Are brands giving up on true social media?

Social media is a ceaseless tornado of comments, reviews and opinions. You need only accompany trending tweets, voting and comments on Reddit or read comments on YouTube to see how conversations and heated discussions have become one of the defining characteristics of Social Media. It is indeed an extension of human interaction and basic conversation.

Most people (aside from young millennials) will remember how brands used to connect with their audience: using Above and Below the Line campaigns with a one-direction message, with not much insight into perceiving how people reacted to their message aside from eyeball counts and the odd customer satisfaction survey.

With the growth of online networks, however, brands and companies started wrestling with the fact that they no longer had exclusive control of the public perception of their brand, much less the conversation surrounding it. You need only recall how some ill-fated social media campaigns (read here or here) fared to see that the public has become more critical and aware of what messages brands are trying to convey.

Switching from a conversation to a monologue

You might have noticed after viewing the above video that the comments for it have been disabled by the admins of the Virgin Atlantic YouTube account. Disabling comments was always an option, especially when the uploader was an individual and their particular videos became inundated with spam or internet trolling behaviour. We should assume that this would only be a last case resort.

What are we to assume, then, when brands like Virgin Atlantic, BT or even Britain’s Got Talent, for that matter, have disabled comments on the content they upload to YouTube? What are they trying to achieve when this signifies regressing to the old days of one-way communication (effectively a monologue)?

Regardless of the reasoning behind their options, these brand owners are thus abdicating from the opportunity to truly engage with the public as well as their current and potential customers. They are also forfeiting their right to monitor the conversations on a single channel, having to resort to costly and complicated social monitoring tools to pick up on discussions around their content across other outlets such as Twitter or Facebook.

Disabling comments is effectively trying to silence whatever positive or negative reactions this content might inspire. This might be comparable to a chain of stores selling their products from behind an automated dispensing machine, with no human interaction whatsoever.

The human connection, which makes social media such an effective tool for intelligent brand owners, is what brands seem to forget when they just want to push their agenda and ignore what people really think about them. When this becomes the norm within the company, you might wake up one day like Sony or Blackberry, struggling with business failures after years of hiding behind the numbers of market research and revenue results. If you’re not listening to and engaging with your customers, they will sooner or later go elsewhere to fulfil their needs.

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When adverts go viral for the wrong reasons

hyundai-advert-screen-captureHyundai ‘Pipe Job’ advert widely criticised

There have many cases of misguided or blatantly wrong marketing campaigns in recent times, especially when it comes to advertisements and social media. Examples include the Ford Figo advert in India or the Haribo Super Mix advert, that either garnered angry comments or were panned across all social networks.

Hyundai is the latest brand to fall victim to a rather poorly thought-out campaign creative, after a video advertisement for their new ix35 model was widely criticised. The reason? The video titled “Pipe Job” features a man (unsuccessfully) attempting to commit suicide by inhaling car exhaust fumes from his ix35. You will no longer find the video on YouTube or other mainstream video streaming sites, as supposed claims of  third party infringements have led to it being taken down.

However, if you feel strong enough and have not had the deeply regrettable impact of suffering from a loved one’s loss by way of suicide, you can click here to find a locally hosted video on a blog post by a specialist in Mental Health, Dr. John Grohol, CEO and founder of Psych Central.

The resulting social media storm is understandable and expected when you’re dealing with a sensitive topic such as a human life. So much so that an open letter by Holly Brockwell, a London-based digital copywriter, aimed at Hyundai and its agency Innocean has been widely circulated (read it here) and adds fuel to the fire of this unfortunate advertisement.

Hyundai Europe has since issued an apology, but the deed is done and the impact of this story will seep though public conscientiousness, wiping out any good sentiment the brand might have had in recent years.

What are the lessons to be learnt? Quite a few:

  1. You may have a good product to market, but the wrong execution and creative will drive away an potential for connecting with consumers, resulting in failure for the brand and the product. GoCompare and Wonga are two examples of brands backtracking on campaign creative that have become a source of irritation for the general public.
  2. Understanding what the campaign creative is meant to make people feel is key to effective communication of brand values. If it’s not funny, not insightful, simply uninteresting or doesn’t add anything positive to the audience’s life then you seriously need to think about going back to the drawing board.
  3. Rethink your strategy so that you and your brand partners effectively know what you plan to achieve with your campaign. Making light of suicide is clearly not the way to go.
  4. Agencies are now outputting more and more content that doesn’t necessarily work in their client’s interests. It’s so easy to push out quantity as opposed to quality, so put in place exacting standards and procedures throughout the planning, creative and sign-off process to avoid disasters.

What are your view on this story? Are brands and agencies becoming more reckless with their marketing efforts? All comments are welcome.

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Windows versus Goliaths: targeting a rival’s immersed audience

Internet Explorer is eyeing the children of the 90s, a very well informed audience immersed in the environments of very strong competitors

With the launch of their Surface tablets, Windows Phone and the Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft is trying very hard to recapture a audience that is no longer tied down to a stationary web browsing experience.

After stalling with the insistence on the decrepit Symbian system, this technology giant is finally making some progress in the world of mobile experiences. Microsoft are, however, climbing a very steep hill to recapture an audience that has long abandoned their flagship products in the ‘post-PC’ digital world.

With the above advert, Microsoft are trying to entice consumers of a specific demographic to try out their new Internet Explorer. Now I would say that the large majority of their target audience is already deeply immersed in their Android or iOS smartphone, so creating an advert for what is basically a ‘small fish swimming in a large pond’ is not necessarily going to make many people jump on the Surface/Windows 8 bandwagon.

The digital consumer is one constantly connected via smartphones, tablets, laptops and, to a lesser extent, desktops. As we all know, they’re doing so largely within the iOS and Android systems and with apps that provide a multitude of consumer experiences and choices.

Cross-platform is the way forward

Browsing habits have fundamentally changed and consumers are either using apps to access their digital world, connecting via social networks or using OS integrated search functions to find what they need online. In some cases, we’re talking about the standard browsers that ship with the Android or iOS platforms, or, in other cases, options that have become popular like Chrome or Dolphin Browser, that both have the added advantage of being cross-platform.

It will take more than one app, no matter how good it is, for any of the consumers this advert is targeting to choose Windows 8 over the countless advantages that Android and iOS offer. What Microsoft seems to be disregarding is that their target audience is way too clued up on what digital solutions would work for them to take any type of action based on this type of advert alone.

Microsoft risks further irrelevance if they don’t continue to create a platform with enough solutions and apps that would entice consumers looking for a different option. Until wildly popular apps like Instagram or Tumblr are available on the Windows Phone 8, marketing Internet Explorer will not work, no matter how good the advert is.

Would it be a better strategy to finally act like most other software providers and offer the Internet Explorer as an app on competing systems? This would of course mean that Microsoft is conceding defeat in trying to make their Windows OS relevant. Sooner rather than later, we will see if this pride and insistence on walling off their apps and solutions to their own operating system will pay off. I tend to think no. What about you?

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How long should a branded video be?

Mourgue’s Djinn chair is just one of the many creations you will find
in this video for Renault TV.

The duration of a video should not be one of the deciding factors when creating branded content. It is inspiration, relevancy, usefulness and entertainment that are the main characteristics of the most successful videos out there.

I recently came across this video created by Publicis Entertainment for Renault and their Renault TV platform. Over the course of 26 minutes, we travel through five decades of design tendencies and how they influenced fashion, music, social habits and the production industry (including some of this French car manufacturer’s most iconic creations). As an example of branded content, how effective is this long-form video in trying to reach its target audience?

Well let’s start by stating the obvious: brands are increasingly relying on video content to engage consumer interest. According to a study by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, this is also true in a B2B environment, where use of video as a marketing tool increased from 52% to 70% from 2011 to 2012.

Video has indeed become the driving force of numerous marketing campaigns, with examples ranging from 1-minute virals such as the Cravendale “Cats with Thumbs” Milk Matters campaign to the more challenging Kony 2012 awareness campaign video. Both these videos amassed millions of viewers on YouTube. Yet they required very different amounts of time and attention from the viewer.

How long or short should a video be to be able to sustain viewers’ attention?

The answer is to this question forms part of the many challenges that content marketers face on a daily basis, where the quest to reach a very informed, time-poor, easily distracted, banner-blind consumer or business owner is not a matter of how large a budget you have, but instead how effective you can make your content with whatever resources are at your disposal.

Could it be that the above 26-minute video asks too much from the time-hungry viewer? Perhaps, especially if they’re accessing the content on their mobile, in which case targeting the consumer while they’re on the go would be a mistake. With ever dwindling attention spans, especially with the younger generation, the competition to grab (and keep) a consumer’s attention is white hot.

Some voices in the industry will therefore say that long-form content has had its day. Indeed, if we are to take into account the relaunch and subsequent rise in popularity of the news curating app Summly (at the time of writing, it’s at the top of the App Store free app chart), we can say that the constantly mobile consumer now only has time to catch up on 400 character items of news. Were we apply this logic to branded content in video format, then creators will have to limit themselves to 2-3 minutes to tell their story and get the message across. This would of course approach the realms of ‘advertising’ videos, which when well executed and integrated in an effective campaign, easily become a viral hit.

In an age of instant gratification, content creators should therefore not be focusing on how long the video is, but instead concentrate on making each second, line or image of their content relevant, inspiring, entertaining and/or useful. There will always be thirst for content that has either or all of these attributes. If the viewer will gain something from giving the brand their time and consequently follows up with one of the many possible actions we ask them to perform, then the video has served its purpose.

But what about very good videos that have poor view counts or haven’t had an impact on the overall objectives of the marketing campaign? I will leave my considerations on this matter to another post, so do come visit my blog in the not too distant future.

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Relevancy is not enough!

Why brands should give consumers what they want, how and when they need it.

The above screen grab is from an appeal that Maura Johnston made yesterday evening on her Twitter account. Whichever site she was clicking on, her frustrating customer journey simply illustrates what some marketers and publishers have failed to grasp: relevancy is key to what people want in media.

Since its origins in publishing, content marketing has become one of the latest buzzwords in marketing. Google has recognised the importance of the relevancy of content in their latest search algorithm updates, as have so many other parts of the PR, marketing and retail industries.

Social media has had a great deal of influence in this growing tendency due to its capacity to allow family and friends to efficiently share the latest products, videos, news and entertainment with their network. The keyword here is efficiency, as time-hungry consumers dislike jumping hurdles when trying to get what they want.

Relevancy in content

There’s no secret to what used to make print publishing so successful, as at the core of all successful publishing products we will find relevancy of content. Publishers (should) know their target market inside out and so the content they produce ought to meet the reader’s expectations.

In the past, all this was relatively simple as it all came together in one channel, the printed magazine or newspaper. However, as we all know too well, the multitude of communication channels has piled much pressure on publishers and marketers to reach their audience by way of different platforms, each with their particular costs, challenges, etiquette and limitations.

Efficiency in the user journey

What marketers and publishers should not forget is that relevant content alone is not enough to satisfy consumers. A simple and straightforward route to access it is key to ensuring the content reaches them and serves its purpose. Otherwise, we are just wasting time and money in creating good content only to have customer journeys that frustrate the target audience, especially when venturing into the digital arena. You might have a very engaging video about your brand or product to excite consumers, but making them download an app to be able to see it is a one-way ticket to a negative customer experience.

This is all the more important in a world that is increasingly mobile. According to Google research, 72% of consumers want mobile-friendly sites (see study here), so if you’re looking to go digital with your content, make sure that it’s tailored to being accessed on mobile devices, especially smartphones and tablets. Although use of apps to showcase content is on the rise, more and more brands and their agencies are realising that a good mobile-friendly website is just as efficient in achieving campaign objectives, hereby sidetracking the many challenges of an app-centred content marketing plan.

This does not mean that every single website should load, by default, in mobile-friendly format when a consumer arrives at it. Some people with large screen smartphones and on tablets are more than happy to access websites in their “full fat” version. What’s important is give the consumer the preference and not dictate it. The consumer knows what (s)he wants. All you should do is be there to provide it how and when they want it.

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Digital spurring on print advertising

I know I’m overstating the obvious, but marketing and publishing work best when an effective mix of digital and offline messages come together so that the reader/viewer will undertake a desired action and convert to a brand advocate or consumer.

In the publishing arena, the pressure is much more evident due to the progressive decline in advertising revenues. For the foreseeable future, publishers will continue to work on a set of solutions to counteract this spiral, as online revenue is yet to plug the hole of cutbacks on print spend.

The answer certainly lies within mobile media and marketing. The iPad, along with other tablets and some of the more powerful smartphones, are the perfect vehicles to bridge the gap, as they are usually within arm’s reach of someone reading a magazine or newspaper.

A new campaign by Lexus to promote their 2013 ES model is just such an example and certainly a step in the right direction of printed material generating an engaging digital experience. By using a technology called CinePrint, Lexus has created a digital experience that only works effectively when tied to a printed product. The technology can be tried in the October issue of Sports Illustrated.

It would be interesting to see if Lexus plan on rolling out the idea to more magazines that have an iPad edition and that are read by their target audience. I also reckon that the next step should be to globalise the campaign, as not all consumers have easy access to the printed Sports Illustrated.

Here is the YouTube preview of how it works:

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Digital content and the end of boundaries

Smart launches car with inbuilt cinema projector

The revolution that the Apple brought about with the launch of the iPhone, and subsequently the iPad, has changed the way that content is consumed by society. This radical shift has caught out many industries, with publishers, high street retailers and other more traditional content or product providers having to adapt or die.

We now need to see how other technologies can advance in the same direction, by providing people what they want, when they want it and, increasingly, wherever they want it. Internet and social networks has brought about the end of boundaries for information, so it’s only natural that we should also continue to see the end to boundaries of how people can access their content.

A curious example of this type of thinking is the Smart Forstars concept car (video below), which was launched at the Paris Motor Show. Not content with updating their city car, Smart has wants to house a home cinema projector in the bonnet. By using an iPhone and connecting the device to the car’s multimedia projector via Bluetooth, you will be able to turn any large wall into your private drive-in (who misses these?).

With the incremental improvement in access to wireless networks, including faster broadband speeds and LTE networks, we will no doubt see many more technological products that transcend their original purpose and become integrated content providers to suit the consumer’s thirst for their favourite film, TV show or musical artist.

Like many other companies trying to garner interest from the urban consumer and creating a niche that might go mainstream, Smart is testing the water with this new approach to sharing audiovisual content. Only time will tell if this will indeed succeed in reaching production, or if it will go the course of many ideas that never get to a checkout basket or the shelves and showrooms of retailers.

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Battle of the best Android smartphone

The recent launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S III has once again ignited the battle for the throne of Android supremacy.

This new model will have as its main contender the HTC One X, since the Galaxy Nexus is already looking a bit dated in this fast-moving world of smartphone launches.

They have very similar technical specifications, so we will have to wait for comprehensive benchmarking reports between these two Quad core, Ice Cream Sandwich packing beasts. In the mean time, let’s look at what is setting them apart.

1. Storage capacity

The HTC One X does not allow for an immediate battery replacement or indeed the insertion of a microSD memory card to increase the 32GB internal memory. Still, in the British market, this model is being offered with 25GB of Dropbox online storage (free for 2 years).

On the other hand, though, the Galaxy S III has various internal memory capacities (16GB, 32GB and a 64GB promised down the line), aside from the possibility of being able to extend this memory with a microSD card. One of the main mobile phone retailers is already accepting pre-orders of the 16GB model with the offer of a 32GB microSDHC card. Waiting for the flagship model means a possible increase in total memory up to 96GB! Plenty of high-definition photos and videos to see and share, I’d say…

Samsung 1 – HTC 0

2. Processing efficiency

The Samsung model features their new 1.4 GHz Exynos Quad core 32-nanometer processor, which is more modern than the HTC’s 1.5GHz Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad core  40-nanometer processor. Yesterday’s benchmarking report by Slashgear demonstrates the S III’s very impressive figures. Until a definitive benchmarking test proves otherwise, the Samsung processor is likely to be more efficient than the HTC, despite seeming less powerful on paper.

Samsung 2 – HTC 0

3. Battery life

The Samsung battery is 2100mAh against HTC’s 1800mAh. Consumers will indeed have something to say about claims by HTC executives that say smartphone thinness is a priority over battery life. Recent tests show that the latter’s processing power has a definite impact on the battery life, which is the Achilles heel of the Taiwanese model. Given that Samsung’s battery can be swapped for a fully charged one, the S III seems to have the upper hand in battery life.

Samsung 3 – HTC 0

4. Image capabilities

Finally, when comparing the image capabilities, we are thinking both in terms of the quality of the screen and the hardware and software driving the photo and video capabilities of these models.

When it comes to screens, Samsung’s slightly larger 4.8″ HD Super AMOLED is a strong competitor to HTC’s 4.7″ IPS screen. The benefits of the latter include excellent viewing angles and great picture quality. As we know, smartphones’ screens are the most important factor in terms of battery drainage. With a hands-on comparison between the two, we will be able to make a better call on this one. Let’s just hope the colour spectrum on the S III don’t have the over-saturated look of the S II.

As for the cameras, we’re looking at a 8MP camera for both models, with 1280 x 720 display resolution and 1080p HD video recording. However, the S III has a 1.9MP front camera versus the 1.3MP One X. As we’ve seen though, Samsung will have a hard time topping HTC’s impressive Imagesense technology, which is boosted by a fast f/2.0 lens, allowing for shorter exposures and clearer snaps of moving subjects.

So unless Samsung ups the game in terms of real-world image capture, HTC’s image capabilities are the closest competitor to Apple’s iPhone 4S claimed leadership.

Samsung 3 – HTC 1

5. Sound and audio

It’s strange that not much has been said about Samsung’s audio capabilities. Given that consumers are making the most of the increased internal storage to use their smartphones as portable media players, this is increasingly a deciding factor in their list of priorities when comparing models.

Given the inclusion of the very popular Beats Audio system in the HTC One X, we  have to assume that Samsung will have difficulty in ‘beating’ the excellent sound HTC is boasting, especially when matched with the appropriate headphones.

Samsung 3 – HTC2

6. In summary

Both these Android beasts are packing serious hardware and specifications that would make any gaming or intensive multi-tasking app session a breeze. As for the HTC Sense and Samsung TouchWiz interface that are latched on to the Android OS, it’s a matter of personal preference. I for one have a few grudges against HTC Sense’s buggy interface, especially when it comes to moving apps to the memory card, as opposed to using up the phone’s internal storage.

Both the current Samsung homepage as well as the HTC product page for their new  flagships showcase the consumer-focused technology that capture a consumer’s imagination, with the former clearly preferring to highlight its quirky S Voice, Social tag and S Beam functionalities, which all aim to be clear contenders for Apple’s Siri, iPhoto and iCloud solutions.

The Samsung seems to be the more well-rounded of the two, especially in terms of ease of content sharing, whereas the HTC is likely to be the delight of people who want the best possible audio and video capabilities in an Android mobile phone.

I’ll be waiting earnestly to read the first benchmarking tests between the two models, which should be performed closer to the sale date of the new Samsung towards the end of this month. And may the best Android phone win!

Image credits: Samsung and HTC.

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A spanner in the works of publishing and content

Setting a new level of high-definition, but at a cost for publishers and content creators.

The new iPad is proving to be another challenge in the constantly evolving world of digital publishing and content marketing.

Following up on yesterday’s post, new iPad owners were critical of the pixelation of the text and the photos contained in some of the editions that have not been optimised for the higher resolution of the market-leading tablet. Vogue were the first to address this by offering an optimised version of their latest issue, bumping up the file size from 280MB to 408MB.

Now for argument’s sake, if we take an increase of 30-50% in file size as the benchmark for all other publishers, it poses a serious problem for the overall effectiveness of the new iPad as a publishing tool, or indeed as a multimedia platform for displaying high-definition content in general.

Casting our gaze over the current panoply of high-definition offerings, we see that consumers can readily access it on their Full HD televisions and computers, as well as apparatus such as Blu-ray players or cable provider DVRs. We’re talking serious hardware, built for the pressures of large file sizes by using hard disc drives and optical cables for the streaming of HD content.

The fact of the matter is that contrary to the ever-improving memory capacity of desktop computers and DVRs, the iPad has had a maximum of 64GB of memory capacity for over 2 years, with many consumers opting for the more cost-effective smaller capacities. Subsequently, users have to constantly decide what apps to delete and install when new content comes along.

Can we consider the new iPad’s ‘resolutionary’ display a consumer gimmick, created more to impress than to be of actual functionality and service to a user? Quite likely! Would a larger memory capacity or USB ports have been a more pragmatic addition to the new iPad? Quite possibly. Will the increased file size needed to display content convince people to take out a subscription or make frequent purchases of hi-res copies of the magazine app? Quite unlikely! The trade-off of sacrificing more memory for the sake of a pin-sharp photo in a magazine just isn’t there.

Like the film, technology and entertainment industry that are growing on the back of signficant improvements in high-definition offering, publishers and content marketers in general will have to wait for a similar jump in iPad hardware specification to be able to take advantage of the screen the iPad has to offer consumers.

So until Apple increases the memory capacity of the iPad in line with the more generous offerings of ultrabooks or even the Macbook Air (which mostly feature flash memories between 128 and 256GB), it will always be a hard-sell for high-definition content to command consumer’s attention (and spend) when it comes to tablet devices.

Then again, there is always the 300dpi resolution of magazines printed on paper… Now there’s an idea for high-definition content!

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The new iPad comes with 46% less memory?!

The ‘resolutionary’ screen is clearly (no pun intended) the main selling point in the new iPad. Contrary to common-sense, I feel this new resolution is a curse to all those early adopters that are already swiping away at their new iPads (after having wiped the drool off the screen).

Today, Mashable highlights the fact that ‘magazines look terrible on the new iPad′s high-resolution display’. The current exception seems to be Vogue, which had already optimised its edition to take full advantage of the retina display in the apple of Apple’s eye. However, this came at a ‘price’, as this edition now occupies 408MB of the iPad’s flash memory, up from the 280MB needed for the other iPad versions.

This means that we are getting the same content as before (albeit at an eye-candy level of clarity), but at the cost of sacrificing an additional 46% of the flash memory of our device. Why then would you buy the new iPad if you are limited to a maximum storage of 64GB? How many optimised applications, games or magazines will you be able to fit in your new tablet? Would Steve Jobs have gone ahead with a new product knowing that it is not the best it can be, by matching a bump up in screen resolution with proportionate amount of adequate memory storage? Is it really fair to assume that each time you double your iPad’s capacity, the real cost of the flash memory costs goes up by £80 each time?

The half-promise of a content El Dorado

These questions have obviously not stopped this new toy from becoming a wildly popular cash-cow for Cupertino’s consumer darlings. Yet in bowing to the pressures of having to lead the tablet market, Apple is selling a product that half fulfils a promise. Consumers have bought a ticket to the El Dorado, but they’ve been made to wait at the outskirts of the city, despite being able to see the bright lights and excitement it has to offer. And they’re having to put up with a lot of heat to be able to be there.

Yes you can already see high-definition content on your new iPad, but you can’t store it for long if you want your next fix of new content. Yes, your new games and applications can be ‘resolutionary’-ready, but you’ll have to get rid of other apps, photos or videos to be able to keep using or playing them. Yes, you can keep your ‘un-optimised’ content, but it will look underwhelming on your fantastic screen.

The curse of the new iPad is its greatest asset. To experience the true benefits of this display, consumers will have to wait until the flash memory on the iPad matches those of ultrabooks or the Macbook Air. This may not be too far down the line, since Toshiba already features high capacities at the top-end of their Solid State Drive product family. Only when we have NAND flash memories upwards of 128GB will the iPad finally fulfill its potential of a post-PC device. By then, though, we will already be talking about the new ‘new iPad’, and I suspect it will take at least another year to get there.

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