Category Archives: Mobile Marketing

Add the latest JCMC to your towering reading pile

We’ve all got far more to read than time to read it, right? So you’re going to hate me for telling you this, but if you care about communication and technology, you should be tracking the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. Especially this latest issue, whose “special theme” is social network sites.

Of particular relevance to marketing technologists are these articles:

  • Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship
    danah m. boyd and Nicole B. Ellison
    This introduction describes features of social network sites (SNSs), proposes a comprehensive definition, presents a history of their development, reviews existing SNS scholarship, and introduces the articles in this special theme section.
  • Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances
    Hugo Liu
    A social network profile’s lists of interests can function as an expressive arena for taste performance. Based on a semiotic approach, different types of taste statements are identified and further investigated through a statistical analysis of 127,477 profiles collected from MySpace.
  • Whose Space? Differences Among Users and Non-Users of Social Network Sites
    Eszter Hargittai
    Are there systematic differences between people who use social network sites and those who stay away? Based on data from a survey administered to young adults, this article identifies demographic predictors of SNS usage, with particular focus on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, and Friendster.
  • Mobile Social Networks and Social Practice: A Case Study of Dodgeball
    Lee Humphreys
    Dodgeball is a mobile social network system that seeks to facilitate social coordination among friends in urban public spaces. This study reports on the norms of Dodgeball use, proposing that exchanging messages through Dodgeball can lead to social molecularization, whereby active members experience and move through the city in a collective manner.
  • Publicly Private and Privately Public: Social Networking on YouTube
    Patricia Lange
    Based on a one-year ethnographic project, this article analyzes how YouTube participants developed and maintained social networks by manipulating physical and interpretive access to videos. The analysis identifies varying degrees of “publicness” in video sharing, depending on the nature of the video content and how much personal information is revealed.

Juicy stuff. Enjoy!

Third party site works with Twitter to promote virtual IOU’s and real beer

Twitter interests me more for what it foreshadows than for what it does. This micro-blogging system is currently little more than an electronic water cooler, where information workers and students can socialize and blow off steam. But it also has aspects of a social network — a very open social network. And that means it has the potential for some exciting innovation.

I look at Twitter as a VisiCalc of this era. VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet program for the personal computer. Primitive by modern standards, its greatest feat was setting a new paradigm. Spreadsheet progams look odd to those who have never used one, but for adopters, it is a powerhouse– something that many couldn’t imagine working without.

Of course, that’s the magic of the paradigm, not VisiCalc specifically, which was usurped by competitors within a few years of its release.

Sooner rather than later, a Twitter competitor will take the new behaviors of microblogging and deliver something extraordinary. This will be something we would not want to live without. Similar to Excel, this competitor will arrive with bigger, smarter features and scoop up market share.

Or maybe I’m wrong and Twitter will do the impossible. Perhaps it will be able to hold onto and expand its base of users as it morphs from networked toy to networking tool. Here is one ray of hope for Twitter that they will have a better chance than VisiCalc did: Twitter courts and encourages third party developers.

May I Buy You a Beer?

Which brings me to the latest Twitter-affiliated innovation: Along with Foamee, Twitter users can now publicly proclaim their intentions to buy someone a beer. Foamee then tracks the IOU, and even allows for scores to be settled and ledgers closed. Good work, Dan Cederholm of SimpleBits Design, for this fun Twitter add-on. Here’s a screen cap showing my IOU (middle posting) from this morning:

A Foamee Thread

Twitter continues to innovate by opening up to the creative community at large (another fun example is this mashup: TwitterVision). How incredibly smart. This week at ad:tech New York, Google announced it has organized several major social network sites to back an open source way of building and sharing widgets. It’s called OpenSocial.

The folks behind Google (and its own social network, Orkut), wisely recognize that innovation can only be accelerated through the “network effect.” And innovation is, after all, a key to survival. They might have even been inspired by watching Twitter.

If so, Google owes Twitter a beer.

Three sobering facts about today’s use of social networks and mobile media

It’s easy to get excited about the potential of social networks and mobile devices. We’re forever reminded that from a marketing perspective, there’s gold in them thar hills. Yesterday I was able to glean more of the unvarnished truth about both. I attended a couple of excellent panel discussions organized as part of the annual conference of the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

Although the emphasis of these discussions was on mediated publics (e.g., MySpace, Facebook. etc.), I made a point to ask a few questions about how cell phones come into the picture as a way to keep the network dialogs humming when the computer is back at home. Here are three eye-opening realities of these new media, according to the panel:

  1. People beyond college age are mostly using social networks for the following reasons:
    • Dating
    • Networking for business
    • Keeping an eye on their children (the evocative term that panelist danah boyd used was helicopter parenting)
  2. Ms. boyd was leery about how long the “over-35 crowd” will be on Facebook. She theorizes it will be two years tops before they realize there’s little of value for them on that network.
  3. Mobile marketing in the U.S. is hog-tied compared to the rest of the world, due to the incompatibility between carriers (what danah called the “carrier barriers”). I knew this going in, but it’s worse than I thought. Here are two constraints I hadn’t really considered against adoption within a key market segment:
    • Most high schoolers, and younger college students, are getting their parents’ antiquated hand-me-down phones. They are also often bound within their parents’ cell phone plans.
    • These plans rarely have unlimited texting, so every text is potentially another dime or more on the monthly bill. This can raise parental eyebrows — or worse, tempers. Bummer for us marketers, and for them.

All of this was a valuable splash of cold water about these emerging media. They will continue to “emerge,” but don’t expect mass adoption any time soon.

Sponsored SMS bulletins show promise

New media consultant and columnist Steve Smith speculated recently in MediaPost that we will soon be receiving many more sponsored messages with our cell phone’s text bulletins. These text bulletins, also known as SMS messages, are the 140-character packets that helped Justine Ezarik rack up a 300-page AT&T cell phone bill. (She reports that Twitter and the SMS feature of Facebook were the biggest culprits. Each message sent and received was separately itemized.)

The good news is these messages will be extremely targeted, and are “opted into” in exchange for the content received. An example cited by Smith is NASCAR race updates, sent to the 200,000 subscribers to this branded program. He explains that if a supermarket chain would want to target those interested in NASCAR, “There is enough mass there to net perhaps 80,000 users in a general geographic region.”

That’s enough to make quite an impact. Especially since response rates are impressively high.

Although the initial calls to action must be quite brief — 20 to 80 characters — the extremely targeted nature of the messages helps response. A “response” is usually hitting reply, to receive a full (up to 140 characters) expansion of the offer and a URL to click on. This graphic , provided by the MoVoxx site, helps illustrate the typical process:

How InTxt by MoVoxx works

Alec Andronikov, who is the managing partner of MoVoxx, says that of the many billions of SMS messages sent each month, somewhere around 500 million of them are some kind of publisher-pushed alert. And each could conceivably be sponsored. Smith continues:

Right now, [Andronikov] claims about 3.5 million uniques with sports, travel, dating and newspapers comprising the largest content categories. … Andronikov claims a response rate of 2.5% to 4% on the SMS ads.

That means a hypothetical, regionally-based supermarket chain running a NASCAR promotion could get their entire message in front of at least 2,000 fans (80,000 recipients of the initial, sponsored message multiplied by a 2.5% response rate). If the offer is compelling enough, this can win the chain hundreds of new customers.

The ability to target consumers by age, gender and zip code — as well as areas of personal interest, as implied by the content to which a consumer subscribes — promises a way to take the junk out of junk text messages.

Through testing we’ll soon see whether these campaigns “have legs” — whether they can generate enough of a return on investment to make them a smart, new marketing tactic.

Growth of out of home ads reflects our fragmented media consumption

Physicists tell us the universe is ever-expanding, a concept that can make the mind reel. Advertisers trying to reach their target audience know this feeling well, as media alternatives continually fragment and multiply. One solution: Forget about media as we would ordinarily think about them and look to the places your market congregates as the medium itself.

I’m only a recent convert to the power of out of home advertising, but that only seems to make me more of a zealot. Here are three examples worth filing away in your new media mental database:

  • Billboards that greet you by name — Tested last year and rolled out in the April of 2007, the Mini Cooper Motorby program is ingenious. Have owners register online, and receive a free key fob. When that key fob gets within 500 feet of a billboard, it triggers a personalized message. The billboard is 5 feet tall and 33 feet wide. My only questions: What are the results? And how are they translated to a true ROI?
  • Virtual billboards, Second Life-style — If an ad is on the side of a building, but that building is on Second Life, is that an interactive ad or out of home? A little of both, because it is far more interactive (try clicking through the side of a real building without getting injured or arrested), but has the same ambient quality of the real world. The biggest down-side: Ads are everywhere in Second Life.
  • Literally touch your consumers as they drink their coffee — Coffee cup sleeves have come of age. According to BriteVision, an industry leader in their production and distribution (they have their own ad network of coffee shops), the average consumer spends 49 minutes with their “Ad-Sleeve,” what an average recall of the ad at two-thirds (65%). The biggest up-side: Since many cafes offer WiFi, providing a URL can help measure effectiveness and reach an upscale segment of consumers. You can also include a phone number or short code for a mobile marketing play.

The reach and creative potential with out of home are a couple of reasons it is growing when other media types are stagnant or shrinking. According to the OAAA, revenue for out-of-home advertising so far this year has increased by 7.9% (within a rounding error of the growth seen last year, and the year before). This projection for 2007 is based on spending in the first six months of the year. The graphic below shows prior growth.

Growth of out of home this year is projected again at roughly 8 percent

All of this is great news for brands that want to make a difference. There are many ways to truly involve consumers — some quite high tech, some that are extremely “out there,” and some that are frankly both. It all makes for an interesting ride with plenty to see and do.

A magical feat worthy of Hogwarts: Harry Potter book materializes via text message incantation

I read somewhere that Italy has more pet dogs than it does children. That is a bad thing in a country — a sign of negative population growth. However, I tell you very selfishly that this ratio — more dogs than kids — is an excellent thing in a high rise. Take mine for example. The elevators and lobby are teeming with canines, usually on the business end of leashes held by a slack-skinned residents such as myself.

So how do you account for the fact that the mail room of our building today was full of USPS notices of the arrival of the same parcel: The last in the Harry Potter book series? Obviously I’m not the only “kid at heart.”

But this kid has a decidedly geeky side. I pre-ordered mine three months ago using nothing but the keypad of my cell phone. As I stated then, in my account of ordering the book, the service that made this miracle of commerce possible is a harbinger of things to come.

Here were the steps I used to order my copy of this juvenile horse-choker:

I registered (just once) at the ShopText site. I provided the usual: My name and shipping address, and my credit card information. I also gave them my email address and cell phone number. That’s when the real wizardry began.

I received a receipt via email and SMS (i.e., cell phone text message). It included my short password, something needed to avoid ordering fraud

Then, all I had to do was send a text to ShopText’s “short code,” which is a 5- or 6-digit cell phone number that communicates with an SMS server. I placed the keyword in the message body, “Potter,” as instructed in the print ad that offered this ordering option.

I received a confirmation on pricing, which also requested the security password. Once received, the system sent my cell phone — and my email Inbox — a receipt for the purchase. Poof! Within three minutes I had scratched my itch and bought this last of the Harry Potter series.

And that’s the point.

If SMS ordering catches on at all, it will be because of the ease with which spontaneous purchases can be made before having time to think something like, “Heck, I can always go to the bookstore.”

This is a system that deserves to succeed, and it probably will, considering what big, pampered kids I and my fellow boomers have become.

Explosion causes a potty-mouthed Twitter skeptic to see the light

I had vowed to readers I would never again write about Twitter. It is, after all, a frivolous little diversion. True, in the same breath, I had also acknowledged (in one of my last posts on the topic) that this trivial toy has the potential to save lives. It can spread news when all other sources are slow to arrive or completely cut off. In a time of rising terrorist threat levels around the world, that makes Twitter sound far less trivial.

Proof of my theory arrived today. Here’s the story that has brought me out of my Twitter silence. Warning: The blog entry I cite, on the other side of this link, includes a profanity in one of the images.

A friend had been trying to coax Howard Lindzon into the Twitter habit. He refused, and finally conceded only on this condition: His “Tweets” would only come from him via his cell phone, and only when he was — ahem — using the facilities. Since he considered Twitter a waste, he was only going to Twitter about waste. But that all changed when there was a terrifying steam pipe explosion. Caught with no other way to get or receive news about it, you can guess where he turned:

Lindzon uses the one tool he bashes and pokes fun at to inform and hopefully inform himself of a crisis situation. Instantly! Wirelessly! … My buddy Loic Le Meur’s twitts a few days ago about how he catches up with news on Twitter more that by reading his RSS.

Now excentric [sic] Lindzon accepts my invitation to join and unwilingly [sic] offers this awesome example of the right person at the right time in the right place using the right service and instantly informing his peers he networked with registering to Twitter. Is this the real web 2.0? Ought to be, as Lindzon did not blog or email about the blast. He freakin twittered it!

When the telephone was invented, it wasn’t thought of as a tool for doing business. It was imagined by most as a way, before consumer radio appliances entered the picture, of carrying music and news across great distances. That all changed of course. Relatively speaking, it didn’t take long for this “toy” to earn its keep in society (just a few decades).

Could Twitter, the first truly widespread mobile time-waster, be on its way to its own social legitimacy?

Serving SUPERVALU customers one niche at a time

I really like the direction that Kevin Hillstrom’s One Positive Day blogging concept is taking. While I used the occasion this month to share a favorite work tool, Kevin was inviting many of his social networking and database colleagues to speculate on how to improve the online presence of SUPERVALU, a grocery and pharmaceutical retail and supply chain company.

I’ve had the luxury of a week since that July 1 post to think about my response. I started with the question of corporate mission. There are many ways to drive consumers to your site, such as an online version of the old “Green Stamps” promotion, but as Kevin states at the end of his post, you ultimately have to show something beyond raw page views. You have to add to the stores’ bottom lines, either by saving money by automating something that is now labor-intensive, or generating greater sales totals, or both.

In the comments, Ron Shevlin and another contributor mentioned how helpful it would be to create an aisle-by-aisle shopping list of items. I can understand the logistical challenge of this, since every store floor plan seems to be at least a little different, something exacerbated by the thousands of new products introduced (and pulled!) every year. This last point was made another contributor to the dialog — 10-year food business veteran Harry Joiner.

A Store-generated Shopping List

I had even wondered if something could be done with a mobile-enabled service. For instance, from your cell phone, you call or text a list to a SUPERVALU short code. Then, either through voice recognition (in the case of a voice call) or standard database look-up, you get back a list in your email box, ordered in the walking pattern of the store and complete with related specials and exclusive couponing.

Perhaps something could even be done with a WiFi-enabled version of this voice-activated shopping list device. This device would take your family’s accumulated voice lists of groceries, digitize the list into text using its native voice-recognition system, and — after it is sent via a wireless internet connection to SUPERVALU computers — the device receives and prints the final list with coupons.

This certainly would align itself with SUPERVALU’s Mission  Statement: “To serve our customers better than anyone else … provide our customers with value through our products and services, committing ourselves to providing the quality, variety and convenience they expect.” The mission statement goes on to talk about building strong communities surrounding its stores, which is the other theme of how to help this web site become a greater contributor to the store’s success.

Harry Joiner mentioned creating Ning-like online communities surrounding each of the most significant lifestyle and demographic categories. He gave some examples of how other product marketers have succeeded with this tactic.

A few community examples for SUPERVALU that spring to mind are the following: Young, growing families, single adults looking for tips on cooking for one (and perhaps even place-based events specifically for singles), and of course cooking enthusiasts.

Some value-creating tactics could be things like product-related cooking demonstrations or give-aways, or tie-ins with non-profits that the SUPERVALU business supports through its foundation. Only online community members would be privy to them, of course. One thing is clear. These communities would need to find a great deal of value on the sites.

Many companies have tried to build a critical mass among their “wired niches.” Most have failed.

And speaking of long tale strategies, here’s one that my friend Steve Ward had cooked up well over 10 years ago, and I think still has promise: An online database of all nutritional information for every product on the shelves (or as many as possible)!

Those who are striving to reduce their sodium or fat consumption, or improve their nutrient intake, could create shopping lists that tell them the exact nutritional values of what they eat.

Would this, or any of the above ideas, fundamentally change the way SUPERVALU returns shareholder value? No. Would it help the company fulfill its mission? Absolutely. But like so many online endeavors, this would be accomplished slowly and at a significant investment, one niche at a time.

Steve Rubel finds a novel way to report on iPhone launch

If you’re covering the launch of a mobile device, and it’s as revolutionary as the Apple iPhone, how do you post in a way that’s novel and immediate? If you’re Steve Rubel of Edelman, and write the influential blog Micro Persuasion, you blog from a mobile device. All while standing in line for the gizmo it is destined to be replaced by.

Here is Rubel’s Twitter feed over that period. For those not familiar, the top posts are the most recent. You can review even by clicking the “More” link I’ve provided.

I’m sorry there aren’t live links (I grabbed these as graphics off the posts Sunday night), but if you’d like to find the originals they should be available for a while at Steve Rubel’s Twitter Home Page.

Continue reading

Out-of-home and into phone: Spectacolor HD boards add a mobile component

It was announced on Wednesday that a new type of digital billboard, Spectacolor HD, will be capable of presenting dazzling video and graphics. But eye candy is as cheap and ephemeral as the name implies. Where is the power to really engage a consumer? I got my answer in the fleeting, fifth paragraph of this BrandWeek article:

The Spectacolor HD board also promises to take the transformation of the outdoor medium one step further to engage the consumer through interactive features. Using mobile phones, passersby will be able to listen to audio for the board, play games on the screen, send text messages or download audio and video files.

Those who visit DigitalSolid regularly know that I get particularly excited by the prospect of ads with a mobile phone component. In prior posts I’ve discussed the direct marketing implications of standard digital ads, as well as the print-to-mobile promise of ShopText.

So you know my priorities.

I believe the news about Spectacolor HD that will have the biggest impact on us marketing technology types is the ability to push content to consumers for them to keep and share. As with the other examples I’ve discussed, this will truly use all of the marketing power of a digital ad.

How would it harness this marketing power? Well, what if, from this billboard, you could download a podcast to your cell phone — for instance, a song with a branding element or offer presented at the end, or a walking tour narrative? Or even a “treasure hunt” set of instructions? (Think Geocaching — a fast growing hobby for the GPS enabled.)

This would give your brand a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. It could be listened to multiple times and shared with others who haven’t seen the digital billboard. This is huge if the campaign is properly crafted.

But the billboard being discussed in the BrandWeek article is an exotic, rarefied animal. It will go up in New York City’s Times Square, at 47th Street and Broadway.

Most digital billboards will be on the sides of teeming freeways, where viewing time is brief, and the opportunity to download something, based on the range that Bluetooth grants you, is minimal indeed. Too bad there isn’t a way to pass information to a more far-flung group — a group of people who must stand still long enough to receive it.

Yours Free To Download (Just Wash Your Hands First, Please)

Should the meme of downloading from digital ads become more commonplace, I know of just such an audience. They are standing as I type this, gazing at digital ads all over America. I’m referring to the men in public restrooms equipped with digital, ad-serving monitors.

These units have always struck me as too clever by half. For one thing, they are positioned on the wall above a urinal mere inches from the viewer’s nose (I hope!). That makes ignoring the ads it flashes all but impossible, but it makes focusing on said ads just as difficult. And these ads have never promised me anything of value.

What if these same monitors were equipped to send the people in the restroom (hopefully after they’ve washed up!) the same goodies that were heretofore only available to New York tourists? 

Once you’ve stopped chuckling, think about the valuable mobile marketing you could accomplish by designing and executing a campaign that people receive by using any cellphone equipped with both Bluetooth and an MP3 player. It’s not so farfetched a future to imagine.

Ironically, these audio media may be delivered by a digital display ad. In an odd way this makes perfect sense.

And hopefully, by the time all the other moving parts are in place to make this advertising feasible, there will be more types of public spaces available where digital ads are displayed.

In the future, I would hope these campaigns wouldn’t be relegated to the type of room polite people excuse themselves to visit.

RiffTrax delivers DIY laughs and a promising business model

As promised in a prior post, I did indeed throw a RiffTrax party. It was Sunday. My wife and I hosted three people, and we screened the latest James Bond movie, Casino Royale. The party was a success, and the highlight was undeniably the movie heckling supplied by our virtual guests of honor, Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy.

For those who aren’t familiar with RiffTrax, Nelson and Murphy are two of the comics who record funny commentary distributed by this new online business. For $2.99, I was able to download a podcast that ran the length of the movie. I synchronized the podcast (played through our stereo system) to the action from the rented DVD. Hilarity ensued.

It should go without saying that Daniel Craig, the dead-serious star of Casino Royale, was never the source of so much mirth.

This type of movie “riffing” had been a staple of the cult television show of the 1990’s, Mystery Science Theater 3000, where Nelson and Murphy had contributed as both writers and performers. They have lost none of their edge. (This distinctively Midwestern style proves that jokes don’t have to be demeaning or obscene to be lacerating — and often hilarious).

Whether you’ll find their brand of satire funny I cannot predict. They can get a little esoteric at times — sometimes veering dangerously close to Dennis Miller territory. But what I wanted to be able to tell you with confidence was whether this way of selling laughter, one podcast at a time, is a viable business model.

I think it is, for these reasons:

It’s Easy To Get the Hang Of

Although it’s a little more Do-It-Yourself (DIY) than some people will likely tolerate, the majority will get past the challenge of synchronizing the sound and DVD tracks. I certainly did. To help, a ReadMe file shows time codes that can be visually monitored. Or, like me, you can wait for key lines of movie dialog to be mentioned on the podcast by a robotic voice (called DisembAudio, of course). If the movie and podcast line readings overlap, you know that the comedy will be properly timed to the action.

A Great Excuse for a Party

RiffTrax is a surprisingly fun way to enliven a standard “movie night” with friends and family — and a way to justify another viewing of a DVD you already own.

It Has Mild Cult Appeal

The humor is often extremely bright, and that makes you feel like you are part of an insider’s group when you watch it. It’s the same appeal that helped make Monty Python and Saturday Night Live a success when those shows first burst onto the scene, as well as the more contemporary Daily Show and Colbert Report.

It’s Habit Forming

Mid-way through the film we mentioned to our guests that RiffTrax had just released a take on the first season DVD of Grey’s Anatomy. The reaction: “When can we see it!?”

The answer is soon. I’m pleased to see the technology of podcasts getting mainstream enough to actually justify repeat purchase. And since I was a huge Mystery Science Theater fan, I’m pleased that Mike Nelson and his team will be part of this new media revolution.

Important disclaimer: Although a wonderfully helpful RiffTrax publicist offered to comp me for the movie, I decided to use my own money, both to deny any accusations of patronage and to get a feel for the complete purchase-and-play experience. I have been compensated in no way for this assessment.

Good news for two lucky readers: Use my contact form to email me. The first two to say “Free RiffTrax” in the message will receive a one-time credit for a RiffTrax movie. I think you’ll enjoy the experience.