Monday, November 9

Reaching Mainstream: Social Media And Social Networking

Palo Alto Networks released a new study that pinpoints just how much social media, social networking, and collaborative Internet applications for business has increased in the last six months. What makes the study unique is that it considers organizational usage as a significant measure in determining adoption.

Highlights From The Palo Alto Networks Study

• Twitter session usage grew more than 250 percent since April 2009.
• Facebook usage increased by 192 percent, surpassing Yahoo! IM and AIM.
• SharePoint collaboration increased bandwidth usage 17-fold since April.
• Blogs and wiki posting increased by a factor of 39, with bandwidth increasing by 48.

The study also shows that there is an substantial increase in adoption all applications that are collaborative in nature (social media and social networks) for personal and business use. While employees are likely to use these tools for personal reasons, they also use them to increase business productively. The continued crossover suggests companies increase employee eduction on the subject of balancing authenticity and transparency.

Key Applications To Watch In 2010

• SharePoint grew by 48 percent in usage, compared to Oracle Collaboration Suite and IBM Lotus Notes, which only increased 11 and 12 percent respectively.
• Twitter, despite being limited to 140 characters, experienced a 775 percent increase in bandwidth usage, accounting for more than 184 MB of information per organization.
• LinkedIn was adopted by 89 percent of the organizations surveyed, but bandwidth and usage per organization has declined 42 percent and 22 percent, respectively.
• Facebook Chat, while released in April 2008, has become more widely used than Yahoo! IM and AIM (within the survey sample).
• Blogging by organizations has increased in usage from 22 percent to 51 percent in since April 2009.

The study cites The McKinsey Report on Web 2.0, which reveals that 69 percent of companies have gained measurable benefits in innovation, effective marketing, and better access to information. All of these benefits have lead to lower costs and higher revenues.

It also cites a report from AIIM, which also concluded that the top three business benefits cited by organizations include: knowledge sharing, information gathering, and the increased speed of communication delivery.

You can find the full report, which also addresses security issues, here. Palo Alto Networks specializes in next-generation firewalls.

Based on the Revised Technology Adoption Life Cycle, social media and social networking seems to be well over the mainstream curve with the late majority struggling to catch up. Anymore, organizations without any online presence will likely be left behind.

Friday, November 6

Injecting Fear: Who Caused The H1N1 Controversy?

There is a question being asked more and more by government leaders: Is the fear more harmful than the H1N1 flu?


While many school systems are asking for parents to sign the forms and have their children vaccinated, a few school nurses have already given the swine flu vaccine to students who didn't sign up — including a Brooklyn girl with epilepsy. She wound up in the hospital and then a health worker tried to have the mother sign a consent form after the fact.

Even as some U.S. health officials said the new strain isn't nearly as dangerous as they first feared, President Obama declared it a national emergency. Doing so, regardless whether the reason is warranted or not, grants the government additional powers.

According to the Associated Press, 75 percent of the population fears the vaccine, with 33 percent saying they don't want it nor will they give it to their children. The FDA has been busy trying to fight these fears while attempting to quell fears on the other side of the aisle. Some people are afraid there is not enough to go around, which is especially likely since the U.S. is donating 10 percent of its supply.

And then there are all the other theories. Some claim the vaccine was rushed through the FDA; others claim H1N1 is being used as a weapon against health care reform. Some claim it is to fund drug companies for their support of health care; others claim it is a government conspiracy to immobilize people. Some say people are ignorant not to take it; others say people are ignorant if they do take it. And so on and so forth.

When communication fails, fear spreads faster than the reality.

In one telling CBS news program, Dr. Jennifer Ashton compared the the seasonal flu, which accounts for 36,000 deaths (200 per day), to H1N1, which had accounted for 593 deaths (or about 4 per day). The greater difference is in the people, with a higher death rate among people under 65. (For people in southern Nevada, you can fact check here.)

While most of the opinions don't really add up, one fact does. Mismanaged communication is dangerous, and the H1N1 communication has been mismanaged. So how did that happen?

It seems that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention planning assumption placed the infection rate at 40 percent, which is higher than some reports previously stated. (The study by Purdue University researchers projects that 63 percent of the U.S. population will be infected by the end of this year.) At 40 percent, H1N1 could cut deeply into the essential workforce. (The CDC has been working to temper some of these estimates.)

Once the federal government saw these estimates, it had a choice. It could believe or dismiss these figures. If it dismissed them and the worst happens (e.g., the Purdue study), then it receives criticism for not doing enough. If it accepts these numbers and does not deliver a vaccine, then it receives criticism over its vaccination plan. If it accepts these numbers and nothing happens, it receives criticism for overreacting (like last spring). And so on and so forth. You get the idea.

With so many losing propositions, the administration chose the path of least likely criticism. The message became: H1N1 is something to worry about enough that you need to be vaccinated, but not enough that you should worry if you don't get vaccinated because the promise of 120 million vaccinations by October came in at 11 million. Huh?

The path of least criticism is a lack of leadership.

The message was so weak that the government seems to have completely lost any semblance of public trust in regard to H1N1, which empowered a groundswell of competing voices to fill the void. When that happens, the media become even more inclined to cover the conflicting messages over and on top of the "threat to public safety" headline. And so, fear spreads.

Whose fault is that? The only one responsible for the fear pandemic is the federal government and its unwillingness to designate a single coherent voice on the subject from the start. Senior adviser David Axelrod has already admitted as much, noting that the White House also over-promised on the country’s flu readiness and vaccine availability.

Ironically, despite that admission, the administration has yet to take responsibility or hold anyone accountable. Instead, the government has gone on the defense, which has become all too commonplace lately.

The solutions in this case are virtually an exercise in common sense. Effective leadership gives up on public relations in the face of crisis communication. It realizes that being a critic doesn't replace leadership. And, above all, it understands that fear is more dangerous than the flu.

Thursday, November 5

Crowd-Sourcing Responsibility: Pepsi

As a marketer, PepsiCo appears lost. As a company, it might be in trouble.

While there is something to be said for experimentation, PepsiCo has canned more marketing misses than hits in the last year. In an effort to continually target the next generation, it seems to have forgotten how to be a business. In fact, if it wasn't for its salty snack holdings being considered a staple, we suspect its fizzy drink section might start to dry up.

In some ways, it has. In October, PepsiCo Americas Beverages unit reported a 6 percent drop in volume and a 9 percent revenue decline. According to some analysts, the result reflects a change in buying habits as consumers shifted toward juices and teas and away from soft drinks. That might be true, but 6 percent is twice the drop experienced by Coca-Cola.

Marketing Mistakes Are Clubbing PepsiCo

In most circumstances, we think it's great when companies turn to crowd-sourcing for a single campaign. It helps many of them steer clear of isolated creative ideas that don't resonate with consumers.

PepsiCo has had its fair share of those: identity redesign, election revolution, Tropicana rebrand, iPhone app, and, well, you get the idea. (All of it might not be so bad if it wasn't for its negative publicity, but there has been some of that too.)

So, in an effort to put its product marketing back on track, Pepsi is pushing to try something new. It will put the reigns of creative control in the hands of consumers who will be charged in choosing which advertising agencies will handle three product launches. Say what?

In a contest beginning this month, Mtn Dew (Montain Dew for those unimpressed with the stylized abbreviation) will hand off marketing duties, at least temporarily, for a $100 million-plus business to several potentially unknown players selected by consumers. The concept, if you can call it that, is an extension of DEWmocracy, which allowed consumers to determine the flavor, color, packaging, and names of the new products.

"If we're going to have a dialogue with consumers and have consumers play a role in dictating the future of our brand, they've got to play a role in all aspects of it," Brett O'Brien, Mtn Dew's director of marketing, told AdAge. (One commenter on the article suggested they open up marketing director recruitment to crowd-sourcing too.)

Crowd-sourcing Runs Amuck With Pepsi

While Mtn Dew will retain BBDO Worldwide, which was part of DEWmocracy from the beginning, the agency will not comment on the process. For the efforts of DEWmocracy, Beverage Digest reports Mtn Dew is one of the few soft-drink successes, with a volume increase of 1 percent. However, it's unclear if DEWmocracy had much to do with it despite what's being said.

In some cases, DEWmocracy consumers seem to be experiencing brand fatigue, with drop off at each stage of the contest concept. (Some people even speculate that Pepsi stacked the odds for the company favorite.) On Facebook, every few posts also contain consumer comments that lament over the loss of their top choice. ("Any chance to bring Pitch Black back?"). And like many social media efforts, the fans are mostly left on their own, which is usually a mistake.

That's not to say that outsourcing the creative selection process to consumers is all bad. It clearly makes the marketing department not responsible for the $100 million decision. It truly leaves the consumers in control of the product, which means their relationship to the contest and each other may supersede any relationship with the product. It also places an emphasis on "I like it" advertising, which is best described as a three-second knee jerk reaction, without considering things like, er, sales.

Of course, there is always the chance that the finalists will not only be good, but be better than a one hit wonder. They'll almost have to be better once Pepsi funds the three finalists to produce a :15 TV DEW spot (assuming oversight doesn't dampen their spirits). And, they might also do better than what pushed Mtn Dew to this point before settling on Distortion, WhiteOut, and Typhoon as product names.

Anything is possible, right? We'll see. If nothing else, DEWmocracy makes for an interesting case study in consumer crowd-sourcing despite its similarity to gambling at a roulette wheel. Then again, we suppose it couldn't get any worse compared to some of the other company's marketing mishaps of late.

Wednesday, November 4

Disrupting Outplacement: RiseSmart

When RiseSmart first entered the recruiting industry in 2008, it set its sights on a specific niche. One year later, RiseSmart shifted its business model to include outplacement. The difference between the two places presents a case study in disruptive business.

RiseSmart is a provider of Web-enabled outplacement and job search services. The former helps laid-off employees find jobs faster. The latter helps professionals find jobs in the $100k market.

"Our initial thought was that we would need to make significant traction with a B2C offering in order to build interest in the B2B solution," says Sanjay Sathe, founder and CEO of RiseSmart. "But the moment we introduced Transition Concierge in the second half of last year ... we had an extraordinary amount of interest, and were signing up Fortune 500 companies almost immediately."

For RiseSmart, the timing couldn't be better. Layoff announcements had risen to 48 percent (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and U.S. job cuts were on pace to exceed 1 million this year (Challenger, Gray & Christmas). At the same time, 81 percent of employers were engaging help from external outplacement providers (The Value of Outplacement, Reed Consulting).

Why was the timing right? Traditional outplacement relied heavily on psychological testing, use of personality and skills assessment tools, hands-on career counseling, and the provision of an environment where an executive could feel comfortable while making networking calls. The newer model, called the "Market Model," included market research, proactive job/tech development, hands-on campaign management and skills training.

RiseSmart, on the other hand, applied its existing technology to outplacement in order to focus on the job seeker's most pressing need: finding a job. Not only did employees appreciate faster outplacement services, but employers also realized a significant cost savings by expediting placement over counseling or skills training.

The net result was $4.6 million in additional Series A financing, including $2.8 million from Storm Ventures and $1.8 million from Norwest Venture Partners (NVP). Since last year, the company has raised $8.85 million in institutional investments.

“RiseSmart’s Transition Concierge is disrupting the cost structure for corporate outplacement providers, while leveraging technology to deliver superior value to a growing roster of Fortune 500 clients," said Sanjay Subhedar, managing director of Storm Ventures. "The company has gone the extra mile to provide an excellent customer experience to both corporate clients and transitioning workers — and that has paid off in word of mouth and new business referrals.”

According to Sathe, the model is by design. As employees recently laid off by a Fortune 500 company have a positive transition experience, they are likely to tell others about the experience. From a marketing perspective, the B2B service not only disrupts existing outplacement sources, but it also provides the company a cost-effective approach to market its B2C service.

That's not to say the strategy hasn't had some challenges. Moving from a B2C-focused business model to a B2B business model means a smaller universe of customers and competitors.

"The biggest [challenge] is that many of these big players have very entrenched relationships with corporate HR departments, which can be difficult to overcome," says Sathe. "But the biggest positive is that it enabled us to become very focused on what we needed to do to differentiate ourselves from the big players; we have brought innovation to an otherwise stodgy industry that has introduced very few new ideas over the past 20 years."

The primary differentiation is that a 2009 survey Institute for Corporate Productivity showed that employers invest an average of more than $5,000 per executive or manager to provide external outplacement support for a period of three to six months. RiseSmart has succeeded in cutting those costs in half.

At the same time, while the compelling price point has helped RiseSmart open doors, the less tangible benefits for employees and employers establishes a reputation for excellence. Ninety-two percent of respondents expressed overall satisfaction with RiseSmart Transition Concierge service and 88 percent said it was likely they would recommend the service to friends.

The results are in stark contrast to the rest of the industry. The lackluster performance is understandable, with dissatisfaction increasing exponentially with every month those employees remained unemployed. In contrast, the RiseSmart Transition Concierge service is delivering the average worker 10.6 highly relevant job leads per week.

"Many of the jobs we screen are recruiter posted," adds Sathe. "We expect to expand our relationship with recruiters to enhance Job Concierge and Transition Concierge over time."

It also serves as a reminder that not all marketing measures include advertising, public relations, or social media. While communication assists business, the right marketing model can transform an entire business overnight. And sometimes, at least in the case of RiseSmart, those changes can disrupt entire niche industries.

Tuesday, November 3

Racing Ahead: Volkswagen Finds Firemint

Want to entice people to like advertising? There's an app for that.

Volkswagen seems to be hitting a home run in one of the least likely places. While it has six iPhone apps in circulation (three of them related to racing), its partnership with Firemint represents a real win-win for both companies and consumers.

Firemint is the company behind the number one racing game for iTunes apps. While the game was previously riding high with stellar reviews from MobileCrunch, UGO, and the iPhone Games Network, the $6.99 price point and news of some public relations firm inflating expectations made some people hesitate.

Enter Volkswagen.

Volkswagen sponsored the game's free trial, with three tracks and six all-new 2010 GTI sport hatches. Doing so makes a trial version possible, which entices more people to download the game after their test play.

At the same time, it positions the GTI as a sports car (2.0 liter FSI turbo engine), with an MDI with iPod feature that plugs into the touchscreen radio or navigation system. In sum, it helps reintroduce a hipness that the German car company almost lost under Crispin Porter + Bogusky's watch.

Entertaining Ads.

Never mind the debacle that once was When advertisers match the right marketing with the right media and distribution, entertainment advertising works. The Real Racing app has since soared to the number one download and has created an all-positive buzz up about the brand. As a bonus for Firemint, its paid Real Racing app is currently ranked 29 and climbing.

"With the personalization of media and the challenges inherent with reaching constantly connected consumers, we tasked ourselves to rethink the way we launch vehicles in order to engage our consumers in a meaningful way," said Tim Ellis, vice president of marketing, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "The GTI customer is a tech-savvy consumer who enjoys social networking, playing games and spending time on mobile devices — most often an iPhone."

Even more telling is that while consumers claim they hate advertising, the Real Racing app demonstrates that what the public says and does are two different things. In this case, the launch of the GTI brand added realism to the game without being overly intrusive (despite seeing the Volkswagen brand on every screen).

What's even more interesting is that while most mobile success stories convinced us mobile marketing was all about adding convenience, this app offers up a different perspective. While pizza might be a product of convenience, other products and services might mean something else.

Imagine that. Social media and mobile marketing are situational. Original strategies, not best practice tactics, point the way.

Monday, November 2

Going Local: NAVTEQ Study & Mobile Trends

When it comes to reaching consumers via GPS-enabled location-based advertising, 19 percent of them recalled seeing a specific ad and clicked through to find nearby retail locations. Up to 6 percent also visited a business location after seeing an ad on their GPS device.

This is just one of many compelling findings conducted by Marketing Research Services Inc. and recently released by NAVTEQ, a leading global provider of digital map, traffic, and location data for in-vehicle, portable, wireless and enterprise. It marks a greater trend for marketers to find advertising while they are within a specific proximity of the business and/or while they are making purchasing decisions.

Additional NAVTEQ GPS-enabled location-based advertising study findings that demonstrate impact.

• Seventy-two percent of consumers find the ads to be acceptable on their navigation devices.
• At least 50 percent of respondents recall seeing an ad for each of the advertised brands (aided and unaided).
• At least 19 percent of people who recall seeing a specific ad reported clicking through for information on nearby locations.
• Up to 6 percent of navigation device users visited a business location because of seeing an ad on their navigation device.

"Marketers care about reaching consumers at the moment when they are closest to making a purchase decision," says Nicole Haygood, vice president interactive media director for Draftfcb. "If NAVTEQ's LocationPoint Advertising proves capable of tactfully engaging them near point of purchase through GPS, it will emerge as a desirable option for ad dollars."

GPS-enabled advertising isn't the only consideration for advertisers in an increasingly mobile world.

Consumers are relying heavily on search engines to find what they are looking for. While most might assume that means Google, recent Nielsen research discovered that 27 percent of Google searchers also used Bing at least once in July. Thirty-nine percent also used Yahoo.

"The reality is few consumers limit themselves to a single search engine, and the engine that builds a better mousetrap has the opportunity to make its case to searchers," said Ken Cassar, VP of industry insights for Nielsen Co.'s Online division. "Certainly [Google's] lead is formidable, and I don't see it changing significantly in the near future."

All of this creates a near future that suggests mobile consumers will be able to search for specific products and services, find the closest location with the best prices, and even map a route that avoids traffic. And stores and service providers with top-of-mind awareness and/or engagement via social networks stand to be the biggest beneficiaries.

After all, consumers who already know about your product, service, or business are much more likely to search for it. As long as they are not diverted by competitors or turned away because of poor customer service, they are most likely to search for and shop at places where they feel comfortable. The future of mobile could strengthen that relationship.

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