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March 20, 2010

Ever see one of Hitler's paintings?

You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture.

Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement, but I'll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.

-Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

March 19, 2010

The Little Search Engine That Could

If you ask an SEO specialist about Bing, you might detect just the slighted upturn of their mouth, the merest hint of a condescending smirk as they reply “What about it?” Indeed, the SEO community has not given Bing a warm reception. With an emphasis on marketing and less on, well, search, Bing is at best a second choice for search marketing professionals.

Unfortunately for Bing, this opinion is largely shared by their potential customer base. Despite impressive statistics, like a 10% month to month increase in search on Facebook, a Bing partner, Bing is still struggling to gain relevancy months after its release. Some specialists in the field argue that Bing will never succeed, but at NeboWeb we have found areas where Bing is already strong or even has significant opportunities to move in.

All of the things that draw consumers to Google, like its standardized interface, highly relevant results, and brand loyalty, are areas that Bing can probably never compete in. Coincidentally, the areas where Bing is at its best are usually areas where it doesn’t have to stand toe-to-toe with Google or are areas where Google is comparatively weak.

Bing's travel experience (even if it is a Kayak rip-off) manages to stand out from Google's, and their ever-changing background images mange to stand out from the drone-like experience of the Google homepage. Bing has also innovated with its maps interface by introducing a beautiful, enhanced maps option powered by Silverlight, and by adding photos, live videos, and their very own photosynth technology to their maps results. While the usefulness of these features is debatable, they are certainly impressive, which is where Bing's strength lies. While Google may only be concerned with serving the user the most accurate results, Bing is taking active efforts to woo users with impressive feautures.

But Bing's biggest opportunity could very well lie more in their branding and less in their feature set or design. In 1963, the rental car company Avis hired creative legend Bill Bernbach's agency Doyle Dane and Bernbach (DDB) to help them reshape their brand, and there's a lot that Bing could learn from the result. After months of meeting and research, the agency produced a series of advertisements that dramatically changed their business. Within a year, revenue was up by 4 million, and the company turned its first profit in thirteen years.

The advertisements rested on one simple, honest statement and its coinciding profound conclusion -- respectively, “Avis is only No. 2.” and "We try harder because we have to." Like Avis, Bing has an opportunity to embrace being the underdog and find a way to become the spirited, counter-cultural alternative.

However, in light of this opportunity, Bing is still trying to play both sides of the street. Their highly visible relationship with Microsoft is an aggressive attempt to capture more market share by not alienating the Microsoft-loyal, but it could end up hurting them in the long run by watering down their opportunity to be the underdog brand.

In addition to Bing's current opportunities in search experience and branding, a big bet on future growth seems to be Bing's best chance to please the execs at Microsoft. In this respect, Bing has two major opportunities: the youngest generation who have yet to establish brand loyalty, and mobile users who are looking for a more image focused search format. Neither group will come easily.

The young generation may not have a history with Google, but it’s likely that their parents do. In the coming years, it wouldn't be surprising to see a slew of Bing ads aimed at youngsters, trying to sway them from their parent's tradition. In the mobile search arena, Bing has a chance to move into a space that has yet to be claimed by Google, but a fight here will be toe-to-toe, as Google is also primed to take advantage of this opportunity.

If Bing plays their cards right, they could have a bright future ahead of them, but only time will tell if the little search engine that could actually does.

March 17, 2010

The Interdisciplinary Nature of Marketing

When faced with a marketing challenge, different people turn to different solutions. The psychologists in the room might turn to motivational research. The social media gurus might suggest a monitoring platform. Those who are really with it, as Marshal McLuhan puts it in this interview, might turn to behavioral economics or game design. What we can learn from history and from current trends is that marketing is interdisciplinary by nature. Each of these fields holds valuable knowledge that marketers can apply, and yet none of them alone can answer all of a marketer's questions.

Because marketing should ultimately be concerned with so many aspects of the business, the profession brings a multitude of skill sets underneath its umbrella. There is very little that doesn't have a seat at the marketing table in some form or fashion. Renowned industrial designer Harmut Esslinger says, "If you don't understand business and the whole idea of economics, and ecology, and sociology, you cannot be a designer." But even design, which Harmut professes to encompass so much, is encompassed by the marketing agenda.

Even when individuals move towards a niche specialization, marketing as a profession continues to draw on an expanding set of knowledge. We need the psychologists. We need the sociologists. We need the technologists. We need the designers, and we need the behavioral economists. There are many seats at the marketing table, and we need them all to be filled.

Is it a given that a marketer is also a specialist in one of these areas? What skill set do you think is most important for marketers today and in the years to come? Let us know what you think in the comments or send us a tweet.

March 12, 2010

Good Read for a Monday Morning (Even on a Friday)

A little less than a year ago, Adam sent an e-mail out to the company with David Foster Wallace's 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech, This is Water. He titled the e-mail "Good Read for a Monday Morning." It's Friday, but I think this is a good read for any morning, or afternoon, or evening for that matter.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"

Hat tip to Kottke and congratulations to the University of Texas (my home state) for acquiring Wallace's archives.

March 8, 2010

Viral Marketing 101: The Difference Between Viral Memes & Viral Platforms

There are two types of viral. Viral memes and viral platforms.

Viral memes are things like subservient chicken, and email chains about rat feces in your coke can. They spread quickly because they hit a nerve in popular culture. They're shooting stars. They spread fast and then they disappear. This is natural. After all, when's the last time you watched "David at the Dentist", or any of the other viral hits of the past year?

Too often Interactive marketers try to create the next big viral meme. They want to make the next "elf yourself" or the next "subservient chicken." But, time and time again, they fail. They fail because memes are unpredictable. They require an adoption by the greater culture that is completely random. This doesn't mean brands shouldn't create fun and entertaining content. They should, but they shouldn't create it because they want it to go viral. They should create it because it has value. Because it makes people smile, it communicates a product benefit or because it's strikes a chord with their target audience.

The opposite of the viral meme is the Viral Platform. Viral platforms are unique because they become more useful as more people join. Think flickr, facebook, paypal, or even farmville (a viral game platform built on top of an already existing viral platform). Viral platforms exhibit the same rapid growth rate as viral memes, but they have staying power. Since their utility increases as more people join, their growth leads to stickiness. These positive network effects create a feedback loop that leads to rapid growth, rapid adoption and long term utility. And amazingly, their growth rates are almost completely predictable. Once you know the viral coefficient, you can model their growth up until they reach the saturation point.

Unfortunately, most marketers don't understand the difference between these two approaches. If you want to create a successful viral campaign/business, the first step is deciding which of these two approaches you want to take. Both approaches can work, but you need to be realistic in your expectations. Meme's are great, but you have to throw a lot of stuff against the wall to try to get something to stick. There are no guarantees. Viral platforms are more predictable and long lasting because of their positive network effects, but it takes a lot more effort to create them. They have to provide utility, or fill a need. But, if you can create a successful viral platform, the efforts can be well worth the investment.

March 5, 2010

Is Game Design The Future of Marketing?

In recent years, between console wars and massive multiplayer online games (MMOs), the gaming industry has boomed. Consequently, the practice of game design has also attracted more attention. At the heart of game design is the art of interactive storytelling, and that art is also at the heart of several other practices. For marketers, there's much that can be learned from the study of game design theory, how it has been applied to other fields, and how it can be applied to ours.

In this excellent presentation at the DICE Summit this year, Jesse Schell examines the question of what happens when game design theory is applied to other fields of study. In an example of game design applied to schooling, Jesse presents fellow game designer and University of Indiana professor Lee Sheldon as a sort of case study:

School is a game right? You go, you get scored, you come out, there’s a leaderboard etc. He doesn't give out grades anymore; he gives out experience points, and you level up through the class. And so class attendance is up. Class participation is up. Homework is turned in often and better, because it's a better structure, a better system.

While I doubt many of our readers are professional game designers, or even teachers, many of you are marketers. So, how can we learn to implement these types of systems, these games, into our marketing strategies? What game design theory can we learn from before heedlessly introducing points, challenges, and contests into our tactics?

Early in their book Rules of Play (hat tip Big Spaceship), authors Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman describe  their three primary schemata for viewing the study of game design:

  • RULES contains formal game design schemata that focus on the essential logical and mathematical structures of a game.
  • PLAY contains experiential, social, and representational game design schemata that foreground the player’s participation with the game and with other players.
  • CULTURE contains contextual game design schemata that investigate the larger cultural contexts within which games are designed and played.

In many ways, these three overarching categories describe every marketing campaign. Each implementation lives within the context of logical limitations, social incentives and barriers, and the cultural identity and behaviors of those exposed to it.

There are clear cross-overs between marketing and game design, and behind each of these schemata are valuable lessons that will help marketers create better systems, systems that lend themselves to a better customer experience and influence customer behavior positively.

If you have any insights on game design theory, examples of great game design applied to marketing, or just want to leave some feedback, please leave a comment or send us a tweet.

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