Welcome to the Interact Congress Blog. We have invited some leading European guest bloggers to share their observations on interactive marketing and communication skills within the integrated experience. The blog also offers you a first opportunity to interact with your peers.

For more information about the congress, please visit www.interactcongress.eu

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Dick Brandt on Identity 2.0

My first post here, and it's not even about interactive marketing. Or is it?

Watch and learn something about the past and future of digital identity, courtesy of Dick Hardt, CEO of Sxip Identity.

Lonelygirl15 is boring

If, in the midst of all the 2006 buzzwords, we had to go for the ultimate one, it would be "web video" or rather, YouTube. The stats that are published last week in the newteevee.com article Go Stat Wild: February Video Traffic confirm the obsession of marketeers, advertisers, investors and mainstream media over YouTube. The poster child of user generated content. The ultimate fulfillment of Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame prediction. The company that was consuming terabytes per day in bandwidth, and would have succumbed under these costs if it wasn't for Google.

It's ok to obsess over a bright new kid, but the side effects are somewhat annoying me. A few examples:

  1. The majority of web video consumers are not using the hosted services. If they forward web videos, they'll often use peer-to-peer networks, instand messaging or even plain old e-mail (with the video as an attachment!)

  2. Every big internet player feels obliged to launch a me-too-youtube initiative. Me-toos are boring.

  3. Advertisers ask their agencies for campaigns that depend on user generated content. Only an utter minority of, say, the Belgian internet users is able to capture, edit en upload a pretty decent web video. And even if they do so, it wouldn't be to review this or that product. Most succesfull user generated web videos are variants on the lonelygirl15 meme, or the "my cat sneezed" variant. Lonelygirl15 is stuck in YouTube. And for frequent updates on your pet's health the kids now prefer Twitter.

  4. There is no such thing as wisdom of the crowds. Really want to know what pleases the crowd? It's Idols, or any other show involving freaks. Anything involving bikini girls is a good second, and my guess is that cute animals are on the third spot.

  5. It's no use to search for an advertising model. Pre-roll advertising annoys consumers. In-video product placement is tricky but might work in some cases. And launch a tv ad of movie trailer in Tubespace and hope it will go viral? Good luck with that. You'll have to compete with all the freaks, the bikini babes and the cute animals.

Does this mean we have to give up the idea alltogether that advertisers can somehow get in the mix again? Of course not. The only mistake advertisers can't afford to make is to export their "old skool" advertising formats onto the new web videosphere. This means: no intrusive advertising, no display advertising, no dirty tricks, not even subliminal advertising.

The only thing left to do is to re-think advertising. It will take a while before new advertising standards will arise. In the meanwhile, all an advertiser can do is follow this mantra: be passionate, be proud, and be honest.

We Aid - forget the action

Since the somewhat heated debate between Thomas Madsen Mygdal and Matias Palm Jensen at the Danish Internet Award (DIA07) conference some two months ago, my mind has once more been wandering about the limits of advertising.

Is it true that good products market themselves here in the age of the social web, where happy and unhappy individuals have excellent opportunities to make their opinions publicly known? That advertisement in the traditional sense therefore is obsolete, and that marketers should focus on Public Relations-like activities, ensuring the best conditions for the conversation between individuals (whether these are employed in the company selling goods and services or are performing the role of consumers, buying the goods and services)?

One thing I’m sure about is that no ad will succeed in getting anyone to buy anything, simply by saying: “This is a great product. Go to the nearest store and BUY IT”. Com’on! If this has ever worked (what I doubt) it certainly doesn’t anymore. This is 2007. More than a decade after “I’m not a consumer”, “Generation X” and what have you. Consumers are individuals, not masses, making up their own minds.

Phrased differently: In terms of the traditional AIDA marketing paradigm, the last “A” (the one where you get your target-group to Act, that is: buy) has been ruled out. Although the aim of marketing is to get the individual to do “the buy”, it is out of the hands of the marketer to make the individual do so.

However, it’s also true that not even the greatest product has a chance of getting success, if nobody knows about it.

Furthermore I hold it to be a truth, that products are more than their mere physical properties: That sentiments about the product may be a very important reason why anybody would buy the product at all. Take the Apples iPhone as an example: It’s very much more than a smartphone. As anyone who has observed the blogosphere during and after the launch (that is: of the presentation of what is to be in the US market in half a year, and in the European market in one whole year from now) of the Apple iPhone will truly be aware, the hype is tied closely to the expectations of what Steve Jobs and Co. will be able to deliver.)

Similarly: Coca Cola is more than a taste. Nike is more than a device for walking. Etc.

In other words: Marketing still has a role to play as regards to creating Attention of, Interest in, and Desire of products. The first three letters (“A”, “I” and “D”) in the AIDA still holds true.

The loss of the final “A”, the Action “A”, in the AIDA paradigm is not all that has changed. Modern times has not only cut off the most important part of what marketing is about. No – it has done something more. It has added a resource of such powers, that it’s hardly comprehendible. It has given marketers the notion of a “WE” to be working with. It has created the space for a conversation between marketers and the (people formerly known as) consumers.

This conversation does not necessarily need to take place on an abstract discussion-like level. On the contrary, I will suggest that conversation should be understood in the most widely sense of the word. That a game, which attracts an audience, is a kind of conversation, even though it might only have a slight connection to the way the product meets “objective” requirements. That the little green music-making man Pjotro (read my post on Pjotro at my own blog), who’s in reality advertising for Nokia, might be a great advertisement. Because it offers the individuals accessing the Pjotro-figure the opportunities to amuse themselves, while (very much secondarily) connecting the Nokia brand-name to interactive music. And because the creators of the ad has realised, that it doesn’t work just stating: “Go buy the new Nokia phone with MP3 capabilities”, but has succeeded in creating a community, a “WE” involving individuals, who like music, and like interactive playing around and the virtual Nokia-property Pjotro.

This is very much not to say, that only a few things has changed for marketers during the past decade. That the “AIDA” models still holds true, if you only modify it a little.

On the contrary: what we are witnessing is a paradigm shift. The whole instrumental way of viewing the marketing process, where you can move from point a to b, targeting the relevant consumers and eventually making them buy your product, is deemed to end in nothing but failure nowadays. Instead the “WE”-part should have the undivided focus of marketers. Whenever introducing a new product think of: how best to engage the individuals, you’d like to be consumers, in the sphere of your product. Talk to them, provide them with facts about you and the product, and play with them, create virtual universes and invite your “target groups” to get inside. Get them to be your ambassadors, to contribute to, and spread your message through their own viral channels.

Forget AIDA. Think “WE”. But also: think about and take the actions necessary, to create Attention about the product, Interest in the product and Desire for the product. Think “We” and think “AID”. Think “WE AID”.

(I first laid out these thoughts in my post "WE AID – a marketing paradigm for the user-centered era" on my own blog, where also this post originally was published).

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Considering consumers as people

The media digitalization, as much as the contents classification (tagging), is strongly changing our habits starting from the way we communicate and the way we relate with companies. And this is happening very fast. Marketing and advertising have to fit themselves quickly, putting in crisis some of the elements that have been the core of the communication strategies for the past years; for example it needs to shift from the classic approach “consumers considered as target to hit” to “people with whom talking to”.

Considering consumers as people is a significant, complex but necessary step. In this way consumers are no more passive receivers of the advertising messages, but they become individuals with who make sense to start a true relationship, a conversation, a dialogue. Considering that these individuals have become content producers therefore they have become significant purchasing influencers.

To face this new communication ecosystem, it is not enough, naturally, opening a corporate blog or uploading videos on YouTube. It needs to start a real renewal in the way of considering a company, knowing that it is going to be a gradual and complicated process. In theory it seems to be easy: being transparent, building brands with clients, talking with them, etc. The main problem is that companies have always been used to just communicate, not to talk, not to really listen to. It is evident that leaving part of the communication control in the hands of people is something scary. But this is an irreversible route.

ZenithOptimedia: global online adspend to overtake radio in 2008

ZenithOptimedia released an update of its global ad spending outlook. It’s impressive to see how spending in online advertising keeps beating the prognoses: ZenithOptimedia expects the global online adspend to grow with 28,2 % this year. The rest of the media will grow with 3,7 %.

In three global markets online already accounts for more than 10 % of the overall adspend. All three of these markets are European: the UK of course (in 2007 16,6 % of overall adspend according to Zenith), Sweden and Norway.

By 2009 these three markets will be joined by Denmark, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.

ZenithOptimedia expects the global online adspend to overtake radio adspend by 2008. This is one year sooner than previously expected.

Check out more details in the ZenithOptimedia press release on this link (PDF).

Monday, 2 April 2007

Playing with ad formats at Club Internet

Ad formats, technical requirements, ad guidelines, interactive marketing standards, whatever you call them: interactive advertising seems to be more and more a matter of well defined formats in which we squeeze our creative aspirations.

However necessary ad formats may be, the online world often becomes really interesting when advertisers surprise us by ignoring the rules and coming with refreshing new ways of reaching out to internet users. I call it the Star Trek approach: ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’.

A great example is a campaign by French Club Internet, dubbed ‘Le duel’.

Jan Van den Bergh (i-merge Shanghai) and Marc Bresseel (MSN Europe) mentioned it on their blogs.

An experience that is hard to describe with words. So I propose you just go to http://www.club-internet.fr/le-duel/, sit back, watch the ‘video’ and see what happens next.

Now that is what I call an engaging experience.

PS: mind the details (see for instance the Google search window when the duellists start using modern weapons).

Sunday, 1 April 2007

A blog is for life and not just for Christmas

At Interact we're going to be talking lots about blogging. In fact we'll be blogging about blogging, posting about blogging, commenting on eachother's posts about blogging, and even spreading the news of our posts through social media so they appear on other blogs. The blogging workshop is not one to miss.

That's why, when back in the classroom this week a few of us were talking about corporate blogging, it prompted me to make a couple of posts.

"How can firms test out this web thing?" -one of the agency guys said, adding that “the problem is that these clients want to try, but we just don’t think they can follow through. What happens when they need to pull out, do we just close the blog? Can they do that?”

I've been blogging away on my personal sites for many years and we use blog environments to get students talking in our academies, so I guess I'm a convert to social media.

But the concern of this agency had me panicked. Getting the strategy right for a blog is key; communication without purpose is pointless for sure. But as digital specialists we should be helping firms learn about the power of social media, going in with the expectation of packing-up, going home has me edgy from the start. Too many have written off the web long ago as being a place not to belong. Many of them have gone even further and just capped their digital communications as shovelling the company brochureware from desktop publishing software to FrontPage. Shovelware rocks, right?

When senior managers are starting their thinking with the exit strategy in mind, you know the logic’s going to be upside down. This firm is thinking about creating conversational spaces, but doesn’t yet seem to have either a conversation topic or a reason for the audience to engage. In fact, they seem so absorbed in the exit strategy that I’m wanting to suggest a braver challenge would be to imagine that the route back through the forest has gone. Imagine Hansel & Gretel’s breadcrumbs have been gobbled up and you’re on your own to figure things out.

The problem is the idea of a dialogue with customers; two way, unfiltered, unmanageable. Yet the era of monologue corporate communications has gone for good. Where we’re at now is this space of conversation - billions of conversations – and that means brands also need to be taking part. The world of dialogue may take more after sales support and follow-through than classic media did, but that’s all part of the communication landscape now.I’m wanting to help, but clearly the brand team are still nervous.

Need some help? Here are a few thought I’ve just scribbled up on the way back from today's Academy. Maybe they'll be useful for the workshops at Interact, maybe they're something you can use with colleagues, and if you've more ideas then join the debate. These notes are only a taste of approaches that work, but when we're teaching corporate blogging they work well:

• Try the blog out internally – test in a safe place first. Many firms are doing this to check they can author and figure stuff out in a semi private space. One of the investment banks in this class said “We’re doing it just internally for a year first, making sure we get it right.”
• Accept that some of your posts you might regret, some might be less polished than you’d have liked, but all of them will be you. If it’s an open and honest dialogue, if it’s one that speaks from the heart, then accept that you’ll make a few gaffs – hey, look at my little blog! – but be proud to be taking part in that conversation
• Focus on what the firm believes and write through that lens: find your voice.
• Resist the safe ground of corporate cover, and be bold enough to develop some personality and vibrance. Even if it means running taped interviews with you leadership team so you can hear their own words, try out the tools and gave it a go
• Persevere: I’ve been saying that “a blog is for life and not just for Christmas” for five years or more, and the permanence of digital marketing is one of the big differences companies need to appreciate. Waves of campaign based communication gets superseded with layers that gradually build up. That permanence means marcoms value builds over time: from link equity to FAQs – getting out of the mindset of campaign thinking can unlock something brilliant.
• And commit to being in that conversation for a long, long time, well beyond seeing it as a comms fad washing over the marking team

Social media are democratising content and creating whole new types of connections between firms and their customers. Fast-forward ten years and can you imagine any firm that wouldn't have a place for its customers views like this?