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March 29, 2010

Attention Economy 101: Users Want a Journey, Not Just a Destination

Many businesses that have turned to things like contests or giveaways to reward consumer-attention have found an eerie silence in place of participants. The question hangs heavily in the air for them, are people even interested in participating with brands?

Thankfully, I've found they are. The problem isn't that people aren't willing to engage directly with marketers. Consumers are really quite okay with that; the problem is that many engagements provide a reward without providing a rewarding experience. They're all destination and no journey.

An example of doing it right, the video below summarizes a recently executed effort by the entertainment company Ubisoft. In preparation for the launch of the next game in their Xbox series Splinter Cell, Ubisoft launched an epic treasure hunt of a campaign, sprinkling rewards along the way. The campaign was quite successful, attracting 106,000 site visitors and generating 3,554 forum posts in roughly a month's time. You can read a more thorough analysis of the campaign at this blog.

Besides the epic scale of implementation (the campaign had users viewing source code behind web pages, watching videos, calling telephone numbers, and cracking codes in sign language and binary patterns), what I love most about this campaign is how well the team behind it understands the desires of their customers.

What keeps most people from getting involved in branded contests or activities isn't the quality of the prize. In fact, most companies go above and beyond on the final prize, but fall short all along the way.

What consumers are really looking for is an experience that is rewarding in and of itself. The prize, whether it be money, products or something else, is only a logical justification for the time spent.

The good news is that you don't have to fork over cash prizes or product grab bags every time you want to reward users for giving you their valuable time and attention. Often, the most valuable rewards you can create are psychological in design -- things like a sense of accomplishment, a status symbol, or a good laugh. These are the types of things that make a journey worth while.

Whether it's a Ford Fiesta movement, a Whopper Sacrifice, or something as simple as a photo contest, remember that when you're relying on users to power a campaign, the journey matters as much, if not more, than the destination. By embedding motivators throughout the process, rather than just at the end, you'll draw a much higher rate of participation.

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.