drive traffic to stores to check out her new line of signature jeans. They may be one of the retargeters affiliated with MusicToday.com.

In this arrangement, the affiliate would purchase the display ads (through an automated partner of course,) and pay a CPM for the impressions. The retargeters would pay the affiliate on the same model, but likely with a premium added for a more “qualified” or “targeted” impression. They may also set up an arrangement where conversions pay out on a revenue share model.

With all this talk about “brands as publishers,” this would really create a model where any blogger, content provider, gossip site, even corporate marketer could become a publisher in the truest sense of the word.

Is affiliate retargeting being done currently in b-to-b or b-to-c? If it is, I’d love to know how partners are arranging these deals, how they’re measuring/tracking performance and what kind of automation is being leveraged.

If it’s not being done, what the heck are we waiting for?

What happens in the sky might be solved in the cloud.

aviation_image

At this point, nearly two weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, the only certainty is the source of the next conspiracy theory.  We’ve heard every theory from hijacking to pilot suicide to computer hacking terrorism.  There’s no plane.  There’s no physical evidence.  There’s no group claiming responsibility.  And the worst part – there’s no concrete data to tell us where that plane was, where it was heading, or what might have gone wrong.  Some of the best thinking, not unsurprisingly, is being forwarded on WIRED.com.

Why is that?

It turns out that, as astounding an engineering feat it may be to get 30 tons of aluminum aloft and cruising at 500 mph, there really is not that much new “technology” in aviation.  Sure, there are on-board computers, there are advanced avionics systems, there’s radar and so on.  But in terms of how planes are tracked, the systems are still pretty crude.

In the United States, for instance, there can be upwards of 50,000 aircraft flying through the skies on any given day.  These are tracked through the air route traffic control centers (ARTCC) using basic radio frequencies.  A plane flying from New York to Los Angeles, for instance, is simply “handed off” from one ARTCC to the next, until it’s close enough to talk to the air traffic control tower (ATCT) at Los Angeles.  Along the way, they’re instructed on basic parameters:  what altitude to fly at, what heading to take and so on.  And flights heading across oceans don’t even have real-time contact:  they’re given a heading, an altitude, and they simply “check in” via high frequency radio with control centers that can be sometimes thousands of miles away.

When a plane crashes (a rare occurrence, in terms of probability,) or disappears (even less likely,) the investigation usually focuses on finding the “black box.”  The black box houses a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  These record all kinds of information about the flight, including the mechanical data, and the conversations between the cockpit and the towers.

Why not modernize the flight data recording and cockpit voice recordings into a more technologically advanced system?  For instance, why doesn’t every commercial flight have a real-time data stream to the cloud?  From the time a plane is at the gate, through takeoff and climb, flight routing, approach and landing, EVERYTHING can be uploaded in real-time to the cloud.

This would be big data indeed.  On the receiving end, interested parties (from the airplane manufacturers to airline system executives to airports,) can monitor that data for all kinds of information BEFORE anything happens.  Think of the advances that might be realized:

  • A real-time data stream can tell the pilots and the airline about on-the-ground conditions, such as tire pressures, tire wear (heck even your basic automobile can do that,) hydraulics systems, power systems, computer systems and more.
  • In-flight data streams can inform on other conditions like rate of burn on fuel, weather-related data (triangulated with the aircraft’s current heading and velocity,) best altitudes for certain legs, engine efficiency and diagnostics and even act as the precursor to ATC at arriving airports for more streamlined trafficking.  Every interested party could tap into segments of the data set for relevant and actionable information.
  • Imagine – if the real-time data recording detects any glitch whatsoever, the awaiting airport can have the appropriate crews ready to remedy the problem and get the plane back in the air sooner than later.  That’s good for the airline, and for impatient passengers.
  • With big data providing in-air information, manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus can have access to a wealth of information about their aircraft, providing a post-sale, ongoing flight test to make longer-term observations and in turn, inform their engineering teams with an up-to-the-moment feedback loop.
  • With big data, we could probably streamline airport efficiency as well. (Yay!)

But mostly, the benefits of big data center around safety.  Big data is, at worst, informative.  And at best, it’s predictive.  If we could predict when issues might arise (even at the probability level,) we could keep pilots, crews and passengers safe, and probably avert any more, um, disappearing aircraft.

But why isn’t this done on a global scale?  There are drawbacks to such a proposal, to be sure.

  • Any system that can be built is eventually at the risk of being hacked.  Duly noted.  So we build in the world’s most sophisticated security (like every government/defense/space program has,) and find ways to packet, encrypt and protect.
  • There’s the sheer heft.  We’re talking storage in the yottabytes and a data center the size of Topeka.
  • This most likely hasn’t been done because it would be prohibitively expensive.  To the tune of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars to craft, build, deploy and maintain a data system of this magnitude.  And then there’s the storage/archiving issue.

But think about it:  that cost could be amortized by every airline, manufacturer and aviation association in the world, and if it carries with it the promise of improved safety, greater efficiency, and predictive analytics, who wouldn’t be in favor of that?

We have entered the age of the Internet of Things.  Our homes are warmed by “smart” thermostats that are remotely controllable.  We have “smart” TVs and “smart” dishwashers and “smart” refrigerators to enhance our entertainment choices and the temperature of our water. So why not a smarter aviation infrastructure?

But who could build such a vast and predictive data center?  I don’t know for sure, but it might rhyme with Froogle.

Why, Hightail?

The very popular file sharing service, formerly known as YouSendIt, has now changed their name to Hightail.  No, keep reading…I’m serious.

This is what their homepage takeover message looks like:

hightail_takeover

So the obvious question is…why?  And let me qualify that question with some color.

Why, if you’re a file sharing service, a service that allows YOU to take a large file and SEND IT to someone else (for free on the basic plan, I might add) change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

Why, if you’ve invested all this time and money for nine years in the back end cloud storage virtualized pool infrastructure, and invested in acquisitions and technological upgrades, and invested in marketing and advertising, would you change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

Why, even if you’re announcing broadening your offering from file sharing into digital file collaboration services, would you change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

Why, when there’s nine years of brand equity built up, when you’ve outlasted some pretty high profile would-be competitors, (including the flailing DropBox,) when you’ve gotten 4 out of 5 stars from PC Magazine, when you’re finally turning a profit on the premium services, when you’ve become the generic term for Internet file sharing services (literally, people verb-ize file sharing as “I’ll YouSendIt to you later,”) would you change your name from YouSendIt to, well, anything else?

It could be a number of things.  It could be new CEO Brand Garlinghouse (formerly of Yahoo!) putting his fingerprint on the company he’s been appointed to run.

It could be that YouSendIt doesn’t sound sexy or silly enough, and they wanted to sound more like Yahoo!, or Hulu, or Etsy or whatever.

YouSendIt could have done a lot of things to refresh – which they’ve done with Hightail.  New, HTML5-coded website.  New features.  New look and feel.  Heck, they could have updated the logo.

And the folks at Hightail know the name thing is an issue.  It merits above-the-fold position on their homepage with a message that says “watch this short video to learn why we changed our name.”  Yes.  Let’s:

Okay, but still, the new name thing confounds me.  In the video, you hear some of the talking heads saying things like “the name YouSendIt constrained us in terms of our vision.”  [Tell THAT to Google.]  And “we don’t want a name that holds us back.”  And my favorite “we finally have a second chance to make a first impression.”  And that’s the quote that really stands out for me.

Because here’s the dirty little secret about branding that nobody teaches you in b-school.  You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.  You only get one chance to make one impression to one prospect at a time.  And in my opinion, Hightail doesn’t make a bad impression.  It does something far worse.  It makes no impression at all.  It confuses rather than clarifies.

Don’t get me wrong.  I get “hightail” as a verb.  “I’ll hightail it over to you.”  Or “you hightail it over to me.”  But we’re not talking about meetings here.  [Really, “I’ll hightail it over to you” means “I’ll be right there.”  Not “I’ll get you that large file right away.”  So there’s even a semantics issue. Ugh.] Plus, it’s such a hipster-cum-corporate-acceptable piece of jargon. I wonder if they’re now headquartered in Dumbo?

From a pure brand perspective, the truth is that YouSendIt was a GREAT name for a brand.  It was functional.  It was short and sweet.  But mostly, and bestly (?) it conveyed a promise (You.  Send.  It. ) which, after all, is the heavy lifting of a brand.

Let’s watch and see what happens together.

Pardon Me, May I Borrow Some Equity?

From a marketing perspective, Audi is having a strong first half of 2013. They started with this spectacular Super Bowl Spot, which I also covered in my Super Bowl Advertising Roundup.

As you can see, this spot is really strong advertising, very well executed, and by most accounts, very well received. Kudos to the team at Venables Bell & Partners for 60 seconds of fine storytelling, excellently produced.

What I really admire is the borrowed equity. Audi uses the (classic) high school prom and all its teenage-I-don’t-really-fit-in-and-I’m-secretly-in-love-with-that-girl angst as the thrust agent to propel the underlying storyline. There’s so much being said, without actually being said, that provides backdrop and motivation to the spot. In virtually any other scenario, you’d have to spend a lot of valuable airtime to establish that emotional context. Borrow some “prom” equity, and it’s built in. Smart.

Now, Audi releases another gem, a viral video called “The Challenge.” It’s a two minute and 44 second short featuring Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy. For the four of you who can’t make that connection, they both share the role of Spock from the Star Trek fiction series, and this video is released just weeks before the next installment of the blockbuster film franchise “Into Darkness” is released nationwide. [Interestingly, and clearly not coincidentally, Audi is NOT the “official auto partner” of Star Trek. It’s Mazda. And they’ve gotta be pissed over there in Anaheim.] Take a look.

Again, aside from the fact that this is a really good piece of content, with a couple of really good laughs around the old man vs young turk struggle, it’s the Trekkie/Nimoy references buried in the action, the Star-Trek-ism of it all that fuels the comedic undertone. It’s geeky, and quirky, and you’re almost waiting for Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” to make a cameo. By the way, did you notice that shameless kick in the crotch that Audi levels on Mercedes-Benz? OUCH.

In the short, there are plenty of jokes, and Nimoy even reprises his old Bilbo Baggins vocalizing as part of it. It’s camp. It’s fun. It’s for FANS. It’s content dissemination that’s approaching four million views as of this writing. Yeah. FOUR MILLION.

In both cases, Audi was smart and crafty enough to pull some strong messaging together and dress it up with sexy shots of the latest A7 vehicle. But they go a step further and deliver those messages to consumers in powerful emotional packages that ALREADY have trust and memory and gravity built in. It is indeed “fascinating,” and I, for one, can’t wait to see what they do the rest of this year.

Live long and prosper.

[This article first appeared on Technorati.]

Facebook’s Mobile Phone: Three Reasons to “Unlike”

facebook-phone

Concept art courtesy of Gizmodo

Facebook is set to announce this Thursday the release of the Facebook Phone in partnership with HTC. According to the latest mobile report from The New York Times, the plans are to manufacture the first smartphone designed around the total social/sharing experience that Facebook enables. Maybe it’ll be called PhoneBook? Ugh.

On paper, it’s a really good idea. More than a billion people use Facebook on a regular basis to connect with friends, weigh in on political ideas, and just generally brag. And as it turns out, MOST of them are posting, liking and commenting from a mobile device.

However, this announcement is NOT on paper. It’s real. And on most levels, it’s kind of silly. Facebook has become one of the most visible, one of the most recognized, and one of the most important brands on the planet, (although, according to the stock price relative to the IPO, NOT one of the most valuable.)

And yet, with all the Stanford MBAs on staff in their marketing and operations departments, is there anyone there voicing an opinion that this is a thinly veiled brand extension that’s simply designed to appease shareholders with a strategy to create more revenue streams? Because, let’s face it folks, that’s what it is.

The subtext of the “exciting” and “new” direction for Facebook is to have another screen for advertising. Period. Facebook’s entire valuation was built – however hastily, however erred – on the idea that a billion+ eyeballs is a road paved with advertising gold. Add another screen, and you can charge another scale. The new rate card must be getting a design makeover just like the news feed.

But that road to gold, being paved this week with this mobile announcement, is pocked with obstacles. From a marketing perspective, these three obstacles indicate a likely FAIL and another rough year for Zuck & Co.

Obstacle #1: A partnership with a questionable partner.
Facebook is partnering with HTC, a manufacturer that, as of the end of 2012, has less than 5% of the total global smart phone market share. What’s worse, the HTC moniker is inextricably linked with another epic fail of corporate overreach, RIM, and the BlackBerry platform.

Why not partner with the #1 or #2 player? With the heft of Facebook, why not approach Samsung or Apple and design a custom “version” of their popular phones designed more smartly around the Facebook experience? The full version of Android (the HTC model is using a modified version of the system,) or iOS would provide more seamless integration into the consumer’s current mobile experience. Facebook is still acting like a startup strapped for cash, when it should be carrying itself with the mien that they ALREADY have a seat at the big boy table.

Obstacle #2: Consumer adoption.
Brand extensions are a dangerous proposition, even in the best-case scenarios. And in this case, (which is not the best case,) it’s super-duper dangerous. As it stands, the consumer already has the option to have a BETTER piece of hardware than HTC, (with S3 and the soon-to-be-the-most-popular-phone-on-the-planet S4 or any of Apple’s iPhones,) a BETTER piece of software via the Facebook app on either the Droid or iOS platform, and the chances are the consumer ALREADY owns a device she’s happy with.

So it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to rush out and buy an inferior piece of hardware, running an inferior operating system to run an OS that’s focused on a social network so they can take pictures and post status updates from their home screens. The rest of the world already does that with relative ease and great enthusiasm.

Obstacle #3: Increased operational workflow and costs.
As if Facebook doesn’t have enough going on internally, (acquisition plans, acquired partners spinning off, implementation of contextual advertising, implementation of graph search, etc.,) now they’ll have to add a bunch of new pieces. This might include a coding team to fix v.1 bugs, a customer service department devoted to mobile, internal teams to interface with HTC, a dev team to work on v.2 and beyond, marketing and advertising expenditures around the device, operations around packaging and distribution and on and on. Yeccchhh.

I’m no Stanford MBA, but when you have increased operational expenditures, increased marketing expenditures and are projecting – at best – to penetrate a 5% piece of the pie, chances are you’re going to have to dip into your pocket to support this new initiative with a boatload of short-term cash.

Zuck, here’s my advice. KILL this deal before it erodes the stock price and further erodes consumer perception about Facebook quickly becoming the “uncool” social platform.

Want some free ideas?

– Blame HTC as an unreliable partner.
– Cite your unusually high expectations for the platform as a reason to delay the rollout.
– Say you’re working on even bigger and better features and you think you’ll roll out by Christmas.

In the last year or so in Menlo Park, you’ve already misstepped with the privacy policy bungle, the pace of HTML 5 integration, un-hipping Instagram and more. Right now, you need some WINS. And acquiring Hot Studio last week is not what I mean.

Wanna have lunch?

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Samsung Galaxy S3 ads: a “touch” of tech FAIL

I’ve been seeing these Samsung Galaxy SIII commercials for months now.  You know, the one where two people “touch” phones and magically share stuff, like playlists or videos?  The first spot (not included here,) made its debut just prior to the release of the iPhone 5, and poked some good fun at Apple and their devotees waiting on long lines for the next great phone offering.  Samsung apparently has gotten good feedback from these spots, and they’ve rushed out several more.

Take a look:

And while I think they’re very good commercials (they each create a moment of drama centered around the product – that’s always good in advertising,) I’m just not sure it’s very good technology.

Let’s get this straight.  We’ve packed supercomputer technology (no really, the average smartphone today has more actual digital technology in its main chip than NASA – all of it combined – had at its disposal to launch the Apollo rocket into space,) into a tiny wireless device that fits in your pocket and runs practically all day on one battery charge.  With a smartphone, you can send a message – text, photo, video – INSTANTLY to your cousin in Kuala Lumpur (doesn’t everyone have a cousin there?) by pressing a few buttons.  [And actually – unless your name is Blackberry – there are no buttons!  It’s just glass with pictures of buttons! ]  With a smartphone, you can download music from the ether, and then listen to it in a matter of seconds.   With a smartphone, you can play an interactive video game, along with three friends in three different cities, in real-time.  And with these cooky add-ons called apps, you can harness vast amounts of neatly packaged information about whether or not your plane is on time, the history of nearly everything, how your stocks are doing and your absolute place in the world through a global positioning satellite.

So with ALL THAT technology literally and figuratively at your fingertips, are we supposed to be impressed that you can “touch” phones and share information?  Is that really a big deal?  Let me make it easy for you:  no, it’s not a big deal at all.

In fact, it’s counterintuitive.  For more on that, see my earlier post on Intuitive Marketing.  Because the very essence of having a wireless device is to figuratively “connect” you to people who are NOT close to you.  This idea of having to be in the same physical space as someone to enjoy the fullness of the phone is downright dopey.  It’s cheap.  It’s a throwaway feature that somehow got left in, and now Samsung is spending tens of millions of dollars trying to convince us how cool it is.   It’s not cool to touch phones.  Actually, I think it’s a little weird.  What’s next?  The Samsung Galaxy S4, now with WIRES to connect to every phone together?

Look in your own smartphone right now.  I’ll wait.  Of all your contacts, how many of them are within one square mile of where you are?  Not many, right?

So let me be very clear here as to why this advertising is twisting my knickers.  Samsung is essentially taking the LEAST useful, least helpful feature of their product and making it the MAIN focus of their advertising.  It’s like BMW running a complete campaign for their latest luxury model and focusing on the idea that you can roll down the windows with this neat little bar that you can insert into the door and turn it over and over again until the window is down.  Sure, the car’s got power windows that let you do that with the touch of a button, but LOOK!  You can roll it down by hand if you want! Ugh.

Lesson for all marketers, big and small:  be proud of your products, and celebrate them and their features through advertising.  But go to the HIGHEST value of your product (not the most gimmick-ey,) and start there.  Don’t beat us over the head with something that’s really not that important, or even really that cool, and then try to convince your audience that it is.  That’s not just bad advertising.  It’s bad business.

This article first appeared on Technorati.

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