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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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Accepting what you don’t know

Part of what I strive to understand each and every day is what I don’t know, and being okay with it. It’s tough when you’re a perfectionist, let me tell you. But it’s true. I, and no other human being on this planet, can possibly know everything. The trick is to be okay with it and to surround yourself with people who do know the things you wish you did inside and out. In the end it makes for a much more peaceful & meaningful existence – not just in a personal sense, but in a business sense.

In practical terms, it means letting go of your preconceived notions about a lot of things; the urge to always have the answers; and in a lot of ways, to challenge your own status quo. I try to do this in all areas, not just business. I know I’m not a celebrity chef (or even much of a chef at all since I really don’t like prep or clean up), so I don’t just throw miscellaneous things into a bowl and make the family cope with the results. I actually seek out recipes. I’m pretty sure my family is happy about that. By seeking out recipes I also don’t waste my time trying to prepare complex and time consuming dishes that I’ll resent trying to make as soon as I start.

I also know that I’m not a Systems Admin, so I don’t even try to muck about with command lines when I have a problem, I call in help. Now, I’m sure if I spent enough time reading about it I could potentially figure it out, but truth be told, why would I want to waste time I don’t have learning something I’m just passingly interested in? Sure, it could make me a more rounded individual, and I’m not opposed to learning, but at the end of the day I need to ask myself: is this particular expertise going to make me happy or just more knowledgeable? Am I okay with partnering with someone who does have that expertise and actually *listening* to their advice? The answer in most cases, as I start to approach 40, is yes. That doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to add… it just means I need to be comfortable shutting up every once in a while and letting go… and trusting that others have spent just as much time as I have building their expertise in a specific field.

Not always the easiest advice, especially as you’re embarking on your career, but in my opinion, it’s crucial for cutting through the noise and finding your signal.

[Photo credit: The Gifted Photographer via Flickr]

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Developing Digital/ Social Personas to start your Social Strategy

[Cross-posted from Teehan+Lax]

As the social space matures and companies recognize that they can no longer afford to ignore the “fad” that is social media, a common theme we keep hearing is: who and where are people who want to communicate with us, and whom we should be listening to and focusing our content development on?

As part of the process we’ve developed for formulating a solid and sustainable social strategy for brands, we typically start with developing a Digital/ Social Persona to help guide the engagement and communications strategy. While Personas are common in advertising and UX circles, they are relatively unique within social media as most practitioners will just tell you to “start listening”. While this is absolutely key to understanding and getting involved, it doesn’t provide a roadmap for long-term planning and engagement.

A persona doesn’t replace interacting directly with your customers, however it does give brands an understanding of how their customers are using digital media in all its forms, how they are interacting and engaging with complementary brands, the types of content that resonate with them, and a sense of where the brand “fits” (or could fit) within their online life. It also clearly demonstrates where it falls down, or neglects an important aspect.

In our experience, having this information, backed by thorough data and research, immediately illustrates where traditional communications fall short and why they should invest in 1-to-1 interaction and content development to remain relevant. It also begins to start the process of thinking about what true integration and touchpoints mean on a larger level.

We have a system we use to develop these personas with both qualitative and quantitative research, and with each iteration or new project find new ways to get to know the “persona” of the composite individual we’re modeling. I have a firm belief that with the amount of data we are collectively collecting in the digital realm helping companies make sense of it all and truly understand who their customers and prospects are will become both easier and more difficult. :)

For my social media friends out there – what types of practices do you use to help your clients get to know their customer?

[photo credit: Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo Rodrigo via Flickr]

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Speaking at SMX Toronto

I’ll be on a panel at SMX Toronto this Friday: Search and Social – Insight and Inspiration. The panel will be moderated by Alexa Clark and feature a cross-section of smart folks – Leona Hobbs from Social Media Group, Jeff Quipp of Search Engine People and Ilya Grigorik from Postrank.

I’ve always been passionate about the intersection of search and social and how the two can intersect to provide a rich, contextual experience for users. With the quality of people on the panel it’s sure to be a lively and informative discussion.

If you plan on attending, make sure to say hello!

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