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Should you play it safe with location-based social networks?

[cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

Last week Forrester released a report advising most marketers wait to use location-based social networks (LBSN) as only 4% of the US population is currently using platforms such as Foursquare (the current market leader), and that the networks skew heavily male. They advise that brands that target young males experiment with the services and other brands adopt a “wait and see” approach.

I couldn’t disagree more. Here are my 5 reasons why it’s smart to start experimenting now.

1. First Movers.

There’s something to be said for getting a head start on your competition in the digital space. Brands like Starbucks, Dell, Pepsi, and Nike have all taken advantage of the emerging channels and reaped the rewards of building a strong early foundation with consumers.

While you should not rush into a new tool without understanding your strategic goals and how it integrates with your business objectives, experimenting with emerging technologies that are opt-in and potentially have a direct customer impact is smart.

When Facebook opened their gates to the general population in 2006 they had a small user base of university students. Four years later they are a behemoth. Twitter adoption rates have been increasing exponentially year over year since their launch in 2007 and the tool is now considered a “must use” for social business. Considering Foursquare launched about a year ago, can we expect to see the same type of growth curve as the early adopters begin to influence the early majority? (see “Crossing the Chasm” adoption curve)

2. Google. Facebook. Oh My.

Location-based services are not limited to the current apps we have been hearing about. Facebook has expressed they will add a location-based offering soon, Twitter has added “Tweet with your location” to their service, and the biggest news is that Google is adding a Places API to their eco-system, as well as adding LB data extensions to their mobile advertising product.

LBSN will become mainstream sooner rather than later, and it will be the big players, not the niche networks that will drive the adoption. Testing and learning now, before it becomes ubiquitous should be something on every marketers radar.

3. Data and utility.

There is an enormous amount of insightful and actionable data that can be gleaned about your customers and prospects from mobile & LBSNs. Eventually this data could be used to inform inventory control, staffing levels, consumer tastes and trends, etc. The data can also be used in loyalty programs, to identify influencers, test new products, and as real-time service focus groups.

Companies already testing the waters include:

Nike with True City; Starbucks with their Foursquare offers; The Pepsi mobile branded app; and the City of Chicago with their Tourism campaign.

4. Sales, Coupons, Offers, and more.

Part of the Forrester analysis identified that mobile couponing is widely successful with the users currently using the services, which is interesting as the base is primarily young males, not the average coupon-consuming demographic. Gone are the days of clipping coupons in the Sunday paper, now you can serve relevant offers and drive foot traffic and purchase directly to a mobile device. These offers are opt-in, and contextually relevant, not SMS spam. Testing offers, tips, and messaging via mobile should be on every retailers plan for the next year.

Of course one size doesn’t fit all and ensuring that your product or service fits within the make-up of the demographic, depending on service (existing or branded), is a must.

5. Mobile usage.

Of course mobile, and specifically smartphone, usage is soaring year over year. Ignoring mobile at this point is like ignoring the Internet in 2002 because broadband wasn’t prevalent yet.

Bottom line for marketers:

Experiment. See what fits, what your customers are looking for, and where you can add value. Don’t wait until it becomes mainstream, because that will be sooner than you think and you’ll be playing catch-up.

[photo credit: john weiss via Flickr]

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Setting the stage for Old Spice to own the Internet

[Cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

A lot of ink has already been written about why Old Spice owned the Internet last week, and I don’t want to rehash the various aspects that RWW has covered, and Dave Stubbs has mentioned, among others, but what I feel is missing from the conversation is how it all started. My friend Leigh Himel deconstructed what the brief could have looked like, and I think it’s worth expanding on to describe how the campaign set the foundation for success.

It all started with the insight and a deep understanding of the market and the consumer.

The objective, as Leigh rightly points out, was to re-position and re-invigorate the brand.  To do this the team needed to understand the competitive landscape, the perspective consumers had of the brand, and the territory they had to play in. The market was saturated with female unfriendly AXE advertising, and as women are the primary consumers for male scent gifts, turning that into an advantage would have been mandatory for Old Spice.

With that as the starting point the Old Spice team (with a receptive client) decided to do the obvious: appeal to women without alienating men.

Old Spice cast the perfect actor for the new positioning. A former NFL player, a nice guy, and someone who wasn’t so perfect that men would feel threatened. Genius casting. Based on, I imagine, a perfect casting brief.

The next step was to create a seriously funny commercial that turned all the cliche’s of advertising and film on their heads. “Look at your man, now back at me”. “It’s now diamonds”. “I’m on a horse”. They made a commercial that was frankly better than 90% of the TV shows it appeared alongside. I first heard of it because my partner was watching TV and told me I had to see it. So what did I do? I went to YouTube and there it was. Word of mouth at it’s finest, but it would have been dead in the water if the team hadn’t thought to seed it online first.

They let that roll and roll it did. Everyone who saw the commercial started sharing it, and a character was born.

Now what to do with the follow up? The character was a success both online and offline and while they could continue to let it ride as a TV spot, the proof was there that they could take advantage of how much the spot resonated with the folks online.

The plan was to create a new TV spot, let that simmer for a bit and then pounce. The social media marketers did their homework and decided what the right outlets were to start spreading the character. The fact they took on 4Chan and won speaks volumes about how integrated and on the ball they were. While everyone talks about how they took over Twitter in a day, they really started seeding the campaign before that. They laid the groundwork. And it paid off. Big time.

It came on my radar with @jakrose tweeting that he’d received a video reply early Tuesday morning. “Fry it up and eat it down JakRose. Fry it up and eat it down.” The network effect took over and for the next two days it was all I cared about that was happening online. The social team did a brilliant job monitoring responses and working with the creatives to write compelling copy. They didn’t just target celebrities and “influencers” but responded to comments, Diggs, tweets and blog posts that they felt fit with the character as a whole. They were obviously fully immersed in the language and cadence of the social web because their video responses contained references only a geek would love (or get). They respected all the unwritten rules of the culture and tailored their responses to match the brand, and the mediums they were using.

They embraced the mash-ups and promoted them. They let the community roll with it. They poked fun at themselves (Old Spice responding to @isiahmustafa) And they set a time limit. Any longer than 2 days and it would have become tired. Any shorter and it would have been disappointing. The mash-ups continue to roll in, with the most recent being Mel Gibson calling the Old Spice Guy.

It was brilliance that came from the initial insights and work they did a couple of years ago. And deep understanding of how the social web works.

The challenge will be what they do next and if it moves the needle at the top of the purchase funnel (awareness & consideration). But I have faith, and am looking forward to every moment of it!

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Experience Is Everything: Joining Teehan+Lax as Partner- Strategic Consulting

It’s a been a wonderful road watching technology, marketing and social communications evolve on the web over the last 15 years, and it’s been fantastic & exciting being in the thick of it and running my own consultancy for the last 4 years. The last 24 months in particular have been a great journey as social networking tools have come of age rapidly. Seeing companies take the first steps in marketing and DWC (direct-with-consumer)/ social communications in this new hyper-connected reality has been a thrill to watch and participate in. Communications is changing, but at the same time the need for sound strategies, counsel and ideas remains as important as ever to navigate the waters and integrate properly. Social communications is not just outreach and PR; it is part of a larger digital experience with many touchpoints and needs based on standard business objectives.

I have of course focused on the strategy-side of the equation, and in analyzing changes in communications in the digital space. Another part of the digital coming-of-age is having brands move forward in usability and interaction in the online arena to take static, brochure-ware sites to robust, intuitive, user-centric places that continue to evolve and deliver results. Delivering rich creative experiences and personalized programs has started come into its own as clients are willing to invest more of their budget in new media as the value continues to be shown, and not being present becomes a competitive disadvantage. It’s been wonderful to see happen.

I truly believe that Experience touches *everything*: Interfaces, Interaction, Collaboration, Connection, Technology, Relationships, Creative, Information, Service, Engagement, Accessibility, Community…

Currently social media is on the cusp of becoming standard in anything digital, and incorporating digital and social communications with user experience design and solid, engaging creative/ content from the ground up is something I am truly excited about.

One of the best Experience Design agencies out there is Toronto-based Teehan+Lax, with a stellar and incredibly talented team of Associates and amazingly smart Partners (and I don’t just say so myself ;)): Geoff Teehan, Jon Lax, Jeremy Bell & my old partner-in-crime from my MacLaren McCann Interactive days on GM Canada, Dave Stubbs.

In my view, a combination of strategic planning, digital marketing, social communications and user-experience/ interaction design results in a truly robust, meaningful experience that is people-centric and grounded in *business reality*, including insights and analysis that will continue to drive innovation. It’s a natural extension of the way digital and social is moving: doing what’s best for business *and* the public, and doing it as a cohesive unit from ground zero.

Joining Teehan+Lax as Partner – Strategic Consulting makes perfect sense to me. Building this Group to aid clients in strategic business planning, including tapping into social media and mobile marketing & applications, is an exciting challenge, and my vision is to enable Teehan+Lax to provide sound business intelligence and planning capabilities, as a stand-alone offering, or fully integrated with their best-in-class user experience platform and program capabilities to drive business and communications results for clients.

I’m looking forward to the experience and the journey.

[the official press release will go out tomorrow & I'll update this post with the link... but we decided we'd let the social sphere get the scoop first :)]

—-

Some housekeeping:

- Wildfire SM will not be accepting new clients or projects, although I am happy to discuss new relationships with Teehan+Lax. Any existing relationships will be bound by the same terms as initially agreed to in the contract. If you have any questions give me a shout, I’m happy to talk.

- As of today the www.wildfirestrategy.com domain will re-direct to this blog. The blog will still remain (3i) innovate. integrate. ignite. Because that’s my philosophy towards marketing and it applies fully in this new context.

- This blog will change look and feel over the next couple of months, but everything feed related etc. will remain the same.

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Integration is more than a buzz-word

There are times when it seems everyone is talking about integration without actually looking at what integration truly means. It becomes just another buzz-word used to slap social media or digital tools onto a traditional marketing campaign. Which is sad, because being truly integrated is what provides the most success. Starting to think along those lines can be challenging, but in the end your organization will be the better for it.

What is the driving force behind integration?

Understanding & knowing yourself and your customers.

Your SWOT is more than just a marketing exercise, it should be part and parcel of providing deep insights and a launch pad to developing your strategies. When you layer on analytics intelligence and social monitoring you have actionable data you can start to look at across your touchpoints and develop the best approach.

And that’s where things tend to break down. What are your touchpoints? What are the extensions from those, both short and long-term? Is what you’re doing in marketing relevant and of value? It can be.

Look at your goals and how extending your efforts can enhance them and accelerate them forward. Who are your stakeholders and what are their pain and joy points? Where does your Research & Development come into play? How can you make your customer service more robust and meaningful?

Extend your ideas into where they naturally fit, don’t just accept the same old media buy as the only answer. Take the time to understand your audience and where they live, work, and play. If it doesn’t align to the 30 second spot or a traditional banner ad, don’t waste your time, money and resources there. Big ideas well planned deliver big results.

While we’re looking at where to best allocate our time and resources it’s always a good idea to ask if you have the right people in the right roles. Just because your organizational structure states that this person “does interactive” doesn’t mean they are the right fit to “do social”.

Integration happens by connecting the disparate pieces that should be connected to tell a cohesive, meaningful, and evolving story. Not by one-offs and force-fits.

[photo credit: alto maltes on Flickr]

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The masters of value-added content are CPG brands

content, value, variety

We’ve all heard the adage: Content Is King. With social media the discussions/ tips abound about creating content people want to engage with and using it to create a community of interest around your brand.

While the tips are correct, it isn’t actually anything revolutionary, Consumer Packaged Goods brands have been doing this for decades now, and have continued to expand their approach using digital channels. Looking at just two brands provides a stellar example of the right way to add value by creating useful and relevant content, build a community of interest and maintain top-of-mind awareness: Pampers & Kraft.

What sets these brands apart is how they’ve taken what their products DO and created content that doesn’t just list benefits or seek to sell the products, but encompasses real life and the needs that perhaps the products can provide.

For example, the Pampers site provides tips, tricks, expert advice, etc. surrounding each stage of having a baby – preparing during pregnancy, allergies, developmental milestones, sleep problems, baby names, etc. etc. They also provide a way for parents to communicate with each other and share experiences. Wrapped around all of that excellent content is a reward program for the products, but not much else in terms of a “sell”. The sell is the value they add as a trusted brand.

With Kraft it’s all about the experience of food – entertaining, recipes, feeding your kids, and time management to list a few. Their brilliant tool to help time-strapped families serve a meal in a crunch (list 3 ingredients you have on hand and Kraft will recommend a recipe) speaks to how much thought they’ve given to understanding their customers and providing value. Wrapped into what they’re providing is of course their plethora of products, but it’s not focused on “buy this now”, but on “how can we help”.

These brands have taken what they offer and provided solutions to help with free value-added content and no guarantee you’ll buy from them. But since it’s useful and relevant, you probably will.

There are tons of CPG examples out there – what are your favourites?

[photo credit: Martino! via Flickr]

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