How Marketers Can Ruin Video Sites Like Hulu For The Rest Of Us

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A Brief Intro...

I started this three-part series with a discussion of "the new creativity" and asked if the freemium business model would be better for video content sites like Hulu. Then, I outlined 7 ways Hulu could benefit from a freemium model.

And finally, after all of this persuasive writing, I'd like to examine how a few boneheaded marketers will probably f*ck up the whole "free video content" thing for everyone.

Intrigued? I thought so. Let's get into it.

They'll Never Pay For It. Until They Do.

In my last post, I outlined a plan where Hulu could profit by packaging some already- (or mostly-) existing assets into an awesome premium package some viewers would gladly pay for.

Hulu would be happy because they'd be making money. Their free audience would be happy because they'd still get great shows for zilch. And their premium audience would be happy because they'd get a bunch of perks and cool stuff for a nominal fee.

You'd think everyone would be happy, right?

Peter Verna, senior analyst with eMarketer is pessimistic that these perks could be bundled together into a premium package. He was quoted in a November OMMA article, "Trim Marks":

"It's fair to say that consumers are generally not willing to pay directly for online video...

I also think that if Hulu and YouTube are going to start charging for some of their content, they should limit it to feature films. Virtually everything else they offer seems to work better in an ad-supported context, with the caveat that user-generated clips are challenging to monetize through any model."

True, most of the examples in "Trim Marks" were from digital studios creating original content. But comments like Verna's certainly apply to sites like Hulu and the lessons ought to be applied to any website specializing in video content. The history of online video over the past 10 years or so would support his notion that people generally won't pay for online content.

My point is that premium customers aren't paying for online video. They're paying for more flexibility. They're paying for the ability to suggest shows or brag to their friends. They are paying for a better user experience.

A Lonely Voice Crying Out From The Wilderness

Of course, not all agencies are going to challenge their clients to try new business models. Many are happy to pretend the world isn't changing.

In that same OMMA article, John McCarus, VP and director of brand content at Third Act, said "We have made an investment in this and we are doing everything we can to connect the stars in the content-creation community with clients that understand the space and have an appetite."

OK, that's McCarus' idea, but will this sit well with content creators? Isn't this the definition of selling out? If online trust is built through honesty, sincerity, and reputation, I don’t see how this will work long-term. Sure, one-offs will flock to it, but creators looking to connect will likely shy away from this business model.

But the suits go ever further! Studios need to "make room for advertisers to play an active role in the shape of a show," says Alan Schulman, executive creative director for The Digital Innovations Group.

Are you friggin' kidding me? So instead of advertising against content, they will dictate the content as well?

Schulman pushes it even further: studios "should expand their base of business from pure narrative storytelling to weaving other types of narratives like brand-centric edutainment into their offerings."

Edutainment? Yeah, nothing says viral video success like "edutainment." This is a guy with his finger on the pulse on the YouTube generation alright </sarcasm>.

Let me be clear: These are really, really bad ideas. It's wedging the old model (selling ads next to content) into a new form (online) while diluting the content that attracted your viewers in the first place (edutainment).

This is a recipe for failure.

Smart Video Advertising

If you're going to sell ads, you need to be smart about it. Here are a few hints about video ads you should know if you plan to be in this business 2 years from now:

  1. Ads need to be contextual. Since there is no AdWords for video, this means a lot of work either tagging or actually selecting the ads that run against your content.
  2. Users will not pay for content. As I mentioned in my last post, they will pay for a package of perks. They will also (for now) tolerate a pre-roll ad. But dictating the content? Good luck!
  3. Any product placement should be handled subtly. Yes, it was Nestea that was spilled on and gave magical powers to the keyboard in CTRL. But no one needed to shove it in our faces or “educate” us about how great a sponsor was. Just make it work.

In short, if you want to create business advocates – and you should – you must think of their needs first.

And that has been the point of this blog series. It began with a discussion of which business model is best for online video consumers. Then there were suggestions for Hulu to improve their user experience. And finally a warning against putting your desires before the customer.

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Why The New Creativity Changes Everything And Will Punch You In The Face

Sad Businessman

If you’re a marketer in love with the status quo, you should quit right now.

This isn’t a post about the fast pace of change or an “X is dead” post; rather, it’s an “I friggin’ love our business and evolution of marketing” post. Yeah, I said friggin’.

Fundamental business models are changing – you can see it everyday. We hear news all the time about another sacred cow being slaughtered (newspapers – Moo!).

But not everyone is losing money. Why?

Innovative businesses are using what Joseph Jaffe dubbed “the new creativity” to reach and connect with a new generation of consumers. It’s simple to understand, an art to produce, a feat when accomplished, and willfully ignored by most businesspeople.

This Blog Post Brought To You By…

In the old days, businesses bankrolled the creative process (“Welcome to Guiding Light, brought to you by Dove Soap”). Businesses placed their ads against creative work to cover the cost. Those 2 minute bathroom commercial breaks are the reason you could watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” for free (lucky you).

Other models came about, notably the subscription model, which offered the convenience of delivery by trading money up front and in advance.

The early days of the internet brought us contextual ads. Glory upon glory, we could now (sorta) sync up ads with the actual content. Sure, it’s awkward when McDonald’s ads show up against stories about childhood obesity, but whatevs.

Web 2.0 botched it all up though. People ignored or rebelled against ads in their social spaces. Impressions plummeted in value. The general public (hell, you and me) got used to free content online and no RIAA or anyone else would tell them different.

What Is The New Creativity?

Last week, I serendipitously caught up with back episodes of The Beancast and saw a new study released by eMarketer.

In episode #76 of The Beancast, Joseph Jaffe described “The New Creativity:”

“I don’t know how much originality is in the idea itself, but it’s in the execution where you see the real beauty of it. And ultimately that control and that power – and to what degree it becomes a meme and to what degree it lives on and gets a life of its own and gets embraced by the consumer – is ultimately in the hands of the consumer.

And maybe that can become the new definition of creativity.” (minutes 37-38)

The old creativity required advertisers and marketers to create something interesting enough (or loud enough) that would effectively interrupt the user’s day so that they’d pay attention to it. It’s a one-way street. And kinda inherently douche-y.

But the new creativity is a little different. Advertisers and marketers are encouraged to tell a compelling enough story to entice the user to tell their friends about your product. Plus, the marketer often gets the benefit of instant feedback from the user about their pitch/story/content.

It looks roughly like this terrible sketch:

Biz models 1

As you can plainly see, the old way involved a lot of yelling marketers and irritated consumers. (See those lines coming off the consumer? In the biz, we call those "irritation lines." They're usually accompanied by a "Grrrr!" sound.) With the new creativity, communication goes both ways between a marketer and consumer, and between a consumer and their friends. (Many thanks to Jonny, our 5-year-old neighbor for contributing this work of art.)

The Results

We see this everywhere.

We can see evidence of this in the obsession with (and success of) social media marketing, the decline of direct marketing, the spread of viral – it’s everything we used to do, but now the more profitable interaction is between friends (rather than between marketer and user).

The tools – and it’s important to remember that these shiny objects like Twitter, Flickr, delicious, etc – are just that: tools. Now, they can amplify each person’s voice. Blogs allow a personal publishing platform never conceived of in all human history. Influencers arise, the same way they do in your social circles. The only difference is that the bullhorn these influencers use is a hell of lot bigger.

And when the important (read: profitable) interaction is between friends, the old business models don’t work as well. Would you mindlessly slap an ad on the Starbucks table while sharing a cup of joe with a friend? Would you insist that friends “subscribe” to your future conversations?

Of course not. It’s weird. It’s anti-social. And it’s not working. (Cue marketer panic from recent years.)

That's why marketers in love with the status quo should quit right now. If you're not ready for it, the new creativity will punch you in the face.

Um, So Like…What Do We Do?

So while some Luddites continue to completely block content with a firewall and a few lucky ones have made a subscription model profitable (I’m looking at you, WSJ), most are waking up to the new world.

It’s time we look at another business model. Tout de suite.

But I’m going to make you wait for it (it’s OK, it’ll build tension and that’s fun). Later this week, I will suggest a business model that is showing great potential to marketers…especially those embracing new social networking tools (that's the eMarketer study I mentioned). Plus, I will apply this to a business desperately in need of a new path. Hopefully that application - the execution of an idea that gives power to the consumer - will be enlightening.

Please come back for that post (subscribing is uber-easy). And please leave comments below about the new creativity. Is it bitchin’ or bogus?

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High Hopes For Advertising And Social Media In Super Bowl 2009

high-hopes

Last year, I declared that the Super Bowl ads fumbled, but I think this year will be different.

Big name advertisers are getting the message that their audiences like social media interaction. Brian Solis announced that Anheuser-Busch developed AB-Extras, an entire site built to allow customers to "get up close and personal with the people (and Clydesdales) that make up its highly anticipated Budweiser and Bud Light commercials."

Sure, it's self-serving and lacks commenting functionality. It lacks in true dialogue, but the site is great for a behind-the-scenes look. It is certainly a step in the right direction.

Looking beyond advertisers, the NFL, Fox Sports, and the Super Bowl itself are getting in on the social media game. All of the ads are again featured on MySpace, but the page is designed much better than last year. Plus they added some great interaction opportunities.

The all-out winner for the pre-game blitz, however, goes to the NFL. They offer live video and instant analysis, but you would expect that. But they win big with their other offerings, including a replay re-cutter (where you can create your own highlight reel and rank other viewer's videos), voting on Bruce Springsteen's playlist, and they kill it on Twitter - lots of personality and incredible insights. Where else could you hear that Snoop Dogg and Kevin from The Office visited the NFL HQ?

Watching For Ads That Engage

Now, it's really up to the advertisers. Forrester Research declared that social media became mainstream in 2008. Does that mean this year's Super Bowl ads will be more engaging, with plenty of opportunities for dialogues with brands?

That's what I'm going to be watching for during this year's Super Bowl. Check back on this blog during and after the game for a summary of engagement, defined by instances of:

  • Pre-game engagement: User-generated content, selection of particular ad
  • During-game engagement: Live voting, website URL
  • Post-game engagement: Social media opportunities, broader engagement

I will post after each half of the game, listing engagement grades for each brand's ad. Or you can follow me on Twitter at @MarketerBlog for up to the minute analysis.

Feel free to leave comments below about your favorite Super Bowl ads from the past. What got you to engage the brand or have a unique experience? Which ads went beyond just making you laugh, but rather made you feel connected to a product? I look forward to hearing your responses.

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PR Fail: 11 Ways AMC Could Have Avoided The Mad Men Twitter Flap

Image stolen and probably fodder for future lawsuit By this time, you've probably heard about the AMC-Mad Men-Twitter flap. If not, check out Jennifer Jones' SpeakMediaBlog for an explanation and update.

Basically, someone started tweeting as Don Draper, the protagonist of Mad Men - a popular show on AMC. He'd say smarmy things and recommend Scotch in the afternoons (ok, the mornings too). Then we noticed Peggy. Then Joan, Pete, and the rest of the gang. They would disperse bits of wisdom mixed with comments riffing from the show.

And for just a second, you felt like you were part of the show. It was a step toward a Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU) - a concept coined by WMBN founder Rick Liebling from eyecube.

The only trouble was that the corporate overlords at AMC did what corporate overlords always do: over-react and send in the lawyers. The profiles were pulled and the Sterling Cooper Twitter branch offices went dark.

Or Did It?

Within 36 hours, AMC was dancing the mea culpa at beat the band. Accounts were reinstated and things seemed back to normal. The only thing the exercise in stupidity garnered was a load of bad press. The reaction from the blogosphere was loud and angry - but most often, not helpful.

However, here at OnlineMarketerBlog, we believe in positivity. So, to help AMC and the future AMCs (don't laugh - it could be you next time, buddy), I offer 11 ways they could have avoid the bad press, instilled brand loyalty, and maybe even picked up new viewers in the process. Here is what AMC could have done rather than dispatch the lawyers.

  1. Pay the kid. Seriously. He's already doing your job because he loves it. What better person to have on the payroll?
  2. Register similar names and do it yourself. If he's using @Don_Draper, register @DonDraper (oops, too late again!). If you think you can do it better, the do so.
  3. Hook him up with product placement deals. Have Don hock Scotch and have Joan push push-up bras. Then give him a substantial cut. Everybody's happy.
  4. Secure the SterlingCooper URL before you piss him off. The guy was using SterlingCooperAdvertising.com (which re-directs to AMC's site) before all this started, so he's either smart or sending you traffic. If it's the former and he registered the URL, pay him for it before the shouting starts.
  5. Start up tangential Twitter accounts to serve as a social connector. I'd be sure to follow @SterlingCooperBreakRoom just to see what happened.
  6. Use him to foreshadow. Send this guy early information about the next episode so he can build anticipation among your most fervent fans.
  7. Spruce up his Twitter pages. Send him quality designed images so your product looks as good as possible, even if someone outside the company is doing it.
  8. Test out new characters online. Flesh out the voice of potential characters (and build a following) before introducing them on the show.
  9. Send him shwag to give away. Build his cache and your own by delivering Mad Men martini shakers and Mad Men high-gloss shoe polish. Fans would go rabid.
  10. Set up a job board for advertising/PR/marketing folks. Collect ad money and job advertiser fees to keep the site afloat, then use it to cultivate new advertisers for the television show from companies soliciting for jobs.
  11. Hold contests. For instance, hold a "best line from a character" Twitter contest and then feature the winning statement on a future episode. Tons of people send in free content, you get a lot of good will, and you encourage viewers to take on your character's personas. This equals a brand engagement super-win.

There you have it - 11 ways AMC could have avoided all the unpleasantness and bad press, and given fans something to enrich their experience rather than subtract from it. But, you know what, I'd like to pass along a bonus idea for bone-headed companies: Try talking to the person first.

It turns out the guy behind all the of the profiles and tweets would have been happy to turn over the keys and go on his merry way. I know actually picking up the phone and calling is just a crazy idea to many in business-land, but believe me, you can avoid a lot of hassle that way. Oh, and I don't mean a lawyer calling - I mean a real person.

Don't Laugh Yet

Sure, AMC has egg on their face this week, but that will pass. I don't really mean to be so hard on them - I love the show and have no reason to think they will make the same mistake again (otherwise, I wouldn't be giving real suggestions).

However, remember that any company is susceptible to tone-deaf-ness when they don't pay attention (or at least have a new media consultant, cough, cough). Your company could be next. What are you doing to avoid AMC's fate? Are you listening to your customers and congregating where they are? If not, you likely deserve to get blindsided.

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Are You Outsourcing Your Best Asset?

Are you outsourcing the most valuable aspect of your business? Or worse yet, not paying attention to it at all? Technology has been replacing humans at work for many years. And recently the remaining humans in American and elsewhere have been replaced by other humans in areas that pay lower wages. The result has been a significant deemphasis in the value of human capital in business in America.

Here's The Equation

Web 2.0 amplifies the voices of dissatisfied consumers. And yet, most companies have been subtracting the number of humans period (technology) or humans housed at the corporate office (out-sourcing). Finally, another increasing trend is the face-to-face contact consumers expect from companies (ComcastCares, anyone?).

Increase in personal interaction - humans equipped to handle that interaction + web 2.0 vehicles to spread word of dissatisfaction = potential major headache for companies.

The Good News

Some companies, however, understand the increasing importance of the customer experience. H&R Block set up a Second Life avatar to answer tax questions during scheduled meeting times, in addition to their efforts on Twitter and Facebook. They understood that they were required to go to where their customers were, instead of expecting customers to come to them.

This outreach isn't easy though. The Social Media podcast spoke with Paula Drum, VP of Marketing for H&R Block about this outreach:

"The other big surprise is how much time you have to put in from a human capital standpoint. And we knew that going in, that the trade-off between buying media is going to be the human capital side, but really understanding that human capital side of it and thinking about it from [the perspective that] 'if this is successful, how do you scale it to make sure you can still deliver the same experience.'"

What's A Small Business To Do?

If a huge, multi-national corporation in a highly conservative, regulated industry recognizes the use of social media, what is your excuse? If this business behemoth was able to learn and grow along with their customers, why is your small business still wavering?

While I mention the cost in human capital, there are two important factors for my readers who are small business owners:

1. While time is a cost, most of these social media tools are completely free, including blogging, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Delicious, etc.

2. Your human capital costs will be much, much smaller than H&R Block. First, the number of customers clamoring for your attention are far less. Second, you aren't hiring an associate marketing director to oversee this.

Teach your smartest high school employee about what you want to get out of the exercise, what your priorities and expectations are, and what they can handle versus what you need to be alerted to. If they are as smart as you think, I would wager they could effectively handle 95% or more of that traffic.

The Gist

Don't outsource the most important part of your business: the human part! I don't know how human capital became so devalued, but I urge you not to make this common mistake. Create advocates of your employees so your brand will be safe and your company will prosper.

Or am I completely wrong? Am I overstating the importance of human capital or is it simply too expensive an investment? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Bonus Note: Examples Of Companies Ignoring The Focus On Customer Service And Human Capital

In recent years with the advent of web 2.0, stories of the effects of this shift have been circulating at an increasingly rapid pace. Just last week, as though any of us needed more evidence of phone companies' problem with their human capitol, Max Kalehoff and Seth Godin wrote ripping criticisms of Sprint and Verizon's customer service failures, respectively.

The Seven Deadly Sins Of Social Media

Social media like Facebook, Flickr, and Delicious has been around for a couple of years now and companies are starting to dip a tentative toe into the water. While such courage should be applauded, serious missteps have occurred that embarrass the offending company.

And it is not the courageous steps that have been embarrassing, but the sheer level of assholery with which companies have partaken their social media experiments. Because social media is all about sharing, collaboration, and communication, it is little surprise that folks expressed outrage at the heavy-handed or downright immoral dealings of the companies outlined below.

In this post, I will list five of the deadly sins as outlined by Joseph Jaffe's speech at the ANA's Integrated Media Conference and then offer two additional sins of my own.

From Joseph Jaffe:

  • Faking (Sprint): The phone company released ads in which the CEO offered an email address, giving the opportunity for communication. Instead, a corporate shill auto-responder emails back.
  • Manipulating (Sony): The maker of the PSP created a fake blog and attempted to manipulate the conversation. They ended up garnering a deserved "golden poop" award.
  • Controlling (T-Mobile): The phone company sent cease and desist letters to a popular blog for using a color they claim to have trademarked. The blogosphere revolted and T-mobile missed a chance to meaningfully engage with its customers.
  • Dominating (Target): A blogger was ignored by the retail giant because they felt she didn't have the clout of traditional media outlets. After the blogger gained more and more attention, Target claimed that their continued silence was based on a lack of adequate staff.
  • Avoiding (Starbucks): The coffee giant already felt a squeeze from its consumer base, but avoided a fan's desire to visit every store was passed on. The only response to the fan was one of suspicion.

In these cases, the sin is not that the company was just stupid (though there's no shortage of that). The sin is that they failed to engage at a pivotal moment with an active community that supported them with their checkbooks. They refused to join the conversation and felt the ramifications.

Here are my two nominations to round out the deadly sins of social media:

  • Greediness (AP): The Associated Press recently pushed for restrictions on the amount of their content bloggers could cite. In the era of Google juice, link love, and a wealth of online information, the AP chose the path of restriction, as though this greediness would result in keeping all of the information under their roof. It took only 24 hours for the back-peddling to begin and it now appears that they will wisely drop the call for restrictions. They had the opportunity to engage their readership, even empower the bloggers and other outlets who were distributing their content free of charge, but they trotted out the lawyers instead.
  • Cowardice (Dunkin' Donuts and Heinz): Dunkin' Donuts pulled a series of ads after political partisans attacked spokeswoman Rachael Ray's scarf for looking like a terrorist's (yes, you read that correctly - a terrorist scarf). Likewise, Heinz pulled an ad deemed by the small-minded to be "unsuitable for children" because the on-running joke throughout the ad ends with two men kissing (cripes, the explanation sounds racier than the actual spot). Instead of giving their customers some credit or engaging in a conversation about the merits of their arguments (or the absurdity of their opponent's), both companies caved. A conversation was passed up in favor of tucking tail and running.

These examples did not emerge from the company's social media outreach per se, but they do speak to elements in a new social media economy. When companies are scared to engage their customers, it is a bad sign. All of these examples - Jaffe's and mine - are based around fear.

I highly encourage you to read more about Joseph Jaffe's speech and read some of the other sources linked to in this article. Is your company scared to talk to its customers? Are you worried about what you might find out? Or do you have more examples of companies living the old way (dictating brand messages from above)? Let us know in the comments section below.

P.S.: I can't end a post about seven deadly sins without a hat tip to Sonia for writing the 10 commandments of social media. That sounds so much more regal! Her first commandment? "Thou Shalt Participate in the Conversation"...

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Keep The Design Simple - 3 Easy Ways To Improve Your Email Campaigns Today

This week, I am doing a series on three easy ways to improve your email campaigns. There's no rocket-science here, but the basics are often over-looked. On Monday, I posted about making your emails personal and on Tuesday I posted about making them targeted and relevant. While content is important, we can't forget email design either. Here's a viable candidate for the mistake most often made by well-intentioned marketers: they over-design and don't do enough usability testing. For instance, have you ever opened an email only to be greeted by one huge white box with a red "x" in it? No Sweat makes some great all-union-made clothes, but their enewsletter is one big image. And images are disabled automatically by most email vendors (including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and AOL - that's a lot of your email audience).

Secondly, don't forget the preview pane. Most Outlook users only view your email through their preview pane and this has two major results: emails viewed through the preview pane without enabling images do not count as opens and the preview pane blocks most of your email's content.

Hence, advise your boss to relax a little when it comes to open rates (especially you B2Bers) and remember to design with the preview pane in mind. If your audience only sees the first 2-4 square inches in the upper left corner of your email, make them important!

I used a table of contents to good effect in a former job and we increased our open rate substantially because readers knew from the preview pane whether they wanted to read the full content of the email. And take special care to craft really intriguing subject lines and headlines.

Keep your logo prominent and small so that they know it comes from a trusted source if they can see the image and so it doesn't take up too much valuable space if they can't.

The art guys in your office are probably really good at what they do, but don't forget that marketers are responsible in the end. Use their talents but don't let them dictate what goes where. In my personal experience, I have found art directors very understanding and willing to work with me, once they understand the limitations imposed by the medium. (After all, they want their work to be seen too!) This article from 2005 still has relevant material about blocked images and preview pane hassles.

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Epic Fail: Customer Service - How Citibank Failed and Why They'll Never Know

Update: I've received some attention from the post below, but I feel as though I should clarify a few things. The email from Citibank was lame, but for a huge company, not totally surprising. However, the arrival of this email does not necessarily negate that the company is listening. Toward the end of the post, I make that connection and most of the time, it's true. In this case, however, I don't think it is responsible to connect one lame email with a company's entire attitude.

That said, the moral of the post - companies who fail to listen will be overtaken by those that do - still stands. I believe that will only become more apparent as time goes on. -End update

To fail may be human, but for a company to fail at customer service these days may well be disaster.

You may remember when I mentioned a Citibank ad last week in a post about features versus benefits in advertising. Their print ad was spot-on when it spoke about how Citibank fit into their customers' lives (plus, who can resist a cute puppy?).

Citibank fail small

Epic Fail

So when I sent them an email noting my complimentary post, I expected at least a quick "thanks!" That's the response I got from Moosejaw (they even promised to send me some schwag which must have gotten lost in the mail...). So imagine my surprise then almost 48 hours later, they reply with a standard "sorry, we can't even respond to your email" email.

The email isn't that important and I don't expect a pat on the back from a multi-national company. However, the time delay tells me that this was not an auto-generated email - some person sitting at a computer was getting paid to send Citibank customers (or fans!) crappy, say-nothing emails. Which means their customer service representative's job is to rebuff customers or potential customers.Amazon small

What It Means To Be Human

Yet, on the same day I received this epic fail, I went to Amazon.com. On the top of the homepage - the very first thing you saw - Amazon was thanking its customers for buying the Kindle, offering special discounts for those who ordered in advance, and relating in a totally human way by showing off the Kindle cake. How different is this response?

Maybe Seth Godin is right (again). About two-thirds through the first disc of the Meatball Sundae audio disc, Godin talks about the difference between companies that sold stuff (meatballs) before the internet and those that grew their business on and through the internet (the sundae). (Incidentally, notice that there are two friendly mentions on the Meatball Sundae Amazon page that tell me the book is available on a Kindle.)

The point of his whole book is that you can't just use the fun new web tools - blogs, wikis, Facebook, etc. - to sell that same regular stuff. These new tools require a whole new business model. And the reality is that it is really, really difficult to do this if you are in the meatball business.

Sometimes you can learn from failure; hell, sometimes it's down-right hilarious. But to fail at customer service these days, when it's as easy and cheap as an email, is ludicrous. Sure, Citibank is the old model, selling meatballs like they have for a hundred years. But it's time to clean the dust out of your ears and start listening to your customers. Either that or you won't have to worry about them being customers for much longer.

It's Online Branding Time

Written by today's guest blogger: This is my first post here on the OnlineMarketerBlog. I was asked by our kind host to share some thoughts I have about online branding. By way of credentials, I work in the marketing department of a large national company. I'm a copywriter by training with internet, print, and broadcast experience. And now for the disclaimer: These ideas which I'm about to share are of course mine, and don’t reflect the ideas of this blog’s host or my employer. I was at work the other day when I came across this Acura landing page. It’s a robust landing page that touts the features of the car. And these types of pages are everywhere. Nissan, Toyota, Honda, GM...they all have them. And they're all really boring. They do serve a purpose. These sites let prospective buyers learn about and price out a car. But they don’t tell a prospective owner anything about the brand.

And then I started thinking…why don’t car companies spend some of their immense marketing budgets on online branding efforts? The car market as a whole is perfect for online branding. Since cars are aspirational, a branded message speaks directly to how people should feel when they buy a specific car. In a lot of ways the brand message is just as important as a car’s features to a consumer. I tried to think back on examples of online branding in the car market and I came up with two, a Scion advergame and two Nissan Rogue videos.

So where are the online branding campaigns? Is it purely that these companies are focused on the active consumer? Someone who is currently researching new cars? Is it because they are scared that they can’t track the value of a branding campaign?

And the answer is…market segments. Scion is geared towards 20 year olds. Nissan introduced the Rogue on the television show Heroes. These brands skew young and marketers think that only younger folk will view viral online videos and advergames.

It is a fallacy that online branding is only for the young and not for the soccer mom driving an Odyssey or the contractor driving a Dodge Ram.

Just remember what BMW did before people had ever heard the term viral video. They created BMW Films an almost perfect aspirational brand message targeted towards their core consumer.

Just leave the talk of how much money the movies cost for another discussion. Sure it was expensive, but how many BMWs do you need to sell to recoup those costs?

Please Ignore This Ad - Features vs. Benefits

BG and I were driving to work on Friday when I commented on a radio ad. She said she hadn't even noticed it and I can't say I'm surprised. It was a car ad from one of the big companies - Ford or Chevy, I think - and it made me think about one of the most important rules of adverting. Features Vs. Benefits

In their book Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath frequently mention the difference between features and benefits. Features are specific details that made the product unique or special. These are the phrases that the guys on any sales floor repeat ad naseum. Benefits, however, explain how the product fits into a person's life or makes their lives easier or better.

If you've ever had a job, you've probably talked about features - we all do it. That's because when we spend 8 or 10 hours a day on something, we like to think it is in some way worthwhile. If you work for Wendy's, you can explain how your burgers vary from McDonald's. If you assemble televisions, you know all the specs.

There is a cruel truth about features though: no one cares but you. It's sad, I know, because we all want our thing (whatever that is) to be the best. But the consumer doesn't really care about how you want to be the best. She wants to know how your product will impact her life.

Chip and Dan give a few examples of the difference between features and benefits. It's the difference between selling "the world's great lawn fertilizer" and selling "the world's best looking lawn." It's the difference between selling drill-bits and telling Dad how to hang his kid's pictures.

When Engineers Write Ads

So let's go back to that radio ad we heard on the way to work. It was almost like they threw out the marketing team and asked the engineers to make the ad. The car industry seems to have forgotten how customers behave: no one compares your truck's payload capacity before buying, no one knows who J.D. Power and Associates is, and no one knows what the hell a "hemi" is (or why on earth they should want one).

In this example, the engineers are speaking one language and the consumer is speaking another. From Chip and Dan: "[T]he moral of the story is to find a 'universal language,' one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete" (pg. 115).

The Good Example

BG dropped me off at the train station and I started reading the March issue of Wired magazine. Just a few pages in I serendipitously found a good example of features vs. benefits. ThCitibank adis Citibank ad shows a real dog sleeping next to a toy poodle. In the 40-odd words to the right of the picture, there's a short story about how Max the dog was depressed. His owners tried everything, but eventually bought Max a toy poodle as a companion. It worked and now everyone sleeps better at night. The Citibank arch links "stuffed poodle" with "smitten dog."

How perfect is this example of speaking in terms of benefits? Citibank's marketing team could have touted any number of features: their financial know-how, their FDIC ranking, their IRA revenue-generating power. Instead, they spoke the customer's language - how your Citibank card can please your pet and help you get a better night's sleep. Bravo, Citibank. Benefits trump features any day of the week.

Super Bowl Ads Fumble

Hey, remember the Super Bowl and all those cool ads? Yeah, me neither. I could have bookmarked the URLs of company's whose ads I enjoyed or told my friends about cool microsites I experienced, but I didn't because the web was largely forgotten in this year's ads. URLs were printed small and almost always at the end of the ad, there was only one example of user generated content, few (if any) microsites to continue the experience after the game, and generally poor use of search. What a waste of $2.7M.

Michael Estrin of iMedia Connection has a good wrap-up and several interviews of note. The question he pursues: where was the web? From Estrin's article: "It was like we went backwards this year," says Sean Cheyney, VP of marketing and business development at AccuQuote. "It's like we're moving back into silos. I was surprised that companies didn't do more integration. The web was an afterthought for most of the ads."

Beyond the 30-second Spot

AOL's Annual Super Bowl Sunday Ad Poll ranked the Bud Light Dalmation-Clydesdale-Rocky ad was America's favorite, yet it did not even have the requisite web address at the end. Here are a few quick ideas of ways you could have capitalized on this success (call me for more - my freelance rates are very reasonable):

  • Contest to name the Dalmatian and Clydesdale
  • Start a rivalry between Bud and Bud Light (represented by the dog and horse) similar to the Bud Bowls of the 90s
  • MySpace page wraps in spots (Dalmatian) and tough-guy horse stuff (Clydesdale)
  • Facebook app that allows you to send a Bud Light to a friend
  • Advertising tie-in with the new Rambo movie (I imagine there's audience cross-over with Rocky)
  • Jab back at the new Miller Lite spot featuring...Dalmatians and Clydesdales
  • Create a site where you integrate this ad with other Bud Light Super Bowl ads (have the dog breathing fire, the horse flying, etc)

Budweiser, what do you pay these marketing guys? Hire me or any 15 year old and you'll get more web marketing bang-for-your-buck.

Failure to Launch

Any marketer worth their snuff - nay, conscious in the last year or two - knows that search is an integral part of any campaign. So, why this MediaWeek report:

"70 percent of Super Bowl advertisers bought some paid search ads on either Google, Yahoo, MSN – up close to 20 percent versus last year. But just 6 percent of advertisers used their 30-second spots to direct viewers to the Web, and the vast majority (93 percent) failed to buy search ads for alternative terms that were related to their ads, such as their spokesperson’s names, slogans or taglines."

MediaWeek is reporting on a Reprise Media scorecard that goes into more detail. I find it amazing that roughly 93 percent (of the 70 percent who bought ads) failed to think of these ads from the user's perspective. Your uncle Jimmy had knocked back a six-pack and was in the grip of a food coma when he saw Naomi Campbell dancing with a bunch of lizards. When he stumbles to the computer, he is not going to search for SoBe Lifewater. He's going to search for "hot model and dancing lizards." Little surprise that SoBe also ranked as a "fumble" on Reprise Media's scorecard.

I Get By With a Little Help From My...Oh, Forget It

Only Doritos had the cojones to use user generated content. Despite it being ranked near the bottom, I thought the ad was okay. Doritos had a nice intro to the commercial, but I would have loved to see it end with the singer crunching into a Dorito. Cheesy, perhaps, but so is the product. My message to Frito-Lay/PepsiCo (who own Doritos): Don't be rash in firing your advertising company. It is better to work with someone willing to take the big risks and use the medium that appeals to your audience. These are the folks with the potential to blow people out of the water.

Also, not a single advertiser drove viewers to their MySpace or Facebook page - there was zero social networking involved. Believe me, this isn't because people aren't using Facebook anymore.

Fox did drive people to www.myspace.com/superbowlads though, which is a nice way of increasing the ads value with a measurable online component. Of course, for $2.7M, I'd be wanting a little something extra too.

No one is complaining about a game of two huge franchises in the largest media markets where one of the teams has the chance to have a perfect season (and finally shut up the '72 Dolphins). But if you're an advertiser and next year pits the Titans versus the Buccaneers (no offense guys, but come on), you might want to start thinking about your other options. Joe over at Junta42 has some great ideas for how to spend all that cash.

Memo to Jones Soda

Imagine you're a small business owner and you have an awesome product. A really awesome product. You've spent so much time getting your business together and making said awesome product, and now you're so busy trying to get the damn thing out and get people to buy it, right? What if I told you there was an (almost) free way to get in front of high-end consumers and increase your brand's cool factor? BG and I were shopping at Arhaus Furniture on Sunday. They sell very nice furniture with an emphasis on design. But they're still down-to-earth enough to have beverage holders in a couple of their leather chairs. I noticed that they filled the beverage holders with sleek glass bottles with striking colored liquid and nice packaging - Jones Sodas [sidenote: I have no relationship with this company nor gain anything by blogging about it].

Here's the gist of my conversation with the sales clerk:

Me: Is there a deal between Arhaus and Jones Soda to only display their stuff in the store? Bespeckled clerk: No, that's just what the set designers buy. They just go to Ikea or wherever and buy whatever is in bulk. Me: Seriously? It's displayed right here on the floor though - that's pretty prominent. Bespeckled clerk: Well, I think they like that the colors are so bold; they stand out without standing out too much. Plus, we like to crack open a few after closing. Me: I don't blame you.

Just off the top of my head, this means that Jones Soda is:

    1. Being exposed routinely to consumers who can afford premium prices [we were just shopping for wedding registry stuff, btw]
    2. Marketed in a relaxed environment - the ultimate soft sell
    3. Associated with cool design and good craftsmanship

I think the Jones Soda folks have done an amazing job marketing their product in such little time, so I can't fault them for missing this lead. Plus, this could be a single instance. But, it remains an opportunity. Here are some ideas you might want to pursue:

  • Add that Arhaus location to your delivery truck's normal route. Giving them a case or two on the house is worth the exposure.
  • Call up the Arhaus corporate folks and see if you can get an exclusive deal with them. If not, pitch another cool furniture place.
  • Throw in a couple of t-shirts or hats for the dudes working the floor (and maybe an extra case for them to put in the break room). Create brand advocates where no one expects.
  • Whenever Arhaus has a special sale or event, make sure there's plenty of Jones Soda on hand for the customers, gratis.

These are just a couple of ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure your marketing staff can think of more (and better) ones - in fact, I would challenge them to. Feel free to leave a comment and let me and my readers know how it goes!

Chief Conversation Officer

Updated: Welcome Jaffe Juice readers! Note that my other posts regarding Join The Conversation are linked at the end of the first paragraph below. Also, if you like what you see, be sure to subscribe. Thanks!  I just finished reading Joseph Jaffe's Join The Conversation and highly recommend it. I'm a believer that the internet age largely only changed our medium of communication. We still function basically the same and this is a book that supports the need for conversation (more important that communication or dialogue) through the online channel. This sounds easy but Jaffe has many, many examples of companies that failed miserably in this regard. (You may remember Jaffe from when I mentioned his work here, here, and here.)

Conversation in business is like a fairy or Santa Claus - you want to believe in it, but when the rubber hits the road, you "know" there's nothing in it. This couldn't be further from the truth (Jaffe has examples to back up this notion too). But who would fill this function in the office? Conversation isn't on the org chart.

Jaffe suggests a Chief Conversation Officer (CCO). (Sidenote: Joseph, I tried to join the conversation at www.jointheconversation.us/chief as instructed on page 102, but that page did not exist - for shame!) Here's the gist of a CCO:

"Said CCO would report to the very top and thus bypass any blinkered or biased silos. The conversation department would be populated by true generalists with expertise across marketing, advertising, internal communications, corporate communications, customer service, government, analysis, and press relations. They would be responsible for monitoring and listening to conversations, understanding and contextualizing them, responding to and catalyzing existing conversations, and, ultimately, joining them. (Jaffe 101-102)"

Later in the book, Jaffe reiterates that this is someone with a mix of attributes, somewhere between PR people (more "social media") and advertising/marketing folks (more "storytelling"). I imagine this multi-dimensional CCO would also be "somewhere in between...longing for the days of good old-fashioned storytelling, with a sprinkle of authenticity and a drizzle of ROI to boot. (Jaffe 180)"

Likewise, I would think this conversation department headed by the CCO would be something like the "black ops" team mentioned late in the book. They would be responsible for experimentation, a vital aspect of any business, and fit in to the CCO model in my opinion.

"Experimentation is best conducted by a separate team - a nimble, independent, empowered, and intense group of individuals who report straight to the top. Depending on your anticipated level of risk and your comfort level, this team could be assembled as a 'Delta Force' or 'black ops' group...unaccountable throughout but ready and prepared to pay the ultimate price upon failure. (Jaffe 252)"

Jaffe's sentiments relate to Joseph Turow, who recently wrote a terrible screed bashing all marketers in Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age (and yes, it is intentional that I am not hyperlinking the title - don't buy this book!).

Turow says "The adperson who is master of this particular form of 'conversation' [two-way contact with customers and potential customers] can expect a growing role in tomorrow's marketing world. (Turow 69-70)" He only begrudgingly acknowledges the usefullness of a marketer in touch with his/her audience and throws sarcastic quotation marks around "conversation," but the sentiment is the same. He later goes on to quote James Stengel, P&G's marketing chief:

" 'All marketing should be permission marketing,' he said, and 'all marketing should be so appealing that customers want us in their lives...and homes.' To do that, he cautioned, required creative content and 'connection points' in a variety of media and environments. (Turow 87-8)" While Turow spends most of his book bashing all marketing and inciting paranoia about the information marketers have (Old Navy knows I like blue shirts, the horror!), he is correct that direct connection between the customer and company will only become more important in the near future. What better person to be responsible for this connection than the Chief Conversation Officer?

3 Marketing Disasters (Sort Of)

I started thinking about this blog entry in response to something I saw while standing on the Clark and Lake El platform. Adventures in Stupidity

The last train car was wrapped up in advertising for the new Samsung Blackjack II. And the URL? www.blackjackll.com. That's right, they used Roman numerals in the URL! Does anyone there know the internets? Are those written as ones, or "i"s, or "l"s? Or just a two? Guess what? None of these addresses work. Samsung spent all this time making a phone and didn't think about how to communicate it. Fire your marketing people.

The Old Way: Marketing Lies

When I got to work, a friend emailed me Dan Froomkin's new article. The Center for Public Integrity (a non-partisan and highly regarded beltway watchdog) assembled 935 instances in which members of the Bush administration lied or mislead the public regarding Iraq. Despite what side of the aisle you reside on, you have to admit we might have gotten sold a pack of false goods there.

Froomkin's article is different from a marketing perspective though. The folks at Samsung just made a stupid mistake; they didn't think about the arena in which they were operating. The Froomkin article is about flat-out lying. And it relates to a trend that has been going on for several years: people - highly intelligent, well-educated CEO-types - do not seem to understand that you can't lie anymore.

The New Way: Leveling With The Customer

Marketing is changing. While there is still a healthy serving of "spin" (or "creating a compelling narrative," as I prefer to think about it), this is changing because of the massive amount of information online combined with incredibly advanced search capacity. There is a glut of information available to the customer. (My job in the future will be more about creating value for the customer and my next blog post will be about the yet-to-be-created position of Chief Conversation Officer - subscribe so as not to miss it.)

Yet still, these old-school guys think they can lie and steal and no one will find out about it. Sometimes they get the money before someone finds out (see: Enron) and sometimes they just get busted (see: following paragraph). Forget the subterfuge: just tell the truth. If you make a quality product, you won't need to lie about it. And if you don't make a quality product, why are you working for those people, anyway?

Poison Pill

Which bring me to my third marketing disaster. Much like the Froomkin example, it deals with a huge organization knowing that it is lying to people. It turns out that Vytorin (with the eye-catching ads comparing people to food) does not work and is actually worse than a generic worth a third of the price. This isn't the debacle; this is simply a bad product. The debacle is that 1) Merck and Schering-Plough continued to spend millions on marketing this drug after they knew it was ineffective and 2) that S-P execs allegedly sold stock after the trials failed.

Of course I care about the health risks. And of course I care about the older folks who bought this useless drug instead of food or other medication. But for right now, let's focus on the sheer stupidity in a company brazenly lying to the public. The halls of business are positively littered with the bodies of executives who thought they could get away with it. And maybe in the old days, they did. But this is a new world.

It makes me wonder if (especially younger members of) the marketing department brought up the uselessness of lying. Surely they do Google searches of their company, they know the regulations involved in pharmaceuticals, and they've heard all the stories of companies being discovered of lying. Did not one of them raise the issue? "Maybe we should just confess? Instead of spending millions marketing a junk pill and making thousands from shady stock deals, we should consider the billions we may be fined or that will be lost in company stock after this is exposed?"

Instead, they kept quiet. Now, in addition to losing their own jobs and likely an executive or two, they risked countless lives and have further degraded an industry already in peril. What kind of golden parachute do you get for those results?

The Gist

I know this is wearing on a bit, but my point is this: there is an epic change occurring in business. The marketing guys are no longer the sniveling spinmeisters. Now, we are responsible for good business and good communication.

Feel free to comment on either other marketing disasters caused by stupidity (Blackjack Deuce) or dishonesty (Bush, Merck/S-P). Or, better yet, comment on how the marketing department saved your company's ass through honesty or open conversation. Those are the stories up-and-coming marketers really need to hear.

Steve Jobs Sucks

[If you like what you read here, be sure to subscribe.]  Steve, I think we need an intervention. You're acting all crazy-like.

Brief history: Apple debuts their new touchscreen on the iPhone and iTouch and people are really happy. Some creative developers code their own applications to use on the devices ("third party apps"), but to use them, they have to "jailbreak" the iPhone/iTouch. Steve gets mad and Apple's next firmware update has the potential to brick your iPhone/iTouch. However, Apple promises that apps similar to the most popular third party apps will be unveiled in early 2008. Now, the decision is between jailbreaking the device to use all these cool (and free!) third party apps or comply with Apple and wait for the upgrade.iTouch 300

On Tuesday, Steve announced that the new apps were ready. Except there are only five apps. And it'll cost you $20. And new iTouch and iPhone buyers will have it already installed.

Here's the crux of my anger and the part that really chaps my ass: Apple is charging for functionality rather than products. This is not a media item that is of definite size, length, and value. Instead, this is an upgrade in regards to how the iTouch works.

So, what message does this send to Apple customers? Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Screw early adopters - Anyone who buys an iTouch from this point on gets the upgrade installed. Early adopters, true advocates, and Apple cultists who bought the iTouch earlier need to chuck out another $20. Hmm, where does this sound familiar. I seem to remember a company selling a bunch of fancy phones and then knocking the price down $200 much to the chagrin of the folks who had already shelled out their hard-earned cash.
  • We know you'll buy it even if it sucks - The hubris of these types of business decisions is amazing. Despite anticipated customer push-back, they did it anyway. Because they can. It's almost as though they thought it was a privilege to use Apple products.
  • We're willing to nickel and dime you - What a big "screw you" to the customer who plunked down almost $500 for an iTouch. Can you imagine if I bought a stereo and then had to pay a little extra to get the "Stop" button? It's part of the user experience!

So what's the lesson from all of this? That Steve must be trying to get more bad press in a couple months than Apple has gotten in years? That he fired all the marketing guys? That he's off his rocker (or drunk with power)?

The lessons are these:

  • In terms of not allowing third party apps, we know that open systems (Google, Facebook recently) thrive and that closed systems eventually wither. Apple is among the closed-est. From Fast Company: "Jobs may have to accept that Apple's next wave of growth--or energy, as Einstein might have put it--depends on syncing up his products and platforms with those of his competitors." Facebook opened up their system to third party apps and business is booming. In order to do this, one has to accept that it is not possible for them to think up (and make) every apps possible, ever. This humility seems beyond Jobs.
  • In terms of the $20, know that it's not the money. It's the principle.

I realize this issue is literally biblical, but come on. Apple has built a reputation as the cool, sleek, uber-designed, arty, rebel computer manufacturer (not difficult if Bill Gates is your competition). But they seem to be forgetting that these days. The cult they've built is not going to stand for this crap forever. For this snub, Steve, you can go iFuck yourself.

But this isn't a totally negative post, Steve. I can thank you for one thing: you made my decision about whether to jailbreak my iTouch really easy. For a couple of minute's work, I'll have a ton of apps all for free. And next time I'll remember this when I think about which mp3 player to buy. Thanks Steve!

What's After Web 2.0? Thoughts About The Personal Browser

If Web 1.0 - typified by online newspapers and emails - was about one to many content production, and if Web 2.0 - typified by WordPress and twitter - is about connecting people through a many to one publishing model, then what comes next? I used to think it would be something of a network or matrix - many talking to many. But don't we already have that? What's really missing? Instead of thinking macro, we need to be thinking micro. Here are some thoughts on the personalized internet browser. If we already have everything we need in terms of connections to other people, then the next logical iteration of online behavior is to make our communication and shopping more personal. What if there was an internet browser that knew who I was?

Let's take online shopping: I imagine we could have a browser that automatically loaded my preferences, including clothing sizes, preferred brands, etc. And I'm talking across the internet - not just on a particular site. If I look for jeans, this browser would load size 34x32. It would place Izod in front of Sean John. Blue and black shirts would be listed before green. If I got a hankering for rugby shirts all of a sudden, it would respond in kind.

This system would be as much or more based on exclusion as it would about inclusion. I can assure you that I will never ever ever buy anything from Nike, but I do like Converse and Simple. This is an an important distinction if you want me to buy something from your store. (More about the importance of exclusion in Rob Walker's article in Fast Company this month.)

Instead of cookies used between my computer and Amazon, and my computer and Barnes & Noble's, and my computer and Best Buy, they would all be integrated across the board. This browser would recognize items rather than stores. For instance, if I am shopping for a book, I wouldn't need to go to Amazon, B&N, and Powell's individually. I could search for the book and get a list of prices from each online vendor. Likewise, book recommendations would not be based on a particular site, but rather the internet at large.

Here are a few other problems that would be solved by the type of browser I am describing:

  • Why can't I move my half.com wish list to Amazon or another retailer, and then why can't I morph that into a wedding registry on TheKnot?
  • Why do I have to log in to MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster separately to see if I have messages or to see what my friends are doing?
  • Why can't I crop and size a photo and use it to create a SecondLife avatar which would then be used as a basis for a World of Warcraft character?

These are not difficult steps to take, relatively. We already have the information and we are quickly becoming adept at manipulating it. Now we just need to make it dynamic and customizable which is far less difficult. Sure, someone will need to develop a smart cookies and a nice interface and a business model (uber-targeted ads, perhaps?), but it is certainly within reach.

To sum up, the standards then for the personalized internet would be as follows:

  • Customized (and customizable) based on the person
  • Based on inclusion and exclusion of items
  • Online shopping based on item rather than store
  • More power to the user, less to a particular vendor
  • Bring together all the information from various sites into one dashboard

What do you think? Is this all crazy talk? How far away is all of this? Who will be the first to seize onto it (Apple, Google, a dark horse)? It will almost certainly be internet-based rather than software, so that already puts companies like Microsoft at a bit of a disadvantage. But it is anyone's game. I want my personalized internet!

Marketing Done Right or How Miley Cyrus Showed Me The Future of Marketing

[If you like what you read here, be sure to subscribe.]   I have a confession: I attended the Miley Cyrus - Hannah Montana show on Saturday evening. I am not a fan - suffice it to say I attended for the benefit of others. My future cousins in-law had a blast and I got to see a friend doing what he does best (thanks Jason!). Though difficult to concentrate in the midst of 10,000 pre-teen girls shrieking at top volume, I did see some rather striking examples of marketing done right. All of it was so smooth and so integrated into the show, I think it was an example of what entertainment will be like in the years to come.

  • Props to sponsor HP for recording video segments run during breaks in the show that integrated their sponsorship with their (and Miley's) charity work. It was the normal thing ("X percent of your new printer will be donated to Y"), but the production value was great and both kids and parents got the message.
  • Award for the most ingeniously simple marketing scheme: OfficeMax. You might be asking yourself why HP and OfficeMax would be sponsoring a kid's show, but the sheer volume of well-off parents was proof enough. I saw more limousines (Hummer limos included) than I have for any rock show. Regardless, OfficeMax was giving away signs at a table outside the main doors with a word balloon printed on the front. The idea was that the kid wrote something ("We LUV you Hannah!") and held it up during the show. However, OfficeMax also included their logo prominently on the back of the sign. That way, each little kid was jumping up and down promoting OfficeMax to every person behind them.
  • I noticed several un-uniformed young adults handing out what appeared to be surveys so, of course, I grabbed a couple. They start out pretty innocuous - age, gender (boy or girl, rather), frequency of interaction with Hannah Montana/Disney.com, excitement to see the show, etc. Then it asks you to name the sponsors of the show. A little weird, but ok. It only started to perk up my interest when out of the blue it asks about my printing frequency. Then the subsequent four questions are about my printing habits, with HP prominently in the first position of the multiple choice. The survey is a great touch-point, makes the child (or more likely the parent) notice HP's sponsorship, and it provides valuable information to the sponsor.

In all, well done by the sponsors of the show. None of the marketing was too invasive, but it certainly did not get lost either. There were lots of chances to wrote down the URLs displayed on the video screens during breaks, most of which included a situation where the sponsor was providing content or an opportunity, rather than encouraging parents to visit the website and see our exciting new line of, uh, printers (snore...).

Of course, no Hannah Montana marketing article could fail to mention the PR stumble regarding MileyWorld.com getting sued for false promises, but let the parents fight that out. And I learned that the t-shirt sales (occurring inside the venue) were not sanctioned by the Miley or Disney - so the bootleggers were making tons of money off her image. The girl might only be 15, but her handlers should be all over this if it is true. They are needlessly tarnishing her reputation and losing tons and tons of money.

But regardless, I commend the marketing at the show. (And if you haven't seen MileyWorld.com, check out the great benefits of membership - click on the "Tickets" tab, for instance.) Plus, I never would have listened to those songs otherwise, but many actually had a good message for kids, especially little girls. There was a song entitled "Nobody's Perfect" and others that talked about the power of friendship and self-confidence. Sure, it's a little schmaltzy, but the kids ate it up. And that's what matters.

Usability Tips: Do What Works and Keep It Simple

John C. Dvorak has a good article in PC magazine about web site entropy and website usability. I listen to Dvorak when he joins Leo Laporte on "this WEEK in TECH" - a podcast I highly recommend. This weekly podcast covers everything you need to know in tech which relates to marketing which relates to communications and on and on and on... I like Dvorak's examples that illustrate "keep doing what works." It's amazing how often I hear about a company that develops a great website, maybe even knows why they're doing great, and their first inclination is to change it. There is something about the internet that encourages constant change. Granted this is preferred over stasis, but change for the sake of change is not always good. If people enjoy your site, do not change the things they value. It seems self-explanatory, but it is shocking how often this happens.

Dvorak also mentions something at the end of his article that I think needs more illumination is that simple is better than complex most of the time. Why is Google one of the most popular sites? Take a look. Seriously, go to the site and don't search; just look at it. So much white space, so simple. I remember hearing an interview with Marissa Mayer discussing what an application had to go through before being posted to the front page (hint: it's A LOT). So when you go to Google.com and notice Maps and Images and such, those links have proved themselves to take up that space.

Compared to Google though, try out Yahoo or MSN. Try using one of these the next time you need to actually do something. They try to be everything to everyone and hence are doomed to be nothing to everyone (hyperbole, of course, since these two aren't hurting, but the theory remains sound).

The point is not to dumb-down everything; it's just to 1) do what you do really well and 2) don't worry about a whole lot else unless your audience wants it. When people (and more importantly, companies) start to think of their website as a tool, things will start to improve. If your website is a means rather than an end, you're one step ahead.