MotU #3: How many coins in the jar?

Stuff you knew you needed to know

About 10 years after the term was coined, are podcasts entering a golden age? Certainly, intelligent content is no longer the preserve of the BBC. 99% Invisible has been impressing for a while, but this season’s mega-hit is Serial – a real-life crime documentary where Twin Peaks meets the Wire. Do try it. Apps are getting better too – Overcast calls out to be trialled with its clever smart speed feature
Amazon appears to be getting into travel. Skift reports that the retailer-phone-maker-cloud-computing giant has approached hoteliers about listing on Amazon Travel. Does their brand and expertise stretch that far? 
Under Steve Jobs, Apple didn’t do societal stuff. Tim Cook has changed that enormously. The company finally started charity donations and campaigns for workplace equality (see also Cook’s beautiful coming out essay). This year, for World AIDS day, they’re promoting special (RED) editions of apps. It’s very impressive. The peerless Monument Valley special edition is a must.

… and stuff you didn’t

Passwords are our private diaries. Memorable and unguessable by necessity, they become a safe haven for our personal in-jokes and unspoken fantasies. The Secret Life of Passwords delves into what they say about us. 
App of the week. Remember Draw Something? If you liked the smash hit Pictionary-style drawing/guessing game, then check out Draw Type – it’s a keyboard add-on for iPhone that takes Emojis one stage further by letting you draw cute (or unsavoury) images for sending by SMS or WhatsApp. 
Can the internet count coins as well as a bank machine? An experiment at Stanford University is testing the wisdom of crowds by inviting all-comers to guess the value of coins in this jar. Make your guess by Dec 8.

Why clever people can be bad for good marketing

I loved the Olympic opening ceremony. For the first time, here was a major event that spoke to me and actually felt like the modern Britain I know and the London I am proud to live in.

This article celebrates what an extraordinary achievement it is for Danny Boyle to get his vision realised (and, to be fair, for it to be allowed to be realised). In these kinds of situations, it’s all too easy for a genuine vision to get blanded out by committee. As Bill Cosby said, “I don’t know what the key to success is, but the key to failure is trying to keep everybody happy”

I’ve written before about how easy it is to kill good ideas and this thought rang all too true to me:

Smart people can kill a terrific but vulnerable idea faster than anyone, because they have the analytical ability to create a firing line of objections to anything new and hence dangerous.

Will people pay for content? Wrong question

Far better to ask – will they pay for my brand?

Are you thinking hard enough about what you really provide to them – rationally and emotionally?

Is it really only news you sell, or is it reassurance? Or a signal for other people of your status? Is your magazine selling entertainment – or is it a way to pass the time? Or feel connected? Or feel good about yourself?

How can you take these underlying values and translate them into other product forms (guide books, insurance services etc)

I’ve previously written about my view that people will pay for content if you make it easy. But if they won’t pay for your brand, you really are in trouble

clinginess is the new spam

Quite rightly, forward-thinking brands are connecting with their audiences via facebook fan pages. It’s a readymade network of peer groups and allows saliency and reputation to be built. It’s a social database that can be accessed for commercial means – to announce a promotion, drive traffic to a site or augment another brand experience.

ITV’s X-Factor are doing this especially well. By crafting provocative, open-ended questions and posting them while the programme is on air, they are tapping into increasingly popular TV+laptop behaviour and creating real-time water cooler moments. I saw one thread about the twins have over 10,000 comments in it. That sort of engagement has never been possible until now.

Picture 1

Unlike email newsletters, publishing content onto fan pages can and should be done quite regularly – certainly at least once a day.

And this is where brands need to spot the danger. All new media bring new communication opportunities. You can speak to your fan base whenever you like. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Just as no-one wants to receive too many (any?) emails from you, over-communicating on facebook risks flipping the consumer’s mindset from “I love your brand!” to “hmmm… stop talking all the time. You are so needy.

Clinginess is the new spam

Five ways to improve Linked In

LinkedIn appears to have cornered the professional social network market with admirably clear positioning and a genuinely useful site. But I believe they could do even better:

1. Become the CV/resume platform
The design of public profile pages are too dry. Couldn’t the layouts have customisable themes to suit personalities and professions? They need to let people better express their portfolios and achievements. LinkedIn have the opportunity to become people’s CV/resume on the web and should take it.

2. Make conversations easier
Conversation and connection is at the heart of their brand. Group functionailty and social graph integration could be much richer. LinkedIn could be a service people encounter daily.
How about providing free online spaces for people to brainstorm topics or generate feedback on pitches and product ideas?

3. Get more people to go Pro
LinkedIn offer three account upgrade options, ranging from $24.95 to $499.95 per month. I’m sure that’s good value for some professional recruiters, but isn’t there an opportunity for Pro-style badges for the mass market? Done right, people would feel a professional obligation to have a Pro account – it’d be like putting on a good suit for an interview. Flickr seem to have this right at $24.95 per year.

4. Enable real-world networking
Every day all over the world, people attend conferences hoping to make new connections. How could LinkedIn add value? Could they provide dynamic pages on your upcoming events showing who else in your network/target is going to be there too? Could they be more proactive on Twitter, using hashtags to partake in conversations around hot events and topics. Might they even run/sponsor networking sessions at the bigger conferences?

5. Own the advice space
LinkedIn could be the platform for professional advice. Sites like Horses Mouth are getting traction in the mentoring space, but LinkedIn have the scale to take a huge share in this. Most successful business people would be flattered to share their experiences if it was made easy.

Flying in the face of convention

Businesses are all getting to grips with the sensitive and tricky task of dealing with the wonderful world of bloggers. Most companies are extremely careful to be respectful of this emerging news channel.

Which is what makes Ryanair’s position on dealing with bloggers, given to Travolution and  reported in the Guardian, so extraordinary

“Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy corresponding with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm that it won’t be happening again.

“Lunatic bloggers can have the blog sphere all to themselves as our people are far too busy driving down the cost of air travel.”

While this will doubtless cause much shocked Twittering, you have to admire Ryanair’s clear, if blunt, stance. It’s absolutely in line with their no-frills, low-cost positioning.

Keep it real. Really.

In a previous post, I discussed how switched-on stars are using social media to side-step unwanted spin.

Today, TheNextWeb have a revealing story showing actor Ashton Kutcher to be even more cutting edge: he used live streaming mobile service Qik to record the baiting of paparazzi as he and his wife Demi Moore arrived at an airport.

As well as being a sobering insight into the flipside of celeb life, the skirmish shows how the balance of power is shifting between brands, media and consumers. By presenting footage openly to fans, Ashton and Demi make it harder for anyone to misprepresent them. Smart.

This matters to regular products too, especially those in ‘controversial’ categories such as oil, fast food or where marketing to children is concerned. In these cases, ensuring your side of the story gets across untainted is vital.

But mainstream brands often struggle with social channels and many simply opt out. Conversations about them still happen, pictures still get posted and opinions still get formed – it’s just that they’re not involved.

It needn’t be difficult. If you’re transparent, conversational and, most of all authentic with your use of new media, you stand a much better chance of being heard.

Who invited you to the party?

Jonathan Ross and Stephen Fry hesitantly introducing Twitter to five million Brits will surely lead to more companies taking the leap into social media.

And no-one will care.

Simply ‘being on facebook’, ‘having a blog’  or ‘getting a Twitter account’ won’t make your brand cool. In fact, get it wrong and it’ll be brand negative – like your dad dancing. Wearing a baseball cap. On backwards.

This is not because new media is a voodoo understood only by the geekorati. Far from it. As always, it’s about applying brand basics to new opportunties.

1. Own the category

Good brands know all about laying claim to the broader territory they operate in. It shows confidence, assumes leadership and educates consumers and customers alike.

Let’s say you sell coffee. Don’t make your blog just about your product activity. That might be fascinating to your colleagues, but not to the rest of us. Broaden your thinking and write about great coffee generally. About the bean growing process, about the best home espresso makers, about the Sunday papers and capuccino moment.

2. Know your brand

You know that old exercise about “if this brand were a car, what would it be” or “if it were a film”? Well, you’re going to need to know the answer to these questions. Knowing your brand’s tone of voice and view on the world is essential if you’re going to convincingly take part in online conversations. Southwest Airlines and Dell are getting it right.

3. Be where your customers are

It’s good to have a forum on your website and engage with people. But it’s better to be elsewhere too. You should come across as passionate and really taking part in the community. Practically, this means taking part in conversations wherever they happen, not just on your doorstep.

Get involved in whichever forums your customers use, no matter who runs them. But that does mean genuinely making a contribution, not just talking up your products. It’s the difference between being a gatecrasher and taking beer to the party.

the power of people publishing

I sometimes hesitate to bang on about how revolutionary Twitter is as a communications platform. It’s almost becoming a cliche, and lauding 140 characters of plain text can come across as an overclaim.

But when you see how the medium excels with breaking news stories like this (and thankfully, early reports are that everyone got off the plane safely), the potency of immediate sharing by anyone with a mobile – including pictures – becomes clear.

In the 7 minutes it’s taken me to write this post, over 2,100 people have posted tweets incorporating the word plane.


Oops! I posted again

A-list evidence of the mainstreaming of social media marketing: Britney Spears’ people are looking for someone to manage her presence on Twitter, Facebook et al

This is no gimmick – it’s the right way to manage her reputation through engaging with fans where and how they spend their time. It also allows her to side-step media spin and position herself exactly as she wishes.

More traditional products and services must wake up to the opportunity and threat here – their brands are already being talked about on the net – they’re just not involved in the conversation.

Presidential sweet

With the best product pun since Salt ‘n’ Lineker, Ben & Jerry’s have scored some great pre-inauguration PR by renaming their Butter Pecan line to Yes Pecan – highly talkable and bang in line with the brand’s witty, socially progressive positioning