In Praise of the Lowest Common Denominator

A few years ago, I was flying back from a client meeting via JetBlue. By the time I boarded the full flight, many of the passengers were already tuned in to DIRECTV. I glanced around and saw that I was in the company of a refined audience. Passengers were watching CNN, CNBC, The History Channel and an occasional ESPN News here and there. A fast 90-minute flight later, I looked around again. It was a different picture. Easily three out of four passengers (myself included) were transfixed by the much less highbrow “Growing Up Gotti.”

A few years ago, I was flying back from a client meeting via JetBlue. By the time I boarded the full flight, many of the passengers were already tuned in to DIRECTV. I glanced around and saw that I was in the company of a refined audience. Passengers were watching CNN, CNBC, The History Channel and an occasional ESPN News here and there. A fast 90-minute flight later, I looked around again. It was a different picture. Easily three out of four passengers (myself included) were transfixed by the much less highbrow “Growing Up Gotti.”

While we all aspire to spend our waking hours living the tippy-top “self-actualization” tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy, there are times when we just need a break from all that intellectual stimulation.

As marketers, you have an opportunity to make yourselves memorable by giving consumers an escape. It’s time to think beyond whitepapers and webinars and all the “good for you” stuff that you do for consumers.

Give Them Something to Talk About
We’re social animals by nature and love to share with others. Go to any website and take a look at the “Most Read” and “Most Emailed” list. I guarantee they look very different from each other. What we like to share are things that emotionally impact us in some way — whether it made us chuckle, surprised us or touched us.

Make Them Laugh
Speaking of laughter, if blender companies and insurance companies can be funny, you can too. If all else fails, make fun of yourself. Talk about the “unspeakable” and, if you’re brave enough, embrace the “ewww.” Check out Nasopure, a company that makes nasal wash devices, for an example of the latter.

Surprise Them With a Gift or Gesture
Who doesn’t like presents? Nothing makes an impact like a random act of appreciation. It can be as simple as mailing out a little “thinking of you” trinket (preferably without your logo on it) or a handwritten note to thank your customer for their business.

What are you waiting for? Channel your not-quite-so-evolved self and bring a “Growing Up Gotti” moment of pure delight into your customers’ lives.

The 5 Assassins of Innovation

Every company talks about innovation and recognizes the need to be innovative. But then why do so many promising ideas die an untimely death? Let me introduce you to the assassins of innovation who have your next big idea in their crosshairs:

Every company talks about innovation and recognizes the need to be innovative. But then why do so many promising ideas die an untimely death? Let me introduce you to the assassins of innovation who have your next big idea in their crosshairs:

1. Low self-esteem Larry: “We’ll never get away with it. We’re not (insert name of impossibly cool brand).” Don’t be fooled by his self-effacing facade. Larry is one of the most prolific eradicators out there. He strikes early and takes down ideas in their infancy. How to defend yourself against Larry?

Try this: A recent study from Millward Brown found that there was no significant correlation between brand or category involvement and likelihood of viewing and sharing viral video. Think about the most popular viral videos in recent years and the categories they represented: bottled water, a mobile provider and deodorant — not typically the types of things most people get worked up about. Well-executed ideas are what make a brand cool, not the other way around.

2. Benny the Brain: “We don’t have the data.” Benny’s right. Odds are, you won’t have the data to justify a truly innovative effort because data is inherently backward looking. Data can tell you the “what” but not the “why.” Nor is it about asking customers what they want. (Think back to the Henry Ford quote, “If I asked my customers what they want, they simply would have said a faster horse.”) The type of data you really need comes from talking, following and watching your customers to understand their needs, then creating a solution based on that understanding.

3. Practical Paulie: “[Insert name of brilliant idea] is just a fad.” Unlike Benny, Paulie usually has all the numbers at his disposal. For every idea, he’ll have a few stats to prove why it won’t work. The biggest issue with the industry reports and studies he cites is that they’re rarely specific to your audience, category or situation. Try turning the tables on Paulie. If 25 percent of mobile phone owners only use an app once, that’s 75 percent who are using it more than once. Innovation is rarely mass adoption; it’s about seeding a new idea, reaching early adopters and gaining traction.

4. Helga the Historian: “It’s already been done/We’ve already tried that.” Helga lurks in unexpected places, including companies that are considered innovators by most standards. She’s the one who reminds the team, “We tried mobile back in 2002, and it was a disaster.” Let Helga know that it’s 2011 and times have changed.

Facebook didn’t invent social networking. Remember MySpace? And before that Friendster? And if you go way back, GeoCities? Sometimes it’s just the right idea at the wrong time. Other times it’s the right idea but it’s executed poorly. There are countless reasons why innovations fail. The key is to learn from your mistakes and the successes of others to maximize your odds of producing a winner. Think about your most admired companies. Chances are few, if any, were the first to market. Let Helga know it’s not about being first, but about being better.

5. Big Al the Accountant: “We can’t afford it.” The economic downturn has lavished Al with a lot of extra ammunition. Companies believe they’re doing the right thing by staying with the tried and true, avoiding the risks of bringing a new idea to market. However, it’s companies that are continuing to invest in innovation during tough times that are emerging from the recession with higher growth rates. In this case, think small. Distill down a grand vision to its essential components and propose ways to execute it quickly and inexpensively.

Arming yourself against the assassins
The assassins aren’t invincible (otherwise, I’d have made them superheroes). Know how they’ll attack and be prepared. To summarize, here are quotes from a couple of the smartest people I know: Sun Tzu: “Know your enemies and know yourself and you will win countless battles.” My mom: “Don’t forget to do your homework.”

The Real Problem with Facebook Advertising: Extreme Engagement

The real problem for marketers is that unequivocally all-consuming, immersive Facebook experience. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook, however. It’s any media placement where the site you choose turns out to be your biggest competitor. In other words, reach doesn’t equal impact.

What do you do when you go on Facebook? You’re probably checking out everyone else’s status updates, getting in some FarmVille playtime, liking or commenting on a post, chatting with a friend, writing a clever update for your own profile, watching a video, or maybe even tracking down an old friend. Facebook is a virtual amusement park with no shortage of options. It’s no wonder we spend an average of seven hours a month on the site.

In the midst of this pandemonium is the lone voice of your sponsored ad, app or brand page. Guess who wins?

The real problem for marketers is that unequivocally all-consuming, immersive Facebook experience. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook, however. It’s any media placement where the site you choose turns out to be your biggest competitor. In other words, reach doesn’t equal impact.

Too much focus on reaching the ‘right person’
We’ve all been collectively oohing and aahing over the cool (or creepy) technology that promises to find our target consumer wherever he or she roams. There’s no shortage of companies with proprietary algorithms and models at the ready to help you find her (and, in turn, further ruffle the feathers of the privacy police, but that’s for another post). In this scenario, the Facebooks of the media world will always turn up on top, because that’s where everyone is.

But by only focusing on reaching the “right person,” you’re underestimating the more qualitative and definitely more hairy problems of the “right message” and the “right time.”

It’s a matter of context
Of this marketing trifecta, the least talked about is the right time. Unlike the right person and right message aspects of the equation, this is the one where marketers have the least amount of control. It can turn into your biggest enemy.

The core issue is the inverse correlation between immersiveness of an experience and receptiveness to marketing messages. This finding has been confirmed across all media types, including television, websites and print.

One of the most interesting studies on the topic was related to Super Bowl advertising. The researchers compared ad recall among three groups: those supporting the winning team; those supporting the losing team; and those who didn’t have a favorite team. It turned out that ad recall was highest for those who were neutral and not emotionally involved in the game. It didn’t matter if your team was winning or losing, the fact that you had a team meant you were focused on the game and not the ads. However, those who were less immersed in the game were willing to listen to your pitch.

Sure, you can fish where the fish are, but there are no guarantees they’ll bite. So what’s a marketer to do?

Steer clear of competitors for mind share
Marketers don’t typically think of media placement as a form of competition. The rule of thumb had been the more engaging the site the better, when in fact the reverse is true. It’s counterintuitive, but as the Super Bowl example illustrates, you want your audience involved, but not too involved.

Your audience can be focused on a particular task, so long as the task isn’t all consuming. For example, if they’re quickly checking on the weather or a sports score — these are in-and-out activities — you can be there as they check out. I’ve seen a lot of success with campaigns on these quick-reference sites in the past.

Thinking beyond targeting and messaging
So, there you are with your exquisitely crafted message and flawlessly calculated targeting, but are you taking into account what the consumer is doing, thinking and feeling at that moment?

The problem of immersion isn’t limited to Facebook. It just happens to be the perfect embodiment of extreme engagement. The same issues would hold true for other high-involvement sites and channels such as video, in-game and mobile. Ultimately, this is all about knowing your audience. One man’s diversion is another’s obsession.

3 Reasons Popularity is Overrated

It seems that we never really lose our obsession with the popular kids. Case in point: the current marketing craze of finding and tapping into influencers.

It seems that we never really lose our obsession with the popular kids. Case in point: the current marketing craze of finding and tapping into influencers.

The Palms made big news last fall when it announced the launch of its “Klout Klub,” a program designed to serve up top-tier service and access to guests with high “klout” scores (a measurement of social media influence). And the hysteria around finding and befriending top “mommy bloggers” is nothing short of out of control.

So, is all this adulation for and effort toward winning over the so-called beautiful people of social media deserved or necessary? Consider the following three points to help you answer that question:

1. Domain specificity of popularity. The problem is that popularity is rarely absolute; rather, it’s domain specific. This even applies to high school, where the reputations of even the über-popular kids rarely extended beyond their class and almost never out of their school district.

Translate that to the real world: A Java programming genius has a following of hundreds of thousands across his blog posts and Twitter stream. He’ll show up as a highly influential individual, but his influence is grounded in his expertise. Will his fans and followers care what he has to say about programming? Absolutely. About his opinion of disposable razors? Not so much.

For every rule there’s an exception. And her name is Oprah. (You thought I was going to say Mr. Bieber, didn’t you? Actually, his popularity is extremely domain specific.) Oprah’s popularity is as close to absolute as you can get, and if you have a chance to get on her good side, do so immediately. But you already knew that. Moving on.

2. Reaching out to the popular may not be the best solution. The real question isn’t whether influencers are important — of course they are. Ask yourself what you would do for influencers that you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) do for the less socially skilled? Generally speaking, you always want to take an “inclusive outreach” approach — i.e., communicating with as many prospects, customers and influencers as you can, assuming there’s little or no incremental cost. That would be the case for much of what marketers focus on, namely using content, information or entertainment to promote a product, event or special offer.

Conversely, if there’s a hard cost involved or quantity is limited (e.g., a private event or physical gift), you have to rely on an “exclusive outreach” approach and limit the number of people with whom you’re communicating.

3. The real influencers may not be the most popular. Let’s say you’ve decided that an exclusive outreach approach is right for you. Before you resort to third-party services and elaborate algorithms and overlays to identify influencers, consider the possibility that you may already know your most influential advocates.

I recently looked at Twitterverse for mentions of our client’s brand and found that those who were tweeting had more than twice the number of followers than the average Twitter user. There’s a bit of cause and effect at play here. Those who are most active socially will often have the most fans and followers.

If you’re focused on an exclusive outreach program, start by looking close to home. You might be amazed at how many popular kids are already friends with you (well, at least with your brand). Don’t forget that the tried-and-true still holds: Always take care of your best customers, regardless of how they score on a popularity meter.

Random Acts of Appreciation

So, will performing random acts of appreciation for your customers make a difference? Absolutely.

Rather than focusing on “the next big thing,” I decided to keep in the spirit of the season and celebrate the little things.

A few weeks ago, I found an unexpected package on my doorstep. It was from an online retailer I shop frequently with. Inside was a lovely, living holiday centerpiece and a note of thanks. While uncommon, gestures like this aren’t unheard of. For example, Starbucks is well known for surprising its Gold Card members with coupons for free beverages. One Starbucks fan blogged, “I have never figured out a rhyme or reason to how Starbucks distributes coupons.”

The difference between knowing that every 15 purchases gets you a free latte versus getting a freebie you didn’t expect is the difference between a transactional and an emotional relationship. A points program is purely a business exchange. The fact that you “earn” rewards clearly indicates this process is a task.

That’s not to say that traditional frequency reward programs aren’t effective. But these programs have turned into a cost of entry for marketers in countless industries. In fact, the average U.S. household belongs to 14 loyalty programs. While they may be popular, points programs are hardly differentiators.

So, will performing random acts of appreciation for your customers make a difference? Absolutely.

Robert W. Palmatier, associate professor of marketing at the University of Washington, studies this effect in his article, The Role of Customer Gratitude in Relationship Marketing. He found that these incremental and unexpected efforts result in feelings of gratitude which, in turn, positively impact purchase intentions. The word gratitude sums it up beautifully.

Ready to give it a go? Here are three rules to keep in mind:

1. It comes out of the blue. The element of surprise creates impact. That’s why they call it “surprise and delight.”

2. It’s about them, not you. A discount or free item is always appreciated, but it should be something your customers really want, not something you need to promote or unload. If you want to send a “gift,” avoid anything emblazoned with your company’s logo.

3. Focus on your best customers. Sounds like common sense, right? Maybe not. For example, if the surprise is a product discount and there’s little to no cost for you to distribute it, you may be inclined to make it available to every customer. In this case, resist the urge. If everyone is special, then no one is.

I never did make use of my centerpiece. Unfortunately, it arrived just as we were going out of town for the week. But the gesture will be remembered and, as they say, it’s the thought that counts. May your new year be brightened by random acts of appreciation.

Showdown of the Holiday Gadget Wish List: Man vs. Marketer

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it’s make-or-break time for the hottest category this time of year — consumer electronics. As always, there will be no shortage of choices. Store aisles will be jam-packed with bright, shiny contenders, all competing for a place in your shopping cart.

The holiday shopping season is in full swing, and it’s make-or-break time for the hottest category this time of year — consumer electronics. As always, there will be no shortage of choices. Store aisles will be jam-packed with bright, shiny contenders, all competing for a place in your shopping cart.

I decided to field a survey to find out which gadgets will earn a much-coveted spot in all those stockings hung by the chimney with care. To put a twist on things, I wanted to compare the responses of average consumers versus marketing professionals. Survey respondents included 100 consumers randomly selected from a survey panel and 100 traditional and digital marketing peers.

Most coveted gadgets: the winners
Want to know what to get your favorite marketer this year? The iPad was the hands-down winner among marketers, chosen by one in five respondents. But the iPad isn’t getting the same amount of consumer love — it ranked seventh in a list of 10 items we asked about, with only 8 percent of consumers including it on their wish lists.

What’s on top of consumers’ lists? Flat-screen TVs rule. Maybe those savvy consumers smell a deal? Last year wasn’t a banner year for TV sales, and the inventory glut is leading to heavy price reductions. According to CNN, the average price for a 32-inch LCD TV is just $374. Quite the bargain when compared inch-for-inch against the 9.7-inch iPad screen.

Life beyond Android and iPhone: the surprises
With all the talk about convergence devices that do it all, I didn’t expect to see a decidedly old-school, not-so-one-stop-shop entry in the top three of both the consumer and marketer list — digital cameras. It’s a reminder that there’s still a lot of demand for specialized, single-use devices.

When it comes to mobile, the iPhone was the most mentioned smartphone for both marketers and consumers, fueled by its heavily anticipated arrival at Verizon. Android phones were rock bottom on the list among nonmarketers, with a mere 2 percent hoping for one this holiday. Smartphones (non-Android or iPhone) made a surprisingly strong showing among consumers, tying for third place with the iPhone. In the iPhone- and Android-obsessed world of marketers, it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of other options out there.

We’re not our target customers: the not so surprising
Over 90 percent of the marketers surveyed labeled one or more of the items they were asked about as a must-have for their holiday wish lists. One in 10 even included additional candidates, including GoogleTV, Xbox with Kinect, Roku and the latest iPod. But the average consumer is definitely less smitten by gizmos and gadgets — over 50 percent said none of the items we asked about will make it onto their holiday wish lists.

The reluctance among consumers to indulge in pricey electronic goodies is consistent with the grim predictions of 2010 holiday spending, such as the recent finding from the NPD Group that “consumers who were considering just cutting back on [consumer electronics] purchases are now not planning to buy anything at all.”

Holiday 2010: the takeaways
While 2011 is shaping up to be the year the iPhone hits mass adoption, there are a lot of other smartphone choices out there. This doesn’t make things any easier for app-slinging marketers, who will have to prioritize the platforms they want to serve.

iPad envy aside, there’s a lot in common between marketers and consumers. For now, most of us are favoring the familiar over the newer-to-market indulgences. Emerging technologies such as 3-D TVs, tablets and e-readers may dominate headlines, but it’s the established devices such as digital cameras and flat-screen TVs that will continue to capture wallet share this holiday season.

As for my list, I’m hoping to get something (or someone) to help carry around all the gadgets I already own. What’s on your wish list?

Influencing Consumer Decisions at the “Last Meter”

Forget about the last mile, it’s all about the last meter. Where the rubber meets the road. The final chance to whisper “choose me.” As marketers, you’re pros at top-of-funnel techniques like building brand awareness and generating interest and desire, which (fingers crossed) will convert into sales. But the one place where you have the least control is at the moment of decision, where consumers decide what to buy and what to bypass.

Forget about the last mile, it’s all about the last meter. Where the rubber meets the road. The final chance to whisper “choose me.” As marketers, you’re pros at top-of-funnel techniques like building brand awareness and generating interest and desire, which (fingers crossed) will convert into sales. But the one place where you have the least control is at the moment of decision, where consumers decide what to buy and what to bypass.

Are location-based apps the answer?
The latest entries to the last meter game are location-based applications. Every company, from the corner dry cleaner to the nationwide chain, has been jumping on the bandwagon. This is the godsend you’ve been hoping for — or is it?

Forrester Research provided a reality check earlier this year when it concluded that only 4 percent of U.S. online adults have used location-based apps, and only 1 percent use them regularly. Expectedly, the believers countered with stats about the unstoppable momentum of smartphone adoption and argued that the current state is not an accurate indicator of future potential. We do know who’s embracing these apps today — men ranging from 19 to 34 years old. But even if that is your target audience, there are no guarantees. And if it’s not, the road to adoption may be even longer.

What’s the ROI for your customers?
To start, you have to consider your customers’ return on investment. This universal formula applies to anything that requires a shift in behavior, and location-based apps are no exception. Let’s start with the “I.” What are you asking them to invest? In the case of apps, it’s the effort of seeking out, downloading and using the application, hopefully over and over again.

And in return, what’s the “R” that they’re getting back for their investment of time? That is, what exactly is it that you’re making better, cheaper and faster to justify the additional effort? Until recently, the sole focus had been on the gaming aspect, where virtual rewards such as mayorships and badges are earned for check-ins. But there’s a collective realization that it will take more for these apps to break out beyond being a mere novelty.

Services like Shopkick, Foursquare and Loopt are offering deals and savings, or other real-world rewards. But will their appeal extend beyond those hardcore deal seekers who will do whatever it takes to get a bargain? For most consumers, all this stuff feels like work. For them, the discounts or whatever rewards you’re doling out need to justify the effort. And if you’re not willing to give the farm away and bump up the “R” of consumer return, are there other ways to reduce the required “I” of investment?

What else should marketers be thinking about?
 Beyond apps, the conversation should embrace other innovations that are already hitting stores near you. One excellent example is Stop & Shop/Giant Food’s hand-held Scan It! device. It lets customers scan items as they’re placed into their shopping carts for faster checkout, while also proactively sending alerts of special savings throughout the store. Purchases made using Scan It! account for 13 percent of the grocer’s sales.

A bit further out are other innovations, such as radio frequency identification (RFID). Unfortunately, RFID has been battered and bruised by privacy concerns and sky-high implementation costs, but it’s still standing. Wal-Mart, one of the early adopters of RFID-tagged pallets for logistics purposes, recently announced it will implement RFID tags for individual products. Further out yet, but already in trial, are intelligent digital displays like those from NEC Corp. that use facial recognition to recommend products based on your estimated gender and age.

Maybe these won’t be the ultimate solutions. One thing they have in common is they require little to no investment on the consumer’s part; they work with the way consumers shop today and at the same time deliver additional value.

There are a lot of options out there to bridge the last meter. Just don’t forget the two critical questions: One, how hard are you making your customers work? And two, what’s in it for them?

Tearing Down the CRM Barriers

In networked CRM, there’s no tightly defined “conversion path.” Instead, every social media touchpoint serves as a point of entry, interaction and advocacy. Other than that, everything you do in your traditional CRM program you can apply to your networked CRM ecosystem. It just takes a little ingenuity.

OK, let’s get started. To begin, I have a few questions for you:

  • Is a “registered user” a better indicator of interest in your company than someone who chooses to “follow” you on Twitter?
  • Is a customer who forwards your email to a friend any more valuable than someone who celebrates your product(s) by creating and posting a video to YouTube for everyone to see?
  • Is a call-center inquiry any more personal than a conversation that takes place between you and a consumer on your Facebook wall?

My guess is that the customer who’s choosing to follow you, retweet you, fan you, check into your place of business or respond to your Facebook wall post is more committed, more influential and more valuable to you than the average “member” in your database. Why? These actions are implicit personal endorsements of your brand broadcast to a network of hundreds of friends and followers.

Yet, despite all the different ways consumers are engaging retailers today, CRM still remains an entirely linear process for most companies.

  • Step 1: Drive to website/store/call center;
  • Step 2: Acquire contact information;
  • Step 3: Send email and/or direct mail piece;
  • Step 4: Repeat step 3 until they shop; and
  • Step 5: Win them back.

This process exists for a reason — it works. When applied skillfully, this system allows retailers to target communications, measure important things like return on investment and lifetime value, and ultimately market more effectively and efficiently.

So, what’s the catch?

The shortcoming of this process is that retailers are undervaluing and underserving those who have chosen to interact with them outside the gated community of their traditional CRM program. In working with clients, I’ve consistently found a large percentage of consumers who follow or fan brands in the social media realm are nowhere to be found in their databases. At a minimum, this is in the thousands for most brands and maybe even the millions if you’ve been working your social media mojo.

The linear model of CRM is no longer adequate. It’s time for what I’m calling “networked CRM.”

In networked CRM, there’s no tightly defined “conversion path.” Instead, every social media touchpoint serves as a point of entry, interaction and advocacy. Other than that, everything you do in your traditional CRM program you can apply to your networked CRM ecosystem. It just takes a little ingenuity.

Segmentation and targeting take on new forms. For example, set up different Twitter accounts for different audiences. Dell operates more than 80 Twitter accounts, covering a broad range of interests, from regional deals to crowd-sourcing innovation. But the rules of relevance and moderation in communications still apply. No marketer would imagine calling their customers at home eight times in a day to talk about a new product line, but that’s exactly what a major retailer did recently when it sent its fans eight wall posts about its new product.

As for analytics, while there are no ready-made identifiers like member IDs or source codes — as is the case in a traditional CRM program — there are a plethora of nontraditional measurement options. At its simplest, you can use bit.ly or site-side analytic referral tags to track clickthroughs from wall posts and tweets.

If you’re more ambitious, build individual profiles by using social media overlay services such as Rapleaf or Flowtown, experimenting with Facebook and Twitter application program interfaces to reap information, or even just ask your customers to provide the information.

Social media can no longer be a mere afterthought. This isn’t about blowing up your existing CRM program, but rethinking it to encompass some of your most valuable customers.

Should the iPad be in Your Channel Mix?

The iPad launch has been manna to procrastinators everywhere, between all those endearing toddler/house pet and iPad videos, the countless tweets and retweets, and a guaranteed handful of daily news articles and blog posts (add this one to the count). Beyond a source for personal amusement, the iPad has turned out to be a surprising gift to the marketing community. I’ll get to that later, but let’s start with a dose of reality.

Or, you might already be in it and not even know it yet …

The iPad launch has been manna to procrastinators everywhere, between all those endearing toddler/house pet and iPad videos, the countless tweets and retweets, and a guaranteed handful of daily news articles and blog posts (add this one to the count). Beyond a source for personal amusement, the iPad has turned out to be a surprising gift to the marketing community. I’ll get to that later, but let’s start with a dose of reality.

It’s imperfect. It’s no secret, the iPad is flawed. It’s expensive, it’s awkward to hold, it’s heavy and its most compelling feature — streaming videos — limps along or not at all when you try to use it out of Wi-Fi range. And let’s not even get started on the lack of Flash support. But despite all its faults, it’s a device worth paying attention to.

Does the iPad change everything? At the recent “All Things D” conference, Steve Jobs described the iPad as a revolutionary device that’s nothing short of “magical,” while Steve Ballmer countered at the same event that the device is “just another PC.” In a way, Ballmer’s right. The iPad is “just another PC” in that it, too, is a container — a vehicle for content delivery. But how that content experience comes to life is raising the bar and making us rethink existing paradigms.

Blurring the lines. Until now, the idea of “lean-forward” versus “lean-back” media consumption has been a useful shorthand to delineate the active, more engaged nature of internet usage versus the laid-back, take-it-in mode of watching TV. However, this framework doesn’t neatly apply to the iPad. Steve Jobs alludes to this key difference when he describes a more “direct and intimate” nature of media consumption, and that with the iPad “it’s like some intermediate thing has been removed and stripped away.”

Spectacipation. You heard it here first. What the iPad offers is an experience that resides between that of spectator and participant. The perfect example is a well executed magazine on the iPad. Among the early crop of iPad-enabled publications, Wired stands out. First of all, the issue loads in its entirety locally, and is accessible even when you’re not online. You can be lazily flipping through the latest issue much as you would the print version. As you’re reading an article, you can effortlessly listen to a related audio clip or view a video montage with a tap of your finger.

It’s not about the apps.
If you’re a marketer, it’s not iPad apps you should be thinking about; it’s the iPad-enabled magazines and newspapers. With the iPad, and unlike the iPhone, you have a way to fast-track your presence through these publishers. In addition to Wired, other iPad-enabled monthly titles include Men’s Health, Popular Science, Vanity Fair and Time, with many more publishers planning their debut over the next few months.

If you advertise in print, chances are — whether you know it or not — you’re heading to the iPad. Take advantage of the opportunity; instead of merely embedding your 15-second ad, think about the “ideal” experience. Make it entertaining, make it fun, make it unexpected. In short, make it worth the reader’s effort to shift from spectator to participatory mode.

Should the iPad be in your channel mix? Likely, it already is.

What Would the Korean Taco Truck Do?

Some of the most interesting marketing ideas aren’t coming from big consumer brands and award-winning agencies, but instead from scrappy local businesses such as Kogi BBQ, AJ Bombers and The Roxy. Los Angeles-based Kogi BBQ, for example, started the mobile food truck Twitter trend and is now a marketing legend, its story covered by everyone from the New York Times to the BBC (and, coincidentally, eM+C).

It’s 12:30 in the morning and you need a Korean taco fix. No worries, Twitter is there to enable. If you live in a metropolitan area, odds are there are a dozen or more mobile food vendors that are broadcasting their latest location, specials of the day and wait time via Twitter.

Some of the most interesting marketing ideas aren’t coming from big consumer brands and award-winning agencies, but instead from scrappy local businesses such as Kogi BBQ, AJ Bombers and The Roxy. Los Angeles-based Kogi BBQ, for example, started the mobile food truck Twitter trend and is now a marketing legend, its story covered by everyone from the New York Times to the BBC (and, coincidentally, eM+C).

Another small business that’s getting its share of headlines is AJ Bombers, a Milwaukee burger joint. It made news in March when it attracted over 150 foursquare users to its restaurant who were looking to earn a coveted “Swarm Badge” — awarded when 50 or more foursquare users check in at the same time. It has since held another Swarm Badge party, most recently on foursquare day. Yes, there’s a foursquare day. It’s April 16th, mark your calendar.

When the new owner of The Roxy took over the famed L.A. nightclub, one of the first things he did was replace its website with a blog. He also collaborated with other entertainment venues on the Sunset Strip, including The Viper Room and The Comedy Store, to promote each other’s events via Twitter and Facebook. And then came the Sunset Strip Tweet Crawl, now an annual event, where tweeps (Twitter followers) enjoy free cover charges to bars and clubs on the Strip, prizes, and drinks specials announced via Twitter throughout the night.

What they’re doing right
These businesses have all succeeded in standing out by embracing new marketing techniques, letting their unique personalities shine through. But above all, they’ve maintained a relentless focus on pleasing their customers. What they’re doing feels personal because it is personal. Here’s a look at how you can do it, too.

1. Lighten up. Have some fun and don’t take yourself so seriously. Over 230 foursquare users showed up at A.J. Bombers last month to claim a custom “I’m on a Boat” Swarm badge by checking in at the kayak located at the front of the restaurant. It’s not always about the “value exchange” of coupons and points; often, good old-fashioned silliness can be an incredible motivator to join in. What’s your kayak?

2. Stay in touch. Communicate frequently with your customers. Use digital media to reflect the vibrant, living, breathing company you are. This is especially important for social media. If you have a Twitter follower base or Facebook fans, these are your hand raisers — i.e., people who want to hear from you. Talk to them; tell them what’s going on.

3. Play nice in the sandbox. Man cannot live on kimchi quesadillas alone. Many of these small businesses have a collaborative approach with their competitors. Koi Fusion, a Portland, Ore.-based Korean BBQ truck, regularly banters and sometimes smack talks with competitors such as Whiffies (the deep fried pie guys) and Potato Champion via Twitter, but also wholeheartedly cross-promotes them on its blog. Might there be alliances with “frenemies” that are mutually beneficial?

4. Behave like a person, not a “brand.”
Think about the way you’re treated by your favorite supermarket cashier, bartender or restaurant waiter. That’s the standard by which you should be addressing your customers. If you’re going to start a Twitter account or already have a Facebook page, get ready to respond. Want to see this in action? Just mention JetBlue in a tweet and see how quickly you hear back from them.

Think small

Imagine yourself in the place of these entrepreneurs. What would your company do differently if you just started a brand new business? Is it getting by on a shoestring marketing budget (OK, maybe that part doesn’t take that much imagination) with just a few hundred customers, most of whom you know by name? What would the Korean taco truck do?