Left Hand? I’d Like to Introduce Right Hand

What happened to good, old fashioned, “please” and “thank you”? As a customer, it’s nice to be thanked for my business, or appreciated for my subscription to a service. It makes me feel part of the brand and valued for my investment. But as a cold prospect, it’s even more important since making a good impression should always be part of the process. So why is it missing from so many marketing communications programs?

What happened to good, old fashioned, “please” and “thank you”?

As a customer, it’s nice to be thanked for my business, or appreciated for my subscription to a service. It makes me feel part of the brand and valued for my investment. But as a cold prospect, it’s even more important since making a good impression should always be part of the process. So why is it missing from so many marketing communications programs?

After attending a B-to-B webinar recently, I fully expected to receive a follow-up email thanking me for my attendance, and a continued nurturing of me along their sales cycle: A request for a meeting, an invitation to participate in a live demo, or even a link to a case study or two that were geared to my industry. Instead, I got an email that sounded as if they were talking to a cold prospect.

Perhaps the marketing manager failed to merge/purge the webinar registration/attendee list against their cold prospecting list (tsk, tsk, tsk). But I suspect this business didn’t even think to conduct a merge/purge. Why?

Because, like most mid-to-large B-to-B organizations, one marketing manager is responsible for acquisition and someone else is responsible for sales support—and it seems that neither of them talk to each other … EVER.

If this company maintains a database, I should be flagged as “responded” AND “attended an event” so the sales team can take over the management of this “lead.” I’ve met with many, many organizations that don’t have a lead database (or, even worse, they have multiple databases because no one is happy with the company solution, or the solution is too hard to manage/maintain). Worse still, they may have a customer database, but it’s not well maintained, or is too difficult to access/use. So when it comes time to upsell or cross-sell a product, they don’t even know who their customers are, or how to talk to them in a meaningful way.

Thus we circle back to my dilemma. How can you thank me for attending an event and start to sell me on your product/solution, if you don’t know that I attended in the first place?

As marketers, we’re all busy with our heads down, trying to get work out the door. I get it. But at some point, you have to stop all the day-to-day madness and realize that you’re just putting off the inevitable. Insist on investing in a proper marketing database and a database manager to help your company communicate with more intelligence and insight. In turn, that will lead to your ability to target any particular audience and craft smarter, more relevant marketing messages, which will, in turn, lead to better results. I guarantee it.

Oh, and you’re welcome.

6 Video Presentation Tips to Elevate Your Online Marketing

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video

Online Video Marketing Deep Dive co-author Perry Alexander takes over this week while Gary is away.

The video you create is but one component of your online direct marketing campaign. Yes, the video is what viewers are driven to—it’s the vehicle that delivers your story. However, without lists, email and landing page copywriting and design, blog comments and posts, social media entries, pay-per-click ads, YouTube advertising, etc., your video stands little chance to be viewed.

Think of the parallel: We know that without the intentional series of steps to get our direct mail package into readers’ hands, opened and scanned long enough for them to catch the lead, there’s slim chance it’ll make any impact.

Just as the direct mail letter headline and lead must drive the reader to stick with it, so must the first few seconds of your video. Your video must create and instantly set the visual and auditory tone that will draw the viewer through those precious first few seconds and into your story.

My co-author and business colleague, Gary Hennerberg, is the master copywriter of our team and, as he says, I “make stuff look good.” I make sure the story isn’t overshadowed by lousy presentation or distractions, which can repel, or at least divert the reader. Let’s go through some of the ways to make your video command attention—during the first few seconds and beyond.

  1. Bad audio will douse viewers’ interest long before bad video will. Don’t rely on your on-camera mike or, worse, your computer mike. You’ve heard these videos—they sound like they were recorded in a barrel or a cave. Viewer’s interpretation: Your presentation was slapped together, therefore your product or service is, too, so why should I bother listening?
    The Deep Dive:
    If your camera has a mike input, use a lav mike (Gary and I each use a $25 Audio-Technica). If there’s no external mike input on your camera, use a digital voice recorder to record quality sound, either through its built-in mikes or plug the lav mike into it (we both use the same $100 Sony recorder). Then, in editing, sync the audio from both the camera and voice recorder, then mute the camera audio. The mechanics of this are tricky at first, but once you’ve done it a couple of times it becomes routine and your sound is crisp and clear.
  2. Bad video won’t help matters. A webcam video looks like, well, you used a webcam—even an HD webcam. Not only is the image soft, but exposure is usually off, color isn’t great, and what about all that stuff in the background behind you? The message struggles to get out. Again, it screams that your story doesn’t deserve the viewer’s consideration. It’s just a throwaway webcam production about a throwaway idea. What does your viewer do? Click away to something else after just a few seconds.
    The Deep Dive:
    You wouldn’t dream of tossing a half-baked direct mail piece out into the market, expecting it to convince your audience of the value of whatever you’re offering them, would you? Anything that distracts from the message must be stripped away so only the message is noticed. Same with video. Get a $100 Flip or Sony camera and a tripod, or even the latest iPhone. Better: spend $400 for an HD video camera for long-form videos. If your shots are under 5-10 minutes each, use your DSLR. (We use a $100 flip-type camera on Gary’s videos.)
  3. On-camera jitters? Maybe the prospect of speaking into a camera lens is frightening, or at least off-putting. Really, though, after several miserable attempts, you will improve. Evenutally you get to where you imagine you’re just talking with another person in the room, and your fear melts away.
    The Deep Dive:
    Your job is to tell the story. How? Reveal your personality and mastery. Build trust. The call-to-action will produce nothing for you until after that’s all been established. Consider being in front of the camera just long enough to introduce your premise, then moving into slides, charts, photos, graphics or other images that tell your story. That way, you don’t have to memorize a long script. You can refer to notes as you narrate what’s on screen. On-camera script reading is usually deadly, anyway. If you’re on screen for a quick 20-30 seconds, know your stuff. Roll through several takes until you’ve looked that monster in the eye (lens), and said your piece naturally, completely, and with relaxed authority. Now you have their attention and trust!
  4. Stock photos, stock footage, stock music, stock sound effects? You’ve seen the websites with stiff and trite stock photos. Somebody, please explain what that might ever accomplish, because we’ve all seen that picture a thousand times. Filler doesn’t move the story along. But, relevant graphics that work can emphasize a point quickly and vividly. An occasional “foley” sound effect can emphasize a point, just don’t overuse transition swooshes, or they’ll become distracting gimmicks.
    The Deep Dive:
    Map out your storyline. What images will support or clarify what you’re saying? Use images that are specific to your product, service, technique, timeliness, etc. Short of that, invest time finding stock images, footage, music or sounds. It’s all online, and for not much money. YouTube and Vimeo even offer stock music beds you can use at no cost. But be careful in your choices. Be brutal in editing. Anything that distracts or detracts from your story and message, leading to your call-to-action, must be cut.
  5. Go short or go long? Conventional wisdom, born out by YouTube analytics, is that video viewer falloff is precipitous after the first 30 seconds or less. So, does that mean we must never consider creating a 3-minute or, horrors, a 15-minute video? Perhaps. Remember, everything must serve to support the story. Do that right, and they’ll stay with you.
    The Deep Dive:
    Conventional wisdom has always warned us not to use long-form copy in letters. However, seasoned, successful copywriters know that a well-told story will hold interest across 2, 4, even 16 pages. Same with video. Don’t rush to push features, advantages, benefits. Find the relevant hook, then reveal, build and educate about the issue. Lead them to want—then crave—the answer to the quandary or dilemma you’re setting up. Now, the sales copy tastes like good soup.
  6. Editing is half the storytelling. Putting up an unedited video is like mailing the first draft of your letter. It’s probably loose, meandering, dulling to the senses. Resist, revise and remove whatever doesn’t move your story along!
    The Deep Dive:
    Video editing brings clarity and precision to your story. The pace and direction are honed so the viewer is drawn in and held through the call-to-action. It’s an interwoven dance of timing, splicing, movement, color, design, sound, mood and the ruthless removal of what’s not contributing. But, you need two things: A) the knack to know when it’s right and when it’s not and, B) mastery of a video editing program, so you can accomplish your vision.

There’s so much more to cover, but perhaps you’re getting a sense of how online video marketing requires many skills and decisions so familiar to the direct mail pro. Different tools … different vehicles … similar foundational concepts. As always, we invite your comments, criticism or questions.

Drop me an email, and we’ll get you the list of resources, brand names, part numbers and such of what we’ve found works in our ever-evolving video marketing tool chest: perry@acm-initiatives.com

How to Make a Billion: The Costs of ‘Undeliverable as Addressed’

The USPS recently shared some interesting data on the volume and cost of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail. That tab was $1.3 billion in 2010, and that was just the cost to the Postal Service, which has to incorporate these costs into its rate-setting. All this UAA is money down the drain to the mailers—who designed, produced and labeled it and applied its postage—and to the Postal Service that has to deal with its final disposition.

The USPS recently shared some interesting data on the volume and cost of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail.

According to the USPS, “Total UAA volume dropped from 9.3 billion pieces (4.71 percent of total mail volume) in FY 1998 to 6.9 billion pieces (4.11 percent of total mail volume) in FY 2010. (This reduction, while significant, falls far short of previous Postmaster General Jack Potter’s goal of reducing UAA mail by 50 percent by 2010.) Historically, UAA mail runs in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent of total mail volume, and the percentages of total volume vary by class of mail. Periodicals mail, for example, has a UAA percentage of about 1.5 percent, while Standard Mail usually runs about 6.75 percent. Interestingly, the volumes of UAA mail that the USPS forwards or treats as waste both experienced declines, but the volume of UAA mail that the USPS returns to sender actually increased.”

All this UAA is money down the drain to the mailers—who designed, produced and labeled it and applied its postage—and to the Postal Service that has to deal with its final disposition.

That tab was $1.3 billion in 2010, and that was just the cost to the Postal Service, which has to incorporate these costs into its rate-setting. Add to this bill the cost of 7 billion pieces that went nowhere near the intended recipient—and that’s a fortune off the bottom line. Some of this is inefficiency. Marketers in particular—primarily who use the Standard Mail category—must do a better job in data hygiene and the use of postal addressing and preparation tools.

It may be helpful, and profitable, for mailers to make sure they are undertaking every feasible effort to keep their mailing lists clean—and to avoid this hefty bill. The Direct Marketing Association has an online tool to help marketers make sure their list hygiene and data management efforts are up to par.

It’s called the Environmental Planner & Optional Policy Generator, and it’s based in part on the DMA’s “Green 15” Environmental Principles. But the green focus is dual in nature. Avoiding mail waste through proper data management also applies green—as in money—back to the bottom line! Consider these suggested activities from this planner to get back some of this billion-plus that are lost to UAA:

________________________________________________________

I. LIST HYGIENE AND DATA MANAGEMENT

Our company continually endeavors to manage data and lists in an environmentally responsible manner with a focus on reducing the amount of duplicate, unwanted and undeliverable mail [to both consumers and businesses]. To achieve our goals in this area [If applicable to the goals and/or nature of your organization, please select one or more of the following options.]:

A. We Maintain Suppression Lists

  • We maintain in-house do-not-market lists for prospects and customers who do not wish to receive future solicitations from us (as required by DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice).
  • We maintain a more detailed suppression file that enables customers and prospects to opt off our organization’s marketing lists on a selective basis, such as by frequency or by category.

B. We Offer Notice & Choice

  • We provide existing and prospective customers with notice of an opportunity to modify or eliminate future marketing contacts from our organization in every commercial solicitation (as required by DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice).
  • We provide periodic notices and opportunities for prospects to opt in or opt out of receiving future marketing contacts from our organization.
  • We provide customers incentives (such as the offer of a discount on their next purchase) for notifying us of duplicate mailings and incorrect addresses.
  • We offer customers a choice to receive communications from our organization electronically.

C. We Clean Our Lists Prior to Mailing

  • We use the Direct Marketing Association (U.S.) Mail Preference Service (MPS) monthly on all applicable consumer prospecting lists. In addition to use of MPS, we maintain clean, deliverable files by using (Please check all that apply):
    • ZIP Code correction
    • Address standardization
    • USPS National Change of Address (NCOA)
    • Other USPS products such as
      • Address Element Correction (AEC)
      • Delivery Sequence File (DSF)
      • Address Correction Requested (ACR)
    • Predictive models and RFM segmentation
    • Other: (Please specify.)
  • We use the DMA “Deceased Do Not Contact” list to eliminate names of deceased persons from mailings.
  • We use the Foreign Mail Preference Service on applicable mailings to the United Kingdom, Belgium or Germany.
  • We use the mail preference services of other foreign national direct marketing associations, where applicable.
  • We [ encourage/ require] our client mailers to use MPS.
  • We [ encourage/ require] companies and organizations that rent our list of customers to screen consumer names through MPS, and to maintain their own do-not-rent and do-not-mail in-house name suppression lists.

D. We Merge/Purge Our Data

  • We match outside lists against each other to prevent duplicates.
  • We use match definitions in merge/purge that minimize duplicates.
  • We match outside lists against other commercially available suppression files where appropriate.

E. We Test Market Offers

  • We test a sample of a list before mailing or marketing to the entire list.
  • We test different versions of advertising and marketing offers, in mail and other media, to select those offers and media combinations that receive the best response.

For more information, see DMA Environmental Resource Guide, “Mailing List Management: A Key to Waste Reduction,” pages 63-70.

________________________________________________________

Now the entirety of the UAA issue is not attributable solely to less than adequate data management, but it is likely a good portion of it is. We know the DMA Board of Directors—in adopting its first environmental public goal which in part commits to reduce UAA by 25 percent from 2009 to 2013—very much intends for marketers to avoid losing these billions down the line.

The Postal Service is working closely with mailers and, vice versa, to tackle other ways to manage UAA and to reduce its volume. Certainly, Intelligent Mail barcodes will help, with the ability to track mail whereabouts in real time as it moves through the USPS’s processing and handling. “Return to Sender” UAA is the most costly for the Postal Service to handle, because of the return handling costs—that, too, needs attention.

In the very least, marketers also should work with their mail service providers most closely to design mail pieces for postal automation compatibility, to apply proper data management practices (as indicated by DMA, for example), and—as the USPS embarks on its network consolidation effort—to track their mail most precisely through the mail stream. A billion dollars and more are in the balance.

Helpful Links:
DMA First Public Green Goal, concerning List Hygiene

DMA Environmental Planner & Optional Policy Generator

Are Your B-to-B Social Media Strategies Socially Appropriate?

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships. Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

There’s lots of talk these days about how to leverage social media for your business. And with few exceptions, I’m a big believer that B-to-B marketers should subscribe to a strict division of “church and state” when it comes to Facebook and business relationships.

Business colleagues/associates/clients/brands are part of my LinkedIn life, while my family and my “I’m interested-in-trivial-things-about-you-and-your-kids” peeps are part of my Facebook life. So I fail to understand why any B-to-B brand would even consider having a Facebook page.

It’s true that Facebook is the most popular social networking site. But it’s also true that it’s a place where I reveal some personal facts (my birthday, for one) and my latest family vacation photos. While I can’t control any of the comments written on my wall, I also don’t worry because I know the only people who can see them are those who are part of my personal tribe.

So how can you leverage social media for your business?

I think it’s time to go back to basics. And, not to be insulting, but if you can get these basics right—which so many B-to-B marketers do not—you can graduate to a more sophisticated use of social media.

Smart B-to-B marketers have already discovered that their websites need to be well organized and segmented by target audience—whether by vertical segments, company size or some other segmentation strategy that’s appropriate for your business/industry. The goal is to help your site visitors navigate your site quickly and easily in order to find information most relevant to them.

Savvy marketers take their websites one step further and create pages directed at each targeted “segment” and include useful content beyond just product/service descriptions or purchase options. Whether it’s a series of case studies that clearly lay out the problem and how their brand/product provided a solution, a topical white paper, or the results of a current research study, the goal is to stimulate engagement such that the visitor thinks, “I can clearly see how these guys understand my business needs and how their products/services can help a company like mine.”

The next step should be to refresh the content on a regular basis. By doing so, it gives you the right to invite your site visitors to register for updates with the promise of emailing them when new content is available.

There are two ways to leverage that email message: You can craft a short, pithy email with a focus on and a link to the content itself, or create an email with a link to the page that contains the content. If you’ve updated your site with lots of new content, I’d choose the latter strategy, but if you’ve only added one or two new items, just provide links to that content directly (the less work you make for your target, the better).

Now that you have an easily navigable site, good core content and regular updates, the next goal should be to drive new prospects to your site so they can begin to engage with your brand. As I mentioned before, I am a firm believer that Facebook is simply not the place to be trolling for B-to-B prospects. So instead, here are a few tried and true strategies for starting socially appropriate relationships online:

  • Guaranteed Lead Program: Using a third-party media provider, place one of your most current white papers in an online media property where you know your target seeks information. It costs nothing to post and you’ll only pay for those leads that download your white paper. Chances are that these information seekers have some sort of problem they’re trying to solve and they’re in the right mood to be gathering intelligence on potential solutions. To make sure your white paper gets noticed, have a professional copywriter craft the headline and word-limited description in order to “sell” the white paper without a big sales pitch about your company. Remember the goal at this stage of the game is to start trying to make a connection with a potential customer; it’s not the time to offer discounts, freebies or other “offers.” Once they’ve downloaded and you’ve acquired their contact information, it’s appropriate to send them follow-up email and invite them to view additional content on your site, or offer an additional white paper or case study related to their particular industry. This is a productive example of how to get social with your prospects.
  • Expand your reach: Contact the editor of your industry trade publication(s) and, using a current white paper topic as a hook, outline an article you can offer as content. It’s important that your white paper NOT be self-serving (i.e. a blatant attempt to simply push your brand or one of your products), but rather an article written from a third-party perspective about the industry or a trend. Your business/product can be mentioned, but so should other products from other companies, otherwise an editor is not prone to accept the article as it’s more of an advertorial and should be part of paid content. This places your company in the right “social” setting and lays the foundation for the credibility of your brand.
  • Seek out speaking engagements: A knowledgeable expert is always a draw at an industry conference. Identify those in your organization who have the ability to speak intelligently about a current trend—perhaps they were quoted in or authored your white paper. If they don’t have great speaking skills, get them enrolled to gain superior presentation skills, and then leverage them across many industry events throughout the year. During and after the conference, there are plenty of ways for your speaker to participate in social events and swapping business cards over a meal is certainly a better way to be building future relationships than pithy notations on Facebook.
  • Leverage the company blog: Reach out to the company blogger and provide a truncated version/extract of the white paper and then link to it from within the blog. Tweet about the blog topic and provide a link, then link that tweet to your LinkedIn update. If your blog allows outsiders to post comments about the topic, that’s a great way to start engaging with a potential customer.
  • Increase LinkedIn connections: Once sales start a dialogue with a prospect, it’s appropriate for them to reach out and invite that prospect to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t use the default copy on LinkedIn to connect! Instead craft an appropriate message that’s meaningful to the target to make it feel like a worthwhile connection. I’m always surprised when someone I don’t know invites me to connect on LinkedIn without identifying a reason within an appropriate context. My first reaction is to reject the invitation because I think it may be spam—and, is a good example of how NOT to be socially appropriate.
  • Video on YouTube: If your company provides products that require instruction manuals, consider developing a series of “how to” videos. Host them on your website, but also on YouTube. These types of videos can help increase the post-purchase engagement factor and, are often one reason I make a purchase in the first place. It’s gratifying to know that if I get “stuck,” there’s an easy-to-view solution at my fingertips vs. the dreaded customer service support line. You’ll also find many viewers will post supportive comments about the video—again, a great way to use this social media to build support from customers and prospects.

Consumer Reports Nets DMA ECHO Green Marketing Award 2011: Lessons for Every Marketer

One of the highlights of the Direct Marketing Association’s 2011 annual conference was the awarding of a special ECHO award to Consumer Reports, the organization behind the magazine of the same name. As a member of DMA’s Committee on the Environment and Social Responsibility (CESR), I was one of the judges of this year’s competition, which looks to honor one marketing organization that has demonstrated environmental performance and sustainable practices in the design and execution of an advertising campaign.

One of the highlights of the Direct Marketing Association’s 2011 annual conference was the awarding of a special ECHO award—the ECHO Green Marketing Award—to Consumer Reports, the organization behind the magazine of the same name. As a member of DMA’s Committee on the Environment and Social Responsibility (CESR), I was one of the judges of this year’s competition, which looks to honor one marketing organization that has demonstrated environmental performance and sustainable practices in the design and execution of an advertising campaign.

What makes the Consumer Reports entry remarkable is its demonstrated adherence to a set of environmental principles and practices known as the DMA “Green 15.” Established by DMA in 2009, the DMA Green 15 provides guidance to marketers on list hygiene and data management, paper procurement, printing and production, and recycling and workplace operations—all in an effort to support the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

The campaign itself was a recent subscription offer for Consumer Reports and ShopSmart magazines. The campaign did not sell an environmental product. It did not tout environmental claims. It did not involve environmental causes. Yet it won our discipline’s highest environmental marketing honor. Why? Because the campaign incorporated environmental sensitivity, efficiencies, and cross-company and supply chain engagement into everyday marketing planning and decision-making.

In short, the Consumer Reports effort is a blueprint that all marketers—commercial and non-profit—can replicate in their own everyday marketing.

Consider this excerpt from the entry:

We produced the Winter 2010/11 direct marketing campaign with the goal of strategically supporting the sustainability objectives of meeting our acquisition targets, serving the ongoing needs of consumers, and of being good stewards of the resources we use. Direct Marketing and Publishing Operations departments worked collaboratively guided by our internal Environmental Policy & Vision Statement to identify, implement, and track meaningful environmental choices made throughout the life cycle of the campaign season.

The overall environmental benefits of the choices we made included less energy and materials consumption, more benign manufacturing, and reduced emissions. Additionally, we promoted recycling of direct marketing packages that are recyclable, saved money, upheld response rates, and met our objectives.

The full entry incorporated actions that the Consumer Reports vendors undertook to increase efficiencies and environmental performance, as well as documented gains in paper procurement and use, mail design and production, and recycling and pollution reduction—all with measurements that document positive environmental impacts while achieving financial objectives.

I encourage all marketers to look to the example of Consumer Reports and its adherence to the DMA Green 15. In fact, the long-term sustainability of direct marketing depends on it.

Resources:
Direct Marketing Association’s Green 15 Toolkit for Marketers

With Special Permission, This Year’s DMA International ECHO Green Marketing Award Winner, Consumer Reports.

Editor’s Note: As of Autumn 2011, ConsumersUnion is newly rebranded as Consumer Reports.

Blog: Direct Marketing School Still in Session

The virtual show. Anyone been to one yet? I have to admit, my first real attendance to any such show was to our very own, Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk, which I helped organize. And I was sold, especially after seeing the numbers.

The virtual show. Anyone been to one yet? I have to admit, my first real attendance to any such show was to our very own, Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk, which I helped organize (check out the agenda and, if interested, attend the on-demand version). And I was sold, especially after seeing the numbers (sponsorship dollars, yes, but mostly noticing how many people registered … nearly 3,000).

The reason is simple: A virtual show is just so convenient. You can pick and choose your sessions, attend only the ones that are truly relevant for you (or view on-demand later on), chat with select others in the networking lounge (or break off into a private chat), browse the exhibit hall … all with great ease, without leaving your office. No travel, no hotel (okay, that part I kind of miss), no great local restaurants (wait, not sure if I like this suddenly), no business cards from people I’ll never see again (that’s the spirit) and, biggest thing of all, no giant wrench getting thrown into your work schedule.

In other words, it can be a highly productive day, or half-day, or even hour if you only go to one session. Meanwhile, you’re still in your own office, so you can still get your own work done.

While the need for in-person events remains (I just spoke at the DMA’s Circulation Day in New York City and made a connection with people that transcends the vitual connect, significantly), the level of learning and networking is only going to increase in future virtual conferences.

Margie Chiu’s 15 Minutes Ahead: Observations from SXSW – Checking Into Geosocial

SXSW 2010 has come and gone, but to the dismay of press, attendees and those who yearn to claim “I was there when … ,” there was no sign of the next breakout app at this year’s event. Instead, the consensus was that geosocial – the convergence of location-based data and social networking – was the unexpected star of the event. 

What’s the big deal with SXSW?
South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) has become the must-attend annual event for the digerati. Some of the brightest digital starlets in recent years, including Twitter and foursquare, were first “discovered” at SXSW. Those in attendance at Twitter’s launch in 2007 and foursquare’s in 2009 still delight in having the bragging rights to “I knew them when … ”

So what created the buzz this year?
SXSW 2010 has come and gone, but to the dismay of press, attendees and those who yearn to claim “I was there when … ,” there was no sign of the next breakout app at this year’s event.

Instead, the consensus was that geosocial — the convergence of location-based data and social networking — was the unexpected star of the event. Take, for example, the thoughts of one venture capitalist interviewed by The Wall Street Journal: “One thing that was interesting was it ended up being a little of a social experiment with everybody there. All 17,000 or 18,000 people were connected on Twitter, Foursquare and Gowalla. It served almost as a big test for what would the world be like when people start adopting all these social tools.”

There was definitely no shortage of tweets and foursquare check-ins. In fact, foursquare set up 16 new badges and other exclusives for the event. Gowalla, foursquare’s rival location-based social network, also put its best foot forward. (Side note: Gowalla was also launched last year at SXSW, but like Jan Brady to Marsha, Gowalla has largely been in the shadows of foursquare. But Jan got her day; Gowalla beat out foursquare this year as SXSW’s best site in the mobile category.

So what actually happened?

I decided to dig a little deeper into this delightful microcosm of SXSW where “everybody” was connected.

First of all, most SXSW venues only had foursquare check-in rates in the double digits. On average, SXSW tagged locations registered a lackluster 35 check-ins. The Austin Convention Center had the highest number of check-ins at 4,634, but that also included 2009 numbers. So let’s say 75 percent of those were in 2010. With a base of 18,000 attendees, that’s a participation rate of just 19 percent. Gowalla didn’t fare much better (sorry, Jan), with 2,634 check-ins at the Convention Center — about 15 percent of total attendees.

And Twitter? Well, using Wunderman’s Listening Platform to sift through the retweets and mentions from nonattendees, we estimated that just over 5,000 unique individuals were actively tweeting from the event. Not bad at about one in four attendees, but definitely falls quite shy of “everybody.”

What’s the takeaway?

Even among the early adopters, usage of geosocial clearly hasn’t yet caught up to the hype.

But the real story that’s still writing itself is how eerily similar all of these services have become. Let’s see: You can post tweets simultaneously to Facebook and Twitter. Gowalla lets you tag your check-ins with comments and photos, not unlike Twitpic. Twitter is now rolling out geo-tracking, bearing an uncanny resemblance to foursquare and Gowalla. And there are rumors that Facebook is getting into the game by integrating with Gowalla and foursquare.

Who’s going to win?

My money is on Facebook as this year’s gorilla in geosocial. Its user base dwarfs that of every other social networking service. In fact, it’s recently eclipsed Google as the most visited site on the web. It already serves as the default cc: for many who are broadcasting Twitter updates, check-ins and mobile photo uploads via other services. A partnership with Gowalla and foursquare will place Facebook squarely in the sweet spot of geo-based social networking — without the fuss of building its own technology.

If you haven’t done so already, take a closer look at geosocial marketing. Once Facebook gets into the mix, it’ll explode. Guaranteed. Anywhere your company has a physical presence — retail locations, local events, industry conferences, etc. — is a great place to test the waters.

Recently my company tested foursquare and Twitter for a consumer product client’s local events. It’s been consistently seeing participation rates of around 10 percent or higher. Certainly not “everybody,” but definitely a respectable showing for a mass-market play.

Time to get on it. Perhaps you can be the one to say, “We knew about geosocial when … ”

Margie Chiu’s 15 Minutes Ahead: Augmented Reality – Sure, It’s Cool, but What’s in It for Me?

If 2009 was the year of iPhone apps, then augmented reality may be the darling of 2010. It’s that Hollywood technology that’s found its way into Burger King banner ads, a slew of “must-have” smartphone apps, the cover of Esquire and soon Adidas shoes. 

If 2009 was the year of iPhone apps, then augmented reality (AR) may be the darling of 2010. It’s that Hollywood technology that’s found its way into Burger King banner ads, a slew of “must-have” smartphone apps, the cover of Esquire and soon Adidas shoes.

So, what’s it all about?
AR enhances the “real” physical world with contextually specific imagery or information. The AR experience is typically triggered in two ways.

The first is through location recognition via GPS/compass-enabled smartphones or other devices. With Wikitude, for example, you can point your camera phone toward a famous landmark and see an overlay of information about the destination pulled directly from Wikipedia.

The second is through image recognition via a video camera in your laptop, desktop or phone. With the USPS Virtual Box Simulator, you can hold up a package to your webcam and the simulator helps you determine the shipping box size you need.

What are the facts?

AR has captured more than its fair share of press coverage lately due to a handful of high-profile marketing application launches and the entry of major players into the space, including Google with its Google Goggles (think search on steroids), Nokia and Apple. But is 2010 the year AR takes over? Probably not.

Penetration of webcams is still limited, and the market share of GPS/compass-enabled smartphones is even lower. The installed base for webcams is estimated to be in the 15 percent to 20 percent range. As for smartphones, despite all the excitement (and what you and your tech-loving marketing friends are toting), more than 80 percent of all U.S. mobile phones are still limited-function, “nonsmart” phones.

Does this mean you don’t need to be thinking about AR? Try again. It’s a technology that will hit mass penetration in a couple of years. Many newly shipped computers now have webcams preinstalled. And two-thirds of Americans will be getting new phones within two years — and many of them have their sights set on smartphones.

What are the opportunities?
Whether and when AR should be considered as part of your marketing mix depends on your company, brand and audience. But the following are three potential marketing applications for AR:

1. Riding the buzz wave. Want to be perceived as hip and of the moment? This is the low-hanging fruit with any new technology. This opportunity is most applicable to the entertainment industry and/or companies targeting youths and early adopters. This is a tricky area, however. Speed is of the essence, as you want to be seen as being on the “bleeding edge.” Remember, though, to hang with the cool kids, you have to be, well, cool. Halfhearted attempts without a strategy or purpose will be viewed skeptically.

2. Bridging offline and online. AR can be an opportunity to smooth sales or service friction points that result from a lack of in-person interactions. Natural fits are with beauty, apparel or home furnishings e-commerce sites. Ray-Ban’s Virtual Mirror is a good example of this. It helps consumers find the perfect sunglasses. They just look right into their cameras and “try on” different looks.

3. Enhancing the real experience. Possibilities include helping customers find their way through a store or shopping center, on-demand product information, and more. Unfortunately, the limitation of GPS indoor signal strength and the complexity of image recognition will be significant near-term hurdles. But you might be inspired by the Voodoo Festival and its custom AR app, which enables festival attendees to use their camera phones to get details about performances and navigate the festival venue.

Thinking ahead
What would you do differently if device penetration wasn’t a barrier? Are there processes or experiences that can be enhanced through AR — either made more entertaining, informative or relevant? The possibility of AR is exciting. Creatively it opens a good many doors and forces marketers to look at customers’ experiences in a different way.

Stay tuned.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Sears Experiments With a New Google Email Tool

The most interesting news of the week came to me via an email alert from Chad White, research director of Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, and founder of the Retail Email Blog. The alert said Sears was testing a new Gmail functionality and, in the words of Chad, “was pretty cool stuff.” It directed me to his blog posting on the subject.

The most interesting news of the week came to me via an email alert from Chad White, research director of Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, and founder of the Retail Email Blog. The alert said Sears was testing a new Gmail functionality and, in the words of Chad, “was pretty cool stuff.” It directed me to his blog posting on the subject.

Knowing that Chad is an authority on email — and a very smart guy — I decided to take a look.

Sears, according to Chad’s blog post, “will be wrapping up beta testing of a potential new Google offering called ‘Enhanced Email,’ which allows a form of browsing to occur within an email viewed within Gmail.”

In a limited test of the functionality last month, White wrote, “Sears was able to include seven ‘pages’ containing 20 best-selling products that its Gmail subscribers could browse using the navigation within the module without leaving the email.”

Here’s where it gets even cooler: When a subscriber hits the “next” link in the module’s navigation, White wrote, “the current set of products slides out of the box to the left and the next set of products slides in from the right in one smooth motion.”

Pretty cool, indeed.

For his blog post, White interviewed Ramki Srinivasan, the manager of email innovation at Sears, who said the set of products for the browsing module is displayed at the time of open, not the time of send, “which allows the information to be as current as possible.” He also said the test saw “higher opens, clicks and revenue per email,” but stressed that it’s too early to make any final assessments on the functionality.

In closing, White said Enhanced Email is just one more sign that the inboxes of the future will allow much more activity to occur within them. As a result, marketers will have to come up with “new ways of measuring email success and of thinking about email strategy, particularly the relationship between email and website landing pages,” White said.

Have any of you experimented with Enhanced Email? If so, would you like to tell us about it? If you haven’t yet tried it, are you interested in checking it out? Let me know by leaving a comment here.