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AOL Video Hub: A New Niche Marketing Platform

Today, AOL rolled out My AOL Video.  Like Yahoo!'s My Web. 2.0, and Google's Personal Homepage, AOL lets you subscribe to RSS feeds, which will become increasingly saturated with online video content. It's only a matter of time before interstitial video advertising, through the AOL Video Hub and other networks, provides media buyers with new opportunities for behavioral targeting and niche marketing.

Another interesting dimension to AOL's Video Hub is that one of the primary video navigation tabs on the homepage portal directs visitors to an area called "Viral Video." This content is comprised of bits and pieces of online video which are apparently frequently distributed. While this content currently features AOL self-promotion spots, it will surely change to include a broad array of targeted advertising based on prior search behavior and channel content. I clicked on the viral video tab to find an AP video segment about an 11-hundred pound tiger shark caught off the coast of Martha's Vineyard, which I've already forwarded it to friends who live in the area. Before watching the segment, I was  pushed a 30 second AOL ad for the new hub service, which highlighted its music videos.

Other features include searching and browsing video content, as well as building and sharing video playlists. The social search dimension provides countless opportunities for targeted media buying based on prior search behavior. The viral video component of this online content will be able harness partnerships with agencies and other content owners that leverage consumer generated media (CGM). Emerging advertising groups, such as Obtanium TV are perfectly positioned to take advantage of these niche marketing opportunities.

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July 27, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Documentary Advertising & Survival of the Fittest

As Steve Rubel points out, "it was only a matter of time."  A new group has emerged to pitch "documentary advertising." CoBRANDiT officially launched today as "the world's first open-source documentary ad agency."

Ben McConnell at Church of the Customer asks, "are brands ready for the ride." I think the answer is clearly yes. Consumer generated media (CGM) has emerged as a core component of brand communications. It's important to note, however, that this is not necessarily by choice. Advertisers and marketers are loosing control over first-impressions. In today's splintered and on-demand media environment, consumers rely on search to find information about products and services. CGM, which is characterized by frequently updated and link-rich content, is given preferential ranking by all the major search engines. Thus, CGM is intercepting consumers before they even make it to "official" brand content. These dynamics have created perfect storm for a new breed of advertising and marketing agencies. 

CoBRANDit joins an emerging cottage industry that provides strategy and tactics designed to produce and control CGM.  Agencies that survive the inevitable bubble will focus less on "viral marketing," and more on three key deliverables: 1) campaigns built on authentic community interests; 2) social and vertical search optimization; and 3) integrated measurement services that tie CGM back to ROI. These are the value dimensions that will determine natural selection in this environment. 

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July 26, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Brand Democratization Catches Fire

You can't shake a stick these days without hitting a blog post or business rag that mentions some incarnation of brand democratization (e.g., remix culture, collaboration marketing, co-creation, participatory advertising, CGM). AdRants, Business 2.0 Blog and MicroPersuasion have all picked up on a new ESPN/MasterCard marketing campaign that involves consumers in the creation of advertising (via AdAge).

"The marketing program will ask sports fanatics to submit videos or digital photographs and stories of their own sports shenanigans to be displayed on the Web, where consumers can vote for their favorite... The advent of easy-to-use technology is rapidly expanding the number of such viewer-involvement programs."

A recent article in BusinessWeek focuses on the immensely popular Converse advertising campaign, which similarly requests customer submitted video clips to be displayed on a website gallery. David Kiley, of BusinessWeek, explains:

"In a time when consumers can scrub advertising from their laptops and distribute ad-free amateur radio shows online, marketers are giving away some control over their ads. Their hope is that the public will accept them as entertainment rather than advertising. The most successful have found it a way to spark buzz and get creative ads on the cheap."

In many cases, the loss of brand control is not a choice. Consumer generated media tends to intercept prospective customers before they ever reach official, branded online Content, which can get command and control brand managers in trouble (read the Fortune article on the Kryptonite debacle and Mazda's blog mess). On the other hand, savvy marketers are making conscious decisions to relinquish a certain degree of control and embrace this trend by monitoring, participating, and empowering customer evangelists to carry their message.

Several of my own clients have worked hard to involve customers and constituencies in the creation of marketing communications and brand experiences. ChartHouse Learning, for example, has targeted customer evangelists to convey core brand messaging through video clips, and the submission of photos, stories and testimonials displayed on their website. Another example is the Greater Minneapolis Convention & Visitors Association who asked attendees of a recent pride parade to send pictures from their camera phones to a Flickr photo gallery for use on their niche community microsite, GLBTminneapolis.org. In both instances, CGM has helped convey more authentic, community-driven messaging, while also helping to achieve a variety of SEO objectives. 

The question that inevitably crashes down at the CMO/CFO intersection is,  "does this marketing strategy drive sales?"  According to Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer, "Of course it will drive sales." She notes the recent Vespa marketing campaign that provides blogs and other collateral materials to customers. She explains:

"Prospective customers will almost surely go online to research the Vespa... and voila! The Vespaway blog will show up in results. Prospects will read the bloggers' real-life posts and eventually become a forum for questions and  answers and in a larger sense, the de facto forum for the "Vespa Lifestyle." Just like Harley-Davidson. In essence, the customers become the sales people."

Beyond customer evangelism, the trend towards brand democratization also opens the door for a variety of new, revenue generating models, as a recent Business 2.0 article explains:

"The basic premise of the culture of participation is that any content that can be created digitally can be shared with the world. And, consequently, any digital content can be turned into a product and sold on the Web."

New distribution platforms that take advantage of long tail economics -- i.e., aggregating revenues from niche consumer demand -- will also monetize grassroots, consumer generated media, whether it's podcasting through iTunes or video marketing through Brightcove.

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July 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Ad Groups Open Big Can of Worms

More interesting news from the ANA conference this week (via AdAge): The Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the Advertising Research Foundation have all come together with a new task force charged with redefining ROI metrics for advertising exposure. "Frequency" is finally being traded in for the superbly nebulous concept of "engagement." According to Robert DeSena, director of relationship marketing at Masterfoods USA, "There is so much media now that consumers control access... It’s much more about finding a way to talk to them as individuals."

I would add that consumers not only self-select into highly personalized and relevant media experience, but they also create and disseminate the brand messages that oftentimes intercept prospective customers before they ever reach official brand advertising (e.g., blogs, recommender engines, user groups, review websites, discussion forums). 

Setting these small details aside, the measurement of engagement seems like a task suited for Sisyphus. Psychologists have been struggling to operationalize the behavioral correlates of media exposure for decades. Some of the problems: 1) intentions are often unrelated to behavior; 2) recall measures are highly unreliable; and 3) attitudes are ambivalent and fleeting.

There has been a rush towards more sophisticated and expensive measurement devises, such as Arbitron's "portable people meters." I have written elsewhere why I believe this is a fundamentally flawed approach (see "Portable People Meters: Closing the Loop, or Hawthorne Effect").

On the other hand, there has also been a healthy trend among advertising professionals towards multi-channel, multi-tactic campaigns that help triangulate the impact exposure has on consumer behavior. Broadcast and print advertising now almost always has a dimension associated with online behavior, which of course is trackable, and in many cases back to a dollar-for-dollar ROAS metric. More importantly, however, is the fact that the biggest marketers in the world are taking consumer generated media, vertical search and long tail economics very seriously. They are driving accountability in the advertising industry based on a new paradigm which increasingly hinges on the co-creation of marketing communications, which in my view is the ultimate measure of engagement.

July 22, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Advertising Accountability

The Association of National Advertisers recently released the results of a survey indicating serious discontent among the nation's largest marketers over the lack of ROI measurement. According to a New York Times article:

"61.5 percent of the survey respondents said it was important to them to define, measure and take concrete steps in the area of advertising accountability. But only 19 percent said they were satisfied with their ability to take those steps ...73 percent of respondents were not confident that they understood the effects that an advertising or marketing campaign could have on sales. When asked if they agreed with the statement, "I would be able to forecast the impact on sales" of a 10 percent cut in marketing spending, 63 percent said no."

While the ANA grumbles about measurement, a much more ominous trend is afoot -- a trend that continues to fly under their radar. Marketers, and their advertising agencies, are loosing control of "primary" brand experiences. As more and more consumers use search engines, recommender engines, and review websites as the front line source for product and service information, consumer generated media has become the defining mediator of brand messaging. Engaging consumers in authentic conversations and empowering customer evangelists to carry the brand message -- as opposed to ushering "official advertising" through compliance for eventual release and mass consumption -- is the future of marketing and advertising. The onus is on all of us in marketing to develop and advocate measurement platforms that help clients unify and integreate ROI metrics across channels and tactics.

July 20, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Generation C

BusinessWeek has a great article on the rise of generation of new class of creative, media savvy remixers who are being harnessed to develop grassroots marketing content:

"Instead of cajoling consumers into passively absorbing ads, the idea now is to get the public to create and participate in them. In a time when consumers can scrub advertising from their laptops and distribute ad-free amateur radio shows online, marketers are giving away some control over their ads. Their hope is that the public will accept them as entertainment rather than advertising. The most successful have found it a way to spark buzz and get creative ads on the cheap."

July 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Building Customer-Centric Brands

Over the past few days, Chris Anderson and John Hagel have had a fascinating exchange on the evolution of brand influence. According to this perspective, brands change as a function of scarcity. In the early 20th Century, a lack of consistent, high-quality goods provided the foundation for the emergence of "product brands." As consumer choice became more plentiful, shelf space became a scarce resource resulting in the rise of powerful "retailer brands."

In today's economy, on the other hand, Internet technologies have provided near-infinite shelf space and niche-based consumer choice. The new scarcity is attention, which is fueling customer-centric models of brand influence. Hagel argues that brand loyalty will increasingly spring from products and services that help navigate proliferating consumer options and inform decision-making. Brand value, in other words, is born of an exchange between the allocation of attention as a scarce resource and the promise of highly relevant products, services and community.

Hagel argues that if companies are really going to gain the trust and attention of customers in this context, they must be prepared relinquish a certain degree of control and offer products and services of other companies, even of competitors. This can take on many different forms, but in essence this looks like highly personalized portals or multiple front doors that resonate with target audiences and lead people to from granular brand experiences to more general information about products and services. According to Hagel, thriving brands will successfully transition from the product innovation and commercialization business to the customer relationship business as a fundamental value proposition. 

What does this mean from a marketing perspective? John Hagel advocates for a new paradigm he calls "collaboration marketing":

"Collaboration marketing challenges the current mantra of 'one to one marketing' and instead views the opportunity as 'many to one', connecting each customer with as many entities (including other customers) as may be required to maximize value for the customer. Collaboration marketing represents a 'pull' approach where the marketer becomes so helpful to customers that they seek the marketer out, rather than a conventional 'push' approach blasting marketing messages out in an effort to find customers that might be receptive to the marketer’s offering."  (Read full post from John Hagel).

Chris Anderson adds an interesting twist by suggesting that tomorrow's most powerful brands will not be owned by companies, but by people -- either in the form of aggregators like Google and Amazon, or tastemakers, such as celebrities, critics, editors, and bloggers.

"So, in a Long Tail market, the brands that matter most are the tastemakers. These are the filters you trust, who point you to the niche (or mainstream) stuff you wouldn't have found on your own. And because you trust them, you're willing to follow their recommendations, voyaging down the tail with confidence. In the Long Tail, great filters become brands." (Read full post from Chris Anderson).

In my view, Hagel and Anderson are touching on marketing insights that reach well beyond advanced CRM programs or the targeting of influentials for word of mouth marketing. There are several strategic recommendations I would advocate based on their ideas:

  1. Search is Still King: Search results based on consumer generated media (CGM) -- e.g., search engines, user groups and forums, blogs and review sites, and recommendations engines -- represent the primary vehicle prospective customers find product and service information. Why? Because search engines favor frequently updated and link rich content, which are defining characteristics of CGM. SEO may take on many different forms, but brand managers need to be aggresive and methodical in their pusuit of CGM to acheive SEO objectives.
  2. Empower Evangelists: While you cannot, and should not, attempt to control brand messaging through CGM, you can provide platforms, tools and training to elevate the volume of positive brand information bubbling up from the most loyal and passionate customer evangelists.
  3. Get Serious About Social Search: New social networks are bursting on the scene that are built on personalized information management systems (Read about Yahoo!'s MyWeb 2.0 Beta). As people, not search engine algorithims, crawl through online content, tags and bookmarklets enable the categorization, ranking and bread crumbs that become part of a constellations of traits that are publicly shared, becoming dynamic recommendation engines. Make sure all your marketing channels, including online video distribution, embodies infrastructure that interfaces with social search.

Taken together, this strategy requires a number of advanced marketing tactics, some tried-and-true such as SEO and CRM, others still teetering on the bleeding edge. But, the imperative rests on experiences that connect existing and prospective customers to a new, community-based value dimension. 

July 17, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack