The new economy – Collaborative Consumption

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am a big fan of airbnb.com.

It’s a winning combination for both the ‘host’ and the tourist. The site provides property owners with a global forum in which to secure bookings and earn an income, while at the same time offering travellers choice, a unique alternative to the traditional hotel room or backpacker hostel and the chance to live an ‘authentic local experience’ in their destination of choice.

Even better, it is social – full of user generated content with reviews, recommendations, links to Facebook and curated ‘wishlists’ from travel bloggers helping the tourist select their ideal accommodation based on the experiences and photos of others.

Airbnb has reportedly grown by 400% over the last year and I can understand why. It is so simple to use.

But what I have only recently realised is that airbnb is just the tip of the iceberg of a new economic phenomena known as ‘collaborative consumption‘. Enabled by web technologies, it is a contemporary and social form of consumption that involves bartering, sharing, renting, lending or swapping resources instead of buying or owning them.

Rachel Botsman is the co-author of the book, “What is Mine is Yours, How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way we Live” and explains the concept in this TED talk:

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of collaborative consumption that Rachel Botsman outlines is the fact that “technology is enabling trust between strangers.” As she explains, the combined effect of social networking and technology is creating a global village where people can mimic the traditional bartering behaviours of old in a new and evolved way. As a result, we are seeing far more peer-to-peer sharing and reuse of resources thereby extending the product lifecycle for some items.

There are numerous examples of organisations who have adopted the collaborative consumption business model. Some of the more well known include:

Getaround is a carsharing community. This site provides a portal for car owners to rent out their cars short-term to others. The renters can locate and book a car on their smartphone, pick up the keys from the owner and then drive away for the agreed time.

Need an office space? Loosecubes provides a portal in which independent workers can rent out a ‘cube’ within an office or workspace. Not only do you receive the hot desk, but the chance to meet and work with other professionals.

Snapgoods is a site where neighbours can borrow or rent items from each other – from lawnmowers to backpacks. The owners simply post an image of their good and a neighbour can reserve and borrow or rent it when required.

Swapitbaby is an Australian site that offers parents the chance to swap toys, clothes, prams or other baby/kids merchandise via a credits/points system.

These online communities are a fabulous example of how social media and new technology has connected and empowered consumers, allowing them to sidestep the traditional B to C (business to consumer) channel and create a whole new network of consumers sharing their resources. Green, affordable and fun, their credibility and trustworthiness is boosted by the reviews, ratings and links to other social media platforms such as Facebook.

So what does this mean for brand managers and marketers who are traditionally focused on stimulating individual demand for the purchase of new products and services rather than sharing or recycling? Does collaborative consumption shrink the marketplace? Is this something that marketers should be scared of?

I don’t think so. In the current environment of rapid technological advancement and increased consumer empowerment, the best marketers need to be adaptable, forward thinking and innovative. While collaborative consumption may seem a little intimidating or challenging, marketers need to consider the fact that it also offers a number of opportunities including access to new markets – ie. people who may not have initially purchased a brand’s product but ‘trial’ it via collaborative consumption – and a powerful source of word of mouth advertising.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for marketers will be changing their paradigm and rethinking how to promote products and build brand reputations in line with an extended product lifecycle, new emerging key influencers and a ‘we’ versus ‘me’ mindset.

An interesting challenge!

Have you used these sites to rent, share or swap? How do you think think marketers can adapt? Love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time.

World of Mouth. Really?

Positive word of mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing and coveted by brands. Why? Because it offers consumers a ‘borrowed experience’, that helps them navigate the purchase decision making process. It is so powerful because it is a referral from a trusted source – a friend, family member, colleague or peer – who have no commercial gain in recommending a product or service.

There is a great deal of comment about how social media has transformed the nature of word of mouth in the modern world. Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics has called social media a “world of mouth” speculating that it has widened the source of recommendations by connecting consumers and amplifying word of mouth on a global scale. Social media has also been referred to by others as “word of mouth on steroids” or “word of mouse”.

But is it really? Can we really trust the reviews and comments posted by social media users? Are they motivated by a genuine regard to share recommendations to others in our social circle which has been widened by technology or is this connection being hijacked by those motivated by self interest, commercial gain or organisations themselves? Has ‘cash for comment‘ become mainstream and taken out of the hands of radio and television personalities and placed at the disposal of the common person?

A recent article in The Age, shamed a number of authors who have been writing glowing reviews of their own work. According to the article, writer R.J. Ellory’s posted reviews of his own book under fake account names saying that it was ‘a modern masterpiece’ that it will ‘touch your soul’. This is a practice known as “sock puppetry” or “socking” – the process of adopting an online identity for deceptive purposes – such as writing reviews, creating an illusion of support or generating comment online. It can also be used to disparage the products of competitors, something R.J. Ellory did – posting negative reviews of books written by fellow authors of the same genre.

Hotels and restaurants have long been accused of writing their own positive reviews on sites like TripAdvisor or indeed penning negative reviews of competitors. So much so that the UK Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the site could not claim or imply that “all the reviews that appeared on the website were from real travellers, or were honest, real or trusted“.

A quick trawl of the internet shows how easy it is to purchase positive comments or reviews. Freelancer.com has a special section just for review writers. For just $5 you can purchase a range of reviews, testimonials and ratings from around the world on www.fiverr.com. The site www.positive-reviews.com also offers a simple, cost effective solution: “Our team can help your business grow and promote your products by posting positive reviews, articles or blog posts on the internet. It is our responsability to locate specific blogs or websites to promote the products that you need to sell.” Pity about the spelling mistakes – but perhaps that may make the review look more authentic.

These are just a sample of the many sites offering comments for cash and according to research company Gartner, we can expect that by 2014, 10-15% of all social media reviews will be fake or purchased.

On the flipside, what about those savvy consumers who have recognised the power they hold with a few strokes of their own keyboard? I will always remember the original story back in 2009 (a lifetime ago in social media terms!) of the Commonwealth bank customer who tweeted about how their mortgage approval had been held up and after a month of trying to sort out the problem received a priority, personal response from the bank within one hour and 17 minutes of posting their complaint online. There is no doubt that a number of consumers are deliberately posting about brands to elicit discounts, special treatment or ‘jump the queue’. There has even been talk of guests blackmailing hotels with the threat of a bad review if they do not get an upgrade or discount.

So is social media really a ‘world of mouth’ or another beast altogether? From my perspective, I have to admit, I do use review sites in my decision making process – and find them enormously valuable.

Perhaps the solution is to ensure that we all take on the shared responsibility of diluting the fake reviews but actively writing our own genuine ones. What do you think? Do you write or read reviews?

Until next time.

Social Travel

I have just returned from a trip overseas which was dominated by social media. At a time where mobile phone data roaming is so expensive, I deferred to Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends whilst travelling and communicate with friends living overseas to organise catchups and send real time messages rather than sms when the venue had to be changed as it was not open at the time we originally scheduled to meet.

With over 75 million reviews and opinions, and 50 more posted each minute, TripAdvisor was my first go-to social site to consider what to do in each location and also solve problems like – the best way to get to the airport and which moroccan cooking class to choose. But my favourite all-time social media travel resource would have to be airbnb.com. Simple to use, it allowed me to book an apartment in France,  ‘live like a local’, meet some fabulous and very friendly Parisians and enjoy space and facilities at a price far less than it would have cost me in a small hotel room.

All through my two weeks abroad, I was also surrounded by social media offline. Where once you might have seen “recommended in Lonely Planet”, you now see green Trip Advisor stickers displayed as a stamp of credibility in the window of restaurants and cafes. On two occasions, I was told that if I was happy with the service, to please write a review online. And even when I was deep in the ancient medina of Marrakech, I saw a “like us on Facebook” sign.

To me, this showcased the power, ubiquity and pervasiveness that social media has all around the world. But more so, it demonstrated how social media has transformed the travel and leisure sector. Is there really any need for a travel agent anymore? In the past they played an advisory as well as a booking role, but I see no need to use those services when I am alerted to great airline prices and destinations through my Facebook friends and can book everything from flights to insurance myself online. Is there really any need for a guidebook anymore? I still see a range of Fodders, Lonely Planets and Rough Guides for sale in bookshops but have no need to spend $50 (and carry the weight!) on a book when I can use my ipad to discover comments and suggestions from just last week on places to see and things to do.

We talk about social media connecting people, empowering consumers and making the world smaller. Nowhere have I seen this demonstrated as much as I did in the travel sector – and whilst I know that there can be some manipulation by providers and even consumers, the overwhelming number of posts by ‘real people’ gives me confidence to trust and listen.

On the flipside, some have suggested that social media can in fact limit the whole travel experience. According to one travel writer,  “the more we connect with the world above and beyond us, the harder it is to be present wherever we actually are”. 

For me, social media enhances the travel experience, especially for independent travellers. Though I will admit that on this occasion, I probably received more recommendations online than from fellow travellers. What do you think?

Until next time.

The Pepsi Challenge

In 2010, Pepsi made a radical and bold marketing move. After 23 years they turned their back on the Super Bowl in favour of social media. Instead of spending $33 million (as they had the previous year) on big bang Super Bowl advertising, they invested $20 million in the ‘Pepsi Refresh’ campaign, a crowd sourcing philanthropic social media project.

The Pepsi Refresh project offered grants from $5,000 to $25,000 for social initiatives, community projects and any worthy causes that had the potential to ‘refresh the world’. Social media was used to source submissions and allow the public to vote on their favourite projects. Each month grants would then be awarded to the ideas that received the most votes.

The response was enormous. The Pepsi Refresh project generated 4 million ‘Likes’ on Facebook, 60,000 Twitter followers on Twitter and 80 million votes were registered for the different projects.

Fabulous! A great success.

Or was it?

That year, Pepsi’s sales fell by 6% and Diet Coke replaced Pepsi as the second biggest cola brand in the US.

The New Yorker and many others called Pepsi’s social media campaign a ‘big failure’. According to commentators, the problem with Pepsi’s social media strategy was that it had lost touch with their core marketing purpose – to drive product sales. While the Refresh project clearly engaged and encouraged people to support community causes, it did not sufficiently engage and encourage them to purchase and consume a can of Pepsi. Mark Ritson suggested that Pepsi had been blinded to the realities of the market and “was not marketing a movement it was marketing cola”.

Despite public statements from Pepsi that the campaign was about ‘brand health’ and ‘understanding their consumers better’, their actions told another story and the following year they were back advertising at the SuperBowl and have just recently announced a multi-year super bowl sponsorship arrangement of the half time shows.

So what is the moral of this story?  Social media bad, traditional media good?

I don’t think it is as simple as it sounds and there are a lot of factors to consider:

1. Is there a conflict of interest in the commentary? Whilst traditional media have been quick to label Pepsi’s social media campaign a failure, are they impartial? It is well known that newspapers are struggling with their own loss of advertising dollars to new media and may be quick to criticise a competing channel, so their comments must be viewed within this context.

2. Was the campaign itself flawed? The campaign faced some technical issues and contained innate structural flaws in that it favoured community groups who could mobilise votes rather than those who had genuinely valuable projects to fund. So the problem may lie within the campaign structure rather than the platform.

3. Did the company place all their eggs in one basket? Moving from one channel to another after over twenty years is a massive shift for any brand. Perhaps Pepsi expected too much, too soon from the Refresh project and had unrealistic objectives about what it could achieve. While social media platforms offer the chance to engage customers, it is only one  tool that can be used in an integrated marketing communications campaign. By neglecting other channels and relying solely on social media, Pepsi may have been overly ambitious and myopic in their focus.

4. Has the evaluation been too short term in perspective? Branded a failure by so many, it may be easy to ignore the fact that Pepsi engaged millions through this campaign and built positive brand equity in the process. This can be leveraged for the future.

To me, this case demonstrates that social media offers an important but not the only marketing tool for brands in the twenty first century. In spite of all the buzz, do not lose sight of all your marketing channels and utilise them together to create integrated campaigns to achieve your objectives.

What do you think? Love to hear your comments and perspectives!

Until next time..

Jpegs Without Borders

Q. What is both visual and numerical, enticing yet informative and has the ability to go global in one single jpeg file?

A. It is the Infographic! (official definition: graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge.)

Is it just me, or have you noticed that infographics seem to be appearing everywhere across the net, providing statistical snapshots of anything and everything – from ‘gold medals at the London Olympics’ to the meaning of brand colours and rates of coffee consumption to the population growth.

There seems to be an infographic for every obscure piece of trivia or statistic you could possibly think of. For example, have you ever wondered how many bridesmaids wore identical dresses at weddings?  The ‘Bridesmaids by Numbers‘ infographic will tell you this and more!

But all joking and pink tafetta aside, I will admit, I am a fan.

I’ve always loved a good statistic and the fact that infographics (or data visualisations) breakdown complex data into simple and easily digestable chunks of information packaged up in a pretty, colourful and well designed image makes both hemispheres of my brain happy.

As a marketer, I am even more impressed as these images can act as branded content with a high propensity to go viral. Infographics have the ability to cut-through because they are visual, easy to consume and even easier to share. They are a tool that can be utilised to showcase products and services, position brands as thought leaders, influencers and specialists in their chosen industry, tell a story and ultimately increase reach and engagement. In addition, they can be a great PR tool, as it is always useful to have relevant statistics and numbers of interest when pitching stories.

Even better – according to this recent report from Buddy Media, infographics and other visual content shared on Twitter generate two times more engagement than those without images.

So how can you create and utilise infographics in social media marketing? Here are my observations from across the web:

1. Provide quality content.

Just like all social media marketing, the key is in the content. To engage and enhance sharing potential, infographics need to provide quality information of interest that is different or unique. Don’t rehash or copy a competitor’s data, find new research and tell a different story with a unique perspective or interpretation. And don’t just try to disguise an advertisement as an infographic. Today’s consumers and web users are well informed and highly knowledgeable so will very quickly see through advertisements posing as infographics.

2. Invest in good design.

As with all marketing communication tools, it is worth investing in good design that creates a layout which is visually pleasing and easy to absorb. Break up the text with numbers and images –  according to this Smashing Magazine article, the key to infographic design is “show, don’t tell”. Simplicity appears to be a good rule of thumb. This article from the Guardian also has great advice:  1. Keep it simple, 2. Less is always more, 3. Tell a cohesive story and 4. Make sure your readers can consume the information across all devices and platforms.

3. Take it social across all your platforms

Don’t place an infographic on your website and let it just sit there. Leverage its potential and reach. As it is an image, an infographic has the ability to translate across many platforms and be used on blogs, Facebook pages and other social networking sites. Pinterest is an especially good platform for images and there are a number of accounts devoted purely to infographics. You can also send it to sites that specialise in infographics like dailyinfographic or coolinfographics to which many people subscribe.

4. Maximise your ROI!

Although it is not a disguised advertisement (refer to point 1), ensure that your infographic is sufficiently branded and embedded with clear links back to your website or social media platforms.

Want to find out more? I highly recommend this post from Oli Gardner as a great read on creating and marketing infographics.

Before signing off, I think it is important to acknowledge that not everyone is a fan of infographics and a backlash is slowly emerging online. Their rapid proliferation and unaudited content have caused ripples of discontent and may see them reach a saturation point in the not too distant future.

But I still like them!

So what do you think – are you an infographic fan ….or are you over them and believe that they just perpetuate pointless information? Have you utilised them as part of your social media marketing strategy? What are your tips on how to create good infographics and leverage them for marketing purposes? Love to hear your thoughts and perspectives!

Until next time

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Has Vimeo killed the copywriting star?

Thanks to ThemeShock for the image. http://www.wordpressthemeshock.com

Can you speak social media?

An international language, it is extremely visual with meaning conveyed via images, moving pictures, symbols and acronyms. Informal in tone and execution, it lacks grammatical rigour but is fast, pervasive and permanent.  Conversational in nature some may criticise its simplicity, but it is powerful enough to instantly connect people from all corners of the globe.

Social media reflects the ‘voice of the people’ and for many brands, it has necessitated a fundamental shift in the way they speak with consumers and the tone they use.  Corporate speak, legalese and sales pitchy language has limited appeal on social media. To join in the online conversation, brands have had to change from a monologue approach to one that is far more interactive, personal and responsive.  It is a conversation that requires a human voice and a dialogue.

As a result, we are seeing many big brands humanising their voice by personalising their communications in this space with a friendly tone, casual comments, first name sign offs (and yes even emoticons!) and empowering a social media team to communicate for the brand.

Take a look at the Telstra Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean:

@clancyteach No worries at all Clancy :) Enjoy the rest of your night & I hope you’ve had an awesome weekend, enjoy your week :) -Joe

In a world of 140 character limits, SMS acronyms and simultaneous media consumption, the art of brand communication is changing. The written word of social media is fast, colloquial and dare I say it..everyday language.

So what does this mean for marketing communications? Is social media the metaphoric ice age for copywriters? Are they being replaced by everyday employees using everyday language? Has the copywriter been usurped by the amateur who can add a few words on to a cute picture of a cat or baby or the teenager who can compress a sentence into a few letters punched into a mobile keypad? Does video kill the need for words?

Or does the brevity of social media communication demand direct, articulate and well crafted prose from professional writers?

I posed this question to Melbourne copywriter Andy Segal, a veteran of many big brand campaigns through his work at agencies such as SEE Melbourne and BADJAR Ogilvy. Andy kindly shared his thoughts on how copywriting is changing in both traditional and online channels:

Have you had to change the way you write advertising copy for traditional media channels because of Social Media and the increasing trend towards simultaneous media consumption? 

While the way I write hasn’t changed, concept development in advertising has changed dramatically. People now have a smartphone or ipad tablet with them, basically at all times. So we have to consider not just what people will read, but also if and how people might want to further interact with the ad in front of them, and the brand. 

What sort of writing style suits each platform?

First and foremost, a writing style and tone of voice is developed to suit a brand. Then it is carried across each SM platform.

On Facebook, images get the most attention with short captions accompanying them. Facebook is about lots of small frequent posts that engage the audience. Ask questions to get responses and likes. Be topical and current. Similarly for Twitter, use short posts, images and links that your audience will want.

Importantly, give something of benefit to your audience. They have chosen your brand as a friend. Think of yourself that way.

What is the future for copywriters in this new media landscape?

There is now more of a role for copywriters and creatives. Brands now have Community Managers who are in charge of creating the copy for posts on all channels. This is a new job that we never had before and it will only grow. 

Also with more brands jumping onto Facebook, it has become just another channel in which advertising needs to cut through. Before the internet, most people would have to confront at least 100 advertisements a day (not sure of exact number), be it on tv, billboards, newspaper and print. Imagine how many ads a day you would see now! 

Personally I agree with Andy, and believe that now more than ever good copy is important to cut through. But as he identified, the tone is different and social media written communication needs to be far more friendly than traditional messaging. It also needs to be shorter and this is where the experience of a professional writer comes to the fore – as it is a refined skill to succinctly capture and communicate a message in as few words as possible.

What do you think? Do brands still need copywriters for social media or is the casual everyday approach sufficient? What do you think of the new role of ‘community managers’ for brands? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Until next time…

Marketers take heed of the ‘Mummy Blogger’

Today, one of the most powerful social media influencers is the ‘Mummy Blogger’, women with at least one child who are blogging regularly and sharing their opinions, experiences and thoughts with like-minded females from across the world.

Well established in the US as ‘mommy bloggers’, they are now starting to gain mainstream popularity and attention in Australia. Even the Prime Minister has acknowledged their influence, recently inviting some of the most popular Australian mummy bloggers to an afternoon tea at Kirribilli House.

So why would a bunch of women sharing their holiday snaps, recipe ideas or home decorating tips be of interest to marketers?

Because they are not just talking about their family. In fact, the subject of parenting represents only 20% of their content. The rest of the time they are posting about a range of topics – from politics and business to travel and design and everything inbetween. Most importantly though, they are talking about brands – sixty percent of them say they blog about brands they love or hate.

And when they are talking about brands, others are listeningsome of the most popular mummy blogs boast over 100,000 visitors per day. But more than just listening, their readers are trusting their opinions and acting upon them – over half of the mums reading blogs say they have made a purchase because of a recommendation from a blog. According to the article Mummy Bloggers, Keeping Mum, “Motherhood is a trigger for social interactivity, it’s a time when women seek out information and advice from others who’ve been there and who’s experience they trust.”

Intentional or not, mummy bloggers have created a direct channel of communication that engages and influences millions of female consumers across the world. These bloggers are trusted by women who in turn are responsible for, or directly influence 85% of all consumer purchases. For this segment, mummy bloggers may even be more powerful than celebrity endorsements. They have relevant content, reach and influence and offer a great new channel to marketers who are promoting brands to the female 25-45 year old market.

And this is why they are now on marketers’ radars.

And many of them they know it. Numerous mummy bloggers have their own professional advertising rate cards, PR agencies and conferences. The Washington Post has referred to them as the modern ‘Avon Lady’ – women who can connect and sell to the masses with a personal touch.

However, they still face a fundamental challenge – how to balance the needs of their readers with the demands of actual and potential sponsors. For mummy bloggers, their sphere of influence is proportional to their perceived authenticity so it can be a challenge to commercialise personalisation. Therefore while mummy blogs offer the opportunity to target and cut through to other mothers, marketers need to be creative in their execution so they retain and leverage the personal connection when utilising this channel.

Put simply, they have to select the right bloggers who reach their target audience and execute a strategy that suits both the blog and the brand.

So the three key factors for any marketer looking to this channel are:

1. Ensure that there is a fit between the personality of the blogger, their content, life stage and interests with the brand. It is critical that marketers read the blog, listen to the tone, immerse themselves in the posts and ensure that the blogger’s lifestyle suits their brand. (Don’t do what a vodka brand did and propose a commercial arrangement with one blogger who openly discussed her life as a reformed alcoholic).

2. Understand the blogger’s reach. Look at the number and demographics of followers who have subscribed to the blog, how many comments are generated from every post and their online reach via links, guest blogs and traditional media.

3. Select the right strategy. Marketing via blogs can be executed in a number of ways including display advertising, media releases, product samples, sponsored posts, product giveaways or blogger events. Each one has its own advantages and associated costs so need to be selected according to budget and brand.

On a personal note, some of my favourite mummy blogs include:

What are your thoughts on these bloggers? Do you follow any ‘mummy bloggers’ or have you utilised this channel? How effective do you think bloggers are as influencers? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Until next time…

 

Social Smoker

Josephine Baker in a vintage smoking ad

Is social media the final frontier for cigarettes?

Following this week’s High Court decision on plain packaging, there has been speculation that tobacco companies will intensify their efforts online in a bid to promote their brands and the activity of smoking itself now they have been excluded from traditional marketing channels. This landmark decision may have expedited attempts by cigarette manufacturers to actively pursue social media platforms in a last bid attempt to position their brands, retain market share and attract new customers.

All other regulatory efforts by health departments and governments have been met with a dogged determination to find loopholes and creative ‘work-arounds’ so it would come as no surprise if social media is where big tobacco make their ‘last stand’.

The nature of social media must hold significant appeal to cigarette companies. The heartland of teenagers and young people, it’s relatively relaxed regulation and international reach provides ample scope for the covert stealth marketing practices for which tobacco is renowned. Videos on YouTube offer opportunities for product placement, images can be crafted and shared to appeal to target segments and reviews, comments and forums can keep brands top of mind. Even better, user generated content (UGC), offers both anonymity and deniability.

A quick review of cigarette brands across the most popular social media platforms produces a plethora of content. You can repin beautifully styled images of smokers and their Marlboro pack on Pinterest, ‘like’ any one of the multiple Facebook fan pages for Dunhill Red or watch Lucky Strike commercials on YouTube.

With this much compelling content available online, there is no need for Mad Men!

There is however a very strong argument for anti-smoking bodies to start getting social. These platforms can be just as powerful and pervasive for anti-smoking messages and behaviour change social marketing campaigns. Unfortunately though it appears that they are lagging behind – the homepage for Australia’s national Quit campaign (QuitNow) for example does not even have any social media links – so immediate action is required.

Australia could look to Thailand as an example – they have led the way in creating compelling content that has gone viral. The ‘Smoking Kid’ video from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, had over 800,000 views in its first week on YouTube and the Foundation experienced a 40 per cent increase in the number of calls asking for help to quit smoking.

 

Ultimately however, it may be that social media self regulates. As the tide continues to turn against smokers and tobacco companies in developing companies we should eventually see social norms reflected back into these platforms and a natural attrition of pro-smoking content.

What do you think?

Until next time..

Marketing to the Millenials

Marketing to children is a controversial and often emotive topic. Whatever your personal view on the subject however, there is no doubt that it is big business. Food companies alone spend $1.6 billion a year advertising directly to kids, and children under 12 are estimated to be responsible for over $500 billion in purchases per year.

Children are key influencers and consumers in their own right. They have a potent effect on parent’s wallets through so-called ‘pester-power’, a strong word of mouth network with their peers and the potential to be brand loyalists and advocates for a lifetime.

And in today’s environment, the current cohort of millenials and generation Alpha now have even further reach and influence. Having grown up with mobile phones, the internet and xboxes, they are tech savvy digital natives who are now getting social.

Even though the official entry age is 13, it is estimated that 7.5 million kids under 13 use Facebook, (five million of whom are less than 10 years old) and 14% percent of tweens and teens are regularly blogging. Even PlaySchool is tweeting to the kindergarten age.

Word of mouth in the schoolyard is suddenly a world of mouth.

As a result, social media is an increasingly popular choice for marketers wanting to cut through to a generation who can consume media when, where and how they want, across multiple platforms and a range of digital devices.

This is not just through Facebook likes. One of the most popular social media methods used to target younger audiences is ‘gamevertising’ or ‘advergames’. Also known as immersion advertising, as the name suggests, it integrates branding and advertising messages into virtual social worlds and digital games via characters, plotlines, sponsorships and pop up ads. In Nickelodeon’s NeoPets for example, kids have been known to search for ‘lost chicken mcnuggets’ in the McDonald’s Meal Hunt or retrieved stolen Nestle frozen snacks from the hungry Neopets.

On sites such as Stardoll, over 100 million tween (7-12) girls dress digital paperdolls, join clubs, enter contests and connect with friends in a virtual world peppered with logos and offerings from the big brands including Mattel, UniLever and Dove. They shop for their ‘MeDolls’ and decorate their ‘suites’ with products from virtual branded boutiques like DKNY, Vivienne Tam and Sephora. Friends can send virtual branded gifts to each other and play games like ‘Brand Detective’ where they look for Prada, Antik Batik and Halston in the Word Search.

The social nature of these virtual communities encourages children to connect and influence their friends both online and offline through their virtual purchases, the way they dress their avatars and their wishlists.

Interestingly however many of the brands showcased on StarDoll are luxury products, at the top end of the market which suggests that some brands are pursuing social media channels as a long term strategy to inspire future purchases. Others aim for immediate engagement and buzz (e.g. Justin Bieber movie launch) and utilise the network to drive traffic and sales offline.

The challenge of course is whether brands can convert virtual selections and brand awareness into tangible purchases. Within its first 16 days on StarDoll, Kohl sold 1.8 million garments. Virtually. In the same period they recorded 97,000 click throughs to their website. Less than 20%, and what proportion made it instore?

It has been said that this generation are not interested in ‘liking’ brands or entering into a dialogue. They just want brands to help them connect with others. Social media is certainly a way to do this, but are the new generation of savvy kids turning the table on advertisers by utilising free branded resources to express their preferences rather than commit to an actual purchase?

Or is this type of immersion advertising a little more sinister? Is it shaping impressionable minds at a vulnerable age?

What do you think? Do you, or would you, let your kids enter these ‘branded social networks’?

Until next time…

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Mo Cost, High Return?

Last week in my social media marketing class with @peterwagstaff, I raised the value of social media for not for profit organisations who typically struggle with tight budgets and limited marketing resources.

The response was quick and dramatic from within the room – too often organisations inaccurately believe that social media is a low or no cost activity and do not adequately account for the need to allocate employee time and effort into developing content and maintaining a presence online that is current, engaging and responsive.

Whilst social media may be free, social media marketing is definitely not.

Agreed.

Recent statistics suggest that 58% of marketers invest six hours a week on social media activities and 15% average over 20 hours. This represents a significant chunk of the typical 40 hour working week and as the old adage goes, “time is money”. Organisations also often invest significant dollars in traditional  marketing channels to drive traffic to their social media platforms.

So what benefit does social media offer not for profit organisations, if any?

Working for one myself – community agency LifeWorks Relationship Counselling and Education Services – I have found social media to be an invaluable resource. Two years ago, the majority of LifeWorks’ (limited) marketing budget was swallowed up by exceedingly high cost listings on Yellow Pages directories and sporadic advertisements in local newspapers and radio. As a result, the organisation’s exposure was limited to a single channel and it was unable to afford the frequency necessary to leverage traditional media.

Through the use of social media, we have had access to an unprecedented level of marketing resources that have allowed us to diversify our activities and build a meaningful brand. For us it is not about having a Facebook page (but we encourage all ‘likes’ here!) as our often discrete work in counselling, mediation and family violence have limited the desire for people to promote their patronage of the service.

Rather, social media has provided access to information, resources and connections that we can use to improve our profile and reach.

How?

  • Rather than purchase expensive stock images we have used Facebook and www.starnow.com.au to recruit volunteer models, photographers and makeup artists to conduct our own photoshoot and build a library of unique, high resolution images to use on our website and across all our marketing collateral for under $500.
  • Through blogs we learned of the Google Grants initiative and now have thousands of dollars worth of adword campaigns running online at no cost.
  • Rather than spend money on print advertising, we have gained exposure in the press by using www.sourcebottle.com.au to gain positive PR and build relationships with journalists to the extent that we are now on the speed dial of The Herald Sun relationships editor and even Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’.
  • Most recently we have made tentative steps into ‘digital storytelling’ with free flip cameras from donortec and hosting on Vimeo. (Check out our first video here!)

All this has been achieved in under eighteen months, at less than half the cost of the Yellow Pages ad and we have already seen a positive impact on website traffic and client numbers.

But…for many not for profit organisations, marketing is not just about building awareness and profile, but about actively sourcing funds and converting support into donations.

So the big question in this space is how does social media rate as a fundraising channel?

For causes such as Movember, there is no doubt that social media has played a dramatic role in terms of building both visibility and contributions. As co-founder Adam Garone acknowledges, social media provided the vehicle to amplify word of mouth exponentially so that the 450 Australian moustaches they grew and $54,000 they raised in 2004 exploded into 450,000 moustaches and $81 million in donations globally in 2010. Wow!

Social media is also opening up new ‘crowdfunding’ resources such as kickstarter and givenow and locally, Deloitte Digital partner Pete Williams (@rexster) harnessed the power of Twitter to organise 1.5million in donations and temporary housing for Flowerdale in the wake of the 2009 bushfires.

These examples showcase real social media successes for NFP organisations and causes but at the same time, a recent report quantified the fundraising value of Facebook supporters at $161.30, a figure significantly less than the $214.81 of those acquired through other channels.

Could this be because supporters feel they have made a sufficient contribution by ‘liking’ a cause or charity through social networking sites? Or is it that channels such as direct mail still do better at converting passive support into financial action? Is it just because this is a new activity or do not for profits need to be more creative in the social media space?

Would love to hear what you think!

Have you ever made a donation via Facebook or kickstarter?

Have you seen any great cause marketing online?

Until next time…

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