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6 posts from October 2010

10/25/2010 Digital Improv

Nothing ever goes according to plan. That’s probably a good thing. One of the bigger issues around change is how people respond to unexpected or unwanted changes. When it comes to digital strategy and execution, the teams who develop and build digital campaigns need to practice and embrace improvisation as a working model.

Improvisation is the art of saying “yes” no matter what happens. Once you say “no” you’re stuck. Some one once told me that people who say “no” want safety while people who say “yes” want adventure.  As marketers our collective jobs are to not play it safe, while our competition leaps ahead. Our job is to move our clients business forward through marketing.

Improv starts in the strategy stage. We can develop the greatest strategies and have our clients completely buy into them, only to watch how the client gets a little nervous and decides they only want part of a strategy right away, while the rest can wait. Or they love the strategy, but want to play it safe, to start.

Here’s the first challenge: Keep saying “yes.” If strategy is a plan to get you to a desired goal, then you have to look upon this as if the road you’ve mapped out has flooded out, or has closed down due to construction. You still need to get to your destination and now you have more information of how your passengers want to get there. Can you change your plan quickly enough?

One of the reasons we see a push for smaller strategies rather than grand strategies is that it’s easier to improvise and learn from smaller ones. Grand strategies already have “no” built right into them.

When it comes to creative and development, improv is critical. Even the best laid plans for user interaction and programming will run up against real people. Too many times the builders stand firm by their original designs and intent, insisting that the problem is the user on the other end, not the product. Luckily, we’re seeing more and more teams using things like “agile design” or “rapid prototyping” as a way of improvising along the way. 

Here’s another way of looking at it: Improvisation is all about viewing your failures (“I don’t like it” or “it doesn’t work they way it should”) as positives that lead you in newer and better directions. The messy, circular paths we have to take in order to reach our goals oftentimes show us things we normally wouldn’t have seen before. And that makes us a lot better at doing our jobs.

Build improvisation into your digital thinking. Saying “Yes” makes everyone into the good guy and gives you a better chance of delivering what you hoped to. It’s also more fun.


Check out these graphics from the site Story Robot. It's a great resource about teaching improv.


10/21/2010 Does Location Based Marketing Bring Out the Dog in Us?

When I was a kid, my best friend had a very hyper dog-named Herald (my friend was pretty hyper too). We used to get a kick out of the fact that Herald peed on everything, everywhere. Actually, as 10-year-old boys, we were impressed he could actually pee that much! The dog was actually marking: his territory, new things, or even old things. Herald actually gave me my first lesson in location-based marketing.

Fast forward to Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places. I love using Foursquare and I’ve read over and over again how brands will use these tools to reward customers. In the mean time, most of the reward comes in the form of becoming “mayor” of different locations.

But if rewards are key to location based marketing, why do people still do it if they have no chance of attaining those rewards? Even though I’ve lost mayorships of some places, I still check in when I go there, as do most of the people I know. The only place I’ve actually used a reward from was the Ben & Jerry’s scoop shop on Church Street in Burlington.

I think there's more to it than that: I think services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places bring out a reptilian need in us to leave our mark. We mark our territory (“I’m the Mayor!”) or we mark as messages (“Hey everyone, that’s me you smell”) or we mark when we find something new (“Check out this great restaurant”).

In short, we use location based services in the same way dogs use their urine.

Web MD has this description on its Web page:

“Social Triggers

Exciting social situations can trigger urine marking. Some male dogs only urine mark when in the presence of female dogs (especially if they’re in heat), and some urine mark only when interacting with other male dogs. Some dogs only urine mark when visiting homes where other dogs have urine marked before. Other dogs only urine mark when they become highly aroused and over stimulated in social situations. These dogs often mark nearby objects, people or other dogs.”

Now just replace dogs with the word people and urine mark with check in.

It makes sense doesn’t it? And just so you don't think I'm getting sexist on you here, it turns out that female dogs have the same marking instincts as male dogs.


Dog Pee P133 Art by Dug Nap, click here for more of Dug's work.

10/20/2010 Don't Be A Social Media Kvetch

When I was younger our family knew an older couple that couldn’t have been more different. The wife was a classic; at the slightest opportunity, she’d corner you and either 

  • Complain about her aches and pains
  • Tell you stories about her kids, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, none of whom you knew in the slightest; or
  • Talk about how successful someone else your age was.

We used to avoid her like the plague. She was a nice older woman, but once she got going, watch out. But since our families were social with one another, you knew at some time or another, you’d get caught in her net. We called her the Kvetch.

Her husband was the exact opposite. He was a short slightly overweight man who loved a good time. He was always

  • Telling jokes
  • Sharing funny stories about someone in the community, usually embarrassing ones; or
  • Asking you to tell him a joke or a funny story.

I don’t know how I started thinking about this couple but they popped up when I was discussing social media strategies. I realized that the advice was simple:

Don’t be a social media kvetch.

Even if people connect with you socially, that doesn’t put them in your power to tell them anything you like, especially if what you say is self-centered and disconnected to the person you converse with. Lots of brands act this way, with an endless stream of chest-pounding and internally focused communications.

Even if we were your friend, fan or follower, most of us would rather hear a funny story, a surprising tale (even of another customer or employee) or some other type of enjoyable entertainment. When brands do social marketing this way, people want to hang out with them. That’s why the Will It Blend was so popular. It’s why the Old Spice Guy was such a huge hit.

Now that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?

10/18/2010 Teaching Change and Turning Negatives into Positives

Frito Lay launched a new, biodegradable bag for its SunChips product, opting to combine a green initiative with snack food. Maybe that combination was too improbable. In any case, Frito Lay now announced it was switching back to the original bag since the new one was very noisy. So noisy, in fact, that an entire Facebook group, with over 50,000 people, sprang up to register its discontent. The “Sorry, I can’t hear you over this Sun Chips Bag” group and protests on YouTube and other social media channels evoked this response from Fritos:

 "We need to listen to our consumers," Spokeswoman Aurora Gonzalez said. "We clearly heard their feedback."

From a green, sustainable perspective, this shows the challenge of getting people to do something that’s good for the environment at the expense of habit and convenience. Do people act rationally (they know it helps fight global warming) or emotionally (it feels easy and comfortable)? 


I can’t help looking at Sun Chips and thinking that Frito Lays lost a huge opportunity to do good. Surely they knew that the bags sounded loud. I can’t imagine they didn’t do any customer testing around the product; that’s what packaged goods companies do. So if they knew the bags were louder than normal why didn’t they do something to prepare customers for the change?  It’s not like they couldn’t have done a few things.

They could have educated customers more. That means going out and telling them that the bags were loud but that they were loud for a good reason. They would have had to repeat that message over and over to make sure it penetrated the market. And they would have had to include that messaging on the bag itself.

Or they could have turned the negative of the noisy bag into a positive. That’s what creative companies do. Imagine that instead of the spoof we’re seeing online, Frito Lays had made noise into a product feature!

  • Bring your SunChips to a sports event and drown out those air horns
  • Visiting that pushy mother- (or father)-in-law? Just bring a bag of SunChips and tune out.
  • Do you hate the program your partner/spouse watches on TV? Start snacking on Sun Chips and soon you’ll have the set to yourself.

I mean these are really easy ideas. Companies have a hard time turning negatives into positives because they have to admit that there’s a negative in the first place! That’s the real lesson here, and Frito Lays gets an F on this test.

It raises a bigger question around green and sustainability marketing. You can’t simply count on someone to do something because it’s “good.” It should be that way, but it isn’t. Robert Cialdini in his book “YES” described the case of hotel towels and the challenge of getting guests to hang up and reuse their towels to lower energy usage. He found that when hotels created materials explaining why guests should hang up their towels (rational approach) they hung up their towels LESS than when they created materials telling guests that most OTHER guests hung up their towels, so they should too (emotional approach).

There are lots of lessons here. This cause really is too important to mess up.


10/13/2010 The Anger of Crowds

Or the Wisdom of Mobs

The crowd got angry again last week. This time the Gap had the pleasure of landing in the Social Media Klieg Lights with its new logo. People hated it. They screamed to high heaven online and created spoof sites for people to make their own fake logo. Within a week, the Gap folded like a cheap pair of pants and pulled the new logo. They had “heard” the message and, like a modern, social media savvy company, they listened and acted. Just like Tropicana did when they redesigned their logo.

I'm not sure whether the Gap's new logo was a good move or bad one. Maybe it would've helped. Or maybe it just wasn't that big of a deal. I mean, do people really buy stuff because of a logo? But people who DO know thought it was a huge mistake and they reacted.

Power to the people, right? A shift of control to the consumer, as promised.

It’s not the first time something like this has happened. Nestle succumbed to consumer pressure to stop using a palm oil producer, although Greenpeace drove that campaign from above. You can go all the way back to the Motrin Moms and see numerous occasions where customer complaints have driven companies to change something they did.

Which raises the question: Does social media only work in the negative? Is it a tool to make someone stop doing something, rather than to help someone do something different? Is it a source of complaints rather than construction?

The positive side is pretty light. Pepsi Refresh campaign and other campaigns have tried to encourage positive buzz around projects and local initiatives, but they don’t generate that much buzz and seem to revolve mostly about raising money, not actual positive change.

Raising money seems to be the most positive action we can compel people to take and even then, only to a limited extent.

Politically we see this as well. The Tea Party as one of its core raison d’êtres has a super valid complaint that working people lost their homes while the Wall Street bankers holding their mortgages had their jobs saved and got huge bonuses to boot. This anger manifests itself into wanting to tear down the whole system, rather than create something that will help people who need it.

Social media has become a critical tool for Tea Partiers. It’s a perfect way for them to harness anger, complaints and negativity to get people to the polls and force out incumbent politicians. While the action is good (voting) it’s not used to create something new or positive.

Maybe this was at the core of Gladwell’s New Yorker article. Positive change, rather than negative, isn’t something the mob does well. The question is whether the crowd is much better.

Anyone have any great examples of social media activity and buzz that lead to something new, constructive or positive? If so, send it my way.


10/06/2010 Another Malcolm Gladwell Reaction

Boy, nothing gets people more riled up than criticizing our beloved Facebook and Twitter. That's not quite right. Nothing gets people more riled up then questioning the amazing, transformative, revolutionary qualities of Facebook and Twitter. So when Malcolm Gladwell penned his article in the New Yorker positing that Social Networks are not a prime mover in causing revolutionary change, you could hear the howls from New York to New Delhi.

You can read some of the reactions here:
The Guardian
The Atlantic

I think Gladwell got it right, but not completely right.  For now, at least, there are no good examples of groups of motivated individuals changing the world starting from Twitter or Facebook. There may be in the future, but there are slim pickings right now. It pains me to read the rebuttal arguments trying to prove they do exist; it sounds weak and a little pathetic. 

For most of us, it makes sense logically that tight-knit, hierarchical groups have the leadership, motivation and impetus to take personal risks that true revolution requires. And it also makes sense that engaging on Twitter and Facebook is not the same thing. 

I'm fine giving this point to Gladwell.

Where I think he misses the mark is the impact social networks can have on the support and ultimate success of these revolutionary changes. If you look at big changes in the 1960's, such as the Civil Rights movement or the Vietnam war, I'd argue that the tipping point came once the major broadcast networks started showing the stories on their network news shows and voicing support to these protests. It was then that the political winds shifted. Without those winds, you can wonder whether there would have been a civil rights act, or whether Lyndon Johnson would have declined to run for President again. 

Therein lies the revolutionary power of social media: to shift the perception and support of all of us lazy revolutionaries who will donate $25 but don't really want to get our butts out of our computer chairs to march.

And, as Obama showed us, those lazy butts can help. They just can't drive and create the revolution.

What's wrong with that?

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