Awareness is Everything

Monday, September 21, 2009

Social Media and Market Research

Earlier this month Brad Bortner posed this question in The Forrester Blog For B2B Market Research Professionals:
"Are MROCs [Market Research Online Communities] the next big thing in market research, and will they eventually take measurable share from traditional qualitative research?"
Sentient Services has been working in online qualitative for a few years now through asynchronous bulletin board focus groups. While you give up a lot in moving away from a face-to-face interaction (body language, vocal intonation, etc.), in an asynchronous online group you have a lot of different strengths.
  1. Less time restraint – respondents have more time to think, they can look up notes and do “homework” assignments. Additionally, we can let side conversations go and see if the tangent provides additional insight
  2. Broader coverage – asynchronous participation means that respondents aren’t locked into 6-8pm ET, making time zones a non-issue. This translates to breaking down some geographic boundaries.
  3. Bigger groups – we’re not limited to the capacity of a conference room, meaning that we “seat” at least 12 participants per group (vs. 6-8 participants in a traditional group).
While we’ve previously scrutinized sample goodness when using social networks for market research and the value of polling features in LinkedIn, I believe MROCs (private online communities focused on research) are just an extension of online methodologies we already see. Instead of recruiting participants to one online discussion or survey, they are being recruited for continuing feedback on a variety of topics. And MROCs will impact both qualitative and quantitative research – it’s just as easy to host a survey in an online community as it is a forum discussion.

What are your thoughts on MROCs? What other evolutions do you foresee in the research industry?

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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Election 08, Propaganda, Marketing and Advertising

Given the imminent election it seems fitting to take a closer look at propaganda tactics (and parallels to marketing), especially those that have emerged in the 21st century. And don’t worry I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of platform delineations. I think it might be much more fun to look at how the candidates get us to think what we think and ultimately persuade us to vote one way or the other.

The most basic definition of propaganda is the presentation of information in order to influence an audience. The modern day interpretation of the term is definitely more menacing (depending on the culture) and is most commonly associated with political messages (full definition at Wikipedia). Not surprisingly advertising can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person, or brand.

A little history…
Propaganda is of course as old as people, but a quick google search on the history of propaganda will tell you that the origin of the word is attributed to Pope Gregory XV when in 1622 he established the Sacred Congregation for Propagating the Faith. As you may have guessed, the primary responsibility of this department was the dissemination of Catholicism.

There are many forms of propaganda, but generally speaking all tactics fall into 7 main categories identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis in 1938. They are Assertion, Bandwagon, Card Stacking, Glittering Generalities, Lesser of Two Evils, Name Calling, Pinpointing the Enemy, Plain Folks, Simplification, Testimonials, and Transfer (you can probably get the gist of each type, but for full definitions go here).

Propaganda, Marketing and the 21st century…
People with ideas, whether they are religious or political, will always want to persuade others and they use various means to do so. Throughout history campaign posters, entire books (Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto”), movies, and radio and tv advertisements have all been tools in the propagandists’ arsenal. In the 21st century technology has changed the game a bit.

In the 2004 election, Howard Dean was one of the first presidential candidates to utilize the internet to communicate with supporters and raise funds. Via the web, he raised approximately $50 million in campaign contributions, started a blog, and created a group of political activists called “Deaniacs” that organized gatherings called “meet ups”. In 2007 all 19 primary candidates had websites and a blog at the bare minimum and today all three of the candidates (yes, even Bob Barr) have a dedicated website (www.barackobama.com, http://www.johnmccain.com/, http://www.bobbarr.com/) and email campaign and are leveraging increasingly creative strategies typically only executed by marketers like social networks, consumer generated viral videos, widgets, blogs, SEM strategies, and iPhone applications.

Barack Obama has unquestionably seen the most rewards by balancing mass marketing techniques with the latest developments in social media and niche marketing. He employed a Facebook founder (Chris Hughes) and other hired guns from various ad agencies and it’s paying off big time. In September alone Obama raised $150 million and the cash continues to flow. It is estimated that the Obama campaign spends $2.8 million a day on advertising, which is double McCain’s daily budget (McCain’s total budget for September 1st to November 4th is $84 million). On October 29th, 2008 Obama will air a half-hour infomercial on 7 networks that is considered to be one of the largest ad buys in election history. Not since Ross Perot’s run for president in 1992 have we seen such media roadblocks executed by a candidate. So I guess it’s not that surprising that Barack Obama was recently named Marketer of the Year (above Nike, Apple and Coors) by AdAge.

Regardless of which side of the fence you stand on (or maybe you stand ON the fence),
I don’t think anyone can question the remarkable change in propaganda tactics this election. Here are a few content examples – candidate generated and supporter generated.

Obama-Biden Tax Calculator widget: Based on your annual income and filing status (can also populate # of dependents, age, retirement, etc.) you can see your estimated tax savings under each candidate’s plan. Unless you make more than $200K a year Obama is going to save you money.
Viral email campaign: Sponsored by MoveOn.org and TrueMajority PAC. Enter your friends name and email address and they will receive an invite to view a CNN type website with news coverage about how they (name inserted) lost the campaign for Obama by not voting. And to make sure you don’t forget to pass it on the creators send you a follow up email encouraging you to continue your “social nudging” efforts to help them achieve their goal of 10 million forwards by election day.
Will.i.am music video: Entertainer Will.i.am created a music video that features celebrities reading/singing an Obama speech. To date it has been viewed 970,223 times on YouTube.com.
Paris for Prez video: Created by Adam McKay (FunnyOrDie pioneer), this video is a response to John McCain’s political ad that attacks Obama’s celebrity.
Countdown for Change iPhone application: A clock (days, hours, minutes, seconds) created by a supporter that counts down the days to Election Day. Even if applications like these don’t directly garner any votes, it is yet another example of how Obama is immersed in the modern consumer experience.

You may be wondering why there are no McCain examples listed. All I can tell you is I sincerely tried to find some examples, beyond the standard myspace page, but was not successful. Perhaps that explains the polls. Time will tell.

What are some of your favorites? Have you found any good examples of McCain leveraging social media, web 2.0, etc.?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Online tools for parents

As some of you may know I have been on maternity leave for the last 3 months. My days (and nights too) have been consumed with feedings, changing diapers, trying to keep up with the endless amount of laundry (who knew someone so little could produce so much laundry), and staring in wonderment at this amazing person. Now that I am back to work and my former life at Sentient has resumed I am spending my days talking to clients, writing proposals, reviewing reports, and managing projects again. Two very different roles. And as many working parents before me I am learning to manage and balance work and family. So how do we manage it all? Fortunately for me I work for a company that is my “village” so to speak and has been very supportive, generous and accommodating during this time of adjustment. In addition to working for a great company, I have discovered a plethora of online tools (many of course sponsored by brands) to track, answer, remind, and verify my every parenting move, question, task and concern.

Here are a few of my favorites.

www.Babycenter.com – everything from mommy and baby horoscopes, to baby milestone videos, community blogs, development calendar, recall finder, deal finder, and much, much more.

www.cozi.com – Their tagline is “Family Life. Simplified. This tool is a multimedia organizer for busy parents. The tool keeps track of calendars, shopping lists, family journal postings and pictures and you can coordinate it all from your desktop, notebook, phone, or PDA. You can sync your outlook and cozi calendars, send or leave a message to a family member (dinner at Hula Hut at 7pm!) or send your shopping list to your cell phone. See a tutorial here.

www.bellyhood.com – a widget that lets you customize your own pregnancy countdown so you can watch your baby grow from a tiny dot to a full grown fetus. Check it here.

These online tools and forums were not available to my parents when they were raising me. They had to rely on more archaic means…like calling their parents in a panic in the middle of the night to find out how to treat a fever and of course there was and is always Dr. Spock (he is online now too). So as the diffusion of parenting information evolves, I wonder what tools my child will use when she becomes a parent. What’s next?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Ford and JWT blur the line between marketing and research

"This is a marketing research project, and you won't be marketed to as a result of this project. And we won't use your image or words to market anything."

We say this, or words to this effect, at the beginning each and every focus group we do. Words like this appear somewhere in the recruiting script of every quant survey we do. We live by these words. And we're not the only ones -- the "church and state separation" between interviewing people for research and interviewing people to solicit marketing endorsements is a wide gap that's observed by most ethical agencies, and spelled out in the standards and ethics statements of groups such as CASRO (Council of American Survey Research Organizations).

Apparently the folks at Ford and JWT did not get that memo about the ethics of market research. A couple of weeks ago the Ford "Swap My Ride" campaign launched, complete with testimonials solicited under the guide of marketing research:

"In New York, Miami, Los Angeles and Dallas, its advertising agency, JWT, had workers pretend to be from a fake market-research firm, track down owners of cars made by Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other competitors, and ask them to drive new Ford models for a supposedly impartial weeklong test." (from the Wall Street Journal, sub reqd)

Not only did JWT gather and film the research "respondents" under a ruse, they *never* told some what was really going on. Again, from the Sept. 14 Wall Street Journal article:

"Reached yesterday, Mr. Campos [one of the participants] was surprised to learn In-Home Test Drive Experience isn't a real company and was linked to Ford. 'I had no idea,' he said. He added it doesn't change his high opinion of the Focus, but that it would be better for the company to be 'more straight-forward.' "

The WSJ calls this an "aggressive marketing tactic" and seems to suggest that Ford has no choice, as the quality perception of American cars is so low among buyers of foreign (especially Japanese) cars that it's virtually impossible to get past that perceptual screen and get people to really "see" the cars and the quality improvements that have been made over the years.

“We wanted raw, unbiased opinions,” said Toby Barlow, co-president and executive creative director at JWT Team Detroit, Ford’s longtime creative shop. “We didn’t want them to think they were in a TV commercial. We needed a trick to get real objectivity and honest responses.” (from The New York Times, sub reqd)

They wanted honest responses, so they had to lie to get them? If people didn't know that their video was going to be used, I wonder if they told them that their words and images were going to end up on this Ford website?

This is a story that's just now starting to throw off a backlash (see here and here). I predict that the backlash will grow. In the end all that will have happened is that once again those of us who are actually practicing market research according to ethical guidelines will again have to defend our industry to consumers who are quite rightly skeptical. And Ford will simply come off looking desperate. People, this is not how social media works. The point of consumer-generated media is that you let the consumers generate the media, not trick them into starring in media that you generate.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Sara McLachlan - changing the world

I just came across this video from Sara McLachlan and associated data on Swivel a great data site in our Blinklist. Sara McLachlan has donated the $150,000 normally used to make a video to much needed spots around the globe. Why is this interesting? Well for one it ties into making the world a better place wich is always important. However, even more intriguing is when you can create more positive results with the same our less input. It's the equivalent to building a city that reduces pollution instead of creating it (which is under construction now in China). How does this impossibility happen? In short - technology and creativity - both for the city in China and Sara McLachlan. An artist can't simply donate all their production money to charity and expect to stay profitable and thrive. However, an established artist can use the brand equity they have built up and new technology platforms (inexpensive video production, YouTube, MySpace and more) to create, product and distribute to a far wider audience in a more engaging manner. I have no dougt this $15 video will drive more record sales, artist brand equity and social awareness all at the same time than the next $20M spent on music videos this year. You can't watch it and not be moved by the images, the great music and the causes. More importantly it will be hard to watch another music video without asking why the hell that artist does not do the same! See the official site and list of charities for "World on Fire" by Sara. Then, come back and tell me how other campaigns and companies can do more good, build their brand and change the world.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Is Second Life a dip or a cul-de-sac?

Last week my colleague Eric Brunker posted about the recent wave of Second Life bashing. He was a little ahead of himself -- the biggest bash of all came a few days later in Wired, in the Frank Rose story How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions On A Deserted Second Life and editor Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog post, Why I Gave Up Second Life. There are robust comments at both links that offer the pro/con give-and-take, mostly centered around the not-enough-to-do-in-SL/not-enough-traffic-in-SL reasons given by Rose and Anderson. Erick Schonfeld seconded those opinions on the Business 2.0 blog the.next.net, as well. Wagner James Au from New World News not only disagreed, but put forth an interesting argument that SL marketing in the short term creates something of a long tail for a brand (an argument with which Anderson, who created the Long Tail, did not disagree). Au also says (and has said before) that Second Life marketing is simply waiting for the killer marketing app that will in the long term bring value to SL marketing efforts.

The idea that Second Life marketing is doomed and corporations are wasting their money there is a classic example of missing the forest for the trees, in this case missing the virtual forest for the Second Life trees. This is essentially the point Eric (Sentient Eric, not Business 2.0 Erick) made in his post. There are other marketing/media/PR bloggers saying much the same thing -- for example, B.L. Ochman and Shel Holtz, who says "more forward-looking competitors stand a better chance of being prepared when the scales tip." Paul Hemp in a Harvard Business Review blog, said "It would be a grave mistake to dismiss the notion of marketing and selling in virtual worlds simply because of the shortcomings of Second Life."

We concur. Here's some food for thought from Business Week's April 16, 2007, article The Coming Virtual Web:
"The Acceleration Studies Foundation ... (a non-profit research group that has set out to define the 3D Internet) assumes much of its vision won't materialize until 2016 — and some participants think even that date is ambitious."
Here's another way to look at it: Is Second Life a cul-de-sac, a cliff, or a dip on the path to virtual world marketing success? According Seth Godin's latest short-but-thought-provoking book The Dip, knowing when to quit is a matter of strategy. It makes sense to quit if you're in a cul-de-sac or a dead end. If what you're in is a Dip -- "the long slog between starting and mastery" -- then it's important to "lean into it...push harder" because people (and companies) who "invest the time and the effort to power through the Dip are the ones who become the best in the world."

If the 3D Internet does not come to true fruition until 2016 or so, which companies are going to be best poised to take advantage of its marketing possibilities -- those who waited until everything got figured out by someone else, or those who pushed through the early, tough years, gained experience, and figured out how to make it work?

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Monday, July 23, 2007

It's about the "cliques"


...not "clicks". Advataring is not about open rates, click throughs, or even conversions. It is about creating a community around a brand that is influential over the sentiment of a brand for each and every member of the community. Avatars are social in nature, they communicate via various mediums, but basically they are about interacting and communicating with the virtual world they reside in, which includes other avatars. Thus, to market to them, you must treat them as communities, not as individuals. In doing so, you will effectively influence the community to immerse itself in a brand, your brand.

There is a mantra by a well-known advertising company that goes something like this "The more time a person spends with your brand, the more likely they are to spend money with your brand." This defines Second Life in that we are not trying to drive clicks or conversion, rather we are driving immersion by communities into a brand. A person that is immersed in a community will spend time with that community. If said community is immersed in a brand, then members of that community will spend time around the brand which will increase the likelihood they spend money with that brand, either in first or second life.

Thus if x = a user, y = a community, and z= a brand, if x is a subset of y and y is a subset of z, then x must be a subset of z (I just made that up, smile).

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Who is your avatar?

I'm quickly approaching my 1 year anniversary as a resident of Second Life and lately I've spent a fair amount of time inside this virtual world. The more time I spend the more interesting people I meet. The more interesting the person the more I realize that they are living in a reality where their avatar is perceived as the first persona and their real persona is now on the shelf collecting dust.

Being married with a young child and a dog I am forced into a world of normalcy. Sure, I make a concerted effort not to fit in with most parents my age, because
their sense of normalcy gives me the shakes although I do have my quirks which I freely admit to possessing and which I fully embrace. When I originally created my avatar, MSGiro Grosso, I tried my best to design it after my human self, even right down to choosing an Italian last name. The only liberty I took was to have a somewhat crazy hairstyle, which is impossible to recreate in the real world unless you have five different products from Bed Head. I only use two which means my hair is borderline different. When you see the effort and great lengths that Second Life residents go to in order to create their perfect persona you realize how easy it is to fall in love with that character and eventually want to become them.

Creating a persona on the other side of a computer where nobody can see you and pass instant judgment upon you is quite empowering. It gives you great confidence when total strangers are drawn to your avatar and quickly strike up a friendship. I can see how one may want to become that person and in some cases I've befriended people within Second Life who now want to be known by their avatar name and/or persona in the real world. Even Second Life developer, Aimee Weber, is somebody else in the real world yet she prefers to go by her avatar name. It's as if avatars have given everyone the ability to have a stage name, which was until recently only reserved for the entertainment industry. I wonder why it took a 3D virtual universe to bring that confidence out in somebody, because obviously it's been stored away inside of that person for a long time and yet they don't possess the confidence to tie that newfound attitude to their birth name, because somehow that name has established characteristics and expectations that cannot be changed. I'm sure in 5 years time a group of researchers will release studies on the influence of avatar based society and it's sociological ramifications on the human based society and I hope I'm the first person to read about their findings, because I find this to be so fascinating.

I bring this up, because as a marketer I'm curious if this is going to change how we look at Second Life demographics when approaching the build-out of a client's presence within the environment. Sure we may have loads of data on the typical behavior of a 28 year old single woman who is the manager of a drugstore in the South, but does that mean you have to cater your messaging to her or do you apply it to her avatar who is a 6' tall, redheaded, bombshell who spends her time as an escort in Second Life? Who am I speaking to? That's our challenge. As the community expands even further this should work itself out in one direction or the other, but for now it has forced us to be sensitive to this new reality and carefully assess our approach.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

3 Essentials of Virtual Worlds

Much of whether or not a business has success in the virtual world space depends on whether business comes to understand these 3 things about virtual worlds:

1. Virtual worlds are a 3D version of websites that offer a social, spatial, and experiential factor not present in today’s websites. Proof point - “The more time a consumer spends immersed in a brand, the more willing the consumer is to spend money with that brand.” - J. Walter Thompson Advertising. Today’s consumer is less influenced by company advertising and marketing, and more influenced by their experience and the experience of their peers and thus it is less about click-thru, CPM, and conversion and more about the brand interaction.

2. Many of the historical marketing metrics (such as conversion rate, click-thru rate, CPM, etc.) that are used today to evaluate online success are not (yet) applicable to virtual worlds. Solution - we must look at experiential metrics and determine the success of people spending minutes if not hours immersed in a brand. The typical banner ad creates something like 5 seconds of brand identity, while the typical website gets 4 to 12 minutes, and the typical virtual world presence gets 30 minutes plus. Anyone who has been anywhere for more than 30 minutes will most likely tell someone that they were there, thus creating a viral effect as well.

3. It requires some work to discover the way to best utilize a 3D website (which is important because if you remember correctly, we did not know at first the best way to use 2D websites, either). Solution – we must realize that you need to have brand consistency, brand education, and integrated media support (blogs, Web 2.0, etc). You also need to make your site fun and push the messaging from a direct in-your-face message to a message that delivers via the experience.

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"______________ Sustainability" (Insert New Technology)

Sex, Pranks, and Reality - Forbes July 2, 2007
Will the Last Corporation in Second Life Please Turn off the Light - TechCrunch, July 14, 2007
Avatars, advertisers alike having second thoughts about virtual world - Austin American-Statesman, July 16, 2007 (by way of the LA Times)

What do the above have in common? They are all spreading the sensationalism that a growing technology – virtual worlds – might be headed down the proverbial drain.

I won’t waste your time de-bunking these claims, as there are more inconsistencies, mistakes, and lies by omission than you can shake a stick at. Instead just go read nwn.blogs.com Wagner James Au’s excellent de-bunking in his blog posts Forbes Flunks School of Second Life and De-bunking 5 Business Myths about Second Life as Wagner James does a great job of educating the realities of the virtual reality.

I would prefer to talk about virtual world sustainability and the relevant importance to the way we entertain, conduct business, socialize, and surf the Internet in the near future. Virtual worlds on the Internet are here and they are here to stay. This is evident from the over 20 major worlds in existence and the millions more that play online massive multi-player video games. Moreover, virtual worlds like Second Life, Kaneva, There.com, and others have proven to us that a 3D Internet is very possible and is an obvious evolution of the Internet.

Thus, to me, the debate is not whether virtual worlds are a relevant technology, but rather what is the best way to utilize this technology. This is the not the first time we have been through this type of cycle. In case anyone has forgotten, we went through the same type of high tide/low tide with 2D websites back in the mid-to-late 90’s. However, if you were to just listen to the journalists (who may or may not have ever spent more than 1 minute inside a virtual world) they would sound much like the iconic fairy tale character, Chicken Little, as they scream in unison “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”

I sarcastically applaud the Austin American-Statesman, NY Times, and the other “news” agencies that diligently took an LA Times article and re-tread it for their paper without as much as lifting a pencil sharpener to check facts. Why is this the case? Simple – it is the NASCAR syndrome. People would rather hear about the crashes than the wins, even if the crashes were just slight fender rubs.

As these articles reported, yes, some companies, are leaving Second Life, but is this Second Life’s fault or is the fault of the “market” not yet knowing how to best utilize this type of technology to communicate, interact, and integrate with the virtual world community? Many of the early adopter companies (which not so coincidently are some of the ones bailing out) moved into Second Life knowing that it would be an experiment. They also had a “if you build it they will come” mentality, which is 180 degrees from “virtual” reality, as you need to continue to provide compelling content within a virtual presence just like you would re-invest in any website, banner ad, press release, email or other e-circular.

The question of whether or not virtual worlds are sustainable is to me just another attempt to refute the potential boundaries of technological evolution. Doubts have been cast on every new technology, including the TV, telephone, and telegraph. Recall that in 1995, Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet wrote an article for InfoWorld in which he listed 10 reasons why the Internet would fail, mostly due to the fault of the "people." Sound familiar?

The real question for me (and for many people who are much smarter than me) is not whether virtual worlds are sustainable, but how quickly can virtual worlds grow and be accepted by businesses.

And in the end, it will be the people and residents of virtual worlds that determine their sustainability – and so far those combined numbers reach into the 40+ million range (including all MMOG’s) and the numbers are climbing. To me this says the people have spoken and it is up to as marketers, corporations, and organizations to determine the best way to communicate with them.

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