All Commerce is E-Commerce

“Retail has become a blur. And the blurring is 100 percent driven by technology,” says Tige Savage, a partner at AOL founder Steve Case’s investment company, Revolution, which is investing in new online retail startups. “Are you at the store? Or is the store at you? And then there’s mobile, the store is in your pocket. The game is to satisfy demand wherever and whenever it is.”

Good article from the MIT Technology Review on the pervasiveness of technology in commerce. Part of a well timed focus this month on the growth of multi-channel commerce.

 

Brands *Should* Be Publishers

With so much discussion about “content marketing“, brands are learning that they need to think and act like publishers if they want to thrive in social media. But, while brands may aspire to be like RedBull (the most well know example of Brand as publisher), there are still some real questions about whether most brands will actually be able to do it. My answer is a definitive “yes”, brands can do it. More to the point, i think the best brands *have* to adopt the mindset of publishers to win in a socially connected consumer landscape. But, brands will have to get over philosophical, business and operational barriers if they want to do what great publishers do.

At the most basic, great publishers do the following:

  • Make useful stuff: Publishers deliver useful – interesting, helpful, inspiring, entertaining – material to people who can use it. Whether it’s a magazine or a radio show, a TV network or a website, the exchange between publisher and end user has to be based on a certain level of utility
  • Build an Audience: Publishers build a reachable audience – consistent, identifiable, unique, engaged – over time around that material.

Seems pretty straightforward. Why would this be hard for brands? First, most brands today don’t have the basic service orientation. It’s just a philosophical disconnect. Brands are inherently interruptive and self-centered (“Buy me!”). They are all about using annoying TV ads and banners to deliver their own message in order to drive short term results for themselves. In order to make the transition, and build an audience that cares, brands will have to adopt “service first, message later” as a core philosophy.

Great publishers see their audience as a core asset that can be translated into revenue opportunities. An active, engaged audience that’s growing takes investment, time, and careful support. That long-term business perspective runs counter to the short term urgency most companies bring to their brand building. Brands typically see advertising media as a painful expense to minimize in the short term. To fully adopt a publisher mindset, brands will need to embrace a long-term business orientation, and see the investment in audience building as a modern way to create a valuable business asset.

Operationally, the vast majority of brands will struggle with the content production process. But, it’s going to be even more important for brands to develop a consistent and unique editorial lens. Great publishing ventures need great editors, someone who can discern what’s great for the audience and pushes the editorial agenda. Brands will struggle with any message that isn’t pushing their campaign message or product features. When faced with a decision about whether to invest scarce resources into an article that’s useful vs. one that delivers their campaign message, 99% of marketers will go with the one that “sells” more. To truly deliver on “brand as publisher”, brands will have to put their audience needs before their own.

Brands can overcome these challenges and the potential upside is significant for those willing to work at it.   But what happens to brands that don’t adapt? They won’t evolve their spending mix and will remain reliant on paid adverting too long. They won’t adapt their brand, and instead of connecting with people on a higher emotional or aspirational level, they’ll simply blast out their features and benefits, losing relevance :15 at a time. They’ll miss the chance to build assets, and keep throwing money at ads. While it may require brands to work against their long grooved instincts, those that commit will end up with a built in audience, content that drives interaction and, eventually, a valuable marketing asset.

Content Designed for Sharing

We’ve all been watching examples of great brand efforts that
resulted in a lot of sharing and discussion of brand content.  That is, content that gets shared or passed
around (like the first Man Your Man Could Smell Like or the Darth Vader VW
spot) or talked about a lot (like Old Spice WolfDog efforts or the recent Dove
work). We all get excited about the idea of this kind of content for the right
reasons:

  • Friend to friend sharing is a much more efficient way for
    your content to get reach. You don’t have to pay for the media
  • Friend to friend sharing comes with an implied endorsement,
    so it’s more likely to be received well
  • Word of mouth drives interest in the brand
  • It’s generally done digitally, so you can often see the data
    trail
  • And, when it’s digital, it can live pretty much forever in
    the Google search results (for better or worse).
  • Ultimately, it just makes your paid media work harder

 A lot of the examples we see seem like viral magic, an
alchemic reaction cooked up by a lucky wizard. But, increasingly, we’re seeing
examples that are pre-planned and pre-programmed for sharing; creative efforts
that were specifically designed and built for sharing, which is different than
how we typically approach it. We generally plan a great TV idea, then seek
something else – “surround”, social content, magic influencer dust – that gets
our stuff shared.  In the worst cases, we
try to engineer the sharing of a tv spot, something that is, by almost all
definitions, content for a passive audience. It’s doomed to fail. Except for
some edge cases, nobody cares enough about your tv ad to share it with their
friends.

 So, how do you design creative and execution specifically for
sharing? No one has the secret, but the two examples below characterize the best
of what I’m seeing when brands try to generate a lot of sharing (vs. simple
awareness) and discussion.

 Oreo
– Wonderfilled

You can almost hear the brief on this one. “the Daily Twist
worked great; we’ve got 33 million fans. How do we get people – young people –
talking about our product, preferably online?” Or, put more simply: Get as many
people as possible creating content about our brand: sharing it, talking about,
reacting to it, etc. From the very conception, this was an idea that was about
social sharing and discussion as much as it was about the product and brand.

First: What is it that they created? Is it an ad? A music
video? A song? A commercial? Social Object? All of the above?

 Second: the idea was open ended and designed for a consumer
response – “What would happen if *you* were given an oreo?” It almost
demands the consumer think about it and perhaps respond.

 Third: The execution was truly talkable. Remarkable, even.

  • Owl City is either loved or loathed, depending on who you
    are. Hipsters in Brooklyn probably moaned, but the tweens and young adults
    cheered. They all did it on social media.
  • The song is, depending on your perspective, either awesome or
    sacharine. No middle ground. Lots of debate.
  • The idea of top of the pops singer writing a love song to a
    brand
    ? Sellout! Savvy! Debatable.
  • Even the animation was discussable

 Fourth: The rollout was designed for sharing:

  • Stunt media buy: They launched it as a 90 during madmen, when
    all the ad nerds were watching, knowing it would generate discussion. Lots to
    discuss:

    • A 90! Who does those?
    • Visually, it was SO different from the show, it was
      noteworthy just by juxtaposition
    • They did a 90 so the ad skippers would  HAVE to see it and go back (“What was
      THAT?!?”)
  •  They rolled it out via their FB page (33 mm fans)
  • They had OwlCity tweet it to his fans (>1M) and Twitter
    followers (>1MM)
  • They supported it with lots of PR and events (again, to get
    the kids talking)

 In hindsight, it’s really, really clear that their goal was
to do something remarkable, in a remarkable way so that people would talk
about, giving extra reach to their efforts. TV was just the stimulus to get the
talking started.

 

REI-
Sharing as part of a Collaborative project

 REI recently launched their 1440 project with the goal of
capturing 24 hours of people doing what they loved in nature (1440 minutes).
Pictures for every minute of the day. It’s one of my favorite projects I’ve
seen. For REI, “sharing” was a way to generate both incremental reach (through
the shared content) but also a way to create a marketing asset.  For every picture contributed, REI asked the
contributor to share it to *their* networks. And, each image became part
of the overall collection, available for all future visitors. Plus, this effort
resulted in at least 1440 pieces of content that could get shared out to REI’s
network over the course of the year, and presumably each of those 1440+ images
were good enough that when published to REI’s feed, the fans/followers would
then like/retweet or favorite the images out
to their network.

 
5-15-2013 3-57-32 PM
But, to me, the best part of this project is that it comes
right from their values – celebrate being out in nature – and their core
purpose as a coop: A collective effort to help their members have their own
kind of experience, to  inspire and  celebrate others who are doing the same. This
whole project demonstrates their values perfectly.

 

Updated: Agile Methods to Solve Sticky Business Problems? We’ll Try it!

We're going to try something on a project we're kicking off here at work: "Agile" programming methodologies in the service of sticky business problems. We're not coders, but we're going to apply what we understand of the approach. We'll use "stories" to get our focus on the problems we need to crack for the marketers we work with, the stories we want to be able to tell when we've solved them. We'll have a list of these stories and work through them one at a time. We'll do that in quick (2 weeks), focused efforts (aka "sprints"). And, we'll if we don't get it right, we'll iterate through them again until we've got it right. We'll be focusing on "shipping", that is getting the project done and implemented. We'll focus less on the beauty of a comprehensive, centrally controlled process (ie. "waterfall), and more on getting working "software" (ie the tools and methods) into the hands of the teams we work with. Lastly, we're going to try to dramatically improve communication via "huddles" and may even try full team huddles to communicate with a much larger audience. The IT group will probably laugh at how we're doing it, but we're going to take a shot and get it right over time if the first efforts aren't spot on. 

Any suggestions on how to apply agile programming methods to a non-programming problem? 

Updated: 8:30 PM

Lots of good suggestions from folks around the web. For sure, check out Rohn J Millers post on the subject from last year. Lot's of good ideas in there. And, here's a pretty good overview from PJ Shrivasta. Finally, i look forward to re-reading Greg Meyers Agile Marketing Manifesto in a couple months to see how we're doing. 

 

What I Read

I've gotten a number of requests lately (in a very strange coincidence) asking what i read regularly. It's a fairly eclectic list, i guess. Some of these have been in my list forever, some are recent adds.

I generally start the daily consumption with headlines from a couple of core sites. These are my daily early morning reads. Cyclingnews.com is my first stop, where i get the latest news on the professional cycling community and my favorite sport. I also read the headlines and a story or two from Techmeme.com, where you'll get the freshest headlines. I'll also check out the headlines on CNN.com, NYT.com, and Wall Street Journal.com.

I've been really closely watching the rapidly changing editorial/news world. So, about every other day, i'll check out a couple leading content sites for headlines, functionality changes, interface chances, etc. I'm a fan of TheDailybeast.com, Huffingtonpost.com, AOL.com, gawker.com, theawl.com and, for the latest headlines, i read www.mediagazer.com. I've also started reading xojane.com, because i'm a secret fan of Jane Pratt. Forbes, Fast Company  and the Atlantic Wire are really, really great and i should read them more frequently than i do.

I'm a music fan, so i'm almost always listening to Pandora.com throughout the day. NPR.org and Minnesota Public Radio are both dynamite sources for music fans. And, i'll check out www.pitchfork.com or Rollingstone.com occasionally. I also like The SixtyOne because of the awesome/unique interface and the music discovery.

I try to stay up to date on the advertising industry, so i read a couple sites pretty regularly. Advertising Age is the go to. But, Adweek has gotten much better with its recent relaunch. Both are pretty much every other day reads for me. There are a handful of blogs i read pretty regularly where, on average, the writing is much more valuable to me than the industry gossip and puff pieces. Two that are pretty much essential reading are Paul Isaakson and Faris Jacob. And, there are a couple agencies that are doing a great job sharing their knowledge, for example Zeus Jones and the BBH labs team. There are lots more, but that's a pretty good list. 

I spend the most time reading up on internet culture and emerging thinking about how the net is changing everything. There are dozens of regular sites i go to every month, so i wont list them all, but a couple of ones that everyone could learn from include: Clay Shirky (smartest writer on the web), Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine, and Doc Searls.

Other tech news- I read Techcrunch.com and Mashable.com pretty much everyday. Techcrunch.com and Techmeme.com a couple times a day. I like to check out the headlines a couple times a week at Hacker news and Ars Technica.com.

I also read a bunch of OG bloggers, folks who have been blogging since they were called Weblogs. I've learned so, so much from these folks, including most of of what i know about digital culture. I still think the best blogs (not tumbleblogs, though) are the best of what the web has to offer in a lot of ways. If you want to understand what blogging is all about, the give/take, thoughtful analysis, and the interesting stream of smart links, you should read Jason Kottke's Kottke.org, Andy Baio (Waxy.org), and Anil Dash (www.dashes.com). You could also learn a lot from Matt Haughey, Heather Armstrong, Paul Ford, and John Battelle. There are hundreds more, but that's a good list.

There are some general cycling culture sites i check out pretty regularly: Lance Armstrong's twitter feed, Chris Carmichael's twitter feed, Fat Cyclist, and Bikesnob NYC.

And, because i'm in the food business, i look at a lot of food blogs. Dozens. I won't list them all, but here are a couple great sites that are representative of the ones i love: SeriousEats.com, one of the very best multi-author blogs out there, Tastespotting.com, Foodgawker.com, our own Tablespoon.com (Go Erin!), MPLS' Heavytable.com,101cookbooks.com.

Finally, the timewasters i love: the Onion, Buzzfeed, Facebook, twitter, and, the ultimate in web uselessness, AbeVigoda.com

The Digital Brand Advertising Maturity Model: Phase 1 -“TV on the Internet”

A lot of big brands are still trying to figure out digital marketing. They are taking a hodge-podge approach to their efforts, with a little bit here (SEM), and little bit there (their website) and maybe a little excitement dashed in (their facebook presence/twitter stream). But, before big, mass market brands can truly wrap their heads around the concept of being "modern brands", they should get comfortable with what they are doing with basic web display advertising. That is, "TV on the Internet".

TV on the Internet

Big, slow, classic mass-market brands have built their whole marketing model around TV. Their planning calendar is driven by their TV buying and TV production cycles, delivering "campaigns" that are like carpet bombs of 30 second tv spots. Their research tools, processes, and partners are designed to deliver the one true "insight" that will make a great TV spot. The creative messaging is driven and shaped by all the tools they use to conceptualize, vet, test and create their TV spots. The marketers and researchers there have built – literally- whole careers on being great at managing and guiding these processes, blending, when it's done well, the science of marketing and the art of advertising together to create breakthrough work that infiltrates our culture. Via TV.

It's a big, well oiled machine that we all take for granted, and we assume, because the machine has always worked so well, that it will also output great digital marketing. But it can't create great digital marketing. Because it was designed.for.creating.TV. That doesn't means the digital marketing that comes out of this systems is bad. It's just not what digital marketing could be.

Before brands shoot for "great", it's worth understanding what "good" looks like. Here are the characteristics of digital campaigns that are "TV on the Internet":

  • A single, broad target – Typically, defined by demographics, like "Moms with kids in the house, 30-55".
  • Key Objective: Awareness – These campaigns are really very much like TV, in that they are  designed to deliver an impression. And that's pretty much it. All the cool interactive stuff that you can do online? Clicks, conversions, online ad driven actions don't really matter in these campaigns.
  • Creative: Persuasion – The goal of the creative is to persuade and change attitudes, not drive action.
  • Campaigns: The campaigns tend to flow at the same rhythm as TV; run for a couple months, and then go dark.
  • Media: "Set it and Forget it" – These campaigns don't get optimized when they run. They are planned and run and aren't really optimized that much over the course of the campaign. 
  • Media: Focus on Reach – Like TV, the main objective of the media buy is almost always to maximize the number of people reached by the message. The placement – where the creative runs – is important, but generally, reach is favored over relevance.
  • Measurement: Offline impact – These campaigns don't measure impact by what happens online.  Like all ad efforts, the most value is placed on what happens offline. Cash register rings. Sales in the big box, or the market, or the retail outlet. 
  • Learning Cycles – The learning cycles of "TV on the Internet" campaigns, as far as i've seen, tend to be like an annual cycle. The iteration and learning cycles tend to be six to eight (or up to 12 months). 

 But, while digital marketers might scoff at these campaigns, they work for marketers for a couple important reasons:

  • They are relatively easy to manage – Agencies and marketers can work and execute these campaigns pretty easily, assuming the marketers don't try to over-work the banners.
  • They work – A lot marketers are finding that banners work well. At the very least, they drive brand metrics. But, they also drive sales offline, too. 
  • They are predictable – Brands can these campaigns pretty easily, and they are getting more and more predictable in their ability to drive results. 

These aren't the sexiest digital campaigns. You'll never see these on the front cover of AdAge. But, these campaigns can form the foundation of great brand-building efforts. They can drive regular results, can be pretty predictable, and can provide marketers with "ground cover" to do more, innovative, and more interesting things.

But, "Modern Brands" should be providing more than advertising, more than their own message. That's the next phase in the maturity of digital brand marketers. 

Next up: PHase 2- Data Driven Brand Marketers

 

 

From Buzz to Something Real: The Peril of “Earned Media”

Like most marketers, we're trying to figure out just how real the promise of "earned media" is. Truly earned, positive exposure for your brand is almost unicorn-esque: it takes a fantastic product, a clearly articulated brand story, and a lot of elbow grease to get it started.But more and more, we're talking to brands about how "earned media" can be a powerful benefit from great marketing.

But, we're nowhere near close to being able to answer the legitimate questions we'll be getting from smart marketers about how to equate the value of earned media to the stuff we're hoping to displace. So, when marketers ask "what's the value of earned media", we don't have the tools to really answer that question.

We know, generally, that exposure for the brand that we don't have to actually pay for is good. But, can you put a media value on the amount of blog posts, tweets, mentions, comments, etc? How do we go from vague "buzz", to real, legitimate "media value" from the conversation?

(Yes, i know the whole question is kind of crass. But, it's still legitimate. More importantly, as paid media gets less effective/efficient, we'll need to understand how to prioritize our efforts in the social space. Which brings us back to how to value the conversations… )

Here's the nut that needs to be cracked:

* the promise of "earned" media is that it could, theoretically, replace "paid" media, if we could get our arms around it.

* to get our arms around it, we need to be able to track the activity over time and see real trends emerging from the data and, eventually, make connections in the data, leading to legitimate insights

* to track it, we need a consistent definition of "earned media", and a clear, consistent categorization of the forms that earned media takes, from blog posts, tweets, comments, "likes" etc.

* To measure it, we need to see the differences over time, and equate some sort of value to each of the instances we see it. Even if that value is relative (*this* is better than *that*) and not financially quantifiable. Ideally, we'd be able to identify some causal relationship between "earned" media and cash register rings. But, until then, we'll need some sort of objective way to rank/force rank the desirability of the forms earned media takes.

* all we have – right now – is an "impression" as the common media unit. We have to be able to do better than that.

So, what I guess I'm looking for is a tool that will help us track and categorize the "earned" media we're getting like we track our paid media. I've got all sorts of tools that show me activity, some that can show me sentiment, and one or two that can give me semantic insights in the deluge of text. But, how do i know how much it's worth? It's the unicorn tool, i'm afraid.

Me vs. the Stream: Design Rigor Still Matters at BBC

If you are a content provider (magazine, newspaper, TV channel), does the design of your brand and your content still matter? So many of the digital experiences we have today are mediated abstractions of the original and/or are driven by the device we consume it on. Think: we get our newsfeeds via RSS, read through our preferred reader (google reader, etc.), twitter updates in the Facebook stream, Facebook updates via text and email, NY Times stories on the blackberry. Does anyone see the content displayed as it was originally intended by the team of designers?

Design still matters at the BBC. Check out this really thoughtful, really detail and very impressive overview of the BBC's efforts to rationalize and maintain a wholistic visual design framework. It's an amazing story, really. Well worth the 15 minutes it will take to read through it and digest it.

As someone who is (now very) indirectly responsible for the visual design of some important content-driven digital platforms, I look at this with envy. I envy the time the designers had to be thoughtful, practical, intentional. I envy the trust the organization gave the designers, and i envy the power of persuasion that must have been employed to get the top of their house to believe so strongly in the value of an investment in a unified design language. 

I love deeply immersive, well organized and thought-through digital experiences (like, well, the BBC.com website and the BBC ipad reader), but i'm worried about our ability to truly deliver them as we move into the stream phase of the digital evolution. The "content" we used to experience as a whole experience is getting broken into it's components (text, images, video) and we're losing a lot of control over the experience (if we haven't completely lost it already). 

Question for designers: How much to invest in the "experience", when most of our content will get delivered via some device/reader/api/filter where we can't maintain control over the look/feel/design of our content.

Counterpoint: Invest more in the design of the "original" content and create a remarkably better experience, so those who see it in the second-generation, mediated form want to come back to the original. Frankie Goes to Hollywood's version of Born to Run was good, but the orginal source was better.

This is why i haven’t been Too Worried About Mobile Marketing

That is, if you define "mobile marketing" as marketing over phones managed/tethered to traditional carriers like verizon, Tmobile, etc. What i’ve been counting on is that the internet would be everywhere, cheap/free and thats where the marketing will get delivered. The device will be an internet device that has the size/form factor of a phone (and may have phone functionality) vs. the phone that acts like the internet. Seemingly subtle difference,  but tremendously important.
Link: Technology Review: The Coming Wireless Revolution.