Tuesday, December 7

Learning The Hard Way: Three Anti-Case Studies

social media
There is another side of measurement that people are sometimes afraid to talk about. It can best be described as reverse benchmarking — what happens when companies experiment with social, over focus on numbers, and then prematurely cut programs?

Sometimes they find out months later that their decision was a bad one. And sometimes, not always, it's too late to recapture the momentum. Here are three case studies and some lessons associates of mine learned a few years ago. All that is missing are names to protect mostly those who mean well.

Three lessons learned the hard way.

• An engineering firm set out to position itself as a subject matter expert, employing social media as one of the tools. The owner understood it, but the team of engineers did not. Two months after the program was suspended, the firm was asked to bid a $1 million job because of something read on their undervalued marketing asset. The return could have paid for the program for years, even if they would have never seen another bid (but they would have).

• An nonprofit organization switched from a social media expert to a public relations firm that promised bigger network numbers. They received bigger numbers on social networks as promised, but their annual fundraiser earned 10 percent less than the year prior. The excuse was the economic climate, but the truth is switching from engagement to broadcast was the difference. Higher numbers did not translate into higher donations because the firm didn't consider the connections or communication.

• A restaurant decided to reduce its social media budget, one of the heftier cuts from an overall marketing budget while entering a traditionally slow season. The owner didn't think twice because they didn't consider their presence significant based on social network numbers. But what they missed was that the real order boost was coming from people who promoted them on one-off networks. Incidentally, they also didn't know social accounted for their fastest-growing revenue stream (four times the investment) because people would check in but not redeem discount codes.

When you focus on the wrong measurements, you will lose.

While pursuing direct response sales is often pointless in social media, marketers need to remember that all communication decisions can eventually impact revenue weeks and months and years after the decision is made. It's something to think about, especially because social media numbers tend to lie on the surface. You have to dig deeper to get at the truth.

Monday, December 6

Finding Mobile: Smart Phones Make The Web Mobile

The Web Is Mobile
On Friday, comScore, Inc. released its quarterly key trends in the U.S. mobile phone industry during the three-month average period ending October 2010. The report ranked the leading mobile original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and smartphone operating system (OS) platforms in the U.S. Some of the findings are surprising. Some are not.

In October, 234 million Americans ages 13 and older used mobile devices; 60.7 million people in the U.S. owned smart phones. What is not surprising is that Samsung still commands an edge over LG on OEM devices. Apple (iPhone) and Google (Android) are continuing to carve up what used to be an RIM only market.

What is surprising is how people use their phones when they are not using them as phones. Second only to text messages, people use them to surf the Web and access social networks.

The Way Consumers Use Phones Is Changing.

• Sending text messages increased from 66 percent in July to 68.1 percent
• Using a browser increased from 33.6 percent in July to 36.2 percent
• Using downloaded apps increased from 31.4 percent in July to 33.7 percent
• Accessing social networks (or blogs) increased from 21.4 percent in July to 24.2 percent
• Playing games increased from 22.3 percent in July to 23.7 percent
• Listening to music increased from 14.5 percent to 15.4 percent

Given the short six-month timeframe, it demonstrates the rapid adaption of mobile technology. But more importantly, it demonstrates the seriousness of businesses thinking differently about their social media programs and Internet presence.

While apps have gained significant attention, Web browsing is still the fastest-growing segment of adaption. Specifically, with exception to networks, people are searching the Web from their phones. And, I don't know about you, but most Web pages aren't very phone friendly. It's something to think about. Keep it simple and give them a chance to engage your company.

Sunday, December 5

Moving Backward: Fresh Content Project

fresh content project
While the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same" has reached a cliche-like status, there is some truth to it. For all the good social media provides, it cannot fix problems that occur at the core. It can however, amplify them.

The government can still be among the most ineffective communicators despite having the best tools to do it right. People are still mesmerized by popularity, whether or not those popular folks know what they are doing. We still need objective reporting even if people tend to tune into opinions that affirm their own. Businesses still think in terms of broadcasting messages, even when they operate in a space where people talk back. And Google, once again, is making a change to help curb SEO gaming.

Best Fresh Content In Review, Week of November 15

Will Your Site Survive the Google Shrink Ray?
Pamela Wilson takes a look at the Instant Previews being enabled by Google. What that might mean is that the heyday of SEO trickery is finally coming to an end. It might not be enough to have the right words. If people start using the little magnifying glass, they can tell in an instant whether or not your site is worth the visit. And some of it may be made on the snap judgment related to its design. Wilson then offers up some tips to clean up the clutter. (By the way, some over-produced sites pop up as nothing more than a puzzle piece!)

5 Steps To Thinking More Socially About Communications.
Dave Fleet has always been good about writing with solid topic breaks. In terms of social, he sums up some steps that a few people need to read again: Think "inbound" instead of "outbound" (e.g., broadcast); think long term and not short term; adjust your definitions of measurement; integrate your channels; and expect some two-way communication. For many people working with social for some time, it might sound like old hat. But you know, there are plenty of people who still need to learn it.

How Not To Use YouTube by Ike Pigott.
Ike Pigott's mash up post on the failing and flailing TSA social media program is a fun way to point out that the ease of social media tool usage doesn't mean everybody ought to use them. One person who doesn't belong in a high profile spotlight as spokesperson is John Pistole. Pigott points to everything that is wrong about the video, which can be best summed up as producing it in the first place. The only thing they did right, he says, was disable comments.

Journalism Skills For Everyone.
A few years ago, Geoff Livingston and I got into a fight about whether bloggers could become journalists if they wanted to be. So, I find it ironic and amusing that he has come around with a wish list of bloggers who want to be more than hobbyists and give real reporting beyond an invented reality a try. What makes the post stand out is that Livingston, much like I did a few years ago, hopes that the amateur might step it up to help fill the void as many papers are left diminished. I hope so too, but expect we might have to have another run with a few yellow journalism empires before people see the need again.

The Problem With Influence.
Danny Brown has been writing with a new found fire since breaking free of some social media fishbowl posts. Nowadays, he is tackling the tougher issues like the problem with online influence measures and the bastardization of the word. There is an underlying irony in the post presented by Brown in that social media "experts" were the first to tear down fictitious measures of importance that some people held, only to resurrect them in some equally bizarre way — online popularity.

Friday, December 3

Shopping Psychology: Why Retailers Attract Bargain Hunters

shopping psychology
According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, shop owners are leaving lures around their stores to attract more holiday spending. Many of them are placing inexpensive items in the windows that lead toward more expensive fashions in the back.

"No one wants to buy anything for themselves anymore, you've got to get them through the door," one store owner told The Wall Street Journal. He's not alone. Another one says he added items that clash with his contemporary aesthetic. And yet another is targeting children at the door in the hope their parents might buy something else.

Why Are Retailers Tossing Out Bait While Fishing With Dynamite?

While the National Retail Federation is estimating that Thanksgiving weekend sales were up 8.7% over last year, retailers are still scared of their third down season in a row. So many of them are skipping out on customer service and trying out tricks instead.

Ironically, if they thought more about their customers, they might not have to. For all his street smarts, the shop owner who said nobody wants to buy anything for themselves is wrong. Chances are, he's just not selling what they want for themselves. He also might be attracting the wrong buyers for his store.

The Real Psychology Behind Holiday Shoppers.

According to the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, shoppers will be buying items for themselves. Those who can be described as more materialistic will allocate as much as 34 percent of their holiday budget on themselves. Those who are not materialistic will still spend 17 percent of their budget on themselves.

Not surprisingly, the size of those budgets will be primarily dictated by whether shoppers feel secure about their jobs or not and whether they realized an increase in income this year or not. The attitude between these two shoppers can be best described as "deal shoppers" and "value shoppers." The deal shoppers are looking for cheap. The value shoppers want to treat everyone to more, but are looking for the right value.

With this in mind, now consider the first shop owner's strategy. What type of buyer do you think he will attract with cheaper trinkets up front? And then consider the buyer he might attract if he placed one or two luxury items with the right value incentive in the window?

Shop Owners Might Consider Their Own Psychology.

The Kellogg School of Management says its study reveals that an individual's perceived relative control over resources affects their shopping habits. The same might be said of store owners (or site owners for that matter). Their own insecurities might be driving them to attract less secure shoppers.

Thursday, December 2

Studying Social Media: A Bacardi Survey Didn't Mix

In what seems to be a solid survey from a least likely source, Bacardi released some interesting findings about social media. The survey, called the Bacardi Together Index, asked 5,000 adults (ages 21+) more than 146 questions to provide a glimpse of online and offline social connections.

But before getting into the release of the study and why you never heard about it, it might be worthwhile to take a look at the findings. Some are surprising; others reinforce what we already know. It was released just just prior to Thanksgiving.

Key Findings From The Bacardi Together Index.

• “Social media togetherness” is not the same as “in-person togetherness.” Social media togetherness is quicker and less emotionally meaningful amongst respondents.

• 64 percent of respondents believe being together with family and friends is important, more so than getting a raise (51 percent), having a career (47 percent), and having the best of everything (30 percent).

• 57 percent of respondents consider holidays as the most likely occasion to get together with friends, including the current holiday season, birthdays, Fourth of July, Mother's Day, and Father's Day.

• The primary circumstances that prevent togetherness include a lack of money (58 percent), lack of friends (43 percent), geographic distance from friends and family (40 percent), and finding the time to be with others (50 percent).

• Those who live in cities (47 percent) or just outside of a city (44 percent) appear to have more physical and emotional togetherness than those living in the suburbs (38 percent) or rural areas (31 percent).

If The Study Is Solid, Why Didn't Anybody See It?

While I can only guess at the behind-the-scenes planning, the outcomes suggest that the effort wasn't well thought out. Specifically, the tactical execution is mostly intact, but the strategic planning seems unforgivingly absent.

The study release included a shareable multimedia address. There, the page includes highlights of the study, a related document, photos, and related links. It also had a content thin video, embedded below.


In addition to related links, there were several additional unrelated promotional links, such as the Bacardi Mix Master application and an additional document featuring the Barcardi Legendary Cocktails list. What this has to do with social connections (despite the painfully thin marketing opportunity kind), we may never know. And, the photos are boring, merely screenshots of the video.

But more importantly than infusing unrelated marketing into the mix, this entire release seems to lack purpose. Media outlets would likely dismiss the source and chuckle at the promotional embeds. Social media experts weren't in the distribution mix so they never saw it anyway (the release was made available through media distribution channels). And the audience, well, they aren't that interested in social media surveys.

At least, they don't seem to be interested. None of the fourteen share buttons caught any real traction. And, even Bacardi's own social network accounts seem suspect. Don't get me wrong. They have followers (147,000+ on Facebook/19,000+ on Twitter).

However, the Twitter account hadn't been updated since October. The Facebook account was updated only five times in November. Neither mentions the survey.

Maybe that makes sense. Why expect a semi-neglected "fan base" to share marketing survey information that hasn't been packaged for their benefit? Or, maybe more apparent, based on usage, Bacardi isn't convinced social works and the agency (sorry) doesn't really get social anyway.

The Likely Path Of Planning.

Chances are Bacardi was conducting the study anyway. It's part of their research for a "togetherness" campaign that many spirits companies have tried to own over the years. Once it was completed, someone said social media experts might be interested. And, perhaps, someone else remembered their PR 101 class that suggested news outlets like holiday-related news and surveys.

Then someone else suggested they put it up for everyone, because you never know who might be interested. (Maybe it will go viral!) So someone else concluded that if it is going viral, they better plant some good old fashioned marketing mix lists in there.

In the end, somehow the whole thing was produced as a social media page with no defined audience or purpose and then announced via a traditional newswire blast with no intended audience beyond everybody. So what happened? Pretty much nothing, despite some relatively decent findings that have been ignored.

All those varied ideas didn't mix. Either that or someone spent too much time sampling the product.

What Could Have Happened?

The study could have been sent to any number of specific media and social media pundits who might have an expressed interest. And while most of them might still wonder about the source connection, it still could have made an interesting story.

In one instance, Bacardi even pinpointed which cities lean toward togetherness and which do not. That's interesting. Of course, it also might have been interesting to have asked people about something related to the product like, I dunno, drinking?

Some tidbits from the study could have also been repurposed and repackaged into little nuggets for consumers who want content (but don't get content) via their Bacardi social network connection. And, at the same time, these people would probably be the most likely to have an interest in the ill-placed promotional docs and apps.

The media and social media peeps would not. Of course, a few spirit-related pubs might have. (Not to mention, a better video, on YouTube, could have captured more views.)

Even more interesting than any of this would have been the release of a new drink for the 2010 holidays. Or, maybe, a mini-contest for the best Bacardi-inspired holiday drink as submitted by their online customers. It sounds like fun, it's engaging, and (what do you know) it fits within the current togetherness theme.

Wednesday, December 1

Branding Lessons: La-Z-Boy Reinforces Its Challenge

LaZBoy Ad
The New York Times detailed an interesting dilemma for La-Z-Boy. It seems the company best known for recliners is struggling with non-recliner sales.

The company's solution is to push a "we're more than recliners" message with spokeswomen Brooke Shields. One of the ad headlines is especially clunky: “When La-Z-Boy says ‘relax,’ it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘recline.’" The goal is to present a message of comfort, quality and family-friendliness and help break up the brand definition.

Can enviable brand recognition really be a liability?

Yes and no. Yes, it can be with La-Z-Boy, especially with the new campaign. And no, it didn't have to be if La-Z-Boy realized there was a much simpler solution, with or without Shields.

The challenge with the new campaign is that it invests considerable time conjuring up the old and powerful image, which reinforces the message supposedly holding them back. La-Z-Boy is most readily identified with a 1950s-60s-70s image of a head of household kicking everyone out of the recliner. Shields even says so in one spot, reinforcing it was "Dad's chair."

That image, even within the confines of storytelling, is powerful. It almost drowns out the rest of the message, which has Shields talking about her family, which isn't shown, enjoying her full line of La-Z-Boy furniture. The button cute ending has her muse about no one being able to kick her off the furniture now.

The spots, especially, aren't bad. Shields does a great job delivering authenticity with the lines. And, according to the article, the campaign will total at least $20 million, combining spending by La-Z-Boy and by furniture dealers. Ironically, however, this only constitutes a fraction of the total ad spend for La-Z-Boy, which will likely focus on recliners.

A different solution La-Z-Boy could have taken might have used Shields or not. It might have introduced a new sub-brand such as "Laurel by La-Z-Boy" (generic for the purposes of this post) and been paired with images of families. It might have been more effective, creating a bigger space between the original brand and the La-Z-Boy brand, while still capitalizing on the history and strong name recognition that owns recliners.

It could have also quelled the one authenticity-killing realization that despite Shields claiming a couch as her own, she is also married to several other shoots. It's hard to believe that she owns them all. It's even less convincing when you see the same setup in the product-only shoot.

La-Z-Boy Nostalgia Has The Mark Of Old School Marketing.

There is nothing wrong with La-Z-Boy as a company, despite what many might consider a high side price point. Still, it seems a complete strategic overhaul of its marketing is in order. It has all the right assets, with many of them being managed at a just above par level.

For example, you can order the furniture online, but the interface is an off-putting funnel approach for every product. (And some products are not available for online purchases.) The website has a 3-D room planner, which has potential for people with updated computers. It also has a construction primer worth checking out.

La-A-Boy also has fledgling social network efforts in play, with an emphasis on the most popular networks. However, the communication suggests the company isn't certain about what to do with these accounts. It's not bad, just basically bland (although they deserve props for promoting Ronald McDonald House). A blog would probably help their networks fine tune their content contributions and open up a better conversation.

The point is that Laz-A-Boy seems to have the right ingredients but it still seems separate with an obvious lean toward recliners. A refreshed plan could probably help reinforce furnishings much better than a traditional mass media marketing approach. In the meantime, it's worth watching as a living case study.

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