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April 18, 2011

The Key to Word of Mouth? Give 'em Something to Talk About.

Word of mouth has and always will beat any other form of advertising, especially in today's ambiguous climate.  According to Eating the Big Fish by Adam Morgan, as people’s faith in authority continues to deteriorate, they are turning more and more to family, friends, and strangers for the latest and greatest innovations. From product reviews on Amazon, TripAdvisor, Net Promoter, to the random person you make small talk with in passing, people are putting more equity in their fellow man than the powers that be. And you can make this work for you.

April 12, 2011

Modern SEO: The Optimization of Everything

SEO is an obscure field to most people. It sounds strange, technical, and gimmicky. And with good reason. The history of SEO is filled with stories of technical loopholes and acrobatics that could make the worst websites on the planet rank for extremely irrelevant searches.

Thankfully, as search engines have evolved, SEO has been forced to mature and move out of its technical silo. Google and crew have become much better at deciphering what people actually care about, and, consequently, ranking well now means getting people to care about your business -- at least relative to your competition. The era of narrow-minded SEO is drawing to an end.

Does this mean that there's nothing technical about SEO? Not at all. There are still best practices that need to be implemented to ensure that search engines can even read your site at all, and, once they do, that they interpret it in the ideal way.

What it does mean is that SEO has shifted. Things like brand, design, customer service, and all of your promotional efforts are having an affect on your search engine rankings. If you don't care about integrating SEO into these efforts, don't waste your money on SEO.

Marketing doesn't just live in the marketing department. Successful businesses recognize that anything that impacts customer experiences and perceptions is a part of what drives the bottom line. Likewise, search can't just live in the IT or SEO department. It has to be given a seat at the larger table, where SEO professionals and agencies can advise on how to leverage everything a company is doing in a way that benefits the SEO effort and is consistent with the brand.

If your SEO team is uninterested in the larger picture, content with trying to stay one technical gimmick ahead of the search engines, then you should look for someone new to lead the way.

March 30, 2011

Keep Your Facebook Campaigns, Simple, Cheap & User Focused

Facebook is a prize channel for marketers to start long form conversations with their consumers. Many companies, however, still haven’t got the hang of breaking the ice. In lieu of spamming newsfeeds and developing tech heavy applications, a few marketers have realized that great campaigns can come from putting a clever twist on the everyday habits of users.

To promote opening a new store in Malmo, Sweden, Ikea created a Facebook page for the general manager and uploaded pictures from the showroom. Users could tag items and win them. Simple and cheap, word of mouth about the promotion spread across Facebook, inspiring users to embed links in their profile, become brand ambassadors, and prompted Facebook to revise its policy on picture tagging to prevent such a big event from happening again.

Another buzz worthy idea was using memes to raise awareness by the Breast Cancer Association.  Women randomly posted colors for their status message one day, and proclaimed “I like it in the kitchen,” weeks later, perplexing men with witty wordplay about their bras and purses respectively. Though the magic of each meme only lived for a day, and did not lead users to a destination after the “a-ha” moment, it did serve to generate strong awareness.

To engage the women of Slovenia, Activia developed a campaign to turn users into brand amabassadors. Over a six week period they organized contests that ranged from posting drawings of the product, video pantomimes, and even creating a cocktail to win a hiking trip to Indonesia. Users encouraged friends to vote for them using likes, which helped spread news of the contest, which spread to forums, blogs and newsfeeds, which eventually led to other media.

The trick to starting conversations on Facebook or any medium is to focus on the user experience. Technology and coupons are fine, but it still needs to be easy for users to become involved, and interesting enough for further engagement, and it doesn’t hurt if it makes them say “Hey, look at this!” by embedding a link. A strong focus on your audience's habits will unleash a wealth of opportunities to break the ice and start a buzz around your brand.

 

 

March 18, 2011

The Awkward Truth About Social Media Icons

Bill Bernbach, the godfather of advertising, or whatever celebratory title you wish to give the legend, was said to hate having to put a logo on a print ad. It delivered a message to the reader that this was indeed “an ad,” and therefore could be skipped. Today, he would probably go absolutely bonkers seeing the numerous icons that have become fixtures of ads in addition to the logo. Namely those ever popular social media logos.

They are popping up in almost every form of advertising, digital or not. Their purpose is to push the marketing initiatives of the company in their effort to stay cool, hip, and popular. The thing is, flashing these icons any chance you get is about as tantalizing as saying "Hey, look at me! I'm super cool! I'm with it!" It falls flat, feels fake, and looks awkward.

If you have a print ad in a magazine or newspaper how likely are your consumers to take the time to follow your Twitter or Like your Facebook page? Unless you have a special offer or a call to action that sends them there for more information, not very likely. If anything, they’ll see the numerous icons on the bottom of the page jumbled next to the logo and turn the page.

As the infamous communication theorist, Marshall McLuhan, said “The Medium is the Message.” When developing your Web presence and online strategy, you have to think about what is practical and appropriate to develop an actual conversation with the user. In the age of smart phones, sure, someone could see your ad in a magazine then follow you almost instantly. Still, unless you’re really compelling them to do this, not very likely.

Synergy can be achieved if your social media is pushed in a way that flows organically from one medium to another, without cluttering the message. The next time someone thinks of putting a Youtube icon on the bottom of the page just because you have a page, make sure the ad at least makes them feel like they have something to look forward to, instead of just another ad to skip.

March 17, 2011

Tablets, Tactics and Innovation

The iPad 2 has arrived in stores with all the usual fanfare that comes with the release of an Apple product, including long lines, sell outs, skeptical mania, and finally overwhelming acceptance. The thing is, as usual, Apple’s new product really isn’t anything new. It’s marketing, however, is quite innovative in the sense that it has basically developed a brand new category, even though the category already existed. It’s just no one cared.

Tablets have been around for a few years, but have failed to catch on with consumers. According to Scott Berkum’s The Myths of Innovation, people really aren’t as into new ideas as they would like to you to believe. Further, bigger, faster, stronger, better, more doesn’t really setup a product for easy adoption and success. The main problem? These are just tactics. Shots in the dark hoping someone will pay attention and form a natural interest. Innovation takes more than just tactics. It requires strategy. Few understand this more than Apple.

Apple Newton

People tend to forget about the Newton, one of Apple’s biggest and brightest failures. According to Brant Sears, a developer on the project, the company had the habit of developing things that were really cool, but, unlike now, really impractical. They were the thought leader in the industry, but not thinking straight. They thought differently, sure, but in the awkward sort of way. Newton was one of many products released that failed to grab consumers, despite being “innovative.”

Under the renewed leadership of Steve Jobs, Apple started doing more than thinking differently. They started thinking strategically. Products are cool without being awkward. They are no longer developed with no marketing or follow through. They took their original brand message of being different and dynamic to make the human connection while also showing the practicality of their products to further it.  They’ve learned to do things that impact the human experience and triggers interest, leading their consumers forward with innovation.

 

Though criticized as lazy, the first iPad fell exactly where it needed to be in terms of introducing innovation. As mentioned before, people aren't fans of new ideas. What you can do is build upon the familiar to introduce them to the spectacular. It’s another take on the Adjacent Possible idea discussed by Steven Johnson in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Innovations don’t spring full grown out of people’s heads, but are built on the innovations that have come before. The introduction of such things must be built upon the same foundations in order to find a solid footing with the masses.

The first iPad was basically a bigger iPod Touch. Early reviews were less than sensational, but the emotional responses were astounding. Apple was able to open the gates for people to finally embrace the tablet. Just as they had slowly introduced new things into each iteration of their Mac Books, iPods, iPhone, and other products. Sometimes introducing a new element, and sometimes adopting something that was already standard, or making their own, and bringing their built in audience along with them.

What Apple has shown us is that having an innovative product is not enough if people can’t get into it on an emotional and visceral level. You have to have a strategy that achieves these two factors to bring your audience along for the ride. Being new and genius isn’t the same as the whys and wherefores, but are tactics that only work in the short run to generate thought, where as a good strategy towards introducing innovation will continue to pay you back with interest.