Can fun and marketing coexist?

Jeff Bullas just published a provocatively-titled blog post that's making the rounds: 5 Reasons why Social Media is Not Fun Anymore. He notes that the roots of Facebook and YouTube were in silly, mindless entertainment and personal time-wasting.Now that companies take these spaces seriously and are spending billions of dollars to market in them, have they stopped being fun? And, consequently, does that spell their imminent downfall?

So will social media maintain its fun origins or will big corporate marketing take the fun out of social media and turn them into business tools that are organised and sterilized?

What happens when mom and dad crash the party? Is it the beginning of the end? Or can they join the fun?

Jeff thinks that they can coexist, and that social channels can "continue to keep us entertained, amused, informed and educated all at the same time".

But what about the underlying claim – that people are fun and corporations are serious? Does a company automatically get releged to "boring" status just because its interests are business, not personal?

Maybe. Maybe not. We're seeing examples of companies breaking through the clutter and getting their message across to customers by virtue of the fact that they've retained that sense of fun. And social media is letting them do it in a way that seemed inaccessible when the options amounted to TV or radio.

Sure, far too many companies rely on their agencies or creative teams to "make them look cool". The thing is, social media has a funny way of letting the true character of the company shine through. The boring ones come across as boring, no matter how much they try to hire the young, hip community manager and air the quirky campaign. The fun ones, on the other hand, can display their character and actually get recognition for it.

Jeff makes a great point, that if you suck all the fun out of these spaces, people will migrate elsewhere. If too many marketers march into these parties all buttoned-up and insist on flooding them with boring ads, social media will stop being fun.

But marketers shouldn't feel like they can't join the party. It's easy. Loosen the necktie, roll up the sleeves, and take a few chances. You can be fun and successful at the same time. You just have to dress for the occasion.

Sex, Drugs and Monkeys: Lessons from the Cannes Lions

Last Monday, I went with a group of colleagues to Cinéma du Parc to watch the screening of the 57th annual Cannes Lions Film Festival.

I’ve been spending my hard-earned cash on the privilege of watching advertisements for a number of years now. Invariably, there are some brilliant ads, some so-so ads, and some ads that – as they say in the military – induce genuine whiskey-tango-foxtrot moments. Purely from an entertainment standpoint, the show was well worth the price of the $7 ticket.

But to us marketers, the Lions offer more than just a fun night out. Here are some lessons from Cannes that we can apply to our work every day:

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The wisdom of hockey crowds?

The decision by the Montreal Canadiens this season to allow the fans to pick the three stars of each game, by voting online or via a mobile application, is causing a stir – and significant debate – among hockey fans.

On the one hand, many are lauding the move for getting the fans involved. After all, there are no fans more passionate than Habs fans (says this Habs fan). Montreal is a city with three and a half million general managers, where every single fans believes that they know best. The three stars, traditionally selected by the media, were usually met with barely more than an eyeblink. Now, people can participate.

But is this really such a good idea?

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Calling all chocoholics

Just when you thought there weren’t enough niche social platforms out there – the Swiss have launched a social network for chocolate lovers:

 “Modeled on successful precursors like Facebook and MySpace, myswisschocolate.ch, based in the small town of Pfaeffikon near Zurich, provides a virtual platform for people who share a love of the sugary treat that is the country’s trademark.

[ . . . ]

The virtual balance of the chocolate-lover’s account can then be converted into real chocolate — handmade by myswisschocolate.ch and shipped to 15 countries worldwide.”

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The things we don’t say

Social media is about honesty and authenticity.

Now, where have I heard that before? Oh, that's right, everywhere. People are more honest when they share their instant thoughts in real conversations. Posting a comment on a blog. Posting a review on a hotel ratings site. Posting photos of their cats on Twitter. It's all honest, right?

Except, not. Because we're all running scared of honesty. Too much honesty can come back to haunt us.

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Great achievement has no road map?

The title of this post is a quote from The West Wing. It comes from a third-season episode in which a highly respected physicist is trying to get approval for billions in funding to test theories about the origin of the universe. When asked by a senator about its potential practical applications or benefits, he replies that he can’t provide any, because “great achievement has no road map”.

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the West Wing, was obviously trying to prove a point about science in this episode. This point showed up as a recurring theme throughout the series, notably in episodes about – among other things – the US space program, scientific medical research into finding a cure for cancer, and even funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The common thread running through all of these episodes was that, in constantly pushing for the time frame, the budget, the visible returns and the predicted outcomes, we are limiting the capacity for human potential.

And yet, we create road maps all the time. We strategize, plan, and use road maps as tools to help us get from point A to point B.

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Strategy versus tactics

There must be thousands of blog posts out there about the difference between strategy and tactics. You can find 'em in a Google search, but don't bother. I'll save you the trouble.

See, they all pretty much follow the same formula. They start off by bemoaning the fact that nobody else in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD understands the difference between strategy and tactics. They usually cite a few examples in here of poor, misinformed clients, colleagues or even bosses, to illustrate their point that they are SO MUCH SMARTER than everyone else and that this mysterious distinction is something that only they can get. They then proceed to give their own definition, which is accurate to varying degrees, tends to make some sort of reference to ancient Chinese warfare, and is of course illustrated by an example or two. Finally, they wrap up with an admonishment against using the wrong lingo, and usually a self-plug about why they can develop kick-ass strategies that really, truly are strategic. (And not the least bit tactical.)

Here's the thing, though: Most companies don't want strategies. Most companies want tactics.

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Conversations are still happening (just not where you think)

There’s been lots of conversation lately about whether conversations are dead. Ironic? Yes, but not in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word. Mitch Joel’s blog post, The End Of Conversation In Social Media asks the question:

“Are we seeing a new shift in Social Media? Are the conversations dead? Were they ever – really – alive? What do you think?”

(Yes, this is more content inspired by my boss and colleagues at Twist Image. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Well, I contend that the conversations aren’t dead. They’re still happening. But maybe it was unrealistic of us to expect them to happen in certain types of social media channels.

Blogs are publishing platforms. Twitter is a broadcast platform. Facebook is quasi-conversational, but only in the how’s-it-going superficial chatting about the weather sense. It’s easy to see how we can look at all of these platforms and wonder, is there any real conversation taking place?

Yes, it is. But not where you think. To find the real conversations, we need to visit online communities. The old-school kind.

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Why does digital measurement lag behind traditional?

In digital marketing, we like to claim that we have a huge measurement advantage over traditional marketing. After all, we can measure everything, right? Every click, every interaction, every tracking parameter, every bounce, every goal conversion. The technology that we have takes the guesswork out of measurement and allows us an unprecedented amount of insight into exactly how each and every person is interacting with our brand.

The traditional marketers are at a disadvantage, or so the theory goes. The television and broadcast guys parrot the value of eyeballs and impressions, but can only guess wildly at what impact all those impressions actually have on sales. Even the direct marketing guys – the traditional measurement gurus – have to add codes to their pieces, and even then, they only have data for the small percentage that come back. They make sweeping generalizations about things like demographics, geographics, pass-along rates, and more, in lieu of more solid data. They run expensive market research surveys to try to correlate the data. Measurement in traditional marketing has always been a bit like decorating a grain of rice with a paint roller – effective, but not very precise.

Digital marketing ought to be better at measurement. Miles better. Instead, however, we're still lagging behind. According to eMarketer, as recently as last year, 50% of marketers cited "achieving measurable ROI on my marketing efforts" as their leading priority, but only 16% were measuring ROI for their social media efforts. When asked to describe in one word how they felt about online measurement, the words that marketing professionals came up with most frequently were "confused", "nascent", and "stalled".

Clearly, the potential for measurement in digital is enormous, but we have a way to go before we get there. There's a gap, in other words, that exists between the vision and the reality.

Here are a few reasons why this might be so:

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Are brands really listening?

If there’s a marketing buzzword in 2010, it’s probably “listening”. Companies are trying to engage with their customers. They’re being told that they have to monitor, track, and join the conversations that are taking place across social media channels every single day.

They’re setting up alerts, monitoring keywords, and even investing in listening tools, such as Radian 6 or Sysomos. Why? To find those elusive customer insights into what their target market thinks, feels and desires.

After all, social media means a revolution in market research. You no longer have to go out and conduct very expensive research to find out what people want. They’re online, in social channels, shouting it loudly and clearly for anyone to hear. All brands need to do is to listen to those needs, and respond to them. Right?

Well, that’s the theory, anyway. But in practice, it sometimes seems like the more information brands have about their customers’ wants and needs, the further they get from responding to them. Why is it, with companies trying so hard to fill customer needs, and people trying so hard to buy what they need, that there’s still such a disconnect between what people want and what brands are selling?

Are brands really listening to their customers? Or are they only looking for what they want to hear?

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