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Nodding heads

November 17, 2008 2 comments

I follow a number of marketing blogs (currently The Ad Contrarian is one of my favourites, but that’s a different story). On Jonathan Trenn’s Digital Street Journal he makes a point I think we all too often overlook when complaining that this or that person or group “just doesn’t get it.”

He writes of attending a conference in San Francisco during which he realized that the crowd of 400 “energetic people who are on the forefront of marketing communications and the technology that will make it possible” were all remarkably the same. In other words, “overly diverse” is not a phrase likely to be found in any news report of the event.

With that realization he goes on to say:

It’s imperative that we in social media seek to understand the diverse world that we’ll be looking to engage. It’s imperative that we realize that many of those that we see as “not getting it” will end up “getting it” on their own terms and in ways that will reflect their own cultural experiences. And it’s all the more important if we’re correct in our assertions that this is how we’ll be receiving our marketing messages, our news…the information that we need to live by. (“My Age of Conversation Post,” Digital Street Journal, November 15, 2008.)

While Trenn is essentially speaking about two cultures (the targeted marketing audience, and the promoters/designers of the new media), there are actually three cultures involved with the whole marketing activity.

1. Category One: The targeted marketing audience: These, of course, are the people already using the media whom the marketers are hoping to engage in their marketing strategy. And woe unto the new media marketer who enters the fray without knowing the shibboleths and secret handshakes of the in crowd. To make matters worse, the culture of one in crowd can be radically different from the culture of another.

2. Category Two: The promoters and designers of the new media: These are the people who are probably most represented at a site like ThinkBalm. They are definitely “plugged-in,” “with it,” and “on the cutting edge.” They are smart, inventive, and most of all enthused. They are also, however, the people who come up with the names and terms used in these applications.

3. Category Three: The targeted financing audience: These are the people that Category Two people are trying to convince to put money into the new media. They are, by and large, not part of the in crowd. They may not be technophobes, but they probably don’t spend much time Twittering, keeping up a page on Facebook or MySpace, and have likely not even heard of Second Life, unless there’s been a particularly juicy scandal about it in the news recently.

When Category Two people try talking to Category Three people, the results often make about as much sense as a Dane speaking Swahili with a heavy Martian accent.

“You see sir, after you join up you can myrl an entry and…”

“Myrl?”

“Yes sir, it’s kind of like spriging something in Sprigit, but it’s called a myrl here.”

“Spryl?”

“Um, no. Myrl. Or Sprig. It depends on what you mean.”

“Problem is, I don’t know what I mean. Let’s just put the money in a damned television spot like always!”

The point I’m trying to make, of course, is that all too often when we complain some old fogey “just doesn’t get it,” the reason is that we haven’t really tried to give it to him. And the applications themselves don’t help. It was something I noticed years ago when I had one foot in the world of the programmers, and the other foot in the world of the users. While programmers were happily coming up with their own terms, many of which came from the heavily technical end while others consisted of in-jokes, the users were unhappily trying to figure out how to put a “string” in a computer and why there was a button called “query” when they weren’t asking a question.

Second Life is a good case study, as I pointed out in a previous article (“When Boojums attack,” Metaverse Messenger, September 23). The “Debug Settings” have to be among the most offensively cryptic settings in Second Life. Not only does the term “debug” send most non-geek users running in the opposite direction, but their names seem to consist of ultra-technical terms combined with some kind of running in-jokes. As for their descriptions, they do little more than reiterate the names. CheesyBeacon, for instance, enables “cheesy beacon effects,” while the FlycamAxisDeadZone1 is described simply as “Flycam axis 1 dead zone.”

The support features are of limited help. To start with there are several, and most seem to wallow in a labyrinth of jargon. When faced with enough of this incomprehensibility, most users simply decide to go somewhere else. (15,000,000 registered users versus a few hundred thousand active residents — that’s a lot of dissatisfaction).

Now imagine trying to explain any of that to a client who is looking into the use of the immersive Internet for his company. “The challenge before us,” says Trenn at the end of his blog post, “is not only to overcome the barriers of those who seek to resist the changes we are embracing; it is also to develop a deeper understanding of the diverse peoples that are becoming users of social media.”

This also includes the users on both ends — not just those already in Facebook, MySpace, Second Life and the rest, but those trying to use these platforms as business tools.

“If we fail to do that,” Trenn concludes, “we’ll simply be a bunch of nodding heads mistakenly thinking that we are the future of communication.”

And most nodding heads happily sit looking out the back window of cars with no clue what’s coming up.

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Categories: communications

• The Maltese ROI

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the November 11, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger. 

Im telling you, see? Ya dont ask questions about ROI, see?

I'm telling you, see? Ya don't ask questions about ROI, see?

Asking advocates of social network marketing and virtual world promotions about the Return on Investment (ROI) can be as controversial as walking into an Al Qaeda hangout and asking their opinions on B’nai Brith. But then this is nothing new. Promoters of non-traditional advertising have always been a bit touchy on the subject. To illustrate, let me give an example from before the days of the Internet.

Many years ago I was commissioned to analyze a software program for a large diamond company. The company spent a fair amount of time sending informative and unsolicited articles about diamonds to newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations in the hopes that some of these would be published and aired as actual news stories. Although it didn’t cost them much, it did put a certain drain on resources, and they wanted some idea of their ROI. The purpose of the program, which had been designed in Europe, was to measure the value of published articles in terms of advertising dollars. They chose me because I had previously worked with them through the advertising firm I’d been with and they knew me as a systems analyst with marketing knowledge. Read more…

Categories: measurement

The brave new world of social network marketing: Part 1

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the November 4, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger.

I have a confession.

For the past few months I’ve had a growing suspicion that much of the “new” marketing innovations employing social networks and virtual worlds just don’t work.

It started when I wrote an article back in July about the problem marketers face in Second Life due to its lack of real mass media (“Second Life circa 4 BC,” July 15, 2008). In it I noted that not only does Second Life not have any form of medium that reaches a majority, or even a large minority of residents, but that such a medium was unlikely to ever appear.

As time went by I began exploring the many claims being made for “social network marketing” through such media as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. On the surface it made sense. Certainly there are a lot more people involved than there are in Second Life, and the idea of creating a marketing buzz through a network of people is unquestionably appealing. Furthermore, there appeared to be a number of marketing success stories — a rarity for Second Life.

But then the novelty began to wear off and before long I found myself noticing some of the same problems I’d seen for virtual worlds. While a company might find it advantageous to set up a presence on Facebook in which contacts can be kept informed about the latest products and improvements, it really amounts to little more than a sim capable of handling a larger number of people: if you don’t belong to the group, you’ll never hear from them, and if you do belong, it’s because you’re already a fan.

Of course the idea is to create “brand evangelists,” customers who feel so included in the existence of a brand that they proselytize it with an evangelical zeal. This way, while your brand may only have 500 “friends,” those “friends” are going to tell their “friends” and so on and so on.

Nice idea, but the more I looked at the “success stories” the more my suspicions grew. Take this case of MySpace marketing held up by Dave Balter of IMedia Connection back in the summer of 2006.

“Recently,” he says, “in a campaign for the blockbuster film Superman Returns, MySpace was hired to create a Superman Returns profile, and then engaged users to share with friends through simple activities like adding the Man of Steel as a buddy or posting a comment on their new Superfriend’s page. The cornerstone of this promotion was to find people with vast networks who could spread this message to more people, faster and more effectively.”

And how well did it work? It’s true that Superman Returns debuted to the number one spot on the Fourth of July weekend, but considering that it was a revival of a previously successful movie franchise, I suspect it would have done at least that well even if advertising had been restricted to posters plastered on telephone poles in all the major cities. The fact is, Superman Returns earned a disappointing $84 million during its first five days (the traditional time period for measuring a “weekend”), and only $250 million for its entire run. As openings go, especially openings for the Fourth of July weekend, it really wasn’t anything to write home about. Three years earlier the much-maligned X2: Xmen United beat it by a million, and only a year before War of the Worlds brought in $100 million over the same period.

For its overall run, Superman Returns comes in about even with Night at the Museum. This is not good company to keep. But the real question is this: did having a few hundred “friends” on MySpace increase the bottom line by so much as a fraction of a percent?

Somehow I doubt it.

Yet that’s one of the big success stories. The rest look like testimonials for the classifieds of a neighborhood newsletter.

Consider the examples offered by Social Media Optimization in an article boosting the advantages of social marketing. Having already featured a bicycle shop in Texas that was using MySpace to reach potential customers, they wrote about an ice cream company, Cold Stone Creamery, which created a kind of ad for YouTube in order to publicize a new flavor. In the video two ice cream flavors are joined in wedded bliss. A special profile was created for them on MySpace. “I think the power of YouTube and MySpace and the connection it’s made with young people is important for not only Cold Stone, but for every company to investigate,” said Kevin Donnellan, senior director of advertising and public relations for the company.

And then there’s the example offered by Stephan Spencer, who bills himself as a “scientist turned web marketing virtuoso.” On his website, Stephan Spencer’s Scatterings, he waxes poetic about Weird Al Yankovic’s use of MySpace to revive his flagging career. Over a few months the has-been singer had already gained 219,033 friends!

So tell me. Do you have Weird Al’s latest records? Didn’t think so.

After a while it became obvious that the success stories all view increasing numbers of “friends” as the sole criterion of “success,” while quietly ignoring the issue of whether they’ve actually had any increase in sales. Those who legitimately seem to have experienced measurable gains tend to be independent musicians, for whom any exposure is better than none, and small to middle-sized businesses which use the social networks to keep in touch with already-existing customers.

This is the brave new world of social networking?

* * *

Next week — social marketing continued in “Hell hath no fury.”

I’ve got a secret.

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the September 30, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger

Brands are constantly being scolded for their pitiful attempts to break into Second Life. They build a few buildings, offer a few pointless freebies, and then sit back waiting for avatars to come flying in. It doesn’t work, it hasn’t worked, and it’s not likely to work.
Consultants, such as Millions of Us, try to convince them that they must offer something to the community, and in some cases the suits have even listened — with varying results. The release of the newest Harry Potter movie was promoted with viral giveaways, and Evian offered samples of their water which were accompanied by free skins that were perceptibly better than the default skins we all get as newbies.
But no matter what they do, it never seems to be enough. The stink of failure covers them like a car that’s run over a skunk.
You could even feel sorry for them if they weren’t so oddly blind to the ultimate problem.
Let’s back up a few years. There once was a time in which not a single company had an presence on the Web. There were many reasons for this, but the main one, it has to be admitted, was that there was no such thing as the Web. Once it was invented (by Al Gore, according to rumor), a few of the more forward-looking companies tried their hand at creating virtual stores where customers could get information about their products and even make purchases. Some were more successful than others, but those who made a go of it had several characteristics in common, such as creating sites with value-added services, a running tally of in-store stock, and even methods of contacting real live people for help.
But even the best-laid sites would have withered away if the companies behind them hadn’t done one very important thing —they told people about them!
I can still remember the first time I saw an ad on TV for something (can’t remember what it was) which included the URL for their Web site. “Will anyone actually take the time to visit?” I wondered.
Well, people did. Today, of course, it’s rare to find an ad that doesn’t include information on finding their online presence. “Call, visit or click” is a phrase that I find occurring with amazing frequency in ads from TV commercials to the printed page.
You see, here’s the thing: if you’re going to do something cutting edge and avant-garde, if you’re going to set up a new approach to doing business, you have to tell people!
This isn’t a secret power-principle of business — or at least it shouldn’t be. If you want people to visit the smart, efficient, clever, dynamic, or what-have-you website, you have to let them know it’s there.
So let’s pop back to the present and take a look at the companies that came into Second Life. Coke has always been considered one of the successes, mostly because they didn’t end up with a complete, abject failure. But the bar for success in virtual world marketing, it has to be admitted, has been set pretty damned low. Still, let’s credit them with their little triumph. How did they spread the word about their sim? Well, by word of avatar-mouth, for one. Then there was…uh. Well there was word of avatar-mouth — damn, I already mentioned that one.
The fact is, aside from the short spurt of publicity they gathered when they first came in world, the bright boys and girls behind the bold new marketing concept never told anybody about it.
Nobody.
Or maybe I missed something. Perhaps you can recall some TV commercials from the time which ended with an invitation to visit their new virtual land in Second Life? A tag at the end of magazine ad with the SLURL of their corporate island with an offer of a free virtual Coke? Anything like that? Anyone?
No. I didn’t think so.
The fact is, to the best of my knowledge, not a single corporation which has attempted in -world marketing has bothered to clue in their customers. None.
Does this strike anyone else as being, oh…I don’t know. Brainless? A tad dim-witted? A few swings short of a playground?
So here’s a bit of advice for anyone contemplating yet another marketing blitz in the untapped world of Second Life: when you do it — tell people about it! Put the information in your real world publicity. Generate interest. That is, after all, part of the reason you want to come into Second Life in the first place, isn’t it? To generate or renew interest in your brand? Well, everything else aside, a good start is by letting the general public in on the secret.
And of course, as more companies include references to Second Life in their advertising, the more people will be drawn to our humble little world which, in turn, will also mean a larger audience for in-world promotions.
See how that works?
Tell people, ya nitwits!
Categories: virtual marketing